Book Review: Seculosity by David Zahl

Secul… what?

David Zahl presents a lively discourse on what we turn our attention to in the present time. What is it that leads us away from God and what do we treat as our priorities today.

If you have never heard of the term seculosity before, it is because it is of Zahl’s creation. “What’s more, there does seem to be a discernible difference between grounding your hope in something material and something spiritual. Blanketing both groups with such a loaded label could come off as patronizing. Which is why I am proposing a fresh term seculosity. I’m using it as a catchall for religiosity that’s directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects” (xxi).

As we get overwhelmed in our daily lives, there are many areas that get prioritized over our dedication to Christ. Zahl ventures into the areas of parenting, work, technology, politics, and much more as we have turned these into our own type of religion. He even ventures into how we co-opt the church and what we have made it to be that is far from the vertical faith that God has originally called us.

Zahl includes a great sense of humor that brings the discourse to heart and one that the reader can relate. While he points to the things that create seculosity, he does conclude the book with “What to ‘do’ about it.” His argument is not that we are less religious than we have been in the past, in fact, we may be more. We have just turned our religion to things that are not the God of creation. He points to the unique position we have as offering the grace of God. However, amid the grace, we are also sin and are broken. To repent of this and be awash of the grace of God is a hope that nothing in the secular world can offer.

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Fear and Faith

August 11, 2019

Luke 12:32-40

Fear and Faith.

These are the recurring themes from our lessons this morning.  Could living our lives be as simple as stripping everything away to whether we are living in fear or if we are living in faith? Do we know how to name fear, and do we know how to name faith?

Sometimes fear is very evident and can be seen in the faces of little children. This past Thursday I had the opportunity to meet Alice whose husband was deported after following the legal process for nearly two decades. She shared how her five-year-old granddaughter had developed a fear of police after her grandfather had been taken. She would scream and cry while they were in the car whenever they saw a police officer. To combat this fear, she had a friend dress up as a police officer come over to their house and teach her that the police are not people to fear. She wanted to make sure that if she was ever in trouble, she knew that she could go to a police officer for help. For some, that feeling of safety and freedom is hard to find in this earthly world. That is when we turn towards God to catch a glimpse of the hope that resides in Jesus.

There is an absolute freedom in the reign of God which calls us to live in faith and to banish fear from our lives.

It can be easy to let fear control our lives. It has happened over and over again. As we turn to history, we can look at the rise of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. Fear in the face of Hitler gripped Germany, while many people knowing what was happening, chose not to raise their voices. Many of those people were Lutheran! The fear also went the other direction as the reich created a fear of those that were different, resulting in nearly 11 million people killed during the Holocaust, simply because they did not fit the model picture of what the leaders thought humankind should look like. Fortunately, the rest of Europe and America stepped up to this manufactured fear of the other and fought to bring peace and freedom to Europe.

It is easy to co-op the gospel to your own making and we have seen it done in our own country through slavery, segregation, opposition to suffrage, and even to our present-day treatment of the stranger and neighbor among us.

Fear is not new. Fear has shaped humanity from the very beginning. Fear gripped Abram as he was afraid that he would not have any heirs to receive the blessing of the Lord. He was fearful of what would happen to his possessions after he died. What would happen to those things that he had been promised? He was fearful it may go to a slave born within his house.

Fear has gripped the disciples as they think about the difficult call that Jesus is continuing to make for them to follow. They worry about what is coming next and how they are going to live in their lives with Jesus. Jesus’ ministry is changing things and that change brings the unknown. Change can easily heighten our sense of fear.

When our surroundings change, our sense of direction is thrown out of whack and it can be easy to get lost. Do we become complicit to the negative changes around us like history has done in the past, such as Nazi Germany?  Do we embrace the change that lifts up all of God’s creation and pray for it as the in-breaking of the reign of God?

To move toward the freedom found in Jesus, we must acknowledge our fear.

Jesus is well aware of our fears and says, “Do not be afraid.” Our first response may be cynicism.

Thanks, Jesus! Sometimes that is much harder than what you suggest. Change is difficult. The unfamiliar can scare us. When we venture into the unknown our knees begin to quake and buckle. And in the midst of it, you tell us, “do not be afraid!” Yet, somewhere amid our fear we can begin to find just that tiniest seed of faith. That is all it takes. And, each one of us has that seed within us, even when it does not feel like it.

The author of Hebrews reminds us of what faith can look like. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Abraham learned what it meant to have faith. He found the freedom that is in the grace of God. As he listened to God and released all of his fears, he began to truly understand what God had been calling him to from the very beginning.

