Monday, October 14, 2019

Total Depravity

How I learned to love the doctrine of total depravity
When unremitting human sin is something I expect, I can face evil without despair.

October 2, 2019

My great-grandfather, Anthony J. Haverkamp, was a Dutch Reformed minister. At the height of his career, he was senior pastor of First Reformed Church and a board member at Central College—both in Pella, Iowa, and both flagship institutions of his denomination. He helped shepherd both of them through the Depression and the Second World War.

He was a different kind of pastor than I knew as a liberal Protestant kid growing up in a major city in the late 20th century. His parishioners called him Dominie (“Lord Pastor”). He always drove a black Buick. He did not receive a newspaper on Sunday. He mowed his lawn in a suit and tie and declined to play catch in the yard with his son, telling him something to the effect of, “I’m afraid I can’t be that kind of father for you.”

The Lord Pastor did mellow as he got older. When he re­tired, the new Buick he bought was not black but baby blue. His grandson—my dad, then in middle school—had begun a paper route and approached him about his subscription level, and so it was that my great-grandfather finally received a Sunday paper. As an elderly widower, he moved in with his son’s family and was known to play card games and to dry dishes for my grandmother when there were no children around to help.

The Dominie’s six grandchildren all attended his church in Pella for at least a part of their childhoods. Today, however, not one of his descendants is Dutch Reformed. I am the only one who is an ordained minister, and I’m an Episcopalian. Few of my extended family have much to do with church these days. What is left of our ancestral Calvinism is a strict sense that there is a right way to do things, a best way. To fail to choose or discover that way invites quiet but sober judgment—if not from God, then certainly from family and friends. We, like many Americans, believe in a secular way that worthiness is a visible, consistent, and demonstrable trait—a sort of cultural Calvinism.

In the university neighborhood where I grew up, it was well-established orthodoxy that people are basically good and that the best sort of life is lived trying to make the world a better place. The motto of our neighborhood churches could’ve been that familiar phrase, “The question is not why God allows evil to exist in the world, but why human beings do.” This lesson was reaffirmed both in the gentle Pelagianism of my Catholic schooling and in the sunny work ethic of my mainline Protestant Sunday school classes. Being created in God’s image meant we could change the world, that we could be good and happy people who did the right thing, serving and loving one another.

We didn’t talk much about things like sin, atonement, or the crucifixion. (Our liberal parents probably would have complained.) We didn’t talk about how to deal with the enormous weight of evil and suffering in this world, or how insufficient human efforts can seem in their shadow.

As an adult and a Christian, I want to do the right thing. I keep mental lists of how I want to live more responsibly: eat less meat, recycle, call my representatives, buy less plastic, reduce my carbon footprint, speak up about racism, give to charities, show up at community police meetings. But it never seems like enough. Social media is always ready to help me count the ways I could do more, leaving me feeling more guilty than righteous, unable to keep up. As Paul writes, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it”—at least not consistently or very effectively. No matter what I do or how hard I try to be righteous, the world spins me to my knees at every turn with more evidence of cruelty, catastrophe, and waste.

I do not feel theologically equipped to handle the enormous weight of evil I see in the world. After all, I was raised to believe that humans are capable of stopping it.

In recent years, the doctrine of total depravity has caught my imagination. It’s the first tenet of the notorious “TULIP” acronym, which came into popular use among Calvinists around the time of my great-grandfather’s retirement as a way to summarize the five main points of the faith. If you’ve never heard the term before, “total depravity” might sound like a joke or the name of a high school metal band. It is, in fact, an astoundingly dire theology. Total depravity frames humans not as good people who sometimes mess up but as messed-up people who, with God’s help, can do some good things—but nothing completely free of selfishness or error. We are unable to make a choice that is unquestionably, entirely good. None of our actions, loves, or thoughts can be truly without sin.

I find a surprising grace in the bleak, unflinching outlook of my Calvinist heritage. Total depravity matches the sin-sized hole in my belly in a way that “all people are basically good” never could. Of course the world is full of evil and suffering. Of course people are unjust and cruel to one another. Of course I feel like a completely inadequate Christian. Of course it’s hard to avoid living as a complicit consumer, pollution enabler, and ineffective activist. Of course I feel paralyzed by despair. It’s because of total depravity.

