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How the Brain Keeps Faith in a Good God Amid a Weary World

Both C. S. Lewis and Job held onto their faith when their worlds imploded. Now psychologists suggest clues to understanding how the mind endures in suffering.

C. S. Lewis was briefly, but blissfully, married to his wife, Joy, before she died of cancer in 1960. He journaled through his grief, later published as the book, A Grief Observed, where he retorted in its early pages:

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

Lewis, as one of the best-known Christian apologists of his time, knew plenty of compelling theological answers for suffering. Indeed, he had written an earlier book on the topic, The Problem of Pain. But in his deep personal loss, you see him turn to God with his questioning and even anger. “God,” he writes, “hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine.” In the same way, in the Book of Job, Job holds onto his faith tightly while his world implodes. Yet he also questions the very purpose of his life, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11)

You see through Lewis’s journaling and Job’s long discussions with his friends the human need for making sense of how pain and faith interact.

A 2012 psychology study by Russell McCann and Marcia Webb brings into focus our brain’s ability to grapple effectively with the paradox of a suffering world and a good God. It offers intriguing possibilities for understanding how God created our minds to support our faith. Could this be God’s bodily gift when it feels like our world is falling apart?

McCann, a professor at the University of Washington, and Webb, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, looked at …

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Scottsdale schools settles with architect for $350,815 after contentious rebuild projects

Scottsdale Unified School District reached a settlement with Hunt & Caraway Architects a year after problems with school rebuilds were identified.




Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich cheers court decision, explains why he wants to end 'Obamacare'

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is a plaintiff in the Texas vs. Azar case that seeks to nullify the Affordable Care Act.




My Swaddled Savior

Jesus’ life began and ended in earthly fetters. Who better to understand ours?

E. B. White once lamented, “To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.”

I wouldn’t want to argue with the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web. Yet I have an affection for Christmas wrapping precisely because it helped me perceive Jesus through a fresh lens.

Several years ago, I decided to write a daily Christmas post on our church blog during the month of December. Saying something fresh about the Nativity every single day had me reaching far and wide for ideas. In my grasping, for one entry I decided to tackle the theology of Christmas wrapping. I vaguely recalled that some cultures use cloth instead of paper to wrap gifts, which sounded intriguing.

So I dug in. That’s when I first learned about the ancient Japanese art of furoshiki. Feudal lords needed a practical way to bundle their belongings while using the shogun bathhouse, and they displayed their family crests on the outer cloth to identify whose was whose.

Over the centuries, people adapted furoshiki into a beautiful means of presenting gifts. The cloth is folded and tied in deliberate, creative ways, inviting the recipient to pause and appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the packaging before opening it.

What’s more, unlike paper, the material can then be reused over and over again, which has made furoshiki a popular, eco-friendly alternative. When Yuriko Koike was the Japanese Minister of the Environment, she praised the benefits of furoshiki, saying, “It’s a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full.”

I realized that Jesus came to us in furoshiki, wrapped in cloths. And while the strips of swaddling served their original purpose long …

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Mankind Was Scrooge’s Business (and George Bailey’s, Too)

Two of our favorite Christmas stories teach us that no one can be redeemed in isolation.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens’s “ghostly little book,” A Christmas Carol. Over the years, it has become so pervasive that even those who haven’t read this story of a miser’s redemption or caught one of the many film, stage, or television adaptations know what a “Scrooge” is, what Tiny Tim represents, and what’s so terrifying about the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Aside from being a groundbreaking and classic story in its own right, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol helped to create an entire genre: the secular Christmas story. (By “secular” I don’t mean “anti-religious” or even “non-religious” but simply a Christmas story where the focus is not directly on the birth of Christ.) Without the influence of Dickens’s powerful little tale, we might never have had Frank Capra’s beloved 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.

But there’s more than a genre linking the two stories together. In fact, as the National Post puts it, “one story is the inverse of the other.” Ebenezer Scrooge must journey through time and space to understand the impact of his bad deeds, George Bailey to understand the impact of his good ones. Each story ends in the saving of its protagonist—one from selfishness and greed, the other from suicidal despair—and his return to life with a transformed outlook.

Mixed Messages?

But that raises a question: Why would it be equally helpful for a person to look back on bad deeds and on good ones? Why are both Ebenezer and George so changed when the experiences they go through are practically the opposite of each other?

A Christian, in particular, …

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Arizona teachers who talk politics will be fired if new bill passes

A state lawmaker wants to send teachers a message: If they bring politics into the classroom, they’re risking their jobs.




Why is romaine riskier than other kinds of lettuce?

Three E. coli outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce in 2018 have changed the way we look at romaine lettuce. Is romaine riskier than other greens?




Why Apocalypse Is Essential to Advent

This season demands a clear view of darkness. Here’s how scholars reckon with it.

During Advent, we hear passages of Scripture that are infused with the language of darkness, tribulation, and apocalypse. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each have one fully apocalyptic chapter. In Mark 13, Jesus says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mark 13:8). The passage only gets darker as it goes. “In those days after that tribulation,” he continues, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’” (Mark 13:24–25).

Why is Jesus talking like this about death and destruction instead of talking about sheep, shepherds, and heavenly hosts?

For a couple of centuries, academic biblical scholars thought that Jesus couldn’t possibly have talked in these terms. The gospels’ apocalyptic chapters were dismissed as inauthentic additions and at best were ignored as “fake news,” if you will. However, in the mid-20th century—around the time that I was in seminary in the early 1970s—a striking shift was taking place in biblical scholarship. Theological and biblical studies began to change because of three key developments.

First, the two World Wars introduced into human history a phenomenon that required a new word, one that describes the deliberate destruction of whole people-groups. The word was “genocide.” It was first applied to the killing of the Armenians and then to the destruction of the Jews during the Holocaust.

The second shift that occurred is linked to the first. These early 20th-century wars and genocides—along with the development of nuclear weapons—made the end of the world seem like a real …

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Mary, Mary, Not Quite So Contrary

Finding common ground so that the Virgin Mary becomes less of a battleground.

Many pastors feel nervous as the third Sunday in Advent, “Mary Sunday,” rolls around. What congregant will turn out to be suspicious of any unusual respect shown for her? What visiting Catholic will be mystified or put off by a cautious and understated Protestant treatment? Should a preacher reckon the service a success if both extremes come away disappointed? How can it be that Jesus’ own mother has become the church’s most polarizing figure? And more importantly, what can we do about that?

Mother of all stereotypes

Let’s begin with a sketch of two Marys.

“Mary A”

This is the Mary of modest Protestant tradition, a humble, nondescript young virgin from the tribe of Judah. One day she got an extraordinary visit from an angel who told her that she would bear the Son of God. This wouldn’t happen in the usual natural way but by the sheer creating work of the Holy Spirit. She put her trust in the angel’s good news. She became a faithful wife and mother who protected and raised her son in sometimes extreme circumstances. At times Jesus surprised and even shocked her. Occasionally their relationship even seemed strained. But she stayed with him, all the way to the cross. She was among his faithful disciples in the Book of Acts. We don’t hear nearly as much about her as the apostles, let alone her Son. Nevertheless, she is still a beloved character in his story, especially during the Christmas season when we remember his birth.

Mary A is sparsely and cautiously sketched out, with very little speculation. She is basically what’s in the Bible about Mary. Indeed, Mary A’s fans speculate less about her than other biblical figures. They don’t mind conjecturing about …

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Scottsdale's La Camarilla to be razed for new Mountainside gym

A new Mountainside Fitness will replace Scottsdale’s well-known La Camarilla gym developed by controversial utility owner George Johnson