Category Archives: Patron Saints for Postmoderns

People we should know who are part of our faith heritage

Christian vocation in a “secular” world – part 2 – Gregory the Great


[This is the second in a series; the first part is here.]

Here’s the first question that may be nagging us as we seek a sense of vocation in our work:

  1. Does time dedicated to working in the secular world endanger our souls? Is there an inherent tension or contradiction between the “worldliness” of work and the “spirituality” of faith?

A century or two before the opening of the Middle Ages, the theologian whose influence would become definitive for the next thousand years, Augustine of Hippo, distinguished two spheres of human endeavor: the “active life”—our work in the world—and the “contemplative life”—our private worship and prayer. The active life could be good, but the contemplative life, such as that enjoyed by monks and nuns, was much better—and indeed safer for our souls.

Augustine’s view has persisted in some circles right up to this day – but it was quickly challenged by the man some consider the spiritual father of the medieval church, as Augustine was its theological father.

Born into a wealthy family and educated in grammar, rhetoric, law, and letters, young Gregory—who would become Pope Gregory the Great (540-604)—rose by age 33 to the exalted position of Roman prefect, in charge of the city’s police force, food supply, and finances.

Gregory found in Augustine’s distinction between the active and contemplative life a frightening challenge to his spiritual life. He worried that all the ordinary, daily, and challenging work of the prefecture might be endangering his very soul. Where in all the busyness could he find God?

Agonized, Gregory left his wealth and power, taking on the monastic vows of obedience, poverty, and celibacy, and the monastic life of daily disciplines, prayer, and Bible reading. He expected to live out his years safely ensconced in the contemplative routines of the cloister.

But his holy seclusion was not to last. Just three years later, in 578, Pope Benedict I called Gregory out of his monastery to become one of the seven deacons of Rome, an office carrying heavy administrative duties. And when Pope Pelagius II died of plague twelve years later, Gregory was unanimously chosen succeed him as pope. Continue reading

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God’s beer mogul: A case study of Wesley-influenced economic action


Guinness is good for youIn the early days of Methodism as now, not every capitalist operated out of corrupt motives of greed. One contrary example, a contemporary of Wesley and deeply influenced by the Methodist leader, was Young Arthur Guinness, an up-and-coming eighteenth-century businessman in Dublin. Guinness was a brewer, during a time when beer had a significant health benefit over many other kinds of beverage, including water:

No one in those days understood micro-organisms and how disease is spread. They routinely drank from the same waters in which they dumped their garbage and their sewage. Unknowingly, they polluted the rivers and lakes around their cities. People died as a result, and this made nearly everyone in Guinness’ day avoid water entirely. Instead, they drank alcoholic beverages.

Usually, this was done in moderation and all was well. Occasionally, though, excess set in. . . . This is what happened in the years just before Guinness was born, in the period historians call “The Gin Craze.” Parliament had forbidden the importation of liquor in 1689, so the people of Ireland and Britain began making their own [, and drunkenness became widespread.] Every sixth house in England was a “gin house.” (Stephen Mansfield, “The Story of God and Guinness,” Relevant magazine, March 24, 2010.)

An advertisement for one of these dens of squalor read, “Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing.”

Poverty deepened; crime rose. And “to help heal their tortured society, some turned to brewing beer.” It was much lower in alcohol than gin, “the process of brewing and the alcohol that resulted killed the germs that made water dangerous, and it was nutritious in ways scientists are only now beginning to understand.”

This young brewer, Arthur Guinness, fell under John Wesley’s influence. Continue reading

Copies of Patron Saints for Postmoderns, $9 shipped


Patron-Saints-for-Postmoderns-199x300Sorry to interrupt your day with an advertisement, but we authors have to eat too 🙂  If anyone is interested in receiving a copy of my Patron Saints for PostmodernsI can get it to you for $9, shipping included. Just let me know at c-armstrong@bethel.edu that you’ll be sending a check, money order, or cash, and I’ll ship it right away, also providing my address for payment.

Yeah, I trust y’all.

Oops. I said $10 in my original title. Yup, I really meant $9. 🙂

Peace,

Chris

“Saint” Chesterton?


Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (b. 29 May 1874 – d....

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (b. 29 May 1874 – d. 14 June 1936), English writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Worth noting: Pope Francis appears to be pro- the canonization of G. K. Chesterton, says Stratford Caldecott in this interesting article.

