Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!


Yes, it's that time again - today is Bob Dylan's birthday and so the drinks are on the house - we're celebrating!  We were so much older then - we're younger than that now!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is "more optimistic about the church now than I have ever been in my life."

From here:

Archbishop Justin has prayed for Christian unity and told church leaders that "we need to be a risk-taking church".
The Archbishop was speaking this morning before an audience of more than 5,000 Christians on the first day of HTB's annual leadership conference.
Nicky Gumbel interviews Justin Welby at the HTB Leadership Conference in London.

"We need to be a risk-taking Church. There is no safety in Christ - there is absolute security, but there is no safety," he said during a question and answer session with the Rev Nicky Gumbel, vicar of HTB.

Archbishop Justin said he was more hopeful than ever for the future of the church as it "fills in" the gaps left by the state following the global financial crisis.
Referring to the food banks being run by the Diocese of Durham he said: “It is a great opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ. I am more optimistic about the Church now than I have ever been in my life."

"For the first time in 70 years," he added, "people are realising that “Christ meets the needs of the world.”

But he warned the audience, composed of leaders from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches, against the dangers of fighting each other.
"We cannot live for our cause to win, we have to live for His cause to win," he said, adding that "very often the biggest wounds we experience will come from other Christians."

'Forgive your fractured church'

The Archbishop said it is "natural for churches to grow," but said that it was "hard work" and urged his audience to find in their churches news ways of "liberating people to be risk-takers in the service of Christ."

He spoke of how he became a Christian, how he met his wife Caroline and his life in the oil industry before he was ordained.

He spoke of the success of his recent five-day "journey in prayer" around five English cities, attended by more than 12,000 people, before his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral in March.
In a light-hearted aside, he described of how he was approached during the pilgrimage by a man in Chichester Cathedral who did not recognise him.

"This person came up to me and said, 'I have heard that the Archbishop of Canterbury is here today' ... he said, 'Is there any chance you could introduce me to him?'. I said, 'Yes, it is me'. He said 'oh'."

Looking ahead, the Archbishop said his areas of emphasis would be the renewal of prayer and religious life, reconciliation within the church, and evangelism throughout the nation.
Leading the Royal Albert Hall in prayer, the Archbishop called for a "deep setting aside of all that holds us back from You".
"Forgive your fractured Church, renew our unity, direct our lives and may we see a revolution in our times," he said.


Read it all here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

“All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever; you can't live forever.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”
― John Winthrop, (1588–1649)


The first time I read The Great Gatsby was in high school and I hated it.

The second time I read The Great Gatsby in college it changed my life. In fact, I recommend reading The Great Gatsby at least once a year, every year. But if for whatever reason you can't or won't do that, then go watch Baz Luhrmann's new film The Great Gatsby instead.  It's that good.

I've been fascinated by reading the official critical reviews, as though the critics could not see themselves in the film. That so many of them could not, or would not, demonstrates all the more that it is true for our culture today that we are indeed repeating the past.

The Great Gatsby is about us.

 Not "them," but us. You can just be human, of course, but it helps especially to be American. Or wish you were American.  But it is about us - a stern warning even as we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

One of the remarkable achievements of Luhrmann's interpretation of The Great Gatsby is that it lifts the prose up, literally sometimes, so it's unmistakable that a crucial component of the story is that it is about words - the power of words. Or the Word. Or what happens when the Word becomes merely a fading billboard advertisement hovering over the edge of town.  It might be glamorous, but it's not pretty.

A bold step that Luhrmann takes is the soundtrack. Fitzgerald's prose is the prose of the Jazz Age, but the jazz of the 1920's may quickly become quaint or nostalgic to today's thumping iPod generation. Fitzgerald's prose and photographic imagery remain steady and timeless and so Luhrmann's unorthodox decision to blend contemporary hiphop with Gershwin's magnificent jazz is brilliant. We are faced at once, as we would be on the page, that Fitzgerald's backdrop is the 1920s Jazz Age, but the story is now. It is always now. It is now more than ever. And one cannot see the film and not see that it is about now.

