After You Believe

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an unabashed fan of the theologian N. T. Wright. He is one of a handful of people I would pay good money (and even travel more than ten minutes from home) to hear speak. So one of the books on my 2014 reading plan (see here for more about my annual reading plans) was his After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.

After You Believe is the third in a trilogy from Bishop Wright (he is a retired Anglican bishop), following Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, which are among the best books I've read in recent years.

In After You Believe, Wright tackles the topic of Christian character and virtue. Using the wonderfully apt illustration of Captain "Sully" Sullenberger's heroism in saving lives on the ill-fated Flight 1549, he makes the case that "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 'second nature.'...Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, 'second nature'" (p. 21). With his usual thoroughness and eloquence, he leaves the reader no choice but to agree and to desire such character and virtue. He makes it clear that "virtue" doesn't "just happen," nor is it achieved by following someone's example--even that of Jesus. Instead, he depicts what he calls "The Virtuous Circle" (see photo), comprised of regular and intertwining

influences of scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices--the "habits of mind and heart which develop those corporate virtues of which we have spoken" (p. 278), such as shared worship (prayer, scripture, sacrament, and giving). When this "virtuous circle" is habitual (not occasional), cyclical (not sequential), and sincere (not rote), our characters will be transformed and virtue will result.

It's impossible to do justice to what Commonweal calls "Wright’s close reading of Scripture, his clear prose, and his evident love for his Christian faith" in a short review, but After You Believe is a helpful and compelling book by one of the world's leading biblical scholars.

The Daily Routines of Creative People

Here (click on the link) is a fascinating graphic depicting the daily routines of numerous creative people--such as Balzac, Mozart, Freud, and others.

As a writer, I suppose I would aspire to Flannery O'Connor's schedule. As a pastor, my schedule looked nothing like any of these. I wonder how a similar chart of well-known pastors throughout history might look.

How does your daily routine compare? How should it look?

Pastors and Office Hours

This post by Thom Rainer is priceless. I never had a church leader stalk me to make sure I was putting in "office hours" like he did, but I did once lose a series of battles with church leaders over the issues he lists here. Read it. It's good.

(photo by Steve Snodgrass via

An Artist's Prayer

M. Craig Barnes made the case that pastors are minor poets, in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet. And Walter Brueggemann has said, "The business of the church is poetry." I believe both of those things. I also believe that the church collectively and its members individually are artists, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether fulfilled or failed. So I was blessed to read the acceptance speech for the 2014 American Academy of Religion Award in Religion and the Arts by one of my favorite living artists, Makoto Fujimura. It begins:
This speech is a prayer: a prayer uttered in the liminal zone between art and religion, a prayer to repair the schism between the two, a prayer to be — in T.S. Eliot’s words — “reconciled among the stars.”

I pray that some day, in the near future, our children and our grandchildren will see an age when faith and life, art and scholarship, the rational and the intuitive will be so integrated that there will no longer be a need for this award.
Read the whole thing here. It's beautiful.

More Or Less

One of the things God has been doing in me lately is calling me to a life of greater generosity. More than that. He's been urging me toward more awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of those around me. More than that. He's been prodding me to reflect in my lifestyle what my Jewish friends call "tikkun olam," a Hebrew phrase that means "healing the world." So, when I happened upon Jeff Shinabarger's book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, I knew I had to read it.

In fourteen very readable chapters, Shinabarger makes the case that, "if you are reading this book, you are rich," and can find tremendous blessing in facing that fact and coming to the conclusion that you have enough. Maybe he lays on a guilt trip, a little, but since I read his book on an iPad, it's nothing I don't deserve. But he does more than show that I have enough possessions, food, clothing, presents, transportation, time, access, and more. He also gives many practical suggestions for how to turn my excess possessions into generosity and blessing and wealth of a different kind.

It was not only his (and his wife's) generosity that interested and excited me, but also their ingenuity. He is an entrepreneur, and so when he and his wife realized that most people have gift cards just sitting around unused, they established And that's just one example of the brilliant and energizing ideas that enliven this book. And the book is supported by one of the best book-related websites--with videos, discussion guides, and more--I've ever seen.

If you're interested in living better, read this book. If you're tired of consumerism, read this book. If you're not convinced that you have enough already, read this book. If you're spending more and more but enjoying life less and less, read this book. If you don't think you can afford to buy this book, read it anyway. As Shinabarger says, "Only you can contribute what only you can give to the world."

Church Signs with Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 21)

This church sign comes to the Desperate Pastor by way of @jesusneedsnewpr. I'm not sure, but I think the assumption behind the message is that people will be led to repentance by their love for turkey.