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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Brick in the Pile

The genius of architects throughout the centuries is their ability to create magnificent structures from seemingly simple materials. The individual units used in the things they build amount to more than their sum, creating something beautiful from a mass of decidedly not beautiful things. For example, a brick. Bricks aren't particularly pretty. I mean, look at this thing:

Just a block of hard. Pretty simple. But look at the things people have built with bricks!
These look more like art to me than the 3D rectangles used to make them.

Many analogies are drawn in the New Testament about the basileia theou, the reign of God: mustard seeds, lost coins, body parts, and so on. But my favorite analogy right now (though not strictly a biblical one) is that of bricks. Of what is the kingdom of God made? It exists in space, for there are certainly places where we may say, "The kingdom of heaven is here." It exists in time, for there are days when it is easy to say, "The reign of the Lord is now." It exists in thoughts and in events, in consideration and in action. But in all these things, so far as we are aware, it does not exist without people.

Right now I want to stress my displeasure with the rampant individualism found in American churches. I do not like the idea of a "me and God" relationship, when the New Testament seems to emphasize a "God and me and you and them and us and everybody" relationship. But without the individuals the group cannot exist.

So it is with the kingdom: the Temple is built, brick by brick. And I believe we are the bricks. On our own, we're pretty plain, just lumps of hard. But our value is found in the use to which God puts us: bricks in the pile become bricks in the Temple. The question is, are we sitting in the pile, or have we been built into something bigger than ourselves? Unlike bricks, we have the option of staying in the pile. What will we be, the pile or the Temple?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Physics and the Kingdom of God

CONTEXT: Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to teach the youth class at my congregation on Sunday mornings. The overall emphasis for the summer has been on learning about kingdom living: how we engage each other and the world within the context of the Kingdom of God (or heaven). This morning they were getting ready to leave for a week of camp. As this is the case, this post is just a recreation of the lesson from this morning, and so I feel the need to share it here as well. Now, on to the post.

In physics, there are two basic types of energy: potential and kinetic. Potential energy is energy at rest with the possibility of movement; kinetic energy, on the other hand, is the energy of motion. These two are in constant connection, moving fluidly from one form to the other with every motion and every stop. Potential energy is what might happen; kinetic energy is happening. A drawn bowstring, for example, is potential until it is released to kinetic movement. The same is true for a pencil teetering on the edge of a desk: once the pencil starts moving, the potential ceases and the kinetic takes over. This is basic physics at most (which is why I can grasp it).

Within Kioné Greek there is a language category called genitives. These are the "of" phrases, most commonly translated as possessives (though a whole range of possibilities exist). Genitives make up phrases like love and full armor of God, day of salvation, and the poor of the saints. Three types of genitive in particular are most interested in whether the noun with which they are connected has a some kind of verbal action. The first, the subjective genitive, makes the "of" word the one who carries out the action embedded in the noun. For example, "the expectation of the people" has in it the action of "the people expect." 

The second, the objective genitive, makes the "of" word the recipient of the action in the noun. "Demonstration of righteousness," therefore, shows "righteousness is being demonstrated" rather than "righteousness demonstrated something." 

The third, the plenary genitive, is a mixture of both. This happens when the "of" word could be either the subject or the object, possibly even both at the same time. The classic example of this is found in Mark 1.1, "The good news of Jesus Christ." Since "good news" (εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion) has a verb with the same stem (εὐαγγελίζω, euangelizō, which means "tell good news"), we must ask whether Jesus is doing the telling or the good news is about him. Since both are possible and probable, we can call this a plenary genitive.

The word for kingdom (βασιλεῦς, basileus), like euangelion, has a related verb (βασιλεύω, basileuō, meaning "reign"). Since this is the case, when we encounter phrases like "basileus of God" and "basileus of Heaven," we must again ask whether that word is being used like a verb. And I think it is.

"Kingdom" is kind of like potential energy. Kingdoms have boundaries (though one of the kids this morning so accurately pointed out that God's kingdom has no boundaries), and are set in place. They can change, but often do not. Kingdoms are set in space with lines and markers.

"Reign," however, is more like kinetic energy. A reign is active, a time period. The reign of King Henry VIII is set from 1491-1547, and his actions marked his reign as one filled with marital uncertainty and a "do what I want" attitude. The reign of Henry VIII also has markers, but they are set in time rather than in space.

We need "kingdom." The spacial side of basileus is that it exists in this world, though not in any sort of geographical sense. There are places where it is found, both in the church and the homeless shelter, the drug rehab center and the sanctuary. Things like summer camp and worship services are most certainly markers of the kingdom of heaven, but they are potential. Until something is done, until action is taken and the move occurs from potential to kinetic, the potential goes unused.

The reverse is also true: without potential, can the kinetic exist? This is much like the issue of action and transformation: does God change behaviors by instigating inner transformation, or does he transform by giving new behavior? In a similar way we face the question of whether potential begets kinetic, or kinetic creates potential. It does not, however, necessarily have to be an either/or question, but a both/and since both are necessary.

We need "reign." We are not afforded the luxury of inaction when God so clearly desires good for the oppressed and mercy for the outcast. That God's reign in this world is active ought to be evident, but are we creating the evidence to be used? If we're not, then what are we doing with the potential kingdom?

The potential kingdom and the kinetic reign are mutually inclusive, each one requiring the existence of the other. Those who fight against the institution (corrupt though it may be in certain areas, but aren't we all?) do not know its power, and those who sit comfortably in their pews and let the world spin on without a second thought do a disservice to those who need to see God's reign most.

So what are we going to do?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Plain Reading

It is not an uncommon thing to come across a text in the Bible that simply seems to make a lot of sense on its own. Many of the Proverbs are like this, as are a great number of narratives available to us. There is not much particularly difficult about the stories of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. The pithy, timeless statements of wisdom are usually easily decipherable or require little thought when left to themselves. These are texts where a plain or natural reading is generally sufficient. We don't feel like we're drowning in information when Jacob is tricking or being tricked, or when we hear that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Even much of the story of Jesus (provided you don't do much cross-referencing between gospels) is fairly straightforward. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" is read very naturally both by those who suffer and those who don't.

But sometimes a plain reading is inadequate. Taking words at their face value occasionally renders them incomprehensible. Any sort of apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel and Revelation, for example) leaves us with the impression that animals can talk, giant sky-bound wheels are normal, and dragons are real and have multiple heads. Sometimes the natural reading leaves us in states of being the judges rather than the judged, or with the ability to justify human indecency (e.g., Eccl. 7.16-17).

