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Return to Narnia

I’ve often referred to certain times in my life as “Narnia moments”. My first and clearest experience of this was my time in college. I don’t mean to say that I was in some kind of utopia; often far from it. To be in “Narnia” for me simply means that a significant shift has taken place in the world, great challenges lie ahead, and most importantly…God is present in an extraordinary way.

Much like college, I packed my car last weekend with as many personal items as I thought I might need in the weeks ahead and made the long journey from Troy, NY to Decatur, GA. The big announcement, if you haven’t heard already, is that I am taking on a new role as the Director of Communications for Columbia Theological Seminary. For me this is a return to Narnia. Though much like Lucy’s experience, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a different story from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

It started as my wife’s idea to move closer to some friends living near Atlanta. Earlier this year, it was announced that her best friend was pregnant which raised the urgency of the move. I believe the statement was something like, “You have till November to get this figured out.” Continue Reading »

Have you ever thought about what surprises God? Perhaps we take it for granted that God’s omniscience undercuts any possibility of catching God off guard. Still the Bible describes two instances where Jesus (fully God and fully man) is “surprised” or “amazed”. In Mark 6:5-7, it says:

[Jesus] was not able to perform any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was greatly surprised, because the people did not have faith. (Good News version)

Then in both Matthew 8:9-11 and Luke 7:8-10, a Roman centurion tells Jesus not to come to his house to heal his servant, but appeals to Jesus’ authority and only “say the word”:

When Jesus heard this, he was surprised and said to the people following him, “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this.” (Good News version)

The obvious thing to note is that both instances are in regards to faith–either the great lack of it or the great exercise of it. Jesus seems to expect that he can heal at least some people wherever he goes, but that some active show of power is needed to help people along. Continue Reading »

Part of my job with ADG has involved writing memos and press releases in support of or in opposition to bills being considered by the State Legislature. So it didn’t surprise me, but it always amazes me, that bill descriptions have this section labeled, “Purpose or General Idea”.

I understand why you would want some quick summary of the bill. It certainly makes it easier for those of us communicating without knowledge of how to interpret the long and tortuous legal language. And perhaps I’m an idealist, but wouldn’t you expect laws to have more “purpose” than “general idea”? I mean, a lot of time and effort goes into passing one of these bills; not to mention that a new law may affect millions of people. Can you imagine trying to pass health care reform or starting a war in the Middle East based on just a general idea?

OK, perhaps those aren’t the best examples. Continue Reading »

Housekeeping note: Due to a number of amazing and good life changes I am facing this month, I am slowing down the pace of my blogging. Until further notice, I will post every Monday here and every Thursday at Perichoretic Life. I hope to share more details soon, but I need to wait till later in the month when more things are finalized. For now, enjoy this piece from my “sacrament series”.

Ever since I wrote about “Sleep as Sacrament”, I have been thinking about what other natural sacraments we have in our lives. The one that stands out to me most immediately is music. Certainly, you could insert any favorite mode of art here, but for me that would be music. So using some of the same contours of thought as I did before, I want to explore that.

As with sleep, there is an upside and a downside.

Music at its height draws us into worship of the true God. This truth is poignant for me as I recently started attending a church that does the liturgy antiphonally. (i.e. The worship leader and the congregation sing responsively.) Along with the stained glass windows, bells, and sometimes even incense, I have come to appreciate how beautiful liturgical worship can be.

Music can also become idolatrous as evidenced by the extravagance of rock concerts, the business practices of the music industry, and the naming of shows like “American Idol”. Performers become proud and puffed up rather then humbled for service. Audiences are whipped into a frenzy with no outlet for more meaningful relationship.

As with most things, this ugly side does not exist on its own. It’s merely a distortion of the good, dependent on the good. We are called to redirect our attention, not just in church music, but all music which ultimately belongs to God. This does not mean that all music must mention God explicitly, but it should in some way glorify Him. Continue Reading »

Section 29 is uncharacteristically short at only 54 pages long, though there is quite a bit of the small text to make up for that. Here, Barth is looking to talk about God’s “perfections” which elsewhere may be called “virtues” or “attributes”. His word choice reflects that he is again emphasizing that these characteristics are unique to God. Categorically, these are different from the attributes of anything or anyone in creation.

“God lives His perfect life in the abundance of many individual and distinct perfections. Each of these is perfect in itself and in combination with all the others. For whether it is a form of love in which God is free, or a form of freedom in which God loves, it is nothing else but God himself, His one, simple, distinctive being.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.322)

Then Barth takes some time to define what God is not: creature, sin, death. He also discusses who God is as “One who is many” and “many who are One”, “Father, Son, and Spirit” who “loves in freedom”.

