Monthly Archives: May 2008 publishes six new poems by Gail Peck

Please visit our new series of poems by Gail Peck, author of a chapbook and a book of poetry; click here.

Six new poems, plus a special address on icons, upcoming at

Soon we’ll be publishing six new poems by Gail Peck on our Web site,, an online project exploring the intersections of religion and culture. You can read another one of Peck’s poems on the Web site of Cave Wall, a journal of poetry and art.

Also, we’ll soon have a new article by one of our most popular authors, Professor Charles Twombly. Read his previous piece, “Humility and Desire for the Other in a Russian Icon,” here.

‘Take every thought captive’ — to something, anything

The distractions of our times certainly don’t help us slow down and consider the presuppositions that underlie our daily thoughts. We don’t consider how we’re thinking, or if we do, we don’t often take it a step further to ask why we’re thinking a certain way.

The mainstream Christian book industry offers little help. Instead of teaching us how to think, how to reflect, how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), the Christian bookstore shelves offer a never-ending supply of techniques, spiritual recipes, formulas, buzzwords, and forgotten moralisms we urgently need to recover (urgently, or else the publishing house will lose money!). Plus, there’s an endless supply of Christianized entertainment to be purchased, as if the problem was our taking in “secular” stories, rather than our unproductive addiction to being entertained.

I realize this is starting to sound moralistic and ascetic and Puritanical, but that’s not where I want to end up. I don’t endorse merely a cognitive-behavioral technique for the purposes of considering our thought lives, or an argument to stop watching TV, or an unqualified call to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” My plea is much simpler, and it is this: figure out how to take every thought captive. Find a way to slow down and muse and wonder about the source of your daily thoughts and assumptions about people, about yourself, about God and the Bible, about what you need to be doing with your life.

It’s kind of like this: you can’t read the Bible if you haven’t learned how to read.

You can’t take every thought captive to obey Christ if you haven’t learned to take every thought captive.

You have to learn how to push the pause button on your thoughts and take a good look at them.

Another example: most of the time, I’m looking at the world through my eyeglasses and not thinking about the lenses at all. But sometimes I have to stop and look at the lenses to make sure they are clean enough to see clearly.

Slow down your thoughts enough to realize what assumptions you hold and how they operate in your life.

After you figure that out, then maybe you can incorporate some good theology into the mix, you might be on your way to taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

For my part, I’m still trying to consider the assumptions in my own thoughts, and I’m still trying to learn what good theology looks like. Some day I’ll bring the two together. Grace allows me to go at a reasonable pace. Thank God I’m not a big-time evangelical author who has to churn out another consumable product faster than I can grow spiritually.

I often think that Sunday school needs to be about basic modes of education and self-reflection, the kind of critical thinking that allows one to analyze himself as well as his culture.

-Colin Foote Burch

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On attending certain churches

They will say, “You don’t have to check your brain at the door,” but what they really mean is, “We never check our brains at the door,” but if they knew what you knew and walked into those sanctuaries, they would be checking their brains at the door.

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Revivals, healings, and the theology of suffering

I hear about revivals and “verified healings” and “confirmed healings” quite a bit.

I hope the healings are for real, but —

I worry about the consumer-demand attitude within the revival and healing movements, a consumer-demand attitude toward God, and wonder if the leaders in those movements couldn’t contribute just as much by exploring the theology of suffering.

When Saint Paul begged God to remove the unexplained “thorn in my side,” Jesus spoke and said, “My grace is sufficient.” Certainly a hearty belief in God’s activity today would not have to involve a complete avoidance of that passage.

Years ago, back when a friend and I were both fifth graders, we stood shaking with upset stomachs in the school hallway as we lined up to use the restrooms before class.

It was an abusive school, operated by a small nondenominational church with similarities to the Pentecostal churches. A teacher had strapped my rear with belt so hard, I felt the leather against my bones, and I bruised black and purple.

My only fellow fifth grader had been spanked for misplacing a decimal point.

That kind of school.

In the hallways, lining up at the restrooms before class, my friend and I whispered to each other, “Pray for grace.” As fifth-graders, we used the word “grace” to mean “no punishment,” or “teachers who aren’t scrutinizing us.” For us, “grace” meant “relief.”

At the time, we didn’t experience the relief we prayed for. We continued in constant fear that we would be fully punished, again, for the smallest errors.

We didn’t realize the Bible was full of examples of similar situations.

For a long time, Job didn’t experience relief.

For a long time, Joseph didn’t experience relief.

For a long time, Paul didn’t experience relief.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakeness, or peril, or sword?…For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 8, Revised Standard Version)

Saint Paul doesn’t say anything about tribulation, famine, peril, or death going away, just that they won’t separate us from the love of Christ.

But as Aslan says in The Horse and his Boy, “The only story you are allowed to know is your own,” and the Proverbs say, “Each heart knows its own sorrow, and no one can share its joy;” so maybe some people are experiencing instantaneous healing just by going to a certain place or making a certain demand. I certainly don’t want my suspicions to be proven correct by anyone’s prolonged suffering.

But I think the miracles are rarer than reported, and that they are exceptions, not the rule.

To echo David B. Hart’s words, given in another context, The Fall turned creation over to terrestrial and spiritual powers hostile to God, and as Saint Paul wrote, creation longs for liberty from its bondage to decay. God has not decided to change the basic human lot. As long as trees fall in the forests and rot, so will human beings be subject to decay and disease, because trees and people are both part of that creation longing for liberty from decay.

The miracles are the exceptions, and never something that we can command at will, as if God were some malleable power we could use if we got the details of place or prayer just right.

Wasn’t the point of the cross that we were incapable of getting the details right? Weren’t we redeemed so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting the details right? God will act as He chooses, but how does He choose?

These things have me thinking about the way C.S. Lewis portrayed God through the character of Aslan. I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughters; we saw the film version of Prince Caspian today, and we recently began reading The Silver Chair, the sixth of the seven-book series. Aslan has a definite way about him. He’s a personality with intentions. The characters he knows, even the characters he loves, don’t always get their way. There’s a hint throughout the tales that something else is a-foot, that there’s some purpose behind the suffering and the separation the characters often feel. Yet even when Aslan clearly has the power to make profound changes, he sometimes chooses not to, and the characters are not given the reasons why.

-Colin Foote Burch

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Prince Caspian: Exciting, well-done, definitely for 8-year-olds, maybe not for 6-year-olds

Maggie, age 8, thoroughly enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Audrey, age 6, asked to leave the theater two, if not three, times — despite our review of the ultimate outcome of the story, based on our reading of the book, on our way to the theater.

Prince Caspian holds as much intense fighting as a PG movie can.

It’s also a well-done film, more consistently entertaining, with a more engaging storyline, than the recent film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But it also departs from the novel in ways that I won’t spoil.

I thought Peter Dinklage, who plays the dwarf Trumpkin, might have been the best actor in the film, although Sergio Castellitto’s King Miraz is unquenchable and deeply wicked.

-Colin Foote Burch

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The only problem with boycotting China…