Archives for July 2015

The Weekly Hit List: July 31, 2015

Cover ArtJ. Todd Billings, author of Rejoicing in Lament, was interviewed on the Compassion Radio Podcast. You can listen to part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Todd Billings was living his dream. As a professor, husband and father, all of his ambitions in life were lining up. Then enters a word incongruent with his dreams – CANCER. Most men would buckle down and focus on nothing else than fighting the disease. Todd is not most men. He’s finding grace and hope in ever-increasing measure and paying it forward. In the process, he’s bringing hope and even joy to thousands. You’ll find out how, today and tomorrow.”


Quick Hits:

Kuyperian Commentary shared an excerpt from Peter Leithart’s Traces of the Trinity.

Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship was reviewed at The Republic.

Lectionary Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a:

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How could this man after God’s own heart, this paragon of Israel, have fallen so easily and so disastrously?

The Council of Trent teaches that original sin—the primal dysfunction that affects the whole of the human race like an inherited addiction—conduces toward a skewing and disordering of the person, a setting at war of those elements that comprise the self. Dissociated and disintegrated, none of the powers of body and soul operate properly or at their full capacity. Thus the fallen will does not choose properly, and the fallen mind does not see properly.

Bernard Lonergan, who as a Jesuit was exquisitely sensitive to the discernment of spirits and the reading of interior states, knew that the fallen mind stands in constant need of conversion. Hence he formulated four great epistemological imperatives: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, and be responsible. He knew that the mind, conditioned by sin, tends to fall into lazy and self-absorbed patterns of not seeing, not thinking, not deciding, and not changing.

Of course, any spiritual director or confessor could tell us that even very bright people can tumble into gross patterns of self-deceptive or self-serving thinking—seeing what they want to see, imagining escape routes that are not there, spinning out exculpating scenarios, and so on.

David, the sweet singer of Israel, the celebrator of Yahweh’s sovereignty over creation, seemed to imagine that his puny and deceptive moves could somehow conceal his sin from God. Surely David knew that even as he chose to take Bathsheba he was operating at cross-purposes with God’s law and his own good. But David’s mind and will were simply overwhelmed by an unruly sexual passion that had been allowed to break away from its center.

Thomas Merton comments that the passions for sex, food, and drink are something like little children, demanding what they want when they want it. Not wicked in themselves, they are nevertheless to be disciplined by intellect and will lest they come, in time, to dominate the soul. During this sad episode, David is a person compromised by the fall, or to use more explicitly Catholic language, a man in the grip of concupiscence, the warping of mind and desire, which is the enduring consequence of original sin.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Feeling, Memory, and Personality – an excerpt from Darkness Is My Only Companion

The following is an excerpt from Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.

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I find that many people think of God as a self-help device we can use to improve our personality. To help us quit smoking, drinking, overeating. To help us be nicer people so we can stand to live in our own skin. To help us win more friends and influence more people. Or maybe even to be more affluent.

The drive to improve ourselves, personality included, motivates much religion in America. Many of us Christians are functional atheists, even though we may be quite pious indeed. We often can’t imagine how our religion would require anything of us that would not be directed solely to our own betterment. Even working toward justice and peace can sometimes be a veiled attempt to make us feel less unacceptable to ourselves, easier to live with.

But if God is really the God of the Bible, then he demands our worship and obedience despite how we feel about it, or about ourselves, or others.

Of course, it is always pleasant to feel good. And it would be especially nice not to go through life wanting to end it. But even this doesn’t separate us from God. Even wanting to return the gift of life does not damn us. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Even before we make the slightest move out of our sloth to reach out to God this is true. The hard part when one is mentally ill can be choosing life. It is ever that, though, which is demanded of us. This is the hard part. How we feel does not change anything objectively about our life before God.

What will allow for our survival is not how we feel but what we remember, what God did for us and does for us. The Baʽal Shem Tov (1698–1760, founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism) once said, “Exile is caused by forgetfulness, and the secret of redemption is memory.” I must remember, even if I don’t feel it, that I am part of a people of faith, of hope, of love. I cannot doubt or question that memory, even though all evidence would lead me to conclude that I never really did trust, never really did hope, never really did love.

I may feel like a hypocrite now for even pretending to pray. But how I feel, after all, is not that important. If I can do nothing else, I must simply remember that I am a part of the community of faith, the body of Christ, that I was once able to participate in the praises of Israel. “Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. 42:7).

©2015 by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: July 24, 2015

Traces of the TrinityCover Art, by Peter Leithart, was reviewed by Matthew Levering at Reformation 21.

“We cannot help but be enriched by Leithart’s magnificent vision, presented with such broad erudition and winsome prose. If, in dark moments, we wonder whether the world has really been created by the triune God, we can remember what Leithart has shown and be strengthened in faith. In its fundamental fabric, this world is exactly as Scripture’s teaching about our triune Creator would lead us to expect.”


Quick Hits:

Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? was reviewed at Brave Daily.

Wesley Hill responded to some questions raised by a recent review of Spiritual Friendship.

Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 11:1-15:

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David’s view from the roof, gazing down in an all-seeing way on the whole of his capital city, is a confirmation of Samuel’s worst fears concerning kings: that they would be domineering, oppressive, superior, and self-absorbed. Strutting on top of his palace, David is a parody of God’s providential presidency over the whole of creation. This is David having seized, Adam-like, the prerogatives of divinity, and what follows shows vividly the havoc that is wreaked when human beings begin playing the role of God.

Surveying the whole of his city, seeing what delights his eye, ordering about his underlings, David is the precise opposite of the pious young king who guilelessly asked God whether to go up to Hebron. The “look” of David, the regard from on high, is the gaze of the master that objectifies what it sees. The look of the lover is one that invites an answering look while the regard of the master pins the object of that regard to the table for examination.

He sees a woman of great beauty. Especially given the numerous associations between David and Adam that I have already noted, it would be difficult to miss the link between Bathsheba and Eve and between Bathsheba and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. On the one hand Bathsheba, comfortably naked in the garden of David’s city, is Eve, the occasion for the king’s sin; on the other hand, the very beauty of Bathsheba is like that Edenic fruit that was “good for food . . . and a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). Indeed, it would be naive in the extreme to construe Bathsheba as totally innocent—she just happens to be bathing nude within easy eyeshot of the king?

David’s first move is to send a messenger to find out about her. Once more buffers, indirection, and the use of others to do the dirty work is consistently characteristic of the king during this episode. The servant reports that she is “Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11:3). Since it was unusual to identify a woman by both her father and her husband, some suggest that both Eliam and Uriah were prominent members of David’s inner military circle.

Eliam will play a role later in the story, but the emphasis is clearly on Uriah, explicitly identified as a foreigner, though he bore a stately Hebrew name meaning “Yahweh is my light.” Likely, therefore, he was not so much a foreigner as a native or naturalized Israelite of Hittite extraction. The irony, obviously, is that this man of foreign origins shows far greater loyalty to the customs and traditions of Israel than the Israelite king who murders him.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Making the Perfect Woman: Consumerism as a Religious Narrative – an excerpt from Divine Sex

The following is an excerpt from Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathan Grant.

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Jesse Epstein’s short documentary 34 x 25 x 36 provides a philosophical window into a company that makes female mannequins. As the firm’s owner declares at the outset, “There are no perfect bodies out there . . . we make the perfect body.”

The goal, he says, is to “stir up the adrenaline in the buyer to say, hmmm, I could look like that.”

Describing a sculptor creating a template from a real human model, the chief designer says, “He’s taking the essence of her [the human model] and capturing what her features are about into an image that is actually more than what she is. We have the ability to alter things.” Comparing his work to medieval religious art, which captured the form of saints, he goes on:

We replicate what the perfect girl is for the times because actually it’s a continuation of the same thing [i.e., religious art]. I can see where it would be believing in something or, in a way, worshiping something because it’s something that you aim for. Do we worship perfect women? Do we worship people that dress in very expensive clothes? It’s playing with people’s minds about what their ideal is. In religion the ideal is salvation. What is salvation in our current society? Is it being looked upon, being photographed everywhere you go? To some people it is very important. People have to believe in something.

This modern “religious art” presents idealized saints to be emulated, and yet they are always out of reach. Whereas the purpose of medieval art lay in spiritual emulation, salvation within the lower horizons of the modern world is now found through embodied perfection.

This notion points to the myth of attainability within consumerism. Although this myth seeks to mimic and displace the religious narrative, there is a critical difference between them. Whereas Gregory’s vision is fueled by the progressive satisfaction of our spiritual yearning, which spurs us on to experience more of God, consumerism—like all forms of idolatry—is driven by intensifying promises that end up giving us nothing. Happiness and fulfillment always lie just out of reach.

In contrast to the progressive fulfillment of the Christian journey, consumerism is a form of institutionalized dissatisfaction that whets our appetite but leaves us hungry, revealing the myth of freedom within consumerism.

Having presented themselves as priests offering salvation, consumption and acquisition become gods in their own right. As we follow these false gods up the mountain, they offer us progressive self-realization and control through personal choice. In reality, we are caught in a downward spiral of provisional commitments.

©2015 by Jonathan Grant. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: July 17, 2015

Melinda Selmys reviewed Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship for Catholic Authenticity.

This book is smart and well-researched, yet also personable and approachable. Wesley’s prose stylistics are a joy to read: he is intelligent without being tedious or pedantic, and he uses his considerable knowledge of the subject matter to inform his audience without showing off.

The inclusion of his own, sometimes painful struggles to realize the kind of love that he envisions allows the reader to truly understand both what friendship is, and why we need it so badly in the church today.

