To Hear and See Jesus

I read an essay with this title over at The Scriptorium Daily (one of my favorite blogs) several weeks ago and it stuck with me. I’ve reread it several times since and would like to pass it on to others. It not only articulates some of the reasons why I’m also finding it hard to write much lately, but also beautifully expresses the longing I have–in my better moments–to hear and see Jesus; to have more of what I say, write, do and, indeed, for my whole life to be an expression of that hearing and seeing instead of my best approximation. Like the author says, “Pirating Jesus is not good enough.” So, at times I get locked into hesitation about writing and I’m glad when I find others who’ve overcome that same hesitation to say for me what I feel so unable to put into adequate wording.

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Our Dangerous God

Lately I’ve been spending much more time reading other blogs and neglecting my own. There’s so much good writing out there (if you know where to look), that it often makes me feel like I haven’t much of substance to contribute. But this posting by Jeff Dunn on the Internet Monk about Our Dangerous God, got me to thinking and writing a response. I’ll include that response here as well, but read Jeff’s article first if you’re interested.

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Sacred Companions, by David Benner

This book is an exceptionally good introduction to the meaning of personal relationships that are called “spiritual friendship” and ” spiritual direction”. Good spiritual formation doesn’t happen well on a purely individual level. It’s important to have some trusted person(s) with whom one can discuss just about anything and be vulnerable and open. American Protestant Christianity in particular has been too individualistic for it’s own good. The “just me and Jesus” mindset works out little better than “just me” without a third person who is just as committed to life as a spiritual journey being there to observe and help discern the direction of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

David Benner does a very good job of clearly describing the qualities and characteristics of spiritual friendship and spiritual direction, how they differ from each other and from other similar relationships like counseling, life coaching, discipleship, etc. and how then can be combined in a small group setting or (even!) within the marriage relationship. I highly recommend this book for those who want a good basic understanding of what it means to be “sacred companions”. This is a much needed ministry within the church today. I’m very thankful for the people who have filled this role in my life.

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The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen

This book must be among the best of Henri Nouwen’s writing. In it he gives some very deep and penetrating insight o the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and its illustration in Rembrandt’s painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen shares with the reader the meaning he found for his own spiritual journey in studying the painting; how it illuminated the ways he was like the younger son, the elder son and how he felt called to be more like the father. Readers may see similar parallels in their own lives. This is a very helpful book. My own poster of this painting now hangs on the wall of my study.

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Living Before God, by Ben Campbell Johnson

I’ve read many helpful books on spiritual formation in my seminary work, for other classes I have taken, and on my own. I have many more lined up to read. Few that I have read have been more helpful to me than Ben Campbell Johnson’s Living Before God: Deepening our Sense of the Divine Presence. This is one book that I will come back to often. This book had much to say to me about what concerns me most at my stage of life experience. Johnson brings more that 50 years of his own experience in “living before God” to share with his readers in a most personal and engaging way. He shares his life with you, not just his ideas.

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Can We Be Good Without God? (Will We Be Good With Him?)

I’ve had this one in the queue for too long. It’s time to just push it out there.

Can we be good without God? I’ve recently had a very long discussion along these lines with a friend and former colleague of mine over on his blog and in private e-mail. He’s someone who I had come to respect very much in the time when we used to work together. Job changes and a geographical move have separated us for several years, but it’s easy to keep in contact over the internet. We see eye-to-eye on many things. I highly value his technical knowledge and skill and consider him to be one of the most gracious and helpful people I know in his attitude toward others. But we’re worlds apart when it comes to our most basic beliefs. He’s an outspoken and confident atheist. I’m a taciturn, often struggling, disciple of Jesus Christ. Challenges to my beliefs from others have often provoked me to self-examination and searching, especially when they come from friends. Our discussion was lively and passionate but also very civil and respectful. For me keeping those qualities in balance is a highly valued goal, but one that takes lots of patience and practice. It doesn’t come naturally. The particular problem of whether or not our moral reasoning has any adequate grounding unless it is in God as the authority who transcends human opinion and who is the moral architect of the universe has come up for me in personal discussion and in online forums for many years. I’ve touched on the issue in this blog before here, here and here. Two years ago I had the chance to write a short research paper on the subject. I want to leave a link to that paper here for those who might be interested in reading it. I value your thoughtful comments. But there’s also some personal reflection on this that I want to express.

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Advent 2009

Bethel Church is putting together another Advent devotional calendar this year and again I was asked to contribute. This is my contribution. I’m looking forward to reading what others have written this year.

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A Grace Disguised, by Jerry (Gerald) Sittser

I wrote this review on the first edition of this book back in 2001 and posted it on I want to put it here also because I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Read on if you’re interested:

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“How did it go?”

I ended September and began October with a three day retreat at The Convent, the venue for a retreat and spiritual direction ministry called “Sustainable Faith” run by David and Jody Nixon. The building is a renovated convent on the grounds of the Vineyard Central Church community in Norwood, Ohio (Cincinnati area). My visit there was a very peaceful and refreshing time for me. On most days my habits of prayer, reading and serious reflection seem on the periphery of each day’s events or fit into the gaps in between. It was good to spend a few days with those things at the center. I had no schedule, no specific agenda, no distractions (unless one counts the wonderful smell of fresh, brewing coffee coming from downstairs in the morning). Dave and Jody are very gracious and grace filled hosts. They have turned this old house into a warm and welcoming place for the weary and wandering soul in need of some solitude. I highly recommend The Convent if you’re looking for such a place.

Since my return, several people have asked me, “how did it go?” or “what did you learn?” I’ve been thinking about that myself, trying to put it in context.

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Still Amusing Ourselves to Death

51F1J5QRFFL._SL110_.jpg I recently read an essay in the current issue of The Atlantic by Christopher Hitchens entitled “Cheap Laughs: The smug satire of liberal humorists debases our comedy—and our national conversation.” Hitchens’ complaint with liberal humorists like Al Franken and Jon Stewart seems to be that they are as ideologically bound as their right wing counterparts. Their satirical wit employs a double standard that belies the inconsistencies and foibles of reigning liberal politicians while continuing to hold chastened conservatives up to scorn. I could be wrong. Hitchens doesn’t seem to make his point clearly, but he seems to want to hold liberal humorists up to a higher standard than others, and seems dismayed at the way some of them are being compared favorably with Mark Twain or Walter Cronkite.

Then, while cleaning out some old magazines, I happened to read a column in the April issue of Touchstone by J. Daryl Charles called “Wasted By Watching” (sorry, it’s not online at this time) about what I think is one of the most important books I have ever read.

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