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Music Review: Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew Peterson

29 Aug

Sometimes it’s a couple of days or even weeks before I dig through the pre-releases in my “to be reviewed” pile to find the right mood music.  However, in the case of Andrew Peterson’s latest, Light for the Lost Boy, I gave a giddy shout and popped the album in my vehicle’s CD player as soon as I ran out the door minutes after checking my mail.  As the strings of the first song on the album flirted with my ears, I let out a gentle sigh and tried to relax.  But Andrew Peterson is one of the few artists whose musical proficiency and stunning use of lyric touch me on a level too deep to explain.  It’s hard to relax when my soul is so thirsty for the refreshing touch that Peterson’s music can provide it.

Counting Stars, Peterson’s previous album, was my introduction to this artist’s body of work, which not only includes an impressive line of music, but books and a website called The Rabbit Room as well.  Truly a visionary, Peterson is one of those creative I’d love to sit down with for a chai latte to talk music, literature, writing, and theology.  I’m sure the conversation would be nothing short of fascinating.

Therefore, my expectations for Light for the Lost Boy were very high, and I feared I would be let down.  Lost Boy certainly rises to the occasion with 10 beautiful tracks, each one as delectable as the next, though I have my favorites.  I purposely didn’t read the press release accompanying the pre-release, any early reviews, or even Peterson’s thoughts on the album because I wanted to present pure and personal thoughts on this my review of Lost Boy.

To me, Light for the Lost Boy, is a double entendre.  The light is not only for the lost “boy,” who is Peterson himself (or perhaps his children), but it is also light for a lost world.  The album repeats the message, “Yes, this word is cursed and it hurts, but God is with you.  Hope is ever near you, beside you.  And there is a reality that is so much stronger than all that you see and think you know.”  The album continually echoes the thought of one of my most beloved Bible verses found in Revelation 21:5, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

So I wasn’t too far off…

My early favorite on this album was “Rest Easy,” which Andrew Peterson promoted through a contest, in which fans were invited to make a music video for this song (see winner). Spoken from the voice of Jesus (like a music version of the devotional Jesus Calling), the song starts out with the lyrics, “You are not alone/I will always be with you.” I was immediately drawn in.  All humanity feels alone, and this song speaks from God’s heart directly to that persistent aloneness, that ever-present separation from God that won’t be eradicated until see finally see Him face to face.

Yesterday, I listened to this song over and over again, letting the words soak into my trembling, sweaty body, for I needed the lyrics to speak to my heart, “You don’t have to prove yourself/You’re already mine/ You don’t have to have to hide your heart/I hold it in Mine/You can rest easy.”  How I long to rest easy!  I appreciate the ability of a song to help me settle down so I can open myself to God’s peace that surpasses all understanding.

Energy flows through another one of my early and consistent favorites, “Day By Day.”  From the first beat, the listener is propelled into an adventure of searching with child-like faith and a reminder that we are truly “children of eternity” who are fighting the curse of death. (Lyric: “Children of eternity, on the run from entropy.” Ahh!  Peterson’s use of language gives me chills!)  This song gives a nod to fleeting youth, but reminds listeners of the promise of eternity.  Referencing 2 Corinthians 4:16, Peterson sings, “Don’t lose heart, though your body’s wasting away/ Your soul is not, it’s being remade/Day by day by day.”  It’s so hard to explain how much this soul touches me.  It gives me hope as I watch a dear friend’s earthly body revolt against her, yet her faith is strong and her soul is ageless.  This song is for her, for all of us.

“Shine Your Light On Me” seems to be a biographical song about how God’s light shown into Peterson’s life when he was devastated, sick, and in the sloe of despair.  He talks about how he “drove into darkness” and “could hear the flapping wings of every devil” he has known.  This is a place I’ve been many times, and the same light that invaded Peterson’s car, floods me as well.  Again, this is another song which I have difficulty describing, yet I know the place from which Peterson writes.  It’s dark, scary, lonely, and almost hopeless.  The light of God’s grace shines into that darkness time and again, each time more beautiful than the last.  It’s these little glimpses of eternity that keep us going in our struggles.

A Facebook friend mentioned that “Cornerstone” was one of her favorite songs on Lost Boy.  The first few times I heard this song I liked the message pulled from John 6.  I found the music “hard”—more electric guitar and less easy acoustic.  That’s why albums must have multiple listens because this song has drawn me in.  With lyrics like, “You look me in the eyes and fix me with a permanent stare,” how can this song not be amazing?  This is one of the most profoundly Scriptural songs on the album, like it was ripped directly from the Gospels.

Wow!  Andrew explains these songs so beautifully.  Maybe I should’ve watched these earlier.

Then there’s “Carry the Fire,” which offers promises of what is to come in a place “where joy writes the songs and the innocent sing them” as well as the first track on the album, “Come Back Soon.”  To be perfectly honest, this song is an enigma to me, though the mystery becomes clearer with every listen.  I will most certainly read Peterson’s thoughts on the song, though it seems like a good summation of the album echoing, “We groan in this great darkness for deliverance/Deliver us, O Lord.”

This is the longest album review I’ve ever written in my 16 years of “music journalism” (hey, I could those clumsy days as a teenager with a ‘zine!)  Peterson’s music evokes one of my early faves, Rich Mullins, whose honest lyrics shaped my faith as a teenager (and in many ways, still do shape my faith).  Peterson, a great admirer of Mullins’ work, carries on his legacy.  Yet Andrew Peterson is very much his own artist, achieving a depth rarely seen but sorely needed.  While there are many catch lines I could insert telling you that you should buy Light for the Lost Boy, I won’t bow to cliché endings.  Andrew Peterson certainly wouldn’t. Give this album one listen, and you’ll see what I mean.  But, of course, you’ll want to buy it first because one listen simply won’t suffice.

Let’s chat!  Leave a comment below! What do you think of Andrew Peterson’s new album? What’s your fave song and why?  If you haven’t heard it, did I convince you that you NEED to listen to it?  Do you like how Andrew explains his songs?  Is this the longest music review you’ve ever read?

Redeemed by DaySpring

30 Apr

When I signed up to to review one of DaySpring’s (in)spired deals for April, I didn’t plan on posting my review on the very last day of the month, a week later than requested by the powers that be.  I didn’t know that my foot would be rockin’ a cam boot or that my heart would be shattered by the re-homing of an adorable puppy.  In fact, I expected April to be a unusually warm and wonderful–the best it’s been in years. And in some ways, I was right.

See, this past Easter (April 8) was the first I spent at a church I could call my home in seven years!  Maybe that’s why the message of April’s (in)spired products–REDEEMED–resonated so deeply with me.  Redeemed means to be bought back from slavery or captivity, and that’s the story of my life.  I was bought at a great price by the blood of Jesus Christ, and even now, I spent foolish years wandering from the Truth I knew only to find myself wholly redeemed again.

When I slip on my Redeemed necklace, I’m part of the message I’m wearing.  Even though it’s costume jewelry, I love the necklace’s classy antiqued gold finish and pretty charms–a bird, the letter “R”, and a round patina which says “redeemed.”  Based on 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NCV), this necklace is a reminder that I have been set free.  I am redeemed.

I also received the “Beautiful In Its Time” jewelry tabletop mirror, which is also part of the Redeemed collection.  While the mirror, which has a brass tone, could be used as a make-up mirror or a cute accent piece in a bedroom, my mirror has fits right in with my coffee table decor.  Inscribed on the mirror is a message I so desperately need to hear, especially right now: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) 

I feel anything but beautiful with a giant black boot on my right foot, a walker at my side, and having to be assisted in many tasks right now.  Then I remember that God’s time isn’t always in sync with my time, yet He patiently makes beauty even from my messes, even when I look like a mess.

Whether making cards or jewelry or decor, DaySpring’s well-made products always seem to resonate with my spirit–lightening my heart or the heart of others.  Check out April’s (in)spired deals for great gift ideas for Mother’s Day and more!