But even some texts with a plain reading can be misunderstood simply because of the incredible difference in time and location. The plain reading of the early parts of Genesis, for example, creates (pun!) the idea of a world where all living things were vegetarian, the heavens pour out like waterfalls, and people lived fantastic life spans. If we know nothing of other early creation stories of a similar time period and geographical location, we may not fully appreciate the emphasis of the text.

Thus comes the necessity of interpretation. I grew up with the notion of "speak where the Bible speaks, and keep silent where the Bible keeps silent." I eventually discovered this was not a particularly honest position, especially when we were told to stay away from drugs (not mentioned in the Bible) and that alcohol and sex were bad (quite the opposite impression of the whole of the Bible). We have been left an ancient and difficult book (or collection of books, rather) which requires that we interpret it for each new generation. The Apostle Paul could not possibly have foreseen a world where one can send a message to another thousands of miles away in mere seconds or less; where sex can be viewed with relative anonymity; where the population has reached billions; where homosexuals fight harder for marriage than most heterosexuals, among whom there is a very high divorce rate; where slavery is not only frowned upon, but illegal in most places globally. His world is so vastly different from ours of smartphones, air conditioning, and symphonic orchestras that we must be ready to interpret his words and the words of his peers and predecessors.

I was once told, "The Bible is more than words on a page; it's also what happens between the page and your nose." We have to think about what's on the page, because the words themselves are not always so obvious. When Jesus says we must hate our families, is this a plain concept or does it require that we think about what he said and why? Was there something special about the 10 plagues that hit Egypt beyond their miraculous occurrence? How do we understand the prophet Obadiah without any knowledge of his circumstances?

We cannot afford to simply say to every situation, "The Bible tells me so." It has been too easy to justify actions of oppression with this line of thought. Once we know "what the Bible says," we cannot leave it there. We must delve deeper, and we must do something. We do not have the luxury of leaving interpretation to the hands of fate. So let's get digging.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Information vs. Transformation in Church Class Curricula

Though I don’t have the research to prove it, I suspect the American church has an increasing tendency toward biblical illiteracy. It seems to me that we no longer have the luxury to say in our sermons and conversations, “You know the story….” Indeed, if this is the case then we have something of a fresh slate to work from (in some cases). It is likely worthwhile to consider the possibility that relating texts like they’ve never been heard before has a power all its own. Such is something to consider both in the sermon and in the classroom. If we are less familiar with the Bible as a whole than we used to be (which I believe to be true), then a certain portion of the class ought to be informational. This may also be generally true: we come to class to learn something new. However, our church is at something of a disadvantage because we do not have a long-term plan for engendering biblical literacy or mandatory attendance like a school. However, the idea for a long-term plan is another discussion entirely. The point for the moment is that new information is given in the class format. A counter question arises: “To whom is the material new?” Let’s say the class is over the book of Job. If there is no previous exposure to the text, then the course could be spent gaining familiarity with Job’s story and the considerable dialogue. This could be a chance to explore basic issues like the time period of the events, the time of the writing, and other historical issues which affect the reading of the text. But which part do you begin with, the text or the background? If, however, there is a basic familiarity with Job’s story but not the dialogue, the story can be done briefly and focus could be given to the speeches, their ebbs and flows, their purpose, and the implications. If whole familiarity is already achieved, the interpretation and application of the text becomes a more probable reality. Becoming acquainted with Job, his friends, and God is not part of the process any more since this has already happened. That information could belong more to the realm of review.

But this is all dealing with the passing on of information. On the other end we have the issue of transformation. One of the most basic goals of Bible study is the building of faith. We are not saved by information, but by the grace which produces transformation. We can have all the information in the world but never act on it. If information does not influence belief and result in action, has the presentation of information actually accomplished anything? Theology is not solely information gathered, compiled, and published by scholars, but transformation and evolution. The purpose of the text is communication, to be sure, but the communication must have a result or we are left with naught but words on a page or scroll. A dear friend of mine once said, “The Bible is more than words on a page; it is also what happens between the page and your nose.” By this he meant that the Bible must be interpreted; it is also true that faith must produce fruit. Discussing Trinitarian theology and yet having an individualistic worship service simply means the discussion did nothing (though this is a drastic exaggeration, to be fair).

So here’s my problem: where is the balance between information and transformation in the creation of a curriculum for “Sunday School”? It appears both are necessary, but how much of each is best? Does this vary from group to group (also church to church, among denominations, even continents and hemispheres)? I think it does, but the question remains: Where is the balance?

Real life example: I am currently working on a curriculum for my congregation over the Minor Prophets (hence, MPs). I have the luxury of assuming a relative unfamiliarity with the text on the part of the church as a whole, along with apparent freedom to create the material as I see fit. However, I’ve gathered a group of people into conversation on the matter (who have been most helpful and will certainly be thanked profusely) to ensure that the curriculum is not just mine, but the church’s. I wouldn’t mind a lecture setting like a college course where information is passed on and the students have to take tests or get homework. But I have been reminded by some of the group that transformation is a key element in biblical study. They may not have said it in as many words as I have lavished upon this post, but they have redirected my intentions (as I has hoped they would) toward a more transformative goal.

If our congregation is studying the MPs, of whom they know little or nothing, how much information can the curriculum give without overwhelming and overruling the potential for transformation? What is the transformative power of the MPs? How does what these 12 prophets have to say matter to the church today, and to what use can they be put?

Again, I believe there must be a balance, but it must be reached carefully. For others in similar situations, I applaud you for the delicate work you have pursued and pray blessings upon your work that it may be used by God for the transformation of his church. As always, leave comments below and get the conversation going!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Truth and Time

A couple days ago, something incredibly normal happened. As we were about to go to bed, my wife asked me whether I had locked the door. I responded in the affirmative (while glancing around most suspiciously), at which point she looked at the door and discovered I had, in fact, not locked the door yet. She promptly called me out on this, and I had a goofy response: "Well, it's about to be true!" What I didn't realize when I said this was that my response would spawn a convoluted path of thoughts and possibilities within my mind. I began to consider whether truth had a temporal dimension.

At first, it was kind of an exercise in language: In which tenses does truth exist? Obviously, truth can exist in the past and present tenses: "I locked the door," or "I am wearing pajamas." But can truth exist in the future tense? "I will finish my homework" can have two outcomes: completion or non-completion. The issue is whether the statement will become true, because it is neither true nor false at the moment of speaking. These were some of the initial thoughts, and they only got more complicated from there. (Feel free to skip a few paragraphs; it might be a while before I get to anything resembling a point.)

Next, I began to wonder how things are true. "This bag has 30 jelly beans left." The statement is true, until a jelly bean is added or removed. Does this mean once an addition or subtraction occurs that the previous statement is rendered false or that the truth has changed? This has become a question of assertions. The circumstances have changed, so the claim must change with it. This is a key element of scientific pursuit. Even if I believe there are actually only 12 jelly beans, that does not change how many jelly beans there are. Likewise, belief in a geocentric solar system or a flat earth does not alter reality. The issue with the jelly beans is an issue of quantitative truth.

But what about qualitative truth? If I claim, "God is ancient," the claim states a quality. In this case, the quality cannot change, because the quality is inherently time-bound and God does not become less ancient as time progresses. If we claim something is new, however, that claim can change. "This is my new book." The newness of the phone will decay over time, eventually leaving me with an old book. Again, this is a temporal quality, but the quality changes. If I claim an object is made of silver, a quality of material, can that quality change? The silver can become tarnished, be crushed and melted, frozen, or worn, but it has not stopped being silver. What about qualities such as "good" and "evil"? A good thing can become bad, and vice versa; so does the claim have to be revised with the circumstances?

As far as I could tell, it was possible for truth to change. But this seemed only to apply to verbal assertions: one could make a claim that, at that moment, was indeed true, but the factors contributing to the truthfulness of the assertion could be altered. So I considered whether there is actually such a thing as absolute truth, truth that does not change with circumstance. If all things can and do change, with change being the only constant, then why not truth? But this thought is bound up in words: the things which are believed to be either true or false are found in words. Whether observed or not, whether stated or not, the earth does not cease being spherical. It may in some point in the future become otherwise (pending some enormous disaster that breaks it apart), but the truth is not found in the words, but in the reality that shapes them. (And this all is by no means all that crossed my mind; it's simply all I could remember pondering.)

If you were skipping around, here's where you should pick back up. One of the key elements of the Christian faith is a future claim. We are told Jesus will come again, that bodies will be resurrected, that heaven and earth shall be remade and God's kingdom rightfully restored to the returning king. But is this truth? By faith we believe it to be true. But can it be called "truth" if it hasn't happened yet? At this point, it's an assertion. An assertion we believe to be true, but an assertion nonetheless. I'm not debating God's faithfulness; quite the contrary, I hope to affirm it. By saying, "God is faithful," I make a claim about the past and, through the past, about the present. While past evidence does not necessarily predict the future with absolute certainty, God does not appear to have given me reason to suppose he has been unfaithful. So, with the past in mind, I look to the future, however uncertain it may be. I continue searching for truth and its complicated dimensions, only to be reminded occasionally how simple the truth can be. Can truth exist in the future? Maybe, but if it does, it has not happened yet. Whatever future truths our world holds, may we encounter them with faith in God's faithfulness. For with uncertain apprehension and trust in that faithfulness may we step boldly into each new moment.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

She Talks to Angels

Suffering is a part of life. We may ask why suffering exists, why there is evil, and why such things must occur within nature and humankind. In the realm of natural evil we find destructive weather and disease, and they seem to be part of a neutral, impersonal chaos. But if God permits such events to occur, then they hardly seem neutral.

As a result of such natural evil, a girl was born with cystic fibrosis. As Amanda's parents struggled through her affliction and ultimate death, so too do we struggle with the problems of evil and suffering. At this point, I would invite you to help with the creation of a film to fashion a narrative out of Amanda's story. Ross, the director over at G&H Media, has a Kickstarter campaign running (click here to check it out), and the film desperately needs more funding. If this story is to come to life it must have a better budget than it has currently. Give it a look, check out the promotional video, and offer others the opportunity to learn more about those who suffer, specifically from cystic fibrosis. The campaign closes May 29th (just 18 days away), so help these guys out; help this family tell their story!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More Than You Can Handle

I heard many things about God and the Bible growing up: what God wanted from me, how I was supposed to act, and the necessity of going to church, among other things. And while my understanding of these particular concepts has changed over the years (drastically, in some cases), there are a few cases where what I heard was downright false. I don't think I would go so far as to say I was intentionally lied to, since so many of the people I knew then meant well and surely love God. Even so, there are a few points where claims were made that have no foundation in a biblical text or even within most of Christian history. This is one of those points.

Now, while this image is meant to be humorous (which, I admit, it is), it poses a serious problem. First, this is not in the Bible. The text we usually mean to reference is 1 Corinthians 10.13, which deals with the issue of temptation, not the terrible crap that happens in our lives. Second, if it were in the Bible, I firmly believe that human experience has proved otherwise. God consistently gives people more than they can handle. It seems to me that if God throws stuff at people "because they can handle it," it portrays him in a slightly sadistic light. But the other day, my brother (who had a pretty similar upbringing to my own, as it turns out) made an excellent observation: If we could handle everything, what need would we have for God? This is a valid question.

Believing God will not permit temptation beyond our capacity is most assuredly different from believing God will not give us more than we can handle. For J. M. Hicks (Yet I Will Trust Him, 1999), the question of divine permission is key to understanding God's place in a suffering world. This appears to be true both in terms of what God permits in our temptation and in our trials.

But I've had times where it was more than I could handle. Some pretty terrible things befell me in elementary school: verbal abuse from a teacher, being bullied by students as a result of that teacher, and the school administration turning a blind eye from my suffering. It was more than I could handle. And God let it happen. I wasn't tempted to curse God; in fact, I was too young to know what that was. Even so, it was so much that, at 8 years old, I was considering suicide so I couldn't hate those people any more. I had a friend who died from a heart condition at the age of 16. I've lost several great-grandparents during my life, my living grandpa has had multiple kinds of cancer, and I've finally had to think through the possibility of losing one of my parents.

My own personal sob stories aside (and I'm certain others have much more difficult tales than I), the Bible's reaction to God's actions are more than enough evidence to show how God consistently seems to let people down or put them through unspeakable things. The lament witness throughout the OT (Psalms, Job, Lamentations, sections of the Prophets) and small portions of the NT (references to the previous  shows the authors and nation of Israel to be in a position of finding themselves having been given by God more than they could handle. But even Job, when placed in a situation beyond what many of us will (hopefully) ever understand, could not turn from God.

God gives us more than we can handle. And whether we continue obstinately chanting, "God is good," or we ask, "God, why have you forsaken us?" let us not abandon the conversation with him. At least, not permanently. We may all experience times when we can no longer sing the Lord's song (Ps. 137), but a time will come when the song returns. And what a glorious day it will be when the song returns.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Simple vs. Simplistic

Those in higher education as well as those who have lived longer understand that things are rarely as simple as they seem. Science is complex, as are math, engineering, cartography, psychology, and a great many other disciplines. Theology is no exception. I know firsthand the possibilities of seeing complicated problems with simple statements. But few of us begin with such a complex understanding of things. When children ask, "Why is the sky blue?" it is acceptable to reply with, "God made it that way." But later on, while the original answer may still be true, a deeper answer will become appropriate. "It's the reflection of light against the oceans back into the atmosphere." This is still true, but it is a truth that takes into account the cognitive growth of the questioner.

I have voiced elsewhere how I think this is true in the realm of religion as well. When someone immature in faith asks, "What did Jesus say?" it is acceptable to point to a single passage and read it. Later on, however, we (should) learn to ask, "Why did Jesus say…?" We move deeper from the "what" to the "why," the "how," and other questions. (In truth, this post was borne out of having recently heard the phrase, "Jesus (or God or the Bible) said it, I believe it, and that settles it.")

In a similar fashion, when we do God's work in the world, we may start by asking, "What does God want us to do?" As faith deepens, so do the questions. "Why is this God's goal? Why should this be my goal? How does our understanding of the goal affect how we view God?"

With this in mind, this developing nature of the questions and the faith that drives them, we shouldn't forget the simple places where we began. Paul grew up and stopped being childish (1 Cor 13.11), but this doesn't mean he stopped being childlike. It is with childlike wonder that we continue to ask questions. Jesus values children and says those like children inherit the Reign of God (Mark 10.13-16; parallels in Matt 19.13-15; Luke 18.15-17).

Children are simple. But they are not simplistic. We are baffled by their deep questions for which we have no answers. They constantly ask questions, and as they grow the questions develop as well. As we grow in faith, our questions deepen, but as children do, let us never cease in asking questions. When we do, let's not mistake simplicity for simplification and avoid difficult questions in the process.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Facebook's Recent "Science vs. the Bible" Table

I came across a peculiar image on Facebook recently. I’ll let you read it, then I’ll address the problems I see. But here's the assumption: I'm not trying to make claims about science and the Bible, but more about what the texts used say. I am less concerned with how the Bible and science do or don't match up and more troubled by what the chart claims and alters in the biblical texts. So, for your consideration, here's the fun little table, followed by my observations.

  1. Isaiah 40.22: The phrase is “the circle of the earth” (NRSV, NIV, ESV). This does not mean a sphere. If there is any sort of sphere to the earth, it is in the conception of a dome above from Genesis 1 and Sheol beneath. If the earth is spherical, why did the ancients believe in supporting pillars underneath or above it (cf. the point under Job 26.7)?
  2. Jeremiah 33.22: Innumerable stars, yes. Unmeasurable sand, no. There is a finite mass to the earth, and it is theoretically possible to measure the sand on the earth. While it is impractical to do so (gathering up all the sand in the world? Really?), it is by no means impossible. Do not ignore another “scientific” statement in the text for the sake of your argument.
  3. Job 28.25: The text says the weight of the wind, not of air. Either this is a metaphor for force (NIV) or something else, but no one would argue that wind is weighted. Air has weight since it has mass within a gravitational field. But wind is just a shift in temperature and pressure between two locations, a moving of air.
  4. 1 Corinthians 15.41: This one, at least, is true. But it appears to be less a statement of the nature of stars than a glorification of the power of God.
  5. Job 38.19-20: This may imply movement of light, but it also suggests light has a home. What’s scientific about that?
  6. Job 26.7: This is similar to the Jeremiah 33.22 situation, where one situation is used for the sake of the table’s argument but the other is flatly ignored. The stretching of the north is strange language, but is not something we take literally. The rest of Job 26 has some interesting takes on reality. For instance, in v. 11, since when does heaven (i.e., the sky) sit on pillars?
  7. Ecclesiastes 1.6: Okay, first, I assume the writer of this table meant either “cycles” or “curves” and not “cyclones” (unless they take “cyclones” to mean a system of rotating winds rather than a type of storm system). Second, while the text may claim the wind moves on a circuit, does it do so on a scientific or rhetorical basis? This may also be informed by the constant repetition of “chasing after wind,” a situation that ultimately proves fruitless, as well as the other comparisons immediately before and after (coming and going of generations, the sun, streams and seas).
  8. 2 Samuel 22.16; Jonah 2.6: The text of 2 Sam 22.16 mentions “channel, stream, brooks,” with the most likely translation being “channel” (though the NIV renders it as “valley”). If this is meant to be understood as ruts in the deep of the ocean, then why not use the word for valley? The question of whether Jonah 2.6 understood the “roots of the mountains” to be underwater remains, but I wonder whether it is more the language of completeness (that God is inescapable whether under the sea or near the mountain). Either is possible, I suppose.
  9. Leviticus 17.11: Not much to be said here, except that life can exist without blood. The Bible does not appear to understand plants as living, nor does it have a concept of bacteria or other organisms invisible to the naked eye. This passage is there for the sake of the purity laws, the reason Israelites could not consume blood but were allowed to sacrifice it.
  10. Hebrews 11.3: The claim that God made the seen from the unseen could come from three angles (at least off the top of my head). First, in a religious arena, this could be a statement of the creation as being ex nihilo, out of nothing. God made all things which can be seen out of nothing, which cannot be seen. Second, also religious, the creation narrative could be understood as God’s fashioning of the world before the existence of light, because without light all things are invisible. Third, in the secular realm, the Greeks postulated the idea of atoms before any Christian or Jew did, and such a notion was not completely foreign to India as well. These were the case at least 400 years before Christianity. It is possible that the author of Hebrews adopted this philosophical understanding of the universe for the sake of his argument (which is not unheard of in Christian circles; check out Justin Martyr, for example, who absorbed secular philosophy and reformed it for the cause of Christianity in his day).
  11. Job 38.16: The claim that the seas have springs is intriguing and, now, understood to be factual. However, a cursory glance at the rest of Job 38 reveals that it is not exactly a scientific book (8: shutting in the sea with doors; 17: death has gates?; 22: snow is gathered in heavenly storehouses, apparently; 35: lightning talks).

One final issue to be discussed: I’m glad science changes. If it didn’t, I’d be suspicious. And while there have been changes between columns 2 and 3, aren't we glad for those changes (assuming they're true)? We now understand the universe to be much more vast and magnificent than the authors of the Bible could have possibly imagined! But for those who claim the Bible never changes or never did change, there is a wealth of information that disagrees with such an assertion.

