Saturday, April 05, 2014

#414 Cantique de Jean Racine

Listen to Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure.  While listening, here is a translation of the lyrics:
Word of God, one with the Most High,in Whom alone we have our hope,Eternal Day of heaven and earth,We break the silence of the peaceful night;Saviour Divine, cast your eyes upon us!
Pour on us the fire of your powerful grace,That all hell may flee at the sound of your voice;Banish the slumber of a weary soul,That brings forgetfulness of your laws!
O Christ, look with favour upon your faithful peopleNow gathered here to praise you;Receive their hymns offered to your immortal glory;May they go forth filled with your gifts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

#413 Lent As Imitation

Lent begins tomorrow.  People are almost universally giving up either food and beverage items or social networking.  One would've thought that the purpose of Lent was to train one in the ways of obedience, but an objective observer might interpret it as a second chance at New Year resolutions, albeit baptized New Year resolutions.  For my part, I'll pray daily and give up two sins.  It's probably against some kind of social norm to post which sins on the internet, so I won't do that.  But I'll pray in a literal closet as Jesus commanded (suggested?) and the two sins I'll give up are two that Jesus specifically warned against, one of which he says puts me in danger of the fires of hell.  You might say it's an effort to be intentional, but that word has been overused in Christian circles and, because of that and my cynicism, now makes me want to gag.  So I'll call it an effort to be conscious.  To bring secret sins to light and so perhaps do battle where they are not in their comfort zone.

Regarding prayer, I posted before about Lectio Divina (translation for Protestants: quiet time or devotional).  According to Wikipedia there was a Clare of Assisi who had a similar four-step process that goes like this:

Intueri - Gaze
Considerare - Consider
Contemplari - Contemplate
Imitare - Imitate

This compares with Lectio Divina which has it as follows:

Lectio - Read
Meditatio - Meditate
Oratio - Pray
Contemplatio - Contemplate

I like to think that reading Scripture is like a gaze through a window, or better yet through a peephole, on God.  So gazing/reading are interchangeable, but I like the visceral, or rather relational sense of gazing better.  Or said better: Reading Scripture is the method; gazing on God is what your really trying to do.  I like the English word Consider as the next step better than Meditate.  Although the medieval connotation may have been the other way around, Consider is more of a grounded weighing and chewing upon the object of your gaze, a reasoning about that object.  Meditate now connotes more of a spiritual experience of openness to divine contact, a reasoning or wrestling with that object.  It is a marriage of Consideration and Prayer and so makes sense to fall right after those two, sum them up, blend them.

And finally Imitate, which I was pleasantly surprised to see in Clare's list because of something I had read in Kathleen Norris's Amazing Grace not too long ago.  While this step doesn't make the Lectio Divina cut, the ancient monastics apparently took it very seriously.  Norris writes,

"The hermeneutic of the early monastic tradition may be summed up in a phrase: 'Abba [or Amma], give me a word.'  A monk who was younger in terms of monastic life would approach an elder and ask for a word, usually a phrase from the scriptures.  The monk would then attempt to put the biblical word into practice in daily life."

It seems strange to say that this might be called a "hermeneutic," which is a word that describes ones method of biblical interpretation.  But only until you realize that, as Norris tells us, the word literally means to draw out what is hidden.  Quoting Norris at length now,

"Today, we might talk things out.  The concern of the monks, however, was not with therapy but with a salvation that could not come through talk alone.  And they were especially wary of too much talk of Scripture, as it could mislead a monk into taking pride in his intellectual or spiritual acumen while avoiding that which needed attention in the nitty-gritty of daily life.  When spiritual seekers came to them, asking for a 'word,' their response usually boiled down to: drop the pretensions, and get real... too much discussion of Scripture and spiritual matters can foster an illusory sense of holiness in people who have not yet faced themselves."

She recounts a modern day sermon she heard as an example of this: "The minister suggested that we go on a Lenten fast and practice not backbiting or indulging in malicious gossip for the next forty days."  That's something like what I'll attempt over the next few weeks and nothing like what I've ever heard in any church I've attended in recent memory.  That is what it means to Imitate.  That is what it means to practice Lent.  Compare that to giving up chocolate and Facebook.

