A Pastor's Word: Silence


I think of the servant watching Rebekah intently, waiting to see if his mission is a success. 

I think of the darkness of the ninth plague; I wonder if there was silence.

I think of the Canaanite woman crying for help and Jesus not saying a word. 

I think of the disciples in the storm as they find that Jesus is asleep. Were they speechless?

I think of Jesus in the Garden, his friends all asleep, his prayers rising as his sweat falls. 

Or the three hours of darkness while Jesus hung on the cross. Was there silence then?

I think of the silences I have experienced. 

The brief pause, the in-drawn breathe, that stretches into an imaginary eternity, when I asked the woman I love to marry me and she had yet to answer. 

That moment of silence before our baby cried for the first time. 

The first rays of sun hitting the side of the mountain, when I realized I couldn't hear the highway anymore. The pause in the wind at the peak.

The silence a loved one leaves when they are gone. 

The silence we give every year to the brave fallen. 

It becomes clearer to me why silence is more easily avoided. Why noise is comforting. Silence can be many things but it always seems full. It is easier to rest in the emptiness of noise. 

And right then I remember the still small voice. The soul waiting in silence. And I push in once again, struggling to rest in the silence of God. 



A Universal History of Iniquity by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, A Universal History of Iniquity. Penguin Classics, 2004. Translator: Andrew Hurley. 

A long time ago a good friend of mine recommend Borges to me. At the time I read Fictions and quite enjoyed his short stories. I remember them being strange, thought-provoking, and genre bending. Somehow I never gave Borges another thought. Never, that is, until I came across this book and, stirred by the distant association of the name "Borges" with enjoyable reading, started reading. I was not disappointed. 

This is Borges first book and it is a kind of non-fiction. I am fairly certain the stories are embellished, but this only makes them better. What you have here are short stories from the old west, medieval Islam, ancient Asia, and more, each focused on the highly colorful life of one individual. These stories are crafted with genius and very enjoyable to read. 

Borges is a master writer. I regularly sat back from reading this book just to marvel. I used the word crafted above because that is the sense I got in reading: that I was holding the highly polished result of long hours of careful crafting. His words become images and dance in the mind. His biting wit, displayed as it is in such tragic tales, drew me through each page with delight and horror.

My two favorite stories were "The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell", which tells of Morrel's many crimes in the American south during the time of slavery, and "The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette Kotsuke no Suke", which is a sparse retelling of the tale of the 47 Ronin. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. It should be obvious, but I highly recommend this book. 


A Pastor's Word: Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
Blessed is the man. I want to be blessed. I know that true blessing does not come in the abundance of our possessions but in the abundance of our God. And so it almost goes without saying that this rules out walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the way of sinners, or sitting in the seat of mockers. 
I find the progression instructive. From walking, to standing, sitting. From being a person who is walking with God, moving forward in the mission and calling God has given to a person who is sitting on the sidelines, mocking those who try. From taking the advice of the wicked to actively hindering those who attempt to do better. 
I also find this progression harrowing. It is the picture of deep and disturbing transformation which I have seen in others and see the potential for in myself. 
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

To delight in the law is only possible because it is the law of the Lord. The one who has given and gifted this law creates the possibility for delight. We can delight in the law of the Lord because we know that the Lord is the giver of life, the one whose presence is full of joy, the one who blesses. Meditation is an act of devotion and response to our Lord. 
This is the path of blessing: to delight, in the full sense of that word, in God and to devote ourselves to Him in all that He has given to us. 
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

This is the result. The image of blessing. 
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

And this is the other option. Life or death. Fullness or emptiness. Lush or dry. Why would anyone choose the latter? But we do. It is easy to do something which satisfies momentarily but only dries you out. 
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

How could the wicked stand? Chaff is without strength. A tree, beside streams of water, this can stand. But chaff? Once one has gone down the path of the wicked one has lost substance; when judgment comes, when the truth is revealed, standing is out of the question. 
In Christ we can be renewed - our dry bones can be clothed in flesh and He will send the Spirit who is the breathe of new life in us - but absent his intercession we are lost, tossed, and empty. 
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

And this is no accident. The Lord sees. 
I read this Psalm and I know that it is an introduction to the book of Psalms as a whole, an invitation to delight in and meditate on these words. And I can't help hearing Deuteronomy 30:19-20a:
call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.


Sick Family

When I started, back at the beginning of September, to post 3 times a week, I noted that 'life happens.'

Well, it has.  My whole family, including me, has spent the last week being sick. You may have noticed some missing posts in that time (last Friday's misc. and last Tuesday's book review). Now you know why. 

