T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore
Watching Over Your Soul
Soul friends depend on one another.
But though this discipline seem hard to the hard-hearted, namely that a man should always hang on the lips of another, yet by those who are fixed in their fear of God it will be found pleasant and safe, if it is kept wholly and not in part, since nothing is pleasanter than safety of conscience and nothing safer than exoneration of the soul, which none can provide for himself by his own efforts, since it properly belongs to the judgment of others.
- Columbanus, Monks' Rule (Irish, 7th century)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy...
The idea of "soul friends" occurs with some consistency throughout the period of the Celtic revival (ca 430-800 AD). Soul friends were partners in accountabilty, encouragement, prayer, and edification, and they depended on one another to help in the work of sanctification.
In order to have a soul friend you must be willing to allow another into the deeper sectors of your soul, to share your aspirations, hopes, dreams, and visions, as well as your struggles, fears, and shortcomings. Columbanus was right when he wrote that we can't count on ourselves alone to watch over our souls. We need someone more objective than that, someone who loves us enough to tell the truth, even when it hurts, and to lead us in celebration before the Lord for every indication of growth and progress.
Husbands and wives must work to be the best of soul friends, but each should also seek out soul friends of the same sex to help in the work of sanctification. In the structure of the church, as the Lord Jesus designed it, elders - shepherds - are appointed to watch over the souls of the people of God. Every church member should have a shepherd to nurture, encourage, guide, correct, and disciple him or her. The fact that this exists hardly anywhere in the Church today is just one more measure of our low regard for the plain teaching of Scripture.
If we begin with ourselves, by seeking out accountability partners and exercising loving oversight of one another's souls, soon enough the benefits of such relationships might find their way into the lives of our church leaders. Who knows? We may even have an outbreak of shepherding that will trip the Lord's tumblers and unlock revival throughout the land.
If we're serious about growing in the Lord, we'll find a soul friend or two to help us make continuous progress. This matters a lot. Brigid, the 6th century Irish saint, declared that a man without a soul friend is like a man without a head.
Haven't you been headless long enough?
Today at The Fellowship of Ailbe
The problem with art today is the same as the problem with ethics, as I explain in today's ReVision column.
Why not send today's Crosfigell to a friend and challenge him or her to become a soul friend with you? Write me and I'll send you some additional guidance in what such a relationship entails.
The Problem with "Art"
Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough has been taking some heat of late for his decision to remove a four-minute video from an exhibition.
The video, which featured ants crawling over a crucified Christ, was deemed offensive by Catholic and other groups, as well as several members of Congress. It's doubtful the religious groups would have had much influence with Mr. Clough, but the Congress persons provided all the impetus he needed to yank the bit.
As he acknowledged to the Associate Press, some "very difficult budget situations" with Congress - which provides 65% of the Smithsonian's budget - led him to take the course of least resistance on the Hill.
However, Mr. Clough continued, he still believes the video is a "work of art." But what does that mean? Is a "work of art" to be valued and exhibited merely because of its stature as such, rather than because of its quality, theme, or truthfulness? And what makes something a "work of art" anyway?
These are not questions asked of the arts any more, as Arthur Danto pointed out a decade ago in his book, Art After the End of Art. These days the only standards determining whether an object is a work of art are the declaration of its maker and the willingness of someone else - anyone else - to regard it as such.
So simply to say that something is a "work of art" might seem to invest it with significance, and, thus, make the situation of one piece of art's removal from an exhibition a deplorable act of censorship.
But surely there is more to art than just the fact that someone creates something and offers it as a work of art, and that others are willing to receive it as such, even if only for political ends? There was a time when it was not necessary to announce something as a work of art, and when nearly everyone could recognize good works of art when they saw them; but questions about standards in the arts have become so relativized and politicized that it's impossible for anyone to say with finality which objects are and which are not "art."
Art has become like ethics, another hyper-relativized field of study. Art and ethics are what anyone says they are, and no one can deny you or me or anyone else our own opinions about such matters. It's art - or ethics - if I say it is, and any attempt on your part to say it ain't so is a form of censorship, if not oppression.
But Christians must not allow themselves to be bullied by relativists into denying the objectivity of truth and the necessity of tested standards in all fields of endeavor. Indeed, Christians ought to be taking the lead to establish such standards and to demonstrate their power to make things beautiful, good, and true. This is true not only in the areas of art and ethics, but in every other aspect of life as well.
The Christian worldview requires that we judge things - our own thoughts and actions as well as those of others - according to the righteous standards of God's Word. If we aren't willing to do that, and to extend the reach of such righteous judgment, then we can only expect that what has happened in the areas of art and ethics will, soon enough, become established in every other area of life as well.
Additional related texts: 2 Timothy 2.15-17; Psalm 36.9; John 17.17
A conversation starter: "Are there any standards of beauty, goodness, and truth by which we can judge which works of art are truly 'art'?"