So Lent 2014.  I'll get in the closet, shut the door, Gaze, Consider, Pray, Meditate, and Imitate.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#412 Creation, Fall, Redemption as Existential Crisis

The Baptists have their Romans Road.  The Reformed have their Creation, Fall, Redemption (CFR).

Since reading N.T. Wright was part of the inspiration for creating this blog in the first place, it's only fitting that I attempt to post once again about his latest.  He makes the following comment on p. 460 of PFG:

"... with due awareness of the dangers of oversimplification, we may comment that a great many of today's debates about the first two centuries of Christian history boil down to this question: were the early Christians aware, or were they not aware, of living within a narrative that was larger than that of their own sin, salvation, and spirituality?"

Wright will obviously make the argument that Paul was very aware of this narrative, and that because the early Christians were also aware, it was assumed in Paul's worldview rather than explicit in his writing.  But whatever the case with the early Christians that Wright studies, the modern Christians are generally not aware beyond sin in their past, spirituality in their present, and salvation in their future.  The story of Israel becomes the story of you and me.  With the best of intentions, even the CFR schema that is a popular tool in Reformed evangelism gets de-mythologized.  Though CFR has the overt appearance of narrative structure, what the modern Christians have done is, to borrow Wright's language about Bultmann, "reconceptualize the gospel in a non-narratival form, reducing it to the pure existential challenge of every moment, in which one is called to hear God's word now rather than think in terms of the waste, sad time stretching before and after (p. 458)."  Such an approach Wright says (again, referring to Bultmann), "corresponds easily, and unsurprisingly given [Bultmann's] history-of-religions move in the early 1930s, to the implicit narrative of various types of gnosticism."  Compare Bultmann's de-mythologized "kerygma" and the modern Christian's extruded "gospel."  Both stripped of their Jewishness for the cultured despisers of ancient religion.

They both come out looking as follows, again with Wright describing Bultmann and with me saying it looks an awful lot like what I hear all around me: 1) a sinner prior to arrival and impact of the gospel; 2) the event of grace and faith; 3) the newborn Christian living by faith as though in a new world.

Now compare that to the "implicit narrative of gnosticism":  "1) a human, unaware that a spark of divine life is hidden within this clod of earth; 2) the arrival of revelation, perhaps even of a Revealer, whose word draws attention to this inner spark; 3) the human, now living in tune with this inner spark, abandoning the concerns of the clod of earth (p. 458)."  Significant differences within to be sure, but an eery similarity from the outside as well.

While Wright essentially says that the "new perspective" has often been an adventure in missing the point, "For the 'old perspective', Paul had to ditch everything about his previous worldview, theology and culture - the old symbols, the ancient stories, the praxis, the view of God himself."  That's surely an overstatement, but is exactly what the gnostics and Bultmann each tried to do very overtly.  The deeper question this all points to according to Wright is this: "Did Paul actually reaffirm something basic about the underlying Jewish narrative, or did he reject it?"  PFG is Wright's treatise to argue the former.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

#411 Books of 2012

Here is a list of the books I read in 2012 ranked in order with the favorites near the top and least favorites near the bottom.

The Logic of Evangelism by William J. Abraham, 8 out of 10
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, 8 out of 10
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law, 7 out of 10
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, 7 out of 10
Your Church is Too Small by John Armstrong, 7 out of 10
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor, 7 out of 10
The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch, 7 out of 10
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, 7 out of 10
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, 7 out of 10
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, 6 out of 10
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham, 6 out of 10
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, 6 out of 10
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, 5 out of 10
Categories by Aristotle, 5 out of 10
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, 4 out of 10
Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, 2 out of 10

Friday, November 16, 2012

#410 Some Thoughts on Incarnation


Where hypostasis means being or thing stripped down to its fundamental, basic, essential elements, a better translation of the key clause in Hebrews 1:3 would be, “the presentation of his being.”  Emmanu-el = with-us-god.  The Logos retained his God-hypostasis and added man-hypostasis, while emptying himself of something.  But what is that something?

