simply, Christian (a new project)…or where have I been?

My absence around here has been extended, and I’m not apologizing because I’ve started working on something that really excites me–a new website/blog titled, simply, Christian.  Here’s what it’s all about:

simply, Christian is about choosing to live simply in midst of busyness in order to free our time, resources, and desires that we might focus on what is truly important and simply live.

It is about taking seriously Jesus’ world-changing, life-redeeming good news to address not only people’s spiritual condition but also their physical condition.  It is about daring ourselves to address the most pressing calamities that face humanity today in order to bring real, lasting transformation to others’ lives.  It is about making small changes in our daily activities that we might bring large changes to others, especially those…

  • who are orphans
  • who are affected by disease, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria
  • who lack clean water
  • who have not been shown mercy

It is about challenging one another to live simply, Christian.

My name is T.C. Judd, and these are my thoughts.  Of late, my life has been dramatically impacted in two completely different ways by two completely different writers.  With respect to simplicity, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits (and more recently, Everett Bogue of Far Beyond the Stars) has helped me to see the clutter and chaos that fills much of life and has challenged me to simplify.  With respect to living the whole of the Christian life, Richard Stearns, in The Hole in Our Gospel, brought to my attention the immensity of the social crises facing our world today and challenged me to make a difference.  Over time, I realized that the two blended well together–truly living a simple life (not a minimalist one, in my case) as a vehicle for truly living a Christian life.

So that, in a nutshell,  is what it is to live simply, Christian.

I’d appreciate if you’d head over to simply, Christian and check things out over there.  I’ll still be blogging here, though I expect the pace to remain slow for a while until I’ve gathered some momentum.

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The Beautiful Cross

The crucifixion, which ended with the triumphant cry, “It is finished” (Jn 19.30), was the offering of the all-sufficient sacrifice for the atonement of all sinners.  The Man on the cross was the Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world to carry them away from the face of God.  The salvation of the whole world once hung by those three nails on the cross on Golgotha.  As the fruit from the wood of the forbidden tree from which the first man once ate brought sin, death, and damnation upon the entire human race, so the fruits of the wood of the cross restored righteousness, life, and blessedness to all people.

On account of this, the cross is both holy and blessed!  Once nothing but a dry piece of wood, it was changed, like Aaron’s staff, into a green branch full of heavenly blossoms and fruit.  Once an instrument of torment for the punishment of sinners, it now shines in heavenly splendor for all sinners as a sign of grace.  Once the wood of the curse, it has now become, after the Promised Blessing for all people offered Himself up on it, a tree of blessing, an altar of sacrifice for the atonement, and a sweet-smelling aroma to God.  Today, the cross is still a terror–but only to hell.  It shines upon its ruins as a sign of the victory over sin, death, and Satan.  With a crushed head, the serpent of temptation lies at the foot of the cross.  It is a picture of eternal comfort upon which the dimming eye of the dying longingly looks, the last anchor of his hope and the only light that shines in the darkness of death.

— C.F.W. Walther (quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 622)

All Saints’ Day?

For many Christians, especially those whose traditions do not observe the church calendar, the mere mention of “All Saints’ Day” sounds eerily Roman Catholic or taboo.  But what exactly is this feast day (i.e., church celebration) all about?  I have found no better short explanation than that in the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesss with which we are surrounded (Heb 12.1).  It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ–from every nation, race, culture, and language–who have come ‘out of the great tribulation…who have washed their robes and made them white in the allsaintsglassblood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7.9, 14).  As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Eph 3.17-19).  It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Rom 6.3-8).  It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic [i.e., ‘universal church’ not ‘Roman Catholic church’]–in heaven and on earth, in all times and places–in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4.4-6).  And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatalogical focus on the life everlasting and a confession that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Rom 8.18).  In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12.2-3).

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Book Review: Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead

ebookdreamcover-194x300For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jonathan Mead, he blogs at Illuminated Mind and is a regular writer at the insanely popular Zen Habits.  In his own words, “My purpose here is to explore the uncommon side of things that is often overlooked by the typical, mainstream approach.  Illuminated Mind is about finding freedom from what we’ve been conditioned to think will make us happy.”

Jonathan is a thinker and a questioner in the best sense of the word…one who is neither content with the status quo nor content to accept what anyone tells him at face value.  One of my most cherished theology profs once told me, “For every one book you buy that you know you’ll agree with, buy at least two that you know you will challenge you.”  For me, Jonathan Mead is one of those fellows who is both immensely enjoyable to read and simultaneously guaranteed to challenge.  Though we share fundamentally different worldviews, as far as I can tell, I love to read his writings and use his ideas as a springboard from which to do my part and shake up the status quo from time-to-time (my boss might read ‘time-to-time’ as ‘always’…but that’s a matter of perspective, I guess!).  With those thoughts in mind, I naturally jumped at the chance to read and review his recent ebook, Reclaim Your Dreams:  An Uncommon Guide to Living on Your Own Terms.

Though he never comes right out and says it, Jonathon Mead is a classic existentialist, interested in challenging authority and the status quo; following his dreams wherever they might take him; and in general, ‘suck[ing] out all the marrow of life.”  Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, and Kierkegaard would be proud of their faithful disciple.  While that might put off some of the regular readers of this blog, since Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favorite movies of all time…the former existentialist in me got really excited over this book and agrees wholeheartedly with many of Jonathan’s points, even if I don’t presently agree with all the finer points of his philosophy.  For example, some might be uncomfortable with his unashamed questioning of authority, but there certainly is nothing wrong, in principle, with a genuine, humble quest for the truth and desire to find a better way of doing things.  If we find out that those we question are right, great.  If not, we continue our search, being careful not to disregard the answers we’re given just because they clash with our personal desires.

If I could sum up the point of this book in two short thoughts it would be–your life/job/vocation doesn’t have to look like society tells you it should…define your dreams and go for them!  In an age when so many are trapped in the pursuit of productivity and the culture of the cubicle, Jonathan rightly recognizes that much of life’s joy is found in the journey.  As he writes, “Too often we let the fear of the unknown keep us from taking action, so we follow the herd where things are comfortable and predictable.”

Many of Jonathan’s frustrations will be all too familiar for those in corporate America, which largely seems immovably fixed in its ways and its culture of “the way we’ve always done it.”  Instead of being lemmings blindly following those who have gone before us, he challenges us to define our dreams, our purpose, our values and then relentlessly pursue them…all the while passionately enjoying the journey and not simply focusing on the goal at the end of the road.  In order to break free of the routine, Jonathan provides a multitude of practical exercises designed to get readers to think beyond any self-imposed limits, walk through the process of understanding / defining our dreams, and making those dreams reality.  His writing is not some divorced-from-reality motivational work, however, he is clear that living out your dreams is both risky business and hard work–both of which are instrumental in avoiding lives of “quiet desperation.”

In short, whether or not one subscribes to the philosophical worldview embraced by Mead, there are many gems in this ebook that can be put to good use by anyone seeking to clarify and then follow his or her dreams.  It is, to use his own words “a permission slip to be ridiculous…[and] an invitation to dream.”  Check it out here on Illuminated Mind.

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A Communion Hymn–“What Is This Bread?”

Last Supper

This Maundy Thursday we sang a new Communion hymn titled, “What Is This Bread?” (LSB 629).  They copyright on the song is 1991, which is very new in our LCMS circle.  To put it into perspective a bit for some of you uber-contemporary folks, this hymn is across the page from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas dated in the late 13th century.  Anyway, this is a great hymn, with a beautiful tune and lyrics that teach a wonderfully rich, unashamedly Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper:

What Is This Bread?

What is this bread?
Christ’s body risen from the dead:
This bread we break,
This life we take,
Was crushed to pay for our release.
O taste and see–the Lord is peace.

What is this wine?
The blood of Jesus shed for mine;
The cup of grace
Brings His embrace
Of life and love until I sing!
O taste and see–the Lord is King.

So who am I,
That I should live and He should die
Under the rod?
My God, my God,
Why have You not forsaken me?
O taste and see–the Lord is free.

Yet is God here?
Oh, yes! By Word and promise clear,
In mouth and soul
He makes us whole–
Christ, truly present in this meal.
O taste and see–the Lord is real.

Is this for me?
I am forgiven and set free!
I do believe
That I receive
His very body and His blood.
O taste and see–the Lord is good.

There are many wonderfully rich truths taught in this short hymn.  In fact, one could use it as a great catachetical tool to teach the basics of a Lutheran understanding of the sacrament.

As we were taking Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening, however, I was struck by a line in the third verse, “My God, my God, why have You not forsaken me?”  It is a subtle twist on Jesus’ words from the cross and Psalm 22…and it echoes the recurring sentiment of my sinful heart.

There is no direct reply in the verses that follow, which is fine, because the sin-burdened heavy heart does not need a theological treatise on God’s presence with us.  What follows is better–the promises of God, through the Word, that he is both ever-present with us and that we are forgiven and freed from our sins.  Amen.  Thanks be to God!

