If you’re excited about the World Cup, or if you’d just like to see people do cool stuff with a soccer ball, here you go!
What should we do with the seemingly impossible demands of the Sermon on the Mount? The lofty character of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:2-12), the expectation of pure attitudes and not simply moral actions (Mt. 5:21-47), the impossible ideal of divine perfection (Mt. 5:48). What do we do with all these demands and commands? Should we ignore them, explain them away, embrace them with all their implied perfectionism, or something else entirely?
This is the question that Scot McKnight wrestles with at the beginning of his excellent new commentary Sermon on the Mount (Zondervan, 2013). Like all the volumes in The Story of God Bible Commentary, McKnight’s book focuses on connecting the truth of the text with the everyday world in which we all live. And he starts strong with this book, quickly raising some good questions for those who want to place the “demands” of the Sermon inside a broader framework of grace. Although he’s clearly sympathetic to this approach, he’s aware that it can come with some major drawbacks.
“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California). Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (Anchor, 1994), pp. 28-29.
- A Church in Big Easy Walking Distance: The ‘theology of place’ prizes local worship over the megachurch model. (Wall Street Journal)
- 4 Principles on Prayer from Saint Augustine: The first rule is completely counterintuitive. Augustine wrote that before anyone can turn to the question of what to pray and how to pray it, he or she must first be a particular kind of person. What kind is that? He writes: “You must account yourself ‘desolate’ in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be.” (Tim Keller)
- Punching Down: If the Christian community is visibly hostile to marginalized groups in the face of legitimate harm, we’ve screwed up our whole mission; if the only people we can be seen as walking with consistently are just like us, we’re no better than our pagan ancestors. (Elizabeth Stoker)
- Hell Is a Myth — Actually, a Bunch of Myths: The sad truth is that Dante’s hellish vision has been useful in promoting colonizing, crusades and “conversions” for the last 700 years. But it is time for that to change. It is time for Christians, and all people of faith, to re-imagine the afterlife in less medieval terms. (HuffPo)
Just for Fun
- Could you win $10 on Jimmy Kimmel’s latest game? I’m pretty sure that I’d have blown it too.
I have always loved Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book!, which is about the existential crisis Elephant and Piggie go through when they realize that they are characters in a book that will soon end. But I never noticed (until I saw in on Imgur) that you can excerpt certain pages and recreate the existential angst than many of us experience when we’re nearing the end of a good book.
Oddly, I don’t usually have the same experience when I’m grading.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian was a leader and theologian of the fourth century church, best known for his tremendous literary output. One of the most significant Syrian Christians in the history of the church, Ephrem wrote many influential hymns, commentaries, and other works, a particularly impressive accomplishment given that he lived through that turbulent century marked by the theological dissension following the Council of Nicea and the non-stop warfare between the Roman and Persian empires.
St. Ephrem is believed to have died on June 9, 373. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.
Blessed be he who in his love stooped to redeem mankind!
Blessed be the King who made himself poor to enrich the needy!
Blessed be he who came to fulfil
…..the types and emblems of the prophets!
Blessed be he who made creation rejoice
…..with the wealth and treasure of his father!
Blessed be he whose glory the dumb sang with hosannas!
Blessed be he to whom little children sang new glory
…..in hymns of praise!
Blessed be the new King who came
…..that new-born babes might glorify him!
Blessed be he unto whom children brought faltering songs
…..to praise him among his disciples!
- The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy & What Can We Do about It?: I’ve heard people call it a famine. A famine of knowing the Bible. During a famine people waste away for lack of sustenance. Some people die. Those who remain need nourishment; they need to be revived. And if they have any hope of remaining alive over time, their life situation has to change in conspicuous ways. (Biola Magazine)
- Is pulpit plagiarism on the rise? Some blame the Internet: Recent cases of high-profile pastors who have been accused of lifting others’ material are raising questions about whether pulpit plagiarism is on the rise — and whether it has become a more forgivable sin. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
- Bonhoeffer and Technopoly: It is with these obligations to the coming generation in mind, I think, that we are to consider how to respond to the powers that reign in our world. (Alan Jacobs)
- The Audacity of Pope: The ‘Francis Doctrine’ puts the Vatican back on the world stage: Pope Francis has returned the Vatican to the global stage to a degree not seen since the 1980s, when John Paul II’s shuttle pilgrimages helped end the Cold War. (David Gibson)
“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. t/hey show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life—wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean. Aren’t you?”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (Anchor, 1994), p. 15.
- Four Modern Versions of the Bible that Are Ruining the Bible: the commercialization of scripture has also given us four iterations of the modern Bible — which I believe are causing us to value the Bible less and read it less. (On Faith)
- On-the-Job Training Isn’t Working: The on-the-job training of pastors and other faith leaders in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse isn’t working – it is dangerous and all too often has devastating consequences. (Boz Tchividjian)
- Pastors, You Make Your Own Sandwiches: I would be the first to amen the confession blogs, as I am overworked, often discouraged, and take everything in the church personally. But the reality is, I make my own sandwich. My church isn’t to blame, I am. My schedule isn’t to blame, I am. It’s a sandwich I made, and instead of complaining and chomping through it, I want to find joy in it. (Gospel Coalition)
- Mixing Soul Medicines: These days, though, the relationship between secular shrinks and old-time faith isn’t usually as hostile or mutually exclusive in practice as these battle-cries would suggest. Both in academic scholarship and the everyday experience of people who need help or provide it, the two worlds seem to be overlapping more and more. (The Economist)
My daughters love the Lord of the Rings, but they agree that there’s one major flaw. The magic. It’s just not that impressive. Gandalf is supposed to be one of the most powerful wizards in the world, but he rarely does anything all that magical. He spends most of his time eating, smoking, and getting other people to do all the hard stuff. Sounds like good work if you can get it. (And don’t even get me started on Dumbledore.)
Magic should be more dramatic. Something noticeable, unusual, even startling. In most of the other stories, magic is impressive. But Gandalf is pretty normal most of the time.
I think many of us have the same frustration with God. After all, he’s the most powerful wizard out there, right? Surely he could do some amazing stuff if he wanted to. And he does in the stories: parting seas, raising dead people, turning rivers into blood. That’s the kind of magic we’re looking for. But most of what we see around is pretty run of the mill. The wind blows, the sun shines, the earth revolves, and people drive like idiots. Normal. Boring.
Where’s the magic?