Monday, January 24, 2011

cell phones and sacraments

Last week I had a dream in which a cell phone alert persisted.  I don't remember who's cell phone it was, but it went off every five minutes or so, and for some confusing reason whoever had the phone wasn't turning it off.   This probably made the dream annoying so I woke up.  It was only then that I realized that the alert was coming from my own cell phone, which was running out of battery life on the other side of the room.

This would have been no more than a quirky event in my life, except that it tied into what I read a few days later.  In the conclusion of his book, N.T. Wright discusses the implications for our spirituality of Jesus's resurrection and the central Christian hope of new creation.  Foundational to our spirituality are the sacraments of the church, such as baptism and the Eucharist.  Here is what Wright has to say:
I have come to believe that the sacraments are best understood within the theology of creation and new creation, and of the overlapping of heaven and earth, that I have been exploring throughout this book. The resurrection of Jesus has brought about a new state of affairs in cosmic history and reality.  God's future has burst into the present, and (as happens sometimes in dreams, when the words we are saying or the music we are hearing are also happening in the events in which we are taking part) somehow the sacraments are not just signs of the reality of new creation but actually part of it.
I found this connection helpful, since often there is so much confusion (historical and contemporary) regarding the sacraments.

I can relate to the man who asked Jesus (Luke 10), 'what must I do to inherit the eternal kind of life'?  In other words, something is clearly happening here - what does it mean to live in this new world order?  Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the very complexity of living, and wonder how my daily life relates to God's kingdom.  And yet Jesus tells this man that he already knows the answer.  It is an answer incredibly simple and profound: 'Love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.'  I find it comforting to know that, even as we seek to better under stand the mysteries of our faith, our goal in this kingdom living is summed up in this statement.  It is not always an easy thing to do, but at least it is clear.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part IV): Salvation and Ordinary Time

The fabric at church was all changed back to green this week, signalling that we are back in ordinary time. Ordinary time comprises the largest portion of time in the church calendar (see image). The current season of ordinary time lasts until Lent (the other  one is between Pentecost and Advent) Ireton, in her book The Circle of Seasons, gives more meaning to the name:
The word ordinary is rooted in the word ordinal, to count.  Thus these "days between," as writer Wendy Wright calls them, are not simply ordinary in the way we use that word -- uneventful, unimportant, boring -- but are actually "Counted Time," time that counts, that matters.  Designating the bulk of each liturgical year as "Ordinary Time" is a profound way of recognizing that the daily, ordinary rhythms of our lives are sacred [...] that God is just as present in the grittiness (and the glory) of an ordinary day as in the great celebrations of Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. (61)
Since learning about Ordinary Time in college, I have found this view helpful and relevant.

But what does this have to do with salvation? Isn't salvation what we celebrate in the spring? Why, then, did I include it in the title of this post?  It turns out that salvation has everything to do with ordinary time.  I am still reading N. T. Wright's book, and I have been realizing how much our understanding of things like 'heaven', 'salvation' etc, affect our daily Christian life.  Importantly, with respect to salvation, we must understand that "it is about the present, not simply the future" (Wright, 200).

But first things first.  What is salvation?  What is being saved? Wright takes great pains to emphasize that it is not a disembodied soul which is saved.  And nor are we saved just to 'go to heaven when we die'.    Rather, Salvation is "being raised to life in God's new heaven and new earth" (198).  There is, of course, much more that could be said about the theology of salvation, but this will suffice for this post.

What does this have to do with the present, you ask?  Wright explains,
For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God's new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present.  We are saved not as souls but as wholes. (199, emphasis added)
The kingdom of God, or 'the kingdom of heaven', begins to make more sense in this light.  Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, all start to fit together.  And, as Wright points out, salvation is "about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us." (200)  Thus, the mission of the church has everything to do with salvation.  And the life of the church is lived out in ordinary time.