Total depravity speaks to sin in our personal lives. More importantly for me, it also gives theological definition to corporate and societal sins. It’s not just that I am unable to love everyone I meet or to live a life that is plastics-free. I have also found it impossible to untangle my individual life from systems of injustice—institutionalized racism, pollution of the air and land and water, cheap clothing and food supplies that depend on the exploitation of laborers, banks and corporations that bend the economy toward their profit. A contemporary Episcopal prayer of confession includes this line: “We repent of . . . the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.” There is a lot of suffering and a lot of evil in this world, and I find I cannot consider myself entirely innocent of it.

But why go to the extreme of a doctrine like total depravity? Why not just go attend a workshop on community organizing or on setting boundaries?

It’s just that the more I make the salvation of the world a rational, solvable problem, the deeper I seem to sink into futility. But when unreasonable, unremitting human sin is something I expect, then I can face the headwinds of evil without despair. When I believe that human life—including my own—will never be without sin and suffering, I have a greater ability to tolerate pain and horror and to keep on doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly. I can, as Anne Lamott would say, keep singing “Hallelujah!” and looking for grace anyway.

But could this approach numb me to injustice? It may be that numbness is just what I need in order to crawl out of paralysis. I have taken anti-anxiety medication. I find total depravity nearly as effective a remedy for crippling anguish. I can shove my shock and despair at human evil into Calvin’s theological Hefty bag and find more room on my soul’s kitchen table to work on hope and a plan.

I have little evidence of my great-grandfather’s theology in his own words, because his son, my grandfather, threw away the box of handwritten sermons he’d carefully filed after his retirement, not imagining there might someday be a great-granddaughter who’d want to read them. It’s likely, however, that he would have believed in the total depravity of humanity and of himself. Not that his ministry was driven primarily by condemnation or fundamentalism. He was a man of rules and order but also of graciousness and humility. He knew human depravity, and he knew human limits.

He certainly had looked them right in the face in his own life. His first call was to a South Dakota farm town, with a clapboard church that must have groaned and shuddered out in the prairie winds. My grandfather was born there, and my great-grandmother suffered from terrible postpartum depression. She was hospitalized multiple times, which couldn’t have been easy in the 1910s on the northern plains. They left as quickly as they could. After a few years, my great-grandpa took a new call in western Iowa, closer to family.

Years later the Dominie was driving to a meeting with his young adult son (my grandfather and my source for this story) and another clergyman. All of a sudden, the other minister insisted that my great-grandfather pull over to the side of the road, whereupon he jumped out of the car and marched to a nearby telephone pole, ripping down a poster advertising an upcoming dance. (Dancing was not Christian behavior.) The minister crumpled the poster, threw it to the ground, and got back in the car.

For whatever reason, the other minister did not join them for the return trip. So, on the way home, my great-grandfather drove back to that same telephone pole. The Dominie pulled over, got out of the car, and hung that wrinkled dance poster back up. Then he got back in the car, without saying a word to his son, and they drove home.

It’s my favorite story about him. It reminds me that I cannot save the world (or myself) from sin or serve as its judge, jury, or savior. Did my great-grandfather put the dance poster back up because he believed it was wrong, even in the name of correcting sin, to destroy someone else’s property? Was it because he knew his own depravity all too well and believed only Christ could stand as judge? Was it just midwestern politeness? I can’t be sure, but I see him in this story facing a fallen world with humility and integrity—not condemnation, and not despair.
Heidi Haverkamp

Heidi Haverkamp is an Episcopal priest, speaker, and author, including of Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels (Westminster John Knox). Her blog is part of the CCblogs network.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


From "Christianity Today"
He Hugged the Woman Who Shot His Brother: The Power of the Gospel in the Botham Embrace.

He Hugged the Woman Who Shot His Brother: The Power of the Gospel in the Botham Embrace
Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the gospel on display.
by Ed Stetzer

Botham Jean was killed by Amber Guyger. The off-duty police officer walked into what she believed to her apartment and shot Botham. By now, many have seen the heart-wrenching story of Botham’s brother (Brandt) delivering a courtroom speech of love. He forgave Amber Guyger.

He overflowed with the love of God.

While this act of forgiveness is shocking to the world, it has been the centerpiece of the Christian faith for 2,000 years. When Christians are actually living out the truths of the gospel, they show the world a better way.

