Monday, March 04, 2013


in case you haven't changed your links yet, here's a link to this week's post:

URL change

have you ever wondered about the title of this blog?

I thought so.

As a result, I have decided to change the url of my blog.  Change your links, your favorites, your reader... and from now on all new posts will be found at:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent - some thoughts to get you started

It is now the season of Lent in the church calendar.  I hope to write more about it, but in the meantime, here are two posts from the archive to get you started:

seasons of the church: Lent
lenten hymn

also - a short reflection by a friend, Sarah Ngu:
why the language of self-control falls short

Is there anything in particular you would like to read a post on, concerning Lent?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


“Made with REAL fruit” proclaim the labels.  “Vintage” says the shop sign or the web banner.  Much of today’s marketing makes use of our desire for that which is authentic.  And since nobody likes something that is fake, we by their more-real products.

The longing for and exploitation of authenticity has permeated much more of our society than just advertising.  The popular TV show “Girls” “strives above all else for authenticity,” according to Ms. Dunham, the show’s creator and lead actor.  (NYT1/2/2013 ) This is particularly reflected in clothing choices and in tag-lines such as “almost getting it kind of together”.

Politics also turns on authenticity.  At times it seems that the true character of a particular political leader is more important than his or her policies.  While it is nothing new that we want our leaders to have integrity and good character, perhaps the preoccupation with their “real” lives is ultimately unhealthy because of its high cost.

Social media, too, promotes a culture in which that which seems authentic is more highly valued.  Or at least, in an online culture where one can instantly age a photo through Instagram or selectively choose what part of your self you reveal, it creates a longing for authenticity.  

 Where does all this leave us?  As I considered these trends, I found myself asking a few questions.

First, has the very word “authentic”, in a self-defeating way, come to mean nothing at all?  In a NYT article by Rosenbloom entitled “Authentic? Get Real”, Jeff Pooley points out that you can’t “be told by a social media guru to act authentic and still be authentic.”  There is a deep irony here.  The more people value authenticity, the more it is manufactured, to the point where Pooley says “we want something real.”  This statement only makes sense if that which is real has become different from that which is authentic.  

Bound up in this question is the question of whether the term has become not only useless, but out-dated.  The quantity of books coming out this year which include “Authenticity” in their titles seems to belie this suggestion, but my survey of web articles seemed to be more concentrated in the 2007-2011 range.  Do you have thoughts on this?

Secondly, is the longing for authenticity in our culture primarily individualistic and potentially destructive of community?  Andrew Potter, in his bookThe Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves suggests that our obsession with authenticity is self-absorbed and competitive individualism.  One might think that acknowledging ones true self would promote open and honest relationships.  However, given the difficulty of knowing oneself to begin with, and our propensity to try to be more authentic than another person, there is reason for concern.  It is worth considering more carefully the degree to which individuals within a community, and the community as a whole, should strive for authenticity.

Finally, how are we as Christians to view all of this?  Certainly we value truth and honesty.  The issue becomes more clear when we consider choices that a church might make about its presence in a city.  How does it focus on the transforming power of the gospel: does it focus on the grace extended to weak and fallen people, or the hope-for result of that grace, and of sanctification?  

One might even argue God does not reveal himself as “authentic” (although the assumption is that he is, of course, real).  Authentic revelation implies a degree of disclosure that the infinitude and mystery of God’s personhood seems to make inadequate or false.  It also involves, to some extent, representation, which we must avoid in the worship of God.  We do not worship an authentic version of God, but his very self.

On a more positive side, I think we would agree that we want the church to be a place where people can come as they are.  This is how we come before God; should it not also be our posture before each other?  A more positive understanding of authentic christian community could come from this.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Questions?  Comments appreciated!

For your convenience, here is the definition of authentic:
authentic |├┤╦łTHentik|(abbr.: auth. )
1 of undisputed origin; genuine: the letter is now accepted as an authentic document | authentic 14th-century furniture.
• made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original: the restaurant serves authentic Italian meals | every detail of the movie was totally authentic.
• based on facts; accurate or reliable: an authentic depiction of the situation.
• (in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Do it again!

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon."
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 4

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

where is church going in 2013?

Curious about trends in the church for 2013?  I thought this was a helpful post: thirteen issues for churches in 2013

I am particularly interested in the points titled Heightened Conflict, Community Focus, Cultural Discomfort and Organizational Distrust.  Any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The year in books: 2012

Jeremy Myers pointed out on his blog that if you were to read a book a week, you could only read 4000 books in your lifetime.  That's a pretty generous estimate for a depressingly small number of books. It made me especially sad when I consider that I average more like a book every three weeks :(  It's a good reminder to choose my books well.  Do you have any reading ambitions this year?

Here's the roundup of books read this year.  Perhaps my comments on them will help you decide what to read this year!

  • The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  An enjoyable read (this is a children's book)
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  This little book of letters is a spiritual classic worth pondering.  See my two posts on the book here on suffering and daily wisdom.
  • Desiring God's Will by David G. Benner (finished April 29 - or before!?
  • The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin, SJ.  This is a good introduction to Jesuit spirituality.  Easy to read.  (Perhaps a little too easy?) Here's a post drawing on this book.
  • Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper.  This a good devotional-type book about the attributes of Christ.  Here's a related post  in which I talk about how we begin to believe and one about how Christ will not be put in a generational box.
  •  Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens - If you read any book by Dickens, read this one.  It is SO good!  Here's my post on it.
  • Life Together by Bonhoeffer.  I've read this one twice this year.
  • King's Cross by Timothy Keller (TFA*)
  • The Call by Os Guinness (TFA*).  This book refutes the idea that some people are called by God and other's aren't, and helps people think about God's call in their lives.  Personally, I found it too anectdotal, but if you can get past that there's a lot of good stuff to think about.  Here's a post on the practical implications for of understanding calling for our work. 
  • A Free People's Suicide by Os Guinness (TFA*).  I struggled with this book some, as the writing is dense and the audience somewhat ambiguous.  I also felt that Islam was not adequately addressed (thus weakening his argument).  That being said, if you get a chance to hear Guinness speak, or to talk with him, do it!  He is a fabulous speaker.
  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.  Yet another good book by Lewis.
  • The Fall by Albert Camus (TFA*).  This book gets into your head.  A fascinating reflection on the darkness of the human heart.  We read this in conjunction with Augustine's Confessions (one of my favorite books!). 
  • Candide by Voltaire (TFA*).  A humorous but unpleasant read.  If you've read it, you'll know what I mean.  Philosophy to ponder.
  • The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther (TFA*).  A short but brilliant look at the Christian life, and the role of grace and works.
  • Unchristian by David Kinnaman.  I read this book for background on my study of the church.  It was helpful, although I felt that it was difficult to sort through what the research was really saying.
  • The Tangible Kingdom by Halter and Smay
  • Quarks, Chaos and Christianity by Polkinghorne.  A fascinating look at matters of faith and their relation to physics.  He deals with such questions as prayer, miracles and free will, among other things.  As always, it is refreshing to read someone so knowledgeable in both areas.
  • Seeking God (The Way of St. Benedict) by Esther de Waal (TFA*).  This book is a gem.  Read it.  She challenges us learn from St. Benedict in very practical ways.  Although there is much to be learned about the rule in this book, her clear desire in writing is really that we learn about seeking God.
*books marked TFA indicate that they were required (or strongly suggested) reading for the program I am in this year