*To my dearest FTC, I selected and was provided with these prodcuts from DaySpring, free of charge for review. These opinions are my own and do not reflect those of Dayspring in any way.*

Book Review:: You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth

15 Mar

Since Holley Gerth writes for DaySpring cards (and co-founded (in)courage) it seems cliché to say that her book, You’re Already Amazing, is like receiving an unexpected greeting card saturated with wisdom and thoughtfulness only a dear friend could write. But that’s exactly what reading You’re Already Amazing is like!  Gerth engaged me with her girlfriend language, stunning insights into the heart of God, and helpful exercises that encouraged me to learn more about who I am and what I mean to my Creator.

What I appreciated most about You’re Already Amazing were the exercises that Gerth, also a trained counselor, included at the end of each chapter.  Instead of just telling me how great I am because I was created by God and proving her point with Scripture, Gerth’s tools helped me discover my strengths (and weaknesses) and how I can best use them for the glory of God!  Not only am I already amazing, I am also already uniquely gifted!  It’s nice to get a pep talk, but even better to take that encouraging energy to the next level—to actually live it out.

In some ways this book is similar to Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, but Holley Gerth’s work is more reader-friendly, and her charm is enticing, page-turning, and life-changing.  This is a book for the weak and the strong, the lost and the found, the hopeless and the hopeful.  Really, You’re Already Amazing is a book for every woman in every walk, on every journey to discover who she is, what she was created to be, and how she is desperately loved by her Father.  Stop striving to be “enough” and discover how amazing you really are to the One who loves you more than you can fathom.

*Thanks to Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for providing me a review copy of this book.*

FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd

30 Jan

Amy’s Take: Beauty Will Save the World is about how the intrinsic message of the Gospel is beautiful.  Author Brian Zahnd says that the Jews in Jesus’ time expected a benevolent ruler who would overthrow Roman oppression, but instead they got a God-man who died on a tree (and rose again).  To the Jewish people, this seemed to be the opposite of victory, but the very definition of love—that God Himself would die a sinner’s death to redeem what was lost, to restore what is broken, to restore beauty.  It is this beauty that will save the world.

This book tickled the part of my brain that longs for intelligent, theological discourse.  However, at time Zahnd is repetitive using the same words and phrases to a fault. While I understand that he is urging readers to see the cross (which he refers to as the cruciform, which is the shape of the cross), I feel that he will lose readers in his cumbersome terminology.  This isn’t a book that can be simply read.  Sentences need to be digested, re-read, and understood because each line builds up Zahnd’s argument.

Admittedly, I have yet to finish the Beauty Will Save the World (not the easy nighttime read I thought it would be), but so far I have found the book to be biblically sound.  Reading this book is like digging for diamonds—it takes work, but in the end, you will find something precious and beautiful.

Read on, and find out if this book is for you!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Casa Creacion (January 3, 2012)

***Special thanks to Jon Wooten of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I’m a full-time pastor, an erstwhile author, and a would-be mountaineer. I am the lead pastor of Word of Life Church in Saint Joseph, Missouri. I am the author of several books, most recently *Unconditional* and *What To Do On The Worst Day Of Your Life*

I became a Christian as a teenager through a dramatic encounter with Jesus during the height of the Jesus movement. Almost immediately I was holding Bible studies in High School, leading a coffeehouse ministry and preaching in whatever church was crazy enough to let a long-haired Jesus freak into the pulpit. Seven years after my life-changing encounter with Jesus I started Word of Life Church in a broken down Methodist church building. For the first seven years we struggled and remained small, but since that time God has allowed me to be a pastor to thousands. It never ceases to amaze me.

My great passion is for the King and His Kingdom. I’ve been led on my never-ending adventure of exploring the Kingdom of the Heavens by these five signpost words: Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution. I could talk for hours on these five words that revolve around Jesus, but this is supposed to be a short bio.

My wife Peri and I have done some pretty improbable things by daring to believe God. It has made our life an adventure—not always easy, but always an adventure…and in the end, always good.

We have three sons: Caleb, Aaron and Philip, and two daughter-in-laws, Ashlie and Sarah. They’re awesome.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In today’s world we have technology, convenience, security, and a measure of prosperity, but where is the beauty?

For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. Now we live in a day when convenience and practicality have largely displaced beauty as a value. The church is no exception—even salvation is commonly viewed in a scientific and mechanistic manner and presented as a plan, system, or formula.

In Beauty Will Save the World, Brian Zahnd presents the argument that this loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture—and especially for the church. The full message of the beauty of the gospel has been replaced by our desires to satisfy our material needs, to empirically prove our faith, and to establish political power in our world—the exact same things that Christ was tempted with—and rejected—in the wilderness.

Zahnd shows that by following the teachings of the Beatitudes, the church can become a viable alternative to current-day political, commercial, and religious power and can actually achieve what these powers promise to provide but fail to deliver. Using stories from the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and from his own life, he teaches us to stay on the journey to discover the kingdom of God in a fuller, richer—more beautiful—way.

Product Details:

  • List Price: $15.99
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Casa Creacion (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616385855
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616385859

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1: Form and Beauty: This is a book about beauty and Christianity—or perhaps about the beauty of Christianity. We are all attracted to beauty. We desire it, we admire it, we recognize it when we see it. We have an innate instinct for beauty, even if the definition of what beauty actually is can be a bit unwieldy. In an academic sense, beauty is generally

understood as a combination of color, shape, and form that we find aesthetically pleasing. That is a rather bland description of beauty, but even if the definition is inadequate, we do understand that beauty has a form. This is important. Whether it’s a painting or a poem or a sculpture or a song, beauty has a form. Form is central to beauty. Distortion of a beautiful form takes away from its beauty. Obviously it’s even possible for a beautiful thing to become so distorted and deformed that it loses most or all of its beauty. When this happens, it’s a kind of vandalism.

Think of a beautiful stained-glass window, an artistic combination of color, shape, and form. Imagine a stained-glass masterpiece in a great cathedral, perhaps depicting a scene

from the life of Jesus. Now try to imagine a vandal lobbing bricks through that window. The beautiful combination of color and form has been broken, and beauty has been lost. It is a tragedy, and we are saddened. What we hope for now is some kind of restoration—we hope that beauty can be recovered. We hope for this because one way of viewing life is as an ongoing struggle to create, preserve, and recover what is beautiful. This is why art is not merely a leisure pursuit but serious business, because, quite simply, life should be made as beautiful as possible.

But this is not a book about art appreciation. This is a book about Christianity and about making it beautiful. Christianity in its proper form is a transcendent beauty. The story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is not only the greatest story ever told, but it’s also the most beautiful story ever told. Christianity as the ongoing expression of the Jesus story lived out in the lives of individuals and in the heart of society is a beauty that can

redeem the world. That is an almost outlandish statement, but I believe it!

Yet I also recognize that Christianity can be distorted. It can be twisted out of shape. It can lose its beautiful form. When this happens, Christianity is not only less than beautiful; it can at times be blatantly ugly. It has happened before. What I fear is that we are in danger of losing our perspective of what is most beautiful about Christianity and accidentally vandalizing our faith with the best of intentions. I fear the vandalism has already begun. This book is about what can be done and how Christianity can recover its form and beauty through a new kind of reformation.

Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda—The church reformed and always reforming.This Latin phrase was one of the mottoes of the Protestant Reformation—a reminder and an acknowledgment that for the church to remain true to its mission and witness and to retain its beauty, the church must constantly be reforming itself. Of course, semper reformanda doesn’t mean the church should mindlessly engage in change for the sake of faddish novelty or trendy innovation. That’s not what I’m talking about. Rather semper reformanda comes from the realization that there are forces—political, social, theological, spiritual, and so forth—that over time tend to twist the church and the gospel out of shape. As a result the church must continually seek to recover the true form and original beauty found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of reformation is an ongoing process.

