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The Lectio Letter - Issue #29 - What kind of smoke fills the temple

The Lectio Letter - Issue #29 - What kind of smoke fills the temple
By Liam Byrnes • Issue #29 • View online
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
- Maya Angelou
Welcome to Issue #29 of the Lectio Letter. This members-only newsletter is filled with music, film and food suggestions, links, and at least one original article by me. Wow, this one is super behind schedule!
I am writing this from quarantine in Croatia before heading on to Turkey in just under two weeks time (you can read more about this in our ministry newsletter here). I planned to write something before I left South Africa, but alas this has been one of the busiest seasons in a long time (especially when contrasted to the earlier fallow season of COVID lockdowns!). Please forgive me.

This edition’s article is called “What kind of smoke fills the temple” and reflects on the form not just the content of modern worship environments and how they might be impacting us more that we think!
If you’ve missed any of the last articles then you can read them here (if you are member only I’m afraid):
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Final PSA: These lectio’s are loooong and so it seems many people are missing out on the whole thing because of Gmail ‘clipping’ them. You can see at the bottom of the email if it says “message clipped”, then click “View entire message” to see it all. If you don’t see my signature at the bottom, you are not getting it all.
Status Board
Work: As I mentioned above, we are (for the first time ever)in wonderful and (seemingly) beautiful croatia and yet we can’t leave our apartment (minus it’s garden which is a mercy). Last night, I managed to snap the fading light in the picture below. A welcome aesthetic escape from the world of google classroom and zoom which have filled this lockdown week!
I know a few of you hope to vicariously catch content from our curriculum development, so the following is for you: This week the students (amongst many other things) watched this excellent teaching from the Bible Project’s Tim Mackie on where the bible comes from. Helpful stuff indeed
Where Did The Bible Come From and Why Should We Care?: Tim Mackie (The Bible Project)
Where Did The Bible Come From and Why Should We Care?: Tim Mackie (The Bible Project)
Music: Been coming back to the well known “Lark Ascending - Ralph Vaughan Williams” in the background recently
Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending (Soloist, Nicola Benedetti)
Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending (Soloist, Nicola Benedetti)
Nathaniel Rateliff epitomises good Americana folk song writing here;
Nathaniel Rateliff - And It's Still Alright (Live Performance) | Vevo
Nathaniel Rateliff - And It's Still Alright (Live Performance) | Vevo
Through the documentary on Kissa Coffee Culture in the miscellaneous links I was reminded of “Alaskan Tapes”, here’s the wonderfully theatrical music video they made for the understated ambient track “Places”
Alaskan Tapes - Places (Official Music Video)
Alaskan Tapes - Places (Official Music Video)
Food: When we lived in India for a few months in 2011 I had this little cafe run by a Japanese charity that supported Tibetan refugees. It was run by volunteers who would bring recipes from home and bring their own flavour to the cafe for the weeks they worked there. A weekend treat I would pick up from them were these honey-soaked flapjacks.
  • 500g of Butter or Ghee
  • 500g Sugar or Honey
  • 800g Oats
  • 4 soft bananas
As with all recipes with such few ingredients, results vary based on the type of sugar or the ripeness of bananas etc.
Melt the Butter and sugar in a pan, add the oats (bit by bit as things really start to dry out at the point). You can mash up two of ripest bananas into the mix and the thinly slice the other two.
Generously grease a deep(ish) baking dish, and pour 2/3rds of the mix, then add a layer of the sliced bananas followed by the last 1/3rd.
Cook at 180c for 15-20mins. When you remove it, I advise taking a silicon spatula and teasing the edges off of the pan so that it doesn’t stick once it cools. Then leave to cool before attempting to slice it in the pan into 2cm squares and serve.
Watching: We just finished the two series of the Apple TV Original “For all mankind” which is an excellent, if not in parts slow moving, alternative history of the race to the moon. What if Russia got there first? What if astronauts took weapons to the moon? etc etc.
For All Mankind — Official First Look Trailer | Apple TV+
For All Mankind — Official First Look Trailer | Apple TV+
Saving this next film for a rainy quarantine day, but Minari looks like a wonderfully shot film
Minari | Official Trailer HD | A24
Minari | Official Trailer HD | A24
What kind of smoke fills the temple? Some thoughts on modern worship environments
A Few years ago, I got the chance to lead musical worship at a much larger church than I normally attend and was introduced to something called ‘in-ears’. These are basically fancy headphones that cut out most sound and instead give you the option to create your own mix of your own instrument and the others in the band. It was much more disconcerting than I’d imagined.
You see, I grew up learning to play the guitar by strumming with all the teenage forearm-delivered-enthusiasm you’d expect in a side church room to a youth group. No amplification, just me and my guitar and the voices of the folks I was growing up in Christ with. With no amplification, you could hear my poorly timed strumming, a guy called Jim’s off-key voice, and the girl who fancied herself as a pop star and experimented with harmonies. The point was, we could hear one another.
Once a year we would whisk ourselves off to a huge national youth conference and have the times of our lives. Our poor singing and off-beat strumming were replaced with excellent musicianship and the ethereal experience of singing alongside 1000’s of people. There were lights and occasionally even a little fake smoke.
And I loved it.
It is no exaggeration to say that attending that conference and the impact it had on my meagre but sincere youth group through the year was life-changing. After every year we would buy an accompanying songbook of the new songs introduced that year, head home to the small side room of our church with the youth group and sing our hearts out. Close our eyes, and If we couldn’t quite ascend to the heights of John’s vision in Revelation, we imagined ourselves back in that big conference tent and our hearts were strangely warmed. We escaped.
More recently a well-known international megachurch had their worship band tour through our city. Lots of excitement ensued, living in the southern tip of Africa that has a perpetual inferiority complex to the rest of the west, people were clambering over one another for tickets. I didn’t go, but the reports were abundant. Much what you would expect, lights were low and the bright ones were focused on the visiting worshippers. They played well-practised swelling tunes and lead prayer that the church in the city would be unified. The only challenge was, the church in the city couldn’t see each other, they were in darkness, literally.
Although we are involved in a church planting ministry that predominantly seeks to plant simple house churches amongst the neglected contexts, I don’t ever want to take cheap (and honestly easily come by) shots at large church ministries and the attractional megachurch movement. Partly because I’m a recipient of God’s ministry through the conference I attended that ran down these same tracks. I honestly can’t imagine where I’d be without those existential, emotionally charged experiences from my teenage years.
All that being said, I’ve often been very attentive to the words or theology of particular songs but until recently fairly unreflective of the mode or environment of worship itself. It turns out that not just the content of worship is formative, but the very layout and context of worship. This was wisdom cathedral builders and stained glass window artists were well aware of, but it has been forsaken.
I’ve wondered if certain worship environments are helpful or harmful depending on the phase of life or ‘felt-need in a certain season. In most peoples teenage years there is an incessant and haunting self-obsession. Teenagers are constantly aware of what they are doing and saying, how they are being portrayed. They are terrified someone (normally their parents) or something (an activity that has fallen out of fashion within the last 30mins) will embarrass them. In psychological language they are hyper-vigilant. When you are in a hyper-vigilant, hyper-self-aware state, the greatest gift you could receive is the self-forgetfulness that comes with the existential crowd worship times. It is, I’m suggesting often why young Christian people love large worship gatherings, why unbelieving people love rock concerts and why business executives often love transcendent meditation. The greatest gift is to escape. To escape the busyness, the painful self-awareness, the sense of not being enough.
As I grew a little older in the Christian faith I didn’t discount these large and transcendent experiences but I started to realise that they didn’t fulfil all of the needs of the Christian life. When things are difficult the conference is still months down the road. Who is there? Well out of tune Jim and the harmony girl from the youth group. Suddenly their additions to worship times and your life in community more generally, although quirky, becomes the very ministry of God to you.
1 Corinthians 14:26 says
What should be done [during worship times]then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
The writer of the letter to the Church in Corinth is giving us a normative reflection of worship in the early church. One has a song, a word, a prophecy, a psalm, a teaching. Each one delivered by someone with a name, a past, maybe even someone who you have unforgiveness in your heart towards. But they are there, and you know them and see their face. They are not the stranger in the dark at your side as you gaze at the well-lit group ahead covered by wafts of smoke.
Later in life, my motivations have become not so much to escape but to inhabit. Inhabit the community with the off-key singers and the embarrassing parent, because every spiritual quest to escape requires us to wake up. And we wake up alongside people with names, people with quirks and part of the journey of discipleship is to realise that those people are God’s gifts in our lives. They are the people with the songs, the psalms, the prophecies and the lessons. Admittedly the songs aren’t well performed and the lessons might not be as well polished as the platform speakers, but they are our people. In my youth, I often believed I had to ascend to heaven by shutting my eyes extra tight to see God, but now I have realised the good news that, as is popularly repeated from the Message translation, “God has moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1) and He is living inside off-tune Jim and all his quirky friends.
Much of our escapism can be traced back to a cult that threatened the message of Christianity from its early days. The cult of Gnosticism, believing God to be perfect and pure and recognising that bodies and creation itself often wasn’t. Gnostics believed only the pure part of us, our soul, could dwell with God. It’s a familiar story, change a few keywords and it was the gospel many of us were told. This is our ‘great escape’ gospel. Does this sound familiar, “put off your flesh” “saving souls”, “going to heaven” – all biblically rooted things to be sure, but they became twisted into gnostic impulses that were distilled from a God-story that is in fact very earthy and embodied.
Our God created matter and called it good, Our God became flesh and dwelled amongst us, He resurrected in a new body, He ascended in that body, and He is coming back to establish his new kingdom on this earth remade. His plan has always been to inhabit, to dwell, not for us to escape.
Miscellaneous Link List
If the article peaked your interest, then you’ll likely find sacramental theologian Hans Boersma’s recent article (as well as the link below it which is a response from Glenn Packiam who defends the modern worship movement).
Worship Wars?
The Liturgical Medium is the Message | Hans Boersma | First Things
Why Contemporary Worship Isn’t Actually Ruining the Church - Missio Alliance
On Reading the Bible
Understanding the Bible as a piece of literature helps you find a sense of joy in what you’re reading. It’s kind of like being married versus thinking about being married. Once you’ve crossed over, the joy of being married isn’t what you thought it was going to be, but now that you know it, there is a certain kind of joy derived from it being not what you thought.
An information-centered reading often inoculates us to Scripture’s power, but Enjoying the Bible points readers toward forms and practices of reading that cultivate a different attitude.
Food Photo Contest Winner
This incredible photo deservedly, won an international food photo contest
Family-meal image wins international food photo contest - BBC News
Kissa Cafe Culture in Japan
This is an aching beautiful short documentary on Japanese kissa cultrue (small cafe’s). Well worth 5 minuites of slowing down and perceiving
Pizza Toast & Coffee: Kissa Būgen
Pizza Toast & Coffee: Kissa Būgen
Pizza Toast & Coffee (2021) is a short documentary about kissaten — Showa-era (1926-1989) Japanese cafe — culture. Būgen is a small kissa in a suburb south of Tokyo. It was featured in the book Kissa by Kissa. Proprietor Yamane-san has survived four bouts of cancer and has run his cafe for close to forty-five years. He makes a mean pizza toast with a unique cutting style. Pizza toast is a staple of kissa culinary culture.
iPhone Domain 7 years before release
I found out that Apple bought the domain 7 years before they released their first iPhone!
Today in Apple history: Apple buys 'iPhone' web domain | Cult of Mac
Longest serving Juvenile lifer
An incredible story of a man who spent 68 years in prison and described being released as “born again”.
Joe Ligon: America's 'longest juvenile lifer' on 68 years in prison - BBC News
Restoring Notre Dame
I wondered recently how the restoration of Notre Dame is going in Paris. Here’s an update if you are interested.
The Painful past and present of Australia's first nations people
This fascinating BBC article describes a documentary unveiling the difficult realities faced by the aboriginal population in Australia.
Within living memory it was government policy to break the link between children and their Aboriginal ancestors and culture and to assimilate them into the white population.
Dujuan has grown up with stories of children being taken away to be brought up by white families. One of his great-grandmothers was taken, while another was hidden “way out bush” for safety
The 'smart and cheeky' Aboriginal boy teaching Australia a lesson - BBC News
Train Spotting
I grew up travelling on trains in the UK, so while I enjoyed reading this article, the pictures were actually what I enjoyed most. Growing up where I did in the south west of England I never realised what a novelty it was that every little village was connected by a train station.
'Talk to me': A train driver asking men to open up - BBC News
Eating the same thing every day
Via Alan Jacobs, I found this wonderful reflection from a welsh farmer on his non-changing diet!
I have a routine, just like nature. That extends to what I eat. I’ve had the same supper for 10 years, even on Christmas Day: two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end. For lunch I have a pear, an orange and four sandwiches with paste. But I allow myself a bit more variety; I’ll sometimes have soup if it’s cold.
When I go to the supermarket, I know exactly what I want. I’m not interested in other food. I’ve never had Chinese, Indian, French food. Why change? I’ve already found the food I love. It would be a job to alter me. My uncle, a bachelor and farmer like me, had the same food for every meal. He had bread, butter, cheese and tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner (although he would bring out the jam for visitors).
Whether it’s Easter Day or Christmas Day, being a farmer means every day is the same. The animals still need to be fed. Feeding the sheep and seeing how happy they are makes me happy, too. They never ask for anything different for supper.
People might think I’m not experiencing new things, but I think the secret to a good life is to enjoy your work.
Eugene Peterson's Elders: "What's Stopping you?!"
I’ve been enjoying Scot McKnight’s newsletter, not sure how he finds time to read and write all that he does, but I enjoyed this section which quotes from Eugene Peterson’s new biography. It’s a question that especially those in ministry should be asking themselves
Collier’s honest about Peterson in so many ways: his ache for the more occurred in the midst of a full and (overly) busy life. His daughter Karen once said at dinner that he had been gone 27 evenings in a row. At the elders meeting it all came to a boiling head: he quit. They said what do you want? 
What comes next has been the undoing or the depression point of many pastors. What comes next, in fact, would change pastors, churches, and seminaries. What comes next is a different kind of pastor, which is at the heart of his “more than this.”
“I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence… I want to be a pastor who prays and studies…. I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ … I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship… I want to have the time to read a story to Karen… I want to be an unbusy pastor”(149-150).
Their response: “What’s stopping you?”!!!
They changed their structure and their meeting schedules and Peterson was set loose for a “more than this” kind of pastorate that forms the vision of many today.
Mental Health Awareness for those in Ministry
John Swinton Interview - Finding Jesus in the Storm - Englewood Review
It seems more and more people involved in ministry are becoming attuned to the issue of mental health amongst those they care for. I am grateful to have spent time with John Swinton at the University of Aberdeen who has a wonderful ministry through his academic career of helping people to see this key reality that surrounds and even indwells us. Englewood book just shared 12 books they recommend on the subject here.
Something worth mentioning is an observable trend in the professionalization of friendship into the counselling arena. While there has been a needful trend of people gaining qualifications and understanding in order to help and not hurt those in crisis, I wonder whether the excessive specialisation culture we live in leads us to not take seriously our need to gain wisdom and intelligence in these areas of human flourishing preferring instead to send someone off to a professional. I want to be clear that there are mental health situations where there absolutely needs to be clinical and professional intervention but as one counsellor said to me, “If everyone had a really good friend, who could empathise and truly listen, there would little need for counselling”.
City Guesser
City Guesser - Can you guess what city you're in?
This is a surprisingly addictive game which shows you videos of somewhere in the world and you have to guess where on a map. I was way worse than I thought I’d be!
Finally, some interesting stuff!
Here are some things I found interesting
A statue of Yasuke, an African slave, who arrived in Japan in 1579 and became the first black Samurai
Iceland from above
Israel and Gaza are at the brink of war. Here’s an image of rockets and the response of an air defense system.
Venus fly traps put their flowers really far away from their traps so they don’t accidentally kill their pollinators
The voice actors for Mickey and Minnie Mouse actually ended up getting married
In 2018, Turkish garbage collectors opened a library in Ankara with all the books that people throw away in the trash. In total, over 6,000 books were collected to form the library.
Finally, as ever, some animal content to round things off. Here are some squirrels who nested next to someone’s window ledge.
thats all for now..
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Liam Byrnes

A Fortnightly newsletter with links, music, recipes and one article from me focussed on Christian formation, Theology and Discipleship

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Liam Byrnes, 1 Montrose Close, Noordhoek, Western Cape, South Africa