Reformation Day


Wittenberg Door

Today is Hallowe’en but it is also Reformation Day, the anniversary of when an Augustinian monk nailed an invitation to debate on to the church door at Wittenberg.  497 years ago, Martin Luther dropped a pebble which became an avalanche.
If you don’t know much about the start of the Reformation, read Timothy George’s great piece at First Things:

Reformation Day – Timothy George, First Things

And because Martin Luther still remains a controversial character, and it is increasingly trendy to dismiss his insights, here’s a vote of confidence for him:


Luther, I think, got the substance of the Christian Faith roughly right – or rather, the Luther who discovered the Christian Faith afresh did, not the Luther concerned with preserving reformation by earthly powers.  And Luther, in my judgement, also got the apostle Paul basically right.  This view is not popular today, but popularity isn’t an index of truthfulness.  -Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, pg 236.



Love Is Not A Feeling – and – Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas

Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn. It was certainly a landing; it was hardly a 'discovery'.

Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn.
It was certainly a landing; it was hardly a ‘discovery’.

Once in awhile, I see the culture around me getting something right.  Really right.  This is because there is some wisdom which is given to all people that can be discovered no matter what one believes.  It is a gift from God, but might not be acknowledged as such.
The Huffington Post’s Seth Adam Smith has written about love, commitment, and moving beyond feelings.  It’s good.  Highly Recommended.  It’s the type of thing that people who live in a culture saturated with self-seeking can read and feel compelled by.

Real Love Is A Choice – Seth Adam Smith, The Huffington Post


Now, not taking away anything from Mr Smith’s wisdom, I feel like I’ve heard this stuff before.  I don’t know what he believes but I like what I read.  If you like what you read and think it’s new than we need to be careful that we’re not like Columbus ‘discovering’ the Americas.  Many people have been living here for a long time.  There is an ideal of love that is not based on what we get but what we give.  And there is an ideal of marriage which is about giving oneself to another and not seeking our own fulfillment.


It’s almost as though we could use an ancient moral tradition which has been teaching this all along…

Prayer for Winnipeg the Beautiful

This is Winnipeg at night.  Photo was taken from orbit by Cdr Chris Hadfield.

This is Winnipeg at night. Photo was taken from orbit by Cdr Chris Hadfield.

Today is Election Day in our city.  New trustees, new counsellors, and a new mayor – we will have all these by the end of the day.  I won’t endorse a particular candidate but let everyone be encouraged to vote.  But even voting is not demanded of us by explicit command in Scripture.  But there is one thing that is:  Prayer.

Prayer for our leaders and prayer for our city.  Praying for secular leaders is very clearly commanded in the Bible:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  1 Tim 2:1-2 ESV

We don’t know who our leaders will be by the end of the day.  But God is in control and we need to pray for Him to give them guidance and wisdom.  They are, in a sense, our ministers for the common good.  It’s a tough job surely and they need our prayers.

Also we need to pray for our city:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  Jeremiah 29:7 ESV

This command isn’t directly given to Christian people in Winnipeg.  Context shouldn’t be ignored.  But it is parallel enough to our situation that we ought to receive encouragement to do likewise.  Jeremiah wrote this to exiled Israel in Babylon, who were tempted to ignore, retreat from, resent, or otherwise not participate with the culture/city around them.  They are instead encouraged to become involved and pray.  Pray for the good of everyone.

On Election Day this comes even more sharply into focus.  So vote wisely and from an informed place.  And most importantly pray.  Pray for God to place the right leaders into office.  Pray that they may be given wisdom.  Pray for the flourishing and prosperity of Winnipeg to grow and grow.  Pray for peace for everyone and the tearing down of divisions between us.  Pray especially for the most vulnerable communities and individuals among us.  Pray that God’s people would continue to serve and be a blessing to our communities.  Pray that we could participate in public life for the good of all.  Pray for God’s abundant blessing on all our neighbours.

What Happens When We Want the Fruit but Chop the Roots of the Tree?

