Monthly Archives: December 2014


The Nativity of Christ, Icon by Ranosonar

The Nativity of Christ, Icon by Ranosonar


In a world where we have pushed the heavens into the farthest recesses of the universe

And we filled the pores in the world where angels and demons, magic and mystery could enter in

Filling each transcended node with the immanent certainty of rationality and reason

Plugging ourselves into our own isolation connected through patterns of numbers and light

We created a world of which we were our own new gods claiming the generative power of words

Yet, as our own new gods we find ourselves being consumed by the hungry creation we unleashed

Wired into our wireless networks, completely disconnected in our continual connection

Yearning for hope in the tyranny of the soulless world in which nothing is sacred


Yet, there is a memory of a different story from a different time that tugs at my thoughts

Of the transcendent coming to occupy the immanent, of the creator incarnating the creation

Of the infinite coming to occupy the mundane and the ordinary, of making sacred the secular

And perhaps in this season as we remember the narrative of the Word that become flesh

Living among us and daring to enter into a creation that has lost its dreams of tomorrow

That the light may enlighten the present darkness of our permanently lighted world

That we may dream of the truth beyond the facts and the vision beyond our perception

The poetry of a God who invades the impersonal world in the form of a person

Who brings acceptance in the midst of rejection and love in the midst of hatred

In the midst of our perceived wisdom the wisdom of God may appear foolish

And strength comes masquerading as weaknesses and power in the guise of powerlessness


If the Word becomes incarnate and lives among us it comes not to conquer and enslave

But it does come to offer us a dream of a different world and to shape for us a new reality

While it may describe and illuminate and deconstruct the world we shaped for ourselves

It comes as the wisdom that holds the creation together and narrates for us a new story

And in the light of this enfleshed Word we are renamed and our stories have a new frame

Where the sacred inhabits our secular world and life takes on a sacramental reality

And from the soul of the new creation emerges again and ancient hope that we are not alone

For Emmanuel has come and our God is with us, we are among those God favored ones

The ancient angelic host announced in a long ago age when our world still had a place for them.

Review of David Lose’s Preaching at the Crossroads

preaching at crossroads

PREACHING AT THE CROSSROADS HOW THE WORLD AND OUR PREACHING IS CHANGING, by David J. Lose. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Pp.112. (paperback)

Postmodernity, Secularism and Pluralism are three topics often discussed in relation to understanding the changes that have taken place in society and the lives of individuals in the last half of a century but they are rarely brought together. David Lose provides an incredibly useful introduction to three of the major influences that are shaping the world of the people both inside and outside of congregations and in a brief and helpful way illuminates the impact of these three massive shifts in the way the world is viewed and identity is constructed. In addition to being a descriptive book, where the nature of a postmodern, secular and pluralistic world is described, the book is also suggestive in responding to how a preacher might constructively engage each of the challenges and opportunities presented by our changing world.

Dr. Lose’s proposal in this book is that rather than looking at preaching through a list of problems that are described and solutions that are prescribed to look at the mystery of preaching and the questions of our age.  He invites the reader to enter into, “an ongoing, curious, and lively engagement with the questions that people living at particular times are asking” and then enter into the questions of the current age and understand those questions so as to speak from the mystery and wisdom of faith to those questions in a way that is helpful. (6) The structure of Preaching at the Crossroads deals with each of the three topics with two chapters, one descriptive and one suggestive. In each descriptive chapter the author describes the way each influence is seen in our daily lives and how it impacts the way the church has been able to interact with the world and the second chapter he presents some hopeful suggestions for the road ahead.

Postmodernity is the subject of the first two chapters of the book and in a very quick manner David Lose describes both postmodernity and its predecessor modernity (since postmodernity is a deconstruction of modernity). Modernity depended on rational verifiability as the standard of truth in an ordered world that was searching for certainty in rising scientific and technological revolutions that spanned several centuries. Postmodernism emerges from the disappointment with the costs of the modern age and as a skepticism about the ability of humanity to solve the crises of the world through reason, science, industry and technology. Where modernity sought some unified truth, postmodernity would say there is no unified reality or truth but rather truth has often been the values of the dominant culture. Postmodernity view language and culture are not merely descriptive of reality but are forces that are utilized in the construction of reality and instead of Francis Bacon’s famous dictum “knowledge is power” the postmodern philosopher Michael Foucault reverses this to “power is knowledge.” (18) In a postmodern world where all truth is at best penultimate and that the foundations which our truth and knowledge is based upon may need to be revised in the light of a more plausible alternative. The postmodern world is one of competing stories and narratives of which the Christian story is merely one possible narrative whose validity must be proven through interface with the hearer’s experiences and contact with other competing narratives. In a world where the certainties that humanity can save itself through continued progress and development are stripped away it calls for a different preaching that is willing to courageously wager about God’s engagement of the world and to see how that narrative is received in the experience of the postmodern hearer. Following Paul Ricoeur’s move of employing a hermeneutic of suspicion and trust simultaneously David Lose invites the preacher to consider a centered, communal, and humble approach to preaching.

