Ego-Death: A Prayer of Confession

This week I’m in Grand Rapids, MI attending a week-long seminar on Cruciform Humility in Christian Preaching and Worship. Along with 15 other students sitting under Neal Plantinga, Jr. (an exemplar of humility and mentoring, he also wrote a devastating and highly readable book about sin), it’s been a rich, rewarding and refreshing time defining and unpacking cross-shaped humility.

Before our seminar began, we had to submit two prayers fit for congregational worship that promote humility. Here’s a prayer I wrote (with obvious and unapologetic allusions to John Donne, St. Augustine, Robert Bellah, and Phillip Bliss, and who knows what else):

A Prayer for Ego-Death

Batter my heart, three-person’d God.

Take your wrecking ball of holy grace

and obliterate my prideful Self.

You know how much I love Me,

recklessly pursuing my wayward loves no matter the cost.

But the carnage is clear.

In thought, word and deed,

by what I’ve done,

and by what I’ve left undone,

I’ve dirtied my relationship with you and others.

There is no health in me.

And no matter how hard I try,

I can’t renovate this rebel heart.

Please have mercy on me.

Please help me.

Please forgive me.

Remove the hardened, hurtful habits of my sinful heart.

Reorder my disordered loves.

Renew my love for you and others.

I ask these things because of Christ who,

“bearing shame and scoffing rude,

in my place condemned he stood,

Sealed my pardon with his blood,

Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Amen

Emotion Commotion? How a Book, a Class and a Movie Unexpectedly Collide

Just when you thought Pixar lost their mojo, in swoops Minnesota born and bred director Pete Docter (who also directed Up and Monsters, Inc.) with Inside Out. A movie about 11-year-old Riley and her conflicting emotions over a three-day period following a move from Minnesota to San Francisco, it’s sure to set off healthy discussion about emotions (without hopefully succumbing to over-psychologizing them). And if one places stock in respected movie critics’ two cents, it also looks like a great film. (The WSJ’s Joe Morgenstern writes that Inside Out is  “the best [movie] I’ve seen for a very long time.” And Morgenstern’s no slouch.)

Here’s the first trailer:

Here’s the second trailer:

Inside Out’s release interestingly coincides with a class I’m taking next week, Cruciform Humility in Christian Preaching and Worship. One of the required texts is a book I wouldn’t normally be inclined to read, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, which instructor Neal Plantinga calls “a stellar Christian psychological approach with a highly intelligent, but controversial, definition of spiritual emotions” (from the syllabus).

If you’re looking for a deeply thought-provoking book on the role of emotions from a distinctly Christian perspective, discussing contrition, joy, gratitude, hope, peace and compassion, and the key role that humility plays in cultivating these virtues, check it out. You may not agree with everything (and is that such a bad thing?), but you will think about emotions in a way that you probably never previously considered.

Here are a few random quotes from the book:

We must become friends of despair if we are to be drawn above it to genuine and heartfelt hope. (p. 61)

Creaturely humility is relative to the kind of creature under consideration. (p. 59)

In seeking the eternal, or welcoming it passionately when it comes to us, we are not being like the emperor who wants to be a god, or the existentialist who wants tobe his own moral lawgiver. We are being much more like a collie seriously pursuing the business of being a dog. (p. 59)

The ego is a very hard nut to crack, so hard, in fact, that nothing short of confronting its absolute annihilation will bring it to the humility that is the foundations of all the virtues. (p. 73).

Moods are not emotions, but since they are sometimes caused by emotions, we are inclined to think they are. And when we think of emotions as moods, it is natural to make the mistake of thinking that they are irrational. (p. 155)

That’s just a sampling. Aside from Roberts infusing the book with biblical references, literary allusions abound. And while I began reading prepared to gut it out or have its pages double as a drool absorber, I was instead repeatedly drawn into Roberts’ gifted prose.

Aside from better preparing me for the upcoming class on humility, reading Roberts’ Spiritual Emotions has an unforeseen benefit: I’ll now watch Inside Out with a fresh and biblically informed perspective on emotions. (And pairing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” with a Pixar film? Strangely curious but it works.)

Little did I know how a book, a class and a movie would strangely yet wonderfully collide in my life.

Ah, such is the Providence of God, no?

Tim Keller Mentioned at Tony Awards

Not your usual shout-out.

While watching the 2015 Tony Awards last night, Ruthie Ann Miles won an award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in The King and I. Accepting her award, among others she thanked “Dr. Keller.” While she doesn’t specifically state “Dr. Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York,” one can likely infer that’s precisely what she meant:

I’d say Keller’s ministry to Christians involved in the theater arts at an influential level is sticking.

Bravo, Tim. Bravo.

Livestream — David Brooks Talk on Character

Wanna do lunch tomorrow?

New York Times columnist and bestselling author David Brooks will be speaking at a town hall forum on “The Role of Character In Creating an Excellent Life.” The talk is largely based on his new book, The Road to Character. (Read the Times review here.)

41BfG5+LceL-1

If you live in the Minneapolis, you can attend the event for free, but you can livestream Brooks’ talk tomorrow (May 14th) at 12:00 PM (noon) CST here. (Just click the “On Air” box on the top right.)

I’ll add a link of Brooks’ talk when it’s available.

Bonhoeffer Executed 70 Years Ago Today

70 years ago today, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for conspiring to kill Hitler. Surprisingly, my local newspaper published an opinion piece remembering him.

Here’s an excerpt:

…it is a paradox that this devoutly Christian man, who so often spoke and wrote about the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, could partake in an assassination conspiracy. He wrote nothing (understandably) that contains an explicit explanation. But we know from his writings that for him, Christian belief must be joined by “responsible action” in the real world in which we each live. In the concreteness of his times, to Bonhoeffer that meant taking guilt upon himself and acting as necessary to relieve millions of the suffering inflicted by Hitler.

Read the article here.

“Christian” Music Doesn’t Have to Suck. Here’s Proof.

Most modern “Christian” music sucks.

Save Sufjan Stevens.

Sufjan Stevens in mid-flight.

A recent article in The Atlantic discusses singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens as an anomaly and rare exception. The article also considers the gloried past, painful present, and hopeful future of Christians making music.

An excerpt:

…today’s disdain [of Christian art] is a fairly recent phenomenon—an anomaly, even. For centuries, Christians dominated the arts and shaped culture, from Michelangelo and Van Gogh to Bach and Beethoven to Tolkien and Eliot. It wasn’t until the 20th century that a shift took place, specifically in the area of music.

It concludes:

…the historical presence and significance of Christians making music doesn’t have to decline in perpetuity. It’s not so much that faith is missing from culture as much as it is living and breathing within it—and the success of artists like Stevens demonstrates how music that incorporates religious themes can thrive, while inspiring even the most secular of audiences.

Read The Atlantic’s “How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music” here.

Listen to Sufjan’s new album Carrie and Lowell here.

New Gideons Bible Translation? The ESV (With Additives)

[Note to reader: I’m experiencing some mild formatting issues, which I hope to resolve soon.]

Frequent hotel traveller? Rejoice.

I recently perused through a Gideons Bible and happily learned that Gideons recently switched English translations from the NKJV to the ESV.

But then I had a Brian Regan moment:

So what’s changed with the Gideons ESV? A lot, specifically in the New Testament. In the copyright granted to the Gideons, it states, “…Crossway is pleased to license the ESV text to the Gideons, and to grant permission to the Gideons to include certain alternate readings based on the Textus Receptus….” The result? Compared to the regular ESV (which mainly uses the UBS/Nestle-Aland 27th edition) the new Gideons ESV has over 50 alternate readings.
Gideons announced the reason for the move from the NKJV to the ESV here.
I’m grateful for Crossway and Gideons’ partnership to make the Christian Scriptures available for free. However, I’m more than a bit surprised that Crossway would grant permission for Gideons to alter the ESV. For future printings of the Gideons ESV, perhaps they should call it the EESV: Essentially the ESV. (And although the ESV is my preferred Bible translation, I often fondly refer to the ESV as Essentially the Same Version [i.e. as the RSV]. But I digress.)
Here’s a picture of the copyright page for one of their pocket New Testaments:
copyright1_thumb

Playmobil’s Fastest Selling Toy Ever Is…Martin Luther?

This is simply too good to be true.

A good friend informed me last night that German toymaker Playmobil sold out of the first run of the Martin Luther figure in record time.

"You'd be smiling too if you've been dead for nearly 500 years and was made into a record selling toy figure." (Photo by Playmobil)

“Umm, about those royalties…” (Photo by Playmobil)

My disbelief turned to giddy excitement when I later learned or remembered:

  1. That demand is high enough for Playmobil to make a Luther figurine;
  2. That I am mostly of German descent;
  3. That I was raised Lutheran;
  4. That I’m still unashamedly and happily Protestant;
  5. That I’m a happy Protestant;
  6. That a friend knew I cared enough about Luther for him to inform me of this phenomenon;
  7. That Playmobil is making a second batch of Luther figurines due in April;
  8. That my doll will soon have a suitable companion.

Read about Playmobil’s Martin Luther Reformation ripple-effect here.

Disordered Loves, Reordered Lives: A Famous Theologian and the Modern Self

8019267629_7307636cfc_z-600x400-4 It’s time for “Name That Messed Up Theologian!” (cue cheesy music).

Which famous theologian:

  • had a dysfunctional family;
  • had an unhappy childhood;
  • was a thief;
  • was dishonest;
  • despised formal education;
  • was addicted to sex and food;
  • enjoyed the life of theatre and cabaret;
  • studied diverse philosophies and religions;
  • was (for a time) a single parent.

Which theologian’s life was “unquestionably disordered, and like many of our contemporaries…found himself on a relentless course in search of healing and happiness”?

None other than St. Augustine, with whom we share his “disordered loves” (albeit not necessarily his specific sins) more than we realize or admit.

For more on Augustine’s take on disordered loves, read David Naugle’s paper “St. Augustine’s Concept of Disordered Loves and its Contemporary Application” which I was delighted to find referenced in Tim Keller’s recent book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God (in chapter 12, “Awe: Praising His Glory”).