Last week , I wrote a summary of French atheist Luc Ferry’s acknowledgement of what Christianity has given to the world.  It was refreshing to read an atheist’s acknowledgement of what would be otherwise be unthinkable in the world of ideas if it were not for Christianity:  the universal equality of all persons, and the true democracy and foundation of human rights which flow from that.  And it was commendable on the author’s part.


I closed with this:  “It is commendable that an atheist philosopher can acknowledge how much we owe the Christian worldview.  But it leaves us with a lingering question.  Doubtless, anyone living in the West enjoys a culture that has received these gifts.  But…   Will we be able to stay in possession of these gifts (the equal dignity and worth of all human beings, for example) when we have refused the Giver?”


In other words, can we continue to receive nutrition from the fruit after we have hacked away the roots of the tree? What will happen to our civilization if we do?

The Resurrection, El Greco, 1584

The Resurrection, El Greco, 1584

Someone has provided an answer:


…we know now that the modern world is coming to an end …at the same time the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism.  He will cease to reap the benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies…  Loneliness in faith will be terrible.  Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love which flows from one lonely person to another …the world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean…  Romano Guardini (1885-1968) from The Lord 
That right there, is a prophecy.


A Holy Friend

How should people of faith be towards the world?  How should we build ‘ramps’ instead of ‘walls’?

This is often a favourite question of mine and this talk by David Brooks is such a gift.  Yes, sometimes it takes a Jew to tell Christians how to be better Christians in our culture.  This talk is one of the best, most challenging, most encouraging things I’ve heard in a long time.  Here is a favourite excerpt:

He [Joseph Soloveitchik, the great rabbi, in his 1965 book “Lonely Man of Faith.”] said we have two sides to nurture, which he called Adam One and Adam Two, which correlate to the versions of creation in Genesis.

Adam One is the external résumé. Career-oriented. Ambitious. External.

Adam Two is the internal Adam. Adam Two wants to embody certain moral qualities to have a serene, inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong, not only to do good but to be good, to sacrifice to others, to be obedient to a transcendent truth, to have an inner soul that honors God, creation and our possibilities.

Adam One wants to conquer the world. Adam Two wants to obey a calling and serve the world. Adam One asks. “How things work?” Adam Two asks, “Why things exist and what we’re her for?”

Adam One wants to venture forth. Adam Two wants to return to roots.

Adam One’s motto is “Success.”

Adam Two’s motto is “Charity. Love. Redemption.”

So the secular world is a world that nurtures Adam One, and leaves Adam Two inarticulate.

The competition to succeed in the Adam One world is so intense, there’s often very little time for anything else. Noise and fast, shallow communication makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from our depths.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be assertive, to brand ourselves to get likes on Facebook, and it’s hard to have that humility and inner confrontation which is necessary for a healthy Adam Two life.

And the problem is that I have learned over the course of my life that if you’re only Adam One, you turn into a shrewd animal whose adept at playing games and begins to treat life as a game.

You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to a moral purpose that gives life worth. You settle into a sort-of  self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You follow your desires wherever they take you. You approve of yourself as long as people seem to like you. And you end up slowly turning the core piece of yourself into something less desirable than what you wanted. And you notice this humiliating gap between your actual self and your desired self.

So this secular world may look like Kim Kardashian and vulgarity, but I am telling you it is a river of spiritual longing. Of people who are aware of their shortcomings and lack of direction and in this realm.

They don’t have categories, they don’t have vocabularies, but they know the gap.

They know the gap because none of us gets through life very long without being knocked to our knees either in joy or in pain. And a bunch of activities expose the inadequacies of an Adam One life.

A Holy Friend – David Brooks, The Gathering, 2014

What Do I Love When I Love My God?

There was once a time when theologians were also poets.  It was a time when the way they spoke made you want to believe what they argued for.  Maybe we should try to get that back.  But first we need to go to school with a master…

Augustine by Champaigne (that's his own burning heart he's holding; what does your heart burn for?)

Augustine by Champaigne
(that’s his own burning heart he’s holding; what does your heart burn for?)

What Do I Love When I Love My God?

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.   St Augustine