Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Review of "The Confessions"

ConfessionsConfessions by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently read The Confessions as part of my morning devotions. The autobiographic portion is really good, his philosophical reflections on creation, are good for what they are, but didn’t move me the way the first 9 books did.
I love that it is set up as a direct confession to God, rooted in the Psalms.
His strange relationship with the Theater kept popping out to me, as did his attacks on the Manicheans.
He also interacts with scripture and the science of the time in a way that would make American Fundamentalist squirm—and he was writing around the year 400. That alone is worth the price of admission.
If the Confessions shows nothing else, it is that Christianity is best spread through kind ongoing relationships—caught not taught, as some people say. Between his mother Monica and Ambrose he is able to see models of Christian life that aren’t bizarre or horrible or unkind. I love his description of Ambrose, “I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me.”
So, yeah, this is an important book—it probably lacks some of its original power, just because autobiography is a common genre these days, but at the time this was it, a whole new thing.

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My Review of "Islam: A Short History"

Islam: A Short HistoryIslam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After all the talk of a Muslim travel ban I thought I’d re-read Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History. Last time I read it a year or so after 9/11 to get a friendlier reading of Islam than my rural Wyoming community.
I guess on the second read and 15 years later, it is less of a revelation, but still, a history of Islam that roots itself in Islamic history (as opposed to starting out from Western contact with Saracens or an Enlightenment “Orientalist” frame) is really refreshing. Having western events pop in as tangential to the thrust of the history being told is a very helpful corrective.
A few big take aways.
1. Christianity in its first couple centuries argued and split on questions of the nature of the Christ and the Trinity (obviously with politics floating around in the background)—in Islam the question of political leadership of The Community was what formed the first couple of centuries and the splits. This has heavy implications for how Islam interacts with Nationalism, Globalism, Secularism, the Enlightenment, etc.
2. Islamic interpretations of Aristotle are pretty interesting (something I already knew, but it popped back out in this reading of Armstrong).
3. Islam’s interaction with the Mongols is also fascinating.
It’s worth reading.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon: Romans Letter 2

         So, is Abraham our ancestor on account of the flesh?
         Those who preached in my day, in fact I myself before I knew Jesus as the Christ, preached that the answer to this question is yes.
         Yes, Abraham is righteous because he’s the first man set apart from the Pagan world, he’s the first circumcised man of God.
         And so too, we faithful people of God are his heirs, his ancestors, because we too set ourselves apart, we follow all the rules that make us a distinct people separate from the heathens.
         He is righteous on account of his separateness, and so too are we. In fact, those Jews in my day who most fully removed ourselves from the wider world called ourselves the Righteous Ones.
         Yet, now I come to you, preaching a new Gospel, or rather the Gospel always in existence, but now made obvious to all.
         Our separation from other people does not make us heirs of Abraham.
         Our works, our following the Law, does not make us heirs of Abraham.
         For that matter, Abraham’s honor and rightness before God, do not have to do with circumcision or separation or law…
         Don’t believe me? Just look at your bible. Abraham lives before Moses—so those Laws he receives are not the laws Abraham lives by.
         Not only that, God enters into Abraham’s life before Abraham is circumcised.
         Abraham’s relationship with God is not predicated on Law, Separation, or Circumcision.
         My contemporaries read scripture wrong on this point—I, a Righteous Zealot myself—read scripture wrong on this point. In fact, my zeal was in part founded upon this wrong reading of the Bible.

         You see, Abraham was made right before God by his faith
         And when I say faith, let’s be clear, I’m not saying Abraham was reciting a correct creed, wasn’t being justified by right answer, wasn’t writing eloquent works of theology for the ages.

         No, Abraham trusted God!
         Think of the audacity of what he does. He trusts God and joins on a journey with God!

         He immigrates to a strange new land.
         He trusts God so deeply that he packs everything up and leaves Ur of the Kaldes and goes to a strange land he’s never heard of.
         He leaves this Iraqi town just North East of Kuwait—I hear your country now has some issues with immigrants and refugees. Thank God Abraham’s era was much less barbaric than your own.

         Abraham trust’s God on this journey—a journey with plenty of setbacks and hardships, loss… yet a journey to that promised place!

         And, today, I just want you to know all of you who journey with God, who trust God, you are also Abraham’s children!
         You who trust the God who calls life out of death—in the person of his Son Jesus, but also calling all of you—heirs like Isaac, unexpected, laughable, yet God creates him, creates faith in you!
         You who trust the God who calls into existence those things which did not exist—calling forth creation itself, and even, here today—look around you—God calls a community together who were not together, creates the body of Christ here and now!

         So, trust that you are children of Abraham, not on account of any action of your own, not because you’ve separated yourself from other people, or followed particular laws, or marked your body as belonging to God.

         You are children of Abraham, because you have his faith, because you trust in the God who shows up and journeys with you your whole life long.