Monday, August 29, 2011
Ann and Barry Ulanov have written a great deal on the life of prayer. In Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, they explore the depths of prayer and the various aspects of prayer as means for drawing near to God. Utilizing the insights of psychology, they help us to understand how prayer enables speech to occur and how it extends us beyond our known self into the unknown God (p. 9); there is, as they write, "an otherness to prayer": that is, "in the process of confessing who we are we find ourselves addressed by the otherness within ourselves and the otherness within our world. We find ourselves met by others who do not see things the way we do, but insist on other points of view. For example, in prayer we cannot escape the memory of anyone's criticism of us. We must look at it from all sides and angles and cannot hide in a defensive reaction by turning it back on our accuser, and say it is his or her problem, not ours" (p. 9).
"In prayer we cannot avoid a dream or a fantasy image that insists on our attention. We must inspect it and hear what it says about us. In prayer we discover odd coincidences and new insights that we know did not originate in ourselves. We cannot create or produce them at will. Being itself speaks to us in these events, and we listen. If we go on listening, we feel God pulling us, drawing us into a life of abundance...we become swept into the flowing of this other life through the small space of our self....the speech of prayer tells us of the new life for psyche and soul that comes when we open the door to the one who stands there knocking" (p. 9).
I look forward to reading two other books by the Ulanovs: The Healing Imagination and Religion and the Unconscious. There is great wisdom in what they write about prayer.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Just before her death in 2006 Jane Jacobs, the Canadian social critic and writer, published a book entitled Dark Age Ahead. In brief, Jacobs argued that with the radical social changes being experienced in the West a catastrophic loss of wisdom which has guided Western culture has also been taking place, especially as that wisdom becomes disengaged from the past and exhilarated by the new, endless world of info/entertainment. For Jacobs, this scenario has similarities with the loss of wisdom that occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire.
In addition to Jacob's concerns, we could probably also add the following: our destructive use of the earth’s resources, our global irresponsibilities to those living in poverty, and our ongoing lust for war and violence. The list is endless.I may be off the mark, but I have a feeling this dystopian vision of a dark age ahead is not a popular one. I am not sure it is a welcome message in many churches. And yet, as theologian and missiologist Charles Fensham of Knox College in Toronto has also suggested, this kind of message of a dark age ahead may be necessary to shake the churches in North America out of their self-satisfied consumeristic slumbers. There is a great need to rethink the mission of the church in this rapidly changing context. Certainly, the emergent and missional church movements are attempts to respond to these challenges. The new monasticism is also an attempt to come to grips with the loss of wisdom in the wider church and culture. As Dorothy said to Toto: "We are not in Kansas anymore."
After reading through Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue a few weeks ago, a book that also speaks of a coming dark age, the problems facing Western culture are indeed daunting: we do not seem to have a way to address the deep moral and spiritual and social crises facing us. There is a need for local forms of community that can preserve and express the wisdom of the ages. There is a need, as MacIntyre states at the end of his book, for a Saint Benedict.How we may go about such a task, I feel, is surely one of the challenges with which we must wrestle in ministry; it is a task that will come with different responses and solutions, to be sure. However, as we discern what kind of age is ahead of us, I pray we all will discover the great need to foster an imagination that roots mission in the loving embrace of the triune God, whose mission is already calling us to mend and care for God’s own. That's a place, I pray, we all can begin; it's a place closer to us than we might think.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
I remember James Forbes of Riverside Church saying once that finding good books are part of God's providence in our lives. He was referring to preaching and the ways pastors may "discover" that right book at the right time in sermon preparation. I think I know what he means because I know I have stumbled across those books on special occasions!
That's how I feel with Christopher Cocksworth book entitled Holding Together: Gospel, Church, and Spirit - The Essentials of Christian Identity. Cocksworth is the Bishop of Coventry and served for several years as Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He writes from a unique standpoint in the Anglican tradition, and brings together a wonderful combination of pastoral insight and theological rigour. Utilizing a key text from the Letter to Colossians (1:15-19), Cocksworth looks at how the confession of Christ as the "one in whom all things hold together" can help us to discern and keep in balance three aspects of the church's life that overtime in the church we have had a tendency to rent asunder: gospel, church, and Spirit. What Cockworths wants to develop and describe is a "catholic form of evangelicalism in the Spirit" (p. 11). He wants to keep in creative tension a strong focus on scripture (gospel), tradition (church), and the charismatic (Spirit). Throughout his work, he guides us into what this may look like in the wider catholic church today. Interestingly, Cocksworth draws heavily on John and Charles Wesley to make many of his points.
As I mentioned above, I ordered this book not knowing what it was fully about. However, it has been good to read again how we may understand the life of the church's mission in the world, realizing how "there is no gospel without the Spirit": Christ and his gospel come to us by the Spirit; and, of course, "there is no church without the Spirit." As Cocksworth goes on to state in a rather technical way: "Ignatius' Christological definition needs to be "held together" with Irenaeus' pneumatological version - 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the church and all grace'" (p. 12).
Cocksworth's study offers a balanced approach as to how God not only "holds us together" but how we are to live out our lives in Christ within the church, empowered and graced by the Spirit.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I found a helpful quote in Ruth Burrow's spiritual autobiography that captures a great deal about the journey of faith. I have pondered again what the following quote means for our lives:
"What we cannot do God is not asking. God asks what we can do. I could not - and cannot - follow what seems the classical spiritual journey. God does not ask it of me. He has provided another for me. It may appear a port sort of way, even a cowardly way, but it is my way and God's choice for me. More than that, I know that, ultimately, in its essence, it is the only way. Sooner or later everyone must be brought by God to this deep poverty, and everything depends on acceptance of it. Personalities, temperments differ and God leads all according to their own character. Roads may appear different but ultimately they converge. Sooner or later we must take the narrow path and leave behind all spiritual riches. We have to go to God with empty hands. We have to let him be wholly and totally God. How hard this is. We want to feel good, want to feel we have something to offer him of our own. We want to be spiritually beautiful, to have an interesting, beautiful spiritual life. In God's mercy he deprived me of all from the beginning. He has kept me in a state of poverty and helplessness. Now he has given me the grace to want this, to choose it" (pp. 114-115).
It is, of course, difficult to grasp what Burrows is saying without full awareness of the rest of the text. However, given what she states above I am drawn to the way she shares how God works in us according to who we are. This, it seems to me, is the way of grace.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I have been re-reading Jonathan R. Wilson's little book on Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, and I have enjoyed getting out my copy of After Virtue and trying to understand what MacIntyre says about the "failure of the Enlightenment project" and the importance of practices. MacIntyre's book was published in 1981, and it is one of the seminal works in philosophy. I like the way Wilson uses MacIntyre's book as a way to stimulate theological reflection and point to the importance of practices for the Christian faith in a fragmented world, especially as those practices pertain to monasticism. Wilson helps us, through MacIntyre's work, to take the discussion about ministry and evangelism to a very different level. I can see why this little book has started a wider conversation about mission in a post-Christendom context in the West.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Jason Vickers is a professor of theology and Wesley Studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton. He has just written a helpful little book about the theology of renewal, a work primarily focused on introducing to students the nature of the church and on offering useful commentary on the wide-range of movements currently dotting the church's landscape (e.g., missional, emergent, new monastic, etc.).
Vickers' book is not a "how-to" book, and it is not about "quick-fixes." Instead, it supplies a well-grounded theology to the nature and work of the triune God and the ways we are called to participate in God.
Vicker's volume provides a helpful introduction to those who are seeking to understand the church's mission in the world and the theology that informs that mission.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Andrew Thompson is a graduate of the Duke University Th.D. program and a frequent contributor to the Methodist Reporter. He will begin teaching historical theology and Wesley Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary in the fall. This book, which he helped to create and edit, reflects the voices of hope in the church. There is much to consider as he and others offer wisdom to those concerned about the church's ministry with younger generations.