Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This morning I’d like to tell you a story of two wealthy men whose lives came together in an extraordinary way.

Nicky and Philip were both wealthy men though they came into their means differently.
Nicky was one of those who all of us dream about. He was born into a very wealthy family and never knew want. But unlike the kind of “rich kids” we read about or hear about in “the Lives of the Rich and Famous,” Nicky was taught from an early age that one is to be generous to others, especially those in need. Nicky’s family had great wealth and yet he was not spoiled by that wealth. Unfortunately at an early age, his mother and father tragically died leaving all of their wealth to him.

Instead of squandering his wealth, Nicky decided to travel oversees to seek his education at one of the most prestigious universities of his day. And (I’ll let you in on a secret) that since this was a time before air travel, his travel was by ship. On one of his voyages he is said to have saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship's rigging in a storm. When he arrived home (at semester break) Nicky and the other sailors decided to go to church together to give thanks to God – for you see along with a heart for the needy, Nicky’s parents were also Christians and passed their faith along to him as well. When Nicky entered the church he found that the priest had recently died – and the people (after hearing of Nicky’s heroism) decided that HE should be their new pastor! And so humbly, Nicky took the job.

Philip on the other hand, wasn’t as blessed as Nicky. Born into a poor family, Philip had to work hard for his wealth – and did so. Hard work had its rewards. As a local merchant, more and more success came his way. In time Philip, who was also a Christian, married and he and his wife had three beautiful daughters. But sadly, in giving birth to the third daughter, the mother died in child-birth leaving Philip to care for his three daughters and to raise them as best he could. And so he did.

In time the girls grew of age and hoped to be married. Now it also happened in those days the only way daughters were able to marry was to have a “dowry” – the bigger the better – the bigger dowry (usually) meant a better husband (at least in terms of providing for them). The problem was Philip’s business experienced a “recession” – in fact, in one storm all of Philip’s merchandise was lost at sea. He lost everything. Life began to be very hard for Philip and his daughters. But Philip was also a Christian – yet even so, some very difficult choices lay before him.

Without a dowry for even one of his daughters – Philip knew there were two options for unmarried women in those days: Prostitution & Slavery. Without a dowry his daughters would go without husbands (who would want them?) Prostitution was unthinkable – slavery would at least mean they’d be cared for. What’s a father to do? What would you or I do? But as a Christian in a Church, others soon heard about Philip’s plight too – including their priest Fr. Nicky.

Nicky resolved that this situation was totally unacceptable and resolved to help. Taking from his own resources and in the dead of night, Fr. Nicky tossed a bag of gold through Philips window – one each night for each of the three daughters. Legend has it that each bag of gold fell into the girls shoes by the fireplace where they were drying. For three nights it was the same thing: a bag of gold landing in their shoes.

It didn’t take long for Philip to realize what was going on – and on the third night – Philip caught Nicky red-handed! Their meeting was not unlike one of the stories of Jesus’ healings where Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone.” Nicky made just such a plea. But Philip was so overjoyed by Nicky’s generosity that he went and told everybody. Eventually, Nicky’s generosity became so well known – when the time came it was he who became the next bishop – and we all know of him now as Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra!

Now, perhaps you guessed early on that “Nicky” was really St. Nicholas – and perhaps I’ve taken a few too many liberties in telling his story. But that’s Okay.

Much of Nicholas’ life is surrounded by legend – but this much is certain: He really was Bishop of Myra in the early Fourth Century – and he was known throughout Europe – even years after his death – as a man of exceedingly great generosity!

Few people remember that Nicholas was tortured for his faith under Emperor Diocletian – or that he defended the Christian Faith against Arianism at the first Council of Nicaea. But Nicholas IS remembered – and celebrated for one virtue alone: His generosity! (If you want to be remembered in this world and the next – generosity will guarantee it.)

In medieval England, people heard of and remembered him as “Good ol’ Saint Nick.” When the Dutch came to America they brought with them their traditions of “Sinter Klaus” – from which (if you say it fast enough) became “Santa Claus.” – THAT is the truth.

We all have an opportunity to bear witness to the truth about Santa Claus this time of year. Saint Nicholas is certainly still alive and real – for we believe in the Communion of Saints! Each year his witness of generosity shines among Christians and non-Christians alike. When asked, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” my answer is always YES!

  • Santa Clause – or more accurately St. Nicholas – is a real person – and he is alive in the Lord.

  • His spirit continues on – he is not a myth nor is it unchristian to foster his tradition in the Church. He was a Bishop of the Church who suffered for his faith!
    And in all fairness, I think that St. Nick is probably as bothered by what the marketplace has done with his image.

  • And certainly, Nicholas was one who lived out what John preached nearly 300 years before Nicholas we born: Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

Many people of different walks of life asked John the same question: What should we do?
Nicholas’ answer was to live a life that put to use the gifts he had available for God’s purposes – AND his answer is simply the same for each of us!

  • Whoever has, must share with those who has not.
  • Those who deal in finances must do so honestly.
  • Those entrusted with power must use their power appropriately.

Can any one of us imagine what “traditions” might just spring up if we began to live this way? I dare say, St. Nicholas would not have been able to do so in his life – nor can we. Yet the time is coming when Jesus returns – He will know the good (and the bad) we have done. For in truth we are “sorely hindered by our sins” YET all the more His “bountiful mercy and grace” speedily come to our aid! The greatest mystery and fear of the Christian life is discovering that we have been forgiven – and why have we not done more in our lives to live that out?

That is indeed the meaning of “fruit worthy of repentance” that both John AND Jesus called us to. Will we listen? And will we act? When we do it will not be because of our power – it will be because of HIS.

God IS coming to us – even at this very moment – May His power be stirred among us.


Several sources were used in creating my “story” of St. Nicholas. The story is my own however the details and facts came from the Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts and online sources, particularly The Story of Saint Nicholas as told by Victor Hoagland, C.P. found at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day Tribute: to the B-52 & the men who flew them!

Today I remember my time as a SAC B-52 Radar Navigator/Bombardier. And I also remember the men & women who helped keep us aloft! Thanks!

Here is a great video (sorry for just of bit of language in it) and to my surprise I'm actually in some of the scenes! No, you won't see me, but I was in the bomber in the first conventional bomb drop shown. You'll also see a picture of a B-52 flying right next to an Aircraft Carrier - I don't know if I was in that pariticular plane but I was on another plane that was part of that mission. And that's a story that needs telling. Perhaps I'll post that someday. I was also involved in the testing of the Harpoon Missle to take out ships (which you'll also see in the video) - that too is part of the story that needs telling!

Just one more thing to notice - for those who think the the BUFF was just an "Aluminum horizon" and "Air-SPAM" (that is, easily shot down), just watch how easy it was for the fighter pilot to "shoot" one down. (That's just an atta-boy for my good friend, fellow priest, and EW Wes Clare!)

Enjoy! And thank a Veteran!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Always... C. S. Lewis

Been a while since I blogged... But I was very impressed with the following article recently posted again from Bishop N. T. Wright in Touchstone.

To some degree I find Bishop Wright over-critical in places. I think he falls into the trap of intellectual arogance - a sort of "I could have said it better than he," and/or "Lewis should have said... but didn't."

There is no question Lewis was indeed a Lay Person but the Church will always be blessed by what Lewis has given us! And perhaps what may be most disturbing to Bishops and Clergy is when gifted Lay People get it so right, when they (the learned) don't.

There is always more to learn. Lewis's works aren't Gospels but perhaps they are helpful in leading to them!

(You can find the original here: )

Simply Lewis
Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years by N. T. Wright

I once found myself working closely, in a cathedral fundraising campaign, with a local millionaire. He was a self-made man. When I met him he was in his 60s, at the top of his game as a businessman, and was chairing our Board of Trustees. To me, coming from the academic world, he was a nightmare to work with.

He never thought in (what seemed to me) straight lines; he would leap from one conversation to another; he would suddenly break into a discussion and ask what seemed a totally unrelated question. But after a while I learned to say to myself: Well, it must work, or he wouldn’t be where he is. And that was right. We raised the money. We probably wouldn’t have done it if I’d been running the Trust my own way.

A Great Debt
I have something of the same feeling on re-reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I owe Lewis a great debt. In my late teens and early twenties I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and read some of his paperbacks and essays several times over. There are sentences, and some whole passages, I know pretty much by heart.

Millions around the world have been introduced to, and nurtured within, the Christian faith through his work where their own preachers and teachers were not giving them what they needed. That was certainly true of me.

My Oxford tutors looked down their noses if you so much as mentioned him in a tutorial. This was, we may suppose, mere jealousy: He sold and they didn’t. It may also have been the frustration of the professional who, busy about his footnotes, sees the amateur effortlessly sailing past to the winning post.

And partly it may have been the sense that the Christianity offered by Lewis both was and wasn’t the “mere” thing he made it out to be. There is a definite spin to it. One of the puzzles, indeed, is the way in which Lewis has been lionized by Evangelicals when he clearly didn’t believe in several classic Evangelical shibboleths. He was wary of penal substitution, not bothered by infallibility or inerrancy, and decidedly dodgy on justification by faith (though who am I to talk, considering what some in America say about me?).

But above all, like my businessman friend, it worked; a lot of people have become Christians through reading Lewis and, though, like me, they may have gone on to think things through in ways he didn’t, they retain, like me, a massive and glorious indebtedness. All that now follows stands under that rubric.

A Real Humility
Part of the reason for the appeal of Mere Christianity is of course that—like virtually everything Lewis wrote—it remains a splendid read. Lewis is feisty and lyrical, funny and moving, full of brilliant images, similes, and extended metaphors.

Even when they don’t work as well as they might (he regularly uses maths, or “sums” as he calls it, as an illustration, and I found myself wondering whether theology and maths are really the same sort of thing), they take our minds darting to and fro, leaping over hedges and ditches, constantly glimpsing the countryside from new angles and with the fresh air of intelligent argument in our lungs.

Reading someone like this, you want to believe him—a dangerous position, perhaps. He takes us, as it were, into his confidence, drawing us aside gently by the arm and whispering, “You and I aren’t concerned with things like that. . . .” We are flattered to be his companions on the way, to know (because he tells us) that this isn’t simply a “religious jaw” (remarkable how dated that language sounds, and yet how easily today’s reader skips over it) and that we who think like this are actually in the know while some—including some clergy, because Lewis isn’t above a quick jibe in that direction—are missing out.

And when he tells us that we shouldn’t be taken in by “soft soap,” or that we can “cut all that out,” we find it exciting, like the piano pupil whose teacher tells her it’s time to graduate from blues to Bach (or conceivably, as one hearer of this paper suggested, the other way around). Now, we feel, we’re growing up, we’re getting to the real thing.

There’s a good reason why we allow Lewis to lead us on. There is a real, not a pretend, humility about his “only-a-simple-layman” stance. For some of the time, as I shall suggest, he is a professional pretending to be an amateur; for much of the time, he’s a gifted amateur putting some of the professionals to shame; sometimes he’s an amateur straightforwardly getting things wrong (and note what he says about paying attention to Freud when he’s on his professional topic but not when he’s writing as an amateur!).

But he constantly says, “If this doesn’t help, go on to the next bit, which may,” and he seems really to mean it. In particular, when he’s talking about the struggles and strains of trying to live as a Christian, we know we are listening to someone who has been struggling and straining.
This isn’t theory; like The Screwtape Letters and similar works, this is a direct report from the Front Line. (While we’re on that subject, I don’t myself find the frequent references to the Second World War intrusive or off-putting. You would have to be quite an extreme pacifist to object to the regular military imagery, which, quite apart from its immediate appeal to his first audience, does have quite strong biblical resonance.)

Faith & Truth
There are two constant powerful refrains throughout Mere Christianity. First, faith matters more than feelings; faithfulness to the high and hard standards of Christian behavior matters more than doing what you feel like at the time. Lewis was swimming against a strong tide of popular romantic existentialism, a tide running even more strongly in our own day.
He was not, of course, opposed to feelings; but he knew, and it comes as a relief to our generation to be reminded, that if you go with the flow of feelings you will be inconsistent, unfaithful, lacking in all integrity. To realize that we don’t have to float out to sea on that strong tide, but that we can and must swim against it, is challenging but also liberating.

Second, you can understand falsehood from the standpoint of truth but not the other way around, just as someone who knows light can understand darkness but not vice versa: Thus you can understand sexual perversion once you know the norm; “good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either”; “virtue brings light; indulgence brings fog.” (Incidentally, I don’t know whether it’s Lewis or his republishers, but I am puzzled that such a great writer should have been so indiscriminate and seemingly muddled with his use of the colon and semi-colon.

So to the four different sections of the book. I rate the third (“Christian Behaviour”) as the finest; the first and last (“Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” with its moral argument for God, and “Beyond Personality,” the closing pieces on the Trinity and on regeneration) as fascinating though in some ways problematic; and the second (“What Christians Believe”) as, worryingly, the most deeply flawed.

Even there, however, I remind myself that my millionaire friend knew some tricks I didn’t, and they worked. I also remember the apparent fact that from a scientific point of view there is no way a bumblebee should be able to fly, because its wings can’t support its body, but bees succeed not only in flying but in bringing home the honey. And if you conclude that Lewis is like the bee, and I am merely like the puzzled scientist who says it can’t be done that way, so be it.

Christian Behavior
The third part of the book, titled “Christian Behaviour,” is the most professional, and there is a reason for that. As well as teaching English literature, Lewis had at one stage taught philosophy. He knew his way round the classic discussions of the virtues and vices and how they operate. He also submitted himself to regular, serious spiritual direction, and as well as knowing the intellectual framework of behavior, both classical and Christian, he was deeply alert to the nuances of motivation and action, able to articulate moods and behavior patterns that for most people, in his day and ours, remain a mystery.

I suspect that one of the great appeals of his book, then and now, is that it gives one a grammar of everyday morality, enabling one to understand and speak a highly useful and indeed mellifluous language most of us didn’t know existed. Some of his moral discussions are small classics.

He is superb on generosity. He sticks a small but sharp pin into the system of usury on which the entire modern world is based. He is fascinating and fresh on sex (though of course even more deeply unfashionable today than then); and his reflections on marriage, despite his bachelor disclaimers, are worth pondering deeply (especially his final comments about it being important for the man to be in charge of what he calls the couple’s “foreign policy”).

He is clear and challenging on forgiveness, spot on in his analysis of pride and its centrality, and shrewd and helpful on the fact that charity is not an emotion but a determination to act in a particular way, and that to our surprise we find that when, without any feeling of love towards someone, we act as if we loved them, we discover that the feelings bubble up unbidden, so that we end by feeling in reality what before we had merely determined to do.

At this point, of course, we come up against Lewis’s implied soteriology, and I suspect that others have challenged him on this point. Several times he insists, effectively, on the priority of grace: We can’t save ourselves, but God does it, takes the initiative, rescues those who couldn’t rescue themselves. But equally often he speaks as though it’s really a matter, as with Aristotle, of our becoming good by gradually learning to do good things, and with Jesus coming alongside, and indeed inside, to help us as we do so. Salvation, and behavior, are caught by infection, by our being in Christ and his being in us.

I suspect that Lewis never really worked all this out; and I suspect, too, that the outsider looking in doesn’t need to, either. I know that’s heresy in some circles, but I think it’s important that we are justified by faith: not by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus Christ. Obviously a clear understanding of justification would help a great deal, but I don’t myself regard that as the first thing to explain to a potential convert. Sufficient to draw them to Jesus.
But does Lewis really do that? I’ll return to Part II in a moment; but first, some words about the final section, and then the first.

Beyond Personality
I find the final section of the book, “Beyond Personality: Or first steps in the doctrine of the Trinity,” brave and intelligent though not entirely convincing. To point out to those who say they “can’t believe in a personal God” that that’s all right, because God is in fact more than “personal,” is a bit of an intellectual coup. I’m not sure how convincing a skeptic would find it, but it opens up the discussion in new ways.

Lewis writes movingly in this part of the book about prayer and the Trinity, about being “prayed in” by the Spirit, prayed “with” by Jesus, and so coming to the Father. He opens up the landscape of what Christians mean by the word “God” in a way that must have been as strange and surprising to his contemporaries as it remains, alas, to ours.

In this last section Lewis does two things, one of which is an interesting attempt at a fresh proposal and the other of which shows, I think, some less-than-fully-integrated aspects of his own thought. First, I notice as a kind of running theme his attempt to steal the clothes of the evolutionists—who were, of course, as strident in his day as Richard Dawkins is in ours.
He is happy to affirm basic biological evolution, but then suggests that if the world, and the human race, have advanced in the way they have so far, we are maybe due now for a different kind of advance, a new step in which evolution itself will evolve, producing a new human race, a new kind of human being, but by a new type of step. Lewis is here, of course, stealing not only Darwin’s clothes, but Nietzsche’s, and he is well aware of that.

I did wonder how dangerous a position it was to take, but he disarms potential objections by making his New Humans not a powerful race of the species Übermensch, but actual children of God, those who have caught the “good infection” from being with Jesus Christ and who are thereby changed from being toy tin soldiers into actual warriors, from mere creatures to newly begotten sons like the Son himself.

This is where he locates his powerful and moving (and of course biblical) material about dying and rising with Christ, a major theme here and in several of his other works. I don’t know that anyone else has either advanced this synthesis of regeneration and a kind of second-order evolutionism, but it remains evocative and suggestive.

Second, however, I find Lewis frustratingly fuzzy on heaven and immortality. He clearly believes in the bodily resurrection and the essential materiality of the ultimate future world, but—quite apart from the astonishing fact that in talking about Jesus he never in this book mentions his Resurrection—he persistently refers to “Heaven” in ways that go, to my mind, far too far towards Plato.

He frequently draws back from this, insisting for instance on the importance of sacraments because God made the material world and likes it, but I’m not sure he has fully integrated his positive view of the material creation into his assumed view of heaven. He tells us that if we aim at heaven we’ll get earth thrown in, and this is not only true but appealing; but he never indicates how this works out, never engages with the New Testament’s picture of the new heavens and new earth which ultimately make sense of the whole thing.

Thus he can say, in a moving but I think deeply misleading passage, that “the anaesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ [will] fade away”; I regard this as a substantial hostage to Platonic fortune. This problem emerges particularly in his repeated insistence that all human beings have an immortal soul, which is the “real” part of them, and which is to be one day either a creature of loathing and horror or one we might be tempted to worship.

I simply don’t think this is either biblical or helpful, and I fear that those who read Lewis will at this point have their traditional expectations of a kind of Christianity-and-Plato reinforced where they should have them undermined.

Right & Wrong as a Clue
So to the first section, where Lewis, as often elsewhere, uses a kind of the moral argument for the existence of God. We all know the moral law; and we all know we break it; and isn’t this odd? I think this is powerful and important, and indeed I paid homage to Lewis when I wrote Simply Christian by beginning with a similar, though not identical, argument about justice, and then extending it to the puzzles we find today about spirituality, relationships, and beauty.

But I’m not sure that Lewis’s point ultimately works as an argument. I think drawing attention to this kind of phenomenon alerts us to questions that should be asked, but not necessarily to a line of reasoning that will then automatically lead the thinker inexorably upwards, as Lewis tries to do, first to the affirmation of God and then to the affirmation of the Christian God.

The virtue of this first section, I think, lies not in the fact that it makes a convincing argument as such, but that it highlights features of human existence that are puzzling and interesting and point beyond themselves. Thus this first section performs its function, it seems to me, despite its actual intention.

Lewis was trying to argue step by step, but I think he succeeds in engaging and interesting people sufficiently to move them forwards despite the fact that the logic doesn’t quite work. I would be interested to hear what other apologists say about this.

What Christians Believe
The weakest part of the book, beyond doubt, is its heart: the treatment of God, and especially of Jesus, in the second section, “What Christians Believe.” He simply does not know that Jesus wasn’t born in A.D. 1, and I have already mentioned the astonishing absence of the Resurrection.
Why was this? Not because Lewis didn’t believe it, as his other writings show. Because he thought it was a bridge too far for the people he was addressing? Surely not: He leads them skillfully across several narrow bridges spanning deep and dangerous intellectual and moral ravines.

Can it be that, though he firmly accepted the bodily Resurrection as true, he simply hadn’t, at this stage at least, thought through the way in which, beginning with the New Testament, Easter isn’t just something that happened to Jesus, nor simply something that happens to us in both the present and the future, but something that gives focus to faith and color to all Christian living?
I am not sure, and remain genuinely puzzled. Perhaps he simply had to give some talks and decided too quickly and unreflectively on which topics to treat.

But of course the real problem is the argument for Jesus’ divinity. And this problem actually begins further back: There is virtually no mention, and certainly no treatment, of Israel and the Old Testament, and consequently no attempt to place Jesus in his historical or theological context. (One of the “Screwtape Letters” contains a scornful denunciation of all such attempts, and lays Lewis wide open to the charge of ignoring the historical context of the writings he is using—a charge that, in his own professional field, he would have regarded as serious.)

I am well aware that some in our day, too, see the historical context of Jesus as part of what you teach Christians later on rather than part of how you explain the gospel to outsiders. I think this is simply mistaken. Every step towards a de-Judaized Jesus is a step away from Scripture, away from Christian wisdom, and out into the world of . . . yes, Plato and the rest, which is of course where Lewis partly lived. If you don’t put Jesus in his proper context, you will inevitably put him in a different one, where he, his message, and his achievement will be considerably distorted.

This deficit shows particularly in Lewis’s treatment of incarnation. Famously, as in his well-known slogan, “Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” he argued that Jesus must have been bad or mad or God. This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others, and the others were not merely being cynical.

What Lewis totally failed to see—as have, of course, many scholars in the field—was that Judaism already had a strong incarnational principle, namely the Temple, and that the language used of Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Word, and Spirit in the Old Testament—the language, in other words, upon which the earliest Christians drew when they were exploring and expounding what we have called Christology—was a language designed, long before Jesus’ day, to explain how the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it, particularly within Israel.

Lewis, at best, drastically short-circuits the argument. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is not claiming straightforwardly to be God, but to give people, out on the street, what they would normally get by going to the Temple.

Lewis’s Cross
As I’ve shown elsewhere, understanding Judaism’s incarnational principle doesn’t undermine the eventual claim, nor does it short-circuit it. It places it in its proper historical context and enables it to be at once nuanced into a proto-Trinitarian framework, employing and appropriately transcending the messianic category “son of God,” which simultaneously settles down into first-century Judaism and explodes beyond it. Lewis’s overconfident argument, by contrast, does the opposite: It doesn’t work as history, and it backfires dangerously when historical critics question his reading of the Gospels.

This then plays out in Lewis’s treatment of the Cross, with Jesus as the “perfect penitent.” Lewis is right to stress that Christians are not committed to one single way of understanding the meaning of the Cross, and that as long as one somehow looks at the death of Jesus and understands it in terms of God’s love and forgiveness, that is sufficient to start with.
But his idea—that (a) God requires humans to be penitent, that (b) we can’t because of our pride, but that (c) Jesus does it in and for us—though ingenious, places in my view too high a value on repentance (vital though it of course is), implies again that soteriology is about God doing something in us rather than extra nos (though I think Lewis believed that as well, but he doesn’t expound it here), and minimizes all the other rich biblical language about the Cross, not least the Christus Victor theme.

This last is the more curious in that Lewis talks a lot more about the devil than one might expect in a book of apologetics. One might have supposed that, having introduced us to the devil before we’ve really even got our minds around God, still less Jesus, he would go on to speak of the Cross as, among other things, the defeat of the devil and the rescue of those in his grip. But he doesn’t.
In amongst his treatment of incarnation and Cross, we note, along with the astonishing omission of Easter, the complete absence of anything to do with Jesus’ announcement of God’s kingdom. This is less surprising, though still regrettable, because, to be frank, the Western church in the middle of the twentieth century simply didn’t understand what the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching was all about—again, at least in part, because of its relentless de-Judaizing of the whole story.

Some might say that this, too, is a topic to pick up in Christian instruction after conversion rather than in apologetics. I disagree, and I think the fruits of the omission show up elsewhere, where Lewis really has little or no concern for a social or cultural ethic, still less a political or ecological one. Omit one of the vital foundation stones and the building will lean over dangerously.

A Fine but Leaky Building
So to my conclusion. Lewis has indeed built a fine building with lots of splendid features, and many people have been properly and rightly attracted to buy up apartments in it and move in. Some parts of the building have remained in great shape, and are still well worth inhabiting. But I fear that those who move in to other parts will find that the foundations are indeed shaky, and that the roof leaks a bit.

Someone who converted to the Christian faith through reading Mere Christianity, and who never moved on or grew up theologically or historically, would be in a dangerous position when faced even with proper, non-skeptical historical investigation, let alone the regular improper, skeptical sort. Lewis didn’t give such a person sufficient grounding in who Jesus really was.

Similarly, I don’t know how his line of argument in the first part would stand up against the rigorous and relentless assault from the determined atheists of our own day. He was well used to arguing with their predecessors, of course, but I don’t think the first section would be seen in such circles as anything more than arm-waving about moral perceptions and dilemmas that today’s robust cynic would dismiss as atavistic fantasy.

And I do think he could have gone further in his understanding of the Christian hope, further towards the new creation, the new heaven and new earth, of which many of us gained our first inkling (important word!) through his writings, but which he never pulls together, and relates to Jesus and to Christian faith and life, in the way that he quite easily could have done.

Jesus Takes Over
But the bee flies, and gets the honey. Credit where credit is due. Lewis himself would have been the first to say that of course his book was neither perfect nor complete, and that what mattered was that, if it brought people into the company, and under the influence (or “infection”) of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself would happily take over—indeed, that Jesus had been operating through the process all along, albeit through the imperfect medium of the apologist.

And, as another imperfect apologist, I salute a great master, and can only hope that in sixty years’ time children yet unborn will say of me that, despite all my obvious and embarrassing failings, I too was used, in however small a way, to bring people under the influence and power, and to the love and kingdom, of the same Jesus Christ.

N. T. Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and the author of many scholarly and popular books, most recently Simply Christian, Evil and the Justice of God, and Paul: In Fresh Perspective. (His Judas and the Gospel of Jesus is reviewed on page 47.) ?Simply Lewis? was first delivered at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in mid-­November. Readers will also find helpful his (unofficial) website,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Someone set this to Music - Please!

Hat tip: Titusonenine:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Victory for America!

Today I read (with much satisfaction) that an Appellate Court has ruled in favor of "One Nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and for "In God We Trust" on our national currency; that these are constitutional and do not violate the separation of Church and State. It is my hope that Atheist Michael Newdow will turn his attention now to more productive avenues in his life.

The full story can be found here:

This is what two great Americans had to say about our Pledge:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Transfiguration and the Season of Lent

On the Last Sunday of Epiphany we heard the Gospel Story of the Transfiguration, but now we have fully entered into the Season Lent. Lent is a penitential time – when the Church refocuses us on our personal need to do a bit of (or a lot of) “spiritual housecleaning!” That can mean some very hard work needs to be done; yet, the result is that we are transformed – transfigured, if you will – into what God fully intends for us. So as a Lenten Reflection for us, I’d like us to return to that mountain with Jesus and just maybe we can find reason and purpose for Lent.

Read: Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36

Poor Peter! Here he is the Apostle of Apostles, the keeper of the keys to the kingdom, the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. Once again, Peter demonstrates that he is more human in his saintliness than is often depicted. I, for one, am thankful that Peter's most human moments are preserved in scripture rather than simply glossed over, cleaned up, or even left out. For those who continued to transcribe and produce our scriptures, the temptation to "fix" his apparent blundering must have been tremendous. Yet I believe that we are more like Peter than we realize.

Like Peter, we live in a matter-of-fact world. Even though our modern world is vastly different from the ancient world and we are so-called enlightened individuals, it remains true, that we still have our own particular ways of explaining the mysterious and the unexplainable. For example, through science, we now know how living creatures reproduce. From our DNA on up, we can identify patterns in a person's genetic code that indicate specific characteristics. Yet, with all of our scientific knowledge, we still can't explain what Life is! Although our species still keeps trying, we still cannot create "life" – even if we can “manufacture” important bits of it. Life is still a mystery to us – because life is more than just a biological being that pumps blood and has awareness.

Like Peter, we experience events of the supernatural with misunderstanding. Part of this is we are limited by our language. We can only explain these events in analogies; however, the importance of biblical supernatural events lies not in trying to explain how they happened. Meaning is found by seeking the practical importance of God's action. In fact, seeking importance in the Transfiguration is so significant, the church calendar requires us to focus on it twice every year. Why is that?

The yearly reading of the Transfiguration serves a number of purposes for us. First there are biblical reasons. In its context, this event is directly tied to Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. If there was any doubt remaining in the disciple's minds, the transfiguration stood to prove that Jesus is more than a carpenter; he is not John the Baptist, nor Elijah, nor even one of the ancient prophets who has come back to life. Jesus is the anointed one of God who will redeem and save creation from the power of sin and death. It was at this moment when all was fully revealed to our Lord. In a moment of seclusion and prayer, the Kingdom of God intersects human reality and Jesus speaks with the two most important figures in Hebrew history: Moses and Elijah. Though driven to Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit (knowing the prophecies about his final arrival) Jesus is now fully informed of his journey's cost. For God's beloved Son and for the disciples the events that follow will test every part of their being. Knowing the future doesn't guarantee that they will have the courage to face it.

This event served the practical and mystical purposes of giving both Jesus and his closest friends the supernatural courage to go on to Jerusalem and face the cross. This was the hardest thing for them to do. Is it any wonder that some of the earliest heresies of the church involved explaining away the agony of the cross? To some, God somehow “possessed” Jesus' body and was immune to pain. To others, Jesus' death was simply unnecessary; therefore, somehow he avoided the whole affair. One ancient legend has it that the Romans were stupid enough to crucify Simon of Cyrene by mistake, while Jesus scoffed in victory at his executioners. These heresies show how easy it is to forget the real anxiety and apprehension Jesus humanly faced on his way to the cross.

All of us share the need for profound vision to carry us. The events of Jerusalem and the cross are simply too much for us to bear without it. We cannot depend on our optimism, for we are all faced with the eventuality of death. “Wishful thinking” will not sustain us when the journey becomes difficult. “Positive thinking” forces us to deny what lies ahead. The point here is that "taking up one's cross" is not possible unless God has first "taken us up" by the power of the Holy Spirit. We simply cannot do it alone. The event of the Transfiguration calls us to put the “religious experience “back into “religion”. What is it that draws you to religion? Is it an experience with the Holy?

Story of “Mary” and “Martha”
Some time ago, as part of my seminary education, I worked as a chaplain for a hospital. There were several other seminary students as well, from various other denominations. One of our responsibilities was to meet regularly as a group to share case studies and offer support. One of the students was a Unitarian Universalist and her faith consisted of a combination of Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. For “Martha” (as I will call her), Jesus was simply a great teacher but no more the “son of god” than you and I are “children of God”. For Martha, there is no afterlife, no unity with God.I'll never forget one occasion where Martha shared a faith struggle with our group. One of the patients that she had been visiting was dying of breast cancer. The doctors had tried everything to save “Mary” (as I will call her), but the cancer had hopelessly spread throughout her entire body. All they could do for Mary was to keep her comfortable on morphine while they waited for her to die. Mary had two daughters: one a proclaimed atheist, the other a New Age mystic. Mary had begun to have visions, which deeply disturbed the atheist daughter. Mary would refer to these visions as a spiritual pilgrimage. She would be visited by and have conversations with angels. Much to the amazement of the nursing staff and her two daughters, Mary knew everything about her condition. When asked how she knew so much about her condition, her answer was always the same: “The angel told me.” The atheist daughter had come to Martha and asked in desperation, "Is my mother 'really' seeing angels, or is it the morphine?" After a short conversation with her, Martha finally answered, "I don't know."

When Martha got to our group she tearfully confessed, "I lied to her; I just couldn't tell her I believe that death is the end of all life. I copped out, there just doesn't seem to be any hope in that answer." All of us in the group tried to reassure Martha that, "I don't know" was actually the most honest answer she could have given. The rest of us also witnessed to her that our faith, the Christian faith, had a different answer. We can never really know for sure whether Mary saw and conversed with angels, but her experience with the Holy was REAL. Mary died peacefully in her sleep, knowing her destination. She simply went with her friends and this time stayed with them. I don't know how Martha's faith was changed by this event, but I do know that she was asking some very deep questions of herself after the summer was over. Mary's witness to Martha was a gift.

Peter's experience there on the mountain was also a gift. It was a gift that he would later draw upon. Faced with a community that had come to doubt the promises of Christ, Peter could state with boldness: "We were there! We saw it! We heard the voice borne from heaven!" (See 2 Peter 1:16-18) Peter states clearly: no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation; prophecy comes not from men but from the Holy Spirit. (See 2 Peter 1:20-21) If our scriptures are simply a collection of human reflection, then it is truly Peter who is wrong, and we truly do follow "cleverly devised myths". And if this is true, then there are truly no dreams left for us. The transfiguration shows us otherwise! Just like Jesus, and the disciples, we too need visions to give us courage.

Are you a visionary? What are your visions? Peter himself tells us that we are to be visionaries and it is the Holy Spirit who brings us these visions and dreams. In the Acts of the Apostles (2:17) on the very day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the book of Joel to his skeptics and says: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

The Holy Spirit sows in our hearts and minds the seeds of dreams and visions. Life in the land of dreams and visions, with God, is a life that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. That is what Transfiguration is all about. It’s also what the Season of Lent is about: Transforming us from a life of sin by the Power of the Cross and making us into men and women of the Kingdom of God. In other words, transforming us into men and women of vision. And what is so different about being men and women of vision? Again, years ago, I read this from Pastor Dale Galloway, then Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Portland OR on what a difference visions and dreams can make:

  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble praying because they have something to pray about.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble tithing because they believe in it wholeheartedly.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble believing in God for success because they know that God can do the impossible.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble with drifting and laziness because they know where they are going and they're turned on for Jesus…
  • Our calling from God is to learn the life of the Spirit and to be men and women of visions and dreams.
I know there are visionaries here in our midst. Young and old we come together each week to experience the presence of God and to worship Jesus Christ. Sharing our visions with one another is a step in the right direction. Praying for our visions is the next. But unless we take the chance in carrying out the vision that God has given us, we are simply “dreamers.” Lent is before us to be more than “dreamers.” It’s here to make us “doers” too! Jesus, Peter, John, and James dared to climb a mountain. Their intention was to pray. Their reality was an experience of the Kingdom of God. Lent can be that for us too – if we will but dare the journey!

May your Lenten Journey be Blessed! And may you be transfigured this Season!

In Christ,
Fr. John Riebe

Friday, January 22, 2010

Anglican work in Haiti

Many are wondering what they can do to help out in Haiti - Here is some "good news" and ways to help out even more! -- JR+

Anglicans have donated more than $70,000 through the Anglican Relief and Development Fund to support immediate relief in Haiti in the first week following the earthquake that struck the impoverished island nation on January 12.

January 22, 2010

Anglicans have donated more than $70,000 through the Anglican Relief and Development Fund to support immediate relief in Haiti in the first week following the earthquake that struck the impoverished island nation on January 12.

According to Nancy Norton, executive director of Anglican Relief and Development Fund, the organization is partnering with World Relief, a large and well established evangelical Christian relief agency. Working with World Relief ensures that these donations have an immediate positive effect in Haiti, where current estimates are that more than 200,000 have died and more than a million people are without shelter in the aftermath of the earthquake.

World Relief has had a long presence in Haiti, empowering the local church with health, economic and social development projects. World Relief's Disaster Response team is providing urgent medical care to hundreds of injured people at the Kings Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's devastated capital. They have also set up feeding centers in partnership with local churches, providing thousands of hot meals to hungry earthquake survivors. Volunteers from local Haitian churches are operating the centers. World Relief can feed a person two meals a day - lunch and dinner - for less than $2. It costs approximately $375 to feed 200 people rice and beans at lunch and milk porridge for dinner.

"Thank you to everyone who contributed through Anglican Relief and Development to help in Haiti. The generosity of our donors has been overwhelming. This financial outpouring will allow us to not only assist in immediate relief work, but also to be part of the rebuilding process through development projects in Haiti later this year. The needs in this terribly damaged nation will continue," said Norton.

Donations for our continued work there can be made online at or by sending a check to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund at:

PO Box 3830
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-3830

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Stunning Witness!!!

Britt Hume makes a stunning Christian witness and defends his comments. Would it be that more public figures be so bold! Watch and hear what he says: