Originally posted on Malcolm Guite:

St. Cuthbert's Gospel

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel

The other day I found myself standing in front of perhaps the most precious and numinous book in Europe. Not simply because it is the oldest bound book to survive intact, but because of the Saint whose book it was, the centuries through which it has journeyed to reach us, and the glorious Gospel it contains. I had entered the exhibition innocently enough, ‘Bound to Last’, it was called ‘Bookbinding from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, and I was expecting little more than the beautiful leather tooling, the gold-hilighting, and luxury embossing of prestige binders. And then I came face to face with Cuthbert’s Gospel; the very book they placed upon his breast, the gospel that he loved the most and lived so fruitfully, a little pocket-book, red-leather-bound and all intact that sailed through centuries to meet me here on…

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Julie:

“Mainly because seeking comfort is logical (the unspoken rule of popular Christian culture), while seeking the will of God at any cost is not. So for those with the task of publicly displaying their burdens in the name of encouragement, the risk is great that some who hear will simply not listen beyond their own understanding, and miss the point entirely.”
Kevin Adams

Originally posted on Wake Up My Faith:

After six years of living by faith and attempting to share the results, I am unconvinced that it’s any easier to outwardly express the pain of a difficult moment than it is to live by faith through that moment.

Mainly because seeking comfort is logical (the unspoken rule of popular Christian culture), while seeking the will of God at any cost is not. So for those with the task of publicly displaying their burdens in the name of encouragement, the risk is great that some who hear will simply not listen beyond their own understanding, and miss the point entirely.

But for the sake of those who will truly listen – for the sake of those who recognize that God will never say “Well done my good and financially secure servant” – we will continue to take that risk unflinchingly, and to seek His will at any cost by aiming…

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Julie:

Franciscan dedication, a sonnet from Malcolm Guite.

Originally posted on Malcolm Guite:

st-francis-of-assisiIn honour of the great saint, whose feast day falls on October 4th, and as a reflection on the new Pope who has chosen that saint’s name, and so affirmed their common task, in Christ, to rebuild his Church, I thought I would post this sonnet which reflects the way Francis responded to Christ’s call by casting away the rich trappings he had inherited and embracing holy poverty.The sonnet, composed since his election, is also a prayer that Pope Francis the 1st will enable the wider church to do the same! As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

My sonnets for the Christian Year are available from Canterbury Press Here and on Kindle here

This sonnet for Francis is taken from my new book The Singing Bowl, published at the end last year by Canterbury Press. It is also available…

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Julie:

A great sonnet on the metaphors of Jesus, foreshadowing the Cross.

Originally posted on Malcolm Guite:

I am the door of the Sheepfold

I am the door of the Sheepfold

Whilst here at Duke Divinity School I have begun what I hope will be a sequence of sonnets on the sayings of Jesus, to be called Parable and Paradox, a sequel to Sounding the Seasons, my book with Canterbury Press. I posted the first one a couple of weeks ago Here.

Now here is a second one, meditating on that great ‘I Am’ saying of Jesus in John 10 and verse 7  ‘I Am the Door of the Sheep’. It’s part of the powerful discourse on the Good Shepherd, and I remember reading in a commentary once that in this saying Jesus is alluding to the round stone sheepfolds in the high pastures, built with an open gap so the sheep could pass through in safety and the shepherd himself would then lie down across the gap becoming himself the…

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Julie:

The theology of the primary gospel, distilled into sonnet form.

Originally posted on Malcolm Guite:

St. Matthew by Rebbecca Merry

This Sunday, September the 21st is St. Matthew’s day, so here is a sonnet for the Evangelist, drawn from my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons. Like my sonnets for the other three evangelists, it draws on the traditional association of each evangelist with one of the four living creatures around the throne of God. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. I am grateful to Rebecca Merry for the image above.

Matthew

First of the four, saint Matthew is the Man;
A gospel that begins with generation,
Family lines entwine around the Son
Born in Judea, born for every nation
Born under Law that all the Law of Moses
Might be fulfilled and flower into Grace
As every word and deed in time discloses
Eternal love within a human face.

