Friday, November 27, 2015

December 16, 2014

What Psychology Says About Materialism and the Holidays

Six questions for materialism expert Tim Kasser, PhD

Reporters/editors/producers note: The following feature was produced by the American Psychological Association. You may reprint it in its entirety or in part. We only request that you credit APA as the source. We also have a photograph of Kasser for reprinting. 

Would the holidays be the same without some materialism in the mix? In today’s consumer society, what does it mean to be materialistic, and is that necessarily a bad thing? Psychologists have conducted research that has helped answer those questions and many more.

Tim Kasser, PhD

APA recently asked Kasser the following questions:  

APA: What does it mean to be materialistic and why is it generally viewed in a negative light? Why are some people materialistic and others not?

Read more at

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How Do You Tell the Biblical Story? A Proposal

Everything in the life of the church starts, ends, and depends every step of the way on identity, God’s identity. And from that flows the church’s identity.

God’s identity is confirmed in Consummation, adumbrated in Creation, and fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.  

1.    In creation, God inaugurated the realization of his dream – a community of humans to call his people and with whom he could live forever in loving fellowship on the creation.

2.    Humanity’s rebellion trashed that dream and put humanity and creation in mortal disarray.

Good established order – rebellious trashed disorder: the original revolution.

3.    The rightful king, now the ruler in exile, begins a counter-revolutionary campaign of reclamation and restoration to subvert what humanity has become and demonstrate what God always wanted.

In reclamation and restoration, God is a subversive counter-revolutionary.

4.    In covenant with Abraham and Sarah God calls them to be his subversive counter-revolutionary people (universal family).

5.    In covenant with Moses God provides the way of life and content of his subversive counter-revolution (demonstrating God’s life intended for humanity).

6.    In covenant with David God promises his own subversive counter-revolutionary rule through a Davidic king forever (divine rule).

7.    In new covenant God promises intimate presence and communion with his people.

Covenant brings and sustains God’s people as a subversive counter-revolutionary movement.

8.    In, with, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth God comes as the subversive counter-revolutionary par excellence announcing and enacting the rule of creations rightful King (God’s Kingdom).

9.    His resurrection is the victory of God’s Kingdom, the dawn of new creation – all things have been set right by him.

10. His followers, filled at Pentecost with his Spirit, continue to be his subversive-counter-revolutionary movement implementing and extending his victory throughout the world and await his return to finally and fully establish God’s Kingdom, the rightful rule of creation’s rightful King.

Jesus embodies and enacts God’s subversive counter-revolutionary activity that reclaims and restores humanity to its primal dignity and vocation, redeems and renews creation, and he returns and ratifies that God has kept all his promises and achieved his creation dream.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Memory, Forgetting, and Hope


A biblical call to remember must be written in the future tense.

Appears in Winter 2015 Issue: Remembering Forward

December 1st, 2015

One of the saddest books of the modern world is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything—not because the plot is heartbreaking (it’s a cookbook) or because it documents the ravages of hunger. What’s sad is that we need it: it’s a cookbook for a society that forgot how to cook.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rites of the Stadium

by Peter J. Leithart 11 . 19 . 15 

Modern sports are not simple competition between the two teams. If they were only about physical competition, games would be shorter, less glitzy, less energetic.
Sports are ritualized events, liturgies. The crowd’s behavior is deliberately intensified with ritual elements – with mascots who emblemize the team, with fight songs that energize and bind the fans into a single singing unit, with the moments of drama like the team’s bursting through the paper barrier as they come onto the field from the lockerrom for the first time, halftime entertainments.
At higher levels, the ritual gets more complex. The Super Bowl is the great annual rite of America’s athletic-military-entertainment complex. The game is integrated into the American dream not only by the singing of the national anthem, but by the F16 flyover. Halftime is extended to make room for popular celebrity singers to perform to raucous crowds. You don’t have to be at the game to participate: You can have your Super Bowl party and enjoy what the live spectators cannot, the Super Bowl commercials.

Read more at:

The Life of Faith, as Best as I Understand It or The Grammar of Faith

          Our relationship to God occurs in at least three grammatical moods. First, is the indicative mood. Faith in this mood is declarative, stating what is true, usually with a fairly high degree of certainty. Fundamentalists of all stripes (right, left, center) can be found here. Intellectual assent is the key virtue in this mood.

          Secondly, we have the imperative mood. Here demand is the main thing. The rules are there and they must be kept. Purity cultures (again, of all stripes) thrive on this imperative mood. Taboo subjects like sex are high profile here. Performance is the key.