In terms of claims made by the Bible about the nature of reality, some are hard to swallow while others are simply incorrect. Is there a liquid or solid layer between the earth and the water beyond? Nope. Is the moon a source of light? No, it is a reflector of the sun’s rays. Does the sun move while the earth remains still? It is the sun which remains and the earth which follows a path around the sun. So on the off-chance that the Bible makes a statement which lines up with current scientific claims, one must remember the numerous points of disagreement. The church no longer holds to a flat earth as it once did, nor the moon as a light, nor the earth as the center of the universe, its galaxy, let alone its own solar system. But let's not change the text for the sake of a point to be made in the ongoing and frustrating battle between religion and science. These are points for conversation, areas of discussion. So let's have a conversation, shall we?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Progressive Revelation and Homosexual Marriage

In the past few weeks (and let's be honest, years) I've heard various differing positions on homosexuals, their relationships with each other, and positions on their marital rights. Doug Hankins offered his take on what he understands to be the three primary reactions on this particular topic, and I definitely think he's on to something. To be in calm and rational discussion is certainly better with controversial issues than to pursue an aggressive attitude which can shut any communication down among differing opinions.

However, there is one reaction I have yet to read anywhere, which is in some ways more concerned with the progress of theology than what the Bible claims in terms of sexual relationships. There is a concept called "progressive revelation" which roughly claims that later books of the Bible contain a fuller revelation from God. While I have a few issues with this (it can most certainly be misused), I think a nuanced version of progressive revelation can be helpful for the discussion.

Does the view of God change throughout the Bible? Most certainly. With each new generation, the authors of the day brought pen to paper so that they could more fully understand God's character. God in Genesis (or perhaps that book's perception of God) is not quite the same as God in Isaiah, nor is Jesus identical from gospel to gospel. If Hebrews was written later rather than earlier, does a progressive revelatory view dictate that Jesus is indeed of the order of Melchizedek? Most likely, despite the lack of any other evidence for understanding Jesus in such a light. Earlier books have no conception of a physical resurrection or of much of an afterlife at all, or of a Son of God, or many other things which are now taken for granted. Does this mean that the earliest followers of Yahweh did not go to some form of heaven? There are a great many questions to consider.

My question for this discussion is this: If theology in the Bible can evolve over time, why do we tend to assume that it stopped progressing after the Bible's "official" canonization? If we're honest and know just a little of the past, we can admit that the understanding of God has changed continually throughout Jewish-Christian history. The additional understanding of God as Trinity, christological readings of OT texts, and any number of scientific discoveries that we hold as normative which do not agree with biblical evidence (heliocentrism vs. geocentrism; the moon as a source of light vs. as a reflector of light; etc.) are a history of our changing understanding of God.

So if our understanding of God can and has changed throughout the span of history, is it still open to change? Some things haven't changed, because people have almost always held them to be true. The name of God in Exodus 34.5-7 has provided a lens through which other later texts can be understood (which in some ways reverses the position of progressive revelation), but has he ever ceased being the one who keeps "steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and sin"? I would hope not. But as our understanding of God continues to grow, to evolve, we must do the same. It was not too long ago that racial segregation and slavery were met with scriptural support, but such an understanding of scripture was done away with for good reason. It seems a great portion of the world has condemned slavery because it was not justifiable. If we feel the same kind of oppression in whatever days lie ahead, will we allow our understanding of God to grow, or will we attempt to ensure he remains contained and safe? If we seek first the kingdom, will we use it to oppress or to liberate? If NT texts made no mention of homosexuality, would we continue to use the OT texts for our convenience, or would we share in Peter's vision where a voice says, "What God has made clean, you must not call unclean"?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Prophetic Possibility of Eph. 5.25-26

Most mornings, my wife and I read a couple's devotion together. Every once in a while, the snobby scholar-wannabe inside me reads the devotional thought for the day and screams, "How did you possibly read that into today's text?!?" However, on occasion, it provides an excellent point for conversation. Today was one of those days. As the due date for my comps exams looms over me (tomorrow, by the way), I am not currently in the habit of thinking about what God is doing, but what I am writing for these exams.

This morning, the text was Ephesians 5.25-26. The premise of the day's thought was that the husband and wife should mutually cleanse and build each other up through "words taken directly from Scripture." Washing through encouragement from biblical texts is an interesting thought, which I'll get to in a moment. In the little discussion question at the end, it asked us, "What scriptures can you use to encourage your spouse today?" My mind went to Joshua 1:9 (and pulled it out of context to apply it to my wife who is a middle-school teacher; I thought it humorously appropriate) and the Shema' passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Her thoughts drifted toward Paul's letters and his encouraging statements, though none specifically came to mind.

After I played by the rules of the authors of the devotional, I decided to play by a different set of rules and point out a few things. First, I wondered whether in Eph. 5:26 "word" constitutes what we call "The Bible." I more or less figure it doesn't. At the most, if "word" there refers to scriptures, it probably only means the Old Testament (at the time Ephesians was written, there was no such thing as a New Testament anyway). Let's imagine, for a moment, that "word" in that text does not refer to any particular scripture or set of scriptures. How else is "word" used? For John's Gospel, it is a philosophical term for Jesus. Jesus is the Logos that existed before God made all other things. But this passage in Ephesians doesn't use logos; it uses a different term. 

Another frequent use of "word" is in the phrase "the word of the Lord" in the Old Testament. This designated either the Torah (first 5 books of the OT) or prophecy, when God would speak through a person to another person or to a group (often all of Israel). A "word of the Lord" is often how Jeremiah depicts God coming to bring words to his people (here are just a few examples).

In this sense, what if the "cleansing by washing with water through the word" is less about scripture than it is about prophecy? As I considered this, it occurred to me just how many times my wife has spoken to me "A word from the Lord," words which are not in scripture, but are nonetheless from God!  How can we encourage each other by speaking directly into situations not encountered in our Bible? By speaking "a word from the Lord." Are we open to speaking the word of God outside the Word of God? We must be if God is to speak into the world now, into a time of iPhones and Facebook, of internet and airplanes. We must be open to speaking and hearing prophecy into the present age. What word from the Lord have you been given to speak to others?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Complicated and Simple Bible

On her birthday, I asked my wife what she misses about being younger. My initial example was, "I miss being less concerned with money. The Food Fairy just ensured our fridge was stocked back then." She listed a couple things: "I miss playing outside with my friends in the park," and, "I miss being in choir as a singer. I miss performing a lot." We discussed our childhoods a bit, and I remarked, "I miss thinking the Bible was simple."

I have a nasty habit of overcomplicating things. My mother says, "If there's a hard way to do it, the Hamils will find it." And boy is she right! I can't just wash the dishes; I have to rinse and scrub them all first to keep the soapy water from getting gross. But there seems to be a certain dichotomy among Christians that the Bible is either über complex and is in dire need of people to tell you what it says or it's so simple a caveman could do it. Well, which is it?

