Poems for Advent (IV)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

A note of the form of this poem: For reasons unclear to me, WordPress does not respect the line-breaks and indentations of poems.  The intended shape of this poem is very different from what you see here.  Ah well.  If you are a serious reader of poems and would like a copy of the original, email me and I can send you an attachment: sarahcrowleychestnut@gmail.com.

In this final week of Advent, may the light and life of Christ be yours.  A joyous Christmas to all of you from all of us at L’Abri…


Light of Life

“In him was life…” (John 1:4)


Carry the Word in your hands, drop it

on a bench like a stone, set a wedge

to one rough edge, let the hammer fall,

watch it split like a geode, see a symphony



sun, river, shimmering motes, ring-tailed Lemurs,

metallic beetles by the thousands, jellyfish

like clouds, cattails, rat tails,

dance of the fire telling tall tales—

canter, slide and slink,

hummingbird, humdinger, twist, dance

and the rest of it—

Orca, orchid and orbits,

saw-wing swallow streaking like hail—

Kudzu of life fireworking all that is

to every far reach of this gratuitous universe—


because He is and his being is light

and light is a thing with a voice

and wings.  Light is that geode, planted

like a seed, his body a seed buried in stone.


And he is the word and the wedge and the hammer

dropping on the tomb, life splitting walls of darkness

like an infant pressed from the womb.


Poems for Advent (III)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

This week I am pondering what it means that Jesus Christ is our peace.  I have long loved John 13-17: Jesus’s final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, his humble act of washing their feet, his longing to see them love each other the way that he loved them, his promises to them–that he is going to prepare a place for them, that he will always come for them, that he is not leaving them alone, but in the gentle care of the Holy Spirit.  And there is this: his hard words to Peter, predicting his zealous friend’s betrayal.  Really?  Of all the disciples, Peter would turn tail and run?

Because our Bibles have chapter breaks, I never noticed that the very next words from Jesus’ mouth are these: “Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”  In this poem, I imagine those words spoken directly to Peter, whose anxiety (I imagine) was beginning to go through the roof.  And as the conversation unfolded, and all of Jesus’ weighty words about his leaving spilled out, I hear Thomas’s and Philip’s and (the other) Judas’s nervous questions rising from this same foreboding anxiety.  Jesus’s response?  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  This is the kind of peace I want (and need) in the face of my own anxiety.

Simon Peter’s Anxiety

(for Annie)

Questions rose like a wave in my throat, questions

I could not wash down with the wine, the bread.

The water in the basin trembled as he drew breath

to speak words that rolled in my heart like stones—

until you have denied me, the rooster will not crow…

My questions stretched anxious hands, snatched

at tail feathers, the doorknob—I was an empty-armed child,

aching to be pulled close. The crumbs

around my feet grew heavy like bones, glinted white,

set the darkness in relief.

And there was a wild bird on that wave, rising

angry in my heart, beating frantic wings, hammering

a sharp beak from inside the cage around my soul.

He could have tossed a handful of seed to feed

that insatiable beak, and quieted, for a moment, those thundering

wings.  But instead he lifted new words

from the floor (those crumbs), slipped them between

my ribs like a key, turned until he heard the click,

set that wild bird free—

                                                    there’s a room inside you,

he said, where the Spirit will be, cupping warm hands

around the grist mill of your heart where these words will turn

and turn, will help you breathe: let not

your heart be troubled, I leave you with my peace.

Poems for Advent (II)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut


Love Speaks to Nicodemus

     “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,

      but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).


Here’s the thing, he whispered

through the darkness, words bright

like sun on a steel blade. Love

is like a fallen seed, held tight

as it breaks and bleeds. I am

that small seed come to bleed.

Go down to the dirt with me,

where darkness cracks you open,

fills your lungs with a quiet musk—

you will raise a birth-cry the color of rust.

This is the work of being born

again: cracked seed, water, soil, sun,

Spirit holding you in red hands

laid open, gentle, like a fan.


Always I have been leaning low,

ear pressed to hear the stones,

dropped limbs, spent leaves,

upward cry of lowly things—

for you ache upward, too, like dew,

have known that downward pull since the womb,

beginning that is an end, end that makes you sing:

the world is lovely because he loves it,

love reaches for the light, breaks open from the deep.


