20161014

Peace :: Weekend Reading List

St. Augustine, in his beautiful work, The City of God, describes peace as tranquillitas ordinis—“the tranquility of order.” Far from a simple—passive—lack of strife, peace is something that is the result of intentional and sacrificial labor. George Weigel, recipient of the 2016 Peace Prize of the Universal Peace Project, observes of Augustine’s view:

This was not any “order,” of course. Rather, what Augustine sought was an “order” rooted in justice: an “order” in which men and women could live out their responsibility to promote the common good; an “order” that made possible virtue in public life. Today, we might translate Augustine’s definition of peace by thinking of tranquillitas ordinis as dynamic, rightly ordered political community, within and among states.

Weigel reminds us that Augustine penned “the tranquility of order” at a time in history “when the civilization he knew and cherished was crumbling around him.” As if his parallel to our modern predicament wasn’t clear enough, the Peace Prize recipient continues, “Such an ‘order’—such a ‘peace’—does not just happen. It is an ongoing work of moral responsibility.”

Of course, “moral responsibility” is part of what has made this election cycle so exhausting. In most elections, and with many things in this election, the language of morality is invoked more often to imbue meaning to what would otherwise be considered opinion or party difference.

For what may be the first time in our country’s history, a major party candidate has boasted that he sexually abuses women. Following the candidate’s casual dismissal of the recording—and inexplicable disregard for his victims as they came forward acknowledging that Trump did do what he so gleefully admitted to—I received a Facebook message:

I am one of many women who is a rape and sexual assault survivor. Please make no mistake that what Mr. Trump described was assault. I’ve been through trauma therapy and have been in recovery for a long time. When I heard the tape and those words, I was thrown into a PTSD episode that I’m still working through. I was blindsided.

How we long for Augustine’s tranquility of order. But it cannot be obtained by through a candidate who has no respect for such order. Christianity Today’s Executive Editor Andy Crouch laments:

There is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.” This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date….

Most Christians who support Trump have done so with reluctant strategic calculation, largely based on the president’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court…. But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support.

Our choice, as Christians, is not between two candidates—it is between trusting in God and placing our faith in a politician or party. In this way, today’s election is no different from years past. There is a clear moral responsibility to embrace, no doubt. But, as George Weigel concludes in his acceptance of the peace prize:

Let us not feel the pressures of our historical moment as a burden, but as a summons to responsibility. For in the exercise of that responsibility, we may come to feel a different weight, the “weight of glory” promised to those who are true peacemakers.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 47 (Listen – 4:08)
Psalms 103 (Listen – 2:07)

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20161013

Constant Comfort in Suffering :: Throwback Thursday

By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace…. But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. — Psalm 102.3, 12

Kindly notice the title of this Psalm: A Prayer Of The Afflicted, When He Is Overwhelmed, And Pours Out His Complaint Before The Lord. I call your attention to it in order to remind you what changes there are in the life of a believer.

Here, in the 102nd Psalm, the afflicted saint is pouring out his complaint; and then, in the 103rd, the rejoicing believer is blessing the Lord in a jubilant song of grateful praise. Such are a true Christian’s ups and downs, nights and days; and I can see how the 103rd Psalm blossoms out of the 102nd.

When the afflicted believer can pour out his complaint before the Lord, it will not be long before he will be able to cry, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

If you carry your complaint in your own bosom, or tell it to some earthly friend, you will probably continue to have cause to complain; but if you pour out your heart before God, it will not be long before he will give you ease and relief.

That was David’s usual way, to comfort himself in his God when he could find no comfort in himself or in his surroundings. You remember that he did so on that memorable occasion when Ziklag was burned, and the people spake of stoning him: “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”

We shall be wise if we follow his example; for, when every other source of joy is dried up, when all earthly wells are stopped up by the Philistines, the stream of God’s mercy flows on as freely as ever.

It is most instructive to notice how the psalmist ascribes all to God—not only his strength, but his weakness—not merely his extended life, but even the shortening of his days. It takes away the sting from our sorrow when we know that it comes from God. It helps us to bear any apparent calamity when we feel that it is our Heavenly Father’s hand that has wrought it all, or his will that has permitted it to happen.

The ever-living God is our constant comfort amidst the ever-changing scenes of this mortal life.

*Abridged and language updated from Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Commentary on Psalm 102.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 46 (Listen – 4:49)
Psalms 102 (Listen – 2:45)

 

20161012

Created Anew

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! — Psalm 100.1-2

The rabbis speak of “right intentions”: yetzer ha-tov (the good inclination) vs yetzer ha-ra (the evil inclination). It is possible to serve the Lord out of joy and it is possible to serve him out of duty. On the outside, acts of service appear the same: “but the Lord looks at the heart.”

This could be the difference between God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and rejection of Cain’s. One brother sacrificed with joy, the other out of duty, and some commentators note that God accepted the sacrifice that was given in joy—or, in this case, love—and rejected the one given from obligation—void of relationship and the joy that comes from it.

