My friend (offline and online) Peter recently wrote in his blog,, about wanting to become a monk. Please see:

Like myself, Peter is a low-church, Protestant Christian, who has discovered gradually over several years a spiritual connection with monastic expressions of Christianity. Unlike myself, Peter is a married man with a family who would, therefore, probably not be eligible to join most Christian monastaries. But I think what is  more important here than the technical qualifications of becoming a monk or the actual possibility of Peter taking up actual residency at a monastery is what Peter might be saying to the larger Christian community: It’s time for us to see monasticism as a spiritual signpost, a light along the dark paths of 21st-century life in the Western world: materialism, busyness, lack of community, etc.

Peter’s post is personal and reflects his own particular journey. Having known Peter for 15 years, I can attest that the course of his spiritual life as expressed in this post is genuine and real. My goal here is not to discuss what is a personal relationship between him and God. Rather, I would like to touch upon what the things that Peter is talking about might mean to the larger body of followers of Christ today.

Using Peter’s post as a launching point, I’d like here to paint a picture of where I think Christianity could be headed. Please feel free to agree or disagree. (What I want to do here is add to the conversation, not make demands upon what the future should be.)

To get the conversation started here, I would like to define monasticism in broad terms. I see it as a deliberate setting aside of significant privileges or rights, for a non-trivial period of time, that one would normally be entitled to in order to grow closer to God and to further the purposes of his kingdom in this world.

1.  Peter cannot be alone here. There must be many others with a similar yearning. I see a forthcoming restoration of the monastic calling in the lives of many in the West. This will be expressed in a revitalization of Catholic monasticism and in the birth of Protestant monasticism. We are already seeing some of that in the New Monasticism movements in urban areas of the United States. I also see a day when rural Protestant monasticism will take root. Protestant monasticism will be less formal and will overlap to one extent or another with a variety of intentional communities. Some will become friars or see themselves as “monks in the world”, but I also see these two paths as valid expressions, at least in the broadest and more informal sense, of monasticism. These new expressions of monasticism will serve as a reaction to the pervasive materialism in the West and will frequently be coupled with expressions of aid and mercy to the desperately poor.

2.  Like Peter, other married followers of Jesus will discover the value of monasticism. These believers may not be eligible for the traditional monastic life, but they will become spiritual advisors to younger, single believers who will set their hearts on this vocation early in life, with the encouragement of these precious elders in the faith. In the meantime, God does not leave us on earth as orphans and his grace is sufficient. Therefore, married believers who, like Peter, discover a yearning for the monastic will draw closer to the Lord Jesus as God multiplies the effectiveness of the time that they spend with him in the midst of their family lives and responsibilities.

3.  Likewise, these married followers of Christ will serve as a bridge between low-church (and, in some cases, high-church) Protestants and the new monastics. Since there are very few single adults in leadership positions in the low churches, it usually takes a married person to have the credibility and authority to speak substantively on important issues in these congregrations and denominations. (I’m not saying that this is right, by the way; I’m a single adult myself: I’m just saying what is today the effective, operating reality.) These married believers, some of whom will be current or former church leaders, will be uniquely positioned to translate what is happening with the new monastics to low-church Protestants.

4.  Singleness will no longer be seen solely as a transitional state of life (a temporary way-station on the road to marriage) among Protestants. Many single adult followers of Christ will remain single for long periods of time or even for a lifetime. These believers will have the greatest access to the new and renewed monasticism. Many single adults who have never been married and who have no children will at the least be recognized as “monks in the world” and will be increasingly seen as a valuable resource and repository of monastic experience to the wider community of believers.


Choke Point

Posted in: Current Events by bill-o on July 10, 2008

It is only 34 km (21 miles) wide. Yet even this narrow geographic distance is deceiving. Ships that pass through this waterway must do so in two opposing 3-km wide lanes. It is one of only seven strategic maritime passages on planet Earth: These are the world’s literal choke points, and this one is called the Strait of Hormuz. Unlike all but one of the other choke points, this strait has no alternative. It is the only way in and out of the Persian Gulf by sea.

And why is this oceanic passage that most Westerners have never heard of so important? Because 40% of the world’s oil (petroleum) supply passes out from the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean onboard oil tankers. Because of this, almost everyone outside of the Gulf is in someway dependent on this little opening in the sea, even if they could not name it or point to it on a globe.

So, who controls the Strait of Hormuz? No one, actually. It is open for use by all the world’s ships since the two sides of the Strait are controlled by two different countries. On the south side of the Strait is an exclave of Oman. On the north side is Iran.

As you probably have already heard, Iran is at the center of one of the world’s leading international controversies of the day. Iran’s nuclear program is widely believed to be military in purpose and not simply for civilian power generation. Iran may be as little as one year away from completing its first nuclear bomb.

Israel, threatened repeatedly by Iran’s leaders, is now practicing for an air raid against Iran. Could she pull off a large-scale attack against Iran’s widely dispersed and fortified nuclear facilities? We should not underestimate the Israelis. It is quite probable that Israel’s leaders see what is now called an existential threat: Iran’s future bombs could spell the end of the Jewish state. Unless Israel’s leaders determine that they can live with a nuclear-armed Iran or unless there is a sudden, dramatic political change in Iran, an Israeli attack upon Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next year is a very real possibility.

