Doug Talks Torah

Reflecting on all the ways Torah builds the world.

On Meeting

sharing

“On almost every occasion when I have met somebody, I have met somebody else.” – G.K. Chesterton

“All real living is meeting.” – Martin Buber

When my dad was just a boy, his father took him to the TN Valley Fair. They were sharing a bag of peanuts and walking. His dad walked up to a stranger and offered some peanuts. He grabbed a handful. In a few minutes, they were swapping stories, laughing and becoming friends. My dad told me that story again and again and again.

It shaped my dad’s imagination and his actions: wherever he went he met people and made friends. During his final descent, we were heading to see a doctor. On the elevator to the doctor’s office, my dad started joking with the UPS man, and before we stepped off the elevator, they were both smiling and shaking hands.

I am thinking of my dad as I reflect on Chesterton’s apropos comment. In his autobiography, he recounts multiple encounters with politicians and writers who often disagreed with his politics and rejected his faith. Chesterton writes, “there is no substitute for meeting a man, even meeting him for an hour or two; it will always tell us when a real distortion of history or legend is beginning.” Chesterton encountered and even celebrated his political or religious adversaries even when they continued to disagree. For him, the person is bigger than a single idea.

He could see how a static model hardens around the image of the real person. The model is remembered while the real person is forgotten. This tendency to reduce people to one or two ideas is possible for each person we meet.

Martin Buber suggested that we tend to turn people into an object, an “it” instead of a person. We talk to the “it” instead of meeting the “thou.” The temptation to treat strangers and adversaries as objects and obstacles is strong. I want to be the person who goes out to meeting, who shares my peanuts with the stranger, who faces my adversary with grace.

Sadly, I’ve often done just the opposite: turning away from the stranger; dehumanizing the opponent. In the 1980s, there was a preacher whose words crawled under my skin. Every time I heard his latest pronouncement, anger burned inside me. One day his newsletter arrived in the mail. Someone apparently put my name and address on his mailing list as a joke. I couldn’t believe it. It made me mad just seeing his name in print.

Over the next year, I kept receiving newsletters. I read a few. His vulnerability and assessment of personal failures surprised me. Gradually I encountered the ambiguity and beauty of a human person: full of passion, marked by frailty and hunger for truth. I never agreed with some of his positions, but I discovered a glimpse of the wonder of his person. I found a way to appreciate his life as gift.

It seems like I must repeat this exercise again and again. My stubbornness often confuses the frozen shape of the public person for beauty and fragility of the living person. Treasures of glory in vessels of clay surround me: in the store, in the car, in the community. Even as I behold dried and crumbling clay, I want to pause and behold glory shining through the cracks.

Image courtesy of Ben Grey (via Creative Commons).

Holy Fire

fireintheheavens

“The Lord comes roaring out of Zion.” The shepherds weep. The mountains wither. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Advent may be far more risky than we ever imagined. The coming of the Lord may cost us everything.

It is so easy to forget that He is a Consuming Fire.

As we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord, we may be expecting a domesticated God that we’ve tamed into our own image. Even our acts of devotion and our profound reflection can easily devolve into a subtle form of self-worship. Amos interrupts our comfortable spirituality by proclaiming, “The Lord comes roaring out of Zion.”

John the Baptist warns, “The ax is at the root of the trees.” When the Lord comes, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Who can stand at the coming of the Lord?

Alfred Delp, a faithful priest executed by the Nazi regime, preached multiple Advent sermons as he looked toward his coming demise. He writes, “The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.”
[1]

Delp takes words of the prophets seriously and enters into Advent with a holy awe before the God who comes in ravaging fire. As I reflected upon Delp’s sermons during the opening days of Advent, I decided to forego my normal practice of listening to meditative music like the Benedictines Of Mary. Somehow the gentle intonations of ancient hymns did not capture this sense of terror in approaching the throne.

This year, I chose to begin Advent soaking in fire of Amos while listening to songs from the Call. This music hails back to my college days in the mid-80s, and it pounds with a warning of impending doom. On their album Reconciled, lead singer Michael Been belts out,

We were shaking in our beds that night
There were strangers in the streets that night
Preacher cried out hell’s been raised
Another hot Oklahoma night
Another hot Oklahoma night
The kind of night where you just sit still
The kind of night where you just don’t move
We were shaking in our beds that night
We were shaking in our boots that night
Tornado hit and the roof gave way
Tornado hit and all we could do was pray [2]

A tornado rages and the people cry out to God. This sounds more like the messages of Amos, Isaiah and John the Baptist. The Day of the Lord is at hand, and it is a day of wailing and loud lament.

