Tag Archives: Christianity


Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, October 2014

Updated to correct the photo and add another.

Photo taken inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com.

Photo of the side of the altar area, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com. Travel. Italy. Vatican City. Rome.

The other war on Christmas

When I was a kid, my friends and I would occasionally hear adults talk about the pagan origins of Christmas trees. In our Christian homes, churches, and schools, such talk was not merely chat. It was actionable language. Within those overheard snippets was an implicit threat: possibly an end to the Christmas tree at home, and by extension,  possibly an end to all those great things kids love about Christmas.

The anti-Christmas tree mentality never took root in my home or many other homes (although if memory serves, there were rumors some classmates’ parents had forbidden having a tree).

And I think I know why, at least in a broader sense: holiness movements and purity movements and other moralistic movements seem concerned with things the members should not-be and things they should not-do. Rarely is there a concrete, image-based sense of what is being substituted for the not-ness. (By image, here I mean anything that appeals to the perceptions of the five senses.)

The calling in those holiness, purity, and otherwise moralistic movements seems to be to achieve something more or less invisible and essentially unmodeled. Even the word “holiness,” an abstract concept, is hard to experience. But as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

So people remain under control of the images and symbols to which they attach (on varying levels, within community as much as within an individual) significance and meaning.

In most areas of life, abstract ideas cannot drive culture out of a community.

Culture is embodied in things and in relationships.

Indeed, a family Christmas tree, with its handed-down ornaments, can be both an embodiment of the holiday and a symbol for the way a particular family joins together at the same time, year after year.

To change the culture, create new, concrete images with subversive intent, and find ways to embody whatever you might be teaching or communicating.

This Advent season, a very long wait: ‘Christians around world under siege’ – Chicago Sun-Times

Steve Huntley, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.

Ghastly crimes like the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian school girls by the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram, the beheadings of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the flight from riot and murder by Coptic Christians from Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood reign make headlines….

ICC’s Persecution.org website and organizations and individuals such as Open Doors and the Gatestone Institute’s Raymond Ibrahim do the good work of trying to keep the plight of Christians in the public eye. Their reports, easily accessible on the Internet, make for disturbing reading.

Ibrahim wrote of a Christian convert from Islam in Uganda who established a Christian school. Hassan Muwanguzi was beaten by Muslims, hauled into court on trumped-up charges of “defiling” a Muslim girl, saw his home burned by arson, was sickened by poison, and survived an attack by four Muslims that left his 12-year-old daughter dead.

In a crime that “has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core,” ICC reports, a mob accused a Christian couple of burning pages of the Koran, beat them and burned them alive in a brick kiln. The woman was pregnant; the mob left the couple’s four children orphans.

Open Doors reports that a Christian convert in Egypt faces a five-year prison sentence and that an Anglican church in Nigeria shut down after 11 members were killed in attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists. Open Doors says that in India, Christian pupils and teachers won’t have a Christmas holiday because the government declared Dec. 25 “Good Governance Day” with a student essay competition that day. Furthermore, a Hindu nationalist group says the day should be devoted to “re-converting” 4,000 Christians to the Hindu faith.

via Christians around world under siege – Chicago Sun-Times.


Using the language I know

I thought at this point I had made my sense of things clear: For several types of reasons, I’m just not sure about the Christian faith anymore.

However, most of my life, I have lived and learned within the context of at least four distinct forms of Protestant Christianity.

I find nothing inconsistent about being doubtful while critiquing Christian leaders based upon the inconsistencies between their public claims and their ministries.

Especially when those Christian leaders made my doubts seem more legit, not less.

I once read an interview with the man behind the band Iron & Wine. He said some folks had asked him why he uses biblical language and allusions in his songwriting when he is not a believer.

The thrust of his answer, as I recall it, was something like this: it’s the language available to me, and it fits the settings and characters of my songwriting.

I certainly see the richness of various Christian traditions. In a world gone gnostic, with so much of our communication taking place in disembodied formats, Christianity still has rich veins of language and symbolism and ritual, however despised by the new iconoclasts of both evangelicalism and atheism.

In a world gone gnostic, the thought of logos made flesh ought to fascinate anyone who appreciates tactile, sensory experience.

Beyond that, I would say to any young writers in my classrooms, use the materials you have — stories from your lives, images, settings, characters, cadences, symbols, archetypes, and songs.

Sometimes, if you’re diligent in setting the context, the truth will show up.

‘When the church is where the war is’

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

— U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” Songs of Innocence

Living well is not a gift from God (but the ability to live well is): Seneca on God & wisdom

I should start with three quick notes on Seneca’s relevance in Christian history because some background will give reasons for considering his writings as relevant to thinking about God.

First, a general assessment of Seneca’s point of view in relation to Christianity:

His [Seneca’s] writings represent Stoicism at its best and have been much studied by Christian apologists for the similarities as well as the contrasts of their moral teaching with the Gospel ethic.  — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Second, John Calvin’s interest in Seneca:

In 1532 he [John Calvin] issued a Latin commentary on Seneca’s ‘De Clementia’. — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

And third, a translator’s note on Seneca’s importance to four Christian thinkers:

While scholars and schoolmasters in the century following continued to condemn Seneca, early Christians were taking to this kindred spirit among pagan writers, so many of who ideas and attitudes they felt able to adopt and share. Anthologies were made of him and he was frequently quoted by such writers as Jerome, Lactantius and Augustine. Tertullian called him saepe noster, ‘often one of us’.  — Robin Campbell, in the introduction to his translation of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Furthermore, as Campbell also notes, Dante frequently quotes Seneca.

So, as I was recently reading Seneca’s Letter XC, I came across something that helped me think about what God does and what God doesn’t do for humans.

In a way, the following passage sounds like an overview of the biblical book of Proverbs.

From Seneca’s Letter XC, as translated by Campbell:

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? A corollary of this would be the certain conclusion that our debt to philosophy is greater than the debt we owe to the gods (by just so much as a good life is more of a blessing than, simply, life) had it not been for the fact that philosophy itself was something borrowed by the gods. They have given no one the present of a knowledge of philosophy, but everyone the means of acquiring it. For if they had made philosophy a blessing, given to all and sundry, if we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would have have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free?

“Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

My takeaway:

Life is a gift from God. Living well is a gift of philosophy. Philosophy is also a gift from God, and philosophy has taught us to worship “what is divine.” But living well is not a gift from God. We must engage philosophy to learn how to live well.

The Penguin Classics edition of Letters from a Stoic, selected, introduced, and translated by Robin Campbell

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell


Yep, your position as an entitled consumer trumps your position as a Christian who is told to love enemies. Your position as an American trumps your duty to “the least of these,” especially those at the border. Cover the cross … Continue reading

Assessing Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church against the book ‘Twisted Scriptures’

Mars Hill Church might be more effective in its executive leadership’s goals if those leaders had read some of the books on abuses in the “discipleship” and “shepherding” movements as well as amongst garden-variety legalists and authoritarians in the pulpits and on the hipster contemporary worship stage.

That way, the executive elders would know what appearances and perceptions to avoid.

(They could learn quite a bit from the current and last White Houses when it comes to controlling information and giving answers so clever, even seasoned journalists gave the administrations a pass on sidestepping important isses, because the sidestepping was just so damn good you had to admire it. Makes you wonder what Janet Mefferd could do if she wasn’t working for evangelicals and, apparently, people who worship Tyndale House’s advertising money or Mark Driscoll’s influence more than the truth.)

For example, they could have readTwisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse, a ground-breaking book by Mary Alice Chrnalogar. First released in 1997, it focuses on patterns of overbearing authority in U.S. Christianity as well as in some infamous groups like Heaven’s Gate.

I bring up the topic because 45 elders have left Mars Hill Church in the past 3 years:


And I bring up the topic because Mars Hill Church uses pressure and fear to protect itself from former pastors:


If you’ve already those posts, you’ll know why Chrnalogar’s list of questions, offered to readers who wonder if their church is abusive or authoritarian, is completely legitimate for the context.

