One of Holy Week's Greatest Ironies

Agnus Dei
The crowds in Jerusalem -- we have long remembered the way they waffled, the way they extolled the coming King on Palm Sunday, yet days later called for his execution.  Shocking? Yes. Tragic? Yes.  Ironic? Huh?

Holy Week is filled with fascinating paradoxes, ironies, and enigmas.  And perhaps one of the week's greatest ironies actuallly brackets The Great Week, for although the crowds shouted "hosanna!" (i.e. "save us") during Jesus' triumphal entry in to Jerusalem, they did not realize their later shouting of "crucify him!" would in fact turn their initial request into a reality.  In a very real sense then, hosanna! and crucify him! are inextricably linked, for it is by means of Christ's crucifixion that He in fact saves us!

O blessed Irony!

Communion on Ash Wednesday?

Ash cross Worship planning resources frequently include a Eucharist service (communion) as part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy/service.  This has been somewhat puzzling to me, and so I ask you:

For those of you observing or participating in Ash Wednesday services, do you normally include the Eucharist or Communion?  Why or why not?

Any feedback or insights on this topic would be most welcome.  Thanks!

Review: Worship Seeking Understanding

Worship Seeking Understanding After reading Witvliet's Worship Seeking Understanding, I found myself wanting to generate discussion threads on a number of topics, but will settle for this one, at least to start with:

Cultural engagement -- it has been several years since I first read Neibuhr's Christ and Culture. It captured my interest then and did again related to Witvliet's investigation of what the relationship should be between the church's worship liturgy and the culture we find ourselves in. Though I agree with critics who view Neibuhr's categories as somewhat inadequate and limiting, they remain excellent launching off points for discussion. I was particularly interested in Witvliet's use of Stephen B. Bevan's Models of Contextual Theology, and in particular, Bevan's "Synthetic Model" -- which "looks for a synthesis 'between one's own cultural point of view and the points of view of others' instead of constantly focusing attention on the particularities of a given contextualized theology" (p.111). I admit that my gravitation toward "both-and" postmodern thinking is in view here. Nonetheless, I resonate with the synthetic model in that it seems to both embrace and guard against the enculturization of Christian liturgy. What Witvliet posits toward the end of chapter four seems huge: "In sum, the twin dangers that cultural engagement seeks to avoid are 'cultural capitulation,' on the one hand, and 'cultural irrelevancy,' on the other." In every case of cultural engagement, there must be a yes and a no, a being in but not of, a continuity and a discontinuity with accepted cultural practices" (p.119).

As the product of an evangelical megachurch (chapter 11 was quite spot-on), I have grown increasingly suspicious of how evangelicals have frequently favored culture-pleasing evangelism over culture-shaping theology. Worship Seeking Understanding was therefore a refreshing read for me for many reasons, not the least of which being its emphasis on how important theology is (biblical, historical, systematic) in the shaping of liturgy -- not just the "what and how" of liturgy but the "why."

Within many denominational structures, there seems to be a persistent "push" and pressure to employ culturally proven and effective practices in the "growing" of the church. Such an emphasis has, in the past, driven the seeker-sensitive model of how many evangelicals "do" worship and church. Despite some heartfelt retractions by evangelical leaders, the role which culture should play in the worship and life of the church is not always an easy or cut-and-dry endeavor.

I look forward to any reactions, thoughts, or questions you might have in response.

Reclaiming the Ancient Practice of Catechesis, part 2

Notre Dame Font Throughout the early centuries of the Church, the conversion journey remained centered around baptism. Although the act of baptizing occurred at a fixed point in time (normally on Easter), ones baptism included an extended period of teaching and being mentored beforehand (i.e. catechesis) and often afterward (i.e. mystagogy). One's baptismal preparation normally spanned a fairly long period of time --  up to a full year.

This process of catechesis is commonly referred to as the catechumenate. 

As the catechumenate developed and took shape over the first five centuries, there are a number of distinguishing characteristics that stand out in their commonality:

  • To varying degrees, the role of the “sponsor” was important.

  • A screening interview became common prior to admission into the catechumenate in order to assure sincerity.
  • An emphasis on the “Two Ways” during pre-baptismal instruction.
  • A preference for baptizing in natural or “living” water sources, with exceptions allowed.
  • Immersion as the preferred mode, with allowances made for pouring.
  • Baptism is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Baptisms are primarily held on Easter/Easter Eve.
  • Lent is reserved for final catechesis and preparation for baptism.
  • Repeated exorcisms, signing with the cross, and laying on of hands were common for catechumens.
  • Catechumens were expected to purify their lives and engage in good deeds within the community.
  • An affirmation of faith and renunciation of the devil occurred at the time of baptism.
  • Partaking of the Eucharist is reserved for baptized believers only.
  • Though sometimes quite brief, after-baptism mystagogy occurred.

Continue reading "Reclaiming the Ancient Practice of Catechesis, part 2" »

Creation Care

IStock_000004997333XSmall It's a topic rarely taught on, referred to, or prayed about in most evangelical churches.  But that might be changing.  Thanks to visionary leaders like Dr. Steve Fitch of Eden Reforestation Projects, evangelicals are finally starting to "get it" when it comes to our biblical, theological, and moral responsibility to care for our planet.

