Matthew 6, a modern paraphrase

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you do your good deeds, do not announce them with hashtags, as the hypocrites do on Instagram and on Facebook, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you do your good deeds, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your doing may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you have your Bible study and quiet time, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to do this with Twitter pictures of coffee and their Bible, and on Facebook statuses to “encourage” others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Inspired by nothing in particular and many things in general.

An open letter of apology to my wife, to be reused as necessary

Dear Becky,

Tomorrow the postman will drop off an Amazon package in the mailbox. Yes, it’s another book. Yes, I know the last one I ordered just showed up a couple days ago. And the one last week before that.

I managed to justify them all to myself in one way or another. Last week was a book about major players in my industry, and I figured it’d be good history for me to know. Early this week was one about leadership that a bunch of people have been raving about. Having been in a leadership position at work for almost two years, it’s probably worth reading. Tomorrow is a two-volume (sigh) book of theology.

Had I been able to arrange the delivery date for tomorrow’s book, I would’ve spaced it out a little bit better, but I ordered it back in January and it just dropped this week. But hey, Amazon tells me I saved $5 by preordering, so that makes it worth it, right?

And yeah, I know I’ve got a pile of books as long as my arm stacked next to the bed. And another pile as long as my other arm stacked behind that. And full bookshelves everywhere we have bookshelves. But is it really my fault that N.T. Wright is such a prodigious author? Heck, the last time I bought a book of his I spent $4.99 on sale for the Kindle version. That saves bookshelf space!

(On second thought, let’s not get into how many unread books I still have on the Kindle…)

I have at various times in the past made a resolution that I won’t buy any more books until I whittle down the unread pile next to the bed. It’s probably time to make that resolution again. (Well, maybe after I use that Half Price Books gift card I was just given.)

At this point my unread book collection probably outnumbers your cast iron collection, though by weight the cast iron still wins… but maybe not for long. I think we get similar amounts of enjoyment out of our own respective collections, but to be fair I’m sure I get far more benefit from all the yummy stuff you cook in the cast iron than you get from all the rambling I do in conversation with you after reading.

Thanks for nearly 20 years of putting up with my bad habits. As much as I try to improve, maybe sometimes buying another bookshelf would just be the easier solution. (If we only had room…)

Love,
Chris

Fr. Boules George: A Message to Those Who Kill Us

The priest at one of the Coptic Orthodox churches that was bombed on Palm Sunday responding to the bombings with a message to their killers.

If your church had been bombed and your people killed, would your reaction be ‘Thank You’ and ‘We Love You’? Yeah, probably not. So it’s worth reading.

Finished reading: The Madame Curie Complex by Julie Des Jardins

Picked this one up from the library on a whim. The Madame Curie Complex is a relatively short volume covering the history of a dozen or so women scientists starting with the archetypal Marie Curie and running through the 20th century up to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

Des Jardins consistently hits the themes that these brilliant women were underappreciated, underpaid, and had uneven expectations levied on them – circumstances that continue for women across the workforce today. While each chapter provides a nice summary of each woman’s achievements, there’s not a compelling through line or narrative arc to the book to pull it together as a cohesive whole. Nevertheless, this is a good bit of history to read up on.


The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science

Stop Trying to be a Man – Start Trying to be a Good Man

Brad Williams with a fantastic piece on Christ and Pop Culture today, saying things that desperately need to be said:

Culture tells us that certain things are “manly” and certain things are “unmanly.” But we must take that with a grain of salt. Most of the time, those around us in the culture have no idea who or what they are — so taking our cues from them doesn’t make any sense. Down deep, many people are quite insecure about themselves, and so they stick to silly things like “pink is for girls” because they have no better way to define what it is to be masculine. As a good man, you must take note of these things. Such markers might be alright for immature boys, but a good man will feel some grief for adults who continue to define themselves so narrowly.

Back in 2001, John Eldredge wrote a book titled Wild at Heart. In it, he argued that every man’s desire is for “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” This does sound very romantic perhaps, but that’s all it is. After all, many women have these same desires — and some men may hardly desire such things at all.

A good man does not have, in his heart, a grand desire for conquest. A good man’s heart desires only peace. A good man doesn’t desire war with his neighbor in order to take what isn’t his. The prophet Micah, when teaching of the day when God’s Kingdom would finally come to Earth, wrote, “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). A good man loves the peace of his own vineyard. He desires a time when there’s nothing out there to make anyone afraid. This doesn’t mean he’ll always live in peace because seeking peace can still lead to conflict, but peace should always be the end goal. Your dream of peace may lead you to a different place of contentment than a vineyard or a fig tree, but Micah’s verse reveals that a man’s proper goal is desiring the opposite of fighting battles.

Maybe the Christian manliness bro culture has dissipated a little bit since Mark Driscoll left the helm of Acts29 and Mars Hill, but it’s still far too prevalent. Williams provides a great corrective here that those bought into the “real manhood” circus.


Christ and Pop Culture: Stop Trying to Be a Man and Start Trying to Be a Good Man

Finished reading: Faithful Presence by David Fitch

I’ve kept up with David Fitch for a while now via his blog and twitter. Fitch is a professor of theology at Northern Seminary in suburban Chicago, and has led church plants that reflect his focus on community, mutual leadership and submission, and reconciliation. Faithful Presence seeks to capture those ideas in a short, practical volume for church leaders.