God is holy where holy means separated, different, other.  In the incarnation, he became like us, no longer separated, no longer different, no longer other.  Regarding our low estate, he became unholy, not considering holiness a thing to be grasped.  By his life of faith even unto death he sanctified (made holy) mankind and brought him back into communion with God as our forerunner, brother, and advocate.  The Lord of the world became our brother; the King our servant.  This is all a description of a movement away from holiness of one to move back to holiness the many.  He carried a host of captives in his train.

Hebrews 2:10-18 is about solidarity.  Jesus did what all the prophets from Moses to Jeremiah did when confronted with the destruction of God’s people by his wrath: he advocated for mercy.  And as always, slavery to the fear of the angel of death (the devil), and death itself, is the problem.  Death is the one really ultimate final thing in this world that can’t be beat.

But… we see Jesus (Hebrews 2:9).  We see (if we believe) a man, albeit through the murky waters of history, do the impossible: defeat the enemy we couldn’t, opening the way, breaking through to life.  He must’ve broken through the very heart of God, the very merciful heart of God, because only a god as we have imagined the one we believe to be could’ve accomplished something like this.  Many have claimed to have broken through to the god they have imagined, but whether they have or not, a man who was dead but now lives as attested by witnesses is certainly one who has.  Jesus of Nazareth breached the heart of God.  When we preach the resurrected messiah, this is the claim we make regardless of who we think he is.  But of course, to whom else should we turn.  No other testimony so much as claims to have broken through in such an objective way.

The herald says, “God is with you as a man!  As a man he has broken through death!  A man has broken through death!  Quickly, follow him through the breach!”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

#409 Christ is Available

For those of us who have spent all or a portion of our lives crying (or singing) out to God and have only received radio silence back the other direction, Gerald Hiestand has some encouraging words: 

"Apart from a handful of times in my life—the most recent being 8+ years ago—I don’t generally have mystical experiences where God speaks to me or relates to me in a way that parallels my human relationships. This isn’t to say I don’t ever have a sense that God is leading me, or orchestrating life’s circumstances on my behalf. But I don’t often feel an overwhelming sense of his presence in the same way that I feel the presence of my human relationships. Dostoyevsky, in The Brother’s Karamazov, lays out in the course of the story what he believes to be one of the biggest hurdles to faith—the silence of God. I feel the force of this. There was one point when I went after it pretty hard—got up at 5AM everyday for nine months and prayed for God to speak to me. No luck. 
Maybe I’ve just sold out, but I’ve come to make peace with the fact that we shouldn’t become too idealized about what it means to be in a “personal relationship with Jesus” between the ages. In Matthew 9:14, Jesus is asked why his disciples don’t fast. The reason Jesus offers is that he (the bridegroom) is still with them. There will indeed come a time when they will fast, but that will be when Christ is “taken from them.” (The passive ἀπαρθῇ — “taken” — underscores the painful force of this phrase.) In as much as fasting is typically associated with mourning and need, Jesus’ point here is that when he is leaving he is indeed leaving. To mitigate the fact that Jesus is absent undercuts the point he is making, and also minimizes the proper sense of expectation and longing that we should have for his return. The fact is, he isn’t here relating to us in all the ways we were designed to relate to him. The sense of his absence is only fully resolved in the eschaton. In a similar vein, Jesus says that he will not leave us as orphans, precisely because he is coming again (John 14:8). Which is to say, that if he didn’t come again, we would indeed be orphaned. Which is to say, that at present we live, regrettably, with his absence."


We often focus our attention on achieving a subjective experience of the presence of Christ which is what we think of as a personal-spiritual encounter. But what is written above should help to give us an appreciation for the very real objective encounters with Christ that are available: past, present, and future. In the past by the testimony of the apostles; in the present within the body of Christ that is the church and the Eucharist; and in the future by the coming eschaton and resurrection. Who was, who is, and who is to come.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#408 Sexual Abuse in the Protestant Church

Lest anyone think the problem is limited to our Roman Catholic brethren, examples of sexual abuse in the Protestant church abound.  Because Protestantism is not a single large organization it just doesn't make the news.  A couple of examples, the tip of the iceberg:


"At least 50 children were sexually and physically abused at a boarding school in Senegal, Africa, in the 1980s, according to a new report.
The report estimates that 22 to 27 children whose parents were missionaries for Florida-based New Tribes Mission were sexually abused while 35 were physically and emotionally abused."