 

Caldecott relates the current pope’s interest in canonizing the great apologist and influencer of C S Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and so many others,

 

According to EWTN News and the Catholic News Agency, a letter to Mr Thompson from the Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in Argentina noted that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, “encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the Cause of Chesterton to the altars.” Not only that, but Cardinal Bergoglio, since elected pope, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonization of Chesterton.

 

We’ll just have to wait and see, but there is an English bishop who is doing more than that:

 

Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton is “sympathetic” to those who desire to see Chesterton canonized and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”

 

This development is a long way from actual canonization, but  its announcement by Dale Ahlquist at a meeting of the American Chesterton Society was greeted with “huge cheering and applause and great emotion.” Continue reading

Jazz, entrepreneurship, and tradition


Keith Jarrett

As an enthusiastic jazz fan and an appreciator of business entrepreneurship, I enjoy watching folks make it up as they go along. Nothing affirms my sense of human beings as “co-creators” with God (a favored term of that great co-creator, J R R Tolkien) more than listening to the swooping, soaring melodic lines of a skilled jazz musician. Nothing hits me more powerfully with the great practical power of creative thinking than seeing an entrepreneur take the germ of an idea and spin it out into products, services, jobs that turn raw materials into something of value to the world.

But as a historian, I am reminded that when true jazz musicians hear an improviser who has not studied the traditions handed down through generations of jazz men and women . . . they shake their heads and turn away. And when veteran businesspeople see a young wannabe rushing out to potential consumers without proper understanding of their needs, or building financial castles without grounding in economic knowledge and financial principles . . . they wince, knowing the inevitable failure that will follow.

So why can’t the American church learn this lesson? Why do we keep rushing to and fro launching all our creative ministries, church growth strategies, and grand “missional” plans, unequipped with even a basic acquaintance of those giants whose shoulders we are standing on? What is it that, unlike any other craft or business on earth, leads us to think that we can ignore history and still succeed? Why do we think we can bypass 2,000 years of wise thinking (and lessons learned the hard way) about the Gospel, about what it is to Be The Church, and bring our fevered plans about how to “Do Church” to fruitful reality?

OK, flame off. As you were. I’m going to go think about New Years Resolutions . . . AND the Great Cloud of Witnesses.

And by the way: R.I.P. Dave Brubeck–one of the greats. And long live Keith Jarrett (pictured above), a living legend and influencer of a whole new generation of skilled, creative players.

Charles Sheldon as example of how pastors could better understand the working life of their congregants


Kansas 150/150

Charles Sheldon's blockbuster novel. READ IT!

A book that is sorely needed in today’s Christian world is John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (Knapp is a professor and head of an ethics center at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama). He’s blogging on the concept, briefly, on his publisher’s website, and lo and behold, up pops one of my favorite classical, Christocentric liberals of the 19th century, Charles M. Sheldon. Yup. I dedicated a chapter to Mr. “What Would Jesus Do?” in my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns (yes, there’s a Kindle version, in case you get one of those hugely popular commerce devices this Christmas). Here’s Dr. Knapp’s take on Sheldon. Amen, John. May your book gain a wide audience:

Pastors who wish to better understand the weekday lives of their parishioners could learn a thing or two from the real-life example of a nineteenth-century minister named Charles Sheldon, best known for his classic novel titled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Continue reading

On pulling evangelicals back from the brink of Catholicism – Mark Galli’s wise words


Holy Spirit

Image by Barking Tigs via Flickr

Mark Galli, I love you as a brother in Christ. As managing editor in the flagship evangelical Protestant publication, Christianity Today, you have presented an impassioned and powerful case for why evangelical Protestants tempted to cross the Tiber and join with the Roman Catholic Church should think twice . . . and then remain in the evangelical fold. While I balk at some of your historical characterizations, I affirm your central point.

A word on those historical characterizations. Mark assert confidently: “Huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation.”

Really? “Huge segments”? While at Duke University (fountain of all wisdom, funded by tobacco money . . . and surprisingly loyal, in at least many parts of the Divinity School, to the Great Tradition), I learned different from David Steinmetz, the (Protestant) historian of the Reformation at Duke . . . unless, David, I interpreted your lectures wrongly:

Continue reading