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Archive for October, 2009

This very world, this very contradiction—unabridged, unmitigated, unsmoothed, unsimplified, unreduced—this world shall not be overcome, but consummated. It shall be consummated in the Kingdom, for it is that world, and no other, with all its contrariety, in which the Kingdom is a latency such that every reduction would only hinder its consummation, whereas every unification of contrarieties would prepare it. It is a redemption not from the evil, but of the evil, as the power that God created for his service and for the performance of His work.

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With all the herding prowess of the aphorism, a popular saying corrals us into agreeing that the heavenly minded are no earthly good. The apostle Paul will have none of that kind of celestial religion.

In a letter that has much to say about transcendent matters, Paul directs a torrent of words to the necessity of working hard and the requirement of self-reliance. (more…)

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Worship is a crystallized form of proximity to YHWH. The joy and completion we feel in worship do not demean similar experience elsewhere, for ‘liturgy’ is expansive without hegemony, inclusive with no eradicating instincts. Worship’s embrace shelters those it gathers in but none is lost there, none negated.

Though worship is an intensified version of wider life lived before YHWH, there is nothing like it.

Worship is paradoxical to the bone, for though YHWH ‘fills both heaven and earth’, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, it is worth the trek to his house to encounter him as he can be known nowhere else.

Some are fortunate enough to linger in that dwelling place.

Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself
in which to set her young,
near Your altar, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God.
Happy are those who dwell in Your house;
they forever praise You. (Psalm 84:4-5 JPS)

We come in, we go out. We make pilgrimage, we return home. We weep, shout, lift our hands, stomp our feet, spin our bodies like a top without the embarrassment we would feel in doing so anywhere else, because to stand before YHWH’s altar is like nothing else we know.

Yet it is like everything, for all life lived purposefully culminates in this, in doxology.

We may admire the fortunate sparrow and the swallow, who bears and nurtures her young in the rafters of YHWH’s house, so close that her babies might topple onto his altar were they to stray too early from the confines she has lovingly built for them. Yet we cannot stay, as she does. We can only depart when the hour for homeward things is due, worship so sewn into our hearts that we live longing for our next visit to this place, so like the rest of our lives, so unlike anything, so near to YHWH whose invitation shall one day no longer speak of adjournment.

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During a recent business trip to Sopron, Hungary, I booked flights through Budapest, supposing this to be the quickest way to the city of Sopron, way out on Hungary’s western border with Austria. I was wrong. Vienna would have been them logical choice.

No harm done. I purchased a Hungary Rail Pass through my US travel agent and had a delightful—if eventful—trip from Budapest to Sopron and by return. (more…)

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A pleasant train ride from Budapest and an even shorter trip from Vienna, across the Austrian border, the lovely city of Sopron holds its own as a genteel border city in Central Europe. When your travels take you to Sopron (or even to a two-day trip, say, during a visit to Vienna), you needn’t think twice about where to stay.

The Hotel Fagus offers ultra-modern, tasteful, and quiet lodgings with excellent food on site and the city center just a short taxi ride away.

I discovered both Sopron and the Hotel Fagus as a participant in a 200-member conference. Arrangements were managed will skill, grace, and at an agreeable price. For this reason, I can recommend the Fagus for private travel as well as for conference hosting.

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This very handy app has more than once alerted me to the need to change a seat before getting stuck with my feet wedged into the space left by an ‘electronics module’ under the seat in front of me. It’s not exhaustive. For example, the USAirways Embraer E90 that’ll take me from Philly to Indy is not to be found. But perfection is a high bar. This app is very good.

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An address delivered to the triennial conference of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education
Sopron, Hungary
October 2009

A concert is a lovely thing.

Whether the Hong Kong Philharmonic touching just last week such disparate notes as those composed by the early classical Haydn and the late Romantic Berlioz or U2 rocking Chicago’s Lincoln Park or a band of street musicians in Cuba turning lunch three-dimensional by adding sound to the day’s taste and sights or the sheer joie d’vivre of a South African children’s choir causing our jaws to drop and making us feel momentarily a little younger—a bit more like them—a concert is about the pleasing and productive synthesis of otherwise individual and cacophonous sounds.

And speaking of cacophony, you can have solo or cacophony at the drop of a hat. A concert, though, requires that its participants subjugate aspects of their own ambition and ability to a larger, greater, more beautiful project.

There’s the rub. And there’s the magic.

A good concert—like the proverbial news from afar or the fruit of the grape—gladdens the heart. A very good concert draws us closer to transcendent truth, even to our Creator himself. A superb concert causes us to feel, to think, to imagine—indeed to become—something that our mere individuality could scarcely ever produce.

The very best of concerts is tribute. It is worship. It draws our attention beyond the artists to the One who alone is capable of creating a world where such nobility and beauty—where such sounds—are possible. (more…)

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Paul’s articulation of Jesus’ being lies often at huge distance from the cautious language of the church’s later creeds. To make this observation casts no shadow either upon Paul or upon the creed-makers, for they were pursuing similar ends by very different means. Each employs his own code, so to speak.

Like all true monotheists, Paul is convinced that strength and peace come through serving just one, supreme deity and not worrying about the rest. Even to refer to ‘the rest’ is to allow for heavens packed with or perhaps loosely populated with other powers. Biblical monotheism never denies the possibility. Its ends have less to do with ‘scientific’ description of all who—the personal pronoun is intentional—might exist. It is unconcerned with filling out the roster. (more…)

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When the apostle Paul urges his readers to practice joy, he is not mixing categories. On the surface, one might expect the opposite. How can joy be commanded? How does one pursue and practice what is widely regarded as an epiphenomenon of fortunate circumstance? Or, to put things in more adversarial terms, who does this man think he is to be urging psychological tricks upon his befuddled followers?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Yet Paul is hardly pollyanish. Indeed, he can be quite frontal about his own quota of suffering.

Far from opting out of reality in favor of a convenient construction that resides only in his mind, Paul is ever the realist. He truly believes that reality—seen for what it is most deeply, most unalterably—is cause for joy. It is the frailty of human perception and the vagaries of the human heart that cloud our view. This, for Paul, is not some inherent deficiency of the soul that can be cured by the right set of enlightenment techniques. On the contrary, Paul believes that darkest evil has too long had its way with the world. The nature of things is badly torn. Human rebellion has shat upon the Creator’s most generous gifts and then loudly proclaimed its false victory. (more…)

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Apart from the fresh angle of view that faith in Christ provides, it is almost impossible adequately to discount human achievement and—more importantly—to abandon self-evaluation that employs such ‘success’.

The apostle Paul could, for the sake of his argument, step back into the arena of conventional mathematics. Writing to his friends at Philippi, he could add up the receipts that genealogy and long enterprise had scattered on the floor around his feet and acknowledge his own formidable ranking according to that now alien system of measurement. (more…)

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