Five podcasts I couldn't live without

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Like most of you I have a lot on my plate. One of the most challenging elements of life can be making time to continue to learn and develop both as a minister and as a leader. I’ve found that podcasts are an excellent way to learn.

I listen while I exercise. During the warmer months I’m out on the bike and it’s not safe to wear earbuds and listen to a podcast. However, in the winter months I shift my exercise routine toward jogging, which is perfect for podcast listening. I typically run for about 30 minutes which is just about the same length of many of the podcasts that I enjoy.

Podcasts also form a key part of my evening going-to-bed ritual. Research shows that ritual practices can have a calming effect and actually provide a structure that leads to freedom (more about this in another post). I listen to two podcasts right before bed.

So, here’s my list of five podcasts that I really value:

  1. This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt). This is my podcast for running. Michael focuses his podcast on intentional leadership and influence often touching on productivity as well. At around 25 minutes its the perfect length for a run and also features a question section at the end that is helpful.
  2. Insight for Living (Chuck Swindoll). I love Chuck’s Bible teaching. He’s a master of teaching the Bible in a way that’s both true to the text and deeply engaging. I often listen to this podcast while working in the yard or, less often, while relaxing in front of a fire in the living room.
  3. Truth for Life (Alistair Begg). A little known fact is that every presbyterian pastor secretly wishes he had a Scottish accent. Begg is a master of expository preaching and a Bible Calvinist. He excellently preaches Scripture without allowing his doctrinal system to be of greater focus than the Bible. His style is simple, straightforward, and often employs hymnody. A valuable model of the Puritan plain style of preaching.
  4. Pray as You Go (British Jesuits). This daily podcast provides a brief (>15 minute) devotional service featuring prayer, sacred music, scripture reading, and reflection questions. Anna and I listen to this in the evening as we get into the bed and settle toward sleep. There’s something beautiful about the Word of God washing over us as we let go of the troubles of the day.
  5. The Archers (BBC Radio 4). The Archers is the longest running radio drama in the world. Set in the rural community of Ambridge, the drama centers on the lives of the village’s residents many of whom are farmers. What’s intriguing about The Archers is how compelling and interesting a host of small and trivial events can be in the life of a community.

 

Church in the Christ-Haunted Secular Age

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The relationship of religion, culture, and politics in the United States is tricky. Ours is a profoundly religious culture despite the ascendant theory of Constitutional interpretation that espouses a “strict” separation between church and state. Our public square has, to borrow a phrase from Richard John Neuhaus, been stripped of any reference to religion as an authoritative source of moral guidance—it’s naked.  Or so it seems.

In reality, our culture isn’t devoid of religion—its haunted. Philosopher James K. A. Smith addressed this topic in his 2013 James A. Gray Lectures at Duke Divinity School.  Our current cultural moment exhibits a mutual haunting of immanence by transcendence and transcendence by doubt. We’re Saint Thomases all—to the extent we believe, we do so in the midst of profound and lingering doubt. Given this, how is the church to rightly discharge its commission to faithfully proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments? Can it even be done?

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Faithful witness begins with the realization that secularism means that all beliefs are fundamentally contestable.[i] According to Smith, “belief is one option among many and not the easiest.” Every source of knowledge—each plausibility structure that provides the scaffolding to our belief—is susceptible to critique.

The result is a vision of life in which everything beyond the immanent has been eclipsed. At first glance this seems exclusively a burden on Christian witness. Our culture is no longer like a pinball machine with buffers and an incline that inevitably lead us to belief in God and a shared morality.

At the same time, the very contestability of knowledge applies to all knowledge, not exclusively religious knowledge. Despite our confidence in science, some are still aware that there are dimensions of reality of which science cannot meaningfully speak. This offers the church an opportunity to speak into the void the words of the gospel and, moreover, to make the gospel a lived experience.

In our new hyper-modern reality boredom, loneliness, and distraction replace rapture, friendship and longing. Over the last thirty years, for example, the number of Americans reporting feelings of loneliness has doubled despite all the advances of mobile technology that allows us to present to others across the globe albeit in a mediated form.

We are electronically connected, Smith noted, but life in a highly technological age centers on ex-carnation—the removal of experience to a plane other than the physical. Consider the number of hours a day you spend communicating with people who are not physically present to you. The phone. Facebook. Email. Twitter. All are ex-carnations of community. Public worship experienced via satellite image. The Eucharist experienced over Social Media. Phone sex. All are ex-carnational—they move us out of our physicality and into the realm of the disembodied self.

Ironically, in the midst of this loneliness epidemic, more people—especially teenagers–report the feeling of being always available, watched, monitored. And not just by the National Security Agency. Social media is creating in people a sense that their life has to be exceptional, that they must chronicle and broadcast these experiences to others in order to validate their existence in the eyes of others. Moreover, social media users are also increasingly aware of what they’re missing out on—the games night you weren’t invited to, the employee-appreciation lunch at a large firm you didn’t get, the Caribbean vacation captured on Facebook that you couldn’t afford, you name it. As others sculpt their lives and publish them virtually toward the end—conscious or unconscious—of creating a branded self, we compare and measure ourselves against our competitors in the marketplace of life. As a result our lives are becoming increasingly superficial.

In the context of this dilemma the church has the chance, according to Smith, to engage in tcounter-cultural proclamation that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself. The antidote to our modern dis-ease is the renewal of the church’s ancient liturgical practices, which are necessarily incarnational. The church must offer an intentional liturgical response that invites moderns to experience God as the only one who sees them as they are and loves them completely.

Yet, much of the church is as enamored of the very conditions creating our present malaise as the rest of the culture. Too many of us believe that if we create a worship service that is a polished, technological marvel then eventually we will generate enough hype to become “the sort of church that un-churched people want to come to” as Andy Stanley describes his congregation. And so we anchor the gospel to modernity and we lose sight of the fact that in worship heaven and earth meet.

To recapture the mystery of worship Smith points us to pre-modern sources. These sources can reawaken our imaginations—a faculty often neglected in the age of special affects and low literacy. Young adults don’t want to be entertained in order to stay in church. In fact, my own experience is that young adults don’t trust entertainment. They realize that entertainment is really a platform for selling. Rather than entertainment, these they are yearning for a tangible, tactile, liturgical, rooted community.

What they’re getting instead is very often entertainment. In evangelicalism and mainline Christianity we see two approaches the same issue. The former tends to place unhealthy emphasis on increasing the production quality of worship ironically delegitimizing many of the very questions being asked by millenials about the broader culture. The mainline church often panders to what they believe enlightened youth would want.  Changing social attitudes define doctrine because, like evangelicals, it’s a marketing scheme.

What is required now is something deeper than accommodation or improved performance. The church needs to recover its theological vision. That theological vision is the foundation on which its ministry and witness will be built. That vision ought to be connected directly to the witness of Scripture, the Creedal and liturgical heritage of the church. As Richard Lints puts it, “The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed.[ii] That vision is the work of “translating” God and his Kingdom for a generation who speak a different dialect. Secular young adults may reject the gospel. It is to our shame, however, if they reject simply because they never encountered it expressed in accessible terms and in a life of authentic discipleship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age.

[ii] Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

The unlived life

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Everyone has dreams. Some abandon them. Others embrace them. Some try and fail. Others fail to try. Many find a new success in their failures. It wasn’t the success they thought they’d experience. It was a peculiar success whose genesis lay in the failure of their first dream.

Entrepreneurs know this. They try ten things, eight of them fail. They re-invest in the two that don’t.

Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art is a must-read for anyone seriously committed to taking any sort of risk in life, not just for the creatives for whom the book was written. He writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”

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It’s resistance that makes us put down the book proposal we’ve almost completed. It’s resistance that smacks us in the face when we sit at the computer to write our sermon. It’s resistance that gently whispers that we could never do what we’ve always dreamed of doing and what others say they can see us doing.

Our society is ordered around distraction: “we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of [our] unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction” (War of Art, 31). What’s easier: two hundred words or two hours on Facebook? What’s more important?

Spend some time today thinking about what you really want to do with your life. 

Making a life or making a living?

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News reports regularly give statistics about the rise or decline in new applications for unemployment benefits. Each of us probably knows at least one person who has been unemployed for more than a year. We likely know many more who have been without work for a shorter period of time. Our society has generally embraced the model of work for wages–we exchange our knowledge and/or manpower for cash. Most of us can’t think of any other way in which to order our lives. The question is, however, does this arrangement really work all that well? Does making a living require us to sacrifice our lives?

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Frederick Buechner has written:

We must be careful with our lives, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously.

Given the premium our culture puts on comfort (the ‘good life’), it’s ironic how little we intentionally our lives to see if we are treating them as precious or as simply a means to an end. Are we simply doing more and more meaningless things with ever greater efficiency?

What does making a life really look like? In a recent post Scott Martin notes:

Those focusing on making a living see wealth solely in the context of the cash nexus: the opportunities, possessions, luxuries and leisure that money affords. Those focusing on making a life see wealth in terms of the depth and quality of their relationships, the strength of their home, the memories they make, the moments they share, the lives they touch. In fact, the people I most respect who have made lives worth emulating rarely focus on money at all. There have been times when they have had plenty and times when they have struggled, but the constant is in how deeply they have loved.

Imagine sitting down with a financial planner and in addition to totaling your bank accounts and mapping your investments, you also mapped your significant relationships and explored your relationship to your home.

Martin continues quoting Buechner:

Buechner writes that the world is full of people who “seem to have listened to the wrong voice” and are doing work that “seems simply irrelevant not only to the great human needs and issues of our time but also to their own need to grow and develop as humans.”

It’s ironic that some of the vocations that directly seek to meet the greatest human needs are the least esteemed (and rewarded) in our culture: teacher, care-giver, social worker, priest. Could it be that our value system is inverted?

Ask yourself: am I making a living or making a life? What two things could I most easily change in order to improve the quality of my life (in terms of relationships)? Resolve to start making those changes.

The Dawkins Pedophilia Brouhaha

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It’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity. Richard Dawkins is in the news for his recent comments on pedophilia. In an interview the famous evolutionary biologist noted that the “mild pedophilia” he experienced as a child did him no “lasting harm.” You can read the full story at Salon.

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

As a general rule, it is true that it is futile to judge our ancestors by our current standards, however I’m not sure I’d say that Dawkins childhood was really in another “era.” And while the sort of pedophilia he describes may have happened in that era, it was not acceptable then as it is not now. The difference is that then, just as Dawkins is now doing, society would have hushed it it up and minimized it, telling the child to “get over it.”

It’s hard to be angry at Dawkins. He is, in many respects, a victim who is still living in the narrative of the 1940s and 1950s during which this event took place.