This is the gospel of the…

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My top ten most influential books, and why:

Gospel of Mark

1. The Gospel of Mark. The immediacy of Jesus’s mission, the uncertainty and hubris of the disciples, the world-shattering results…well, if I am going to call myself a faithful follower of Christ, I’d better know what He was about.

Hans Christian Andersen

2. The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen. If my parents had only known how subversive fairy tales are, I might never have been allowed them.

lord of the rings

3. The Lord of the Rings: It was a revelation to me to see that life does not have to be pleasant and fun to be good, and that there are higher goals than selfish pleasure. I was young, still in my hippie years when I read Tolkien. It shaped my Christianity, and gave me a sense of nobility.

mere christianity

4. Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis’s great classic about living a Christ-like life in the midst of a secular society.

freddys book

5.Freddy’s Book, John Gardner. Surprise! This lost classic is about the Reformation years of Gustav Vasa in Sweden; its characters include the Devil

essaysofebwhite

6. Essays of E.B. White: Mostly about life on a saltwater farm in Maine; big influence on my writing style. White’s frank essays on the complications of simple life gave me perspective on being an adult. “Death of a Pig” is one of the best.

Jane_Eyre

7. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte: Not so much the romance – I doubt if Mr. Rochester would have been very appealing to me – but Jane’s strong sense of justice and principle, as well as her modesty and simplicity, spoke to me, and I have held her as a model through my life.

diet for a small planet

8. Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe: I often fail to be a good vegetarian, but this book helped form my sense of ecological justice. It was the first cookbook I ever owned

beard on bread

9. Beard on Bread, James Beard: An early choice for bread-baking in my life, and it certainly introduced me to breads other than spongy sweet white bread my mother made and the grain-dense “hippie” doorstops I first baked.

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

10. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee: I grew up in the far northern corner of the eastern United States. The racial and class conflicts of the rest of the country bypassed us, for the most part. I was a small, imaginative, athletic child, much like Scout. From Atticus Finch, I learned how to stand up for what is right, even when it is not popular or even likely to succeed.

I could probably list another ten, but this is plenty enough, of talking about myself. Maybe some of you have the same favorites, maybe some of you might be intrigued enough to look at some which aren’t familiar.

Julie:

Beautiful new work from Malcolm Guite, the John Donne of our age!

Originally posted on Malcolm Guite:

My poet's eyrie in North Carolina!

My poet’s eyrie in North Carolina!

I have at last begun my Sabbatical term, and it starts with three weeks as Artist in Residence at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, a wonderful place which is doing pioneering work in  linking Theology and the Arts. I am writing, and giving, some lectures on Herbert and Coleridge but I am also here to practice my art as a poet, and so I am posting here the first poem I have written since my arrival. I am hoping to make a new collection of sonnets about the sayings of Jesus to be called ‘Parable and Paradox’, and this one is the first to emerge, I hope you enjoy it.

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ button



‘He who has ears to hear let him hear’

How hard to hear the things I…

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Chicago_downtown_(another_view)

I had no intention to live in Chicago. I meant to train for a remote location job, then return to Iowa City. Instead, I took a restaurant job, then another one, and then a retail job. I spent a hard winter unemployed, along with a lot of other service industry employees. My income level kept dropping while costs went up. Finally, we decided the only prudent option was to pull out of the big city and head back to Iowa.

We had outreach work to do in Chicago – as we would in any city. I started giving out the day’s leftovers from the restaurant. We added transit passes to our gifts to the poor on the streets, then clothing and meal gift cards. We rallied to meet immediate needs of greater cost such as a night’s lodging, a month’s rent, groceries for a family, medical bills, court costs. Often, this came from my earnings or Father Larry’s pension, as well as from donations of friends and family. We got people off the streets, kept people from turning to crime, filled some empty stomachs, sent people home, and as one person said, saved some lives, by the grave of God.