          Thirdly, we have the subjunctive mood. Here we find the “perhaps, maybes, hopes, doubts, perplexities” of faith. This is the mood we all live in much of the time if we’re honest. The rough edges and loose ends of life are where this mood thrives. And most of life is lived in this mood. If the first two moods are “summery” where all is bright and clear, the subjunctive mood is more “wintery.” It is a hortatory mood where experience and faith collide as much as or more than they cohere.

          Faith should, I think, be parsed in all three moods. The indicative mood is an anchor, the one or few things we are sure of and tenaciously hang on to. When everything we believe, though, becomes our anchor, we lapse into fundamentalism and deny our experience. The imperative mood expresses the behavioral correlates we consider basic to integrity or faithfulness. Again, these should be few in number with due allowance made for legitimate diversity or e devolve into a purity cult. The subjunctive mood is where we live most of the time, as I said.

          Subjunctive faith is forced upon us by our experience of life as often unpredictable, at times unfathomable, sometimes cruel, seldom fair. Beset by iniquity, inequity, and tragedy, perplexities and doubts cluster around our every attempt to make sense of things. When they threaten to overwhelm us, we hang on to our anchor, the indicative, declarative mood for dear life. Practice of our faith, the imperative, demand mood, often stabilizes us and gives us space to struggle with our doubts and questions.

          This subjunctive mood is where we interface with others. Everyone is in the same subjunctive place we are. This is where our interactions and relationships really hit the road. When we can genuinely inhabit this space, uncomfortable or unpleasant as it may be, we can connect more deeply with those around us. In the subjunctive mood, we listen better, linger longer, and learn more from them. Humanity touches humanity, challenge and change become possible.

          Fundamentalism of either the indicative or imperative moods short circuits this kind of contact. Only with subjunctive relationships with others can we genuinely share our anchors and key behaviors in ways that do shut down communication. We must hold to our anchors and the practices that define and demonstrate who we believe ourselves to be, but we must do this within the shared arena of the subjunctive that gives them their traction.

          Such, as best I can tell, is the life of faith.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Healing Our Blindness


Sunday Night Mourning

As I write, I’m sitting in my living room watching football on a Sunday evening. I just finished eating a meal made with organic tomatoes and peppers we grew in our garden this summer, and now I’m enjoying a craft beer, made not far from my home.

Tonight’s Sunday Night Football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks begins with a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Paris terrorist attack on Friday night, followed by a slightly altered version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” When the singer reaches the line “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,” he changes “our” to “your” in a show of solidarity with France. As the song finishes, war helicopters fly over the stadium.

As Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer narrowly avoids a sack, my mind wanders to those around the world who might have a hard time imagining my comfortable existence tonight. Shocked by the violence of Friday night, Parisians are suddenly unsure of whether they can safely walk their streets, go out for dinner, or enjoy live music. Lebanese citizens in Beirut are longing for peace after a suicide attack on Thursday killed over 40 people, while also struggling with their tragedy being overlooked by the world community. Syrians are exhausted by the brutal civil war in their country, abandoning their homes in search of refuge around the world—only to be treated as enemies upon arrival. In contrast to the excitement of American football crowds, Pakistanis hear the sound of aircraft overhead with dread, knowing that an explosion might not be far behind. Kenyans are trying to heal from terrorist attacks in their colleges and malls. Iraqis are caught in a nightmare scenario of spiraling violence, unstable infrastructure, and the deaths of at least 146,000 civilians since 2003. That’s to name only a few, but far too many.

Suddenly my seemingly normal evening seems anything but. Against a backdrop of cheering fans and jubilant announcers, it’s all I can do not to break down in mourning for the state of the world.


Stand with Paris?

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Today in Sydney the Daily Telegraph reported that the ‘merciless’ response promised by President Francois Hollande of France had begun with revenge bombings of cities in Syria. There should be no doubt that non-combatants will suffer in these attacks.

I write this with a profound sense of anxiety and personal misgiving. But I feel like I cannot not write when, as I’ll explain below, it looks to some observers as if the church I love has publicly merged its identity with that of Western capitalist democracy. Almost overnight, we have shucked off the theological practice of over a 1000 years.* At its best, the church has kept a clear distinction between itself and the state; suddenly, we have begun using words like solidarity and phrases ‘standing with Paris’. And I think that somewhere in our Spirit-led rush to the kind of compassion that has marked the church through the ages, we have forgotten that to be pastoral is also always to be theological. 

