Archives For church

In the presence of the cross there are no innocent parties and no innocent classes. And there is no body which can make this witness except the church, defined as it is simply by its acknowledgement of the supreme Lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus. We are all together found guilty and all together forgiven. The church is called to be the place where that is actually happening.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History

All together guilty, all together forgiven


NPR recently had a long, rambling interview with Bruce Springsteen. At a certain point the interviewer asks about gospel music and the “religious impulse” in some of The Boss’s music:

Without overusing the word, you know, there’s a Christian element that runs through it because I grew up Catholic and so I was indoctrinated in religious language between eight o’clock and nine o’clock every single morning for the first eight years of my schooling. Five days a week, every single morning, the first thing you did was religion. And so you grew up with that language and it was, of course, distorted, and screwed me up terribly, but at the same time, it made for good writing. And it was a wonderful source of metaphor when you went to write about the world and about your inner life and it served me. I suppose looking back on it, I would like to change some things but I wouldn’t have had that any other way in that it’s served me very, very well and continues to do so. I have a very deep connection to gospel music. I understand the language — I feel I understand the essence of the music itself.

Notably here, Springsteen says he draws from the deep well of Christian language because it makes for “good writing” and serves as “a wonderful source of metaphor.” And he feels “a very deep connection” to the music of the church. This despite the fact that his Catholic education—or “indoctrination,” as he describes it—”screwed me up terribly.”

This reminds me a bit of the time the “militant atheist” Richard Dawkins told a reporter for the Spectator that he has a certain love for the Anglican tradition in his native land, and specifically its aesthetics, even if he doesn’t for one moment believe any of its theology. Would he feel deprived if church buildings were to disappear from the English landscape? “Yes, I would feel a loss there,” Dawkins said. “I would feel an aesthetic loss. I would miss church bells, that kind of thing.”

These comments from Springsteen and Dawkins beg the question: What should Christians make of such (unexpected?) appreciation for the aesthetics, sensibilities, and cultural contributions of our faith, while the substance behind those contributions is largely or wholly dismissed? Is this good, to an extent? Or is it entirely bad, with the dismissal of the substance canceling out any possible value in the appreciation for the aesthetic?

I have two hands, so I’ll make a point for each and leave it at that.

On the one hand, appreciating the aesthetic beauty of Christianity—awe-inspiring architecture or gospel music or liturgy or what have you—is certainly not the same thing as embracing Christianity itself. (Many of us, from various Christian traditions, would do well to be reminded of that from time to time.)

On the other hand, could it be that for some, the Spirit uses aesthetics to woo even those who for various reasons have found certain claims and/or norms of the faith to be stumbling blocks?

[Image via]

Phoenix Civic Space Park

1. What is a city for?
Joel Kotkin of New Geography, a blog “devoted to analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work,” addresses an important question that’s far too often overlooked, even among New Urbanism types:

What is a city for? In this urban age, it’s a question of crucial importance but one not often asked. Long ago, Aristotle reminded us that the city was a place where people came to live, and they remained there in order to live better, “a city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well.” However, what does “living well” mean? Is it about working 24/7? Is it about consuming amenities and collecting the most unique experiences? Is the city a way to reduce the impact of human beings on the environment? Is it to position the polis — the city — as an engine in the world economy, even if at the expense of the quality of life, most particularly for families?

2. The new age of Christian martyrdom
Kirsten Powers writes for the Daily Beast:

The concept of Christian martyrdom may seem like something from a bygone, uncivilized era when believers were mercilessly thrown to the lions. Not so. This week, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that Christian martyrdom has grown into a pervasive and horrifying human rights crisis. In their annual report of the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths around the globe doubled in 2013. Their report documented 2,123 killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone, there were 1,213 such deaths last year. In addition to losing their lives, Christians around the world continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, harassment, sexual assaults, and expulsion from countries merely for practicing their faith.