I enjoy blogging but there are other things higher on my priority list :) 

So, apologies for not explaining earlier, and things should be back to the normal schedule beginning Sunday. 


A Pastor's Word: Praise God

“Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.” Psalm 65:1

Indeed, praise awaits our Lord, now and on that final day when His glory is fully revealed. Praise for who He is, praise for what He has done, praise from all of creation.

This is our God.

For He is Lord over all things, from us human beings and out into all of creation. The same God who hears our prayers also covers the meadows and valleys. The same God who forgives our transgressions, despite our being repeatedly overwhelmed with sin, also clothes the hills with gladness. The same God who fills us with good things crowns the year with bounty. The same God who answers us with awesome deeds of righteousness also cares for the land and the waters. He, the one who formed the mountains and stilled the seas, is the hope of all the earth.

This is our God.

 We are His, He is ours, a people chosen before eternity, a God sought out in daily prayer. God who first loved us, first came to us, and who has done all to bring us together. We who speak these prayers and watch for the answers, who hear His call and respond. Blessed are those God has chosen. Blessed are those who come to Him.

This is our God, and we are His. May we join with all of creation in shouting and singing together for joy. 


"There Was a Country" by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Penguin Books, 2013. 

Achebe is a giant in African literature and his acclaim is well deserved. Until reading this book, however, I had only read his fiction. I picked this up because it was on the 'New' shelf at the library and because it was by Achebe. I was not disappointed. 

There was a Country is part biography, part event driven memoir, and part critique, all surrounding the Nigeria-Biafra war. The biography comes in Achebe describing his early life and personal involvement in events leading up said war. This section of book is more personal and, thus, more moving. The second half of the book is largely impersonal, focusing on the events of and after the war. Finally, as a conclusion, Achebe laments the current state of Nigeria and much that has happened since the war. 

On the one hand, I do not know enough of the history to judge this book as an account of events, or of Nigeria to judge it as an account of that country. Until reading this work I had never even heard of the Nigeria-Biafra war (or Biafra, for that matter) despite the fact that over 1 million people died in the conflict. I'm not sure if that speaks more to a deficit in my historical education, to the sad frequency of such conflicts in the 20th century, or to my ignorance of events outside of a very small sphere of interest. 

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as both a masterful piece of writing and a moving lament. Achebe is able to write in a very evocative way and one feels as if one knows him, impartially of course, after reading this book. I particularly enjoyed his reflections on writing and being a writer in politically and socially charged times. 

In the end, this was a very rewarding book to read. Though the position may be biased, I learned history of which I had been unaware. I was given insight into a man's heart for his country and what true lament can look like. It humbled me and made me want to pray. In some measure, by means that are hard to describe, it seemed to me that reading this book caused me to mature. 

The only part that saddened me was that the second half of this book, though still good, was far less so for want of the personal style that had been so evident in the first portion. 

Conclusion: Recommended. 4.5 Stars. It may be that there are problems with this book I am unaware of; bias or prejudice that should lower this rating. However, as a piece of writing it is excellent. 


A Pastor's Word: Gratitude

"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south... Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy."
- Psalm 107:1-3, 19-22

Have you ever heard of negativity bias? Negativity bias is what academics call the observed tendency of individuals to both recall negative information more readily and, also, to put more weight on those negative pieces of information. The combined effect is quite large, as we have a larger number of negative pieces of information available and we are also more likely to view them as important. 

The combined effect also means that thankfulness is a discipline. It does not 'just happen.' Even for those who have a more optimistic disposition thankfulness must be practiced and learned. 

This is especially true in terms of our Christianity. "The worst thing that can happen to our Christianity is to let it become a thing taken for granted, which we wear around every day, just as the elder brother wore, and wore out, his existence in the father's house as he would wear an old, tattered shirt.

The marvel of God's gracious act upon our life never really dawns upon us unless we render thanks to him every day. Only the man who gives thanks retains the wonder of God's fatherly love in his thoughts. But one who has this wonder in his thoughts keeps the very spring and freshness of his Christianity. He holds on daily and nightly, to a living joy in his Lord and Savior. He knows that all this is not mere ideas and habits, but life, and fullness, and joy." (Helmut Thielicke)

Notice, please, that embedded in that quote is the idea that this begins as ideas and habits. It is as we pursue them that they become life, fullness, and joy. First we give thanks every day. First we fight to hold on to the wonder of God's fatherly love. 

This takes vision, a vision and a hope that thankfulness truly will be part of what takes us down the road of life, fullness, and joy. 