‘Stand with Paris’

Let me explain by asking this question: what is the problem with the language of ‘stand with Paris’?

Well, firstly, we should ask what this slogan means.

Some Christians say that ‘standing with Paris’ means “compassion… fellow frailty and in-need-of-Jesus-ness” or “blowing up innocent people as an act of terror is wrong and if we can help you we will,” or even, “a promise to pray.”

It seems to me that Christians seem to be the only people in the world who are in any doubt as to the meaning of ‘stand by Paris.’ The Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, had no such confusion: ‘your fight is our fight,’ he declared.

To ‘stand with’ someone is not to empathise with them, walk alongside them, pray with them or simply love them. To ‘stand with’ someone is to join them in their particular struggle and fight. It means to take their side. Ed Stetzer recently wrote, in Christianity Today, a US-based, globally distributed magazine for evangelical Christians: “We are, it is hard to disagree, in what will be a decades-long struggle with radical Islamists.” And when Christians declare that they are on the side of Paris, whilst having offered no similar identification with Beirut or Mosul, we have an enormous problem.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reflecting on Terror

Frederick William Schmidt posted the following on FB today. I think he’s identified the issues that we must wrestle with to better understand what is happening in our “terroristic” world of today.

Here are assumptions Schmidt identifies at work in too many of the responses to terror.

Assumption #1: That there is any such thing as universal values.

Assumption #2: That if we simply reasoned with people or provided them with alternatives, that this kind of thing would not happen.

Assumption #3: That this problem is somehow the product of a historical vacuum, without precedent.

Assumption #4: That we can handle the situation through good police work or that when this kind of thing happens, it's due to poor police work.

These would be wonderful reflection points for anyone or group wanting to better grasp and respond to our world.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Forget the War on Cchristmas, The War on Advent is Worse

October 9, 2014 By Mollie Hemingway

I just received an email asking me to “save the date” for a “Christmas” party to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 3. “Hi friends, get a jump start on your holiday planning with our Save the Date for the [redacted] Christmas party,” the email read. Attached was a card that read “sleigh bells will ring, JINGLE, JINGLE, JINGLE So let’s get together to MIX & MINGLE.”

Now, I love an invitation to a party as much as the next girl, but this is a great example of The War on Advent (here’s where you imagine a big FOX News zooming and blinking banner as beautiful talking heads discuss how the culture is hostile to Christians).

You’re familiar with “The War on Christmas,” where we get upset that people turn what is clearly a religious holy day celebrated by the vast majority of the people in the country into a generic “holiday” season where the worst thing you can do is publicly speak the name of the holiday that almost everyone is celebrating. I agree that we should be free to say, you know, “Merry Christmas” or invite people to a Christmas party without being hauled in front of our municipality’s human rights tribunal. Desacralizing religious symbols and holidays to appease a never-satisfied progressive mob is a great way to destroy any joy or meaning associated with Christmas and pretty much everything else in life. The silliest way we “War on Christmas” is in public schools, where we sing songs about every religion’s seasonal holiday — some of which don’t even take place any time near Dec. 25, and then refuse to sing any of the gazillion awesome religious songs about Christmas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reflection on the Papal Visit

Pope Francis in America by Ekklesia Project 4 Nov 2015 In September, the news industry lavished attention on Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Now, autumn has settled in and news outlets have returned to the usual suspects: politics, sports, and turning a profit for the holidays.

EP endorser Barry Harvey reflects: A few weeks ago I received an email asking if I would like to contribute a brief reflection on the Ekklesia Project website on the significance of Pope Francis’s recent visit to North America. I was particularly intrigued by one of the questions in the email that served as a prompt: “In what ways did he fall short or fail?” I would say not only did he indeed fall short, but that the way he failed was a good thing too. Well, maybe not a good thing, but not surprising either.

There is little doubt that people of all faiths and of none intuitively sensed that in this one man there was an intrusion of the extraordinary into the workaday routine that enthralls most of us most of the time, an incursion of something enigmatic and electrifying that in some way or another has a bearing on their daily lives. I heard one young person say that for many seeing Francis was like seeing Jesus. This is an astute observation, perhaps more than she intended, in part because the Pope does have that character about him, but also because it invites us to turn to the gospels, to the encounters that women and men had with Jesus, to help us interpret reactions to the papal visit, and especially to answer the question of whether and to what extent he fell short or failed during his visit.

I wonder, for example, whether the story of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem might shed some light on this occasion. Many of those who greeted Jesus waving palm branches and singing hosannas either did not understand or refused to accept the implications of his arrival in David’s city that he had set forth in the months leading up to that fateful week, and thus a few days later they could be turned against him as he stood before Pilate.