"One of the three plaintiffs, a high school student in Virginia, alleges she was sexually assaulted when she was 3 years old and that the mother of the boy who abused her revealed the molestation to the church. But church officials discouraged her family from reporting the allegations to police and, instead, repeatedly interviewed the alleged abuser and worked with him and his mother to determine how best to prevent any prosecution and publicity regarding the abuse.
A second plaintiff, a college student in Maryland, was sexually abused as a toddler by a church member, the lawsuit claims. A pastor scolded her parents after they called police and then tipped off the accused that he had been reported, according to the lawsuit. Her parents were instructed to bring her to a meeting with her alleged abuser so they could be "reconciled," but she was "visibly scared and crawled under the chair" after being brought into the same room with him, the suit says.
The third plaintiff says her adoptive father, a member of the church, sexually abused her older sister for three and a half years. She says the church warned her mother not to pursue a prosecution, then kicked the family out of the church and denied the children reduced tuition to school. The man was ultimately prosecuted and imprisoned, the lawsuit says."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

#407 Gospel in 7 Words or Less

If you had to sum up Christianity for the world in seven words or less, how would you do it?  The Christian Century is posting seven (or less) word summaries of the gospel by various individuals.  You can read them by starting here.  Here is mine, stolen shamelessly from the early church creeds:

Born, Lived,
Suffered, Died,
Rose, Ascended,
Coming.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

#406 Forgiving and Forgetting

Forgiving without forgetting is not the most pure kind of forgiveness.  While the mottos of the humanitarian who looks back on history's injustices and is appalled - by the genocide, the slavery - are, "Remember," and "Lest we forget," the victim is most free and set right when he has forgotten, not necessarily what was lost, and certainly not, impossibly not, the event itself - though instances are perpetually receding in our memories, no more quickly than in the immediate moments following the instant itself - but when repentance, with some strange power seemingly of its own, somehow melts what was frozen in time and allows it to flow naturally once again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#405 Judgement As Purification

Jesus said, "Judge not lest ye be judged."  The corollary is also true: We will all be judged lest we judge any longer.  When you've been judged, you have a distaste for judgement thereafter.  Just or unjust judgement, it matters not, but the receipt is all we need to feel in order to relinquish our own claim to judgement.  And so judgement is a kind of purification rite.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

#404 A Mourning That Will Not Be Comforted

Marilynne Robinson has a moving reflection on memory and mourning and their place in the movement of time towards its reconciled end.

"Cain murdered Abel, and blood cried out from the earth; the house fell on Job's children, and a voice was induced or provoked into speaking from a whirlwind; and Rachel mourned for her children; and King David for Absalom. The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted. That is why the first event is known to have been an expulsion, and the last is hoped to be a reconciliation and return. So memory pulls us forward, so prophecy is only brilliant memory--there will be a garden where all of us as one child will sleep in our mother Eve, hooped in her ribs and staved by her spine."


--from Housekeeping.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#403 No End Save Beauty

During the day yesterday I came across this:

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them,
all the exciting detail
of the chase
and the escape, the error
the flash of genius,
all to no end save beauty
the eternal -

-William Carlos Williams, “The Crowd At The Baseball Game”

Then that night I read this:

So I loathed all the fruit of my effort,
for which I worked so hard on earth,
because I must leave it behind in the hands of my successor...
There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink,
and to find enjoyment in their work.
I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God.

-Qoheleth, "Ecclesiastes 2:18 and 2:24"

And I thought they went well together.  So go drink a glass of wine or whatever it is you do for pleasure.  Play the game not for the end but for its own beauty.  Enjoy the work, where you can.  It's all you'll really ever possess that will be entirely your own.  The fruits of it you'll leave behind to someone else.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

#402 The Rediscovery of the Church

This quote from the collected works of Georges Florovsky ties nicely into the last post:

"Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an 'archaic idiom' — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously...

But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — 'changes his mind.' For in the language of the gospel 'repentance' (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a 'change of mind' — a profound change of man’s mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man’s self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.

This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian... Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet... the new world can be built only by a new man.

The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the 'Body of Christ.' This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. 'In a time such as this' one has to preach the 'whole Christ,' Christ and the church—totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours."

From here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

#401 Colossians 2:9-10

If they want to find God, Paul tells the Colossians to look no further than Christ.

"For in him all the fulness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him who is the head over every ruler and authority."

In other words, Christ is full of God and the church is full of Christ.  Therefore the church is full of God, lacking nothing.  It's evident from the surrounding passages that this urge to look beyond Christ for fulfillment is exactly the temptation the Colossians are beset with.

There are two things to notice about this fulness.  The first is that it is reciprocal.  So while the letter to the Colossians says that the church is full of Christ, the letter to the Ephesians (1:23) says that, "The church is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all."  So that once Christ fills the church, the church is now the fulness of Christ.  Christ fills the church, the church fills Christ.

All taken together, these two syllogisms, one starting with God and the other starting with the church, follow in some sense.

God fills Christ (Col. 1:19, 2:9);
     Christ fills the church (Col. 2:10, Eph. 4:10);
          God fills the church. (Eph. 4:6)


The church fills Christ (Eph. 1:23, Col. 1:24)
     Christ fills God (I Cor. 15:28)
          The church fills God. (Eph 1:23, I Cor. 15:28)

Perhaps a confirmation of the validity of the syllogism is the second item to notice which is that this fulness works through the mechanism of subjection.  We see a hint of that here with the reference to Christ being the "head over every ruler and authority."  But the connection is made explicitly in I Corinthians 15:28 where it says that at some point in the future, all things will be subjected to Christ, death being the final enemy made subject.  When this happens, Christ as the Son will subject himself to the Father, "so that God may be all in all."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#400 One Man's Myth


In a disclaimer prefacing his final argument in The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis provides as good of an introduction to my blog as any for those who would read it.  As I aptly, but coincidentally, reach the four-hundredth mile marker here, I say with Lewis that in all I've written and, "in what follows, my efforts to be clear (and not intolerably lengthy) may suggest a confidence which I by no means feel.  I should be mad if I did.  Take it as one man's reverie, almost one man's myth.  If anything in it is useful to you, use it; if anything is not, never give it a second thought."  Read through this lens, my at times bombastic writing style and logical extremes may be more easily forgiven.  I go to these lengths not with a view toward reductio ad hitlerum, but rather always feeling the need to draw a line in the sand; cut to the chase; present the truth starkly; or to use an image, to draw grotesque non-fictional figures in the footsteps of Ms. O'Connor.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

#399 Colossians 2:4-8

So the fullness of God's wisdom, knowledge, and understanding were hidden for ages but have lately been revealed in his son, Jesus Christ.  Paul is very concerned that they not lose sight of this foundational truth.

"I say this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable.  For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the firmness of your faith in Christ.  Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world rather than Christ." (Colossians 2:4-8)

Paul's concern is that everything the Colossians see and do accord with Christ.  That is, all thought, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, action, and all of life, inasmuch as it grows like a tree, should have Christ as its root.  Inasmuch as it builds, it should have Christ as its foundation.  With enslaving tradition in its conservative hand and deceitful philosophy in its radical hand, the "elemental spirits" of the world are the kings of the shadows.  Christ is the reality, hidden but now revealed, exposing the shadows as exactly that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#398 One Hitters V

1. Heretical Notion: If Jesus could see the way in which beliefs about the Eucharist have divided his church from 1517 to today, he'd probably say something like, "You know what?  Don't even fucking bother.  Just forget it."  We're worse than the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 who neglected the weightier matters in favor of the minutiae.  While the vipers were at least united in their misdirected focus, we break fellowship over our, at best, speculative theories about the nature of "the mint and the dill and the cumin".

2. Devotion:  We sometimes recommend to our youth setting aside fifteen minutes for devotions to God each day.  We should instead, in each day entirely devoted to God, set aside fifteen minutes for selfish catharsis.

3. Thesis: The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity really does in actual practice lead to a lack of sermons about the older and more timeless orthodox doctrines of spiritual formation, the putting to death of the flesh, and theosis.  In such communities, spiritual maturity comes to be thought of as the higher tick marks on an intellectual, doctrinal, or ecclesiological measuring stick.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#397 Interesting Links XLIV

Noah Millman responds to Ross Douthat's claim that failure is not an option in Afghanistan:

"But failure is always an option. Ruling it out in advance doesn’t make success probable or even possible – it just rules out doing any kind of cost-benefit analysis of trying to achieve it. Worse, it rules out asking whether 'success' actually advances our interests in the region, or actually sets them back."

Jamie MacIntyre, at the time of CNN (is this the same guy that now works for NPR?) unabashedly admitting to being a sorry excuse for a journalist:

"So the dirty little secret is yeah, we sort of informally agree not to report a lot of things that we see and hear, some of it for legitimate security reasons, and some of it because it could just be embarrassing. And the tradeoff is we get a continued relationship with these people and we can get information."

Glenn Greenwald has other examples of "media's servitude to government."  

Chris Blattman shares an account of one of the strangest soccer games ever played.

Parchment and Pen has good list of the top ten discoveries in biblical archaeology.  Link to the first, find the rest at the site.
#10 Assyrian Lachish Reliefs
#9 Jehu's Tribute to Shalmaneser III
#8 Caiaphas Ossuary (I have seen this one in person at a traveling exhibit)
#7 Hezekiah's Tunnel
#6 Pontius Pilate Inscription (I saw this one at the same exhibit)
#5 The Crucified Man (I saw this one at the same exhibit)
#4 Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulet Scroll
#3 Jericho
#2 House of David Inscription
#1 Dead Sea Scrolls

David Bivin places the Pharisees in historical context.

Quote found here: "There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-kid’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs."

An animated map and tally of all 2000 or so nuclear explosions that have taken place since 1945.  The cold war is musical.

From the same site, plans for an ancient (2,400 year-old repeating cross-bow).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

#396 Sunday Rituals

Hebrews 10:24-25:
"And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near."


These activities of the early church would've included confessing their sins to one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and all manner of things that they felt should take place between sets of “one-anothers.” Those practices are truly the only hope today for the church’s continued relevance and existence that I can think, religious marketing professionals notwithstanding.

But I find in actuality that the church is not set up like this. Instead church is more like an innocuous, abstract, unobjectionable, unfalsifiable lecture series, complete with theme music that contains an emotional repertoire that is limited to two different feelings (as Ben Myers has written, God-you-make me happy and God-I'm-infatuated-with-you), along with a strange, but intriguing ritual centered around ever so tiny pieces of bread and delicate sips of wine that may or may not miss the symbolic point Jesus’ was trying to make in the first place, all of which is surrounded by small talk about weather, weekend plans, and work. And then we repeat the process next week.  Never seen anything different.

#395 Me Time

Everything we do for ourselves is on borrowed time.  When I check the weather, sports scores, or answer a personal call while work, I'm using up time I had originally granted to my employer in our initial exchange (time-for-salary).  If I indulge in a personal hobby in the time between my arrival home from work and the moment I put my kids to bed, I am consuming the only time they have of my attention for five out of every seven days we have left together before they depart.  If once my kids are in bed, I use mindless entertainment or personal projects to pass the remainder of the time until it's time for me to sleep, I've taken my wife's only time with me and made it my own.  All my time has a claim upon it.  Any time used for myself is either the result of an intentional gift from another, or an unacknowledged theft by myself of another's time.  All of life's time is a gift from God.  The choice is whether or not to consider it a thing to be grasped.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

