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Although Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center has now cancelled his plan to burn Qur’ans, the general outline of the situation as it unfolded over the last few days is disturbingly familiar. Here is yet another leader of a small religious fringe group who threatened to commit an extreme act unless his demands were met (meeting with the leaders of the Islamic cultural center in New York and/or negotiating its relocation). Change the details, and that could describe any number of terrorist groups rather than a Christian one.

 I don’t think we should be surprised that the 9/11 attacks, committed by those on the radical fringes of Islam, would elicit a mirror response from someone on the fringes of Christianity. The point is, Christians who vehemently disagree with Jones’s stance toward Islam and his plan to burn the Qur’an now know something of what most Muslims feel when terrorist acts are committed in the name of Islam.

 May such empathy help lay a foundation for understanding that leads to peace in the face of the fear and tension felt by so many around the country.

OK, I confess: I have a hard time finishing a book before starting another. I’ve also realized I’ll never get around to writing full-fledged book reviews for every book I read. So here’s a little summary of what I’ve been reading lately. If you’re reading some of the same things, chime in and tell me what you think.

  • Gregory Fruehwirth, Words for Silence, and Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year. After taking my first retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemani last fall, I’m more and more attracted to the idea that—as the monks themselves declare—anyone can live the contemplative life. These two books are aids to doing that. They’re both organized around the church year. Fruehwirth, a member of the Episcopal Order of Julian of Norwich, has written meditations based on chapter talks he gave to the order. Joan Chittister’s book is not simply a dry history of the origins of the church calendar; rather, her chapters are meditations on the meaning of each liturgical season. I’m finding both books valuable in grounding myself in the liturgical calendar.
  • Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed. Um, why did I wait so long to read this? Six years on, this is still an incredibly potent book. Their targum of Col. 1:15-20 is so powerful, I had to put the book down for a couple minutes after reading it. Recommended if you’ve been wondering what all the fuss about postmodernity and empire was all about.
  • Patrick Miller, The Ten Commandments (Interpretation). I’m only a couple chapters in (still, that’s 100 pages), but this is clearly going to be a standard work to return to over and over again. Miller explicates the meaning of each commandment, as you might expect, but the real value of the book may be in how he traces out the trajectory of the commandments throughout scripture, including the New Testament. I blogged an example here.
  • Karen Armstrong, The Case for God. I don’t know if Armstrong knows anything about the emerging church, but those familiar with Pete Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God (or Pete’s sources, including the Christian mystical tradition) will find much familiar here. Armstrong makes clear right up front that she’s interested in tracing out the apophatic traditions about God in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, although her major emphasis is on Christianity. I’m about halfway through the book, and over and over again she emphasizes how believing the right things (a certain prescribed set of doctrines) is a relatively recent development compared to the long tradition of emphasizing right practices. It seems pretty clear what she’s going to conclude, but I’ll reserve judgment until finishing. My only question at this point is whether she could’ve accomplished her task in briefer compass.
  • Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity. I’m only about 7 chapters in, but it seems pretty clear that this is Brian’s “here I stand, I can do no other” book. Like Richard Hughes (see below), Brian is putting his flag down firmly, but his writing is, as usual, irenic and highly accessible.
  • Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity. Cairns is a poet and professor of English at the University of Missouri. In this book he’s taken some of the early church fathers and mystics and adapted/translated their writings into poetry. The results are just beautiful. I’m slowly working through these, usually reading a few on Sunday mornings before church.
  • Richard Hughes, Christian America and the Kingdom of God. I finished this a few weeks ago, but haven’t had time to finish my review, so wanted to include it here. Hughes gets right to the point: the notion of a Christian America propagated by many, particularly on the evangelical right, has little or nothing to do with the biblical portrait of the kingdom of God. Hughes spends a lot of time tracing the kingdom of God in scripture—a helpful reminder, to be sure—but perhaps more valuable for me was his rehearsal of evangelical history showing how the idea of Christian America developed as it did.

What are you reading?

Here’s a story that beautifully illustrates why I started this blog. It concerns the decision of Brian McLaren and some other Christians to join with Muslim partners in fasting during Ramadan. Although the way this story is framed is getting rather old (McLaren vs. whoever; in this case Driscoll and Mohler), it does display two ways of being Christian, one of which is more attractive to me than the other.

I’ll characterize these ways with an image that Brian McLaren uses: clenching fist or open hand. The question is whether the goal (if not the practical result) of walking in the path of Christ is to make us stingier or more generous. Will we decamp to our church buildings and entrenched theological positions and insist that all others join us there in order for us to be in fellowship? Or—with those who’ve thought about what it means to be “missional”—will we, confident in the Lordship of Jesus, open ourselves to others for the sake of our common humanity?ramadan

Is it more Christ-like to remain in places of comfort or to enter into others’ experiences so that “the other” becomes “the neighbor”?

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:5-7).

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