Most importantly, Barth zeros in on the fact that God is not only “the Lord” but “the Lord of glory”, and all glory is the “glory of the Lord”. Every bit of glory in Heaven and on Earth belongs to God. In fact, glory without God behind it is very dangerous as we shall soon see. Scripture plays an important role in making the connection: Continue Reading »

Sleep as Sacrament

“Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a natural one.” –Father Brown (as written by G.K. Chesterton)

I’m writing this late at night even as I am starting to feel tired and weary. Sleep is definitely a good gift, but who would have thought to invest it with the deep, rich meaning Chesterton has ascribed it here.

Of course, his thoughts weren’t just plucked out of nowhere. The Bible has many good things to say about sleep. Here’s just a sampling from the Wisdom Books:

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” –Psalm 3:5

“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” –Psalm 127:1-2

“The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.” –Ecclesiates 5:12 Continue Reading »

Discussions about faith often remind me of a piece by Barth early in his Dogmatics in Outline. Dogmatics in Outline is a small baby paperback in comparison to the voluminous Church Dogmatics. Here Barth follows the structure of the Apostle’s Creed where he begins by identifying three determinations of faith: trust, knowledge and confession. These are not “facets” mind you, but faith fully revealed and integrated in a perichoretic manner.

Whenever I teach about faith, I use Mary as a concrete example as reflected in Luke 1:26-56. Mary, quite literally, embodies faith through the Holy Spirit’s conception, the angel’s message, and her own song in response to her pregnancy.

As is typical of Barth in the Church Dogmatics, he begins each chapter with a short summary of what he is about to explain. I will start with each of those summaries here as I describe the three determinations of faith. Note that Barth appeals to freedom as a fundamental characteristic each time in a way that ties it all together. (He has often been called the “Theologian of Freedom”.) Continue Reading »

The Evil Talk

“The question of why evil exists is not a theological question, for it assumes that it is possible to go behind the existence forced upon us as sinners. If we could answer it then we would not be sinners. We could make something else responsible…The theological question does not arise about the origin of evil but about the real overcoming of evil on the Cross; it asks for the forgiveness of guilt, for the reconciliation of the fallen world.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I come across blog posts rather frequently about “The Problem of Evil”. Often, atheists will use the discussion as a “proof” against Christianity. Meanwhile, Christians will take their best shot at providing a rational solution to the question.

Actively living and writing in Hitler’s Germany, Bonhoeffer was certain that evil was not a good reason to doubt God’s existence. The evil present in that time demanded a response. Without God, what was left to condemn it.

It is important to move beyond the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” An alternate question might be, “How can a good and loving God expunge evil from the people and Creation He loves without destroying them?” Answers to these questions are not as easy and obvious as some atheists might like to believe, nor are they for anyone else.

For me, these issues were further put in focus after reading Evil and the Cross (IVP) by Henri Blocher many years ago. As a result, I developed a talk used many times that my students endearingly referred to as “The Evil Talk”. What most unsettled and interested students in their love-hate relationship with the discussion is that many dearly held apologetics are overturned before a more reasonable answer can be found. Continue Reading »

Section 28 begins a new chapter for Barth on “The Reality of God”. The discussion shifts from the knowledge of God (noetic or epistemological) to the being of God (ontic or ontological). Core to the nature of God’s being is His action in love and freedom. Love will point us to freedom and freedom will in turn direct us back to love.

“God is who He is in the act of His revelation. God seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us, and therefore He loves us. But He is this loving God without us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the freedom of the Lord, who has His life from Himself.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p. 257)

Barth does not surprise us by starting the discussion with love and freedom. Nor is it surprising that he will end by saying that this revelation finds its focus in the person of Jesus Christ. In between, however, he will wreak havoc on some commonly held views, not only by people outside the faith, but by mainstream Christians throughout history. Continue Reading »

This article was first published on November 16, 2011 in the award-winning Comment Magazine. Check out their site!

I get it. I know what it’s like to live in the shadow of New York City. When I was growing up in New Jersey, we resented the fact that a certain football team playing at the Meadowlands was called the “New York” Giants. Even now, I work in Albany, New York (a.k.a. Smallbany). Though the area boasts many good colleges in the area, the brightest graduates often seek the better-paying jobs down in “the City.”

And don’t even get me started on how hard it is to draw talent into the non-profit world. We’re the “third sector”—as in, after public and private. How can a small nonprofit possibly compete with the benefits of a state job or the salary of a multi-national corporation?

So this week I picked up some reminders for struggling ministries, nonprofits, and businesses who are seeking to put together dynamic teams as I watched the movie Moneyball, based on journalist Michael Lewis’s book about Billy Beane, the general manager for baseball’s Oakland A’s. He finds himself defeated as he manages a small-budget team in the big world of Major League (read “New York Yankees”) Baseball. Brad Pitt brilliantly portrays the emotionally conflicted and often socially detached Billy. After losing the American League Championship to the Yankees, his team is “gutted” of all its best players. He is left to rebuild with less than one-fifth of the payroll of the large market teams. Continue Reading »