I don't think I really understand the implications of this in my own life yet, but I want to.  Thankfully, God does work in our daily lives, changing us, helping us to see and to grow.  The light whose coming into the world we just celebrated at Christmas is still in the world, ever growing.  Oh, that we would all grasp this in our churches!  What could better express this longing than that prayer taught to us:
Your kingdom come, your will be done - on earth as it is in heaven.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 in Books

Reading Room
Inspired by last year's post, I will take the time to think about the books which I have read this year.  Since books shape the way I think so much, this is an excellent way to look back on the past year.

In roughly chronological order (starting with the books I listed as currently reading last year):

  • The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, by Tolkien. This was a re-read.
  • What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. I read this book, recommended by a friend who is a graduate TA at Eastman, and definitely enjoyed it.  It was helpful to think about teaching methods and ideals, especially before I plunged into teaching my first course that summer.
  • Hinduism, by H.L. Richard Recommended by my Dad, this book is a brief look at that many-faceted religion.  A good starting place for understanding Hinduisum and those who follow it.  
  • One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, by John C. Polkinghorne. This was one of the better 25 cent book sale purchases I made.  I'll have to look for more Polkinghorne!
  • Knowing Christ Today, by Dallas Willard.  If you like Willard, you should read this.  If you haven't read any of his books, start with the Divine Conspiracy, and then read this one. It is a good look at what it means to know God, and in typical Willard style, asks excellent questions and gives good answers.  For more on this book see a this post.  
  • Art for God's Sake: A call to Recover the Arts, by Phillip Graham Ryken.  A quick read, but thought-provoking.  See my two posts on this and other art-related topics here.
  • The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer.  I recommend this interesting historical fiction book, which gives a glimpse of life on the channel islands during the war.  It is written as a series of letters.
  • Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan.  I read this book as part of a study group.  Chan's passion for God is wonderful to see, but due to certain attitudes expressed and potentially shaky theology I can't really say I recommend this book.   Perhaps I am simply not the target audience, but I found myself insulted and/or upset by quite a few sections in the book.  On the more positive side, from studying the book I did gain (I hope) a better understanding of God's incredible love for us.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.  This was a long overdue read of this classic.  The middle section was a bit slow I confess, but overall it was an interesting look at that part of history.  
  • The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princes and Curdie, by George Macdonald.  A girl at my church was interested in these books, so I read them too (I think they were read aloud to me as a child).  If you haven't read any books by Macdonald yet, you are missing out. :)
  • Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.  As you can see, I diverged from my usual reading to read this 'hard-core science fiction' series.  Set in the distant future but inspired in part by The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, these books tell of the rise of an empire which has been planned out by the genius of a farsighted 'psychohistorian', who hopes to shorten the inevitable period of chaos following the fall of the previous galactic empire. 
  • The Samurai's Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama.  Another book sale buy.  Certainly not the best book I've read, but it did provide a glimpse at life in Japan during the first half of the last century.
  • Silas Marner, by George Elliot.  After I got through the first couple chapters, I enjoyed this book (the first I've read by Elliot).  I noted, however, that she seems to have a rather bleak view of humanity.
  • Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Wrede and Stevermer.  This book is not high quality reading, but it did provide an entertaining one-day read while on Christmas break.  
Books I'm reading (or hoping to get back too soon)
  • Surprised by hope, by N.T. Wright.  I have already written 4 posts on this book.  See them here.
  • The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, by Kiberlee Ireton.  This short book is one of my resources for my posting on the topic of the Church calendar.  
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by Rowling.  Yet another booksale purchase.  To answer your questions - no, I haven't read any of the others in the series (odd as this may seem).  
  • How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, by Fee and Stuart.  I highly recommend this book.  The only reason I haven't finished it is that it is one of those books that needs to be read in stages, when the passages discussed can be studies alongside, and the techniques practiced.  
  • Praying, by Packer.  I have to confess I was slightly disappointed by this book.  It has good content, but sometimes it is slow going and I wish they had been a little more ruthless in the editing process.
Books I hope to read:
Rather than make another list -- do you have any recommendations?