All Saints Eve

Scripture, theology 2 Comments »

In honor of the various celebrations that take place on this day I have a squirrel, some leaves and a tree with a tail.

Oak leaves in Autumn
new growth


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Why would God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, resort to a style of relating to humans that seems like negotiation—or haggling, to put it crudely? Does God require the exercise as part of our spiritual training regimen? Or is it possible that God, if I may use such language, relies on our outbursts as a window onto the world, or as an alarm that might trigger intervention? It was the cry of the Israelites, after all, that prompted God’s call of Moses.

Like Abraham, I approach God at first in fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.

Good words on prayer from Philip Yancey

mountain chickadee

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mountain chickadee

sunday silliness

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted pictures of anything. Indeed, it has been a while since I took pictures of anything. When I saw the sunset the other evening, I was inspired to get out my camera and have a go at storing nature.

Taking pictures helps me to notice once more. It puts me into an attitude of feeling, of observation, of watching, pulling my thoughts outward and upward, letting beauty speak to me.

October Sunset in Lake Arrowhead
October Sunset in Lake Arrowhead

hidden in darkness

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As the sporadic posts of the last couple of weeks suggest, I’m not exactly bursting with outward commentary. Indeed, I feel my thoughts drifting away; my soul diminished and wandering. Seeking but not finding,; hoping but not tasting; dancing with two left feet and a right that doesn’t know the steps.

I find my attempts at writing to be sporadic and wispy. I sit down and my brain doesn’t seem to have any connection with my fingers. They start a few words then pause, finding little to say and for that matter what is said to be not all that interesting. Why is this? There could be many reasons, some mundane other not so much. The reasons may have to do with diet, or the change in seasons, or needing exercise or sun or a good swath of time sailing. Maybe I thought my birthday blew by, but it didn’t blow by as much as I thought. Maybe with my becoming 32 my unconscious took a rigorous stock of my present reality and suggested to my psyche it doesn’t think much of what it sees. My psyche responds appropriate leaving me in the doldrums, stuck in irons, praying for a whisper of wind to puff me back on course.

However, through my recent, apparent look inward that has crippled my reaching outward, I have happened to pick up a few new books, two of which are particularly noteworthy. The first is a rigorous biography of John Wesley by Henry Rack. The second is a more lyrical biography of Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton.

These books are interesting and timely. Wesley isn’t new to me. I first encountered him with a good bit of passion while a junior at Wheaton, and decided that if his discipline was good enough for him, I’d have a go at it. Needless to say, no one ever taught me that along with deepening and disciplined spirituality often comes a dark night of the soul. The soul seeking the depths goes through a spiritual night, feeling dry and distant and altogether hopeless. No one told me about that part, and no one knew what to say during that first dark night which lasted about 3/4 of my junior year. I had to discover answers on my own — which is not a pretty method. I wrote on Wesley in college and then in seminary, finding both his theology and his devotion fascinating.

So, now I’m back with Wesley. Having walked down a long road of discovery I encounter him with a lot more depth and a lot more empathy.

In 1735 Wesley joined his brother Charles on a mission to Georgia, the burgeoning colony in the New World. He had been a Fellow, a tutor, at Oxford prior to this, and there began the initial attempts at group spirituality which was called Methodism. After getting his M.A. and teaching at Oxford, Wesley had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. He struggled to pursue the depths and sought help in deep books, in wise friends, and through renewed zeal in facing the Spiritual life. One of his influences during this time was Macarius the Egyptian — who because of Wesley I hunted down and in doing so found some of the most influential spiritual books I’ve read.

Even though there was a lot of learning, Rack sums up Wesley’s pastoral attempts prior to 1735 by saying, “All in all, Methodism in its earliest form and original home was a failure.” Wesley made no mark on Oxford during that time.

Thus, feeling his spiritual run at Oxford coming to an end, he thought a setting that offered a “primitive Christianity” would do the trick.

Wesley was 32 when he left Oxford to go to Georgia. In early 1738, Wesley arrived back in England not only a failure but with tales of scandalous behavior attached to his name. He was not very good with the ladies, it seems, and was not very good as a pastor to colonial souls either.

When he arrived back he had to give an account of himself to those who sent him, and this included defending his actions for which arrest warrants had been issued. More than this, Wesley was in despair that having gone to save the indians and colonists he lost his own soul along the way, no longer having any path towards the depths of the Spirit who called him. He was about 36 before he found renewal.

Francis of Assisi is new to me. I’ve always appreciated him from afar for his legendary devotion to God and his passionate love for God’s creation. But, I never studied him.

I find him as fascinating as I find Wesley, for much the same reason. Both were extraordinary leaders of world changing movements. They died having, literally, changed the world in a profound way. Each resonated to their own time, and resonates to our time in ways that most of us don’t realize. The Spirit did a mighty work in these characters.

After missteps and failures Francis found himself a dismal cave to sleep in and sought God apart from any human encumbrances. He gave up everything.

Chesterton writes this:

It may be suspected that in that black cell or cave Francis passed the blackest hours of his life. By nature he was the sort of many who has that vanity which is the opposite of pride; that vanity which is very near to humility. He never despised his fellow creatures and therefore he never despised the opinion of his fellow creatures; including the admiration of his fellow creatures. All that part of his human nature had suffered the heaviest and most crushing blows.

It is possible that after his humiliating return from his frustrated military campaign he was called a coward. It is certain that after his quarrel with his father about the bales of cloth he was called a thief. And even those who had sympathized most with him, the priest whose church he had restored, the bishop whose blessing he had received, had evidently treated him with an almost humorous amiability which left only too clear the ultimate conclusion of the matter.

He had made a fool of himself.