For the first two weeks of Advent, the Daily Office Lectionary (year two) invites us to encounter the dread judgments in Amos as the Holy God roars out of Zion. Amos and John the Baptist lead us to the hope of Advent by way of the terror of the Lord.

Hope rooted in warm feelings and happy thoughts cannot sustain us through the dark nights we face in this world. We need a hope rooted in light that overcomes the darkness. We need the light of God’s glory. In the light of His love, we behold His awesome beauty that satisfies our souls, and we behold our desperate need for His mercy and grace.

If we follow the judgment rendered in Amos, we see a clue to what God reveals again and again. Gaza is judged for “carrying a whole people into exile.” Edom is judged because “he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity.” Kingdom after kingdom is judged for the way they treated one another. They failed to love the Lord and love one another.

As I read the judgments on these nations, I could see my own lack of love. I could see the subtle ways I withhold love from others and my tendencies to look turn from God’s love to the idols of this world. It is in His grace alone, I am led back to mercy and back into His way of love.

Advent is a call to wait and watch for the lover of our souls. He comes like a consuming fire that burns away the bands of death ensnaring us. Turning toward Him will cost the illusions, deceptions and distractions that hinder us from becoming lovers created in His image. He comes to free us from our slavish independence and lead us into the freedom of dependence upon His grace alone.

As we look for the coming of Jesus Christ, we are being changed. His Spirit convicts, exposes and leads us again and again to the light of God’s redeeming love. So we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, expose us in your light and cover us in your love. Lead us into the hope of your glory and the fullness of joy.”

And this is Good News of great joy!

Image by Kim Seng (used by permission via Creative Commons).

[1] Delp, Alfred (2010-06-21). Advent Of The Heart (Kindle Locations 490-492). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] For more information on the song “Oklahoma” and the entire Reconciled album, see http://www.the-call-band.com/discography/reconciled.html.

Advent Calendar

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We had a simple cardboard Advent calendar that marked the days until Christmas. Each day had a small flap that opened to reveal a little picture beneath the larger picture. This simple, inexpensive calendar opened a window to a world of wonders just beyond my grasp.

As we counted down the days, we transformed our house into a second space. Lights flickered on the trees and old German elves pranced on our fireplace. Smells of pine and Gingerbread cookies and candy canes mixed with the smells of old boxes of Christmas decorations. Sights and sounds and smells saturated my senses. The world held promises of a sudden appearing. For a few short weeks of the year, our house and our whole community became a window to something, somewhere just beyond our grasp.

As I enter into the quiet rhythms of Advent, I’m thinking about windows that open to something, somewhere just beyond our grasp. I am thinking about a world that opens beyond itself to the Creator, to the love of God that cannot be grasped but only received as gift. I cannot grasp His love by my own thoughts or even by my own actions. I can only respond to His love, His gifts, His grace, His peace. The Lord creates and sustains a world by His free decision. I exist and you exist and the sun exists because he freely calls us each into existence. We are complete gift.

We see and feel and hear and smell and even taste through His gift of love. The whole world is like a giant Advent calendar opening to wonder beyond our grasp. But we are so often blind and dull-witted, and half-awake. John Calvin suggested that our sin had made us oblivious to the glory of God pulsing all around us. G. K. Chesterton agrees, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

Most of the time we stumble in the darkness of our own ambitions, condemnation, frustration, guilt, anger, idolatry and more. Complaint comes faster to our tongues that praise. Our world, the world we live in day to day seems so very ordinary. We long for adventure or glory or beauty somewhere, and we fail to see the glory that overshadows us here in each breath. Chesterton suggests that “grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.” We are weak and blind.

Advent begins in the dark. Our darkness. Our blindness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). The Father does not abandon us in our dull, complaining ways. He comes. And comes. And comes again. Even as we look toward His second coming, we remember His first coming and we rehearse the wonder of Word become Flesh. The mystery of Incarnation lights up all of Advent with the wonder, the beauty, the glory of God meeting us in His creation.

During this season of watching and waiting, may we cry out like Blind Bartimaeus, “Son of David have mercy on me!”

May Christ Jesus heal and teach us afresh to see the glory that pulse in and through all things. May we behold and rejoice and give thanks.

