Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman

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This week I was at a regional church meeting that used this chorus for beginning worship before the meeting.  It began with the introduction that the authors were going through a rough patch in their lives when they wrote this song.  It made it tolerable to sing.  Still it is not a favourite of mine.  The music it is sung to means that it is sung full voice and hands raised in worship.  It requires commitment to sing.  “My dog died!  Praise the Lord!”  There are times when our lives become crap and we are walking in the dark.  This is a time when our smiles become plastic and fragile, and songs like this are sung through gritted teeth.

The psalmists allowed space for the songs of lamentation.  What would this one sound like if it was sung as blues?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnWKehsOXu8

Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass

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I think I saw this book mentioned on an interesting blog I’m reading at the moment, John Vest’s blog, a youth pastor who is currently moderator of Chicago Presbytery.  It had been mentioned a couple of times.  As the Hewitson Library had displayed a copy I made the point of flagging it for my own reading.

It’s a good argument.  I’m not sure I’m convinced.  Bass’s thesis seems to be that the conservative Evangelical resurgence in American politics and culture has faltered.  The old mainstream church is having its own crises, an unattractive alternative that is fading away.  Belief is in such a free-fall that free-thinking critics of religion may know more doctrine than those who actually subscribe to it.  The progressives are sidelined out of the churches.  They have become identified as spiritual without being religious.

There’s an spiritual awakening that is untapped by organised religion.  I’m skeptical of the conviction that we are in an axial age.  I’m not seeing the evidence.  I see too much civilised darkness out there and to say that the spiritual awakening will herald in a new age of global community is mechanistic.

Bass recognises that the revived dream offered by Obama has given rise to a reactionary religio-political movement.  Indeed Obama in presidential office may be part of the backlash.  The conflict exists between the doctrinaire and the innovators.  However America is still a generation behind the rest of the western nations in the withering Christendom.  The result has been most people have taken the post-Christian option to the extent that any religious identity is suspicious and suspect.

In the end what holds organised religion together may be that someone has to keep paying for the pension.

Bass looks forward to a belief that includes emotional response.  Give up on orthodoxy and return to just living.  I always think that ‘just’ should be stressed.  It is not deprecatory; it is Living Justly.  We don’t seek pantheism, we seek to live in god.  Maybe we can a new word: entheism, for living in god.  If the Resurrection is not a historic event that does not stop us from living it out in our lives.  Pray to be discontent, so we may want more more in our lives; and live so that the filling of the absence of god may become real in our lives.

Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld

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Inspired by recent blogging by my friend Jason I’ve been reading the above title.  At various times I’ve picked it up and read bits of it over the years.  Finally got to the end.  Hammarskjöld blogged a very dense ‘sound-bite’ spirituality over a life-time.  I found the first part of the journal difficult.  It was an unsympathetic spirituality for me, very aristocratic and elitist.  The second half that I have been reading recently mark his conversion to Christianity.  A book of conversion narratives I have on my bookshelf includes extracts from pages 87-94 from Markings beginning with the first of Yes! statements and ending with Psalm 139:8, a journey in time through the years 1953-1954.

I have lingered over passages, savouring their their words and extracting as much meaning from them as possible.  The first theme I found was Hammarskjöld’s awareness of his own mortality and his movement to seeking affirmation in life.

Night is drawing nigh — How long the road is.  But for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed  every second of it in order to learn what the road passes — by.

— Night is drawing nigh —

For all that has been — Thanks!

To all that shall be — Yes!

To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself.

Yes — even to that element in one which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from a temptation into a strength.

— Night is drawing nigh —

Let me finish what I have been permitted to begin.

Let me give all without any assurance of increase.

The pride of the cup is in the drink, its humility in the serving. What, then do its defects matter?

To say Yes is never more difficult than when circumstances prevent you from rushing to the defence of someone whose purity of heart makes him defenceless before an attack.

We dare your Yes — and experience a meaning.

You repeat your Yes — and all things acquire a meaning.

When everything has a meaning, how can you live anything but a Yes.

Night is drawing nigh —

Each day the first day : each day a life.

Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and to give back. It must be held out empty — for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity.

. . . and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us . . .

Yes to God: yes to Fate: yes to yourself. This reality can wound the soul, but has power to heal her.

