What You Learned About the Middle Ages Was Wrong

What You Learned about the middle ages was wrongOver at the Theopolis Institute blog they are hosting an essay that I wrote about our misconceptions of medieval Christian civilization. The jumping off point was President Obama’s recent comments at the National Prayer Breakfast, but this is not a political post bashing the President. I actually agree with much of what he said, including how he highlighted persecuted Iranian Pastor Saeed. My essay was an opportunity to dig in on some widely held medieval myths.

https://theopolisinstitute.com/what-you-learned-about-the-middle-ages-was-wrong/


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Christmas Means Carnage

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This is a guest post by Olivia Cordray.

Confession time: I hate Christmas.

I hate the hypersaturated department store ads, the jingly music on the radio, “keep the Christ in Christmas,” “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the debate about what seasonal greeting is most inclusive, the pressure to buy gifts for family members you never talk to and only see once a year, the complex social dance involved in deciding upon whom to spend Christmas day with (which is usually settled by answering the real question: who will be most offended if we don’t spend it with them?). It doesn’t help that my family’s inability to deal with the stress of Christmas is legendary. Like the time my mother hurled the Christmas tree off of the deck into the woods, ornaments and all. It’s almost funny in retrospect, such a small woman wrestling that seven-foot live tree through the French doors, returning to announce grimly that she’s never “doing Christmas” again. I don’t even remember what prompted it, but she did this three different years, which makes it even funnier, in a gallows-humor kind of way.

I learned to appreciate gallows-humor at an early age. The 1995 film “Babe” (that’s right— the one about the talking pig) features a duck named Ferdinand whose existential angst stems from his realization that his raison d’etre is to become dinner. In one scene, Ferdinand meditates on the horrors of the season: “Christmas,” he mutters to himself. “Christmas means dinner. Dinner means death. Death means carnage. Christmas means carnage!

The truth is that I feel a lot like Ferdinand, and I know I’m not alone. In the past, Advent has been for me a period of waiting for the hammer to fall. The cheer and merriment of the weeks leading up to Christmas only enhance my irritation and anxiety; the coiling tension as the big day grows nearer corkscrews into me like the psychological equivalent of a medieval torture device. I know to expect an upswing in my own anxiety and heightened sensitivity in my family members, and as I get older I think I’m getting better at bracing myself, but still it gets under my skin in insidious ways,  until I’m mid-argument with my husband about the many inadequacies of his usual last-minute Christmas preparations and I suddenly realize I’m starting to sound like exactly what disgusts me about the holiday season.

This year, though, I’m starting to appreciate Advent for the first time as a much-needed antidote for this surfeit of Christmas jolliness. What I hate about Christmas at its heart isn’t the thing itself, but the insincerity of our rehearsal of its mantras. December has become an aisle down which we rush to get to the cashier and out the door – just gimme my presents already and let’s get on with real life!

My friends, we need to stop. And as counter-intuitive as it sounds, we need to savor our impatience and realize that our disillusionment, or at least our sense of dissatisfaction, is what this time is about. John Keats writes about what he calls “agonie ennuyeuse,” or the tedious agony – the lying-fallow of the poet’s creativity, a period of gestation, waiting until the time is ripe. A period of watchful, active waiting, which acknowledges a sense of incompletion without succumbing to despair. The tedious agony — what we felt as children, nearly aching with impatience for Christmas to arrive. What we feel now, sometimes bitterly disappointed that the time has not yet come.

What we need more than ever is our Messiah to come and deliver us, to mend our broken world, to redeem our broken hearts. Indeed, nothing else will give our wandering hearts rest. Instead of letting our restlessness turn us to pessimism this Advent, let us allow that dissatisfaction to draw our hearts and eyes to God in anticipation of the coming of his Son.

Olivia is a musician at Christ Our King and a graduate student in German Studies at Mizzou. You can follow her on her blog where she writes about pens: penventory.wordpress.com


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Advent Expectancy

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By Bill Yarbrough

Advent has everything to do with expectancy. Expectancy about all the comings of Christ and expectancy about all that he will do among us as we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

During this season, I am always moved by Luke’s account of Simeon’s prophetic embrace of the Christ child when Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. That day for Simeon was the fulfillment of a life-long, prayerful expectation of the first Advent. Of Simeon, Luke writes, “this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (2:25-26). Seeing the baby, this aged saint took the Divine Child from Joseph and Mary and holding him in his arms, blessed God saying “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32).

We are all the covenant family of that dear saint and, as family and friends, a question we could be asking during this Advent season is, “Who or what are expecting this Advent season?” I am hopeful that we would all be expectant for a deeper and more intimate fellowship with our Lord and for his healing and saving work in Columbia, or whatever city we reside in, through hearts transformed by grace and through our common life as the Church. May God graciously lead us to take unique and individual steps that would help us cultivate and nurture that relationship both to God and to one another.