The Future of the Lutheran Church

If the Lutheran Church has a future, it will be as the Lutheran Church. It will not be as imitation Baptists, Presbyterians, or anything else. If people are to become, remain, and rejoice in being Lutheran, it is because they understand the distinctively Lutheran way of being Christian. Being Lutheran is an evangelical catholic and catholic evangelical way of being in unity with the entire Church of Christ.  The present state of American Lutheranism is not just “not satisfactory.” It is a sickness unto death. The alternative is not beating the drums to revive flagging spirits, nor is it to move evangelism a few notches up on the bureaucratic agenda.   The alternative is renewal — theological, pastoral, sacramental, catechetical.  The alternative is to be something that others might have some reason to join.

Richard John Neuhaus, 1986 (quoted in Forum Letter March 09)

HT: Pr Matt Harrison

Dehumanization and its Effects on Society

Over the weekend, NPR ran a story/review of Jonathon Littell’s book, The Kindly Ones, which they describe as “the fictional first-person memoir of a cultured German who loves Bach, cherishes great literature — and also happens to be a former Nazi exterminator.”  Interestingly, the writeup on NPR’s website focuses on the sexualization of violence and draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Abu Ghraib at the exclusion of what I think is Littell’s  larger point.  During the broadcast (available on the same web page linked above), Littell talks about the capacity of ordinary Americans (and others) to carry out atrocious acts against other people when placed in positions of “absolute power of life and death over people that their bosses tell them are not human beings and [are told] they can do anything they want with them.”  With this suggestion posed, he goes on to illustrate and support it with comparisons between Nazi Germany, the Balkan wars, and Abu Ghraib.Pain

The larger issue, however, is one that peaked my interest.  Almost two years ago, I wrote about the military’s use of desensitization as a part of military training.  In concert with this sort of training, nations and militaries have often resorted to dehumanization to bolster support for their cause during times of war.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at how we depicted Germans and Japanese on our own propaganda posters distributed during WWII.  Talk to a veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle Eastern theater and listen to the words they use to describe the enemy.  Without using the terms here, I think everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.  By distancing ourselves from our enemies and suggesting that they are somehow subhuman, it becomes easier for us to rationalize and accept killing them, an act that at a very base human level is repulsive.  The atrocities of Abu Ghraib are one of the most poignant reminders that this kind of activities still take place, either as formal training or simply stemming from the individual soldier’s coping mechanisms.

This sort of dehumanization goes beyond times of war, however, and extends to most all acts of hatred and so-called ‘hate crimes’–from the cross-burning racism of the American South to genocide in various parts of Africa to the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues around the world to acts of harassment and brutality against homosexuals in the United States.  Look and listen to how people write and speak of those against which they wage any sort of these kinds of deeds.  They are presented as subhuman, unworthy, illegitimate, or (fill in the blank).

One of the very obvious yet unmentioned targets of dehumanization and its resulting atrocities are the unborn.  For many years now, those in positions of real power (government, courts, etc.) or perceived power (academia, special interest groups, etc.) have repeatedly told us that the unborn are not really children in the proper sense and so there is no issue in ‘aborting’ them.  This tactic is nothing more than what Littell described above.  Specifically, our ‘bosses’ have been telling us–we who have the power of life and death via our democratic process–that the unborn are not human beings and we can do anything we want with them.

So what am I saying?

  • Should we continue to ignore the widespread dehumanization of those different from us?  No.  We must be agents of change in spite of the very ‘deep ruts’ of history.
  • Should we marginalize and treat with disdain those who have had abortions?  No.  On the contrary, we should do everything in our power to help them heal.
  • Should we rally the voters to try an overturn Roe v. Wade?  Perhaps surprisingly, no.  As has been pointed out by Little Cog, “abortion is a moral decision…the state should keep its inept hands off of
  • Should we continue to condone desensitization/dehumanization as a means to advance our agendas, political or otherwise?  No.  If we cannot bring others to share our viewpoint without resorting to such despicable practices, perhaps this should be a clue that we are probably wrong to begin with.

Instead…

  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that you cannot rely on government to legislate your understanding of morality because ‘we the people’ are often as guilty of this wrong on the societal/governmental level as we are on the individual level
  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that no one wins when you resort to these tactics to make your case, pass your legislation, or further your agenda
  • To all, we must recognize the powerful effects of dehumanization as it rears its head in many different areas and in many different agendas…in order to reject it

Hurt

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