Likewise this is how the rich young ruler could obey every observable letter of the law and still walk away from Christ. No one objected when the young man said he obeyed the law—on the outside he looked righteous. Yet, the rhythms of relationship with God were foreign to him.

Christianity doesn’t offer religion as the solution for irreligion. The scriptures identify our core problem as a lack of relationship. We do not know God, we don’t understand ourselves, and we are distanced from others; even our relationship with the planet and its climate are deeply fractured. You can’t solve for lack of relationship through performance—religious or otherwise.

The joyful intimacy the Psalms display is a direct result of worship. Psalm 100 is the closing Psalm in a series (starting at Psalm 93) that renders praise to God because he is sufficiently worthy of all praise, affection, and hope. The first three verses of the Psalm focus on the spiritual act of service, the last two verses draw our attention to worship.

The separation of work from worship is a distinctly modern construct. The faithful have always viewed their work as worship—and been acutely aware that true worship requires labor. Work can thus be seen as our vocation and the labor of focus required for intimacy.

The pride and brokenness that mar our world are the result of worshipping unworthy objects—worship without focus. We bow before our own pride and chase after false gods to find fulfillment.

We are created anew each time we place ourselves before the creator and sustainer of this world. We rejoice in God not as our duty, but as our joy. In the words of the Psalmist, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 45 (Listen – 4:50)
Psalms 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

 

20161011

Forging Faith

With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! — Psalm 98.6

The beauty of an orchestra is formed not only through the dedication of its members, but the forging of its instruments. Ductility—the ability to be shaped without losing strength—is essential to shaping the trumpet and horn that praise God in Psalm 98. This image of formation is so striking, Augustine pauses in his reflections on the Psalms:

Ductile trumpets are of brass: they are drawn out by hammering. It is by hammering—by being beaten—you too shall be trumpets, drawn out unto the praise of God. You improve when in tribulation: tribulation is hammering, improvement is the being drawn out.

Job was a ductile trumpet, when suddenly assailed by the heaviest losses, and the death of his sons, become like a ductile trumpet by the beating of so heavy tribulation. He sounded like this: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This is one of the most difficult teachings of Christianity: you are not yet perfect and must be shaped. This shaping is the foundation of how we thrive. It is not in spite of pain, but because of it, that we discover the strength, beauty, and joy we were created to display. Augustine concludes:

This ductile trumpet is still under the hammer. We have heard how he was drawn out; let us hear how Job sounded: “What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” O courageous, O sweet sound! Whom will that sound not awake from sleep? Whom will confidence in God not awake—to march to battle fearlessly against the devil; not to struggle with his own strength, but His who proves him.

See how even the apostle Paul was beaten with this very hammer: “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.” He is under the hammer. Listen to how he speaks of it: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

His Maker wished to make this trumpet perfect; I cannot do so unless I draw it out. In weakness is strength made perfect. Hear now the ductile trumpet itself sounding as it should: “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 44 (Listen – 5:32)
Psalms 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

 

20161010

Effortlessly Holding it All

For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. — Psalm 95:3-4

It may be partially as survival mechanism, but urbanites find near-perverse delight in the idiosyncrasies of city life. One of the most striking contrasts in New York City is found in a 7-ton bronze statue of the god Atlas. Although immense, and depicted with defined muscle, the figure of Atlas strains under the weight of the world, which rests on his shoulders.

The 45 foot tall statue is dwarfed by the scale of Rockefeller Center rising above it. “Heroic materialism,” Adam Gopnik observes, quoting British author Kenneth Clark on modern commercial culture as demonstrated in its architecture.

‘Why are the public buildings so high?’ another Englishman of the same Oxonian generation, W.H. Auden, who knew the squalid city rather better than Clark did, asked when he arrived. ‘Why, that’s because the spirits of the public are so low.’

Gopnik continues, “The tall building is the symbol of all that we hope for—height, reach, power, and a revolving restaurant with a long wine list—and all that we cower beneath.” In particular to Rockefeller Center, and its impressive artwork, he writes:

It was not that Rockefeller, in a burst of civic generosity, decided to go all out. It was that everyone then was expected to go all out… All the things that make Rockefeller Center immediately winning–the statues of Prometheus and Atlas, the molded glass bas-reliefs–were just part of what you were expected to do.

Expectations can be immensely heavy. We often find ourselves, like Atlas, crushed by the weight of the world.

Tucked humbly behind the altar inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral—just a few hundred feet from Rockefeller’s statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue—is a significantly smaller statue. This one is of Jesus. The Christ stands, but a child, effortlessly holding the world in the palm of his hand.

The Psalmist writes, “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.… Oh come, let us worship and bow down.” The best reason to find ourselves kneeling is not because we’re buckling under the weight of the world, but because we’ve given ourselves in worship and submission to the one who holds it all effortlessly in his hands.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 43 (Listen – 5:15)
Psalms 95-96 (Listen – 2:41)