A key military leader of Iran has stated that Iran would move to cut off the Strait of Hormuz if Iran is attacked by either Israel or the U.S. The commander of the U.S. Navy has countered that the U.S. would make sure that the Strait stays open.

Would Iran carry through with this threat? (Quite possibly.) Do they have the military capability? Can the U.S. Navy stop them? (Probably yes.) Or is the mere threat of blocking the Strait enough to stop temporarily the oil tankers from going in and out? (Also, probably yes.)

Now several questions may be entering your mind. How is it that we live a world where so much of such an important commodity must pass through such a potentially precarious place? Who planned this? Who made it so? Could a war in some faraway place spiral out of control and shut off the gasoline (petrol) for my car?

… Yet so it is with all material things. We often forget that – in this life – the path from abundance to frugality is short and well-trodden. The storehouses of this world are sometimes plentiful one day and gone the next. All that it takes is the closing off of one choke point: a single weak link in the chains of provision and protection that we make for ourselves.

Just something to think about as the events in Southwest Asia unfold in the weeks ahead.

Post tags: , , ,

70 Sextillion

Posted in: Science and Nature by bill-o on July 07, 2008

It was piece of information that I found to be beyond comprehension. As I sat there reading the Wikipedia article about stars (, I could hardly believe my eyes. I usually find that most Wikipedia articles are interesting or at least informational, but this was something beyond mere bits of trivia. Yet, … there it was, and I did not grab a hold of this fact, so much as this fact about stars reached out of the screen and grabbed me:

Astronomers estimate that there are at least 70 sextillion (7×1022) stars in the observable universe.

A sextillion is a billion trillions. Please consider that there are less than 7 billion people on this planet. There are 10 to 100 trillion cells in the adult human body. A sextillion is, in fact, so large that it is rarely used as a numeric term. In fact, numbers greater than 1 quadrillion (a number 1 million times smaller than 1 sextillion) are seldom needed because they are so large.

If the God of the Bible is the one who has made these countless specks of light, then what does that say about him? That he is powerful. That he is intelligent. Yes, indeed he is, … but there is something more, much more.

“To whom then will you liken Me
    That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. 
Lift up your eyes on high
    And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
    He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
    Not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40-25-26 (NASB)

We see here a personal connection between God and each of his stars. We see him not just having created them (past tense) but leading and ordering them still (present tense). There is a connection of call and response from him to these great balls of fire in the heavens. And he’s keeping score: he knows where each one is at all times.

This is not the God who can easily be boxed into the many categories and thoughts of humankind. And this is definitely not a boring or mass-marketed Supreme Being. This is the one who demonstrates a fireworks of creativity and artistry.

Yet, if these inanimate stars are designed to respond to the call of God on their lives, how much more are we? We are self-aware; they are not. We have the power of choice; they do not. We have the ability to love; they cannot.

This is the God who creates big things (lots of them) and who expects big things from his sons and daughters here on Earth. How can we be connected to God in such a way, and perform deeds greater than the shining of stars? Also, through his call and our response to us: his spirit gently calling to our spirits.

Listen. Hear. Go.

From Apprentice to Master

Posted in: Popular Culture by bill-o on July 03, 2008

What is the biggest difference between the original three Star Wars films and latest three? Well, … besides the newer special effects, the many Jedi instead of one, and Jar Jar Binks.

What makes Episodes I through III unique is the relationship between master and apprentice. (And, interestingly, that applies to both the Sith and the Jedi Knights.) While largely lost to modern Western culture, this type of relationship has ancient roots: the passing of wisdom, knowledge, and experience from spiritual parents to spiritual children through living and working together over a significant length of time. Many spiritual traditions call this discipleship.

A spiritual father must make himself available to his sons. Likewise, in Star Wars, a master could have only one apprentice. In this way, their attention would be undivided upon one another and upon their common mission.

There are three stages of spiritual development, each of one of which is reflected in the first three episodes of Star Wars:

1. Beginner
2. Apprentice
3. Master

The young beginners in Episode II assist Yoda in finding a missing planet. Here, the relationship between teacher and students is still one to many. Jedi Initiate training is based on remote control devices and is centered in a classroom. Likewise, spiritual beginners concentrate on the basics. The concept of spiritual beginners is seen at monasteries, where new members are known as novices.

Apprentices are known as Padawan learners. The Padawan learner leaves the classroom and learns directly from his master. The master teaches the apprentice through real-life missions. As time progresses, the relationship moves from a father-son dynamic to one more akin to brothers. (A Padawan was physically distinguished from his master by a piece of braided hair.)

Finally, an apprentice becomes fully-qualified to become a master. Spiritual masters are fully trained and competent to perform any action called upon them according to their order. (In Star Wars, it is the Jedi order). Then, in turn, they take apprentices (disciples) for themselves and pass on what they have learned from their masters before them.