Endless the series of things without name

On the way back to where there is nothing.

Two other passages caught my attention.  Two passages suggested to me Hammarskjöld an awareness of living in the Holy Trinity:

Righteous in Thine eyes,

With Thy courage,

Within Thy peace.

Before Thee, Father,

In righteousness and humility,

With Thee, Brother

In faith and courage,

In Thee, Spirit,

In stillness.

These are values to which Hammarskjöld would return again and again in his meditations.  This is a book I will return.  Let me wrestle from it such values as its writer discovered.

Christian Practices: legalistic, or an attempt to control god?

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An open lecture by Lynne Baab, this was attended by a small audience of supporters and interested people.  It is a response to an essay by Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church.    At one point I wondered if Bishop Willimon is an activist Methodist who has become an Augustinian or Calvinist with emphasis on the sovereignty of god.

I felt it was a lecture addressed towards realists rather than non-realists.  I waver between the two schools of thought.  I wonder what the non-realist response would have been.

Lynne placed the modern discovery of spiritual practice, at least among Protestant Christians beginning with Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  This book has gone into four editions.  She gave three definitions of spiritual practice or discipline:

  1. training in faithfulness
  2. keeping company with Jesus
  3. creating space

Anything can be a spiritual practice if it is done intentionally.  The practice can be done alone or with others.  It is a repeated activity, not a once in a lifetime event.  She used the image of receiving water in cupped hands as the attitude in spiritual practice.  It is a focused activity, not an activity in the midst of being busy.

Bishop Willimon’s criticism of spiritual practice is the latest phase in functional atheism, trying to fill the absence of god.  I wondered how the new Christian atheism would respond to this.  If the cry on the cross is the death of god, a final Is that it!? then we live in an age where the absence of god cannot be filled, a truly broken people.  I wonder what is the response of spiritual practitioners to such a position?

Lynne then gave a list of responses to advocate for spiritual practice.  Some of these are paired together.

  1. People who engage in spiritual practice meet the wild and untamable god.  This is Bishop Willimon’s first criticism: Aslan is not a tame lion!
  2. We spend time with those we love.  The whole relationship thingy with Thou.
  3. Jesus engaged in spiritual practice.  He prayed and fasted.
  4. After we have received grace spiritual practice lets grace shape us.
  5. It is a gift.  Lynne observed it is unusual to stop one day out of seven—put away the tools, even though the work is not finished.
  6. It helps us experience a glimpse of heaven, sometimes.  If I do practice as recreational, then it becomes re-creating.
  7. It helps us to listen and be receptive to god’s will and the spirit’s teaching.  Just turning up on a Sunday morning is a spiritual practice.
  8. It helps us to follow and serve the triune god.  The world is overwhelming, resist burnout.

We are living in two-four time in response to god.  God is on the downbeat, we are on the upbeat.

  • Focus on god’s wild and untamable nature.

Our practice must be commensurate to our worship and service to our god:

Let praise be heard.

Let prayer be spoken.

Let silence fall.

Let god be god.

New Year Greetings from Thy Pyramids

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Another card arrived today from Leland Paul. The card is a stencil of an imaginary glyph. I haven’t been about to find out more as the card directs me to thypyramids.com/8Qi. While I can find the website, the page I’m being directed to eludes me. Never mind, it will join the others.

I’m away tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with the Araturxes Clan. Any further updates on Conlang Exchange Cards will wait until after I get back. Which should be about the fifth Day of Christmas.

Yew Tree Woman visited me this evening to drop off a book. It’s one I’ve been waiting for, Radical Political Theology by Clayton Crockett. It looks like solemn reading with references to such monsters as Spinoza, Hobbes and Derrida. A glad at the introduction intends it for a readership in the American religiously-immersed culture. I shall have to read further to discover whether it has space in New Zealand’s spirituality of suspicion (of religion).

If I finish it before it’s due back to Canterbury University Library I might have to wave it in Jason’s direction. It’s part of a series with Slavoj Žižek as an editor.

This will help as I look for diversions over an extended summer break.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

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I was on retreat yesterday and came home with this poem:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles
through the desert
repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours,
and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun
and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese,
high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are,
no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese,
harsh and exciting
— over and over
announcing your place in the family of things.