The etymology of “Botham” means “he who lives in a broad valley.” It means hitting bottom, or depression. Yet, his life speaks from the top—from the life-giving mountaintop of the gospel. From the testimony of Brandt, Botham’s brother, Botham’s life points to a better way, a life-giving way—the way of Jesus.

To much of the world, however, such a heinous act of violence would plant a deep seed of anger that would eventually yield the fruit of bitterness and hatred—leading one down the path toward depression and bitterness.

However, that wasn’t the way of Botham. That wasn’t how he thought. Although deceased, his life declares a radical forgiveness that could only come through the life and heart of Jesus.

When I was reading the story and watching the testimony, the only thing that came to my mind was #Jesus. So, that’s what I tweeted.

I understand there are other issues to consider. “What about justice?” “What about the issue of systemic racism, white supremacy, and the abuse of power” etc? I understand there are many underlying issues here.

Brandt, while on the stand, didn’t address everything—and neither will my article. While there will be other opportunities to discuss those important issues (and I’ve written on a number of them on many occasions), let’s not miss the heart of forgiveness manifested in the life of two brothers.

Brandt, who understood the heart and life of his brother Botham more so than anyone else, exhorts the world towards the radical nature of gospel forgiveness. It’s OK to dwell on that for a moment, while acknowledging that there are other issues to consider.

Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the gospel on display.

In his Essay On Forgiveness, C.S. Lewis picks up on how Christ’s forgiveness sets the tone for our own posture towards others:
Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.
Lewis boils it down to a straightforward yet difficult truth: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

In short, Brandt and Botham manifest forgiveness in the vein of Jesus.


First, forgiveness is countercultural.

One reason why acts of forgiveness such as Jean’s are so shocking is because they are countercultural.

Vitriol is winning the day. Our anger and bitterness result in the justification of “counterpunching.” The mantra, “Eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth” wins the day. People want to react to fire not with water but with fire.

Jesus’ insistence upon forgiveness is truly countercultural.

Jesus calls his followers to sacrificially turn the other cheek. Jesus puts no cap on the limits of our forgiveness—70 x 7. We can’t use another’s sin as an excuse for our own.

Make no mistake, this is hard. But this is why forgiveness is countercultural. More importantly, this is why forgiveness–in the vein of Jesus—is supernatural.

Second, forgiveness does not eliminate the consequences of sin.

Does forgiveness condone or excuse sin? This is what we believe—why our culture—and even many Christians—struggles with forgiveness. We believe offering forgiveness negates accountability. But this is a lie.

Theologically speaking, this is not even biblical. On the cross, Jesus cried, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus wasn’t excusing the sin of humanity that nailed him to the cross—he was taking their punishment.

There were and are consequences to sin.

But forgiveness frees us from seeking vengeance or retaliation, Jesus took upon himself the ultimate judgment for their sin. We don’t have to express, “We hope they get what they deserved.” Jesus took it on the cross.

That is why Brandt could surprisingly say, “I don’t want you to go to jail… I want what is best for you.” In short, he wanted for her what Jesus desires for all—redemption and forgiveness.

There are present and temporal consequences to sinful behavior—regardless of how inconsequential or heinous they might be.

For Guyger, she received a sentence of 10 years. That was her consequence. Forgiveness does not negate consequences.

Third, forgiveness is a fundamental apologetic of the gospel.

What else can display the reality and power of the gospel of Jesus more than his followers living out his call to forgive? Its counterculture and supernatural nature confronts onlookers with their own limitations. It sets them in search for the source of such love beyond the idols of our material world.

Despite the power of forgiveness, Christians often don’t join in.

Sadly, Christians reflect the cultural attitude of vengeance rather than Christ’s countercultural posture of forgiveness. That’s the politics of 2019, for sure, but that’s not the call of the Christian.

Just as in Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant, we have experienced unfathomable forgiveness from our king and promptly gone out into the world demanding what we owe. Forgiven a debt we could never pay; we squabble over pennies.

In this respect, these acts of forgiveness are even an apologetic to the church, a call to us to reciprocate the very forgiveness we applaud.

Don’t just share a forgiveness video. Go and do likewise. Forgive!

Fourth, forgiveness frees the soul of the one forgiving.

So many examples of forgiveness come out of the African-American church—from Mother Emmanuel to today. They have been longer on the margin of society and they remind us of the power of forgiveness. Many have been more wronged.

Tyler Burns made the observation:

Brandt Jean’s act of forgiveness was a moment of immense personal strength and Christ-like character. But we often magnify these gestures because we desire neat, tidy endings that help us make sense of tragic circumstances. We are real people who feel the full range of pain, anger, sadness, hope, forgiveness, and love.

ALL of these expressions are human and can be faithful to God. I’m not advocating that we withhold forgiveness, but that we should be reflective even as we extend it. And refuse to weaponize it against those who may not be there yet.

Burns’ observation has broader application. In any society, the most profound examples of forgiveness are going to exist in contrast to the deepest injustices.

While the enduring reality of racial violence certainly has many—and often highly publicized—examples of Christian forgiveness, other communities have had ample opportunity to voice similar struggles. This decade the majority of these examples of profound acts of forgiveness have come from Christian women, children, people of color, refugees, and similar disenfranchised groups.

Forgiveness makes the road to healing possible, but not instantaneous. It is the opening, not the conclusion. This is where the church needs to step in as agents of reconciliation in this ongoing process of healing for victims even after they’ve forgiven.

The ongoing act of forgiveness

There’s this misconception that forgiveness is a one-time act—forget and move on. What a wonderful world it would be if this were the case. However, we each have both our own and our collective memories that we carry throughout life. The pain others can cause us, although lessened by the power of forgiveness, may continue for decades.

But the beauty of the gospel is that we have the opportunity to continue to reflect God’s very nature of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation through a heart and mind committed to forgiveness and understanding that we live in a fallen world.

When we are able to say with heartfelt words that we have forgiven those who have harmed us most, we have understood not only the power of transformation but also the gravity and enormity of what Christ did on the cross.

Brandt forgave Amber. It reminds us of who Jesus is, who we are in Christ, and points the world to a different way.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

to sleep

some good tips

The Everything Guide to Getting Good Sleep


God thinks you’re phenomenal!

I don’t love photos of myself (Did you know there’s a book called I Feel Bad About my Neck?), but I wanted to post this picture of the t-shirt my daughter gave me, and I thought it'd look weird without my head in it. The word phenomenal is something we share. Years ago, we started reading and talking together about the poem “Phenomenal Woman,” by Maya Angelou.

Also years ago, during his sermon, a minister acted out a story to demonstrate God’s great love. You know those photo holders in wallets (like the one below)? The minister stood at the top of the middle aisle of the church and made motions to show opening a wallet and the photos falling, accordion style, down, down, down the aisle -- a big long ribbon of them. He said, “God’s love is like this: He takes out the photos of all his children, holds up the one of you and says, ‘See John [insert your name here]? Isn’t he great? Isn’t she amazing?’” ...OR... “Isn’t she (or he) phenomenal?”

God loves you like that.   Your Name Here  , you are a phenomenal woman.   Your Name Here  , you are a phenomenal man.    Your Name Here  , you are phenomenal.

Phenomenal Woman
By Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

What can I pray about for you?


What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
    Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..

.     If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at I'll keep all communication confidential.

Does God Exist? I Don’t “Know”

What a great way to say it

Does God Exist? I Don’t “Know”
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

I get asked now and then, “Pete, you’re a reasonably intelligent guy, with a PhD and everything. I want to be like you. But how is it that you still believe in God? On what basis is God still an option for you?”

God or not God? I think about that question a lot.

This won’t be solved in a blog post, but here’s basically where I am with all this “believing in God” business—in under 800 words. Just don’t mistake this as an “argument for God’s existence.” It’s just where my thinking process is.

First, note the way I phrased the staged questions above. I use the words “intelligent” and “basis.” The question presumes that belief in God is something to be settled on the basis of intelligence, education, knowledge of facts, etc. Without discounting all those wonderful things, I do not think that the God question is settled this way.

The western way of knowing privileges the observation and analysis/testing of external evidence by knowledgeable, experienced, and educated people who make arguments and defend them. I’m all for that. I like the fruit of this way of knowing—everything from electricity and medicine to electron-microscopes and radio telescopes. I’d rather live today in the western world than at any other time in human history. It’s not utopia but I’ll take it.

But I don’t think this way of knowing settles the God question, since it presumes that God is an element of the cosmos that occupies space and is subject to observation and testing—like a quasar, proton, or tectonic plates—waiting to be discovered or discerned through methods by which we know the physical world.