In your group, Chrnalogar asks, did you see that…

》Leadership was excessively esteemed?

》Leaders were not accountable to members?

》You were led to think that good solid teaching outside this group was rare? …

》Your leaders had a corner on wisdom?  …

》Former life experiences and lessons were less valuable than what you learned in the group?  …

[Wow. Isn’t that true of nearly every church that boasts a “high view of Scripture”? But as far as Mars Hill Church goes, I’m guessing some of those 45 elders (mentioned above) left because they realized, or were told, their time-seasoned insights weren’t in line with Party doctrine.]

》 The prevailing attitude was that objections and questions from members stemmed not from reasoned and fairly objective analysis but rather from the person’s spiritual or emotional problems? …

》 Dissenting was always bad? …

[For the last two listed just above, see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/05/31/another-mars-hill-church-pastor-fired-reportedly-for-questioning-executive-elders/  and also see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/05/27/forced-out-for-asking-questions-dalton-rorabacks-mars-hill-church-story/ .]

》Members were rarely advised to seek professional counsel?

[Be sure to see  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/06/24/mars-hill-churchs-demon-trials-mental-illness-considered-sign-of-demonic-involvement-along-with-pedophilia-and-habitual-lying/ .]

Clarification on my previous post

So much for blogging by smart phone.

The first version of the previous post had a final paragraph in which I began to make comments about the composition of worship teams in contemporary services — and then, I accidentally published the post before it was finished.

Big fingers on a small device.

Due to that premature posting and an uncompleted final paragraph, I might have unfairly and unintentionally offended some people. I really didn’t mean to.

Sincerely, the point I was trying to make about worship teams in contemporary services was that the musicians and singers tend to be artsy and sophisticated people, and I was going toward the question of whether, in some cases, the fullness of a worship team’s efforts are lost on some visitors (and that might not be important, witness Babette’s Feast).

I should add, too, that I was not aiming the comments at a specific worship team.

Maybe it’s too easy to assume I’m aiming many posts at a local church, but I have attended numerous Sunday contemporary services in the Carolinas, including churches in Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, and Pawleys Island, as well as across the pond in London and somewhere in Hampshire County, U.K.

Most of the time, the musicianship was outstanding.

My thoughts about the ubiquity, the near cliche’, of contemporary services are not intended to criticize individual musicians and singers and performers, or their abilities.

Twenty years ago, an early version of Crossroads Fellowship (a church that only had contemporary services) was meeting in Sanderson High School in Raleigh, N.C. There, I frequently heard an outstanding saxophone player who I remember to this day. I also recall a bass player who was good enough to play gigs (jazz maybe?) around town, in addition to his service at Crossroads on Sunday mornings.

Not all contemporary services have skits and short dramas, but back when Beach Church was Myrtle Beach Community Church, I played parts in two short performances, and I wrote a short play that was used in another Sunday morning service.

So, today, while I was out and about, when I realized the post had been published prematurely, I decided to delete the entire final paragraph as a quick and easy solution.

But I realized that some people might have seen the first version and, due to the uncompleted paragraph, might have thought I was ending with a snide remark about the worship teams. I wasn’t and I apologize for any undeserved offenses.


Could the evangelical crisis come from misguided outreach?

Note, 5:15 p.m. Eastern, June 12: Please also see my clarification regarding the first version of this post. 

For the most part, evangelicals have demonstrated themselves to be more interested in people who go to sports bars than people who go to museums.

That would probably be great if most evangelicals actually were going to sports bars rather than rapidly proliferating “contemporary worship services” on the pretense that the only thing keeping people from church is public order and pipe organs.

What if evangelicals offered as many soup kitchens as contemporary worship services? That would offer needy people something they actually need, rather than provide middle class families with more entertainment options.

Of course, that’s a bunch of generalization. Keep your contemporary worship service if you like it. But maybe the same energy and effort could answer specific, vital needs.