What's Tony Thinking

Urgency, Updates and Questions from My Bubble


Urgency. I liked this from Dave Zahl’s talk, “The Urgent Hope of Unreasonable Mercy,” at the Mockingbird Orlando Conference last month.

“I don’t know about you, but I happen to find any kind of talk of Christianity that isn’t understood as urgent to be boring. We tend to focus on all these little behavioral issues, about how Jesus can be a little to help to us, can make us nicer. But in the New Testament the stories are about matters of life and death.”

He’s right. There’s so often very little sense of urgency in the church today, in our worship. Moreover, there often seems to be, in an effort to make things folksy and informal, which ends up trivializing the whole thing.

And this in a similar vein, from a recent interview with Bob Dylan and a follow-on comment from Richard Beck at his website “Experimental Theology.”

Dylan: “I’m not a fan of packaged programs, or news shows, so I don’t watch them. I never watch anything foul smelling or evil. Nothing disgusting; nothing dog ass. I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it.”

Beck: “I was mostly struck by Flannery O’Connorian tone of Dylan’s quote. O’Connor and Dylan share an apocalyptic spiritual vision, painting the world in stark moral contrasts. It’s this aesthetic that draws me to their art. Both O’Connor and Dylan play a high stakes poker game. Life and death. Salvation and Damnation. Saints and Sinners …”

There’s a lot of reasons for church decline, but a loss of urgency would be high up there, at least on my list. There are some who are urgent about social justice issues, which is fine and good, but if the gospel, the faith itself, is not at some level a matter of life and death (and I don’t only, or even primarily, mean what happens to us after we die), why bother?

Updates on sermons and webinar. I posted a sermon last week on the gospel text for January 29, the Beatitudes, as I was preaching somewhere that week. I am preaching somewhere else this weekend and so will again post a sermon, now on the gospel text for February 5, which is Matthew 5: 13 – 20. I am taking the opportunity of Jesus speaking there about the Law to elaborate and clarify some of my evolving thinking about law and gospel.

And I will try to fix the audio so that getting it doesn’t require a password. No promises. It really need an IT assistant. Looking for a volunteer job? Let me know.

And on  webinars. You can see here, at right, that a new Crackers and Grape Juice webinar is coming up for Lent based on Chris Green’s book, Being Transfigured. It is just now coming out. I’m told it will be available via Amazon this week. Registration is free. Join us.

As for the webinar based on my own book, What’s Theology Got To Do With It? Convictions, Vitality and the Church, my friends at Crackers and Grape Juice tell me we will turn to that during Eastertide, which is the seven week season between Easter and Pentecost, for those of you who aren’t church geeks.

Lastly, notes and puzzles from my bubble. In 2016 I knew no one who was voting for Trump, but he was elected. To say “I knew no one . . .” is probably an exaggeration, but I really didn’t know anyone well who voted for, or admitted to voting for, Trump, which I suppose confirms that I live in a bubble, like most everyone else.

Now, it strikes me that I know no one who thinks it is a good idea for Joe Biden to run again for President in 2024. And yet, it would appear that he intends to do so. I mean, I like the guy and thinks he’s doing a decent job, maybe better than that. But still . . . 86? I guess Presidents live in a bubble too. Or I wonder if the problem is what to do with Kamala?

Happy Ground Hog Day. I guess the word from the furry one in Pennsylvania is that we can expect six more weeks of winter. Bring it on, skiing to be done!


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