I believe that, if there is a Creator, this Higher Power is not a “being” that we can “know” exclusively or primarily through this western way of knowing. In other words, “I don’t believe in God because I see no evidence for God” or “I believe in God because the evidence proves it” are both nonsensical claims for me.

I realize that there is a long and rich history of discussion over difficult philosophical issues concerning the existence of God. I’m not discounting the importance of thinking through these deep questions. My point is a rather modest one: the question of God’s existence is not settled—one way or the other—on the basis the kind of evidence-based knowledge that modern western culture (rightly) embraces to help us explain many, many things around us.

That just doesn’t work for me. As I see it, knowledge of God accesses different ways of knowing.

In fact, presuming that evidence-based knowledge is the only sure way of knowing anything worth knowing lies behind both the angst and the sense of certainty many feel about God’s existence or non-existence.

Perhaps a great offense to many of us in the modern world is that God is not known in the way we are used to knowing many other things—which is a hard pill to swallow if you’re committed to evidence-based knowing as the only path forward.

A few years ago David Benner’s Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation was very helpful in pushing me to look at the God question differently at a time when I was ready to hear it. (I’ve blogged on Benner several times, for example here .)

In chapter 5 “Learning from the Christian Mystics” Benner discusses a knowledge of God that is “transrational” and “contemplative.”

Christian mysticism should . . . not be confused with experience. Instead, it should be understood as participation in the mystery of the transformational journey toward union with God in love. . . . Mystics are . . . much more defined by their longing than by their experience. They long to know God’s love and thereby to be filled with the very fullness of God [Ephesians 3:17-19].

This sort of knowing is beyond reason, but it is not irrational. It is transrational. It is knowing of a different order. It is a form of knowing often described as contemplative. And this is the connection to mysticism. Contemplation is apprehension uncluttered by thought—particularly preconception and analysis. It is based on direct and personal encounter.

When you know something by means of such encounter, you may not be able to express it verbally, at least not in a compelling, coherent, or exhaustive manner. But you do know that you know because your knowing has a depth and immediacy to it that is never present in simply knowing about things—even merely knowing about God. [pp. 75-76]
Thinking one can prove or disprove the existence of God through rational analysis is to apply to God a wrong way of knowing.

Rather, knowledge of God is described by terms like:

apprehension uncluttered by thought
defying compelling verbal expression

So that’s where I am at this stage of my journey on the whole God thing. I’m still working on it—of course. And now my 800 words are up.

This blog was first posted in March 2016.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me SoThe Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works.Tweets at @peteenns.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


“I miss when I felt that way.” The other day, a young man talked to me and some others about missing the way he used to feel about his faith. He hears other talk of Jesus as a personal friend, seeming to feel Jesus’ presence all the time, a very personal faith. This young man has not lost his faith, but he did seem to feel somehow removed from that personal presence of God. Perhaps he was going through a “dry time,” as I hear it called in Jesuit circles, a time when you feel far from God. You may have doubts, questions, wonder if you can believe any of it. We know now that Mother Teresa herself suffered those dry times. Many of our heroes of faith did, and so, of course, do we. In the conversation, someone brought up Jordan Peterson, who is known for saying he “lives as if God exists” (emphasis mine). 

It reminded me of something my dad said. He had seen me walking with my son, who was around 3 years old at the time. We encountered a dog, and my son was quite afraid of dogs at that time. In spite of that, he tentatively walked up to the dog, held out his hand, let the dog sniff it, and he lightly pet the dog. I said to my dad that my son had pretended he was not afraid. Dad said what I and probably you have heard from others, “That’s what courage is, right? Doing something in spite of your fear.” Or, in other words, acting as if you are not afraid.

For me, in a dry time, the way I can continue to live and act as if God is walking with me is to remember. When I don’t feel it, I remember the times I did feel God’s closeness. I remember the times during meditation when I saw Jesus reach out his hand to me as I, imagining myself as Peter, began to sink in the water; I remember Jesus’ arms around my shoulder as I pictured walking and talking with him during my prayers. I remember the many, many verses where God talked about remembering -- both his own remembering and when he reminded us to remember. (I did a search for “remember” in the Bible Gateway site. Wow!)

When I talked about this deep remembering with another friend, she expanded it even more.

