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

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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”).

The (Cruel) Atheist Bus

So when the atheist bus comes by, and tells you that there’s probably no God so you should stop worrying and enjoy yourimages life, the slogan is not just bitterly inappropriate in mood. What it means, if it’s true, is that anyone who isn’t enjoying themselves is entirely on their own.

What the atheist bus says is: there’s no help coming.

But let’s be clear about the emotional logic of the buses message. It amounts to a denial of hope or consolation, on any but the most chirpy, bubble-gummy reading of the human situation. St. Augustine called this kind of thing ‘cruel optimism’ fifteen hindered years ago, and it’s still cruel.

—Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (p. 11)

Baptisms in the Nude

After reading about Elevation Church’s supposed mass baptism engineering I recalled how Augustine conducted baptism:

Men and women would typically be separated for the ceremony because they would be baptized naked. The ceremony would be held during the augustingreat Easter vigil. At some point prior to the disrobing, the candidates would face the west, extend their hands, and renounce the devil and all his works. Then, facing the east, they would repeat their profession of the faith….Before entering the font, candidates would strip off their old clothes—goatskin sackcloth, which they trampled under their feet. There were three immersions, each one preceded by a question about faith in the persons of the Trinity to which the candidate would respond, “credo”—“I believe.”

—Packer and Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, p. 57.

I read this to my wife, who quickly responded, “We’re not doing that in our church plant!” followed by asking,”So did the women baptize one another?” I have no idea, but I wonder. Fascinating stuff.

Audrey Assad, Augustine and Attractive Faith

I’m astonished that The New York Times allows columnists David Brooks and Ross Douthat to write so often about matters of faith. It shows how little I understand the complicated world of higher journalism.

Brooks, in a recent article “Alone, Yet Not Alone” discusses the role of faith, doubt, loss, wandering, and eventual spiritual renewal in singer-songwriter Audrey Assad. Brooks writes,

And yet there is a silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand.

While Audrey and I would differ denominationally (I’m Protestant, she’s Roman Catholic), I resonate with her discovering the deep riches of St. Augustine, issues of faith in great literature, and a robust Christianity that predates the 1800’s.

Brooks concludes:

If you are a secular person curious about how believers experience their faith, you might start with Augustine’s famous passage “What do I love when I love my God,” and especially the way his experience is in the world but then mysteriously surpasses the world:

“It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.”

Read Brooks’ article on Audrey’s journey of faith here.

And here’s a video Brooks mentions of Audrey beautifully singing “I Shall Not Want”: