Theologian Thursday

Celebrating Reformation Day with Luther…and Hitler

If you are a candy-eating pagan who thought today was Halloween, well, I’ll pray for your soul. Today is Reformation Day.

Besides sending a long letter to Google about why its homepage features scarecrows and monsters instead of the Wittenberg Door, I decided to celebrate by writing about Martin Luther, the one who basically started the Protestant church on this day in 1517. (It’s more complicated than that, of course. But hey, this is my blog post. I’m summarizing.)

Luther

The problem is, my relationship with Luther is…interesting.

Back in high school, a few of my friends called me “Marty” after Martin Luther. Not because I was super Protestant (though I was), but because I played the famous reformer in a debate. (Not your classic here-I-stand-I-can-do-no-other debate. As I recall, it was against Zwingli on the topic of transubstantiation. I promise this was a class assignment at my public high school. I was not nerdy enough to do this on my own.)

The point is, I identified with Martin Luther. I thought he was just the coolest, because seriously, who wouldn’t want to talk about grace and dramatically nail stuff to doors and sneak nuns out of a convent in barrels, Hobbit-style?

I was a fan. (more…)

Forgive Me, Facebook, For I Have Sinned

If I were starting my own religion, it would look an awful lot like social media. (Have I thought about this? Yes. Is this actually on my To-Do list? No.) Think about it: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all of their friends give us a space where we can:

  • Express our emotions, both positive and negative.
  • Discuss issues that matter to us.
  • Talk to people we don’t see on a day-to-day basis.
  • Connect with others who share a common interest.
  • Have a sense that our community is universal and not bound by distance.
  • Confess (or brag about) the stupid things we do.
I mean, they even call the buttons "icons." If that isn't religious lingo, I don't know what is.

I mean, they even call the buttons “icons.” If that isn’t religious lingo, I don’t know what is.

In a time when many in my generation are becoming more spiritual but less religious, social media seems like a good stand-in for the community you could at one time only get through the church. (more…)

Gregory of Nyssa Comes With Me to Gym Class

When I was a freshman in high school, I hated P.E. class.

I should mention that this was the class where everyone quickly learned that I had no knowledge of the basic rules of football. And the class where I did the 12-minute run with a 102 degree fever because it was also standardized test day and I couldn’t skip. And the class where we had to dress our awkward fourteen-year-old selves in swimsuits and get in the pool…and there was a fire drill and we had to go outside. In January. True story.

The one part of class I didn’t hate was running laps as a warm-up. Because, you know, I actually knew how to do that. I was successful. If you’re completely lacking in skill and physical fitness, you can get by on sheer stubbornness, a quality I had in abundance.

To distract myself from the burning in my lungs, legs, and pretty much any body part that was being moved, I turned to Hebrews 12:1.

Run

As I ran, I pictured all of the Biblical characters literally surrounding me, cheering me on. (more…)

When God Feels Distant, Part Two

(Part One can be found here. Yes, I’m writing a sequel to a blog post I wrote three months ago.)

A few Sundays back my church sang, “Cornerstone,” a lovely remixed version of the classic hymn, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” (That’s the official title. Titles kind of defaulted to first lines when hymnists weren’t feeling particularly creative.)

As I sang, I thought back to my childhood hymn-singing nights (yes, actual hymnals, and yes, Sunday night services populated mostly by elderly folks) and realized that hey, one of the lines was changed.

Original Version: When darkness veils his lovely face / I rest on his unchanging grace.

New Version: When darkness seems to hide his face / I rest on his unchanging grace.

 The way I figured it, there were only a few reasons why this line might have been changed.

  1. Calling God’s face “lovely” calls to mind Facebook comments on a teenage girl’s prom pictures, and feels a bit strange. (Also, isn’t there a Biblical concept about God’s face being so overwhelming holy so humans can’t look directly at it? I think that’s a thing.)
  2. The last line of the stanza says, “My anchor holds within the veil.” Having “veil” in the first and last line seems repetitive and confusing. (Come to think of it, what does that last line mean? Is there a nautical use of veil that I’m unaware of, or is there some serious metaphor-mixing going on here?)
  3. The writers wanted to overemphasize the fact that God’s distance is not because he is actually distant, but because we perceive him to be because of our sin or our fallen world. (“Don’t worry; he’s not really hiding his face, guys! It’s a metaphor! A metaphor!”)

As I looked at this list, I became less and less confident that the third answer was the actual reason the lyrics were changed. Because A and B are strong contenders, people. (To those who, like me, sometimes complain about nonsensical lyrics in modern worship songs, let’s realize that the hymns had problems too.)

But regardless of whether it’s the actual reason in this case, the modified lyrics made me wonder: do we tend to downplay the distance of God? (more…)

What Not to Do On Graduation Day

Ah, graduation season, a time of tearful hugs, too-hot auditoriums, funny hats, and speeches with vocabulary so consistent you could make a bingo card for them. Seeing the flood of new alumni pictures brings back fond memories of my graduation from Taylor University last year.

You know, the day I got lost in the woods.

Yep. Really.

Okay, so it wasn't fall, but this is my campus.

Okay, so it wasn’t fall, but this is my campus.

I got up early on graduation morning, around sunrise, and slipped past my sleeping roommates. (Because I live by the motto that it’s always a good idea to disappear without telling people where you’re going.) (more…)

Belle Is a Christ Figure: And Other Lessons From Fairy Tales

One of my favorite parts of G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy is the fact that this normal, dignified British guy thought we should all view the world through the lens of fairy tales.

Princesses

You know what this picture needs? More sparkly things. (Totally just kidding. I already wrote a post about that.)

One theme of the book is that sometimes talking about the world in terms of magic instead of scientific laws helps us have a more complete and beautiful description of reality, especially spiritual reality.

Don’t buy it? Don’t understand what I’m talking about? Well, you should probably just read the book yourself, since any complex line of thinking is difficult to summarize in one sentence.

Here’s a quote from Orthodoxy that gives a few examples of how fairy tales help us make sense of reality. Since Chesterton was a Christian, he’s specifically describing where fairy tales parallel deep truths of his faith.

There is the lesson of ‘Cinderella,’ which is the same as that of the Magnificat—exaltavit humiles [the humble will be exalted].

Cinderella (more…)

Why I Sometimes Don’t Sing in Church

I love worship time at church. Even when I’ve never heard the song before. Who cares? Just make it up. (Protip: If you sing harmony, it’s easier to get away with this, since you’re supposed to be singing different notes than everyone around you.)

"Wow, not only is she not raising her hands, but she's not even singing." (No actual person has probably thought this about me.)

“Wow, not only is she not raising her hands, but she’s not even singing.” (No actual person has probably thought this about me.)

So if I stop singing at some point, it’s probably for one of five reasons:

  • I want to stop and think about the words instead of just saying them.
  • I can’t honestly sing the words of the song at the moment. There was a month when I could not sing “It is Well With My Soul” and sincerely mean it. (And, in just five weeks, everyone decided to sing that song. It happened seven times. No joke. I felt like I was being stalked by a hymn.)
  • I’m starting to enjoy hearing my own voice so much that I’m not worshipping God anymore. I’m worshipping the sound of my own harmonies bouncing off the head of the person in front of me.
  • I can’t sing without laughing, because the song is just bad poetry. Mixed metaphors, phrases that don’t make any sense. Basically, this one is me being a snob, and I’m working on it, I promise.
  • I think the song has terrible theology. (more…)