Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rush Hour

Three girls in our house (Older Daughter, Middle Daughter, and Friend Visiting for Sleepover) have been avidly playing "Rush Hour", a game that I find quite challenging myself.

It is essentially a little problem solving logic puzzle, and I remember doing such puzzles when being tested for a free flow education environment my public school offered called "Challenge". I was nervous going to my school on a Saturday morning for the entrance exam (ironic because once admitted to "Challenge", there were no grades, just a free form classroom environment). In fact, I thought my dad was dropping me off at the front gate, and so I undid my seatbelt and opened the door, only to be pitched out onto the tarmac as he swung left into the parking spot he was aiming towards.

Anyway, that was the last IQ test I took, and I guess the somersault out of the car must've helped the result. In "Challenge", a teacher was perplexed by my friends and I seeking out world domination in a scenario he set up as sort of a pre-computer version of Sim City. We had grown up on the board game "Risk" after all...

Back to Rush Hour. My brother-in-law was the first to tackle the "Grand Master" level, and said that his trick was to reason backwards. By this he meant that he looked where the little car had to go in the puzzle, and what needed to happen to get it there. (He's a successful consultant, unsurprisingly).

But reasoning backwards is also a good way to consider the Christian life. The apostles do this (e.g., Paul (Colossians 3), Peter (1 Pet 1:3-13), John (1 John 2:15-17) and James (James 4:13-16)) consistently -- urge us to consider our end destination, and take the steps going backward from that to see what choices we make today.

This is not only faithful but wise. It is the secure future of a Christian that encourages him or her in the pressure faced today. Rather than being pie in the sky thinking, it turns out that reasoning backwards from eternity makes for a very practical framework for decisions. Even for patience in the midst of rush hour...

Some words from "Before the Throne of God Above" (click the title for a musical link) by Charitie Bancroft:

Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.

One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,

My life is hid with Christ on high,

With Christ my Savior and my God!

Friday, February 27, 2009

A moment to consider the blog

I set out to record some thoughts on this blog. Especially those thoughts that consider life today in the perspective of eternity.

Just as I am wondering if this is a good use of time, a technical aspect of the blog world came my way with food for thought. The blogging system tells me that 230 different people have looked at ChristChurchCurate in February. It doesn't tell me who they are, but where they live, and how they got to the blog.

The way most people got here was by searching my name, Christ Church NYC and the following phrases: "Richard Wilbur Barred Owl" and "Burgermeister Meisterburger". I find that wonderful.

So, I'll keep this going a few more months and then check in again. Until then, hello to the readers, mainly New Yorkers, but also to whoever you are in Singapore, England, Germany, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and Japan!

Come to think of it, that's kind of a picture of heaven: every tribe, tongue and nation will be gathered around the throne of God (singing, not surfing the internet).

A moment of self-reflection: click on the title of this post to see a few seconds on the death of newspapers, to which I am no doubt contributing, reading only the newspaper on the weekends and getting news from the internet the rest of the week...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sheep Health Classes aka The Reformed Pastor

There's been considerable interest in the Anglican church I serve (Christ Church NYC) among students in colleges and seminaries, and in the past week the Rector and I have been interviewed by a few such eager folks. They are interested in an Anglican church in Manhattan, as well as our work among Wall Street folks, and so forth. It may have something to do with the fact we are a fairly young church but one that doesn't use postmodern lingo. While we are an intentionally missional Anglican expression of being church, we pretty much avoid that kind of language.

I found one interview encouraging, with a delightful woman from Westminster Seminary yesterday asking me about the discipleship challenges presented by the context of Manhattan. I was saying how our structures have a long way to go, but in fact I hope we never offer tons and tons of programs on weekday evenings, believing that this inevitably just draws people into a Christian ghetto and makes family life harder. I also shared that I meet up with men and also go around to visit families one evening a week.

This aspect of "pastoral visiting" was impressed on me through personal experience, and also through an Anglican bishop, Wallace Benn, who encouraged ministers to "visit their parish" along the lines of the puritan Richard Baxter, who wrote The Reformed Pastor.

Baxter wrote this on visiting families:

"Go occasionally among them, when they are likely to be most at leisure, and ask the master of the family whether he prays with them, and reads the Scripture, or what he doth? Labor to convince such as neglect this, of their sin; and if you have opportunity, pray with them before you go, and give them an example of what you would have them do."