Advent in the Midst of Christmas Rush

advent

We call the weeks prior to Christmas, “Advent.” We order this time for intentional watching and waiting on the coming of the Lord. And yet, during these same weeks we feel the pressure to buy, celebrate, and feast. How do we live into the call to watch and wait while juggling Christmas shopping, decorating, multiple parties, and the ongoing challenges of work and home?

Advent devotion can feel like one more pressure in the midst of a never-ending rush. Advent guilt hardly seems like a proper way to prepare for the coming of the Lord. For those who struggle to enter into Advent disciples of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it might help to adopt for small, incremental actions of rest and reflection.

Here are a few simple ways to move toward the disciples of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the weeks of Advent.

1. Prayer

Breath prayers – The season is focused on the coming of the Lord, so we might rehearse short breath prayers that look toward His coming as we move through the day. Here are two possibilities: “Even so Lord come quickly” (from Revelation 22:20) or “I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior” (Micah 7:7).

Prayerful reading – Start the day with five to ten minutes of reading. Listen for one thought that you can reflect upon and pray throughout the day. Try reading or listening to Scriptures from the Daily Office Lectionary or also from Advent devotional books (for a suggested list see Advent Resources).

Walk or drive – If you can find ten to fifteen extra minutes at lunch or some other point during the day, take a short walk to offer thanks for God’s goodness and to ask for grace in learning the way of watching and waiting. It might be helpful to try driving in silence and use that time to quiet your heart before the Lord. Sometimes I take an hour to drive back roads and quiet neighborhoods, so I can pray and listen.

Prayerful listening – Listening to meditative music might also be a way to pause and pray while driving or even while working (for suggested music see Advent Resources).

Prayerful celebration – Times of decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, card-writing, and cooking can all be infused with breath prayers or reflections upon the gift of God in Christ and the gift of God in the people around us. When shopping, I have sometimes prayed for all the shoppers I see. I might also pray for those working in the stores, those who helped make or ship the products and those in need. I might watch and wait and look for the coming of the Lord even as I interact with co-workers, attend parties and spend time with family.

2. Fasting

Most Christmas parties are scheduled in the middle of Advent, so fasting seems like an almost impossible challenge. Rev. William Cwirla suggests setting modest goals of fasting meat, cheese and deserts on Wednesdays and Fridays. Read his thoughts on Fasting for a helpful approach to fasting.

I also might think of modest fasting of other senses like silence while driving, spending evenings without television in the candlelight with soft music, and limiting online interaction to only one time of the day.

Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov speaks of a fast of the eyes that prepares us to behold the beauty of the Lord. By fasting our senses even in modest ways, we might prepare our hearts and minds to encounter the Lord afresh in all five senses.

3. Almsgiving

Giving is a vital discipline throughout the year. During Advent, we might look for ways to extend giving in our normal day to day activities. I might plan to increase tipping in restaurants. I might seek to complement my Christmas shopping with giving to ministries in my community and abroad. I might look for ways to better serve my co-workers, family members, and friends in word and deed.

Most of us cannot take the weeks leading up to Christmas as an extended retreat. We must continue working and raising families while also adding the seasonal obligations of parties, family gatherings, gift giving and more. These added pressures need not prevent us from turning toward the coming of the Lord through small acts of quiet prayer, moderate fasting, generous giving. Let us ask God to grant us grace to practice a way of watching and waiting for the glory of His coming that we may learn to behold Him even now.

Image by Jonas Tana (via Creative Commons).

Moonflower

night-blooming_cereus

Moonflower

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

Words unfold.
Like the night-blooming cereus, words
open to the patient listener. A treasure
unveiled in the dark night of waiting
and watching. Words like
love and faithful
fragrant the soul with sweetness:
a surprise of hope in the midnight hour.

Love pulses its mystery in giving
and receiving: the Father running
like a child to his prodigal grown old;
the squeals of delight
echoing from the boy and his pup;
sisters’ embrace through the howls
of hard rain coming down.

Faithful takes shape
in a world of pure gift:
water running, roaring, rushing
forward to cracked, parched ground;
last year’s apple tree split by lightning,
bursting with more fruit than ever before;
sunrise rippling across land and sea,
ending the endless night.

Love and Faithful bind me like
the Akedah. Isaac climbing to
his ending and beginning.
Following the bloodstains
to the place of skulls,
I am planted in the Savior’s grasp,
blooming briefly
with love’s light
in the dark of night.

Doug Floyd
11/3/15

Image of Night-blooming Cereus by Cristóbal Alvarado Minic (used by permission via Creative Commons).

Torah and Worldview

empirestatebuildingbinoculars

Note: I may use this blog to think out loud about the relation of torah and worldview as part of a larger project called, “Discerning Culture: Wisdom and Worldview.” I welcome thoughts and challenges via email or comments.

How might we speak or think about torah and worldview? We might first ask, “What is worldview?” In James Sire’s classic text, “The Universe Next Door,” he suggests that a worldview might be understood as follows:

“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” [1]

Instead of beginning with philosophical propositions of Christian worldview, I’d like to peer at worldview via the periphery.  As Sire uses the language of story, David Naugle talks about narrative signs,

I suggest that a worldview is best understood as a semiotic phenomenon, especially as a system of narrative signs that establishes a powerful framework within which people think (reason), interpret (hermeneutics), and know (epistemology).[2]

These narrative signs surround us from birth. We are born into a world of language, story, song, jokes and more. The idea of worldview speaks to the compulsion of the mind to grasp our world as a whole. James Orr, one the early writers on worldview, suggested that Christian faith provides a standpoint to view the world as an ordered whole (see Naugle for a good summary of Orr’s thought).

Our worldview is shaped in the family, in the church, in the culture. In other words, it is shaped in the background, on the periphery. Michael Polanyi suggests that “we know more than we can say.” [3] From the moment of birth, we enter a field of knowing. Our view of the world, our standpoint begins being shaped long before we can speak.

With this brief overview in mind, we can begin to think of torah and worldview. Torah is God’s Word sounding forth in this world, his people and the surrounding cultures. It comes as judgment, deliverance, instruction and fundamentally as relationship. Torah is a set of commandments and instructions as well as a set of prescribed rules for worship and sacrifice. It is communicated in law but also in story and song. The Old Testament tells a grand story of a people that God’s calls to Himself and promises to bless all families of the earth through these people.

By reading and reflecting on the stories and songs and wisdom and even laws of the ancient Hebrews, we can find a way to consider worldview through a family, a culture, “a system of narrative signs.” By re-flecting upon these stories, we might be able to see hints of worldview in our own stories, our own family, and our own culture.  In our peripheral vision, we may also catch glimpses of patterns of thought that are enslaving, dehumanizing, anti-creational and more.

[1] Sire, James W. (2009-08-20). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (p. 20). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] David K. Naugle Jr.. Worldview: The History of a Concept (Kindle Locations 146-147). Kindle Edition.
[3] Michael Polanyi. The Tacit Dimension. London, Routledge. (University of Chicago Press).

Image by Dirk Knight (used by permission via Creative Commons).

Advent – To the Wonder

advent wonder

In some ways, the journey into Advent is a journey into wonder. It begins with the people living in great darkness and ends with the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World. As we look and long for his coming, we turn toward Him in our thoughts, meditations upon Scripture, and songs of the season. We sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Continue reading

Advent – Into the Light

advent light

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath…I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.”

After Scrooge awakes from his night with the ghosts, he is overjoyed to be alive and greets the day with laughter and merry-making. He steps out of the dark and into the light. During Advent, we rehearse the hope of stepping out of the dark and into the light. We are reminded, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Continue reading

Advent – Prepare the Way of the Lord

St_John_the_Baptist_Preaching_to_the_Masses_in_the_Wilderness_oil_on_oak_panel_by_Pieter_Brueghel_the_Younger copy

A voice cries out, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”

Come all you saints and sinners, prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord. Come you weak and weary. Find rest for your souls. Come you strong and full of vigor. Behold the source of your life. For the King approaches. Come you poor and rich alike. Offer your lives in worship. Come you hungry and full, behold the feast has been set before us. Come you joyful. Come you grieving. Put on the garment of praise for the Comforter stands among us with healing in his wings. Let us all come before the throne of mercy and grace, to watch and wait together for the Lord, the Savior, the Redeemer who brings salvation to His people and to His world. Continue reading

Advent – The Day is Coming

candle at dawn
The day of the Lord is coming. Advent resounds the promise of His coming: His justice, His glory, His light that overcomes all darkness. We step into the season of Advent like a child awaking before the dawn and exclaiming that the sun is coming. He cannot see the its piercing fire; he cannot feel its blanketing warmth, but he knows that it is coming. The day is ready to burst forth into newness. Continue reading

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