I used to think church history was my grandma and her Scofield Bible. I used to think authentic Christian faith leaped from the moment of the last apostle’s death (John on the Isle of Patmos?) to around the time of Billy Graham. (What was happening in all the intervening years? Hmmm, maybe Christian faith went underground, secretly being passed from one small “real” Christian group to another, with occasional grand flare-ups of faith like the Reformation. Everyone else was were… Read more

  In his exploration of English spirituality, Thornton is not shy about applauding the tradition. He really does say that “sometimes [our Lord] is very English.” (37) (It does make me gurgle just a bit, thinking of a 19th-century Jesus with, oh, say a monocle and a pipe and an Eton collar. Or maybe, since he was working class, a bowler hat, a worn frockcoat, and fingerless gloves.) Thornton’s appreciation for the English tradition is an honest one. He recognizes… Read more

    Writing this on Easter Tuesday, it’s easy to see in the rearview mirror the efforts we made, wished we had made, tried to make, thought about making, or heard others made during the Lenten season just behind us. And now, whew!, all that struggle (or the guilt we may feel that there was no struggle) can be forgotten as we move into the joys of Easter, a season of victory and elation rather than sweat and tears. Of… Read more

“Now Lazarus was sick.” I doubt there is a one of us who has not experienced the sickness, even to death, of one we love. There’s a unique agony that goes with watching someone you love suffer and know that he or she is slipping from your grasp. That agony was Martha’s and Mary’s. And, of course, it was Jesus’ agony, too. We like to think that, knowing what he had in mind, knowing he could speak a word and… Read more

In exploring asceticism, or spiritual theology, for 21st-century Christians, I’ve been using Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality, a journey through the common Christian elements of the English tradition and the distinctive components that make it unique. Thornton points out three ways English spirituality shares space with other Christian spiritualities: “It is elementary.” By this, Thornton means us to understand that Christian spirituality deals with the ordinary, the rhythms and practices of life that Christians take up everywhere in their response to… Read more

I recently spent a few hours in a couple of New York museums where at least twice I met Saint Lawrence in a painting. Each time, the artist put a gridiron (the grating kind for grilling, not the field kind for football) in his portrait, sometimes with flames licking his body. This third-century deacon of Rome was the one who, according to church tradition, succeeded in infuriating Emperor Valerian to the point that he was roasted alive as punishment. St…. Read more

As is to be expected in this vitriolic age, no one is safe. Not even the saints. Especially when they’ve passed. Billy Graham has gone on to his rewards, and here on earth we’ve begun the dismantling of his life. For some, he was a hero. For others, a monster. For some, his unrelenting dedication to marital fidelity was a model of integrity and respect for Ruth. For others, it was a pernicious denigration of the value of women. For… Read more

  “Everything depends upon God, all Christian life begins with grace, all prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but we can learn to respond to, or cooperate with, this divine action upon us.” So wrote Martin Thornton, an Anglican priest and author, writing on what he dubs the English school of spirituality. He shows his chutzpah by actually using the word “ascetical” in the title of his book: English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology according to the English… Read more

Today I read 1 Chronicles 2, which is nothing more than a list of names and names and names: fathers and wives and concubines and sons and daughters, one Egyptian slave, clans and kin and houses. Some might choose to roll over dead before reading such a thing; others might get to sleep long before reading the names of the sons born to Caleb and his wife Azubah. For whatever weird reason, I rather enjoy the biblical genealogies. All these… Read more

It is a mystery, unsolved and unsolvable, why some people believe and others do not, why some hear an odd echo of a forgotten voice within and some do not, why some see Jesus and others do not. “Why do you reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” asked one of his disciples. Yes, indeed, why? Jesus rarely answers questions with “Because ….” In fact, does he ever give a because? Does he ever make clear such mysteries?… Read more

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