#394 Realizing the Eschaton

Andrew Perriman argues that the predictions of Jesus and Paul (and I'd add the unanimous expectation of the early church) that the then-current world order would be replaced imminently by YHWH's kingdom were proven correct when the events of later history are taken into account. Specifically he mentions Theodosius' promotion of Nicene Christianity in the empire and the declaration of Christianity as the only legitimate imperial religion in 380 AD because this, along with other events like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 313 AD were "events that that had an immense bearing on the experience and fate of the people of God." Because of this "immense bearing" these events had on the actual lives and status of Christians in the empire, there is no 'spiritualizing' of the eschaton taking place here as it is "entirely appropriate to think that the New Testament hope in the coming ‘kingdom of God’ was fulfilled in the recognition by the emperor that Jesus is Lord [by the pagan nations]... It is a simple fact of history that with the elevation of Christianity to the status of imperial religion the God of the small cantankerous nation of Israel came to be confessed as the God of the whole Greek-Roman world in place of the many gods (and man-gods) of classical paganism."

A baby, born in a feeding trough in a backwater locale of a conquered crossroads of the Roman empire warned a remnant of his countrymen, in faithfulness to his god, about the destruction and judgement by their god of the wordly powers (70 AD) and the ultimate vindication and victory of their god over the wordly powers (313 and 380 AD). Had the early church that made these predictions lived to see their unexpected fulfillment in these events, they surely wouldn't accuse anyone who applied their predictions to these events of 'spiritualizing' what they had said. Neither would the suffering church - persecuted by both Jews and pagans - of the first four centuries AD. Any first century Christian who had been "dragged before the synagogues" (Luke 21:12) would've felt a poetic justice as they watched the Roman army encircle Jerusalem within a generation of Jesus' prediction. Any pre-5th century Christian who had been "brought before governors and kings" (Matthew 10:18) would've perceived in the historic announcements of 313 and 380 AD that God was going before them and doing the work of a conqueror.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

#393 One Short Sleep Past

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleepe as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

- John Donne, Holy Sonnet #10, 1633

Monday, April 02, 2012

#392 Jumping the Gun

The early church was nearly unanimous in its expectation of the imminent end of history.  From Jesus to Paul to John to the author of Hebrews to the early church fathers they all strongly and undeniably felt that the last days were upon them.  As we know, they didn't come and still haven't.  And so this 'failure' of prophecy to do what the modern mind thinks it should do is often cited to discredit the Christian herald's announcement of the good news, the gospel.  But William J. Abraham, touching on the nature of genre of apocalyptic literature, points out that these bold predictions of the end are entirely unsurprising:

"Apocalyptic literature was created to speak in a powerful way and with a dramatic seriousness that would match the sense of hopelessness and terror that can easily grip a generation in the midst of a profound crisis..."

Trouble is, this has more often led to misunderstanding, going all the way back to the earliest church. This shouldn't shock us says Abraham.  After all,

"... it is well-nigh impossible to keep the eager sense of delight and hope that correlates with the experience of the coming of God's rule here and now (in Jesus of Nazareth) from welling up into premature anticipation.  This is especially so when one sense that all of creation is in travail to realize its ultimate divine destiny and that the powers of evil are liable to break out repeatedly in a last-ditch effort to thwart the purposes of God... it would be amazing if the early church did not at times move in this direction."

Why 'amazing'?  Because as he's argued earlier in the book (relevant quotes of which I've already posted),

"The intellectual challenge posed by the events surrounding Jesus was staggering in the extreme.  On the one hand the church had the oral traditions about Jesus transmitted by disciples, who were convinced that Jesus was the supreme agent of God sent to redeem Israel and the world.  On the other hand it had the ancient tradition s of prophecy that provided the conceptual tools out of which it sought to make intelligible sense of Jesus' ministry and of the disciples' experiences of the Holy Spirit.  The traditions that articulated the hopes of Israel were varied and complex; particular patterns of divine action and promise were clearly discernible.  Yet the word of prophecy was not itself a simple blueprint for God's action in history and at the end of time.  As [Ben F.] Meyer has suggested, prophetic knowledge is not precise determinate knowledge... Hence the correlation between prophetic word and event is ambiguous."