Secularism is dealt with in chapters three and four of Preaching at the Crossroads. While postmodernity questions modernity’s assumption that humanity can save itself secularism represents a loss of confidence in the divine to allow humanity to escape from its crises. It is a world where the immanent has triumphed over the transcendent and the religious stories that once helped individuals look outward for their sources of meaning no longer have the same power forcing people to turn inward on their quest for meaning and identity. Where postmodernity presented the Christian faith with a crisis of authority secularism present that same faith a crisis of relevance. Many feel that with the triumph of the immanent that the transcendent no longer has a role to play in their lives. The triumph of the immanent over the transcendent has come at a high personal cost leading many to despair at the loss of meaning in their lives. This is where David Lose sees opportunity in the secularism that has come to dominate so many people’s lives, faith gains its relevance when it responds to the secular crisis of hope. In a world full of meaningless stories we are the bearers of an incredible story that does have the audacity to speak hope into hopelessness. Secularism has heightened our awareness of the mundane and ordinariness of life but particularly speaking from the perspective of vocation we have the ability to speak of the transcendent God who is present in the day to day tasks. Rather than restricting God’s activity to the realm of the church, Dr. Lose argues this frees us to point to the places God is at work in the lives of the people we encounter beyond the congregational walls.

Pluralism is the final topic tackled in the final two chapters of Preaching at the Crossroads. With pluralism the place of Christianity is no longer privileged as the one dominant story but is rather placed along with countless competing narratives: some religious, others may be centered on nationality, wealth, ethnicity or even the narratives used in advertising to place a product. This has been heightened by the rise of the digital age where a more robust variety of stories are instantly available at any one time. In light of the near unending choices available the culture has shifted from one of obligation to discretion. Now the center of identity is no longer inherited but rather constructed by the choices of what one affiliates with and which stories one values. We no longer live in a culture that values tradition but rather experience is the touchstone of value in this age. As with the previous shifts, David Lose points to the opportunity in this movement as well. In an age where identity is constructed we have the ability to ask the questions of how to “meet their deepest needs, construct meaningful identities and experience the living God”.(93) In a time where Christianity no longer benefits from the society reinforcing our story it is a chance to help people find themselves in the story again and to tell our story in a way that helps people make sense of their lives. David Lose ends these chapters with some suggestive ideas of how participatory preaching might provide a space for people to make sense of their lives in light of the biblical story.

David Lose’s book is a wonderful introduction to the interconnected movements of postmodernity, secularism and pluralism. It is a concise and quick summary that is helpful both for the preacher who has studied and lived with these swirling movements and for the student learning about preaching and wanting to understand the world that is changing around them. This was a book I wished I had years earlier but I am glad to have found as a helpful resource for today.


Psalm 4: Finding A Space in the Blessing

Jan de Bray, David Playing the Harp (1670)

Jan de Bray, David Playing the Harp (1670)

 Psalm 4

<To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.>
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

One of the gifts of the Psalter is the range and depth of emotions that it shows as the various Psalmists struggle and rejoice and lament and celebrate their lives with the LORD. Faith is rarely, if ever, a linear progression of growth or a static unmoving reality but a relationship that endures times where one party has moved away or is no longer hearing and times of incredible closeness and intimacy. Psalm 4 is to me a good example of this movement within the life of faith as the Psalmist moves from complaint to reassurance, from question into faith and from need into safety. It begins with a cry, “Answer me when I call” and directs that call to the God who is the source of the Psalmist’s righteousness and identity. The Psalmist reflects back upon the way God has been present: listening, making a space for the petitioner, responding in grace instead of judgment. There is a dissonance between the Psalmist and the people, somehow the Psalmist has fallen out of favor, their name has been dishonored and they are following the words they want to hear rather than the truth. Perhaps the positioning of this psalm encourages us to hear it in the same circumstances as the previous Psalm, while David is fleeing after the rebellion of his son Absalom has taken over Jerusalem. Yet the Psalmist find comfort in their identity.

It is in this identity, the Psalmist considers himself one of the righteous, one who has been set apart, one whom the LORD listens to. In a time when the Psalmist words go unheard by the people, they are heard by the LORD. In a time where the identity of the Psalmist in the eyes of the people is that of the unrighteous in God’s eyes they remain the righteous one. Much as Job can appeal to God’s judgment as he endures the questioning of his friends, or Paul can state in the letter to the Romans 8.31 “If God is for us, who is against us?” the Psalmist can hold tight to the identity they have in the LORD. So the Psalmist returns to the practices of how they will live, not sinning, offering right sacrifices, pondering on one’s bed but not losing sleep over it. And the Psalmist rapidly moves in this brief prayer from complaint into resting in peace and safety, from the moment of anxiety to the gladness and reassurance of the LORD’s blessing. In an echo of the Aaronic blessing from the book of Numbers:

 The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace Numbers 6: 24-26

The Psalmist can say “let the light of your face shine upon us and finds strength and trust in their identity as they continue in their journey as one of God’s set apart ones.