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December 11th, 2014
Here’s several things under the PB tree. We’ll see if you think them gifts–or not.
Prompted by last Sunday’s (tiring) sermon on how the Incarnation illuminates our humanity, our Q&A centered on mainly two themes: humanity’s trouble with diversity and the question of humanity’s distinctiveness in the wider animal kingdom. Let me put something forward that may respond to both questions simultaneously.
I referenced a commencement address given by a neurobiologist and primatologist named Dr. Robert Sapolsky, who therein offered his own view of what really sets humanity apart, after decades of studying primates of all stripes. In simplest terms that uniqueness lies in our capacity to hold ostensibly (if not really) conflicting beliefs in our mind at the same time. (F. Scott Fitzgerald said as much about a first-rate human intelligence way back when). But I found it more than a little ironic that the two examples Sapolsky put forth as representative of that idiosyncracy both happened to be Christians. He gets to that part in his address around the 33:30 mark. (Some of the whole address contains some material mildly bawdy)
Does he not surface the essence of what the author of Hebrews meant when he (or she?) said, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for–the conviction of things unseen” (11:1)? Faith implies–if not insists–that one’s belief rests on what can neither be reproduced nor verified with certainty. It entails an acknowledgment that the belief might not be true while simultaneously holding that the absence of complete evidence is no warrant for dismissal.
It’s this uniqueness that makes the distinctions we draw between one another–those that lead us to huddle in homogeneous enclaves or, worse, use as pretext for prejudice–even less consequential and less worthy of accommodation. If our greatest asset is the capacity to live into possibilities that often seem implausible, then our greatest challenge stems not from those who are unlike us, who do not look as we do. Rather our greatest challenge lies in following that unique instinct so that what we think can’t happen might happen–even cross-ethnic accord.
Furthermore, doctrines like the Incarnation, the Resurrection, surely stretch our capacity for holding two notions in tension, letting one hold sway. But if Dr. Sapolsky teaches us anything, it’s that faith in such bewildering–yet compelling–ideas is not just remarkable; it’s only human.
A little earlier in the address, Sapolsky identifies empathy as constitutive of, but not confined to, human nature. The shivers that go up our back to hear or see the suffering of another–the tears we may shed–point to a capacity for identifying with the victim which then often prompts a corresponding interest in coming to their aid.
This Sunday we continue our sermon series that’s asking the question, “why does the Incarnation matter?” by looking at another passage from Hebrews (4:14-5:10). We’ll find there that it’s the Incarnation that confirms we have a true, deep, and enduring sympathy from no less than God. And the sympathy extends beyond our plight in this dangerous, yet beautiful, world. Divine sympathy covers even our propensity to let the competing thought that God is not trustworthy rule the day–the mistrust of God’s goodness that leads us into sin.
This passage will make the case that Jesus has no shortage of sympathy. So we’ll show:
- that He does
- why He can
- and how that matters
it all reminds me of a deeply sympathetic song…
We introduced you to Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry in our last post. Here’s two more items from him you might find interesting–but perhaps also provocative.
I may be opening a Christmas can of worms to wade into the Santa Wars here, but PEG adds to the case that dispensing with the Santa tradition may in fact better prepare our children for a world in which people tend to form their beliefs on the basis of how widely that belief is accepted. To adopt the Santa tradition on the basis of its pervasive practice, he argues (with which I agree though), sets a precedent for our kids that may engender a tendency to just go with the flow. But any who walk by faith in our secular age recognize how problematic that tendency can be with respect to faith. Neither PEG nor I mean to throw under the bus those who follow the Santa tradition. This is one perspective, but one, if you’re vacillating about the practice, worth considering.
If you find that controversial, his response to the recent release of the investigation into CIA torture practices may stir the pot even more. I’ve read only summaries and snippets of the report. Irrespective of whether the report is slanted, or whether the practice did or did not yield salutary information, the question of our humanity–including the issue of dignity we raised last Sunday–has to hold a central place in our thinking–to say nothing of our policies. PEG acknowledges the tensions within any firmly held-position on this matter, so as with the former, this, too, is but fodder for thinking–even discussion.
Several community quick hits:
We have the privilege of baptizing Sofia Lin Gladding this Sunday. Baptism is a sacrament of the church, instituted by Christ Himself whereby we acknowledge first and foremost the grace of God as the ground of our salvation. We do not presume upon Sofia’s faith (or its absence) when she comes under the waters, but we do presume upon Grace to be what will call her to Himself. Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar who here offers (around the 2:43 mark) some salutary thoughts on what baptism is. Little Miss Gladding will enter formally into the covenant community through her baptism. But each and every baptism is an opportunity for all those who’ve done likewise to consider the Grace that brought them to it, the Grace that has sustained them to this moment, and the Grace that will “lead them home.”
As we announced last week, we’re collecting sundry items for the Women’s Shelter this (and the only) Sunday. You can find the details of what’s needed here on our calendar page.
And in case you missed the other new calendar item (you really should check in often for updates), our Christmas Around the World Party approaches. We’ll convene at the Harris’ Sunday night, December 21st, 6:30-8p. Have a look at the calendar announcement for what you can bring and how you can prepare.
Lastly, don’t forget to reserve an hour Christmas Eve for our inaugural “liturgy by and for the heirs.” We’ll hear from the “heirs of the kingdom” (cf. Matthew 18:1-10) as they lead us in the liturgy recounting the narrative of His birth. 7pm @FBC.
Advent celebrates His birth–an anniversary of His Incarnation, if you will (though more likely He was born in the springtime).
Their secondary status notwithstanding, there are a couple other anniversaries worth noting:
Can you believe we’ve reached the first anniversary of CtK’s “particularization” when we elected elders, and were in some sense “blessed” by our presbytery to grow in the work of the church? You can see all the photos from that day here.
Meanwhile, Rick and Priscilla Mellen are celebrating their 42nd anniversary this month! Congratulate them!
What you can pray for
- for those who, despite all the merriment of this season, are faced with loss and lack
- for our Session as it finalizes the 2015 budget
- for those far from us but dear to us: the Gasslers, Jane Pappenhagen, Kyria Johnson, the Rayls, Ruth Leatherman
- for our Community Groups, both present and future