In that sense, Gatsby is right when he refutes Nick's assertion that we cannot repeat the past.  “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

How was it that trusted banks and investment firms and quasi-federal government corporations were turned into wanton casinos on steroids, burning through credit with lavish lifestyles and exploiting the very people the legislative innovations were designed to help? “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

Long ago in British history, after a long dark age when theatre seemed to disappear entirely from memory, it made a stunning comeback with the introduction of miracle or morality plays.  These plays, reflecting the most extraordinary play of them all - the Eucharist - were meant to affect a response from the audience, just as the Eucharist should.  They weren't merely for entertainment - they were for worship, you anticipated meeting God when you went to see the play.  It could change you.

The Great Gatsby, whether on page or now on screen, may elicit such a response. One of the first surviving British miracle plays was called The Harrowing of Hell.  Wiki tells us that it is about the "triumphant descent of Christ into Hell between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world (excluding the damned)."   The Great Gatsby, with it's cast of the damned, is another kind of descent into hell, filled with extravagant opulence, moral decadence, and greed, one that does not lead to resurrection and redemption, but its own protagonist drowned in the pool.  His "greatness" sadly does not save him.


What was lost to me when I read The Great Gatsby the first time was the power of sin - how corruptible sin is even when presented with the best of intentions.  And no one gets off the hook.  God isn't kidding when He tells Moses to write down on the tablet the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."  He's not doing that to be a "spoiled sport," but to save us all from ruin.  Once we fashion our new gods, we are as doomed as Gatsby.

This I learned after reading it the second time.

Gatsby is the American Dream.  He is reinvented.  He is born one way and he reinvents himself another, tapping into cherished American myths.  The parts that aren't true, he makes up.  His reinvention is for a romantic love, but a love that turns to idolatry.  His dream, Daisy, becomes an obsession and he lives in his dream world, even to the end, for his own personal redemption.  His dream is rooted in show, manufactured, materialistic, and yet also idealistic, romantic - indeed, he wants to be faithful, even as he seems oblivious that in order to attain her, Daisy must be unfaithful, a moral failure.

And so is Nick Carraway, the narrator.

I recall when the book was covered in one of my Creative Writing courses in college, that we discussed whether Nick Carraway was a good narrator.  The book triumphs or fails on whether Fitzgerald was right to place his story in the voice of Nick Carraway.  What Nick sees, we see - do we trust his observations?  Is he right about his perceptions of Jay Gatsby?

Nick is outstanding in his characterizations and his storytelling as the narrator of the book, like Chorus in a morality play.  But unlike his predecessors in literature, he is a participant, he, as a character, is a an example that indeed you can repeat the past because you never learned the lessons in the first place - and even if you did, you are powerless to change on your own.

God in this morality play is reduced to gazing over a desolate and morally bankrupt landscape, as Wilson tells us.  A mere advertisement, fading away, watching as the world He created is wounded without redemption.  If this is how we see God, no wonder all hell broke lose on Wall Street.

It is difficult in this age where sin is a byword, where even Christians look for ways to explain the Gospel without mentioning it, to confront what happens to the landscape where there is moral and spiritual decay.  Baz Lurhmann's film opens with a sensational and over-indulgent Gatsby party which almost fools us into thinking that this is any different then the decadence and despair we later see around Wilson and Myrtle's garage.  Glamor and power do not buy redemption - and in fact, invite ruin.

No wonder some critics are oblivious.

It is indeed The Harrowing of Hell - but one absent of Christ. If we want an America where God is merely an advertisement on a billboard, then indeed we will repeat the past.  If you're not sure, go see The Great Gatsby.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Stay tuned next week as the HTB Leadership Conference kicks off in London

Here are some highlights from last year's conference:



More info here.

Farewell to Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard 1935-2013
One of the great Christian thinkers of this past century and author of many books including The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard, passed away today.  His last words were, "Thank you."

From Christianity Today:

Many of us in the church have been impacted by Dallas through his teachings and writings that are often categorized as being about 'spiritual formation,' although his real preoccupation and concern was focused on the 'kingdom of God', or what he would often speak about as the 'with-God life.' He said the four great questions humans must answer are: What is reality? What is the good life? Who is a good person? And How do you became a good person? His concern was to answer those questions, and live the answers, and he was simply convinced that no one has ever answered them as well as Jesus.
These 'spiritual' writings of Dallas almost never used a technical vocabulary, but they had a density to them that makes them slow-going for most of us. I think the main reason for this is that any given word Dallas uses is a compressed summary of the history of human thought which he has digested and distilled. Words which are vague for most of us were precisely calibrated by him.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Breaking News: California court orders Anglican congregation to hand over church to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

From here:

The congregation of St. James Newport Beach learned today they may forced out of their church home.
The Bishop of Los Angeles had no authority to give the parish of St James in Newport Beach a written waiver exempting the congregation’s property from the reach of the Episcopal Church’s Dennis Canon, an Orange County Superior Court Judge has held.

In a ruling for summary judgment handed down on 1 May 2013 Judge Kim Dunning ordered the parish to hand its multi-million dollar properties over to the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The decision was unexpected, Daniel Lula – an attorney for the parish -- told Anglican Ink, as the matter had been set down for trial later this month. In an email to his congregation, the Rev Richard Crocker said: “We have received notice this morning from our attorneys that the court has handed down a significantly negative ruling in our court case. This of course changes the landscape of next week's trial,” he noted, inviting the parish to a meeting with Mr. Lula “to offer explanation of what we know about the ruling at this point.”

St. James Newport Beach.
In her decision, Judge Dunning said the Episcopal Church’s rules governing parish property on the diocesan and national level took precedence over civil property and trust laws. She dismissed as non-binding a 1991 letter signed by the then Canon to the Ordinary D. Bruce MacPherson, later to become the Bishop of Western Louisiana, on behalf of Bishop Frederick Borsch that released the diocese’s claim to the property.

“The purpose of the conversations between the Diocese and St. James was for St. James to hold title to its property in its own name free of any trust . . . [as] part of an agreement in order for St. James to secure substantial donations for its building program, “ Bishop MacPherson said in a deposition.

However, this waiver did not amend the parish bylaws and diocesan canons she held. Even if it did, according to the present leadership of the Episcopal Church’s interpretation of the canons “the Bishop of the Diocese did not, and does not, have authority to amend any of these instruments.”

Judge Dunning cited the declaration by the Episcopal Church’s expert witness Robert Bruce Mullin in support of her deference to canon law over the evidence of the deeds and waiver noting the “Mullin declaration concerns ‘religious entity governance and administration,’ and this court is bound by it.”

The court further stated that it believed a parish was a subordinate unit to a diocese and had no existence outside the diocese. While the Episcopal Church could exist without St James, St James could not exist without the Episcopal Church – and as it had no existence independent of the diocese, the loss of its property to the diocese could not harm it.

In 2011 the California Supreme Court rejected an argument of the Episcopal Church that the 1991 letter had been declared invalid by its first review of the case in 2009. The Court said, "We express no opinion regarding the legal significance, if any, of the 1991 letter. We merely hold that a court must decide the question,” overturning an appellate court ruling that did not allow the parish to put forward a defense.

In 2005 the Orange County Superior Court ruled the Episcopal Church's allegations were legally defective, but an appellate ruling reversed the trial decision and allowed the complaints to go forward. A second trial court issued a summary judgment in favor of the diocese, but in early 2009, the California Supreme Court sent the case back to the Orange County Superior Court, where St. James answered the complaint, raised affirmative defenses, and began discovery proceedings.

If the parish does not appeal the decision it will have to vacate the property in the near future.

In his invitation to the parish meeting Mr. Crocker said: I ask that all members of St. James come together in unity at this time to hear from our attorney and to pray together. The Lord is not surprised by this decision and He is in our midst. But His strength is particularly manifested when we come together in unity and prayer.”

Read it all here.

BB NOTE:  Have dear, dear friends at St. James Newport Beach.  Praying for you all in this time.  As I was praying and thinking of you this evening, this song came to mind.  We do not grieve as those who have no hope.

Dylan in Richmond: Yes, things have changed

Live recording of Bob Dylan at the Richmond Show. Too much fun.

Rowan Williams takes to the streets!

Does he look really happy or what?

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in Cambridge.


Read it all here.