Sunday
Sep072014

The Need for Creed

If you’ve happened upon this blog post in search of material related to the 90’s rock band Creed, I am sorry- both for your taste in music, and your misdirected Google search. This piece begins a series on the Creed of the Apostles’ variety, not the Scott Stapp variety.

This, and every, Sunday, many of the world’s 2.8 billion Christians will rise to their feet and declare “I believe…” In favellas in Brazil, cathedrals in Europe, and ramshackle storefronts in Los Angeles, followers of Jesus will say the Creed. It’s been handed on from candidates for baptism in caves, to Roman noblewomen, to African chieftans, to union drywallers on Long Island. During the fall, to finish out the season of the year the Christian family calls “Ordinary Time,” my church  will be exploring the affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed, and as we do so, I’ll offer some musings and provocations here as well, in an attempt to wonder at what you and I do together week by week, even though separated by space, time zone, culture or, perhaps even, musical preference.

To pilfer the title of Bill Bryson’s sparkling piece of prose, the Apostles’ Creed is Christianity’s “Brief History of Nearly Everything.” Neurologists, philosophers, and sociologists in sophisticated, elite institutions lately are unearthing what all sorts of cultures have taken for granted for millennia: we are story-shaped creatures. All of us live by some sort of story, some narrative that makes sense of the big questions: Where did we come from? What are we for? What’s a flourishing life? What’s wrong? Where is life headed? As the late David Foster Wallace noticed once in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, “We need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing.” (“Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction 8.3 (1988), p. 8.) We have an innate “need for Creed.”

Declaring a credo, having definite beliefs of any sort, is of course also profoundly unfashionable. In a now-famous TED talk he did a few years ago entitled “Atheism 2.0,” leading British intellectual Alain de Botton unfolds a popular approach to out-of-style Christian beliefs. His unfolds that, of course, religious faith generally, and Christianity specifically, isn’t true, in any God-given sense. But Western secularism, as an approach to life, is also bankrupt in all sorts of ways. So, he says, we ought to excavate the remains of religion for what’s good, beautiful, and helpful to the world- whether that be commitment to education, promotion of the arts, or validation of spiritual experience.

Here’s the trouble, though: there’s a reason why Christians have for millennia patronized and promoted the arts, prayed and marched for justice, taught children and housed the homeless. Our Credo. Our ultimate beliefs, inescapably, ultimately shape our lives.

All of my friends and neighbors, however skeptical of my faith, want to live as if it’s better to seek peace than war, better to learn to live together well with others of different races and classes. They want to think that neurological research and public education and love matter. The Christian story summed up in the Creed offers me, them, and the world, with our inborn “need for creed,” a Brief History of Everything that actually makes sense of these desires and says they’re not an illusion.

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).

Saturday
Sep062014

Ye Olden Reality TV

From Debra Rienstra

I suppose we Medieval & Renaissance geeks get our fair share of thrills in popular culture. The Lord of the Ringsmovies alone have given us as much clashing armor and flowing gownery as we could ever wish—not to mention horseflesh—but then there are some deliciously entertaining TV series, too. The short-lived but marvelously rich Camelot on Starz network, for example. Or the irresistible, hopelessly cheesy, BBC-made Merlin. Or, more recently, the castle-intrigue drama The White Queenalso from the BBC, based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novels. (With that last one, though, a quibble: good dresses, not enough horses.)

It never occurred to me to feel any tragic deprivation. But now I understand that until 2012, we M&R geeks were shockingly under-resourced in one crucial pop culture genre: reality TV.

Friday
Sep052014

Red Rock Miracles

From James C. Schaap

Henry Whipple was one of the first students. Don't be fooled--not the Henry Whipple, the famous Minnesota missionary who, in 1862, pleaded with President Lincoln for the lives of hundreds of Dakota braves and won.

This Henry Whipple was a cute little Navajo six-year-old, who no one on earth had called "Henry Whipple" until he came to the new school at the mission, Rehoboth Mission. In 1903, that Henry Whipple was one of Rehoboth's very first students. He's the little guy down on the left.

First crack out of the box, his teachers named the kid Henry Whipple because the Henry Whipple was a missionary hero.

But there was another reason too, that one not so noble. Those very first teachers, all of whom spoke with thick Dutch brogues, didn't stand a chance of pronouncing Henry Whipple's Navajo name--whatever it was--so they simply dropped it and gave him a name rich with honor and a whole lot easier to pronounce.

Thursday
Sep042014

After the Flood

From Thomas C. Goodhart

New York City is a great place. But being the most populous city in the US, as well as an international media headquarters, carries with it an over-emphasis upon itself. Take for one example the weather. Think about it: you may be drinking your morning coffee or getting the kids ready for school almost anywhere in the nation but still be able to follow the weather conditions at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan brought to you by Al Roker and NBC’s The Today Show. That self-absorption is not only at the expense of the middle of the country, but even for areas merely a few hours away from the City.

On the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2011, residents of New York City were battening down the hatches preparing for Hurricane Irene. I remember that day well, for after some impromptu hurricane parties, I returned home to secure the churchyard and facilities including moving inside to the parsonage basement some outdoor pets—or what others might refer to as livestock or poultry—the first time they returned to the inside location where they had been reared as peeps. Throughout the following hours numerous friends extended prayers for us down here in the City, and especially dear friends upstate—Revs. Becky and Greg Town who serve the Reformed Dutch Church of Prattsville—offered invitation should I want or need to get away to higher ground. Hours later Irene made its final landfall on the coast of Brooklyn.

By the next day New York City had made it through the storm rather pleasantly. There was some high water in certain areas but that can happen during any heavy storm. Real damage is little. Here, Irene was more hype than harm. Upstate however, mere hours away, was not the same story. Some of the very friends who had extended invitations of housing and hospitality had experienced within minutes emergency notice of evacuation, devastation to their communities, and destruction to their homes and churches. The storm that brought inconvenience downstate wrought flash floods with five-hundred-year-flood conditions in places such as Prattsville and Schoharie. Approximately one-third of all the houses and businesses in the village of Schoharie were severely damaged or destroyed due to flooding. There were ten deaths in the state, mostly upstate attributed to flooding.

Wednesday
Sep032014

We begin, again

From Jes Kast-Keat

Yesterday at 2:00 PM it hit me that I am no longer on vacation; I wanted my afternoon nap.

It was my first day back in my office since the beginning of August. I felt like one of the school kids whose pictures I saw on my Facebook timeline holding a picture: "Madeline 2nd grade", "Jack's first day of school", and "Reverend Jes, year 3 pastor."

The first day back after a lengthy holiday is wrought with joy and anxiety. My first day back to school in sixth grade was terrifying. What was middle school? Why did I have to be a foot taller than everyone else? Why is everyone so mean? My first day back to high school my junior year, however, was amazing. My campaign for class president (with the slogan "Cast your vote for Kast") had worked at the end of the previous year, setting this junior year up with a different set of questions. What legacy will I leave as I lead my junior class? We have to have the best homecoming float this year so what will I encourage us to make? How much will I be able to improve the food served in the cafeteria? First days (school, job, volunteering, etc...) are anchored by questions and goals.

Like many of you, books were a big part of my vacation this year. My book list included young adult fiction, novels, biographies and the feminist existential theorist Simone de Beauvoir. I hang out in existential thought often. "What does this even matter?" is a question I find myself asking consistently, particuarlly at the beginning of new years. What value does this bring to me and the world around? How is value measured? What makes this meangingful?

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