Fitch is not the only who has owned-up to this responsibility and stepped-up to the plate by taking action (which he is doing in a tree-mendous way); other Christian leaders -- with both low and high profiles -- are challenging the church to BE the hope of the world in every way, including environmentally.

Where does one begin?  That's an important question -- and one that we might take up here in detail sometime in the future, but this one thing I can offer most assuredly: we should begin by courageously coming before God with confession and petition.

So here's a starting point for us -- a common prayer that Brian McLaren (and others) are encouraging believers to pray this month before world leaders meet in December regarding global environmental needs:

A variety of written text versions of this prayer are available here.

Photo credit: © Tobias Helbig,

Interview with Liz Babbs, author of "Celtic Treasure"

2008_a8 Here's a portion of my interview with author Liz Babbs about her recently released book, Celtic Treasure: Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality.

Writing “gift books” seems like such a rare yet creative approach to writing. What led you into the writing of gift books, and why have you stuck with it?

Thanks for describing Celtic Treasure as a ‘rare creative approach to writing’. I enjoy writing gift books because I can reach a much wider and more diverse readership through a gift book and it crosses the sacred/secular divide. Christians can buy any of my gift books for their non-Christian friends and they won’t feel threatened, because many folk are interested in Celtic spirituality and these books are very accessible. A gift book is also given to people for Christmas, Birthdays and to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I’ve even signed ‘The Celtic Heart’ as gifts for Valentine’s Day! And one pastor bought copies of ‘The Celtic Heart’ for every woman in his congregation, as a Mother’s Day gift! Gift books also give me the freedom to write in a more visual and creative way, weaving in some of my original prayers and poems inspired by my travels to Scotland, Ireland, Lindisfarne (Holy Island) and Iona.

Continue reading "Interview with Liz Babbs, author of "Celtic Treasure"" »

A "Purer" Communion?

IStock_000001084729XSmallSome time ago, while listening to a pastor lead a group of believers in Holy Communion, something the man said just didn't sit well with me. Despite scripture's clear description that "wine" was used in that first Eucharistic meal, this pastor confidently explained to those present that at his church they do not use wine (though he acknowledged that some Christian groups do), but that they partake of a "purer" communion by using the "pure" juice of grapes without any fermentation or alcohol involved.

Ah, come on!  For goodness sake.  I respect those who prefer grape juice over wine in their celebration of the Lord's Supper (we still use grape juice in my own denomination), but to claim that doing so constitutes a "purer" observance of communion seems so... well... elitist and holier-than-thou.

Weigh in on this one.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Image credit: © iStockPhoto

Book Review - Celtic Treasures

CelticTreasureSometimes in life we "stumble" across amazing things -- people, places, facts, and well as books!  And that's exactly what happened to me recently when, thanks to a Facebook connection, I met Liz Babbs - speaker, author, poet, and spiritual director.  Liz's newest book, Celtic Treasure: Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality, has just been released in the U.S.  Here's the quick review I posted about the book at

Author Liz Babbs' new book, Celtic Treasure, is a strikingly beautiful introduction to the history and riches of ancient Celtic Christianity. Printed on marvelous coated stock, it is a delightful experience to even thumb through this little gift book. Despite it's smaller size and low price, Celtic Treasure is not only packed with a brief historical overview of Celtic Christian spirituality and how unique it is in contrast to most the modern Western world, but it is also packed with a devotional and contemplative richness that is deep and satisfying.

It seems obvious that this is not material the author simply researched and wrote about, rather it flows from who she is personally. Babbs has long immersed herself in Celtic Christianity, and drawn on her talents as writer, poet, and spiritual director to compose this book.

Whether it is you who is interested in knowing more about the uniqueness and richness of Celtic Christian spirituality, or know people who might benefit from a beautiful and delightful introduction of the same, this little book wins hands down.

Babbs_3 Readers of Paradoxology will certainly enjoy the blog interview I'm in the process of completing with Liz and which should post here by week's end -- so don't forget to check back!  In the meantime, check out the radio interview that Facebook friend, Keltic Ken, recently completed with Liz:

Reclaiming the Ancient Practice of Catechesis, part 1

Notre Dame Font In the early centuries of the Church, people were not primarily attracted to Christianity by attending worship services, because they generally were not allowed within such.  Rather, the primary attraction to the Christian faith came through their associations with Christians in the culture at large.  Whether it be through the marketplace, a community’s civic life, or one’s neighborhood, people encountered followers of Jesus who lived life differently than other folk.  The way they looked after the poor, engaged in acts of mercy, and cared for one another set them apart from everyone else. 

Becoming a Christian involved much, much than the making of a sentimental “decision” – it was a choice to become completely immersed in the life of Christ.  Disciples have always been made, not born, yet the conversion/initiation “journey” is one that evangelicals continue to resist and/or struggle with. 

Among evangelicals, salvation is commonly viewed more as an event than as a process, and baptism as merely an “outward sign” of an inner conviction.  This is a travesty – a point of view that contributes to the hollowness that has only recently been called into question by a new generation of evangelicals.  More than ever, we live in an age and in a Church that desperately needs to return to the ancient moorings of catechesis, and to the “journey” which is baptism – a journey that precedes faith and continues long after the actual rite of baptism has been performed.