Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, February 26, 2009

stress reduction

This relaxation exercise has been designed by experts to help reduce stress:

Picture yourself near a gurgling mountain stream.

Birds are softly chirping in the crisp cool mountain air.

Nothing can bother you here. No one knows this secret place.

You are in total seclusion from that place called "the world".

The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.

The water is clear.

You can easily make out the face of the person whose head you're holding under the water.

Look. It's the person who caused you all this stress in the first place.

What a pleasant surprise. You let them up... just for a quick breath... then ploop!...back under they go...

You allow yourself as many deep breaths as you want.

There now... feeling better?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no greater love: oscar romero

You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.

- Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero was a Catholic bishop in El Salvador during a time of upheaval. As bishop, he was known for his conservative theology. Romero believed that an orderly society benefitted everyone, and spoke out against younger priests who were beginning to embrace liberation theology and political activism. He nonetheless was open to dialogue with them, and was close personal friends with Father Rutilio Grande, one of El Salvador's leading proponents of the new theology.

Romero's views began to soften when he was appointed bishop of Santiago de Maria in 1975, where he saw firsthand the poverty of the landless laborers, and the brutality of those in power.

On February 23, 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, replacing the aging Luis Chavez. Romero was seen as a safe choice by the Vatican, and a disappointment to the politically active younger clergy of El Salvador. Seventeen days later, his friend Rutilio Grande was assassinated while driving to Mass.

Romero demanded that the government investigate the killing, but the government took no action. Romero then announced that he would end the cozy relationship the state had enjoyed with the church. He refused to attend any state functions, lest his presence lend them an air of credibility. He was aware that his actions were making some dangerous enemies, but he stood his ground: "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought 'if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'".

Five more priests would be assassinated during Romero's tenure as Archbishop, and none of the deaths would be investigated.

When a left-wing junta ousted President Carlos Humberto Romero (no relation) in October 1979, Oscar Romero initially hoped that they would inaugurate a more just society. His hopes were soon dashed as the junta proved to be just as oppressive as the previous government.

Romero's outspoken criticism of the El Salvadoran government began to attract international attention, and in February 1980 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. In his acceptance speech he tried to bring further attention to what was happening in his country: "In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened and slandered. Six of them are martyrs, having been assassinated; various others have been tortured, and others expelled from the country. Religious women have also been the object of persecution."

About a month later, on March 24, 1980, a group of soldiers entered the church where Romero was presiding over Mass. During the celebration of the Eucharist, Romero was shot in the heart. His blood spilled onto the altar as he died.

A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth - beware! - is not the true church of Jesus Christ. A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.

- Oscar Romero


Monday, February 23, 2009

monday music: the river and the highway

A haunting tale of two very different people who manage to connect, if ever so briefly.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

no greater love: introduction

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

- John 15:13

Throughout the centuries, many people have laid down their lives for the Christian faith. During the Lenten season (and perhaps beyond) I'm going to give a short biography of one or more martyrs every week. Look for the first this Wednesday.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the coming evangelical collapse: the core

In my last post, I offered some thoughts on Michael Spencer's blog series The Coming Evangelical Collapse. On the whole, I think Spencer has identified some real problems, which all stem, IMO, from one core issue. And it's not limited to Evangelicals.

American Protestant Christianity is, to borrow a phrase, a mile wide and an inch deep. Now I want to make two things clear: 1) I say this as an American Protestant; I think Protestant Christianity has some life in it, and I think it does have something unique to offer. 2) I've met many dedicated people, both staff and laity, in American Protestant churches, people who are sincere in following the call God has placed on their lives.

But the American Protestant churches have been seduced by power. Not just political power, but the economic power that comes with being the majority in a wealthy and influential nation. Not only have we ignored the growing inequity in American society, we've largely been responsible for it. Ken Lay, founder of Enron, was a well-respected member of his church in Houston. Former CEO Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth, now in prison for bribery and mail fraud, donated a million dollars to his church during his trial.

When we're too cozy with the oppressors, we can't speak out against injustice. We are — to borrow another phrase — rich and prosperous, thinking that we need nothing, failing to see that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

If it takes a monumental collapse to rejuvenate the church, then I'm ready for it.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

the coming evangelical collapse: some thoughts

A couple weeks ago, I pointed to a series by Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, on The Coming Evangelical Collapse. After considering some of the things Spencer says, I think he's mostly right about the direction Christianity is going in the U.S. Mainline Protestantism has been in a steady decline for decades now, and I don't see any indication it's going to change. Evangelicalism, after more than 20 years of growth, both in numbers and in power, has reached its peak and may already be starting to decline. Spencer suggests that the main beneficiaries will be the megachurches, Pentecostal churches, and Catholic and Orthodox churches. I think he's probably right.

I have perhaps an unusual perspective, as I'm a member of a Mainline denomination and my wife belongs to an Evangelical church. We split our time worshipping at one or the other. Since moving to a new city about two years ago, we've had some adventures looking at several different churches.

I'm going to be making some sweeping generalizations here; these will not be true of all churches, and almost certainly don't apply outside the U.S. But here's my two-sentence summaries of Evangelical and Mainline churches:

  • Evangelical churches seem to be moving away from being worship centers, and toward being community centers. From singles' programs to seniors' programs, from aerobics to art classes, from basketball to ski trips, from coffee shops to bookstores in the lobby, there's something for everyone. But in all that activity, is worship getting lost?
  • Mainline churches have lost their identity. While some congregations are rediscovering practices that Catholics and Orthodox have never lost, others are trying to imitate the Evangelicals. Is there any reason for the Mainline denominations themselves not to be absorbed into one or the other?