Any man who has been young, who has ridden horses or thought himself ready for a fight, who has fancied himself as a troubadour and accepted the conventions of comradeship, will appreciate the ponderous and crushing weight of that simple phrase.

The conversion of St. Francis, like the conversion of St. Paul, involved his being in some sense flung suddenly from a horse; but in a sense it was an even worse fall; for it was a war-horse. Anyhow, there was not a rag of him left that was not ridiculous. Everybody knew that at the best he had made a fool of himself. It was a solid objective fact, like the stones in the road, that he had made a fool of himself. He saw himself as a n object, very small and distinct like a fly walking on a clear window pane; and it was unmistakably a fool. And as he stared at the word “fool” written in luminous letters before him, the word itself began to shine and change.

This is a refrain in the lives of the greatest Christians throughout history. They met failure and disaster and frustration and darkness and confusion through their twenties and into their thirties, being broken and restored and broken again. They were tempered into becoming profound leaders by first being willing to become profound fools.

I spent many years studying theology and ministry. I’ve never heard this sort of thing in any philosophy of leadership class. The church looks in the same ways as the world, trusting what is strong and whole and seen. Trusting that an unimpeached life is a symbol of mastery over the elements.

Meanwhile fools are still being made. And the church has been, is, and will be built by such as these. They do not shine, yet, and they do not stand out, yet. But, God is doing a work, hiding his work under the cover of darkness to be brought out when the dawn arrives.

This is encouraging, I think. It’s ridiculous, to be sure, but it is encouraging.


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Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Today is the day that James, the brother of Jesus, is honored. James is a curious fellow really. We don’t really know what to do with him. We don’t really give him the right name. James is an aglicized version of Jacob. The New Testament doesn’t have a book of James. It does have a letter written by Jacob, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, tradition is tradition I suppose — and so instead of Jacob we call him James. He’s also mysterious because he is the brother of Jesus, and we don’t really know what to do with Jesus’ family, other than Mary. He shows up in Acts 15 as a rather important character, yet he wasn’t around during the Gospels. Something happened in the in between, and something happened which made him the head of the church in Jerusalem. Once again we are given only a taste. We do not have the whole story, only the parts that bear on our part.

Martin Luther called the short book of James an “epistle of straw” because Luther’s interpretation of James, the brother of Jesus, head of the church in Jerusalem, dared to disagree with Luther’s intepretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Luther wanted this book out of the Book because of this passage from chapter 2:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works ? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Of course, Luther later showed some straw of his own and also showed that while he could earnestly read a part of Romans, he didn’t quite get around to reading the whole thing, including what seems to be more the point of the book as found in chapter 12. James and Paul agree quite a bit, much more than Luther’s limited questions were willing to accept.

James is also mysterious because of a brief passage Eusebius, the great early church historian, writes about him. This passage makes a lot more of James than we generally consider. But, if Mary was the Mary we honor, and Jesus was the Jesus we worship, then is it really a surprise that a younger brother would also be a special, holy sort of person?

Have a read of this passage from Eusebius on this feast day of Jacob, brother of Yeshua, then open your Bible and turn to the book just past the book of Hebrews to read what such a man had to say to the Church.

Chapter XXIII.–The Martyrdom of James, who was called the Brother of the Lord.

1. But after Paul, in consequence of his appeal to Caesar, had been sent to Rome by Festus, the Jews, being frustrated in their hope of entrapping him by the snares which they had laid for him, turned against James, the brother of the Lord, to whom the episcopal seat at Jerusalem had been entrusted by the apostles. The following daring measures were undertaken by them against him.

2. Leading him into their midst they demanded of him that he should renounce faith in Christ in the presence of all the people. But, contrary to the opinion of all, with a clear voice, and with greater boldness than they had anticipated, he spoke out before the whole multitude and confessed that our Saviour and Lord Jesus is the Son of God. But they were unable to bear longer the testimony of the man who, on account of the excellence of ascetic virtue and of piety which he exhibited in his life, was esteemed by all as the most just of men, and consequently they slew him. Opportunity for this deed of violence was furnished by the prevailing anarchy, which was caused by the fact that Festus had died just at this time in Judea, and that the province was thus without a governor and head.

3. The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club. But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows:

4. “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.

5. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.

6. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.

7. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, `Bulwark of the people’ and `Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.

8. Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people and which have been mentioned by me in the Memoirs, asked him, `What is the gate of Jesus?’ [498] and he replied that he was the Saviour.

On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one’s coming to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on account of James.

10. Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, `We entreat you, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat you to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in you. For we bear you witness, as do all the people, that you are just.

11. Therefore, persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in you. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position you may be clearly seen, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.’

12. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: ` you just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, for as much as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’

13. And he answered with a loud voice, `Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’

14. And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, `Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, `We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’

15. And they cried out, saying, `Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, `Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’

16. So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, `Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, `I entreat you, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

17. And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, `Cease, what you do? The just one prays for you.’

18. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.”

19. These things are related at length by Hegesippus, who is in agreement with Clement. James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him.

20. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, “These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.”


Scripture 1 Comment »

Look deeply inside

“Specially created for Harvard biology students, this eight-minute computer-animated film reveals the beauty and hidden cycle of intricate organic mechanisms at work at the molecular level. The focus is on how white blood cells respond and react to external stimuli. Everything that you see in this clip, the unusual orchestra of Nuclei, proteins, and lipids, are actions that are taking place right now in your body, in every individual cell. This includes one of the most surprising sequences – the motor protein plodding along on two pod-like feet along a track, carrying behind it a sphere of lipids. As cartoonish as that sequence looks, biologists report it’s an accurate rendering.”

Oh yeah

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Another thing that happened on this day…

Happy Birthday to me.

yet more

personal 1 Comment »

Since I’m in a mood to post “things of the day” here’s the always fascinating Word of the Day.