Fitch outlines three areas of presence that Christians should occupy: the “close circle” (presence with other Christians around the Lord’s Supper), the “dotted circle” (still a fellowship of believers, but open to non-believers, typically in the context of a believer’s home), and the “half circle” (extending Christian presence into the neighborhood).

He then spends short chapters on each of seven disciplines he outlines as critical to a faithful presence. They are:

  • The Lord’s Table
  • Reconciliation
  • Proclaiming the Gospel
  • Being with the “Least of These”
  • Being with Children
  • The Fivefold gifting (roles in church leadership)
  • Kingdom Prayer

I really like Fitch’s focus on neighborhood and community presence; this is a welcome redirection from the big evangelical church as social hub. I found resonance there with an end note from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints, where (if memory serves) she says essentially “do you want what we have? Don’t move here and come to my church – instead, start having a weekly dinner in your home with other believers, and let it grow from there.”

There’s a lot here to consider in an easy, small volume. Worth the read.

Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission

Jethani: Blessed Are The Disillusioned

Skye Jethani articulates in a piece today a lot of the frustrations I have felt and heard in recent months. Just a sample:

The tribe of the disillusioned is growing and the institutional containers we have inherited are struggling to hold us. The cracks are spreading. The containers are leaking. But we stay, for now, because we don’t know where to go. We don’t know who to follow. We don’t know where we belong.

The disillusioned wonder—where are the voices that affirm traditional Christian marriage without condemning our neighbors who do not?

The disillusioned wonder—where are the churches that focus more on loving people in the name of God than using people in the name of mission?

The disillusioned wonder—where are the humble Christians that can discern the difference between a loss of privilege and real persecution?

I appreciate that he doesn’t just leave us in the wondering but gives us some encouragement for where to go from here. Worth reading.


SkyeJethani.com: Blessed Are The Disillusioned

Finished reading: another compendium

If I posted these individually when I finished the books, I’d have more frequent posts on the blog here… oh well.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
An interesting little thriller / mystery about a man who survives a private plane crash. Not as thrilling or involved as it could be, but good basic entertainment. I hear that this guy is writing for the TV show Legion, which leads me to think I should maybe give it a try.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
I saw this one was a fantasy story that had won the Newbery, so I figured I’d give it a shot in hopes of finding something I could give my daughters to read. It’s a nice story, a little bit dark in places but with hopeful messages. It’s not as funny as a Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman story, and there’s a lot going on in it. I think my older two daughters would probably handle it OK, but at the moment I can’t manage to get either of them interested in it. Oh well.

A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians–from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between by Stuart Isacoff
Picked this one up on a whim and enjoyed it. Basically it’s a short history not just of the development of the piano as an instrument but also of the composers and musicians who used it. My favorite part of reading books about music like this is that I’m always pointed to some new music. This time the bit of interest is Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, a cycle modeled after Bach’s. Now if only the sheet music wasn’t nearly $100…

We are from the future, embodying that in the here and now

One of my favorites, Brian Zahnd, talked recently on the Makers and Mystics podcast. I love this little bit of what he had to say about the church being “from the future”:

When I say I’m from the future, what I mean is that in baptism I have come to live under the reign and rule of Christ here and now. And I use an illustration: this is what the Church should be like.

If you go to a movie, and you’re there to see, well, whatever you’re there to see, everybody knows that before the actual movie starts you have the previews. And what a preview is, is 2, 3, 4 minutes of a coming attraction. This movie is not here yet, but they’re going to show you enough of it that you get an idea of what it will be like.

The church is to be a preview of the age to come. We’re not perfect, we don’t claim that. But we should be able – I don’t think we really can, for the most part – but we should be able to say to the wider culture, “look at our communities. This is where this thing is headed. This is what the reign of Christ actually looks like, because we are from the future, we are embodying that here and now.”

So good.

Finished Reading: The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

When the good Bishop N. T. Wright has a new book out it’s an automatic purchase for me at this point. And Wright does not disappoint with The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright examines the meaning of Jesus’ death in his usual lucid style, with a focus on what understanding the first-century Christians would’ve had of that death.

Wright keys on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. This launches him on a review of the Old Testament idea of salvation and forgiveness of sins, and how for Israel “forgiveness of sins” was closely tied to the covenant promise of restoration from exile.

Wright then takes the reader through the various New Testament discussions of the meaning of the crucifixion to make the case that “salvation” isn’t really primarily about individual salvation (though individuals are saved), but is rather about the restoration and blessing of the whole earth through Israel in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Wright, as usual, says some things that undoubtedly set some conservative theologians on edge. Notable among these is his contention that Jesus’ death isn’t really about some sort of penal substitution. That, says Wright, is still buying into a system of works righteousness – even if the works aren’t our works – that isn’t borne out in the Bible’s view of God’s love as shown in His covenant promises.

Wright makes the case that salvation is really about much more than we are led to believe. And while he acknowledges that theologians will typically provide a more nuanced view, he believes (and I agree) that at the lay level in evangelicalism, the understanding of salvation is very individual and transactional – people sin, which makes God angry, a price must be paid, Jesus pays that price to step in the way of God’s anger, people are saved to go to heaven. I don’t think that Wright would disagree with any of those statements… from a certain point of view. However, his picture of salvation is much wider and more appealing. It’s really worth a read and consideration.

This volume would be a nice companion piece to go alongside Surprised by Hope – which itself is still the volume I’d encourage people to read if they need an intro to Wright. Good stuff.