There is indeed a sense in which the need for some measure of reformation is always present, but there are also times when the need for reformation (think re-formation) is more critical than others. There are times when the distortion of the church is severe enough that the integrity of our message is compromised. I’m convinced the evangelical church in the Western world is facing just such a crisis. Putting it as plainly as I can, evangelical Christianity needs to recover the form and beauty that are intrinsic to Christianity. We need a reformation because we are being twisted out of shape. Let me try to explain how this has happened.

The stories of evangelicalism and America are deeply intertwined in much the same way that the stories of Catholicism and the Roman Empire are intertwined. Evangelical Christianity came of age during America’s rise to superpower status on the world stage. America, untethered from European Christendom and their vassal state churches, provided an environment conducive for evangelical Christianity, and evangelical Christianity has flourished in the American environment. (By evangelical I mean the expression of Protestant Christianity characterized by a dual emphasis on the authority of Scripture and a personal conversion experience—this is evangelicalism at its best.) So far

so good. But there is always a particular temptation faced by the church when it is hosted by a superpower. The temptation is to accommodate itself to its host and to adopt (or even christen) the cultural assumptions of the superpower.

This is nothing new. The long history of the church bears witness to the reality and seductive power of this temptation. The historic problem the Greek Orthodox Church struggled with in the East sixteen hundred years ago was the temptation to be too conformed to the Byzantine Empire. At the same time, the historic problem the Roman Catholic Church struggled with in the West was the temptation to be too conformed

to the Roman Empire. And I dare to suggest (or even insist!) that the problem that is distorting American evangelicalism is that it has become far too accommodating to Americanism and the culture of a superpower. This is fairly obvious. You don’t have to be a sociologist to recognize that the American obsession with pragmatism, individualism, consumerism, materialism, and militarism that so characterizes contemporary America has come to shape (and thereby distort) the dominant form of evangelical Christianity found in North America. It becomes American culture with a Jesus fish bumper sticker. If we are unwilling to engage in critical thought, we will simply assume that this is Christianity, when in reality it is a kind of Christianity blended with many other things.

To be born in America is to be handed a certain script. We are largely unconscious of the script, but we are “scripted” by it nevertheless. The American script is part of our nurture

and education, and most of it happens without our knowing it. The dominant American script is that which idolizes success, achievement, acquisition, technology, and militarism. It is the script of a superpower. But this dominant script does not fit neatly with the alternative script we find in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So here is our challenge: when those who confess Christ find themselves living in the midst of an economic and military superpower, they are faced with the choice to either be an accommodating chaplain or a prophetic challenge. Over the last generation or so, evangelicalism has been

more adept at endorsing the dominant script than challenging it. And in conforming too closely to the dominant script of Americanism, the Christianity of the American church has become disfigured and distorted and is in desperate need of recovering its true form and original beauty through a process of re-formation. We need to bear the form and beauty of the Jesus way and not merely provide a Christianized version of our cultural assumptions.

In order to recover the true form and original beauty that is integral to Christianity, we need an ideal form, a true standard, an accurate template, a faithful model to which we can look, to which we must conform. For historic Christianity this has always been Jesus Christ upon the cross, which is a holy irony, since crucifixion was designed to be ghastly and hideous. But this is the mystery of the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which attains in retrospect an eternal glory and beauty through the resurrection, is the axis of Christianity around which everything else revolves. Thus the cruciform (the shape of a cross) is the eternal form that endows Christianity with its mysterious beauty. Simply put, the cross is the form that makes Christianity beautiful! The cross is the beauty of Christianity because it is at the cross that we encounter co-suffering love and costly forgiveness in its most beautiful form.

But the question is, can we see the beauty of the cruciform? In a culture that idolizes success, can we see beauty in the cross? In a culture that equates beauty with a “pretty

face,” can we see past the horror of a grisly execution and discern the sacred beauty beneath the surface? This is what artistic representations of the cruciform are capable of capturing and why their work is invaluable. The artist doesn’t give us a journalistic photograph of an event, but an artistic interpretation of an event. The great masters of sacred art were both artists and theologians; through their work they have given us an artistic interpretation that reveals the inherent, but hidden, beauty of the cross. Consider the cruciform and try to apprehend its beauty. The Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in the gesture of proffered embrace, refusing to call upon avenging angels but instead loving his enemies and praying for their forgiveness—this is the form and beauty of Christianity. The cruciform is the posture of love and forgiveness where retaliation is abandoned and outcomes are entrusted to the hands of God. The cross is laden with mystery. At first glance it looks like anything but success. It looks like failure. It looks like defeat. It looks like death. It is death. But it is also the power and wisdom of

God. This is mysterious. It is also beautiful. This is the mysterious beauty that saves the world.

The cruciform is the aesthetic of our gospel. It is the form that gives Christianity its unique beauty. It is what distinguishes Christianity from the dominant script of a superpower. But the beauty of the cruciform is a beauty communicated in a mystery. To those who value only conventional power and crass pragmatism—which is always the tendency of a superpower—the cruciform looks like folly, weakness, defeat, and death. It is not conventional beauty. But to those who have eyes to see, the cruciform shows forth a transcendent beauty—the beauty of love and forgiveness. It is the beauty of Christ’s

love and forgiveness as most clearly seen in the cruciform that is able to save us from our vicious pride and avaricious greed.

This is relevant to our situation because pride and greed are often pawned off as virtues in the culture of a superpower. Pride and greed are the engines of expansion, and as such they tend to be reworked as attributes. It was true in first-century Rome, and it’s true in twenty-first-century America. We’re told to “take pride in ourselves” and reminded that “we’re number one.” We sing about how proud we are to be Americans (even in church!). Plus there’s always someone new buying into Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy of self-interest and explaining to us with great passion how “greed is good.” But our Scriptures give a minority report; they tell us that pride and greed are the pliers that have distorted our humanity into a sinful ugliness. We must see the beauty of Christ in the cruciform and understand that it is only the beauty of self-sacrificing love that can

save us from pride and greed. This is the beauty Dostoevsky correctly and prophetically spoke of when he said, “Beauty will save the world.”

The church always faces the temptation to turn its gaze from the beauty of the cruciform and look instead to “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” The beauty of the cruciform is a subtle and hidden beauty, like the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa. The splendor of Babylon is brash, like the garish lights of Las Vegas. When we lose sight of the subtle beauty of the cruciform we become seduced by the power, prestige, and pragmatism of politics. To borrow Tolkien’s theme, we become seduced by the ring of power. The ring of power is the enemy of beauty. It was the ring of power—“my precious”—that transformed the humanlike Sméagol into the reptilian Gollum. In like manner, the church begins to devolve from beauty into a distorted form less beautiful the moment it reaches for the ring of power.

But we reach for the ring of power nevertheless. We find it almost irresistible. Of course we supply ourselves with copious reasons as to why our fascination with conventional power is a good thing: “We want to have power to do good.” “We want to make a difference in the world.” “We have to take a stand against evil.” But without realizing it, we are being subtly seduced into thinking there is a better way to go about achieving righteousness and justice (think beauty) than by taking up the cross and following Jesus. We begin to think that if we can just get Caesar on our side, if we can just get the emperor to hold a National Prayer Breakfast, we can then baptize the ways and means of the empire and at last accomplish “great things for God.” And here’s the thing: Caesar is

more than willing to employ the church as a chaplain, as long as the church will endorse (with a bit of religious flourish) the ways and means of the empire. Of course the ways and means of the empire are the ways and means of political and military domination. There’s no beauty in that. Politics is never pretty. Everyone knows that. Thus the church sacrifices the beauty of Christianity when it chooses the political form over the cruciform.

Reaching for the ring of power distorts our beauty.

But why would we do it? Why would we sacrifice the enchanting beauty of Christianity for the ugly machine of politics? Because political power is so—and there’s no other word for it—pragmatic. We’re convinced “it works.” What could be more simple? Here’s the formula. Just put good people in positions of power and good things will happen. (Such thinking is very close to the wilderness temptation Jesus faced; more on that later.) We are easily seduced by the clear logic of political pragmatism. But we need to remember that God does not save the world through the clear logic of political pragmatism (though Jesus was tempted by the devil, and even by his own disciples, to attempt it). Instead, God saves the world through the ironic and mysterious beauty of the cruciform. To achieve good through attaining political and military dominance has

always—always!—been the way of the fallen world. We seem to lack the imagination to envisage any other way. But it’s not the Jesus way. It’s not the beautiful way. It’s not the way of the cruciform.

