Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful for the Incarnation

Thanksgiving has only just ended and that wonderful season of Advent is upon us. It thus occurred to me that one of my recent thoughts was particularly appropriate to this weekend.

Sometimes when I pray I find myself thinking about how I am thinking about God. Too often God can seem abstract. He is glorious, powerful, creator of the universe, more beautiful than anything we can imagine, loving, just, magnificent, holy... and I could go on forever like this. He created the very time and space that we, in our finitude, inhabit. He does not have a brain (that thing we rely on to make sense of the world) yet he is infinite in wisdom and understanding. All of this is too much for me to comprehend when I pray "Our Father..."

Yet - God did not intend for us to worship him in abstraction. He revealed himself to us in a way that we could comprehend:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)
I am so thankful for the incarnation.

Caravaggio, Adoration of the Shepherds
1609. Oil on canvas.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Worlds Apart

Driving by myself for several hours last year I listened all the way through my Jars of Clay CD, and found that this song, the last one resonated with me. I listened to it multiple times. How incomprehensible and wonderful and humbling is his mercy and grace in the face of our brokenness and pride!

If you want to listen to this song, hit play on the YouTube video and scroll down to see the lyrics.






"Worlds Apart"


I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same

Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high and like Icarus I collide
With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love
to give and die

To turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce the skin of one who loves
more deeply than the oceans,
more abundant than the tears
Of a world embracing every heartache

Can I be the one to sacrifice
Or grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow

Take my world apart
I am on my knees
Take my world apart
Broken on my knees

All said and done I stand alone
Amongst remains of a life I should not own
It takes all I am to believe
In the mercy that covers me

Did you really have to die for me?
All I am for all you are
Because what I need and what I believe are worlds apart

So I pray
Take my world apart
I am on my knees
Take my world apart
Broken on my knees
on my knees

I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
More and more I need you now,
I owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
and wash my feet and cleanse my pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide
take my beauty, take my tears
the sin-soaked heart and make it yours
take my world all apart
take it now, take it now

and serve the ones that I despise
speak the words I can't deny
watch the world I used to love
fall to dust and thrown away
I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
take my beauty, take my tears
the sin-soaked heart and make me yours
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
take my world apart, take my world apart
I pray, I pray, I pray
take my world apart

It's world's apart...

...

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah...

...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Satisfied II

Perhaps this is a primarily feminine tendency, but I find something so satisfying in the little orderings and rituals of life: climbing into a newly made bed with tea, enjoying the openness of a freshly tidied and vacuumed room after some exertion to get it to that point, eating warm baked goods with a friend, going for a walk in cool weather, pushing in my chair or clearing my desk when I leave my office for the day, knowing that the next day will be another start...

...the list could go on and on. Ultimately I only find true satisfaction in God. This does not mean that the physical world around me cannot bring me satisfaction; our spirituality is not a platonic separation of soul and body. In fact, our satisfaction with God even leads to satisfaction with the life we are living. As I was just reading today,
We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God's kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being "right", we will simply have no place to receive his kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life. (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 348)

I know my week ahead will have its challenges. Some of them loom on the horizon of the day about to begin. Yet as if I am truly satisfied in Christ I can still wake up and joyfully enter the day. May we all be granted grace to internalize this fact a little more each day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Faith, Science, and Some things I've been Reading.

Once again I will be quoting today from some things in my recent readings which have me thinking.

First: This summer I read The Soul of the American University by Marsden (a book I highly recommend to my friends in graduate school. I'm actually surprised to realize I haven't written a post specifically about this book yet. Anyway...) In chronicling the academic scene in the late 1800's, Marsden tells of how American thinkers saw no conflict between religion and science:
Strict biblicists committed to the Common Sense philosophy took for granted that one reasonable and unifying outlook must triumph in public life as much as did those who hailed scientific progress and a higher evolving religion. The stakes they thus set were remarkably high; in fact they were all or nothing. (215)

Much has, of course, changed since then, and I noticed today that Willard has a good description of the current situation:
To understand why the negative prejudice [that science rules God out conclusively] is so strong now, just reflect on how the entire system of human expertise, as represented by our many-tiered structure of certification and accreditation, has a tremendous vested interest in ruling God out of consideration. For, if it cannot do that, it is simply wrong about what it presents as knowledge and reality -- of which God is no part. (331)

Thus while I would still agree with the 'old' way of thinking that there is no conflict between my faith science (in fact the two complement each other!) I would not assume that one universal and God-centered worldview will come to dominate. In fact, as Willard suggests, it makes sense to assume that the opposite would happen. Understanding this distinction and addressing it is, I think, important for every person who professes faith in God.


On a different but definitely related topic:
I really appreciated some of Polkinghorne's statements in his book One World (I'm putting my favourite part in bold - it is so true!). He concludes his discussion of the post-enlightenment world:
At the same time the human psyche has revealed its shadowing and elusive depths, the physical world has denied determinate objectivity at its constituent roots. [...] [Heisenber's] uncertainty principle proclaims the unpicturability of the quantum world [...] the fitfulness inherent in quantum theory breaks the bonds of stric t determinism...

That in itselve is no great cause for religious rejoicing [...] Our century has seen a recurrent cult of the Absurd which is destructive of true understanding. To acknowledge the limits of rationality, objectivity and determinism is not to relinquish a belief in reason, a respect for reality or a search for order.

It may however lead to a greater openness to the variety of the world and our experience of it, an acceptance that beside the insights of science, expressible in the quantitative language of mathematics, there are the equally necessary insights of religion, expressible in the qualitative language of symbol. (5)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Excellence


Yesterday I read an article about Brian Doerksen's new musical, "Prodigal God". One statement he made struck me in particular:
We're so afraid to take risks... I don't know why Christians settle for mediocrity... the best art involves taking time and getting it right.

The process of making this musical has taken him 7 years. I do think that really good art does involve a serious intent towards excellence, and that this should take time.

I bring this up not only because of my interest in the arts, especially in relation to the church (see other posts on this topic). I have also been thinking about our faith and how it influences our view on excellence in what we do. How do we do our work with excellence in such a way that it is God (not ourselves) who is glorified? Of course, ultimately God will glorify his name, but I think that understanding our part in this will help with our intents and motivation as we do our work.