What if our deep remembering went deeper than our lives and our parents' lives?  What if it went all the way back to Genesis? I think if we "remembered" Abraham and Sarah, Job, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Joseph, David, Ruth and the rest as we do our own experiences, if we read those stories with empathetic hearts, like those people are family members, it might lead to comfort and trust. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about a type of remembering or nostalgia for the future -- remembering and longing for something that hasn’t happened yet and does not exist in this world. He wrote of “‘sennsucht,’ a German word meaning ‘longing’ or ‘desire’” (from “C.S. Lewis’ Ingenious Apologetic of Longing” by Daniel Motley, in LogosTalk). When the children in Narnia travel to Aslan’s land, they look around at the mountains, sky, water, and all the landscape and remark that it looks familiar, wondering if they could have been there before. But yet they know such a place could never have existed in our world.

Lucy said, “They’re different. They have more colors on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more … more … oh, I don’t know.…”
“More like the real thing,” said the Lord Digory softly.

And one of the first things I thought of as I pondered “remembering” was our communion service. Each time we celebrate communion (or Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper), the pastor speaks before we eat the bread, “Take, eat, remember and believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was given for the complete forgiveness of all our sins,” and the same with the juice, to “take, drink, remember and believe…” As we munch that bread and swallow that juice, we remember Jesus’ great love for us.

Thank God for his love that we remember from all he did and was in the past, all he does and is now, and all he will be and do in the future.

What about you? What are some times in your life where remembering helps? Or hurts? What do you think of the idea of “remembering”/feeling nostalgia for something that doesn’t exist, or something in the future? What about living or acting as if?

What can I pray about for you?


What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
    Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..
.     If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at I'll keep all communication confidential.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Two songs from Broken

From the BBC show, "Broken."

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

There is a balm in Gilead

Today I read the article below. I love the words, "There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." Hearing them, thinking of them, I get this kind of warm, sort of lovingly-squeezed feeling of being hugged, and at the same time I get a lump in my throat, sometimes I tear up. "Balm in Gilead" deeply touches my heart and soul.

I thought the article was very interesting and I liked the painting the author chose. I am glad to learn more about the words and the Negro spiritual inspired by them. I appreciated the music in the video the author linked to, but it is not my favorite arrangement of the song. I am including a rendition I like better.

I like the observation that the writer of the spiritual "taps into Jeremiah’s poetic grief, extracting the 'balm in Gilead' expression but bending it toward hope." Bending toward hope. Yes.

Joseph Hirsch (American, 1910–1981), Lynch Family, 1946. Oil on canvas, 35 × 33 in. (88.9 × 83.8 cm). Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. [zoom in]

Balm in Gilead (Artful Devotion)

In this coming Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Prophets, Jeremiah grieves over the suffering of his people. “Is there no balm in Gilead?” he cries. Gilead was a region in ancient Palestine, east of the Jordan River. Now it is known primarily as the fictional locale of two famous contemporary novels, but back then it was known for the soothing, aromatic plant resins produced there, which were used medicinally. In Israel’s desolation, though, they could feel no balm—not even in the place where it was said to abound.

The anonymous writer(s) of the slave song featured above knew communal suffering well. He or she taps into Jeremiah’s poetic grief, extracting the “balm in Gilead” expression but bending it toward hope. There is a balm, the song attests, albeit wearily, through tears. And this balm makes the wounded whole. Archie Shepp’s soulful arrangement, with vocals by Jeanne Lee, express that woundedness and yearning for deliverance so poignantly.
As a visual point of focus, I’ve chosen Joseph Hirsch’s Lynch Family, a forward extension of the history of African American oppression. The gallery label for the painting reads,
Joseph Hirsch painted Lynch Family as a response to racial disturbances in the South in 1946. That year the number of lynchings rose from an all-time low in January to a fevered pitch by August. Citizens across the country urged President Truman and Congress to end the horrors. To capture the tragedy of Lynch Family, Hirsch presented a mother with her baby, presumably survivors of a lynching victim, in abstracted surroundings. The painting focuses on the mother’s intense yet restrained hold on her defiant child while she turns to hide her anguish. The blue background floats around the figures. It both highlights their pain and contrasts with the sheer beauty of Hirsch’s painterly technique.
Though painted in the 1940s, this work bears strong relevance for today. The figures could be any black mother and child left to grieve the loss of husband and father—to prison, or to death by shooting.
For another painting by Hirsch from the blog, see “Stations of the Cross at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.”

This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.
To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 20, cycle C, click here.