"I miss thinking the Bible was simple." My wife pursued the question with the thought that we do tend to overcomplicate things. My response was something of a defense. I differentiated between the Bible and the Bible's message. The message of the Bible is, to most, quite simple. But the Bible, as a historical and literary entity, has a convoluted past. The writing, collecting, and editing of the texts, their inclusion in the Hebrew and Christian scripture canons, the reliability of recorded events and details, the purpose(s) of the author(s)... These are complex questions. What is not complicated is, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," the God who keeps "steadfast love to the thousandth generation," "Love your neighbor," and many other things.

I miss thinking the Bible was simple. I'm glad I realize it isn't, but maybe God is reminding me of the simple things.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Short Break While I Lose My Mind

I haven't posted in a while. So, here's a post explaining a past and future lack of posts with some pictures of a posts.

I'm doing my comprehensive exams to graduate from my current master's program. It's a little crazy right now. But I thought I'd take a moment to explain to the three people who read this stuff where I've been and where I'll be for the next few weeks.

Don't get me wrong: there are all sorts of things I want to be blogging about. However, I need to at least act like a grown-up and prioritize a bit.
So for now, adieu, and I'll probably see you guys around the end of March. Toodles!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Self(-ish/-less) Prayer

I'm job hunting. I wish I had a clever pun to relate the title to the book of Job, but I don't. In fact, my clever pun to job hunting desire ratio is 1:1. I don't like job hunting. I don't know anyone who does. But today I had an interview. I feel it went pretty well (I've got about a 50% chance of getting it, as they're only interviewing one other person for the position). I made this obvious on Facebook, and told people to keep their fingers crossed.

[Drastic Subject Change!!]

Over the summer I did a little research on Hebrew/Jewish lament, and I came across a few interesting things in my readings on prayer. There were bits on how Jews used to lament (which was my primary focus), but I discovered one thing I had never heard before: for Jews it is not right to pray for oneself in a way that would negatively affect someone else.

I tried taking this to heart. In a strange way, it has caused me to think more about people I don't know. When I told people on Facebook today to keep their fingers crossed, it was intentional. I meant to avoid asking people to pray for me to get the job. Why? Because it's as if they're praying for the other person not to get the job.

There are things I can pray for myself that have beneficial or neutral effects on others. If I pray for safe travel, it should be as much for myself as everyone else on the road or airport. If I pray for God to help me academically, my good grades would not cost someone else their own. If I pray for a good relationship with my wife, it does not mean I hope for other husbands to not love their own wives.

Some prayers, however, are more tricky. Can I pray for my church to grow? Would doing so be positive (nonbelievers coming to know Christ) or negative (believers leaving their own congregation for my own)? If I pray for good health, does that come at someone else's cost (as in the case of organ transplants)? Should everyone pray for a future spouse? For many Christians, but not all, there is the assumption that a limited number of people will be saved. If those in this mindset pray for a certain person to be saved, does this result in someone else being condemned?

I must confess: this business of prayer is becoming rather complicated. There's more to it than I would ever have imagined. But maybe that's the point. To a certain degree, it's simple: Pray, and pray often. God wants to hear from you. Praying for blessings is not bad, because supply and demand are not an issue.

Here's the point: Think about what you pray for. If difficult questions come up, don't shy away from them; difficult questions help us figure out who we are, even if we never find answers. Pray for yourself, but do not do so at the expense of the rest of God's creation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marketing Jesus

I have yet to hear an argument against the claim that we ('Murica, that is) are a consumer society. There's probably a good reason for this: there is no evidence to the contrary. We live in an age when everything is up for sale, and anyone can be sued for it. Even ideas are bought and sold. But what does it cost to convince people that what you're selling is worth buying? This is the realm of marketing. I don't have a whole lot of experience in the area, but I like to think I can convince people to listen to me. It could be my dashing good looks, my charming demeanor, my excellent sense of style, or my quick wit. It's likely a combination of all the fantastic elements that make up, well, me. (This is why I wish there were a specific font for sarcasm.)

But what happens when someone attempts to sell something that cannot be bought? There aren't many objects on display for which there is no price. Even Christian bookstores make a killing off of selling Bibles. People even joke that it's been the bestselling book for 2000 years (but let's be honest: it's probably only been 1600 or 1700 years). How have we been marketing Jesus?

Jesus cannot be bought or paid for (or off), nor is he an idea to be sold on the ideational market. But in the midst of a consumer society, has the church tried to sell Jesus? I think we have. In an epoch when the market is the most lively place around, we don't know how not to sell stuff. We're drowning in ads from a myriad of sources, and we feel that the only way to get people to consider Jesus is to sell him. In many places, prostitution is illegal, yet we have tried to sell Jesus. This might be a problem.

What happens, though, if we stop selling? How can a church possibly grow if it doesn't advertise? Where would we be without our "Salvation Sold Here" signs? If the purpose of the church is not to sell a product, then what is it we're (supposed to be) doing? Can we avoid treating the church as a marketplace? Is our place of worship the very area into which Jesus would walk with a whip in hand and drive us out because of our sales work?

I'm afraid I have no answers right now. I'm a bit stuck, actually. I cannot answer the questions I have posed.

But I can imagine a community.
I can imagine a community where people do theology together.
I can imagine a community where prophecy stirs in the hearts of the many rather than relying on the education of the few.
I can imagine a community where grace is not bought, or sold, or traded, or marketed, but given.
I can imagine a community where this grace is transformative, where it does not leave a person unscathed.
I can imagine a community where salvation is less important than justice and mercy.

I don't know what would happen if we stopped marketing Jesus. But I am inclined to think it has the potential to be beautiful.

What do you imagine?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Secret Rooms

This morning my wife and I got on the topic of architecture. Not that either of us has any experience with such, but she started imagining how our apartment could be different (moving the living room closet to the hall, for example). So I began thinking about building a house. I don't know the first thing about building a house, but I wondered about secret rooms and hidden passages. Maybe I'm creating more of a castle in my head than a house, but I can dream, right?

