Tuesday, November 4

Lectio Divina

Recently, in a lecture about current trends in commercial architecture, the patriarch of the modernist International School, Philip Johnson asserted, “These days the only things that are really new are those things that are really old.” What is true of architecture and fashion (Have you been as astonished as I have been by the return of seventies t-shirts, shoe styles, and jeans? I mean, really?) is equally true of almost everything else in life and culture. “There is nothing new under the sun,” Solomon opined.

It is for that reason that I have been happy--and only mildly surprised--to see the prominent return of old Medieval spiritual disciplines like Lectio Divina. In books like Take and Read Eugene Peterson (Eerdman’s) and Habits of the Mind by James Sire (IVP) the richness of this approach to spirituality is highlighted and illustrated. And in the new release from the NavPress THINK line of books, Read, Think, Pray, Live by Tony Jones, Lectio Divina takes center stage. All written for the tired and cynical modern American Christian!

Explaining the four primary steps of the discipline--Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio--Jones in particular provides modern readers with a positively ancient approach to engaging faith, integrating the arts, enlivening the mind, stimulating growth, and provoking maturity. And he does it in the brisk and relevant language that is the hallmark of all the THINK books. Indeed, what is remarkable about this book about a meditative, substantive, and provocative spiritual vision from the long ago and far away is that it is intended for young believers--for the blogging, hip-hopping, knit cap slouching, snow boarding, youth grouping, espresso sipping, iPodding, and low-rising teen generation.

Concluding with clear examples of how to use Lectio Divina in small groups, churches, and youth groups as well as specific exercises from the Scriptures, Jones teachers his readers a whole new and altogether old approach to Bible reading, study, and devotion. His directions are clear and concise. His illustrations are relevant and cogent. And his applications--demonstrating an obvious grasp of great literature, the classic arts, music, and how these sundry things may be integrated into a rich and mature spiritual life--are wide-ranging and convincing.

I am convinced that this is just the sort of bracing dose of reality that the modern Evangelical church needs just now. Get Read, Think, Pray, Live. Let Jones guide you toward a deeper, more profound approach to Bible study--even if you've not thought about bell bottoms since 1974 and are loathe to even imagine tying on a beaded macrame choker or paying three bucks for a cup of coffee with more chocolate syrup than java. I am praying that this really old thing does indeed become the next new thing.

Jars of Clay

The new CD by Jars of Clay is due to hit the stores in a few days. These pioneers of provocative, theologically sound, and melodic contemporary music have done some of their best work in years--maybe their best ever. This mostly-acoustic project is as wonderful as you might expect--but it also offers long-time fans some real production surprises. Who We Are Instead picks up where the acoustic set during their last tour left off. It is rather paradoxical: poignant and powerful, contemplative and celebrative, traditional and progressive, mellow and upbeat, poetic and didactic. There are more than a few memorable cuts on this one--and even a cover of an old America tune. With just a hint of T-Bone's O Brother Where Art Thou, a shot of Memphis Blues, a smidgen of Beatles, a tad of HEM, a nod at REM, a wink at Coupland, some Lyle-like Southern Gospel, and a healthy dose of familiar Jars creativity, this is a real musical rarity: maturity with grace, street cred with substance. If you have appreciated Jars as much as I have through the years, I think you'll absolutely have to have this CD in your collection--and you'll probably want to make plans to give away lots of copies for Christmas.

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