A good friend of mine has struggled with the issue of family worship. Struggled both in the sense of doing it, but also as to whether Baxter was right to call the neglect of it sinful. Do you have any experience of this? My own is that praying and reading the Bible with my wife and children is pretty much a layup in terms of getting value for time spent. But I do find it hard to do myself, with the giant television given to us there in the room to take my attention! When the Authoress takes the initiative, I feel acutely that I should have done so but am thankful she has, or humbled if Number One Son crawls into my lap as he did last night clutching a Bible story.

Even so, I am not sure I am convinced that the Bible commands family worship, even if it assumes it takes place given the role of the father in Judaism. Regardless, whenever we have this pattern in our home, it is like oil running down Aaron's beard.

For the younger end of the age range, the Jesus Storybook Bible has been a great recent find with our kids.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Whaddya think?

The church I serve, through the amazing ability of a fellow minister of the Gospel who has techno skills, is revamping the design of our website (to bring it out of the 1990's). Along with that, we have a new office address in the past few months, and so have the opportunity to bring our stationery up to date.

You may be asking: "What's this mundane office/address stuff have to do with me?"

Good question. Here's the issue--- What do you think of this logo? What does it say to you, if anything. Maybe "fingerpainting"!

Do tell.

Friday, February 13, 2009

On Solitude

"Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself." Franz Kafka.

Is Kafka right? I am not a writer but am married to one who is also a voracious reader, like her mother, and like her oldest daughter (jury is out on other kids so far).

It seems that writers, even when introspective, are reflecting the world around them, particularly their human interactions. Is one truly in the descending into oneself when the experiences of life and other people have shaped that abyss? Maybe.

I was thinking about this as I prep a sermon for Sunday evening on Mark 1, in which Jesus cleanses a leper (come on Sunday to learn why I say "cleanse" instead of "heal"...). Just prior to this cleansing, an act of wonderful compassion, Jesus was alone in a desolate place praying.

And Jesus is noted for going off by himself whenever the crowds pressed in on him. In this case, he leaves a successful gig in Capernaum and moves on to other towns. He states his mission was to preach the Gospel.

But back to his solitude. He wasn't really alone. He was praying, that is, experiencing communion with the Father. So I think in this sense Jesus was never really alone in these times of "solitude". The only real solitude he ever experienced was on the Cross, when he bore the sin of the world, and cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". The ultimate agony for God's eternal Son was separation from the Father.

It would seem true to say that a Christian, who by definition experiences constant fellowship with God (by means of the Holy Spirit), is never really alone.

Don't get me wrong: Solitude is good, for reflection, and prayer to the Father just as Jesus sought out himself. And simply to think.

But it must be a qualitatively different experience than what Kafka describes -- the abyss of himself.

I do like to be off by myself sometimes, particularly doing something physical like rowing (years ago now), working on something outside, running, or downhill skiing (again, doesn't happen much). And I know that giving little bits of solitude to the Authoress is a great gift indeed.

We are not made to be alone, it turns out. Those who know Christ will be among countless others around the throne of God for eternity -- Comfort to many experiencing loneliness in this city of several million. And comfort to me as I write this in a room alone, awaiting a colleague to open the door to our office having forgotten my keys...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Barred Owl

Back to Richard Wilbur, and the thin volume of more recent poems that sits atop my bookshelf, "Mayflies".

This was the first poem I heard Wilbur read:

"A Barred Owl" by Richard Wilbur

The warping night-air having brought the boom

Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,

We tell the wakened child that all she heard

Was an odd question from a forest bird,

Asking of us, if rightly listened to,

"Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,

Can also thus domesticate a fear,

And send a small child back to sleep at night

Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight

Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

Two observations:

1. There is a beauty here in the means a parent has to console a child. In the urban setting of Manhattan, when a child was frightened by the enormous sound of a truck's horn at night, I said we could imagine it was a ship's horn at night in the fog and a story about that ship and where it was sailing brought consolation and sleep.

2. As I look at Wilbur's poetry against his mentor Robert Frost, I think that both are masters of observing the beauty and personality of natural things. Frost is probably more in tune with introspection as he relates to natural beauty, while Wilbur brings the realm of natural beauty to bear in human relationships. I'm not sure, but I think that Wilbur is sort of better with people as I read his poems.

If I were to draw a line from Frost's beliefs to his poetry, it is that he did not experience the love of God personally. He stated he feared but did not know God in a 1947 letter to a friend: "My fear of God has settled down into a deep and inward fear that my best offering may not prove acceptable in his sight."