By Joshua Chestnut

The good people over at Brazos Press were generous enough to give us a free copy of Peter Leithart’s new book, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church in exchange for an honest review.  This is a fascinating book and certainly recommended for anyone interested in discussions around Christian ecumenism (i.e. the promoting of unity between churches).  That said, Leithart’s intended audience are those who are usually not interested in ecumenism (which includes Leithart’s own PCA denomination).  It is a provocative read with many helpful insights, but leaves me with some significant reservations.

I quite enjoy Leithart’s distinctly theological ways into this discussion.  First, he takes with utter seriousness Jesus’ prayer in John 17 where Jesus prays that all of his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one — a prayer that Leithart repeatedly insists is one that the Father will not leave unanswered.  Second, in the book’s “intermezzo” entitled “From Glory to Glory” Leithart offers a rich and stimulating reflection on a Biblical pattern to history — briskly and capably moving through the Biblical story and summarizing the pattern as “God makes worlds, dismantles them, and rebuilds” (p. 101).  God creates and calls, his people fall away, he judges but doesn’t give up — after death there is resurrection.  Where this all gets somewhat provocative is when he insists that 1.) much (if not all) of our current denominational structure actively works to delay the fulfillment of Jesus’s prayer and 2.) that while the Reformers themselves are not to blame for the current fragmentation of the church (pp.38-51) it is still undeniably part of their legacy and part of the church’s “dismantling.”  Yet, Leithart insists — where God dismantles he always rebuilds, and so Leithart looks a future church.

This future church, which he calls a Reformational Catholicism would hopefully mean the “end” of Protestantism.  By this Leithart plays with the double meaning of the word “end” — it would be the end, as in the death, of the type of antagonism and tribalism which characterizes far too much of American denominationalism (i.e. to be a part of this tribe means to not be a part of some other tribe; my tribe has the best and only way to be, etc).  But it would also further us towards the end, as in purpose, of the reformers who longed for the reformation of the entire church, not the endless formation of entirely new and separate churches.  Here I must raise a complaint.  While I think there is some legitimacy in connecting the proliferation of schismatic, tribalistic churches to the unintended fall-out of the Reformation, it seems all together unfair to lay the origins of schismatics and tribal mentalities at the feet of the Reformation.  Schism and fragmentation were no doubt part of the church’s life long before the Reformation (See 1 Corinthians 1; see Galatians; see the Great Schism of 1054; see the Western Schism of 1378 to 1417 to start with).  I know Leithart is aware of all of this, but it is not mentioned and so I find the implied picture of the pre-Reformation church to be border-line irresponsible.  Leithart would have done well to acknowledge this more.

While much of Leithart’s agenda is driven by theological concerns, I appreciated when his criticism of denominationalism moved out of the theological and into the sociological — highlighting how denominational divisions often mirror divisions in our broader culture which do not necessarily arise out of theological commitments but rather out of what he calls Americanism.  While Leithart highlighted racial division and a pervasive distrust of Roman Catholicism (especially in early America), I was disappointed that he overlooked the way in which current day partisan political divisions in many parts of the American church simply mirror the polarization of our wider culture.  Seemed like the perfect place to address this.

So what then is the unity that Leithart is after?  If denominationalism’s tribalism is not the end to which the Protestant Reformation was after, what exactly then must come to an end?  Leithart”s answer is in some ways quite simple and beautiful.  It is not merely an organizational or bureaucratic unity (though that would be nice), nor is it an ecumenism which waters down the importance of theological distinctives.  Nor is he calling for anyone to simply transfer their membership to one church in particular.  For example, he strongly warns disenchanted evangelicals from jumping ship and simply joining the Roman Catholic Church just because it’s bigger and has an older tradition.  This would only increases the tribalistic mentality of denominationalism because it implies denying the legitimacy of one’s previous church’s existence.

