Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home - Pope Francis

In the spirit of his namesake, Francis sees the interrelatedness of all things.

Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home
Author: Pope Francis
Publisher: The Word Among Us Press (
Pages: 189

I will never forget seeing my friend, who was the pastor of the church that I attended at the time, throw a wrapper on the floor of the New York City hotel room that we were sharing. It was many years ago, so maybe his attitude has changed, but back then he justified it by explaining that a maid would retrieve whatever he discarded. Rather than use the nearby trash can, he enjoyed the momentary freedom of not having to pick up after himself.

It’s a little like going into a retail store to try on clothes and then throwing the ones you don’t want on the floor. You know that someone is paid to pick them up.

It doesn’t take that much effort to put something back or place it where it belongs. It is a courtesy to others and shows that we care about the space that we share with other people.

I wonder if an attitude similar to my friend’s colors the thinking of some Christians. Since Christ is returning soon, what happens to the planet doesn’t matter that much. The world as we know it will be remade or become new. Besides, what difference can one person make?

Thankfully, Pope Francis in Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home does not entertain this kind of mentality. The title is somewhat telling. His appeal is to all because God gave the marvelous resources on this planet to all the inhabitants. Francis rightly sees the interrelatedness of all things. We are not isolated. Pollution of any sort impacts others.  

Christians in particular have a responsibility to be wise stewards, not just as a matter of faithfulness to God, but for the benefit of all creatures. How can we let ignorance, indifference or disregard become a stumbling block to our neighbor? What kind of witness do we leave when our actions burden others?

What surprises me is the Pope’s knowledge on this wide-ranging subject. One would expect him to be knowledgeable on theological matters. Who knew he would have such a broad grasp of ecology?

Then again, seen rightly, the Christian life is not confined to what one might consider religious matters. The life of Christ in a person is meant to transform our relationship to everything. How we relate to every aspect of our environment is a spiritual thing. It’s why the late Rich Mullins, a musician who could be philosophical, could say that making your bed can be a spiritual thing. Surely, it must be what drives Bono, another musician and activist, to advocate for the least of these.

I’m glad this book avoids contentious debate about global warming and other concerns. It does not predominantly use scientific arguments. Its appeal is from Scripture and godly wisdom. It is a rational outworking of the life of faith in relation to everything else. As a Christian I want to make the world a better place.

This discourse is like a framework from which all can navigate. One thing I applaud Catholics for is their comprehensive theology on different subjects. For example, Pope John Paul II presented a detailed theology of the body. It’s not that I agree with all Catholic teaching, but I admire the fully-developed thought. Catholics would seem to have a deep well from which to draw on a number of subjects.

Building on that foundation, Francis has provided a rich theology of the environment in concise form. Along the way it touches on so many subjects: sociology, business, education, lines of action, and consumerism to name a few in addition to the ones already mentioned.

Francis follows the advice of C. H. Spurgeon, the famous London preacher: “No matter what good truths you have to teach, no one will thank you if you do not speak kindly.” His words are gracious as he seeks a balance between competing interests.

In my small area of the world, homelessness has become an ongoing problem with no solution in sight. As I read this book, I thought that if I was on the City Council I might use it as a resource. It would help me to think through some of the issues. Even further, I thought each of the City Council members might benefit from reading this for its humane approach to the many problems of our day. It would not provide specific solutions but it might lead to going in directions that are workable and considerate.

One of the old divines, A. B. Simpson, wrote, “‘Be courteous,’ is one of the commands of the Holy Ghost.” We would do well to remember that and to tread softly during our time here.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Master Musician - John Michael Talbot

Our life in God illustrated through the crafting and playing of an instrument

The Master Musician: Meditations on Jesus
Author: John Michael Talbot
Publisher: InterVarsity Press (Originally published by Zondervan - 1992)
Pages: 95

Of all that John Michael Talbot has written, The Master Musician draws more from his experience and education in music more than any other work. It makes me want to listen again to this master musician, whose careful craftsmanship is evident in his many albums.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not primarily about music. It’s more of a means to illustrate our life in God. It’s a book that few, if any, other than Talbot could write. His command of the subject, coupled with his devotional life, and simple, concise wording makes it unique.

He summarizes it as follows: “The work is divided into three main sections: God’s grace, our human response and life in the church. The first is likened unto the crafting of a fine guitar by the Master Musician. The second, into our learning how to play under the Master’s instruction. The third, unto learning how to play with others in the symphony orchestra or band” (5).

Like Jesus, and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, Talbot continually follows a principle found in Scripture; first the natural, then the spiritual. The craftsman’s choice of wood for a guitar is but one of many examples: “Some knots are permissible and even desirable. Some craftsman and musicians think that knots add character to the instrument. Knots keep it from appearing artificial and sterile, more like a plastic computerized copy of the real thing. The same is true of our lives. Many of us still have knots in our lives. We are far from perfect. Perfection is not required—only the willingness to submit to the hand of the Master. He and he alone will craft us into a thing of beauty. He even uses the things that the world considers flawed to bring forth his perfection” (11-12). This kind of gentle wisdom is found on every page.

This use of symbolism is primary, but its repeated use may be tiring to some readers. It’s also quite basic, but I believe in the power of fundamental truths; not just expressed but lived-out. Perhaps that’s why this is termed a “meditation.” It can be read quickly, but that is obviously not the author’s intent. It’s only when I started to read this again that I more fully appreciated these life-changing, foundational thoughts.

I also enjoyed asides like the following: “Music is everywhere—in the home, the car, the office and the high-rise elevator. It is even in the church. Yet there seems so little real and lasting beauty in any of it … so little to uplift the soul. It has reflected the chaos and inhumanity of our culture well, but it has done little to change our culture for the better. The music of our modern world is little or nothing like the music of the Master” (23).

I appreciate John Michael Talbot because he not only recognizes where we are as a culture, but in his own way is changing it for the better. His many songs and even his writings are a reflection of the music of the Master. 

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