Archive for December, 2011

Megastar pastor Joel Osteen and Survivor producer Mark Burnett are teaming up to create a mission-based reality TV show. Cate MacDonald is skeptical of the show’s ability to communicate authentic Christianity.

Joel Martin, over at the blog A Living Text, summarizes the changes occurring in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) after the division in the Church of Rwanda.

Fr. Robert Barron explains why he loved the atheist curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens.



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Center for Theology writer Jack King, on his blog Sacramental Soundings, encourages the church to keep the celebrations going all the way through the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Collin Hansen, over at the Gospel Coalition, offers his Top Ten theology stories of the year.

The Telegraph reports on even more defections in the Church of England to Roman Catholicism, and predicts there will be more.

Chuck Hall reads the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry.

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Two Sundays ago, Advent 4, was our final morning in the Atrium before the Feast of Christmas. It was full  of happy children engaged in their usual pursuits. Some poured over the maps of Israel. Others worked on the colorful calendar marking each Sunday of our liturgical circle of 52 weeks. One used his newfound love of paints to fill a large depiction of the Good Shepherd. At least two children worked with all the materials for the altar. But, as in so many things, it was the small touches in the morning that told the real story, one about how deeply the children perceive in their hearts the coming King, the coming Baby.

This was most evident when we gathered for prayers at the conclusion of our time together. Already the Prayer Table was laden with sign and symbol: the Advent wreath, two statues of the Good Shepherd, flowers, song cards, a prayer card depicting Mary and the baby. We sang, “Now is the Time for Jesus to be Born,” and “Come, Lord Jesus…come and be born in our hearts.” When I paused to ask the children how this could be, and what could it mean for Jesus to be born in our hearts, I confess I expected silence. It’s not exactly an easy question. However, instead of silence came proclamations:

“It’s not easy.”

“It means Jesus is always with us.”

“It means we have him in our hearts.”

We then pondered the names of Jesus as recited by the prophet Isaiah, although we didn’t make it very far down the list: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God”; and then, on the way to “Everlasting Father”, we were interrupted by a small voice who whispered to me, “Don’t forget the Son.” At many, many junctions in our Atrium work with the youngest children, mentioning one member of the Trinity invites rapid-fire declarations of the other two members, and statements of their Oneness. It’s like nobody of their Threesome can be left out.

One final touch also proved significant. Someone couldn’t rest easy until she’d added the cruets and the Altar Book to the Prayer Table. It was only later I realized that, yes, all was ready, all was then prepared for us to receive Him: in the manger; in the Sheepfold; in the Eucharist.

“Come. Lord Jesus, Come and Be Born in Our Hearts.”

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Fr. Michael Morse offers a reflection on the Feast of the Incarnation and provides a brief explanation of the twelve days of Christmas.

Fr. Dale Matson answers the question: What does it mean to be Anglican in the 21st century?

Carolyn Arends shares how she learned humility from a church usher.

Jeff McSwain discusses the relation between the doctrines of the Incarnation and Salvation, arguing that Jesus began saving the world at his conception.

Fred Sanders, from The Scriptorium, offers a book review of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith by Matthew Anderson.


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Here’s a lovely thought: Christianity maintains that human beings were created by God in order to reflect his goodness, often understood through the love communicated between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a way to further communicate his love, God created humanity to reflect his love through our own loving interactions. In other words, humans were made to be united in love as God is united in love.

Marriage is one of the signs instituted by God that reflects this unified love, and he provided it for our mutual joy and happiness.

These are fine ideas, and we often hear them during wedding ceremonies or church or even in our conversations with other Christians. But I sometimes wonder how often we really experience them beyond the abstractions or the mere sentimentalities we tell ourselves. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share a simple story where I was suddenly struck by the wonderful truth of the Christian understanding of love.

My wife and I have been together for 8 years. And I mean together–we never spent a night apart from each other for the first two years of our marriage; never spent more than four hours apart for the first three years; and now, ever since our fifth year, we commute an hour every day together to the same company for work. We really do enjoy being together so much; we depend on each other, care about each other’s happiness, and desperately want to see the other succeed. I’m not entirely sure if this is due to our belief in and pursuit of the virtue of Christian love, or just because our personalities happen to mesh so well. But whatever the case, we’re together most of the day and we feel stronger for it.