Jesus does not save the world by adopting the ways and means of political pragmatism and becoming the best Caesar the world has ever seen. Instead Jesus saves the world by suffering the worst crime humanity is capable of—the crime of deicide (the murder of God). On the cross Jesus absorbed our hate and hostility, our vengeance and violence into His own body and recycled it into love and forgiveness. By his wounds we are healed. By this beauty we are saved.

The third-century theologian Origen observed that “the marvel of Christ is that, in a world where power, riches, and violence seduce hearts and compel assent, he persuades and prevails not as a tyrant, an armed assailant, or a man of wealth, but simply as a teacher of God and his love.”1 Commenting on this, David Bentley Hart says, “Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire. . . . Such an account [of Christ] must inevitably make an appeal to beauty.”2 I absolutely agree! Christ persuades, not by the force of Caesar, but by the beauty of love.

I assume that every Christian would agree with the idea that what Jesus did in his death was beautiful and that somehow this beautiful act is central to our salvation. But the challenge is to translate the beauty of the cruciform into contemporary Christianity—especially a contemporary Christianity obsessed with power and politics. The beauty of the cruciform by which Jesus saves the world through an act of co-suffering love and

costly forgiveness is the same beauty that must characterize the church if we are to show forth the glory of the Lord in our world. But it’s the beauty of cruciform love that is most

marred when we allow the Christian faith to be politicized.

A politicized faith loses its beauty very quickly. I know, because I was once an enthusiastic participant in the process of faith-based politicization. I was willing to subtly, and at times not so subtly, align my church with partisan political agendas. Senators and congressman would visit my church to give their testimonies (always around election time). We handed out “voter guides” so those not paying close enough attention would know how to vote. We found ways to make the elephants and donkeys of the American political process somehow analogous to the sheep and goats in Jesus’s parables. But for me that came to an abrupt end in a fairly dramatic fashion.

In September of 2004 in the heat of a volatile presidential campaign I was asked to give the invocation at a political rally where one of the vice presidential candidates was

appearing. I agreed to do so. I remember well the acrimony outside the convention center where protestors and supporters were busy hurling ugly epithets at one another. Inside the convention center the crowd was being whipped into a political frenzy that amounted to “hurray for our side!” As I sat on the platform with the political acolytes, and me as their rent-a-chaplain, I began to squirm. I knew I was being used. I was a pawn in a political game. I felt like a tool. (And a fool!) When it came time for me to pray (for which the unstated purpose was to let it be known that God was squarely on our side), I stepped to the podium and first prayed silently, “God, what am I doing here? I’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry.” I then offered a largely innocuous prayer and left as soon as I could, promising myself and God that I would never do anything like that again. But in leaving the convention center I again had to run the gauntlet of supporters and protesters yelling at one another with the police in between the two groups to prevent them from being at one another’s throats. It wasn’t pretty. And no prayer could make it pretty. It was petty, partisan, and petulant. I could not imagine Jesus or the apostles sullying their gospel to participate in it.

That moment was a turning point for me. I was no longer willing to see the church as a sidekick to Caesar, fully baptized (immersed, not sprinkled) into the acrimonious world

of partisan politics. It’s not that I’m afraid of controversy or persecution—I am perfectly willing to suffer persecution and ridicule for the sake of Christ (this is part of the cruciform). But I am unwilling to throw myself into the political fray for the sake of partisanship. I’m unwilling to do so because I simply no longer believe that political parties have much to do with God’s redemptive work in the world. Jesus is building his

church, not a political party. And I’m absolutely certain that political partisanship costs us our prophetic voice. We end up a tool to one side, an enemy to the other, and prophetic to neither. The bottom line is there is simply no way to make politics beautiful. But the way of the cruciform is beautiful. And I have made my choice. I choose the beautiful over the pragmatic. I realize that many people will not understand this, but I fully believe this is precisely the choice Jesus made. In choosing the cruciform over the political, Jesus was choosing the beautiful over the pragmatic.

If we are going to recover the form and beauty of Christianity, we are going to have to face squarely the issue of the politicization of the faith, because things are getting ugly. In the current climate of polarized partisanship where everything is now politicized, there is an appalling amount of anger, vitriol, and a general lack of civility. Sadly, millions of confessed followers of Jesus are being swept up in the madness as they give vent to their anger, fully convinced that God is on their side. Their justification is “we’ve got to take America back for God.” Presumably this is to be done by the dubious means of acrimonious partisan politics. But we need to think less politically and more biblically.

Does the church have a mandate to change the world through political means? We have assumed so, but it is a questionable assumption at best. Baptist theologian Russell Moore

has observed that, “Too often, and for too long, American ‘Christianity’ has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”3 But is our mission a kind of political agenda or is it something else? Isn’t our first task to actually be God’s alternative society? Pause and think about that. I’m afraid we’ve made a grave mistake concerning our mission. We’re not so much tasked with running the world as with being a faithful expression of the kingdom of God through following Jesus and living the beautiful life that Jesus sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus described his disciples as sheep among wolves. The mistake of confusing our mission of being faithful as God’s alternative society with trying to rule the world through the crude means of political power is nothing new—it’s the mistake the church has been making for seventeen centuries. Prior to the Roman emperor Constantine, the early church was content to simply be the church—to be a city set upon a hill living the alternative

lifestyle that is the Jesus way. But after the emperor Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the imperial religion, the church embarked upon a project of running the

world in cahoots with Caesar. This project has not turned out well. And it has been particularly damaging to the church. In fact, it has led to the ugliest episodes in church history. The church’s collusion with political agendas led us into the shameful venture of the Crusades and the arrogant doctrine of Manifest Destiny. These things are truly ugly.

The problem with our “change the world” rhetoric is that it is too often a thinly veiled grasp for power and a quest for dominance—things that are antithetical to the way Jesus calls his disciples to live. A politicized faith feeds on a narrative of perceived injury and lost entitlement leading us to blame, vilify, and seek to in some way retaliate against those we imagine responsible for the loss in late modernity of a mythical past. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche as a critic of Christianity identified as ressentiment, and it drives much of the Christian quest for political power. In the Jesus way the end—no matter how

noble—never justifies the means. It’s inevitable that a movement fueled by resentment will soon depart from the Jesus way, and it is bound to become ugly. Jesus specifically told us that we are not to emulate the ugly ways of Caesar in grasping for power and dominance. Instead we are to choose the counterintuitive way of humility, service, and sacrificial love. These things are inherently beautiful. But we have a hard time learning this lesson.

When the disciples James and John (whom for obvious reasons Jesus called “the sons of thunder”) expressed a desire to reign with Christ in their imagined version of Jesus as Caesar, Jesus made it clear that they didn’t know what they were talking about and that the way of political dominance would not be the way of his kingdom. Jesus curtly told his disciples: “It shall not be so among you.”† Jesus was doing something new and truly beautiful; he was not imitating the way and means of Caesar. The brutal Roman Empire had plenty of splendor as veneer, but it lacked any true depth of beauty. Jesus deliberately

chose the beauty of co-suffering love over the brutal pragmatism of political power. When Pilate encountered Christ, he could not understand this—but we must. We must

never forget that Jesus ushered in his kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms. Jesus didn’t fight political power with political power. Thus Jesus submitted to the

injustice of a state-sponsored execution by telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting.” Think about that. It is part of the mystery and beauty of Christianity that the kingdom of God comes, not by the sword of political power, but by the cross of self-sacrificing love. Jesus didn’t smash his foes with the sword of “righteous” political power; instead he absorbed the blow of injustice and committed his fate to the hands of God. In this we find an undeniable truth: we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that

the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world! A politicized mind can only imagine power as political domination, but a Spirit-renewed mind imagines the more excellent way of love—which is the more beautiful way of the cruciform.

