O Holy Night!

King's College Chapel choir, Cambridge sings the classic carol.  Happy Christmas, everyone!



Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

"My Lord!" says St. Thomas, seeing, touching, and measuring the Holiness so meekly shown to him in his own crude terms; and then, passing beyond that sacramental revelation to the unseen, untouched, unmeasured, uttering the word every awakened soul longs to utter - "My God!"  The very heart of the Christian revelation is disclosed in that scene.

- Evelyn Underhill (from The School of Charity)

Today (Dec. 21) is celebrated as the feast day of the Apostle Thomas according to the Anglican Prayerbooks and also according to For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists.  Here follows a prayer from page 33 that book:

Lord Jesus, like Thomas we were not in the room with the apostles on the day of Resurrection.  LIke Thomas our faith cries out to you for sight.  Like Thomas, we long for more than rumors.  Help us to believe where we have not seen and to have life in your name.  Amen. 

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Once in Royal David's City

This is one of my favorite Christmas (or even Advent) hymns.  It is #250 in The United Methodist Hymnal.  The video is the (Anglican) choir of King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

1. Once in royal David's city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed;
Mary, loving mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little child.

2. He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall.
With the poor, the scorned, the lowly
lived on earth our Savior holy.

3. Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
day by day, like us he grew;
he was little, weak, and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew;
and he feeleth for our sadness,
and he shareth in our gladness.

4. And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that child so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.

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A new (ancient) economic model

As a Christian interested in both environmental and economic sustainability I have in the last few years been interested in the Distributist economic model, as an alternative both the capitalist and communist models that have been the dominant models embraced by nations over the last 100 years or so.  How does Distributism work?  Check out the following video for an informative explanation.


How can we move toward a Distribustist system in our own midst (especially in the commercialized holiday season)?  I suppose the mantra should be "shop local."  Shop at stores or restaurants whose owners you can know personally and who have a stake in your community.  If you want to take your commitment to this model up a notch, you can start a small business or co-op in your community. 

I have a couple of business ideas myself: one day, in addition to being a full-time pastor and full-time academic, I hope to start a coffee-shop/bookstore with an Old World feel (owing to the serious lack of such places in my state).

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What is wrong with this picture?

I thought this cartoon from the USA Today a couple of weeks ago was funny yet sad because it shows us a truth about ourselves:

When asked to submit an essay on "What is wrong with the world," G.K. Chesterton famously submitted one line: "I am," referring to the tendency we have as sinful creatures to (try to) take the mantle of God upon ourselves.  As St. Augustine points out so frequently in his writings, one of the ways that sin has distorted individuals and human societies is seen in that we give undue love to lesser things while failing to love the greater things as we should (the Triune God himself being the ultimate and truest object of our love).  A great deal of our consumer culture seems designed to feed exactly this distortion. 

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Grace and Human responsibility

Today (December 4th) is the Feast of St. John of Damascus on the Anglican calendar.  I recently read a quote of his I'd like to share. 

One should also bear in mind that God antecedently wills all to be saved and to attain to his kingdom.  For he did not form us to be chastised, but to share his goodness, because he is incomparably good.  Yet, because he is just, it is required that sin be punished.  So, the first form of the will of God is called antecedent will and blessing, which has God as its cause.  The second is called God's consequent will and permission, of which we are a participating cause...As to the things that depend upon us, whatever is good God wills antecendently and blesses.  Whatever is evil he neither wills antecedently nor consequently, but permits them to the free will... (from "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," as quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Mark from IVP).

What John of Damascus is saying, simply, is that God created mankind to share in blessings, that is his first (antecedent) will for us.  However, God created us a creatures with free will, able to make our own decisions and to participate in the unfolding of our own world.  Thus we can (and do) choose things that are contrary to God's will.  Many evil events, then, are allowed by God's "permissive" will, because he wills that we should be the sort of creatures that can choose, but are nevertheless contrary to his first will for us, which was blessing and not evil.  He is like the parent who wants his teenage child to get a job and learn to manage money but is disappointed when the teen uses that freedom irresponsibly and blows all his money on video games such that he can no longer pay for gas.

We often hear people say, "I don't believe a good God could send anyone to hell."  Part of the issue might indeed be what people mean by the word "hell" and the need for a more sophisticated understanding than simply "boiling in fire forever."  Jesus' use of the image of "outer darkness" in his parables about those who miss out on the Kingdom (especially in St. Matthew's Gospel) and also the Latin root of "damnation" (which can mean "to suffer loss") may begin to give us some food for thought on the question of what "hell" means.

The other issue is whether God "sends" anyone to hell.  We see here that from ancient times the teachers of the Church, such as St. John of Damascus, have insisted that it is not simply the case that "God sends people to hell for being bad" but rather "God (in his grace) permits us to participate in our own destiny even if it means we choose sin and destruction."  And God, in his justice, confirms our choices and their consequences.  For the Christian, life is serious business and the moral implications of our choices absolutely do matter.

The Wesleyan understanding is that God's prevenient grace enables all humans, despite the brokeness of our wills caused by sin, to freely accept or reject the gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ.  Yet God wills that all be saved and in keeping with his own will offers the grace of salvation to all people (see 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9; contra any sort of Predestinationism that teaches that God has selected specific individuals for eternal damnation).  For us, then, the emphasis is on God's goodness and offer of salvation to all, though we soberly affirm that this grace may be resisted and rejected, even to the eternal destruction of our own souls.

Christians (Wesleyans and Methodists included) have often struggled to take seriously both the over-abundance of God's grace as well as the serious reality of human responsibility.  Yet even when we fail to choose what is right, we trust that God's grace remains abundant toward us all the same to forgive and restore us if we turn back towards Christ Jesus by faith.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.  Amen." 

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