Mary Oliver and Realized Eschatology

“Look and look again. / This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes. / It’s more than bones. / It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. / It’s more than the beating of a single heart. / It’s praising. / It’s giving until it feels like receiving. / You have a life—just imagine that! / You have this and, and maybe another, and maybe still another.” – Mary Oliver, “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass”

“If anyone is in Christ–new creation!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (a “very literal” translation mentioned by R. Hays in Moral Vision, p. 20).

Poets have long seen the world with clearer, brighter vision. I suppose because they’ve taken the time to do so. When I began reading Mary Oliver on my sabbath at the beginning of the year, I struggled to describe the grandeur of her description. It’s not overbearingly symbolic, so far as I can tell. All I could say, to my sister who gifted me the book, was that Oliver was able better than anyone to capture the brilliance of the world in the simplest of terms.

Not long ago I revised this poem into a prayer for the congregation’s invocation. Here’s the prayer in full: Continue reading

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The Enneagram, A Brief Introduction

Allie is a good friend and my (Kent’s) trusted go-to for Enneagram wisdom. She offers here a great introduction to the Enneagram. Later this week I’ll follow up with a brief review of Suzanne Stabile’s recent book, The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships (IVP, 2018).

Guest Post: Allie Brown.

I try not to overstate things. Words matter, and I hope to keep my credibility when it comes to the words I choose, so when I say the following, please know that I mean every bit of it: the Enneagram changed my life. To be clearer, the Enneagram has changed and continues to change my life.

Thomas Merton wrote,

“There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find [God] I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find [God].”

For me, the Enneagram is the spiritual tool that has most shepherded my journey of self-awareness and acceptance. An ancient tool with somewhat mysterious origins, the Enneagram has been used by Christians for centuries as a spiritual practice of self-Enneagram-diagramdiscovery. At its most basic, the Enneagram (meaning ‘nine points’) is a personality typing system. But for those of us seeking God and, in God, our true selves, it is a vision for how God’s character is manifest in nine archetypal ways.

I have always been drawn to personality tests and tools. I felt like a mystery to myself for most of  life. In search for my truest self, I was desperate for anything that would help express my inner world to everyone on the outside.

The Enneagram drew me in for the same reason, but thankfully a wise friend advised me to not treat it as just another personality test. Instead, she encouraged me to approach it as a spiritual practice; a way to seek God by seeking my true self. Continue reading

The Grammar of Grace

About nine years ago I began editing an anthology on the Christian life, and I’m very pleased to say that it’s now in print, The Grammar of Grace: Readings from the Christian Tradition (Cascade). The back cover reads, CASCADE_7x10_Template

This anthology is a collection of readings on the Christian life. They were carefully selected from every era of history and from across the spectrum of Christian traditions. They include letters, sermons, treatises and disputations, poems, songs and hymns, confessions, biblical commentary, and even part of a novel. In each case, the subject is life with God, life in God, life for God—life infused and enlivened by God’s grace.

The editors introduce each selection, highlighting relevant aspects of the author’s biography, spirituality, and historical context. Introductions are also provided for the major eras of the church which present theological, historical, and cultural perspectives to help the reader best engage the selections.

For individuals and groups, classrooms and seminars, this collection will generate dialogue between past and present, and between traditions familiar and unfamiliar. It is not merely a book on the Christian life but for the Christian life, making yesterday’s witness to life with God a resource for the Church today.

If you order the book from the publisher you’ll receive a discount (here).

Besides the many, many people who supported and encouraged me as the book took shape, I worked with two associate editors of amazing talent and skill, not to mention spiritual sensitivity: Ashley Cocksworth (UK) and Anna Silvas (Australia). Ashley and I worked together on the Reformation and Modern sections, and Anna managed the Medieval sections. You’ll find them trustworthy guides.

I’ll post a few times more about this book in the following weeks. I’d like to say more about the book’s range, the verbal icons that accompany each selection, and share a few parts from the Introduction.

Let me say this for now: I feel that my connection to the community of faith has grown stronger by curating this book. It is hard to find just the right words. I mean that after all the years drawing together and introducing these 96 different figures from across the entire history of the Christian faith – after sitting with them for so long to “hear” their testimony of life with God – I have a deeper and more tangible sense of the great “cloud of witnesses” of which I’m a part (Heb 12:1). I am not alone, nor are you, in the pilgrimage of following Jesus.

We are not the first to speak of life with God. Life with God compels expression. It requires testimony. Some kind of expression, some kind of “pointing” at what it is to know the triune God of the gospel. Christian Wyman calls such expression the “poetry and prose” of knowing God’s grace. It is “sighing and stammering,” Karl Barth says. After spending nearly a decade sifting through hundreds of different examples of Christians who “pointed” at life with God, I found this: they are tied together by the grammar of grace.

More on that later.

The “Untheological” Preacher

screen-shot-2018-02-26-at-12-18-23-pmIt’s not uncommon to hear preachers of a certain theological stripe say from the pulpit something like, “What I’m saying isn’t theological, it’s just biblical.” The sentiment is understandable even if the statement isn’t tenable. In many folks’ minds—both clergy and lay people—theology is a distraction from the real content of the Bible, from the real purpose of worship, or from the real goal of discipleship. 

Some of this sentiment can be chalked up to bad theology, written densely and in specialist language to no clear end. We might also wonder how the movement of theologians from the church to the offices of universities may have precipitated a sense of distance between theology and the church. Further still, theological debates often require an acceptance of nuance that is less than preferable when dealing with matters of salvation—in other words, people might chafe at theology because they feel it leads them to wonder if they can know anything for sure about God, life, or eternity. 

While I can charitably acknowledge these criticisms and concerns about theology, I think they reveal a narrow assumption about how theology works within the church. It seems that most people who think theology is more harmful than helpful assume theology works mostly to clarify (or confuse) matters of Christian belief that have little bearing on Christian life. If this assessment is on point, then it would take a substantial effort to redeem theology in the hearts and minds of everyday church folk, let alone the clergy who have taught them to think this way about theology. If that’s all it is, why do we need it at all? Continue reading

What is it that we truly are?

Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus to know, along with a litany of other things, that God has made Christ “head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). In February 1922, Karl Barth lectured on this passage. His words, as usual, provoke us to recognize the vitality of the biblical text. The church, he writes, is Christ’s

pleroma, the filling up of the empty form, which he signifies, in contrast to all that is human and the true fulfillment of all that is human…Because they are in Christ, because they are the ekklesia, called together by him, they are truly the object of God’s blessing. Will the become what they truly are?

I can only imagine being a student at the University of Göttingen during this lecture. What would you say if Barth paused after that loaded question, looked at you, and asked, “And what is it, precisely, that we truly are?”  Continue reading

Snow Day: An At-Home Liturgy

A beautiful covering of snow is being whisked hither and thither in Huntington, Indiana, tonight. Our church community will not be gathering tomorrow morning in order to prevent folks from unnecessarily driving in dangerous conditions. So, I created this liturgy to encourage them to worship together in the Spirit while physically at home.

I thought some of our readers may delight, whose churches may also not be gathering, would find it edifying so I’m sharing it here! You can click here to download the PDF which has all of the links (to the worship songs and the homily).

Every blessing to you all. Stay warm and give thanks!