Anyway,  one of the (quirky) activities Megan and I like to do is to look at houses around our area in which we may someday live. We’ll surf the web looking at homes we like, or we’ll drive around town looking for open houses. And when we see houses we like, we start planning out our future (as in “I could put a reading room here; Meg could put her art studio here; oooooooh, we could put a BIG fishtank there!” And so on). It’s quite fun.

So, every now and then, when Meg and I surf the real estate sites, we’ll send each other links of our favorite houses. Sometimes we even call the listing real estate agent and schedule a walk-through, just to get a sense for New England homes and to adjust our expectations and desires accordingly. It’s an idle but amusing pastime.

Anyway, one day Meg sent me an email with “!!!!!!!!!!!” in the subject line. She sent me a link to a classic seacoast New England salt-box house with clapboard siding. It was beautiful, for sure, but the reason Meg liked it so much was because it was an open-concept home in which the kitchen flowed into the dining room which flowed into the living room which flowed into the sunroom which flowed back into the kitchen. She said, “I could sit and read or knit in the living room and still see you when you cook!”

And that’s the odd moment when Christian love hit me.

You see, if Meg and I are really living out good, godly, Christian love in our marriage, then we’re supposed to be imaging forth the glory of God’s love-communion in some mysterious way that often eludes me. But in this moment, at least, I got a glimpse of God’s unified love through the straight-forward desire of my wife’s longing to live as closely as possible to me within an open-concept home.

Now, I understand how other people may experience God’s love in their marriage differently. I’m not trying to say EVERYONE should live in open-concept homes, after all. I just often experience a disconnect between the high ideals of the Christian faith and real experience. I think everyone does. And so I think it’s nice, and awe-fully surprising, to experience one of the greater truths of Christianity through a semi-mundane, off-handed comment from my lovely wife.

But I guess that’s what the faith is all about.


Editor’s note: John and Megan ended up buying an open concept home. This post is a reprint from the post originally published October 15, 2009 on the blog For Love of the Faith, which will be closing down in January.

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Fr. Michael Morse addresses the question of evil and suffering in his post “Why Evil, Why Calamity” on his personal blog Care for the Flock.

The AMiA Council of Bishops has released a letter apologizing for the fallout from the division in the Church of Rwanda even as they defend the actions of chairman and Bishop Chuck Murphy.

Christianity Today reports on the myriad ways churches are ministering to the growing senior population in the U.S.

George Weigel, in First Things, has a sophisticated piece exploring the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Daniel Henninger, in The Wall Street Journal, discusses how our busy lives prevent us from celebrating Christmas well. While not an explicitly spiritual piece, Henninger’s observation that Christmas has just become another item on our to-do list has obvious spiritual implications.


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Archbishop Robert Duncan has released a pastoral letter commenting on the disruption in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) and the Church of Rwanda.

William J. Tighe, in Touchstone, argues that the date of Christmas is original to Christians (and not an appropriation of Germanic pagan solstice rituals).

Collin Hansen has a note on the Gospel Coalition blog exploring “Bad Art and the Tortured Beauty of the Cross.”

Frederick Schmidt reminds his reader over at Patheos to remember the purpose of Christmas.

Finally, just for fun, the trailer for the (2nd) greatest story ever told, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has just been released.

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Heather Sells from the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reports that young people are flocking to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) due to its emphasis on tradition and the sacraments. Anglican fever. Catch it!

Pope Benedict XVI provides a heavy theological analysis on the new modes of evangelization in the 21st century (an oldie, but goodie).

Christianity Today reports on the difficulties church leaders are having in response to violent attacks on Christians. To turn the other cheek, or fight back?

Mark Vernon, in the Guardian, discusses the political value of Christian ethics due to Christianity’s emphasis on accountability and its vision of the heavenly city.

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American AMiA bishops clarify their new role with the Church of Rwanda in an open letter reprinted on VirtueOnline.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan has formally recognized the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), rescinding an invitation to the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC), Katherine Jefferts Schori.

Douglas Wilson reflects on the death of Christopher Hitchens and discusses how we should think about his death.