For Leithart, this future church must be Catholic — i.e. “a recognition of our brotherhood in baptism and a practice of table fellowship” (p. 21), but it also must include continual Reformation and the commitment “to work through differences in a context of communion and prayerful friendship” (p. 181)  Leithart sees something inspiring (if not programmatic) for the churches of North America in the church of South India where “Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians in India stripped away their denominational identities to become the church of South India” (p. 25).

While there are certainly details of Leithart’s own presentation that are less than satisfying, on the whole this is a well-informed, thoughtful and theologically rich book even where one disagrees.  I closed the book scandalized by how un-scandalized I am by the fragmentation and tribalism which often characterizes my own tribe.  Though not convinced that Leithart has given us a real way forward,  his directness and candor pricked my own conscious in unexpected ways, and has spurred me to pray for God’s church to be one as the Father and the Son are.  That said, on the whole this book reads more like the beautiful and admirable hopes of a pastor/theologian than an actual plan on how to join God in how he create his future church.







Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Now, many evangelicals might assume this would be the perfect time to grab a bottle of champagne and in gratitude toast the legacy of our spiritual forefathers.  Yet before the party has even begun there has been a steady stream of publications by both Protestant and Catholic authors who have in fact lamented the Reformation — asserting that some of the biggest problems we face in the world today (secularism, church schism, pervasive skepticism, etc) are all the “unintended” but nonetheless necessary outworkings of the Reformation.

While the literature on this subject is vast and beyond the scope of being worked out on any blog (especially this one!), we will be considering two soon-to-be released works by two of North America’s leading Reformed theologians — Peter Leithart and Kevin Vanhoozer — both of which have come to us  here in Southborough courtesy of the good people at Brazos Press.

Leithart, who runs the Theopolis Institute, has an astounding range of interests and expertise, having published on 1 & 2 Kings, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Constantine, the Atonement, Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life, and the intellectual history of Gratitude, just to name a few.  In his new book provocatively titled The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, Leithart directly confronts the reality of Protestant denominationalism in North America by playing on the dual meaning of “end” — both something’s conclusion, but also its original purpose.  Here’s a quote:


Vanhoozer, who teaches systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is a fascinating theologian.  I was recently told a story that in the not too distant past an academic publishing house put out “Theologian” trading cards as a bit of a joke for theology nerds.  In the pack among such giants of church history as Augustine, Irenaeus, John Calvin and Karl Barth was Kevin Vanhoozer — the only living theologian for whom they made a card.  Now, I’m not exactly sure what kind of compliment that is, but it must have been flattering.  Vanhoozer’s new book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity is a fresh articulation and defense of the Reformation’s five solas (grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, in Christ alone & for the glory of God alone).  In particular Vanhoozer spends a significant time defending the Reformation principle of scripture alone as it has come under heavy criticism in the last few decades as promoting “interpretive chaos” in the church.  Here’s a video clip of Vanhoozer talking about this book (if you are reading this on email you might have to click to our blog to watch it):

Be on the look out for more extended engagement here on the blog with both of these significant works on the legacy of the protestant reformation in the coming weeks.   

Again, both of these books were given to us for free from Brazos Press in exchange for an honest engagement and review.



Our six year old is a self-proclaimed vegetarian, and has more or less been since birth.  As omnivores who love a good burger we both vividly recall cooking him his first burger when he was around 18 months old.  We were excited to share some more ‘grown up’ food with him – something we could all eat together – and knowing the type of genes he came from we were confident he’d love it.  Well, long story short – he devoured the bun, loved the ketchup and ate the whole pickle but spit out the only bite of meat that made it past his lips.

From that heartbreaking day till now we have been on the hunt for good veggie-burger recipes and we recently came across one that we all liked and also received good reviews from a table of students who were mostly meat-eaters.


Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 Cups cooked quinoa (make sure you rinse the quinoa well before you cook it)
  • 1 cup cannellini beans, mashed
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (or you can use a flax seed substitute)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 425 F.  Mash your beans with a fork separately and then combine everything in a bowl.  Mix it all together and then form into patties.  We cook them on an oiled cask-iron skillet but a baking sheet would also work well.  We cook them for about 25 minutes flipping them part way through.

Cook them until they are as crispy as you like them and serve with regular burger stuff or on top of salad.