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No Blog is an Island – 5.13.11

05.13.2011

Four really good articles this week.  As always, be sure to click through and read them en toto!

Martha of Ireland contributes a great piece at iMonk on the Catholic practice of praying to saints.  She doesn’t shy away from the idolatrous or pagan implications, but she defends the tradition very ably:

Am I sometimes embarrassed by it, by the mawkishness, sentimentality, folk-religion verging on folk-magic, gaudy, tawdry, excessive messiness of it all?  Yes, I am.  The rational, reasonable side of my brain wants to tone it all down, and have a proper, seemly, correctly-based practice in accordance with the strictures of theology and with a biblical verse pinned on like a badge.  But that’s the part of my brain that is also inclined to go, “Yes, but how can you believe this whole God thing anyway?  Is it reasonable?  A personal deity who is watching the fall of a sparrow, in this ancient, vast universe?  Aren’t you ashamed as a lover of science to be so out-of-date?”

And that’s the part of my brain that hears an uncomfortable echo of “Could not this ointment have been sold at a great price, and the money given to the poor?” in the way I’m thinking and reacting to these sobbing, slobbering, running after signs and miracles people who sell their beads and make novenas and have sure-fire prayers that never fail, but contingent on being published (usually the one that begins “O most beauteous flower of Mount Carmel”) – all those people the latchet of whose sandals I am not fit to undo.  I knew already about my inner Pharisee; here I have discovered my inner Sadducee.

Marc Cortez identifies a trend towards professionalism/elitism in worship that tends to alienate the congregation from the worship of God.  This tracks with a lament I’ve had for a while on how our culture ‘outsources’ our entertainment (singing, playacting, sports) to professionals while we become merely spectators of life rather than partakers.  Here’s Cortez:

The lyrics come up on the screen. I don’t recognize them. Looks like we’ll be learning a new song today. Good. I like to sing, I love to worship, and I’m always looking for new music. The drums lead off followed by both acoustic and electric guitars, and then the vocals kick in. The song sounds great.

I should know, because all I can do is listen.

The lyrics, range, and rhythm of the song are so difficult that you need to be a talented musician who has  practiced extensively during the week to sing the song. So, the worship team sounds great. The rest of us just stand mute.

I suppose that wouldn’t have frustrated me as much if they’d made it clear that this was “special music,” a performance that the rest of us were never intended to participate in, at least not vocally. But, with an invitation to sing along, the words on the screen, and the congregation on its feet, it sure seemed like we were supposed to be doing something. But we couldn’t.

So, we did nothing.

Chaplain Mike takes a self-critical look at the heroes of his early preaching career, particularly Chuck Swindoll, and concludes that his generation needs to take responsibility for the developments in evangelical culture that they celebrated as the time as revolutionary but have since contributed to the over-commercialization and spectacle of the Christian sub-culture:

I was part of that same evangelical system that brought James Dobson and Chuck Swindoll, contemporary Christian music, and the Christian media world into prominence. I bought Chuck’s books and if you heard me preach, you probably heard his stories and illustrations. I used his video series in church classes and small groups, and listened to his tapes and radio program in the car. Like multitudes of Christians, I thought the way of faithfulness to Jesus was to buy what the Christian market was promoting and selling. [emphasis in the original – n]  I wanted music I enjoyed, first and foremost. I wanted preachers to make me laugh as they told me how to live. I wanted everything wrapped in slick, attractive packaging. I wanted to look good, feel good, and I wanted everything I ingested to go down easy.

I confess. I helped lay some of the foundations for the Christian-industrial entertainment complex.

Michael Patton has a useful and clarifying outline of the various Christian positions on creation and evolution, for which there’s more variety than I new.  I’d say that, while this frankly isn’t an issue that’s high on my priority list in terms of needing to have the right answer, what assumptions I do have about creation are probably most in line with no. 4, Old-earth Creationism.  Check it out, but heed Patton’s disclaimer:

I believe that one can be a legitimate Christian and hold to any one of these views.

[…]

In the end, I believe that the best anyone can do is lean in one direction or another. Being overly dogmatic about these issues expresses, in my opinion, more ignorance than knowledge. Each position has many apparent difficulties and many virtues.

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