She and I talked about such secret rooms, and she thought it was a bad idea. I replied, "How cool would it be to move into a house and, after living there a while, to find a secret room, especially one that didn't have any dead bodies in it?" The lack of corpses is very appealing to me. So I wondered about what I would do to such a room if I had (a) built it, (b) sold the house and moved on, and (c) expected someone else to find that room eventually. Here's what I've come up with:
  1. Create a "Narnia Space" – Make the room look like you've gone to another world entirely.
  2. Creepy Halloween Room – Scare the bejeebers out of the poor soul who stumbles upon this room. I'd rather not reveal how morbid my sense of imagination is here, so I'll leave this one up to your minds.
  3. Secret Agent/Superhero – Make it look like James Bond, Tony Stark, or Ezio Auditore da Firenze hid their cool stuff there.
  4. Beanbags – Beanbags everywhere. That's it.
  5. Time Machine – Collect (or recreate) artifacts from history and make myself look like a time-traveller. This could also be considered a variant of Narnia Space, but within Earth's history rather than Narnia's.
  6. Hidden Library – Stacks of books from floor to ceiling, most of which would really just be worthless, but enough so that the next person would think they'd found Alexandria.
  7. Alchemy Lab – Produce ruined attempts to turn other metals into gold. Maybe one success. Include journals detailing the history of attempts and processes used.
  8. Toy House of Horror – A room of terrifying toys, like Furbies or Elf on a Shelf. The things that creep me out are those dolls whose eyelids were weighted and they opened and closed based on their body angle. *shiver*
  9. Massive Aquarium – Imagine it: you walk into a room you didn't know was there, and the first thing you see is a shark behind (what you hope is) bullet-proof glass. Awesomeness.
  10. Nothing – They walk in, and either think, "Hey, a secret room. Neat-o," or "Why is this here? Why is this here?!?" (This is where you imagine me doing an evil villain laugh.)
What would you do with a secret room that you had to leave behind? An elaborate prank, or an awesome gift? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Your Body, A Temple

If only Jesus had pointy ears.

The Weight of Theology

I was at church once (a Sunday, if you’re wondering), when the preacher said something that caught my ear. He said, “Today, we’re going to do a little theology.” Normally, this is the kind of statement that perks me up, invigorates me, gets my brain running a little higher than usual. I love theology. In fact, the subheadings for both the blogs I run indicate their abiding interest in all things theological. One of my favorite things to do with people is sit down and discuss theology, even if (sometimes especially if) the people there have no “official” training in the area. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, sharing stuff I’ve learned or am learning in school, and engaging my mental capacities for the sake of the church.

But on that Sunday, when the preacher said, “Today, we’re going to do a little theology,” it was not so invigorating. He made this statement with something like regret or apology, almost like he prefaced it with, “It kind of sucks that we have to go through this, but…” And when he said it, there was an audible groan in the congregation. Granted, that groan came from a friend of mine who was sitting next to me, and he was doing it to be funny. I did not find this out until a while later, but I was not mistaken in the expressions on the people’s faces. You know the look of a teenager who is told to clean her room, and her reaction is something like, “But that’s so unfair!”? That’s how it felt. And there’s a problem here.

I don’t know where I got it, but I feel like I was trained growing up that theology, really deep Bible-study, was for pastors and ministers. Where I grew up, it was really only the preaching minister who was supposed to filled this role. My dad, who was the youth minister at the time (it’s officially out in the open; I’m a minister’s kid!), sought to go deeper, but often was not supported in this because “that’s not something youth ministers are supposed to do.” I get the feeling that there is some element of this in the congregation I attend now, but it feels true to a lesser degree than at my original church home. This could be because the elders (at least those I know personally) actually study the Bible, teach classes, and engage with all kinds of people in a great number of circumstances. This is a wonderful undertaking, in my opinion.

My problem is that we have tended to think theology is for theologians. I’m an aspiring theologian (though I’m uncertain at what point I can actually say, “Hi, I’m Reed, and I’m a theologian,” at the Theologians Anonymous meetings), but I truly enjoy talking to people who would never use that title for themselves. An extension of the problem is this: we think theology is for theologians, but have forgotten that theology is for the church. Theology and church have an intricate relationship with one another. If theology is done primarily in community rather than by scholars sitting in corners with ancient texts (which I am finding more and more true all the time), then in what community does it happen?

Though many have found theology oppressive, or have been abused by it or those misusing its power, it is within the church and the people who exist within it that theology is created. It is a burden that falls not just on the shoulders of those who have degrees, but on the everyday people and situation where God is at work. For those keeping a running count, that was the first time I’d mentioned him in this post. But I would like to deal more with God’s role in theology in the next post. For now, let me suffice it to repeat that theology is for the church. Theology is not a dirty word. But let’s not avoid bad theology by avoiding theology altogether. Either we’re all in, or there’s not much of a point to it.

And, for your consideration, a bit of satire called "Shallow Small Group Bible Study." Enjoy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Forts, Temples, and the Grand Meta-Narrative

Last night, at a youth-group gathering, we built forts. Blanket forts, more specifically. We were invited back into our early childhoods to construct protections against the oncoming disaster ("The floor is lava!"). First a few small forts, then everyone grouped together to build a mega-fort for everyone to enter. We shared our fears, and about the people or things we knew could alleviate those fears when we were kids. I was scared of all sorts of things, but I knew my mom could make anything better. And we ultimately agreed that, despite all the hard work, blankets, clothes pins, and duct tape, our fort wasn't exactly sturdy. We were proud of it, but none would call it flawless.

We moved into a discussion of why we build forts. We create these places to be safe-havens, protection from the outside world. But what's the difference between a fort and a temple? A fort is defensive: there is a position, and you must protect it. It's strategic, meant for battle, and expects an onslaught. A temple, on the other hand, is a place of worship. No matter the religion, it is a gathering place for people. For some groups, it is an encounter with the divine; for others, it is a place to face yourself.

The text the youth minister used was Ephesians 2, where the author discusses Christ as the chief cornerstone of God's household. On the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the temple of God is built. It is of neither stone nor wood, but of people.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a meta-narrative, here's a primer. A meta-narrative is the idea that all the stories of all the people who have ever existed are connected. My story does not stand on its own, but only makes sense in light of all the stories leading up to mine and the connections my story has with every other story currently happening. It has been said that the Bible is a meta-narrative about God: every story, prophecy, proverb, and revelation only makes sense insofar as they are about God.

The Ephesians text is a good example of this. We are being built together into the temple of God. We're a bit like individual bricks, but every brick has a story. Every piece which God has placed in the floor, the wall, the ceiling is its own story. But each brick on its own is nothing particularly special. Only in the whole do they find their importance.