3. The church and the cause of freedom
I’m still too intimidated to read anything by Oliver O’Donovan, though his name keeps popping up all around in conversations about Christian ethics and political theology. But I’m definitely intrigued:

We discover we are free when we are commanded by that authority which commands us according to the law of our being, disclosing the secrets of the heart. There is no freedom except when what we are, and do, corresponds to what has been given to us to be and to do. ‘Given to us’, because the law of our being does not assert itself spontaneously merely by virtue of our existing. We must receive ourselves from outside ourselves, addressed by a summons which evokes that correspondence of existence to being. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

4. Tales of the new creation
Pete Peterson of The Rabbit Room on tradition and what it might have to do with the new heavens and the new earth:

We love to mourn the end of a good book don’t we? We love to imagine what might be if only the author had kept on writing. There’s something wonderfully tantalizing about the idea that the authors of our favorite books might have further stories to tell us if only they were still alive to do so. But all we’re left with are the signposts left behind to point us toward things we can only dream of. These “signposts” are important. Personally, spiritually, culturally, they mark the ways we’ve come and the ways we hope one day to go. And I think the well-built signpost endures, becoming in time like an eroded marker left by a long-forgotten civilization. The well-built signpost may even become a tradition.

5. Jon Foreman on Air1

[Image: Phoenix's Civic Space Park via]


1. The future of the Catholic Church
For those who missed it, my review of a new book on Pope Francis was published late last week by the Englewood Review of Books. Here’s an excerpt:

As stories about the life of the new Bishop of Rome started to emerge, we saw that while these demonstrations of humility and simplicity may have broken with tradition for the papacy, they were nothing new for the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. For years he had regularly visited the poor and the outcasts in his native Argentina, taking public transportation and walking through mud to get there. And just as he seemed determined to do in the Vatican, he had lived for many years in a relatively austere apartment. With “street cred” like this, the buzz surrounding Pope Francis has been understandable. In his slim new book Francis: A New World Pope, French journalist and religion writer Michel Cool paints a portrait of Bergoglio’s path to the papacy and seeks to put the election of the new Pope into perspective.

2. Fire in the pews
The story of the rapid growth of the Protestant church in traditionally Catholic Latin America has been widely told, from TIME to PBS, and from Al Jazeera to the Christian Science Monitor. But now, according to David Briggs of the International Association of Religion Journalists, it seems a Catholic resurgence is afoot, at least partially fueled by the rise of Protestantism (a friendly shout-out to Rob Moll for sharing the link):

Don’t cry for the Catholic Church in Argentina or anywhere else in Latin America. The church may have lost privileged status in many nations, and is dropping some market share to a rapidly growing Pentecostal movement. But the combination of increasing religious freedom and competition is also fueling a Catholic renewal movement, and equipping the church with the community-based revival necessary to meet challenges from the prosperity gospel movement to the secularization of many Latin American nations, analysts say… Greater attendance at Mass. The flowering of a Catholic charismatic movement with lay leadership and culturally sensitive worship that also shares the Pentecostal commitment to evangelism. And a revered global leader emerging from its ranks. A church in Latin America that was in danger of becoming a stale religious monopoly – witness the malaise throughout much of Western Europe – is reasserting itself in what is a vibrant religious landscape from Mexico to Brazil, according to some researchers.

3. ReVista on remembering
Speaking of that part of the world, the new issue ReVista, the journal from the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, is out and the theme is “Memory: In Search of History and Democracy.” Anyone interested in Latin America will find the issue is full of interesting and provocative stuff. I get the print version, but it appears the whole thing is available for free online as well.

4. Quitting the big leagues
This New Yorker piece was published a day before the World Series ended in late October, but I just read it this week. Adrian Cardénas played for part of one season for the Chicago Cubs. Then he retired, voluntarily. I’d wager you’ve never read a story quite like his:

I came to realize that professional baseball players are masochists: hitters stand sixty feet and six inches from the mound, waiting to get hit by a pitcher’s bullets; fielders get sucker punched in the face by bad hops, and then ask for a hundred more. We all fail far more than we succeed, humiliating ourselves in front of tens of thousands of fans, trying to attain the unattainable: batting a thousand, pitching without ever losing, secretly seeking the immortality of the record books. In spite of the torments—the career-ending injuries, the demotions, the fear of getting “Wally Pipped”—we keep rolling our baseball-shaped boulders up the impossible hill of the game, knowing we’ll never reach the top. Baseball is visceral, tragic, and absurd, with only fleeting moments of happiness; it may be the best representation of life. I was, and still am, in love with baseball. But I quit.

5. Castello Cavalcanti
I’m fairly certain PRADA has never showed up on my blog, but Wes Anderson has created a seven and a half minute short film (i.e., PRADA commercial) that stars Jason Schwartzman as an Italian racecar driver in the 1950s. Needless to say, I had no choice but to share it.

[Image: Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua via]