Admittedly we live in a world where much is wrong. But what is most wrong with the world is not our politics or Congress or who lives in the White House. This is either the

naïve gullibility or the manipulative rhetoric of partisanship. What is most wrong with the world is the ugly distortion of humanity brought about through the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed, and pride. As followers of Jesus we are not called to campaign for a political solution—for ultimately there is none—but to demonstrate an authentic Christian alternative. We are advocates of another way. Certainly we can participate in the political process, but we must do so primarily as ambassadors of another kingdom exhibiting and teaching the beautiful virtues of that kingdom. This is how we are salt and light. This is what makes us a shining city set upon a hill. We are to model what it means to be Christlike in a Caesar-like world. But to be Christlike in a Caesar-like world requires us to embrace the cruciform.

Of course the cruciform is offensive to the unimaginative mind of pragmatism. Pragmatism sees the cruciform as a passive surrender (though it is anything but that!). Pragmatism believes the only way to change the world is to beat down the bad guys—either with ballots or bullets. But without even raising the thorny issue of who are the bad guys in the ever-escalating world of revenge, the philosophy of “beat down the bad guys” displays an appalling lack of imagination. Pragmatism requires little imagination; it only needs the will to power. Or pragmatism will trot out the oft-quoted axiom from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That is true enough, provided we don’t misapply what it means to “do nothing.” I was once given Burke’s maxim as a counterargument after preaching on the Sermon on the Mount. As if living the Sermon on the Mount is “doing nothing.” Or worse yet, as if a Christian can call upon Edmund Burke to refute Jesus Christ!

But here is the real problem I have with the trajectory of the American evangelical church in the early twenty-first century. If, instead of imitating Christ with his cross, we want to

imitate Caesar with his sword, we inevitably choose the ugly over the beautiful. This approach always leads the church away from living as a witness to the gospel. Being a faithful witness to the gospel should be a hallmark of evangelical Christianity.

But something has gone very wrong. Think about it—that the primary public witness of the American evangelical church for the past thirty years has been political is an absolute tragedy! Evangelicals are no longer known within the wider culture for their devotion to Scripture and their belief in a personal conversion experience. Now evangelicals are known primarily for their politics. This has been anything but helpful. The amount

of hope many evangelical Christians place in politics is nothing short of astonishing! If nothing else, it is naïve—but worse, it is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of the beautiful way of Christ. For in a politicized faith we embrace the ugly pragmatism of political domination over the beauty of the cruciform.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has correctly observed: “The church doesn’t have a social strategy; the church is a social strategy.”4 Instead of trying to force change upon the wider society through means of legislation, we are to exemplify the beautiful alternative of the kingdom of God by actually living it! We make a terrible mistake when we tell the wider society something like this: “We have the truth, so let us run society by setting the rules.” That is a kind of tyranny, no matter how well intended. Instead we should simply be the alternative we seek to produce. We should be a righteous and just society. We should bethe beautiful expression of the kingdom of God attracting people by the unique aesthetic of our gospel. Our form is the cruciform, and our beauty is the mysterious aesthetic of the crucified Savior.

Admittedly, this is a complicated issue that doesn’t yield itself to simplistic solutions. I understand this. Christians have a complicated relationship with the state because we are

a people who carry dual citizenship. We are citizens of both the kingdom of Christ and the particular geopolitical nation we happen to live in. But this much is certain: our first allegiance must be to the kingdom of Christ. Furthermore, we must never make the mistake of thinking God has some kind of commitment to the well-being of our particular nation over the well-being of other nations. This type of ugly and arrogant nationalism is completely incompatible with the Christian faith, which confesses Jesus as Savior of the world and not merely some version of a national deity. Is it possible that American Christians actually believe that Jesus has an interest in the well-being of America over the wellbeing of, say, Mexico or China or Ethiopia? Surely not! This is “American Exceptionalism” as a ridiculous and idolatrous doctrine. Our politicians may traffic in such nonsense, but Christians must not! What Jesus is committed to is the salvation

of the world and the building up of his global church. So whereas Christians are free to participate in the civic and political process of their respective nations, Christians must

do so as those who exhibit a primary allegiance to the Jesus way—the beautiful way of the cruciform. This means treating everyone (including political enemies) with kindness, love, and respect. As followers of Christ, our mission is not to seek to rule the world through Caesar’s means of dominance—a means Jesus explicitly rejected—but to be a faithful church and thus a living example of God’s alternative society.

So, reformation is needed, and the cruciform is what can give shape to our much-needed reformation. In the cruciform we find both our proper form and, subsequently, our unique

beauty. The cruciform as a pattern gives us a means of evaluating our own form and how we present ourselves to the wider culture. With an eye on the cruciform, we can ask ourselves, “Does this attitude, this approach, this action look like Jesus on the cross?” If our attitude, approach, and action cannot be reasonably compared to the image of the cruciform, we need to abandon it. Caesar may adopt it, it may be practical, it may

even be “successful,” but if it’s not Christlike, then it’s not our pattern. Without a radical commitment to the shape of the cruciform, the process of deformation will continue year after year, and our beauty will be lost.

One of the “pliers” that distorts our Christian witness out of shape is the paradigm of protest. For far too long we have been enamored (and distorted) by protest. We love to protest. We really do. We’re good at it. We have lots of practice at it. In protest we find an outlet for our anger, we connect with like-minded people, and we at least feel like we are “making a difference” and “standing up for righteousness.” It’s exciting and cathartic. So we picket, we protest, we boycott, we form petition drives, and we write angry letters to editors and CEOs and encourage other Christians to do the same. We hold rallies where we in no uncertain terms, and with presumed divine sanction, unleash our righteous anger on a wide range of enemies. Liberals, Hollywood, gays, and Muslims are

regular targets. But does it look like the cruciform? Is it beautiful? Would a common observer look at it and say, “That’s beautiful; it reminds me of Jesus”? Do our clenched fists and furrowed brows of protest align nicely with the outstretched arms and compassionate face of Christ on the cross? If not, we have drifted from the pattern of the cruciform in our paradigm of protest, and the inevitable result will be a distortion of

Christianity. As our Christianity takes on more of a political agenda, it sloughs off resemblance to the cruciform. The result is a distinctive loss of beauty. We tend to justify our foray into the unseemly as necessary if we are to preserve morality, but I agree with Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo when he says, “True morality consists in how well we care for one another, not what sort of behaviour we wish to impose on one another.”5

Again I raise the question: Why would we do this? Why would we sacrifice the beauty of the cruciform for something everyone knows is a far cry from beautiful? Why this obsession with political power? I think the answer is that we have a carnal obsession with outcomes. It’s the ugly specter of pragmatism. We want to see a clear and obvious way that our actions are going to result in the desired outcome. We want to do good, achieve good, bring about good, vote in good, legislate good, formulate good, enforce good. So we choose the means that appear most logical in achieving this outcome. But remember, Satan never tempted Jesus with evil; Satan tempted Jesus with good. Satan enticed Jesus to go ahead and do good and to bring it about by the most direct way possible. The

temptation was to imitate the means and methods of the pharaohs and Caesars. Satan tempted Jesus to usher in a righteous world by a bloody sword. “War is impatience.”6 Obsession with outcomes and demanding to see a quick and logical way in which present action will bring about desired good are the ways of Caesar, but they are not the way of the cruciform. Obsession with outcomes is, among other things, an abandonment of faith.

Christians all believe that Jesus achieved salvation through what he did on the cross. (Though the exact way this works remains a matter of theological debate.) But on Good Friday, how could anyone have seen a “logic” in Jesus’s crucifixion? If Jesus’s intent was to save the world from the dominion of evil, how could submitting to an unjust execution at the hands of an oppressive regime accomplish anything like that? It’s absurd! Salvation is ironic because there is nothing logical or practical or obvious about the cross. Fighting is practical. Fighting is logical. Fighting has a long history of (at least temporarily) achieving desired ends. Peter was ready to fight, and presumably so were many others who followed Jesus from Galilee. But Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. There would

be no bloody revolution. No violent resistance. Not even an angry protest. Instead Jesus went to the cross, forgave his enemies, and simply died. In rejecting the way of Caesar, “Christ showed that the world was a text that could be read differently: according to the grammar not of power, but agape.”7

Did evil triumph because this good man did nothing? It certainly seemed so. But don’t forget the dying prayer of Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I think we can understand Jesus’s prayer as something like this: “Father, I have obeyed you, I have shown the world your ways, but the world has rejected me and your ways. I forgive them, but I am dying. So now I entrust everything to you.” This is the way of the cruciform. It is the way of faith.

In going to the cross, Jesus was not being practical; he was being faithful. Jesus didn’t take a pragmatic approach to the problem of evil; Jesus took an aesthetic approach to the problem of evil. Jesus chose to absorb the ugliness of evil and turn it into something beautiful—the beauty of forgiveness. Jesus bore the sin of the world by it being sinned into him with wounds. Jesus bore the sin of the world without a word of recrimination,

but only a prayer of forgiveness. He bore the sin of the world all the way down to death. So that the apostle Peter says, “By his wounds you have been healed.” This is the beauty of the cruciform. This is beauty being derived from pain, or as Bob Dylan says, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.”8

In order to do a beautiful thing, Jesus had to abandon outcomes. He had to entrust the outcome to his Father. On Good Friday Jesus abandoned outcomes, embraced the cross,

and died. Jesus abandoned outcomes in order to be faithful and trust his Father. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.” A lost cause. But then came Easter! The cornerstone of Christian faith is that on Easter Sunday God vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead. But until Easter Sunday no one thought of death, burial, and resurrection as a logical means of achieving good. Even today most people cannot accept the “formula” of the cruciform as a viable means of bringing about good. We want something that makes more sense. Something quicker. Something practical. And what we get are the same old ugly ways of Pharaoh and Caesar. Our embrace of the practical and ugly over the faithful and beautiful

exposes our unbelief. We are orthodox enough to confess that Jesus saves the world through his cross, but we don’t want to imitate it. So we choose the ugly forms of coercion over the beauty of the cruciform—the false morality of the Pharisee over the true morality of Christ. But our critics see this ugliness in us, even if we are unaware of it.

Part of the problem is that in the Western world we are deeply conditioned to choose the heroic over the saintly. We love our heroes best of all. Heroes are goal-oriented people of

great capabilities who know how to make things happen. We admire their ability to get things done and shape the world according to their will. Saints on the other hand—especially to the American mind—seem quaint and marginal, occupying religious spheres on the periphery of the action. We want to be heroes; we don’t really want to be saints. The difference between the heroic vision and the saintly vision is a fundamentally

different way of viewing the purpose of life.

For the hero, the meaning of life is honor . . . for the saint,

the meaning of life is love. . . . For the hero, the goal of

living is self-fulfillment, the achievement of personal

excellence, and the recognition and admiration that

making a signal contribution to one’s society through

one’s achievements carries with it. For the saint, life

does not so much have a goal as a purpose for which

each human being is responsible; and that purpose is

love: the bonds of concern and care that responsibility

for one’s fellow human beings carry with it. . . . These

two paradigms—the hero and the saint—and the way

of life that descends from each, are really two fundamentally

distinct and genuinely different visions of

human society as a whole, and even of what it means to

be a human being. They are two distinct and different

ways of asking the question of the meaning of life.9

Accepting Francis Ambrosio’s paradigms for the hero and saint, we should recognize that the way of Jesus is the way of the saint, but the way of the hero is what we tend to glorify. To speak of the goal of life in terms of self-fulfillment, achievement, and excellence is very American (originally Greek and Roman) and very popular. There are plenty of versions of American Christianity that easily accommodate this basic paradigm. Christianity understood as a program for self-improvement and success in life is how Americanized Christianity most often accommodates itself to contemporary culture. It also makes Christianity popular and “successful.” But an honest reading of the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that Jesus is teaching something radically different. In the Gospels we see Jesus through his teaching, which sets forth the alternative paradigm of the saint where the purpose of life is love, and the expression of that love is in the form

of care and compassion for our neighbor. The life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels begins as a life of teaching and ends in a life of suffering. But these are not to be separated. At the cross Jesus lived all that he taught. The life of love that Jesus proclaimed in his teaching he lived in his suffering. The life of co-suffering love is the paradigm of the saint, and it is how Jesus lived and died. It is the beauty of the cruciform.

Of course I can hear someone protesting, “But Jesus is my hero!” I understand what is meant by that, but if we are intent upon forcing Jesus into the archetype of typical hero, we distort him. In trying to make Jesus a hero, we miss the simple fact that Jesus did nothing that was conventionally heroic—at least not according to the Western ideal of heroism. Elijah was a conventional hero when he humiliated the prophets of Baal on

Mount Carmel and then executed them at the brook Kishon. But how did Jesus contend with his enemies at Calvary? Not in the heroic manner of Elijah on Carmel, but in a new and saintly way—the way of love and forgiveness. The Jesus of the Gospels is not a heroic general who slaughters his enemies, but a suffering saint who forgives his enemies. And even if one appeals to the Book of Revelation, it should be remembered

that the holy irony perceived in the prophetic metaphors is that the monstrous beasts are conquered by a little slaughtered lamb. It should be clear that the way of Christ is not the way of the conventional hero, because Jesus saves the world not by shedding the blood of his enemies, but by allowing his own blood to be shed in an act of redemptive love. This is the way of the saint, not the hero.

But we struggle with choosing the way of the saint over the way of the hero. Our Christian rhetoric is replete with calls to the heroic as we are urged to “be mighty men and women of God” and “fight the battles of the Lord” and “do great things for God.” We love the idea of being a hero and winning a great battle for God. There’s a lot of what we call “glory” in it. But we’re not so keen on laying down our lives in the manner of Christ at Calvary. We fail to comprehend the glory of the cross. So we struggle with which model to adopt. The hero or the saint? Achilles or Emmanuel? Caesar or Christ? Charlemagne or St. Francis? More often than not we end up choosing the hero, and this feeds one of the ugliest aspects of a misshapen Christianity—triumphalism.

Triumphalism is an ugly form of arrogance engendering a sense of group superiority. Triumphalism is a smugness and boastful pride that one’s nationality or religion is superior to all others. If Christians aren’t careful, they can be easily seduced into the ugliness of triumphalism. As Christians we believe that Jesus has triumphed over sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave. We confess that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We call Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords. But this does not entitle us to an attitude of arrogant triumphalism. Confessing the triumph of Christ

should not lead to the ugliness of triumphalism. In fact, the Christian attitude should be the very opposite.

The Christian attitude must be the deep humility exhibited by the apostle Paul when he described himself as “the foremost” of sinners. Paul was able to boldly confess the lordship of Christ while at the same time exhibiting an attitude that was completely devoid of arrogance and triumphalism. In the pluralistic cultures of the modern Western world, the ugliness of triumphalism will prevent multitudes of people from seeing the true beauty of Christianity. If we engage with people of other faiths with the attitude equivalent to “my religious founder can beat up your religious founder,” we should not be surprised if they do not see the Christian faith as inherently beautiful.

A continual turning to the cruciform leaves no room for triumphalism. Yes, Jesus triumphed over evil, but he did so by the counterintuitive way of humbling himself to the point of death, “even death on a cross.”† As we seek to assimilate the cruciform into our lives, it should always produce the beauty of a graceful humility and never the ugliness of arrogant triumphalism. If we are to show forth the beauty of Christ in our world, we must banish triumphalist attitudes from among us. It was the attitude of triumphalism in the Middle Ages that led to the ugly actions of the Crusades. Since Jesus had triumphed through the cross, it was reasoned, why not help spread his triumph through the conquest of the sword? The Crusades were the ugly offspring of a union of power-obsessed

pragmatism and arrogant religious triumphalism, and I fear that this kind of distorted thinking may have certain modern equivalents.

One more thought on heroes and saints. Heroes tend to be heroes to only one side—their side. Heroes attain their glory in an “us versus them” context. For example, the French and the Russians have decidedly different views of Napoleon, just as Americans and Mexicans will view Santa Anna differently. But saints, over time, tend to be universally recognized for their saintliness. It has to do with the universality of love. It’s why nearly everyone admires St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta whether or not they are Christian. St. Francis and Mother Teresa are preeminent examples of lives shaped by the cruciform to a degree that their lives of co-suffering love have come to be universally recognized as lives of beauty.

So in the present situation in which the American evangelical church finds itself, there is a desperate need to recover a theology of beauty. The way out of the mess and confusion of a politicized faith is to follow the path of beauty. It is the way of beauty that will lead us home to a more authentic Christianity. A theology of beauty is the antidote to the poison of pragmatism and the toxin of triumphalism. Perhaps no other theologian has done as much to develop a theology of beauty as the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. In his work on love as form and beauty he writes:

Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed,

and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the

achievement, the “work” of faith . . . to believe that

there is such a thing as love . . . and that there is

nothing higher or greater than it. . . . The first thing

that must strike a non-Christian about the Christian’s

faith is that . . . it is obviously too good to be true: the

mystery of being, revealed as absolute love, condescending

to wash his creatures’ feet, and even their

souls, taking upon himself all the confusion of guilt,

all the God-directed hatred, all the accusations showered

upon him with cudgels . . . all the mocking hostility

. . . in order to pardon his creature. . . . This is truly

too much.10

Indeed, it is too much! The apostle Paul would describe this extravagance as “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The picture of God as seen in the redemptive co-suffering love of Christ is too much in the sense that it overwhelms us in much the same way that we find a stunning sculpture, a masterpiece painting, or a majestic sunset overwhelming—it is the experience of being overawed by a transcendent beauty. This is

how the gospel is made most compelling—by making it beautiful. Instead of trying to overwhelm a cynical world weary of argument and suspicious of truth claims with the force of logic and debate, what if they were overwhelmed with the perception and persuasion of beauty?

Beauty is graceful and has a way of sneaking past our defenses. It’s hard to argue with beauty. Beauty is compelling in its own way. What I am suggesting is that we look to

beauty as a primary standard for our theology, witness, and action. As radical as it may sound to those who have grown up in the sterile world of late modernity, asking the question Is it beautiful? is a valid and viable way to evaluate what we believe and do. We should ask ourselves: “Is this a beautiful doctrine?” “Is this a beautiful witness?” “Is this a beautiful practice?” Along with asking if it is true and if it is good, we should also ask if is it beautiful. Truth and goodness need beauty. Truth claims divorced from beauty can become condescending. Goodness minus beauty can become moralistic. To embrace truth and goodness in the Christian sense, we must also embrace beauty.

At least as far back as the Greek philosopher Plato, beauty was understood not merely as an adornment, but as a value as important as truth and goodness. It was only in the twentieth century that beauty began to be diminished as a value. Now we live in a day when pragmatism and utilitarian “values” have largely displaced beauty as a value. But the loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture. One obvious example of what has befallen us is the loss of aesthetic sensibilities in architecture. Where once the role of architecture was to help beautify the shared space of our cities and neighborhoods, now the role of architecture is to build utilitarian structures as cheaply as possible. The result has been a profound loss of beauty. It’s a kind of vandalism. What modern building would people a thousand years from now flock to visit as we do the Notre Dame Cathedral today? If the Gothic cathedral was the architectural statement of the Middle Ages, the “big box” store may well be the architectural statement of our age. This is tragic. But what if what has happened to architecture is also happening to Christianity? What if modern architecture mirrors what is happening in modern

Christianity? What if utility is triumphing over beauty in the way we think about the church? This is alarming.

As our world turns its back on beauty, the result is that we are increasingly surrounded by ugliness and images of alienation. Think of government housing projects and the soulless

strip malls of suburbia. Art itself is under assault. Art is now largely driven, not by time-tested standards of beauty, but by the marketplace. So the question is no longer, “Is it beautiful?,” but “Will it sell?” (Is this too reflected in the church?) In a world where kitsch, profit, and vulgarity are vandalizing art, philosopher Roger Scruton worries that we are in danger of losing beauty, and with it the meaning of life.11 Yes, the loss of beauty is related to the loss of meaning. Attaining to the beautiful is a valid way of understanding the meaning of life—especially when we recognize a link between the sacred and the beautiful. For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. It has only been during the modern phenomenon of secularism—what

Nietzsche described as the “death of God”—that we have severed the beautiful from the divine. But when the beautiful is severed from the absolute (God), what passes for beautiful can be anything and everything—which is to say nothing. There really is a profound connection between the loss of beauty and the loss of meaning.

Yet despite the modern assault upon art and beauty, the hunger for beauty abides deep in the human heart. That the allure of beauty is part of the human makeup is clearly seen

every time a child picks up crayons and tries to capture the beauty of the world around him. And it is to this firmly entrenched desire for beauty that we should appeal in our

efforts to communicate the gospel. If we can show a world lost in the ugliness of consumer-driven pragmatism and power-hungry politics the true beauty of Christ, it will be irresistibly appealing. For too long we have relied upon the cold logic of apologetics to persuade or the crass techniques of the marketplace to entice, when what we should do is creatively hold forth the transcendent beauty of Jesus Christ. But to do this, we must examine what we preach and what we practice in the light of the beauty of the cruciform.

We need to constantly ask ourselves, “Is this beautiful? Is this thought beautiful? Is the attitude beautiful? Is this action beautiful? Does it reflect the beauty of Christ and the cruciform?” If finger-pointing isn’t beautiful, then we should abandon it. If politically based protest isn’t beautiful, then maybe we can do without it. If the common man doesn’t recognize what we do in the name of Christ as beautiful, we should at least reexamine it. If a particular doctrine doesn’t come across as truly beautiful, then we should hold it suspect. Someone may raise the question, “Can beauty be trusted?” I believe it can, as long as we make the critical distinction between the shallow and

faddish thing that our modern culture calls “image” and the absolute value that our ancestors have always understood as beauty. We can rightly evaluate our faith and practice in terms of beauty for this very reason: The Lord and his ways are beautiful.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

It’s time to recover the form and beauty of Christianity. Our enduring icon of beauty and the standard by which we gauge the beauty of our actions is the cruciform. The cross is a beautiful mystery—a mystery where an unexpected beauty is in the process of rescuing the world from its ugliness. Beauty will save the world. This is the surprising beauty of the cross when seen through the prism of the resurrection. The cross made beautiful is the ultimate triumph of God and his grace. If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.

Cards Still Make a Difference & Giveaway!

26 Jan

{More info on these cards}

We have more excuses than ever not to send cards for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions: The price of stamps just increased.  Again.  Cards aren’t eco-friendly (even though they can be recycled and are often made out of recycled materials).  And, of course, there just isn’t enough time to buy a card, address it, and pop it in a mail box.  Besides, e-card are often free…and nothing says, “I love you, Mom” like canned music and a mouse jumping out of a birthday cake.

In our tech savvy society, do conventional cards really make a difference?  That was the question I sought to answer with my brand new DaySpring cards—the Hope & Encouragement by (in)courage’s Holly Gerth  My test subjects?  The ladies in the Monday night Bible study that I lead.

First, I needed a control card to ensure that each member of my Bible study received a card that is equal in value and appearance.  I chose “Thank You For What You Do” from Holley Gerth’s collection.  What better want to tell the ladies in my flock how much I care about each and every one of them and thank them for the support they offer me weekly, as their fearless shepherdess.  As I addressed each card, I asked God to help me write a pithy message to each lady.  Despite using the same card, I didn’t want to express exactly the same sentiment to the varying personalities present at Monday night Bible study. 

Second, I wanted to give my Bible study a chance to spread the blessing to others.  I went through all my DaySpring cards, picked out about 12 (admittedly, it’s hard to part with any of my beautiful cards, but I was on a woman on a mission!), and placed them on the table at Bible study telling the ladies to pick a card or two to send (or give) to someone else.

After receiving their personalized cards from me, the ladies were more than delighted to choose cards for their own use. I overheard comments like, “Wow, these are really nice cards!”  “Amy, did you buy all these cards for us?” “They sell DaySpring cards at the local Bible bookstore!”   Most of all, they were excited that cards geared towards Christian women were relevant, beautiful, and affordable!  Someone remarked that the cards were great for anyone—Christian or not! 

One lady asked us to help her find a card that would be appropriate to encourage a friend whose mother just died.  Another wanted to use her card to uplift a co-worker who is going through an incredibly rough time.  A few ladies picked out cards and didn’t disclose how they would be used…yet.  Since one member of our group was unable to attend our “card shower,” we decided to sign and send her a card to let her know that we love her and she was missed!  Naturally, the choice of card was a group decision!

{This card, featuring a crown and a bookmark, was my favorite.  Oh, how I need to remember these words!}

While my experiment was wholly unscientific, I can safely say that greeting cards are still relevant.  There’s something about the tactile sensation of opening a card, especially when unexpected, knowing that the sender thought of you!  I like to save my cards and read the messages again and again—a reminder that people do love me when I feel unloved and unlovely or celebrated when I feel defeated. Will a card change the world?  Probably not.  But it can make someone’s day, and I’m grateful that DaySpring cards gave me the opportunity to bless others, who in turn, will use DaySpring cards to bless even more.

Yes, friends, cards really do make a difference.  Get a book of forever stamps, make a list of people who could use a beautiful card, and head over to the DaySpring Online Store to nab a few cards of your own. And, ladies, check out (in)courage for uniquely feminine musings as well as the fabulous (in)spired deals to get cute cards like mine!

Win a $20 code to use at DaySpring’s Online Store!

And I’m going to make it even easier for you to bless others with DaySpring cards, simply enter my giveaway to win a $20 coupon code to DaySpring’s online store,which offers a bounty of cards as well as other inspirational products.  To enter, simply fill out THE FORM.  For an extra entry, leave a comment about how a card cheered up your day OR how you used a card to bless someone else.  The giveaway will end at 11:59 PM EST on January 31, so get entering.

*If you really want to win, then head on over to my friend’s blog, Shari’s Sentiments, for another chance to win a $20 gift code.  Imagine if you win both of our giveaways…$40 can bring a lot of cheer!

*To my dearest FTC, I selected and was provided with the Holley Gerth Hope & Encouragement Pack from DaySpring, free of charge for review. These opinions are my own and do not reflect those of Dayspring in any way.* (P.S. I totally copy/pasted this disclosure from Shari’s blog.)

Review: The Names of God Bible

1 Dec

I never read J.B. Phillips classic book, Your God Is Too Small, but I’ve always liked the title.  Using the illustration of “putting God in a box,” Phillips says that we as humans try to limit an infinite God with our finite minds.  One of the ways we “limit” God is by failing to understand that He had a rich and complex personality.  God has many names including Father, Lord, I Am, God Most High, and so on, yet Bible translators have simply been content to refer to the Almighty as simply “God” or “LORD” (Yahweh/ “I Am”).  Truly, we have made the Bible far too simple and God far too small.

Instead of using a handful of names for God, The Names of God Bible contains almost 50 different names of God, which add insight and color to the God I thought I knew.  Perusing the Old Testament with this Bible adds so much insight to God’s relationship with Israel and His continuing relationship with us!  The Names of God Bible is presented in the God’s Word Translation (GW), which I found to be very readable yet scholarly.  The preface of the Bible explains the history of the GW as well as the translation process.  I read from various versions of the Bible when studying, and have found GW to be among my new favorites.  It’s not just a modern take on the Bible; GW also preserves its literary integrity.

The Names of God Bible contains a pronunciation guide for each name of God, as well as an alphabetical listing for each name. I can look up a an English translation like “Son of David” or Hebrew name like “Yahweh Roi” (The Lord is My Shepherd) to find a two page write-up on the specific name, what it means, and where it is referenced throughout the Bible.  Each chapter of the Bible includes a well-written introduction.

Besides being a great study tool, The Names of God Bible is also visually appealing.  Each page has faint hint of brown giving the Bible an ancient, antiqued feel.  The font is quite small, though very clear (though this is the case with many Bibles.)  One of my favorite cosmetic features of this Bible is the pages themselves—they are not tissue-paper thin, but REAL pages!  I can turn a page in The Names of God Bible without accidentally tearing it!  Of course, that does make the Bible heavier, but this probably isn’t a Bible you will take to church, unless you’re teaching Sunday school. (Half the people at my church read Scripture from their smart phones or on the overhead anyway.) 

Usually when I first meet someone, I generally introduce myself and ask the other person his or her name.  How can we know about God’s richness when we don’t even know His names? (Being as He’s God, He can have as many names as He wants.)  If you want to know God, if you want to call out His name, and if you are serious about studying your Bible, then The Names of God Bible with the GW translation is just what you need.

*With thanks to Revell, a subsidiary of Baker Publishing Group for my review copy of this book.*

Does this sound like a Bible you might try?  Are you familiar with the God’s Word Translation?  What is your favorite name of God?  How could this Bible help you with your own study of Scripture?

Blog Tour + Review: The Edge of Grace by Christa Allan

12 Sep

The Edge of GraceJoin Christa Allan, author of the contemporary fiction novel, The Edge of Grace (Abingdon Press), as she virtually tours the blogosphere September 5 – 30 2011 on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

About the book…

The Edge of GraceWhen Caryn Becker answers the telephone on most Saturday morning, it’s generally not a prelude to disaster. Except this time, her brother David’s call shifts her universe. Her emotional reserves are already depleted being a single parent to six-year-old Ben after the unexpected death of her husband Harrison. But when David is the target of a brutal hate crime, Caryn has to decide what she’s willing to risk, including revealing her own secrets, to help her brother.  A family ultimately explores the struggle of acceptance, the grace of forgiveness, and moving from prejudice to love others as they are, not as we’d like them to be.

About the author…

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, The Edge of Grace is Christa’s second novel. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, released in February from Abingdon Press. She is under contract for three more novels that will release in 2012 and 2013. She has been teaching high school English for over twenty years, earning her National Board Certification in 2007. The mother of five adult children and the totally smitten Grammy of two granddaughters, Christa and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Visit her website at www.christaallan.com.

You can connect with Christa at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author.

Amy’s Review…

The Edge of Grace sounded like a book I would really enjoy—an edgy fiction tackling the hot button issue of homosexuality.  Unfortunately, I found this book  difficult to read, not because of the plot line, but because of the first-person narrative, in which the protagonist often interrupts her own storyline with meandering thoughts.   While this works well in the world of blogging or even in memoirs, it was frustrating in the context of this story.  Told from the first-person perspective of Caryn, a skeptical widow, who is devastated when her only brother announces his homosexuality.  I found Caryn irritationg and failed to sympathize with her feelings about her brother and the death of her husband.

The only person worse than Caryn is her best friend and neighbor, Julie.  When Caryn shares with Julie that her brother is gay, Julie reacts by telling Caryn that it’s not a big deal.  I mean, the law of female friendship states that if your friend is terribly upset—no matter what it is and if even she is wrong—then you have a reaction of equal or greater turmoil. 

Besides disliking the shallow characters, I was also put-off by the over-familiarized writing.  I felt like a serious piece of fiction was shoved into a fluffy chick lit.  It was difficult for me to read because there seemed to be unnecessary words, which I felt interfered with not only the flow of thought, but also with the overall flow of the story.

Conceptually, The Edge of Grace sounds great and has a beautiful cover.  In fact, the cover was my favorite part of the book.

Even though it wasn’t for me, maybe this book is just what you’re looking for! Visit Pump Up Your Book! to read an excerpt from The Edge of Grace.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Christa Allan, and Abingdon Press  for the review copy of this book.*

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