In interviews Wilbur has identified himself as a Christian but not as one who writes poetry on matters of doctrine (much) as did, for example, TS Eliot in his later work. But it is interesting that the affection that Wilbur has for the material world is often linked with the depth of human relationships amidst the beauty of the world.

I don't say Frost or Wilbur couldn't have written another way, but they do notice different things from the same New England landscapes. It makes me wonder if the different worldviews, thoughts on eternity, and views of God by these two connected poets is significant to that.

What do you think? Any Frost fans out there?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Psychology of Whit Stillman

Today I read an article from a 1998 Psychology Today interview of filmmaker Whit Stillman.

Do you know his films? In short, he has preppy people as the characters in his films, those who are generally parodied in films like Caddyshack and so forth. The films contain great conversations and a witty look-in on a subculture. But the great insight is that these people are human beings and so subject to the fears and hopes of every other person.

This plays out for them through the problem of the American dream. By problem I mean this:
Those who start at the top have very little chance of moving up -- so in a way, to succeed is to simply maintain one's position (financially, in the social pecking order, whatever). It's more likely that preppy people (true preppies, I mean, whose families are in the social register and all that -- and I am not one) will go down -- that is, fail to meet the great deeds of their forebears.

The world has changed and it is too competitive for even the well connected to assume their position is secure -- there are no fewer easy ways into the best schools and so on. (Maybe another posting on how the standards of success have thus subtly shifted is in order, but not today). For now, you may want to read this interview and click on the title of this post to see the clip of the film. And here's one taste for you:


If you examine "fables" closely--Aesop, for instance--there's often something a little contrived about them, a little dishonest. Take "The Tortoise and the Hare." Okay, the tortoise won one race. But--do you think that hare is really going to lose any more races to turtles? Not on your life. By limiting the fable to an absurdly small frame--one race--a bogus lesson is learned--and then for centuries taught young people the world over.


I liked that tortoise...


So do I--"Virtue rewarded" and all that. But if you were a betting person, would you say that "turtle won against the hare--in future races, I'm backing him." No. It'd be absurd. That race was almost certainly a fluke. Afterwards, the tortoise is still a tortoise, the hare still...a hare.

(the interview:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Silver Lining to the Slump?

The church is people, not buildings, but the people still need a place to meet.

Looking at some real estate for the next congregation that Christ Church NYC wants to plant, we saw some very well located space in Manhattan. There was serious conversation about paying $10 per square foot for it.

That's not missing a zero. Elsewhere in the city, rents can begin at $100/sq ft.

So the massive blowout for companies here might make it possible for the church to offer more for folks who have been laid off! I can't decide if this is ironic, wonderful or sad, or all three.

But I think I've been spending too much time looking at office space, space for the church to meet, etc. The last time I looked at the descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21, I thought, wow, Grade A space!

Strength in Weakness

At some Bible studies this week, I'll be leading discussions on Judges 6-8, the account of Gideon. Like every hero in the Old Testament, you can't really follow his life as a model of faith in an unqualified way. There are great moments of trust in God, and boldness, but the man didn't really finish well. His family was a terrible mess, and that played out at the end of his life and into the next generation. The wealth he accumulated from his great early success proved to be a snare for him, and others, too.

Yet overall Gideon is a great example of faith -- because God's power was shown through Gideon's weakness. So we learn from his triumphs as well as being warned by his falls. And more importantly, we get an early glimpse of how God operates.

As Paul wrote later, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Last chance to try for the book -- my blog tells me many people have looked at the quotation, but no one has felt bold enough to give a guess! Read up on Gideon and get inspired for boldness...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Free Book

Theological Quiz: Name the Reformer

Who wrote this (and try to answer without help from Google!) in a debate on the nature of the Christian life and ministry?

No one should at the same time say yes and no about the same thing, unless he be an utter ignoramus or a desperate scoffer.

That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ's grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstances use these or similar words, "Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!" Instead they say, "Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!"

Tell me, my dear man, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? It is, indeed, taking away Christ and bringing him to naught at the same time he is most beautifully proclaimed! And it is saying yes and no to the same thing. For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. Thus they preach Christ nicely with Nestorian and Eutychian logic that Christ is and yet is not Christ. They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach "about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit," but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men-we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches (Rm 6- 7). Christ did not earn only "grace," for us, but also "the gift of the Holy Spirit," so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, "Christ! Christ!" He must be damned with this, his new Christ.

The first correct guess wins a book! Jeremiah Burroughs' (1599-1546) "Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment"-- As a hint, Burroughs quotes this Reformer in his book.

The honor system on not using internet help in place...take a guess and see how you do!