Hermosa House Julie Larry and Iska May 2014

We moved into a big, 100 year old apartment and called it Hermosa House, after  the Hispanic neighborhood where we were based.

But it was always just me.

We had to face the reality that we were broke. Our savings and disposable resources were gone. No one was coming to live in Hermosa House with me. Chicago is scary and for good reason. It has a high crime rate, a high assault and murder rate, and a fractured economy that pushed the poor farther and farther down into debt and despair.

“Though your brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Just to sing

In a land that’s known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring”

That’s from “Chicago” by Graham Nash, written when I was young, some four decades ago. And it is still true. In the meantime, we have lost our idealism, our sense of community, our willingness to sacrifice our own success for the good of others.

You might call that hippie philosophy, but it is really the heart of Christ.

I am now looking for work in Iowa City, staying with Sister Magdalena, who has been part of our order since the early days but hadn’t been able to get more involved. So I need a job, and we need a place that is solely dedicated to the YOKE – a new Hermosa House. With help and prayer, we can do that here in Iowa.

Maybe you won’t be afraid of Iowa City, a middle class, professional university town. Crime rate is low, there are no swaths of abandoned housing. It is a place with a gentle history. It has its problems, including a growing stratification between working class immigrants and “townies,” and the usual American slow simmer of politics and racial conflict.

hermosa house beggars poster

We may return to Chicago. We will people dedicated to the gospel, though, willing to give up middle class life and worldly measures of success. Chicago is America’s Calcutta. To work with the poorest of the poor, with those abandoned by everyone, one cannot judge by the usual standards. Success is measured by the number of hungry fed today, by housing found for the homeless, by literacy taught to high school dropouts. The gospel is not measured by dollars in a bank account or the value of real estate, or even by the number of pew sitters at Sunday worship.

With lots of prayer, careful dialogue and hands dedicated to God’s work, the YOKE will preach the gospel.

 

YOKE September 2014 hands

http://theyoke.org/yoke-webzine.html

Articles by myself, BRF Larry Woodsmall, Keith Giles, Michelle Everett Wilbert, and editor’s letter from BRS Jessica White.

 

 

lake with ducks wikimedia

Happiness, gratitude, joy: Words that are bubbling through social media, in publications and in books currently on the best selling list. As Christians, how can we be concerned for these, while serving Christ fully?

There is no wrong in being happy, feeling grateful, or looking for joy. The real concern for Christians is that we displace our dependency on and faith in God while seeking these pleasures. While all measures of such positive emotions must be, in some way, a gift from God, we are concerned principally with receiving these graces directly from God, and not from our own selfish pursuits.

I could not avoid Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness and God. Many Christians were shocked, or at least troubled, by them. Here is a quote from the broadcast, purportedly Mrs. Osteen’s words:

“I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.

“So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Of course, there is a huge problem in that first sentence. Yes, obeying God, when we are doing it, in an important way, is for God. It is for “our own good” in another way, but certainly not to make us happy, as in having pleasant emotions. Eventually, obedience to God will give us happiness, and more, but first, we must pass through a lot of negative emotions. The fear and uncertainty is to cleanse our spirit of sin and our inevitable loss of God when are main concern is to seek our own happiness. Obedience to God does not change God, or make His life easier; God does not need us in that way. We please God to walk in His way, which is the way that leads to peace, true love, and spiritual maturity. Obedience to God is to further the very real goal we have with Him, to “build His Kingdom” by keeping temptation and sin at bay.

Does God take pleasure in our happiness? The Bible would seem to say that God takes pleasure in our obedience, as we pray, study His word, and follow His commandments. Happiness as in seeking pleasure, in pleasing ourselves, even if it costs others peace, happiness and comfort, is not according to God’s will. That kind of happiness is merely selfishness, a childish desire to meet our whims and petty desires.

There could be a married couple, where the husband has taken money committed to supporting the family, and purchased something that fulfills a desire he has had, something like a sports car, or a cruise. He is incredibly pleased with this, but his wife is appalled. The money had been meant for education, or a new house, or their retirement. The husband is happy; the wife and family can share this new experience and perhaps they will get some pleasure from it. Still, the husband’s immediate happiness and anticipated pleasure has robbed the family of some security, or even thwarted a plan to improve the family’s life overall. A car or a cruise would not be a bad thing in itself. He didn’t buy anything dangerous or illegal. yet the family will suffer longterm for his decision to make himself happy.

Does worship make God happy? Many times, God condemned Israel for their empty ceremonies. Paul admonishes the churches for being more concerned about putting on a show and having a feast than in praying and expressing gratitude to God. The people attending these ceremonies and gatherings may have been very happy in that experience. They may have been even ecstatic, dancing and singing, crying out in unknown languages, overwhelmed by the excitement and attention.

storm clouds wikimedia

I Kings 9: So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”…

The wind, earthquake and fire whirling around Elijah were not God. The still small voice that whispered directly in the prophet’s ear was God. Elijah was expecting the quiet voice; the excitement was something else. The noise and shaking were a response to the presence of God, but not God.

Happiness is like that. Pleasure is one thing God uses to drive us closer to Him, to announce His presence. Humans, though, have corrupted that pleasure, and we can find it in things, places and sensations that God would not give to us. The pleasure of sin is short-lived. It will fail us. Seeking pleasure in consumption, in gaining power, or in idleness is sin. It will, in the end, ruin us for God’s ultimate purpose, which is to bring us to Himself.

Even attending church and enjoying what seems innocent and enlightening can separate us from the love of God. If we turn our attention to those who claim to be teaching God but are only teaching about themselves, we will fall into sin. We will share the hubris – destructive pride – of those who misuse God’s name to gain the pleasures of this world.

When I saw Victoria Osteen’s words on God and happiness, my first thought was, “Tell that to the martyrs.” These witnesses of the faith did not serve God by being happy. My guess is that they were often unhappy, as they were imprisoned, hunted, interrogated or tortured, and then killed. There is no real pleasure in that. I believe, too, that those who are martyred for faith often had an incredible, indescribable joy. They received the best gift from God in that, a consolation that they were close to Him, in His presence, as they found courage in the Holy Spirit. They had the peace that passes all understanding even as they were in pain, hungry, wounded and frightened.

Westminster_Abbey_C20th_martyrs wikipedia

Joy is not just happiness. Happiness can be as fleeting as eating an ice cream cone on a hot, sunny day. Happiness can be the mere moments we lose our concerns and worry while watching a comedy or reading an exciting book. There is nothing wrong with that kind of happiness, as long as we don’t think that is all the happiness we need. That kind of happiness becomes addictive, and we need more and more to even begin to feel happy in it. True happiness never takes from others, or puts our own pleasure above theirs. Mere pleasurable happiness is not going to lead to joy.

The joy we find in God is not something we can turn on and off. We can’t go shopping for joy. Joy is like stepping into a beautiful lake to swim, at the right time of day, and finding that is the right temperature, the right depth. The same lake may not yield that pleasure of rightness every day; we can even go and merely sit on its shores some days. Yet it is always there, and when the great confluence of grace and heart meet, God and His loving, humble creature, we are bathed in those joyful waters.

Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness may have been careless, spoken more in enthusiasm and a desire to please than in a wickedness to turn us from the way of God. Personally, I ignore anything Joel and Victoria Osteen say. Their way of living and their public presence do not seem, to me, to be the way to God. Their speeches and sermons are empty words. Don’t be deceived, but do not treat them with contempt and hatred. Don’t be envious of their success, as it is merely worldly. All pleasure that is not of God is a millstone around the neck. Praise, fame, admiration, riches and possessions are a puff of smoke in eternity. Many follow these people and have made them rich. But to say that is the reward God has given them is to say that those beloved of God who professed Christ in pain, poverty and death are wrong, and we know this is not truth.

 

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