There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.~C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
American culture rages like a sounding cataract, but the Sampler goes ever on.
Matthew Crawford, contrarian in residence, wrote “The Danger of Safetyism“ before the recent surge of protests around the country. One quote:
At the level of sentiment, there appears to be a feedback loop wherein the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears. At the level of bureaucratic grasping, we can note that emergency powers are seldom relinquished once the emergency has passed. Together, these dynamics make up a kind of ratchet mechanism that moves in only one direction, tightening against the human spirit.
Crawford usually sounds like someone who chafes at being told what to do. I suppose that makes us kindred spirits. But I think he’s onto something. I was going to share an excerpt from his newest book on driving (and why self-driving cars may not be the greatest), but this is the Sampler, so we’re sampling, not feasting.
Cal Newport wrote recently on the Lost Satisfactions of Manuel Competence. People are discovering that making things and fixing your own stuff can make you quiet and easy.
Alright, so here’s a sermon. It’s over twenty years old, and I’m aware that nothing good ever came out of the 90’s. Jim Cymbala has been the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971. Several things on prayer clicked into place for me after listening to this. If your heart needs crackin’, I heartily recommend it.
I have some posts on a few new books in the queue, so I’ll just mention a short one, Ploductivity by Douglas Wilson. I’ve read seven or eight books on time management and productivity and this was the first that appears to have been written by a human. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is undoubtedly the best, but I’m confident that Allen is actually a robot. Wilson brings a much needed sense of humor to the subject.
It’s also great that Wilson is approaching his work as a Christian. The theology of Work and Theology of Wealth sections are worth the price of admission. Here’s a snippet:
So if technology is wealth, then we are all surrounded with astounding amounts of it. This is what I refer to as tangible grace. If you have a smartphone, you have more wealth in your pocket than Nebuchadnezzar accumulated over the course of his lifetime. We have a responsibility to turn a profit on these astounding resources—and that is what is meant by productivity. We have a responsibility to do this methodically, deliberately, and intentionally. This is what I mean by ploductivity. This is deliberate faithfulness: working in the same direction over an extended period of time. Our electronic servants may be super fast, but we should be as deliberate as ever.Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work and Wealth, Location 129, Kindle Edition
Oh, and look who we picked up this weekend…
Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.
~ Miroslav Volf, quoted in Jesus Among Secular Gods
I led my first small group at my church nearly ten years ago. After assuming the title of Assistant Pastor of Discipleship and Small Groups (helpfully abbreviated APOD&SG), I started reading everything I could on small group ministry. I rarely found what I was looking for.
There was plenty to read and consider: recruiting and training leaders, practicing hospitality, writing discussion material, and easing through small group dynamics. I also learned how to develop our small groups without cannibalizing the church itself.
But the most popular materials never seemed to mention the practices of writing or prayer- practices that became necessary to do my pastoral work at all. I’m sure no one would say these practices were unimportant. They were apparently assumed. I suspected they weren’t mentioned because they weren’t practiced.
If we assume a ministry is attending to prayer without consistent instruction and practice we can create a kind of ecclesiastical Ponzi scheme. No real work is really being done in prayer. Why else don’t we have more to say about how these practices should shape our small group ministries? Pastoral work without prayer and writing is as useful as carpentry without tools.
Limited experience taught me that prayer opens my eyes to the presence and work of God. How else could I learn repentance and petition, confession and blessing? Prayer taught me that God had taken the initiative in every situation I entered. Rather than asking “what do I need to do to get things going,” I began to ask, “what is God doing here that I need to be aware of?”
“I can be a pastor who prays,” wrote Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor. Peterson was a lone voice in my wilderness:
I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all of life to be intimate—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying.The Contemplative Pastor Page 29
In time, writing became a physical expression of my praying. Like prayer (at its best), writing clarifies and reflects meditation. “As I mused, the fire burned.”* Pen and paper now take on new energy as I consider the normal difficulties of ministry. We need more leaders in our church. How can I train the leaders we have? How will I handle this difficult conversation?
Small groups have great potential for helping the church in her task of spiritual formation. We all have a lot of work to do. As for me, I will write and pray.
*Psalm 39:3, ESV