The Fruit of War :: The Weekend Reading List

“War is America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.” — Stanley Hauerwas

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As a society we keep our language about war as logical and academic as possible. In the church we do this through debating “just war” or exploring pacifism.

It should not surprise us that one of American journalism’s greatest pieces is about war. Nor should it surprise us that it is often forgotten. In 1946, following a year of research and writing, John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” was published in The New Yorker. Reaction to the piece was not all positive, but sold out at newsstands, was republished in newspapers, and read live on the radio. The brutal and personal reality of what happened that day is arresting.

As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbor, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen… She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, from the center of the explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of her house.

Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pommelled her; everything became dark, for she was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, “Mother, help me!,” and saw her youngest—Myeko, the five-year-old—buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically to claw her way toward the baby, she could see or hear nothing of her other children.

Hersey captures the ensuing chaos and, with unadorned observation, confronts American’s with the devastating reality of actions in war.

It [was improbable] that any of the survivors happened to be tuned in on a short-wave rebroadcast of an extraordinary announcement by the President of the United States, which identified the new bomb as atomic: “That bomb had more power than twenty thousand tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British Grand Slam, which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”

Even if they had known the truth, most of them were too busy or too weary or too badly hurt to care that they were the objects of the first great experiment in the use of atomic power, which (as the voices on the short wave shouted) no country except the United States, with its industrial know-how, its willingness to throw two billion gold dollars into an important wartime gamble, could possibly have developed.

The devastation of war is horrendous. Pausing to examine it thoughtfully could change our national discourse. Perhaps the reason such conversations are avoided is that the root cause of war is even darker than its effects on humanity. It is a grotesque culmination of the fall of humankind for which we cannot muster a sufficient solution.

We weep at the brokenness of this world. We must not forget that Christ did not come to overthrow one evil government (who was starting wars all over vast parts of the world), but to defeat the cause of war. He is the Prince of Peace, and through his victory over death we find not just respite, but renewal and hope in a world at war.


Today’s Reading
Judges 21 (Listen – 3:47)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Ruth 1 (Listen – 3:33); Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)
Sunday: Ruth 2 (Listen – 3:56); Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

The Weekend Reading List

  • Hiroshima by John Hersey for the New Yorker, 1946.
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Finding Patience to Wait :: Readers’ Choice

Bethany Jenkins (originally published April 23, 2014)

Readers’ Choice

“The prayer at the end sums it up beautifully: Prayer: Lord, longsuffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul.'” — Sam

Titus 2 11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Waiting: We are all in the waiting room — for a test result, for a baby, for a wedding day, for a job offer. Here, in Titus 2, we read that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” How do we wait, though, without growing cynical, idolatrous, and despairing?

Eros: Perhaps the old word for patience — long-suffering — better describes how we experience waiting. In Love Within Limits, Lewis Smedes contrasts patience born of natural love (eros) with patience born of divine love (agape). He writes, “Erotic love has no power for longsuffering. Eros is desire … It can be frustrated when we do not get exactly and enduringly what we long for. It can be betrayed when people renege on a promise to fulfill our need. It can be burned out when what filled us for a season suddenly leaves us empty. Born from suffering, eros is destined for suffering. That erotic love does not have power to suffer long is its built-in tragedy. It must suffer, but it has no strength for longsuffering. Eros cannot wait.”

Agape: Agape, however, “has the power to be creatively weak. Because it is not driven by ardent need, it has power to wait. It gives power to accept life, to find goodness in living while we are victims of situations we despise. This is the only way to explain two attitudes we observe in Jesus toward his own horrible suffering. In Gethsemane, we hear him plead with God to be spared the cross that lay ahead … The next day, as he bears his cross to Calvary, he tells the weeping women who follow him: ‘Don’t cry for me.’ Here we see his power to affirm himself as the loving Lord and free Savior who chose to suffer, to be a victim of suffering. He was not a helpless victim of tragedy; he was a powerful person who chose to be weak. He had the strength to become a victim even while he affirmed his own life as free in obedience to love.”

Prayer: Lord, long-suffering is not passive, but aggressive. It takes power of soul. Our only hope in waiting, therefore, is the power of your divine love that moves us toward one another and toward you. May we seek your face and find your love that we may be longsuffering. Amen.

Daily Reading
Judges 20 (Listen – 7:13)
Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)

God’s Presence in Vocation :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published January 16, 2015)

“We are in full-time service to our Lord as he gifts us with our talents, be it in engineering, carpentry, medicine, trash collection, missions, the arts or whatever.'” — Audrey

Exodus 31.1-6
The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab… Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”

There are particular places we expect God to be present. In ancient Israel’s day we see God’s Spirit reside in the holy of holies — a space distinct from every part of common life. We also see the special relationship Israel’s leaders and pillars of faith had with him (Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron to name a few).

Bezalel and Oholiab are outliers to this expectation, but not to the way God’s Spirit works. Both men are tradesmen who are filled with God’s Spirit to engage in their vocation in a unique and transcendent way. (They are not the first to have this happen.)

God creates work as an invitation into creation and empowers it as a pathway into deeper relationship with Him. Work’s transcendent value comes from him.

“If the God of the Bible exists,” posits Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor, “and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest of ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

God’s presence reaches into every part of the world as his Spirit empowers people of faith in each vocation. 

“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest,” insists Abraham Kuyper. As an advocate for God’s presence in all things, Kuyper proclaims, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Father, thank you for creating, empowering, and valuing work. Give us the ability to engage in our vocations in ways which bring honor and glory to you. Give us vision for your Kingdom in our fields and in the lives of those we work with. Help us to see our work, as Dr. Keller says, as your “assignment to serve others.”

Daily Reading
Judges 19 (Listen – 4:52)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

The Emptiness of Scrapping The Supernatural :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published January 16, 2015)

“This prayer from so long ago glorifies Christ. So much of the time our prayers, including my own, are about ourselves! This is a reminder of ‘Jesus the Christ.'” — Antonette

Matthew 16.15-16
“But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In 1819, while sitting in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson finished working on his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The book would later be given the moniker, The Jefferson Bible. For countless nights Jefferson painstakingly worked his way, with razor and glue, through English, French, Latin, and Greek copies of the New Testament piecing together his own account of Jesus. The book holds Jesus as a key leader in thought and ethics, scrapping any reference to supernatural works or divine claims. 

Jefferson looked to Christ exclusively as a moral guide. The Founding Father’s Naturalist views informed his work as he helped lay the foundation for American government and thought. (He began talking about the book two decades prior to its publication, in the years preceding his presidency.) Reading through Jefferson’s creation as an American is enlightening. Much of our culture’s tendency to reduce religion to moralism is set like an orchestra to the tuning pitch of Jefferson’s perspective of Christ. Reading The Jefferson Bible as a Christian, however, is disheartening.

Jesus is never given the chance to connect speech to action in Jefferson’s account. I found myself startled  at the end of the Jefferson Bible. Jesus was hung on the cross and breathed his last. He spoke nothing to the heavens. After the account of his death, I turned the page and the book was over. The earth did not tremble at the loss of its redeemer. No women anointed the body of their lost friend and savior. There was certainly no resurrection in Jefferson’s account. As I sat in silence I realized that the Jefferson Bible leaves its readers only with a moral burden. 

Jesus’ teachings give us aspirations for a great life and clarity of our mistakes. This was Jefferson’s lone pursuit. But the jig is up for most of us today; we know moralism can’t deliver. It’s Jesus, the Son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. He gives us hope, joy, meaning, and peace. Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah seems odd in an age of skepticism, but it’s the heart of why everything else in the Christian faith matters. 

Prayers from the Past:
He that is immortal suffered much for us: Jesus, the Christ. 

Celestial offshoot of David’s race: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus, the Christ; glorified throughout the world, the only Son, the deathless: Jesus, the Christ.

In His mercy he came down from heaven to earth: Jesus, the Christ. 

From all eternity he has pointed out the true way of life: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus Christ, Son of Mary.

— Prayer in an Egyptian sarcophagus, unknown date.

Daily Reading
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

The Cost Of Forgiveness :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published February 10, 2015)

“My family was profoundly betrayed at levels we could never have imagined. Knowing we had to forgive, this post helped us to understand not only what forgiveness is but what it isn’t as well.” — Lisa

Genesis 43.31, 34
After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Research on forgiveness has surged, according to a PBS series on mental health. Those who forgive, “are more likely to be happy, serene, empathetic, hopeful, and agreeable,” the series summarizes, adding that forgiving people also experience:

  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More friends
  • Longer marriages
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Closer relationships
  • Fewer stress-related heath issues
  • Better immune system function
  • Lower rates of disease

It’s important to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as (1) reconciliation, (2) forgetting, (3) condoning or excusing, or (4) justice, clarifies Sonja Lyubomirsky in, The How of Happiness.

Forgiveness is an act of faith where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. 

Forgiveness always has a cost. The deeper the wound, the higher the cost. We see this in the story of Joseph’s feast with his brothers in Genesis 43. The most significant cost wasn’t financial or social, although Joseph sacrificed in both ways. (Feasts were expensive and ancient Egyptians considered eating with Israelites an abomination).

The greatest cost was the toll forgiveness and restoration took on Joseph. He retreated to his private room to weep after he saw his brother Benjamin. Upon returning Joseph intentionally blessed the brothers who cursed him.

By hosting a feast for his brothers, Joseph was inviting the source of his deepest pain to partake in the fruits of his greatest blessing. 

Forgiveness rarely comes out on top in a cost/benefit analysis. The only sufficient reason to forgive is if we look beyond the parties of the offended and the offender. Forgiveness for the Christian is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In Joseph’s case, being willing to endure the cost of forgiveness laid the groundwork for an entire nation and ultimately for Christ — the suffering servant who would forgive us all.

Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. We see that your calling to forgive others is better for us, yet we struggle in the realities and pains of life. Strengthen and guide us to forgive as you have forgiven. We ask for this in Jesus’ name.

Today’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)

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