So when Spencer says:

I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

I think his only error is in thinking that the U.S. church scene is typical of the Western nations. U.S. Protestant Christianity bears little resemblance to the religion practiced by 2 billion people worldwide.

Again, when Spencer says:

We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.

I think he's largely correct, at least on the numbers. Recent numbers I've seen put the number of non-religious in the U.S. at 15%; it's not hard to imagine that number will double within the next generation, or perhaps even sooner.

Spencer's next statement, however:

This collapse, will, I believe, herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west and will change the way tens of millions of people see the entire realm of religion. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

is just paranoid drivel.

Let's look at the numbers again. Current U.S. demographics show:
75% Christian
15% non-religious
10% all other religions

Now suppose Spencer is right that the non-religious group will double in size, from 15 to 30 percent. Let's suppose, too, that the other religions will grow, as a group. This seems highly unlikely, but let's say they increase by half, from 10 to 15 percent.

That would give us 45% of the U.S. population belonging either to a religion other than Christianity, or to no religion at all. The remaining 55% would, by default, have to be Christian.

Does Spencer seriously think that a still-majority Christian nation could produce an "anti-Christian chapter" in U.S. history? Does he think that a 30% minority of non-believers would (even if they could) create a public policy that is "hostile towards evangelical Christianity"?

The only way this might be possible is if Evangelical Christianity sets itself up against all comers, fortressing itself against non-believers, other religions, and fellow Christians alike. I don't see that happening except in hardline fundamentalism, which even Spencer agrees is headed for extinction.

No, I think what we are more likely to see is U.S. Evangelicals simply ceasing to engage a society where their voice is no longer dominant. And that may be a worse fate than facing outright hostility.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

published again

I was standing at the end of a finger-shaped plateau, looking out onto drops of more than a thousand feet in every direction except the one from which I had come. The only other life form on the plateau was a lizard enjoying the morning sun. A slight breeze was blowing, and the echo of the wind off the cliffs was the only sound. Floating on the wind above me was a raven or a magpie, perhaps eying my lizard companion for breakfast.

That's the opening of my travel essay Time Travel, published today at Associated Content. You can read the rest of it here.

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monday music: where have all the flowers gone?

When will we ever learn?


Friday, February 13, 2009

god's core deliverables

Since I've got an interest in Bible translations, I thought I'd pass this along. Hat tip to Eddie Arthur of Kouya Chronicle:

1. At the outset, God’s agenda was to basically focus on his core deliverables, namely two leading-edge products, (a) heaven and (b) earth.

2. However, the earth lacked an overall concept, and had a low profile in terms of its key audiences. Obviously the Spirit of God had to step back and benchmark the existing waters before his game plan could get the green light.

3. And God’s key message was that light was a strategic objective, and it was covered-off.

4. And God’s perception of the light was that it was fit for purpose. However, his desired goal was that light and darkness should be differentiated in the marketplace.

5. So God branded the light ‘Day’, and the darkness he branded ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Light’. And the evening session and morning session made up Day One.

6. Then God set out with the object of factoring-in a firmament to interface with the existing generic waters, to bring to the party two segmented brands.

7. So God tasked himself with the job of rolling-out a firmament, to supply a proactive vehicle for launching his two distinct waters products, and it was up and running.

8. And God branded the firmament ‘heaven’. And at close of play, the prioritised actions for Day Two were ticked off.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

a different kind of recovery

At the God's Politics blog, Brian McLaren offers a different vision for economic recovery:

I’d like to suggest another kind of recovery … drawing from the world of addiction. When an addict gets into recovery, he doesn’t want to go back and recover the “high” he had before, or even to recover the conditions he had before he began using drugs and alcohol. Instead, he wants to move forward to a new way of life — a wiser way of life that takes into account his experience of addiction.

Perhaps that's what the Western world needs right now: To move beyond our addiction to consumerism, into a new way of life. You can read McLaren's entire article here.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

monday music: brother can you spare a dime

In honor of the current global financial climate.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

denying the resurrection

Thomas at Everyday Liturgy was saddened to learn that his friend Peter Rollins denies the resurrection.


At one point in the proceedings someone asked if my theoretical position led me to denying the Resurrection of Christ. This question allowed me the opportunity to communicate clearly and concisely my thoughts on the subject, which I repeat here.

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ.

But Peter Rollins is not just some liberal scholar whose "theoretical position" has led him to this place:

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

And yet, there's hope:

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

I, too, deny the resurrection all too often.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

the coming evangelical collapse

Steve Hayes points to a three-part series by the Internet Monk on The Coming Evangelical Collapse.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Internet Monk's prediction:
I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Some interesting food for thought. I may have more to say about this after I've digested it all.


Monday, February 02, 2009

monday music: rivers of babylon

Boney M incongruously blends the gloomy words of Psalm 137 with a bouncy Jamaican beat. Granted, the images of partying on the beach don't blend with the words, "We wept when we remembered Zion" and "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" But at least they were smart enough to leave out the verse about dashing infants against the rocks. Nevertheless, I like this song. I was about nine or ten years old when it was released, and I spent many Saturdays at the local skating rink. The songs that played while we skated are still some of my all-time favorites.