See more at:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Can We Call the Bible a "Love Letter"?

James McGrath, biblical scholar and popular blogger, says not. Recently he posted this on his blog.

Few assumptions prevent people from understanding the Bible as much as the idea that it is a love letter from God to them. Every part of that – that God wrote it, that it is a love letter, and that it is written with you in mind – is badly mistaken, and so the combination thereof creates a lens that radically distorts and obscures the Bible.” (

          On the other hand, no less a theologian than Dietrich Bonhoeffer apparently did so describe the Bible. One of his students remembers this from him:

"There, before the church struggle, he said to us at the new Alexanderplatz, with a simplicity like old Tholuck might have once used, that we should not forget that every word of Holy Scripture was a love letter from God directed very personally to us, and he asked us whether we loved Jesus.” (

So what do we say? Yea or Nay?

          McGrath dislikes all three parts of it: divine authorship, it being a love letter, and that it was written with the contemporary reader in mind. I suspect he has in mind a kind of “Jesus is my boyfriend” sentiment that some praise songs and worship practices invoke. I too would reject that sentiment.

          Bonhoeffer is a rather different matter, I think. He certainly thinks God is speaking to us through the Bible. In a letter to his brother-in-law in 1936 DB writes:

That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible . . . . (

          But for DB this divine speaking takes place in context of a living relationship between God and his human creatures. Just prior to the quote above he stresses that we must listen to God speaking in the Bible with an insistent humility actively seeking and even questioning what we hear. (Testament of Devotion, ed. By Geoffrey B. Kelly and E. Burton Nelson, 425) This is very different from kind of sentiment I suspected above lay behind McGrath’s quote.

          This kind of approach to hearing God speak in the Bible is the only way we will receive an answer to our questions. DB acknowledges this approach is different from academic reading (which has nothing wrong with it per se). It just does not get to the kind of relational listening Bonhoeffer thinks vital and necessary. Here we come to the love language. DB believes that God loves human beings. And that in that love God takes the first step toward us. And he engages us in the reality of our lives whatever that might be at any given time. This is the kind concreteness Bonhoeffer is famous for pursuing. Again, very different from a sentimental approach.

          So, at least for DB, we can say that God does speak to us in the Bible and that it is appropriate, even necessary, to call this relationship to the speaking God a relationship of love. But he adds following the quote above that God speaks where God chooses, a place, he writes, “that will probably be a place which does not at all correspond to my nature, which is not at all pleasing to me.” Bonhoeffer identifies this place where God speaks as “the cross of Christ.” And here is the death of that sentimental approach. What we hear from God will not always be warm, fuzzy, and comforting. It may be a word of devastating judgment. And yet still a word of love. “This is no place which is pleasing or a priori sensible to us. But this is the very place God has chosen to encounter us.” (Testament, 426)

            DB even claims we should practice a “sacrifice of our intellect” in matters that remain opaque, perplexing, questionable. “And who would not in fact bring his or her own sacrifice of intellect into such a situation, that is, with the acknowledgment one does not yet understand this or that place of the Scripture, in the awareness that even this will one day be revealed as God’s own Word? I would rather do this than only to say, following some suitable opinion: ‘This is divine, that is human.’” (Testament, 426) Many would disagree with Bonhoeffer, not willing to sacrifice their intellect for anyone, even God. And many seem willing today to divide up what “following some suitable opinion” they deem the human (dispensable) element in the Bible from the divine.

          I believe here we have a watershed moment in our time. Can we allow God, as a loving parent, to have secrets beyond what we can fathom or accept and still embrace his Word as a whole as a word of love to us? Can we allow ourselves to say “I do not understand how God could do this and am sorely tempted to disregard it for my moral and intellectual well-being, but I will not. I will hold open my questions and trust that someday, someway, God will answer them.”

          Only such a relationship to God through Scripture as DB describes, or something very like it, can sustain the stresses of such a practice. But in that it is of a piece with our whole journey with God (as Bonhoeffer was already learning and would keep on learning in excruciating ways). Only the parental love of God can sustain us. Even if that love outstrips our knowledge or stretches our morality, or is the tough love of judgment and wrath. This is the genius of DB’s approach. And it is this we need to recover in our time. An insistent, humble confidence that God speaks to us and bids us follow him into the darkness of a cruciform existence that paradoxically turns out to be the light of the world (however dark it may be for us at this or that time).