Jesus nurtured the seed of faith in the disciples that are following him, “have no fear little flock.” Jesus continues to nurture those seeds within us through the freedom that is given to us to follow and obey his word. Our faith, as it grows, begins to drive the fear out. There is an absolute freedom in the reign of God which calls us to live in faith and to banish fear from our lives.

Throughout history the faithful have been lifted for us to remember. Today we remember the faith of Clare of Assisi. Clare was friends with Francis of Assisi before he heeded the call from God to rebuild God’s church. Clare faithfully followed in the footsteps of Francis. Clare learned what it meant to give herself wholeheartedly to living into her faith. Her faith led her to found the Order of the Poor Ladies. Fear was not on her radar and the example of her faith lives on today as we remember her.

Fear and faith are both powerful entities. The question is, which one are you allowing to direct your life? Will you live into the fear of the unknown, the fear of change, or the fear of those that are different? Or, will you embrace your God-given faith to bring the reign of God closer to all of God’s creation?

This morning I leave you with a prayer from Clare,

I pray you most gentle Jesus…

Give me a lively faith, a firm hope, and perfect charity,

so that I may love you with all my heart,

and all my soul, and all my strength.

Make me steadfast in good works

and grant me perseverance in your service,

so that I may please you always. Amen

Christ in All

Bethany Retreat Center, Lutz, Florida

August 4, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

In Christ there is no division!

“There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11). Feel free to add what other divisions we may witness out there to this list. Simply put, Jesus tells us that there is no difference among God’s creation.

We are the ones to make up the differences. We have created the idea of race. We have created the concept of political parties. Those that have and those that have not. We have made our own categories of what we think is right and what we think is wrong. Evil creates differences and tries to separate the people of God through means like the two mass shootings that have happened in our country in the last 24 hours, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Yet, Christ is in all! This can be hard to comprehend in times like this.

When I woke up this morning my hear broke even more after hearing of the Dayton shooting in the early hours of the morning. How often does this have to happen for people to raise their voices and a difference is made. We create differences that are not their in God’s eyes.

In God’s reign there are no differences and we encounter the grace of God in ways that are beyond our current understanding.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable likes to set himself apart and above others so that he can live prosperously. In other words, he is taking more than his daily bread that we pray for in the Lord’s prayer. Now, wealth is not a bad thing!

However, it is the person in the crowd asking Jesus to tell his brother to split the family inheritance that provokes the telling of this parable. The person in the crowd is most likely the younger of the two and thus according to Jewish inheritance traditions would not receive much. He wants what he believes is due to him. The rich man is not much different. He has done well farming his land and has been blessed with an abundance of crops. Instead of ensuring that those in the community are cared for, he is just going to build a bigger barn.  

We are good at building places to put our stuff. We buy bigger houses so that all our stuff can be contained. If we cannot buy a bigger house than we buy a storage unit so that we can collect more stuff. While George Carlin could be profane at times in his standup comedy, his social commentaries were many times spot on. His routine on our obsession with stuff is about as absurd as the rich man tearing down his barns to build even bigger barns.

In some form or another, we have probably all done it at one point though. We got a bigger car because we needed. We got a bigger house because we needed. We rented a storage facility because we needed it.

Instead of a new life in Christ, we can easily get wrapped up in the material stuff of the world. The person that asks Jesus for a share of the family inheritance is more concerned for himself. The rich man is more concerned about living the good life and stockpiling so that he can eat, drink, and be merry. They are concerned with worldly richness, not being rich toward God.

Paul has addressed some of the same concerns to the communities he has preached. In the letter to the Colossians he reiterates the importance of Christ and the freedom that now exists. This freedom should be lived as a new life in Christ and not of the world. Paul’s letter was written nearly 2000 years ago and sometimes we get caught up in his choice of words.

Sojourners magazine recently published an issue of letters to the Christian church in America from Christians around the world. These letters may have been some of the very things that Paul, himself, would write to us today. I would encourage you to read the letter from Kuki Rokhum in India.

We are blessed to have the opportunity to worship together this morning where some of our siblings around the world do not have that freedom. We are blessed with a great abundance that we quite often take for granted. More importantly, we must remember that we are not blessed because of where we live, but because we are children of God. We are created in God’s image. In this we should be reminded that there are no differences or division in God’s eyes, only the ones we have created in our own. For Christ is in all and in God’s reign there is no difference and we encounter the grace of God in ways that are beyond our current understanding.

Let us pray. God of unity, you are Christ in All. May we be open to seeing that in our neighbors and strangers alike. May we worry less about our worldly wealth and focus on the wealth that can only be found in you. Amen.