 

Other Spiritual Friendship Media:

In response to a recent article by Julie Rodgers, Wesley Hill wrote an essay titled “Yes, many Christian communities are toxic for my LBGT friends. But there’s more.” for The Washington Post.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a:

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When the first Christian preachers and evangelists tried to make sense of Jesus the Messiah kata ta grapha (according to the scriptures), it was only natural that they turned to these texts and ideas that cluster around the promise conveyed to David through Nathan.

Matthew commences his Gospel with a detailed genealogy of Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1; Hahn 2012: 82). By referring to those two figures specifically, Matthew is implicitly identifying Jesus as the One through whom the mission of Israel to bring their God to all the nations would be accomplished.

He lays out three sets of fourteen generations: from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus. According to the tradition of associating a number to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the consonants of David’s name, d-w-d, correspond to fourteen.

Therefore, what Matthew is communicating to those who have eyes to see is that Jesus is a treble David, David cubed, David perfected and intensified. The lengthy genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel surely mimics and is meant to call to mind the even longer genealogy with which the books of Chronicles commence (Hahn 2012: 42).

The first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles are essentially a list of the antecedents of King David, beginning with Adam himself and leading through hundreds of other figures and events to Saul and Jonathan and their tragic end on Mount Gilboa. What the Chronicler is not so subtly insinuating is that all of human history has in a very real sense been a preparation for David and his gathering of the tribes in Hebron and then in Jerusalem.

By inaugurating his Gospel with a genealogy conducing toward the new David, Matthew is indicating that the human story finds its truest fulfillment in Jesus. Furthermore, when the angel visits Joseph and urges him to take Mary as his wife, he refers to Joseph pointedly as “son of David” (Matt. 1:20), and when the magi from the east arrive in Jerusalem, inquiring as to the whereabouts of the newborn “king of the Jews,” they are told the word of the prophet that the Messiah would be born in “Bethlehem in the land of Judah,” David’s city.

The very fact of prominent foreign personages seeking the king of the Jews is, of course, an echo of David’s attraction not only to the tribes of Israel but also, as we will see, to the surrounding nations.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

God goes on Loving – Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, on Darkness Is My Only Companion

The following is an excerpt from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s foreword to Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.

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Cover ArtI must begin with a confession. I only began to read Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s book because my friend and colleague N. T. (Tom) Wright asked me to do so.

Since one of my own children began to blog and tweet about her own experience of mental illness, the daily experience has been of strangers writing and suggesting that they have come up with the book, treatment, diet, or other solution that solves the problem right away. One begins to get a little cynical. And so when Tom wrote to me asking me to look at this book, I felt that he might have been succumbing to the same problem.

How wrong I was. Kathryn Greene-McCreight does not set out to provide solutions but writes one of the most profound and eye-opening reflections on the grace and love of God, and above all on the nature of human relationships, that I have had the pleasure of reading.

….For me, that has been the greatest blessing of this book, a new understanding of what it means to say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It has also renewed in me hope in the reality of Christian healing. Kathryn discusses the nature of prayer for healing and recalls her own experience of a moment of being prayed for as—to some extent and without great drama—a turning point. I found my own faith renewed—deepened—and my own hopes expanded through the beauty of her writing.

So, this is in the end a book about relationship. Full relationships are those of love that does not change when the one loved is profoundly altered. In such relationships we see most deeply the nature of God. They draw us out of ourselves and perhaps begin in a strange way to give faint echoes of a response to the troubles and divisions of the church in a multicultural world.

What does God do when we fail? God goes on loving. What does God do when the church collectively appears to be ill? God goes on loving. The reconciliation of God, I have learned afresh from this book, is overwhelmingly more powerful than all the brokenness of my humanity.

And so I am grateful to Tom for suggesting the read, to Kathryn for her beautiful book and for inviting me to write its foreword, and above all to the God who unexpectedly has renewed in me his perfect love and grace.

 

 

©2015 by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: July 10, 2015

Cover ArtCraig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? was a featured reviewed at The Englewood Review of Books.

Readers who seriously engage the arguments contained in this book will discover a reflective, reasonable, and rich Christianity that does not shy away from tough questions or hard facts.

In light of the recent supreme court ruling, Comment Magazine shared an excerpt from the forthcoming Free to Serve by Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies.

Principled pluralism seeks public policies that are even-handed not only among the faith-based organizations of various religious traditions but also between faith-based organizations and secular organizations. Neither should be favored over the other.


Quick Hits:

Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, was named one of the best books of the year by Words of Grace.

Stephen Monsma, co-author of Free to Serve, discussed the Obergefell v. Hodges decision at Christianity Today.

And finally, congrats to Dr. David G. Benner whose Presence and Encounter received the silver award in the Body, Mind & Spirit category of the 2014 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.