Have we considered meeting with someone to pray on a regular basis, with confession and thanksgiving? Have we considered how we may best connect with Love, Inc., Granny’s House, participate in Christ Our King’s Advent food drive, or partner with local ministries that help those in need in whatever town we may reside? Have we considered some fixed times of fasting and intercessory prayer for the many heartbreaking situations, racial, cultural, and sexual that surround us? Have we considered exploring the possibility of personal spiritual direction or participating in a spiritual retreat? Advent is a time for searching our hearts and, with Spirit-filled expectancy, making choices about how to best love and serve God and our neighbor.

Simeon lived expectantly for the “consolation of Israel.” May we join heart and hands with that righteous and devout man during this Advent season, with that same spirit of expectancy about Christ coming to us. Expectancy, most certainly about that ultimate Advent, the second coming of Christ, but equally so, expectancy about our lives and city being transformed by the love of the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.


Here are some resources for deepening your expectancy for Christ to come this Advent:

If you want to learn more about spiritual direction, contact Pastor Bill via Twitter below, or visit the Christ Our King website and drop us a note.

Bill Yarbrough is a Senior Dircector with Mission to the World and is an assisting pastor at Christ Our King. Follow him on Twitter @billyarbrough
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Why We Need Advent, Now More Than Ever

Not feeling the Christmas spirit this year? That’s what Advent is for. Let’s keep the season of Advent to mourn the brokenness of this world and to prepare our hearts properly for the celebration of Christmas.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble summoning up the Christmas spirit this year. Thanksgiving is over and now our culture is trying to force us into full on Christmas celebratory mode. Our culture wants us to give into the swelling wave of sickening consumeristic bacchanalia. But, I want to ask a question: is it the time for feasting yet? Is it a time for emptying our pocketbooks on ourselves just yet? Should we push back against our culture just a little, this year of all years?

How can we feast while a great American city burns? While a family mourns the reality that no one will be held accountable for the death of their son? While brothers and sisters cry out against what they see as systematic oppression, and folks across the racial and socio-economic divide struggle to listen? How can we feast while Ebola ravages the people of West Africa and threatens to move in on other parts of our world and while now the bubonic plague is becoming a threat to the people of Madagascar? How can we celebrate when campus rape culture has been exposed to be a system where victims are not always protected and the reputations of venerated institutions are instead? How can we go into full on Christmas mode when tanks continue to line up in Ukraine and heads continue to roll in Syria and Iraq? How can we feast when millions upon millions of poor immigrants and refugees in our own country struggle to meet the basic necessities of life? How can we be so tone deaf as a culture? Before we feast and celebrate, would it be appropriate to stop and pray and fast for the many sad things we see around us?

The great history and tradition of the Church may have an answer for us. You see, traditionally there was a preparatory season of prayer and fasting that preceded Christmas. Christmas is not just a day, but a season of the Church year and a time of celebration in the life of the Church. And while we are seemingly always ready to remind others to keep the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember that this feast of Christmas must also be kept in its proper season and its proper proportion. As long as there has been a feast of Christmas, there has also been a preparatory time that preceded the great feast, a period that the Church has called Advent.

Traditionally, the Christmas celebration season followed Christmas Day, while the season that preceded Christmas Day was set aside for preparatory prayer, meditation, and fasting. So while we are keeping the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember to keep a holy Advent to prepare for his coming.

What is Advent? In short, Advent is a season for us to cry out against the brokenness, the injustice, the sin, the disease, the hurt, the oppression, and the fallenness of this world. Advent is a time for us all to hit pause for a moment and as a church, as a human race, to pray and cry out to God to come and fix our broken world. Ultimately God, the All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the only one who can fix our world in a lasting way. But we must not forget that God, while he can intervene supernaturally, almost always uses people to meet his ends in this world. So while we are praying and fasting, let us also be doing. James says, let us not be hearers of the word only, but also doers. Pure religion he says is to serve widows and orphans – to love the poor and the foreigner; the oppressed and downtrodden – to welcome, to host, to listen, and to serve. In short, to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor, you ask? Friends, who is not your neighbor?

So Advent is a time to pray, a time to fast, a time to listen, and a time to do. If it seems that feasting may be inappropriate this year, or any year, let us first prepare our hearts for the feast. We will feast – we will eat and drink and celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God into our flesh – but before we do that let us first press pause for a moment. Let us first pray and mourn awhile. It will be good for our souls and it will be good for our world.


Here are some resources for praying, listening, and doing:


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On the Historic Diversity of Reformed Theology

Historically there has been room in Reformed theology for a wide range of views on various topics. In this post Mark Jones gives further evidence that the theologians who made up the Westminster Assembly had a diversity of opinion and that the Westminster Confession  is a consensus document meant to draw a wide range of people together. In other words, Westminster was broadly Reformed and not meant to articulate any particular strain of Reformed thought. Give it it a read:

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/10/reformed-theological-diversity.php

By the way, the Hebrew word at the top of the post is “shibboleth.” Read Judges 12:6 and surrounding for more information.