Elizabeth Drescher outlines five ways social media is reshaping religion.

Ken Walker, in Christianity Today, offers a provocative argument against the way most churches structure their Sunday schools, saying that adults and children should be taught together, rather than separated according to age groups.

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Tales from the Church

One of the ways I update my Facebook status is by relating funny little anecdotes about experiences I have in the church. I title them “Tales from the church” or “More Tales from the church” or “Tales from the church Part IV.” People tend to enjoy the humorous situations in which I often find myself, and I now find that I go to church looking and waiting for hysterical experiences to happen so I can relate it later on Facebook.

Here’s some examples:

“Tales from the church: During coffee hour, I grab a cup of coffee and pour two packs of sugar and a package of cream in it. The 82 year-old sitting beside me grumbles, “Do you like coffee, or warm ice cream?”

“More Tales from the church: During youth group, a kid says to me, “John, do you own like 50 gray T-shirts?” Me: “Uh, yeah, I guess.” Kid: “Ok, good, ‘cause I was worried you just wear the same shirt every day.” Me: Hmmm, maybe it’s time to update my wardrobe.

“Tales from the church Part III: A family invites us to watch the Patriots game. While there, I start working on my laptop. One of the kids there asks me “How long do you use a computer each day?” I say, “Um, about 12-13 hours.” Kid: “What’s wrong with you!?!?!?”

One comment I received from one of these updates said, “Man, you’re just taking it from all sides! Old and young, they all want to take it out on John Pryor!”

Well, sorta. I seem to have a reflexive tendency to make self-deprecating jokes about myself, and I’m so afraid of coming off like a pompous jerk in Facebook cyber-land that I only highlight those stories that make fun of myself.

Whatever the case, one of the reasons I love highlighting different stories from the church like this is that it portrays what the Christian life is like “on the inside.” Sometimes, when the leaders of the church are theologizing on the glories of life with Jesus in the church, the grandiosity of the language used to describe it often doesn’t match up with reality (I’m preaching to myself here….I mean, really, what does “we were made to be united in love as God is united in love” mean in real life, anyway?). So I think it’s important to remind each other about the various ways in which life in the church reflects the actual glory and goodness of God as often as we can.

One of the things these funny Facebook updates has taught me is how much the church actually resembles a large family. While the church and families can be grumps to each other or make fun of each other or hurt each other in ways greater than the hurt caused by friends or acquaintances, it seems people still possess an intuitive but also experiential understanding of the importance of the church and the family to provide, among other things, stability, support, and glimpses into the wonders of life.

For example, the 82 year-old who disapproved of my coffee drinking habits is not always grumpy. He kindly offered his time to the youth group to give his testimony and answer the question, “Why have I made church a vital part of my life?” He told a bunch of 12-18 year olds about his experiences in the U.S. military, his struggles to be a good husband and father, and how the church provided the structure and order he needed to become a better man. But most interestingly, he told the story of his wife’s death soon after his retirement and the loneliness and confusion that seeped in despite his best efforts. He said no matter how difficult life got, he always knew the people in the church were there for him, no matter what, just like a family.

Later, he told me how much he enjoyed being given the opportunity to share some of his learned wisdom with those much younger than him–it was as if the time spent with all the youth group kids reminded him of his time raising his own children. The church was his “other” family, where he could interact with the young, the middle aged, and the not-so-young. I suppose he was blessed by the energy, the hope, and the expectations of youth, and (I desperately hope) the youth were blessed by his wisdom, his experience, and the acknowledgement of his emotional scars.

Outside the church, and outside the family, I’ve found there’s very little opportunity to interact with those older, younger, or just simply different from me. While I certainly have friends around my age I enjoy immensely, there’s very few communities to which I can belong that offer their unconditional support like a healthy family or healthy church. As trite as this may sound, I find the familial aspects of church to be a very significant reason for why I love being Christian. The Church provides a community of people who strive to love each other unconditionally. Like families, people in the church often frustrate and hurt each other, but nevertheless there is a spirit in the church to make sure people are loved no matter the circumstances.

Which, in the end, is no small thing.

Originally published November 10, 2009 on the blog For Love of the Faith, which will be shutting down in January.

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