“Blessed are you among Women” (SD #86)

I have no idea if 1987 was a particularly good year for film or not. But it was that year that Babette’s Feast made its way onto screens. Also, there was Spaceballs but that’s another matter. Babette’s Feast was directed by Gabriel Axelrod, a Danish filmmaker. I’m going to ruin that film for you here, so if you don’t like that—read no further. Babette's landscapeThat sounds harsh, but you have had almost thirty years to see the thing. The story of Babette’s Feast takes place in the late nineteenth century. Babette, a refugee from Paris, comes to a small, and rather remote Danish village. She has nothing but a letter of recommendation. Babette is given work as a cook for two older, single women. These women were members of a Christian sect that shunned worldly pleasure; they and their neighbours put flesh on the word ‘austere’. Babette is told to cook two local dishes for the women: fish, salted heavily and boiled and a brown porridge made of stale bread and beer, also boiled.

I’m afraid that sometimes when we think of peace, both within the church and in public life, we think of an existence like that of Babette’s Danish hosts. When we talk about it we talk of things we don’t want. We speak about past wrongs. We name problems. Now, for the sake of truth we must do those things. There are times when we probably need to eat salty, boiled fish and soggy porridge. But there is a temptation to stop there. And there is a temptation to think about peace in purely negative terms, as the absence of violence and the absence of injustice. There are occasional suggestions that there is more to peace than that, but we have a hard time imaging it. Read more

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Do Muslims and Christians Worship the same God?

In his book Allah: A Christian Response Miroslav Volf argues that the faith of Christians and Muslims is directed toward the same divine referent. That is not to say that Christians and Muslims believe the same things about God. Volf AllahHowever, just as Christians and Jews assume they worship the same God, even though they disagree about key doctrines like the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, Volf argues Christians and Muslims should admit that they worship the ‘same’ God despite their deep differences. Volf’s book is valuable for its nuance and logical rigor. It’s a fairly readable volume too. He make a careful and charitable case, while not falling into the silly “we all believe the same thing” nonsense.

Volf has recently written a timely piece on a related topic in the Washington Post. There he writes in defense of the suspended Wheaton College political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins was recently put on administrative leave for making a claim similar to Volf’s as part of her explanation for choosing to wear a hijab during Advent. Christianity Today summarizes that situation here. In the Post Volf argues convincingly that the college seems motivated by “anti-Muslim bigotry, not theology.”

And Autumn Exposes the Rest (SD #85)

If you’ve had the opportunity to walk through a garden or a wild place at some point since, say, gate1the beginning of October you’ve probably noticed something, or maybe many somethings: bottles, candy wrappers, paper coffee cups, ticket stubs and random bits of plastic. You’ve seen junk like this caught in the hedges, in branches and along stream banks. It isn’t new rubbish, but it’s newly exposed. Autumn does that. As the growth of summer dies back it exposes the junk before the winter’s snow covers it. Read more

Trump is not the Real Problem

Trump’s race baiting is reprehensible and his incompetence in a variety of policy areas is startling, yet I don’t think he is the real problem. Every society is populated by at least a few people with such views and every government includes people similarly lacking in the know-how of good governance. This is frustrating but not surprising or uniquely problematic. Read more

Knocking the Church is the Easy Part

What to do with claim after claim after claim of the church’s irrelevance? In a recent piece in Faith Today columnist Sheila Wray Gregoire (p. 21) says that Sunday mornings “have to change”–that’s in the column’s title. She reports that what she needs isn’t anything polished and certainly not much of a sermon. What she needs is discussion and community. The reason? She and her husband have busy schedules and can’t find time to share their faith Capture4with others outside the Sunday morning hour. “Our needs have evolved,” she writes. We don’t need a worship centered on teaching: she has her Bible app with multiple commentaries. “Information is not in short supply—community is. In our fast-paced, media-driven world, we crave authenticity and connection, two things our modern church services don’t deliver.”

I have no doubt that Gregoire’s life is hectic and that Sunday morning doesn’t do everything for her. I’m not sure it should though. In particular, worship should not substitute for the network of relationships every human needs. Worship is a profoundly different sort of event. Read more