This takes intention. We must decide that we will walk this road, will it and walk towards it.

This takes means. We must lay out a plan, a path, and take it one step at a time. We may begin with a prayer journal, or with a simple way to remind ourselves to give thanks each morning, or with a heartfelt thanks to someone we love (or don't!). Then we continue. We fight each day to give thanks. 

As we do this we then realize, and only then, that in the fight, in the habit, in the truth of this gratitude, we are drawn into the love of God and we find life, and fullness, and joy. 

Gratitude. What are you doing to practice it today? I might add, to those of you reading this on thanksgiving, when that question may be easy to answer: What will you do to practice it tomorrow? Throughout this week? And beyond? 


Difficult and Beautiful

Some things are difficult.

Some things are beautiful.

They often overlap. 

May both the difficult and the beautiful draw you to praise the Lord.


"Jesus of Nazareth" by Gerhard Lohfink

Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was. Liturgical Press, 2012. 

"There are innumerable books about Jesus. The reason is obvious: We can never finish with him, and every age must encounter him anew." (xi) Indeed. Here, then, is another such book. Lohfink seeks to give a comprehensive overview of Jesus, examining his actions, message, and life in a combination of historical critical research and theological thinking. 

Lohfink does many things well. A friend, the one who requested that I review this book, commented of this book that it made Jesus more real to him than any other book he has read about Jesus. I can see that. Lohfink does an excellent job of bringing what we know about 1st century Palestine to bear on Jesus' life and teachings. Not only that, Lohfink is unquestionably a talented writer (and, I presume, Linda Maloney must also be a talented translator). I often found myself admiring Lohfink's details surrounding Jesus parables, his deep reading of scripture, and his ability to bring these things to life. 

At the same time, I found myself constantly disagreeing with Lohfink's conclusions. It seemed that many times, he made the shift from history to theology, or just interpretation, I disagreed with what he had to say. His chapters on miracles, the old testament, and the resurrection stood in this respect. 

What really bothered me about this book, however, was not that I disagreed but the places I felt that Lohfink contradicted himself. Some of these were small. For example, he notes that wheat bearing fruit 30, 50, or 100 fold is not unusual, but then goes on to comment that no one could double their money without criminal extortion or some other immoral business practices (commenting on the parables of the sower and the talents, respectively).  Others were larger. He opens the book with some excellent comments on historical criticism, noting that "when biblical critics measure Jesus only by their own prior understanding, deciding ahead of time what is 'historically possible' and what is 'historically impossible,' they exceed their own limitations." Unfortunately, Lohfink goes on to make just such decisions as well. Perhaps these were not made 'ahead of time' but they come across as merely affirming Lohfink's own prior understanding, rather than well argued positions backed up by evidence. Other examples include his excellent conclusion that God can be present in "irritatingly unique" ways contrasted with his persistent denial of such instances in his detailed reading of scripture.

What conclusion do I reach? There is some great material here. There are some great points made, even if they are inconsistently applied. But I'm afraid that I can't recommend this book. If you are already fluent in the language and world of historical criticism and, better yet, German theology, then this is a great book. Otherwise, I would send you elsewhere. 

Conclusion: Not Recommended. 3 Stars. 


A Pastor's Word: Faith

I say faith is a burden
It's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to 
Lord, I believe, only help my unbelief

Faith, we read, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. 

Faith is what those of old were commended for; Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and more. 

Faith is what we see in the Roman Centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant. And the Canaanite woman who begs for Jesus to free her daughter from a demon. 

Yet, with these examples before us, we somehow mistake faith for something easy. Something we can get once and for all. Something we can possess. 

In my experience faith is something I must struggle for and cling to. Rather than possessing faith I am continually holding it out to God, doing my best to take him at His word, despite all that stands against such trust, and waiting, holding my breathe, to see if He will come through yet again. 

I am called to "faith in," not just "faith." Faith in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Faith in His promises and presence and person. And, therefore, also faith against all that stands in the way. 

In the end, the struggle of faith is the struggle to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. This is the lesson Peter learns in Matthew 13. And so the call to faith is the call to adventure, the call to brave uncertain waters where only He is certain:

"Yes, we Christians are adventurers of a higher order. Everything is uncertain, nothing is sure, except this One Man, who is with us in the ship and at the same is our goal. One look away from him - and our ship becomes an uncanny, alien place, drifting in a void. One look at him - and the strange and alien becomes familiar. We do not understand the navigation, true enough; but we know the Navigator."
- Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father.