The temple is not yet complete. With every story, a new piece of the structure is revealed; a new beam is set in place, and the House of the Lord is coming into view. We're not a blanket fort, which is awesome but ultimately without worth or purpose; we're not a military fort, set on the defensive alone. We are a temple: a place of worship, a dwelling for God, millions of stories all pointing to the glory of the builder. May our stories, our bricks ever reflect our fashioning.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Your Doctrinal Limits

Something occurred to me today that I had not seriously considered before, but that may have to go on my list of things to consider seriously. What are my doctrinal limits? What is it that draws me to the church group of which I am part, and what would repel me from certain others? This is a difficult question for me, because I know so little about so many kinds of Christianity. I would like to think I'm able to give most groups at least a chance, but there's bound to be a line I find difficult or impossible to cross.

Take some time, and ask yourself the same questions. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and perhaps we can have some healthy discussion!

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Psalm 137

This semester I'm taking a grad course on preaching biblical genres, the genres at hand being the Psalms and Wisdom Literature. It's a hybrid, with 2.5 days of in-person, intensive interaction. One of the requirements is to preach a sermon on a psalm when we arrive, and I chose 137. I have to admit, I had never read or heard this particular psalm. If you haven't either, check it out here. It's pretty short, so it shouldn't take long.

The first time I read it, I enjoyed it. But the more times I read it, the more my reaction moved from excitement to sorrow. I was listening to it on an audio Bible, and the anguish in the voice of the woman who reads it is apparent. Now understand, I don't cry if I can help it. I hate crying, and not because I'm trying to be manly (as it were, no one has ever accused me of being manly). I just dislike the sheer vulnerability of such emotions. Even so, after listening to and reading Ps. 137 however many times, it brought me to tears. 

In any case, it's not a pleasant psalm. It is a lament through and through. It remembers destruction, cries out at oppression. It is the plea of a tormented people who seek not just justice, but vengeance. It would be great if it ended something like this:

But you, O LORD, are gracious and merciful. 
     Deliver me from my peril,
     From my torment, rescue me.

Let us sing a song to the LORD,
     A song of joy, a song of Zion!
     We will weep no more,
          For your mighty hand has brought us justice.

Wipe away our tears, O LORD.
     Lead us by your river of life,
     By the rivers of Zion guide us.

But it doesn't end that way. It ends with a violent curse, and mentions God only once (which is done as if in passing). It's not inspirational. It's not happy. It is hopeless, vengeful, anguished.

I've done a bit of research into Jewish lament, and when I wrote that particular paper, I realized how many Christian traditions have lost the ability to lament, to grieve, to suffer. That's why I picked Ps. 137 to preach on. It'll be something like preaching on Hard Mode, but it's something we need to hear. It's something I need to hear.

But what will the church do with such violence, such suffering? Where do we go when we hear this? This sermon will be hard, yes. But it is easier than suffering itself. Many have suffered, but we must learn to suffer together.

Transformative Work

I've been a Christian for a while. I believe sometime in the next year I will have reached the point of being a Christian for half my life. This time has been chaotic, peaceful, treacherous, filled with love, perilous, and beautiful.

I've been a biblical studies major for a while. It began with a desire to do youth ministry, and evolved into the hope of a professorship. I was transformed from religious conservative to relational liberal. I began to question everything, and regret none of it.

One of the interesting things about these parts of my life is that they overlap, yet somehow seem at odds in my mind. If I had grown up in a home with no god, had not attended church or Christian schools my entire life, then a degree in religious studies and ministry would appear to conflict with my past. But the two are actually quite similar, which is why their opposing natures are strange to me.

Perhaps the reason they do not stack up with each other is because a fundamental shift happened inside me during my undergrad years. I grew up in a pretty conservative Church of Christ, where I distinctly remember having classes taught on why Baptists and Catholics weren't Christians. I taught a "Bible" study (which had very little actual Bible in it) on the validity of Young Earth Creationism when I was a Senior in high school to a few other members of the youth group. I was enveloped in a system where the Bible was a sort of rule book which fell out of God's lap onto the earth, and the way God loved us was nothing like any kind of love I'd ever heard of—in fact, he was downright harsh and sometimes cruel (though those words were never used to describe him). Instruments were evil, women were to keep their mouths shut, and a "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it" mentality was normative. Then came college.

I encountered views completely alien to me: of the physical resurrection of people and the remaking of the entire world at the end of times; of imperfect people who compiled texts for worship, transformation, and community; of Gnosticism and other fun historical heresies; of Catholics who loved Jesus more than I did, baptists who worshipped more earnestly than me, churches with authority structures which seem to work; of a God who reveals himself throughout time and continues to do so; of a God who may not be strictly a "him" at all. And, most importantly, of a God who loved us with a love like nothing I'd ever heard of.

What happened? I am not the same person who was baptized by his father at a summer camp when he was 12 years old. I am not this boy who got so upset at the immorality of others that I found them utterly repugnant. I am not one who despises those who call on the name of the Lord in a way different than my own. So what happened?

I believe God happened. I believe God placed in my life people who would challenge me.

He placed a Michael in my life who could point out that Jesus is seen differently by different people and different books of the New Testament, who could show just how beautiful the Gospel is and how marvelous the Gospels are.
He placed several Marks in my life. One to show me simplicity is not such a bad thing. One to reveal just how much God can use really goofy people. One to show how the kindness of a few people can bring out the best in others, and that the Old Testament is not worthless to Christians.
He placed a Steve in my life to tell me the way we relate to people, the endless complex connections that make up human relationships, are important because God experiences these connections with us.
He placed a Brandon in my life explain that God's love is bigger than any evil, that the Bible is about God and not about me, and that true wisdom comes out of often painful experiences.
These are but a few, and there are so many I have not mentioned. And I thank God for all of them.

Take a moment to consider the people God has put in your life to transform you. Some of them will be wonderful, God-fearing people. Others may make you wonder whether God is listening at all. Some will lift you up, and others will tear you apart. But consider how God uses any and all of them to enact his redemptive work in you, in your community, in your world.

Know that God seeks to transform, to gather together, to cleanse, to purify. And he hasn't stopped yet.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Time for Change

One of the things I love about blogging is that I am pretty much free to do and write what I will. But I think it's time for some change. My thought it this: maybe it's time to split up this particular blog into two. For those who happen to stumble into this website, there are many different genres of literature found here, and they seem only loosely connected. The posts range from academic to pastoral, absurd to well thought out.

So here's the plan. I intend to separate them out. For those who are interested in the research, linguistic, and otherwise academic aspects, I shall create another blog. This one will be left as a place for discussing life as a Christian and "practical" theology. The other will be my place of working out the... more difficult things I enjoy (Greek translation and that kind of stuff).

If you want to offer suggestions for the new blog's name, leave them in the comments. I don't have any solid ideas yet, so have at it. Or if you have ideas for future posts or series, let me know.

Grace and peace,