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The Very Intersection of Love and Death: An Ash Wednesday Sermon

The Very Intersection of Love and Death: An Ash Wednesday Sermon

Grateful to share this Ash Wednesday sermon, by our friend Sam Bush:

Well, in a beautiful twist of irony, this is the first time since 1945 that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have coincided. It’s such a bad pairing for a hybrid holiday that it makes you wonder if someone screwed up. The ultimate day of fasting — the day we are reminded that we are sinners and that we are going to die — on the same day we give each other cute cards and chocolate? Thanks a lot, Ash Wednesday. Thanks for spoiling our Valentine’s Day party.

At first glance,…

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The Romance of Ash Wednesday

The Romance of Ash Wednesday

This year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happen to be kissing cousins. On the same day that people everywhere will purchase bear stuffed animals holding hearts that say, “I love you beary much,” people will also have ashes smeared on their heads as a person whispers to them, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” 

It is an odd coincidence. And it provides endless opportunities to “get creative” with the liturgy. You can grind up pink chalk and smear the rose colored dust onto the faithful while pushing a pink heart into their foreheads. You could just…

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God Does Not Love Me Because I Am a Christian

God Does Not Love Me Because I Am a Christian

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis poignantly observes that all of history is “the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” He’s making a sweeping macro-scale statement (and he’s right), but even ignoring the broad narrative, we see it play out in our own lives nearly every moment of every day. We have fallen natures, and our own contentment, security, and happiness are the places we see this nature most intimately. I am never aware of my own sin more than when I am made to see that in which…

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Memories from the Future: A Word on Abandoned Houses, Nostalgia, and the Hope of the World

Memories from the Future: A Word on Abandoned Houses, Nostalgia, and the Hope of the World

Grateful for this incredible piece by Nate Mills:

When I was 3 or 4 I had an apocalyptic vision. It may not have been as otherworldly as the Ancient of Days appearing in resplendent glory like in Daniel 7, but it was unmistakably surreal. My family was taking a road trip from our home in rural Canada across the 49th parallel when, as we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit, it appeared: Michigan Central Station, blazing in decrepit glory before my eyes. I was entranced.

Abandoned since 1989, the stunning 18-story neoclassical building appeared as a monolith presiding ominously over the Detroit…

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Vulgarity, Anguish…and Truth

Vulgarity, Anguish…and Truth

Punksters and non-punksters alike will be able to relate this one by Cole Hartin:

I’ve always had something of a penchant for punk rock. Anything gritty, really. This eventually extended itself into post-hardcore. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, though. I only listen to it once in a while, after sneaking glances over both shoulders, to make sure nobody is looking at my iPhone. I do feel a smug sense of pride in my curated list of higher pop: Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, S. Carey, Novo Amor, Julien Baker, and the like. But my love for Say Anything, Blink-182, and Brand…

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Individualism, Community, and Kafka

Individualism, Community, and Kafka

This post, first published on our site in 2008, remains a timely critique that cuts straight to the heart! Written by David Browder:

If one is to enter any sort of seminary situation or spend time in any form of Christian subculture, that person will encounter two things. They are two sides of the same coin. One is “community” and the other is Western individualism. The first (one is told) is good, and the second is bad. I have been doing some thinking on both and would like to publicly “air” out what I have come up with. Perhaps the reader…

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Prohibition (Mostly) Does Not Work

Prohibition (Mostly) Does Not Work

Being one of those Baby Boomer antiquaries, I was caused by (and witnessed) a unique cultural evolution. No, not the 60s. It began with Prohibition, which was tried on my parents’ generation and was an epic fail — its genesis was unassailable and its failure inevitable.

Before the Industrial Age, hard cider was relatively safer to drink than well water, so many were drunk soon after waking. Drinking (and smoking) were just things people did amid the chaos of our 19th century culture, until it became clear that drinking simply killed people. Then, Prohibition became the cause of Saviors. And their…

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Something Major Has Gone Wrong Here: Why Alain de Botton Loves the Concept of Original Sin

A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

BLVR: How are you defining broken?

ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

BLVR: That’s all of us.

ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice“Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”

But Now Let's Have a Surprise

But Now Let’s Have a Surprise

I love church mishaps. Once, at a Baptist service, I spilled my little cup of communion Welch’s on a neighbor’s new white pants. He was so kind about it but also probably mad, and I was so embarrassed. There was a soft piano playing in the background while the preacher, up front, invited the congregation to commune with the Lord and, when we were ready, to go ahead and drink. I tried mopping up the spill with my sleeve, until parishioners from all sides descended upon me and told me to stop: “It’s okay,” they said, “it’s okay.” It didn’t…

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A New Year & A Better Immanuel...

A New Year & A Better Immanuel…

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

-Matthew 1:23

Immanuel, God with us, epitomizes the Christmas season and carries certain implications which we could summarize in the following respects: Firstly, God has come near us not to condemn, but rather to be condemned for our sins. We understand this as a fitting contrast to Genesis 3:8 (and they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…and they hid). As well, we can see in this a foreshadowing of the blessed future state John…

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Can’t Stop the Signal: Enduring Hope for Divided Times

Been waiting for the right opportunity to post a video of this talk, which I had the privilege of giving twice this past Fall. I actually prefer the San Diego one (from the Here We Still Stand conference – sorry, DC!), partly cause it’s a little more theological, partly cause the lighting was better–read into those signals what you will. But as I was ruminating on a possible ‘state of the union’-type New Years post, I realized it contained a good deal of what I’d want to say:

p.s. As you’ll discover, you can hear but not see the clips I reference. The second one makes sense without the video (read a description), but the first one from Curb Your Enthusiasm is a lot funnier if you can see Larry’s face.

Wendell Berry's Plea for Grace

Wendell Berry’s Plea for Grace

Have you ever seen your dog or cat suddenly turn its head, tense up, and stare intently into an unoccupied space? It’s quite unnerving. They obviously see something we can’t, and if the more instinctual part of our brain trusts their superior senses enough, we tense up as well. It’s an interesting cross-species bit of performance art that happens, and we, of course, have learned to harness those senses for our benefit and protection.

There are certain people throughout history that fill those roles in our own species. Martin Luther, and his namesake, Martin Luther King Jr., are obvious examples of…

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