T. M. Moore
Get Some Vision!
Where do we get such dumb ideas, anyway?
Come to help me, for the multitude of my inveterate sins have made dense my too guilty heart; they have bent me, perverted me, have blinded me, have twisted me and withered me...
- Litany of Confession, Associated with Clonmacnoise (Irish, 15th century)
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation...
- Psalm 38.1-3
Both the Old Testament and New exhort believers to maintain an active self-watch, to pay attention to what's going on in their souls and lives in order to make certain they are keeping to the path of righteousness and not about to fall through some temptation into sin and the discipline of the Lord.
An effective self-watch begins in prayer. The various Irish liturgies that have survived from the Middle Ages were written down late. They were crafted for private devotional use but were made available for others as resources for spiritual growth.
Our Litany of Confession appeals to the Lord to search the soul of the penitent and root out whatever has lodged there and is making him feel so wretched. This is an example of what I would call "listening prayer," prayer in which we talk to the Lord, but spend as much time "listening" for the prompting of His Spirit to search us inside and out in order to bring to light any lingering sins of which we should repent.
Ideally, all our prayers should include a listening component. After all, who wants to be in the presence of someone who only talks about himself and his needs and wants, and then excuses himself with an abrupt, "Amen", when he's said all he intends to say?
If we can learn to listen for the Lord in our prayers, we might be able to learn some new things about what's going on inside us. We might realize there are hidden fears, doubts, and worse that we've never dealt with, and that these are robbing us of the joy of our salvation and of the sweet fellowship of the Lord.
So in your prayers make listening for the Lord at least - if not more - important than whatever you might have to say to Him. Wait on the Lord, and listen for His Spirit to speak in a still, small voice within your soul. Such a continuous self-watch will do more for your spiritual growth than just about anything you might do.
Today at The Fellowship of Ailbe
Does psychology actually work? And if so, how? Today's ReVision reflects on these questions and offers some common sense answers.
May I suggest you get a copy of The Mind Set on the Spirit from our bookstore and discover what it means for you to be able to think like Jesus? This is an awesome privilege and endowment, but most believers make very little of it. Here's an opportunity for you to change that.
Pastor, how's your spiritual life? Would you like an opportunity to discover where you stand in relation to key aspects of growing in the Lord? And then to do something about it? Sign up or write for more information about our mentoring course, Practicing the Kingship of Jesus, Part 1. Here are presentations, tools, and a real live mentor to help you make strides in your spiritual life.
And don't forget to download your free copy of To Number Our Days - an introduction to a Biblical view of time, and how to begin getting more out of it. Free at the website.
Thanks for keeping us in your prayers. Your gifts are welcome and appreciated, as are your prayer requests, questions, and concerns.
Why Psychology Works...Sometimes
Different psychological methods are about equally effective in helping patients feel better.
The Disabled--Communities in ancient Israel were expected to “go the extra mile” with those in their midst who were disabled.
The Poor with Us
The Poor with Us--Helping the poor in our day is typically a project accomplished “at a distance,” as it were.
Justice at Law
Justice at Law--We are familiar with the complaints that the American system of justice leans toward the wealthy and takes advantage of the poor.
The Least of These
The Least of These--We note also the special attention given to caring for widows and orphans.
Strangers and Sojourners
Strangers and Sojourners--"You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt."
Altogether Now--Help to the poor comes most profitably when it is in the form of a loan.
Caring for the Poor
Caring for the Poor--Jesus reminded us that we would always have opportunities to care for the poor, and that we should be faithful in doing so (Mk. 14.7).
The eighth commandment
“‘For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”’”
Psalm 41.1; Galatians 2.10
Jesus reminded us that we would always have opportunities to care for the poor, and that we should be faithful in doing so (Mk. 14.7). The Law of God provides guidance in the exercise of mercy and grace. As God, Who is wholly good and just, reaches to us in mercy and grace, so His Law enables us to reflect His character in our relationships with our neighbors. Not to care for the poor, and even to be indifferent to their needs, is a form of stealing from them what God intends them to have.
Note also the exhortation to generosity in dealing with the poor: “open wide your hand.” We are hereby reminded, as in all the statutes for this commandment, that the earth is the Lord’s and we are but stewards of whatever He determines to entrust to us. As He is lavish in giving to us, so we must be lavish toward those who, for a variety of reasons, may have fallen on hard times.
Moreover, these acts of lavish mercy and grace are to be voluntary, not compelled by government. When governments try to become the conscience of their people by requiring what God commands should come from the heart, they create resentment, division, and waste in the use of God’s resources. Whatever does not flow from love for neighbor can only increase the distance between us and them, not bring us closer to one another.
This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to www.ailbe.org and click on our Book Store.