So putting ourselves into the first-century shoes of the eyewitnesses of Jesus' miracles, power, and resurrection along with the early church experience of the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit,

"... it would be incredible if some did not fully grasp what was going on and hastily identified the events currently happening with those that lay as yet in the mind and hands of God.  Such events as the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit would have been enough to send most minds saturated in the hopes and promises of Israel into believing that the end of the world could well be just around the next corner of history."
Abraham quotes G.B. Caird to rephrase his point:

"It is perhaps plausible that the early Christians were so deeply conscious of having experienced Christ, in his resurrection, and in the coming of the Spirit, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises that occasionally, especially in times of apocalyptic crisis, they felt the frontiers of the future close in upon them."

The Logic of Evangelism, p. 35-37

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

#391 Three Assumptions

A couple posts ago, I illustrated the absurdity of the claim that we make when we say that Jesus is Lord.  This is perhaps why I have such a disdain for traditional apologetics.  Its whole pursuit so often seems to pull a Schleiermacher in seeking to make a deeply scandalous religion acceptable to its cultured despisers rather than leaving it at Christ crucified, the original heart of the Acts gospel message.  In The Logic of Evangelism, William J. Abraham identifies three basic assumptions that we do in fact make when we make the astonishing claim that the reign of the God of the universe in history has been begun in the person of a particular first century Jewish male, Jesus of Nazareth:

"First, we assume that God is a transcendent agent who has created the world for certain intentions and purposes.  Without this assumption it will make no sense whatsoever to speak of God making promises and then fulfilling them, of God entertaining certain plans for creation, and of God acting both in history and at the end of all history to bring those plans into being.  In fact, to speak of the rule of God or the reign of God or the kingdom of God is fundamentally to speak of the action of God in history - and it is difficult to begin to get purchase on this discourse without trading on the idea of God as an agent analogous to the personal agents we know in experience and through which we learn the logic of language about agency.

Second, we assume that God has acted in the life of the people of Israel, making himself known through events in history and through his word to the prophets.  This is not a formal claim about the concept of God assumed in talk about the reign of God but a material claim about what God has in fact done to pave the way for the coming of the kingdom in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  In this case talk about the rule of God makes little or no sense outside the traditions of Israel that, taken as a whole, provide the particular conceptual cradle and the more precise content of the specific claims about God's action that are at the heart of the Christian gospel.

Third, we assume that eschatological claims about the kingdom of God involve irreducibly a futuristic dimension that defies adequate depiction.  Expressed negatively, the coming of the kingdom of God and all the activity of God associated with this cannot be exhausted by a description of events that are on the plane of history either in the present or in the future.  Expressed positively, the coming of the rule of God is consummated by the end of history as we know it; it incorporates a mysterious taking up of the earth and of history into a radically transformed plane of existence that is presently beyond our capacity to imagine or describe satisfactorily."

Monday, March 05, 2012

#390 Abelard Against Apologetics

Modern apologetics has as its aim the answering of questions rather than the questing for answers.  It is in this sense of apologetics that I add Abelard to my list of theologians against apologetics:

"Assiduous and frequent questioning is indeed the first key to wisdom. Aristotle, that most perspicacious of all philosophers, exhorted the studious to practice it eagerly, saying, 'Perhaps it is difficult to express oneself with confidence on such matters if they have not been much discussed. To entertain doubts on particular points will not be unprofitable.' For by doubting we come to inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the truth, according to the Truth Himself. 'Seek and you shall find,' He says, 'Knock and it shall be opened to you.' In order to teach us by His example He chose to be found when He was about twelve years old sitting in the midst of the doctors and questioning them, presenting the appearance of a disciple by questioning rather than of a master by teaching, although there was in Him the complete and perfect wisdom of God."

-- Peter Abelard, Sic et Non
I can't help but read over and over again the phrase, "through inquiring we perceive the truth, according to the Truth Himself."  Put another way, start with a question and you lay yourself open to the answer.  Start with an answer, and you close yourself off to He who is the Answer.