          I don’t know whether McGrath would agree to any of this or not. But with Bonhoeffer I continue to believe that in love God speaks to our darkness and distrust in the Bible calling us to deeper communion and commitment as befits a genuine family.

Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate! (Part 5)

5. Who’s Afraid of the Book of Revelation?

Apparently John Calvin was. Revelation was one of the few biblical books he did not write a commentary on. A young Martin Luther, of 95 Theses fame and the Reformation, believed that Revelation was not a prophecy from God and that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”

Their reticence and reservations may seem laudatory in view of the many bizarre commentaries and uses of the book of Revelation since. Yet the book remains in the canon of Holy Scripture and we must find a way to interpret it that allows us to separate the wheat from the chaff in the uses of the book that contain to pour forth each year. Presumably the book had a message the early church felt important enough to include in its canon as a vital and genuine witness to the gospel. And it’s that we need to try to discover.

The majority view is that the book was written by a Christian seer named John (maybe the Apostle, maybe another John) in the last decade of the 1st century when Domitian was emperor. Maybe, maybe not. There is no consensus on the book’s structure. Every interpreter seems to have his or her own view of it. Nor, obviously, of its interpretation.

But there are some things we can say that seem to me to point the way to a sober, realistic, and evangelical view of the book.

  1. Whatever its message, it is a message that speaks to the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed. That is, to the seven churches in Asia Minor whom the risen Christ addresses in chs.2-3. Any claim that all or parts of Revelation refer to events and entities of the interpreter’s own time rather than to events and entities of the late 1st century Asia Minor must be ruled out of bounds. What meaning or significance could a prophetic description of the last seven or three-and-a-half years of human history, now at least 21 centuries after the time of Revelation’s composition, have for it first readers?

  2. Interpretation of the many symbols, numbers, and events Revelation describes stand under this first principle too. Thus, they must come from the stock of symbols and images and their meanings available to the 1st century world and are not referring to countries, events, or weaponry of our time.

    1. Descriptions of cosmic upheaval are stock images for political trauma. Defeat of empires, rise of foes, loss at war, economic collapse, in short, things that changed or upset the current order of things negatively were described by the people of that time as if the cosmos was falling apart or dissolving.

    2. Numbers, too, were symbolic not literal. 7, 10, 12, and their multiples are important symbolically in Revelation. Two quick examples:

      1. The 144,000 who are the saved in Revelation 14:1-5. This absurdly small number in light of the innumerable number of people who have inhabited earth makes a literal interpretation implausible in the extreme. But when we consider that 144,000 = 12x12x10x10x10, the number of the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 Apostles (representing the church), the number of completeness (10) tripled (triune), it becomes clear that the 144,000 stands for the full and complete number of all God’s people.

      2. The 1000 year millennium in Revelation 20. Is this intended to point to a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth preceding the final battle with the dragon and his minions? Some have thought so from the early church until now. But it is far more likely that it is our number of completeness tripled, 10x10x10, suggesting that it refers to completeness or complete time of Christ’s reign.

    3. The key symbol in the book is the Lion of Judah who alone can open the scroll that unfolds human history. But when John turns to see this creature he sees not a powerful regal beast but a blood-smeared sacrificial Lamb (Revelation 5:5-7). This becomes the lens for interpreting everything else in the book. In particular, the gory battle scene in Revelation 19:15ff. between the rider on the White Horse in a blood-stained robe and the Beast and king of the earth and their armies is best read I think through this lens. John uses this stock scene of violent battle ironically to highlight the Lamb’s complete and total defeat of his enemies nonviolently by the word and the Spirit. This seems to be confirmed in the vision of Revelation 21-22 where these (apparently) same kings of the earth and their people are present and bringing their riches and people to celebrate in the New Jerusalem.

  3. The central truth in Revelation is “Jesus Wins!” The shape of the book (whatever it actually is) and it symbols and imagery is dominated by this single gospel truth. The seven churches in Asia Minor, the cycles of seals, trumpets, and bowls, the recapitulation of Jesus’ birth and victory over the dragon in the central ch.12, and the visions of the End in chs.21-22 all derive their meaning from this one truth. This is what gives all this traction to it first reader and to us today – this affirmation that Jesus has won the victory, presently rules in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and will rule through the ages. Instead of trying to figure out the exact shape of the events portending the End, we do better to grasp this central message and live out our lives in its light resisting the dragon, his beasts, and the empires that attempt to seduce us into habits and lifestyles of disobedience and faithlessness!

Two books I would recommend for further study of Revelation are Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation and Michael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly.