Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Skeptical Believers in a Credulous Age

Here is great quote from Malcolm Muggeridge's little book The End of Christendom, an important influence in the development of my intellectual life as a Christian. In this passage, Muggeridge rejects and reverses a typical assumption of the modern Western world.

It is one of the fantasies of the twentieth century that believers are credulous, sentimental people, and that you have to be a materialist and a scientist and a humanist to have a skeptical mind. But of course exactly the opposite is true. It is believers who can be astringent and skeptical, whereas people who believe seriously that this universe exists only in order to provide a theatre for man must take man with deadly seriousness. I believe myself that the age we are living in now will go down in history as one of the most credulous ever. (pg. 4)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Some good excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle

Here are a few excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle's book Penguins and Golden Calves. These passages really resonate with me. Some of them remind me of the way I have recently witnessed Christians on certain blog sites talking to and about one another. They also remind me of things I have seen in myself.

What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because a tidy Christianity with all the answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn. (pg. 31)

Right now "Christians" are filled with hate as they eagerly look for things to condemn in other Christians, descending to malicious name-calling and angry accusations . . . . .(pg. 71)

"Good" and "moral" Christians know exactly what the rules are, and any infringement, or seeming infringement, brings fear and its concomitant following attack against whoever has broken the rules or behaved in what is considered an immoral way. But what about Jesus? He knew what the rules were, and he cared about them; the law mattered to him. But when it was a question of love, love superseded law. He knew what morality was, and it mattered to him, but he cared more about love and repentance than legalism. Those Christians who are attacking other Christians are being obedient to an unquestioned authority and defining themselves and others by a rigid morality. Only Christ can free us from the prison of legalism, and then only if we are willing to be freed. (pg. 85)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Matzko McCarthy on Singleness Part II

Here is the second and last entry concerning singleness from David Matzko McCarthy's book "The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle-Class." In the weeks to come, I will be posting writings from other Christian writers and thinkers, so stay tuned.

If singleness is a state of life in its own right, sex within marriage begins to look different. In our culture of sexual access, sex is a basic drive and image of vitality and the "fullness of life." In an economy driven by producing more desire, sexual desire corresponds to a need to desire more and more. Sex becomes an image of economic excess and loose attachments, which give opportunity for restlessness and freedom. Sexual desire requires a kind of nomadic existence, where desire pushes us to imagine having what we do not yet have and living in a world that is not yet our own. The Christian life represents an entirely different kind of homelessness, where we accept hospitality as a gift and settle into a place. Christian singleness and marriage alike form an alternative. In each, we are called to resist self-serving habits, to give ourselves over to the needs of others, and to be critical of our own desires. We are called, even in marriage, to submit sexual desire to our greater desire for friendship with God, spouse, and neighbor.

If sex is a representative image of cultural excess and detachment, then singleness within the church is the contrasting image. We should accept that it is a mark against our faithfulness when we lack the kind of communities that can sustain the single life as one that is rich in friendship, intimacy, purpose, and love. In sexual matters, as well as marriage and family, we have before us the adventure of community and the gift of God's hospitality. When we are open to God's bounty, we are not able to follow Jesus alone. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are brothers and sisters before we are married or single. Before we are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, we are gathered as God's friends. (pg. 61-62)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Intolerably Prosaic

Historical Christianity has grown cold and intolerably prosaic; its activity consists mainly in adapting itself ot the commonplace, to the bourgeois patterns and habits of life. But Christ came to send heavenly fire on earth.

Nicholas Berdyaev as quoted in Eugene Peterson's "Reversed Thunder: The Book of Revelation and the Praying Imagination"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Matzko McCarthy on Singleness I

I hope, in the coming weeks and months, to regularly share excerpts from different Christian writers and thinkers concerning singleness and it's value in the church. In many Christian churches single people seem to be implicitly viewed as fifth wheels, and in others they are viewed with outright hostility and suspicion. My desire is to provide encouragement for single Christians, and theologically and intellectually substantial material for reflection on singleness. Rather than debating pro-singleness vs. anti-singleness or pitting singleness against marriage, my hope here is to present a vision of singleness in the church that allows Christian singles (and anyone else interested) to re-imagine the meaning of their singleness and to see themselves as having an important and valid place in the Christian community.

I'd like to begin this series of reflections with an excerpt from David Matzko McCarthy's book "The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class." This particular excerpt offers an alternative perspective on a couple of issues that I have seen discussed and debated in discussions of Christianity and singleness.

Singleness, for Paul, represents an ideal, not for the sake of sexual opportunities, but because sex is excluded as a concern. This idea seems unreasonable to many of us. It reverses the way that Christians now typically think of singleness and marriage. Christians today tend to think that singleness ought to serve marriage. We ought to endure a sexless life of singleness in order to save ourselves for marriage. Marriage is the goal. Paul, on the other hand, assumes that marriage ought to look as much like singleness as possible. In 1 Corinthians 7, singleness is the goal. Singleness, for Paul, is an elevation of our natures that depends upon life within the family of God. Singleness is a sign. In our world, it can be a sign of loneliness and a lack of love. However, in the history of Christianity (until very recently), singleness is a sign of the riches of common life. It is the opportunity to give ourselves more fully to others in love of God and neighbor. It is freedom, not for loose commitments and sexual opportunity, but for deeper bonds to people whom we can love and serve, such as our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned. (pg. 61)