Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Bible Is Biased - Do You Share It Bias?

 Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Most of political and church history has been controlled and written by people on the Right, because they, more than those on the Left, have the access, the power, and the education to write books and get them published. One of the few subversive texts in history, believe it or not, is the Bible! The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably legitimizes the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top. The rejected son, the barren woman, the sinner, the leper, or the outsider is always the one chosen of God! Please do not take my word on this, check it out. It is rather obvious, but for some reason the obvious needs to be pointed out to us. In every case, we are presented with some form of powerlessness--and from that situation God creates a new kind of power. This is the constant pattern, hidden in plain sight.

So many barren women are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures that you begin to wonder if there was a problem with the water! Sarah, Abraham's wife, was barren--and old, too--before God blessed her with baby Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19). Rachel, Jacob's wife, was barren before God "opened her womb" and she bore Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24). Barren Hannah poured out her soul before the Lord, and God gave her Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1).

Even before Moses, God chose a nobody, Abraham, and made him a somebody. God chose Jacob over Esau, even though Esau is the elder and more earnest son and Jacob is a shifty, even deceitful, character. Election has nothing to do with worthiness but only usability, and in the Bible, usability ironically comes from facing one's own wrongness or littleness, as we see in Mary. God chose Saul to be King out of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest and weakest tribe in Israel. The pattern does seem to be: "The last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matthew 20:16).

One of the more dramatic biblical stories in this regard is the story of David. God chose David, the youngest and least experienced son of Jesse, to be king over the nation. Jesse had not even mentioned him as a possibility, but left him out in the fields (1 Samuel 16). In fact, he was a totally forgotten son, who then finds his power on a new level. Yahweh evened up the odds and David, just a young boy with a slingshot (powerlessness), brought the giant Goliath (power) down (1 Samuel 17). This is the constant pattern of redemptive suffering and trial that finds its final revelation on the cross where Jesus is abject powerlessness, and in this very state he redeems the world!

God's bias toward the little ones, the powerless, and those on the bottom has been rediscovered by those who learn to see deeply and with compassion: Francis of Assisi, Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, and 12-Step spirituality being well known examples, but even they are usually marginalized by the establishment mind and the Right. Notice the shock when a Pope took the name of a non-establishment saint, "Francis."

Adapted from by Phil Garner
Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, p. 93;
and The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament, pp. 49-50
(published by Franciscan Media)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian


On February 20, 2015 by


The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian
Brian Zahnd

Christian de Chergé was a French Catholic monk and the Trappist prior of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. With the rise of radical Islam in 1993, Father Chergé knew that his life was in danger. But instead of leaving Algeria, Father Chergé chose to stay and continue his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On May 24, 1996 Father Chergé was beheaded by Muslim radicals. Anticipating his death, Father Chergé had left a testament with his family to be read upon the event of his murder. The testament in part reads:

“If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all those who dismissed me as naïve or idealistic: ‘Let him tell us what he thinks now.’ But such people should know that my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At last, I will be able — if God pleases — to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.

I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You — which says everything about my life — I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers — thank you a thousandfold.
And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too I wish this thank-you, this ‘Adieu,’ whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen!”

–Father Christian de Chergé

Christian de Chergé lived as a citizen of the kingdom of God. The manner in which he died and the testament he left behind is the only Christian response to militant Islam I can think of which is faithful to Jesus Christ. Father de Chergé does not call for his blood to be avenged, but like his Savior, Father de Chergé prays for the forgiveness of his murderer and speaks of him as “my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing.” In his martyr’s testament Father de Chergé bids his murder “Adieu” and hopes that they might meet in heaven “like happy thieves.” This is beautiful. The kind of beauty that can save the world. Father de Chergé lived a beautiful life and in his death overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. Christian Chergé would rather die following the way of the Lamb than follow the way of the Beast.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The “Bob,” the Byrds, and Our “Back Pages” - A Lenten Anthem?

I’ve been intrigued of late by the reflection entwined in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1964 song “My Back Pages.” Prophet of protest for my generation, the “Bob” marked our national transition to or trauma of what many call postmodernism. It was a time of political sloganeering and intellectual certainty of all sides of what appeared to all as the unraveling of America. Dylan was the poster boy on the left for all this. 

Yet, in “My Back Pages,” the “Bob” takes a self-reflective look at what was happening around him and in some measure through him.  The title “My Back Pages” signals the mood.  The great front-and-center balladeer puts himself on the “back page” where he believes he belongs because, as the song’s refrain has it, he was “older then, but I’m younger than that now.”

The Byrd’s cover of “My Back Pages” is the version of the song most of us know, and, incidentally, was that group’s last hit. Here are its lyrics.

Crimson flames tied through my years
Rollin' high and mighty trapped
Countless violent flaming roads
Using ideas as my map
"We'll meet on edges soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

Half wracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic flanks of musketeers
Foundation deep, somehow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
Sisters fled by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

My guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow

Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

With piercing lyrics Dylan sheds, at least for a moment, the prophetic mantle bestowed on him in the 1960’s. He confesses/celebrates his growing “younger” and styles that growth as a retreat from the combativeness fired by certainty and the arrogance of possessing “the” truth.  

This Lent 2014 our times are not all that different, are they? Culture warriors left and right hurl flaming shibboleths at one another. On their issues, at least, things are black and white. We don’t worry that in our arrogance and certainty we become mirror-images of those we so resolutely oppose either. Committed to and guided by our ideas and abstract threats, we too are drawn into protecting “good and bad” at the expense of others and relationships.

Perhaps this Lent we also need to grow younger. These weary old spasms of political point and counter-point, devoid by now of creativity and relevance, lock us into death-dealing patterns whose only point seems to grab enough power to enforce our visions on those who disagree. This is as true in the church as it is in the world. 

We’re too old, and our hope lies in growing young again - willing to explore, reach out, rethink, live with ambiguity, find our good in people and relationships, our unity and assurance in Jesus alone, and our hope in God’s infinite capacity and willingness to do a “new thing” that renders all the “old” null and void (Is.65).

Sounds a bit like “new birth” doesn’t it (Jn.3)? Or “new creation” (2 Cor.5)? Or Jesus’ call to be childlike (Mk.10)?

Maybe, this Lent, we ought to make “My Back Pages” our anthem, prayer, and practice. At Easter, then, when Jesus commissions us to go and tell the world the good news, we will do it with a little more humility, more about God’s faithfulness than our certainty, and more about Jesus and less about us (Jn.3:30)!  Maybe we'll be a little younger then than the days before!

Rob Bell and Oprah aside, marriage wasn’t designed to solve loneliness

In a recent appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday to promote his latest book, The Zimzum of Love,  Rob Bell made remarks on marriage that are causing consternation among some and receiving applause from others. In the interview, the Pastor Emeritus of Mars Hill Bible Church expressed his sentiments that the church is “moments away” from affirming same-sex marriage, following the broader cultural consensus along those lines.

Here’s part of Bell’s rationale for his position: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness. …Loneliness is not good for the world. And so, whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want somebody to go through life with. It's central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.”

I think he’s right on here. As relational beings who image the Trinitarian God, we were created for community. But what’s interesting is that Bell assumes - along with many defenders of traditional marriage - that marriage is the solution to the problem of loneliness. This “you complete me” mindset is symptomatic of how Christians all across the theological and political spectrum think about marriage. If loneliness is a problem solved only by marriage, it does seem cruel and unusual to say that people can’t experience this and so condemn them to a life of loneliness.

But is that the Biblical view of marriage? Marriage can and does address loneliness. But is marriage the only path to friendship, companionship and family? Can a spouse alone bear the burden of solving one’s loneliness problem? If people get married to solve their loneliness, it won’t be long until those same people are getting divorced because they’ve realized it didn’t entirely work. Some who get married find themselves lonelier than ever, discovering that physical proximity to another person can still leave us light years away from real connection. Worse, we may become so focused on being the sole solution to our spouse’s loneliness (or obsessed with how they can do so for us) that our marriages become black holes, ends in themselves that fail to shine the light that bears witness to God’s kingdom.

We should also question whether Bell’s sentiments capture the Biblical view of singleness. Does Scripture teach that singleness means you are doomed to loneliness and unhappiness? If medieval Catholicism denigrated marriage in favor of celibacy, Bell’s remarks are unfortunately representative of modern Protestantism, where single Christians are often seen as second-class citizens. But passages like 1 Corinthians 7 make clear that marriage is not an economic, social or relational necessity for any Christian. The church is called to be a family in which some - perhaps many - members are called and empowered to be single, but never lonely or alone. In fact, Jesus promises that those who leave their earthly family will gain family by the hundredfold, even in this life.
Jesus (single, by the way) doesn’t say, “Follow me into a life of loneliness.” Rather, He offers friendship and family beyond measure! Furthermore, if marriage will no longer play a significant role in the resurrection, then we need to be clear that it is not the pinnacle, but one possible stepping stone on the path to the glory of the true community for which we were created.

Bell may have intended to criticize churches that are non-affirming of gay marriage, but I think his remarks should cause all churches to do some soul-searching. Our confusion about marriage and singleness has an underlying root: confusion about our call as the family of God. Amazingly, when God first said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” what He ultimately had in mind was the new Eve, the church. When that calling is foremost in our lives, then we - single or married - will be the faithful bride of Jesus and the solution to the loneliness that plagues our world.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Alexander Schmemann – Lent is a Time of Slowing Down

Alexander Schmemann

This passage by the renowned Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann resonated with me when I read it recently, an appropriate reflection for Ash Wednesday…

Lent is a Time of Slowing Down
Alexander Schmemann


It is obviously impossible for us to go to Church every day. And since we cannot keep the Lent liturgically, the question arises: what is our participation in Lent, how can we spiritually profit by it? The Church calls us to deepen our religious conscience, to increase and strengthen the spiritual contents of our life, to follow her in her pilgrimage towards renewal and rededication to God.

And, last but not least: there must be an effort and a decision to slow down our life, to put in as much quiet, silence, contemplation, meditation. Radio, TV, newspapers, social gatherings—all these things, however excellent and profitable in themselves, must be cut down to a real minimum. Not because they are bad, but because we have something more important to do, and it is impossible to do without a change of life, without some degree of concentration and discipline. Lent is the time when we re-evaluate our life in the light of our faith, and this requires a very real effort and discipline. Christ says that a narrow path leads to the kingdom of God and we must make our life as narrow as possible. At first the natural and selfish man in us revolts against these limitations. He wants his usual “easy life” with all its pleasures and relaxations. But once we have tasted of such spiritual effort, once we have made by it one step towards God, the reward is great! We discover a joy that cannot be compared to any other joy. We discover the reality of the spiritual world in us. We begin to understand what St. Paul meant by “the joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” God Himself enters our soul: and it is this wonderful coming that constitutes the ultimate end of Lent:
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slowchurch/2015/02/18/alexander-schmemann-lent-is-a-time-of-slowing-down/#ixzz3SDkfcIWN

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God?

What is Ash Wednesday?
What is Ash Wednesday? For most of my life, I didn’t ask this question, nor did I care about the answer. I, along, with most evangelical Christians in America, didn’t give Ash Wednesday a thought.
But then, in 2004, Ash Wednesday loomed large in American Protestant consciousness. Why? Because on that day Mel Gibson released what was to become his epic blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ. For the first time in history, the phrase “Ash Wednesday” was on the lips of millions of evangelical Christians, not just Catholics and other “high church” Protestants, as we anticipated the official release of The Passion. Every since 2004, many who never wondered about Ash Wednesday have been asking: What is Ash Wednesday? How do we observe it? Why should we observe it?
I grew up with only a vague notion of Ash Wednesday. To me, it was some Catholic holy day that I, as an evangelical Protestant, didn’t have to worry about, thanks be to God. In my view, all of “that religious stuff” detracted from what really mattered, which was having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In my early evangelical years it never dawned on me that some of “the religious stuff” might actually enrich my faith in Christ.
During the spring of 1976, my first year of college, I was startled to see a woman who worked in my dining hall with a dark cross rubbed on her forehead. At first I wondered if it were a bizarre bruise. Then I noticed other women with similar crosses. It finally dawned on me what I was seeing. Here was my introduction to Ash Wednesday piety. These women, who were all Roman Catholic, had gone to services that morning and had ashes placed on their foreheads. I felt impressed that these women were willing to wear their ashes so publicly, even though it seemed a rather odd thing to do. It never dawned on me that this would be something I might do myself one day.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/ash-wednesday-practice-and-meaning/#ixzz3S1Lm1mnk

The God Who Looks Like Us: A Liberating, Male-and-Female, #TrulyHuman Imago Dei

January 22, 2015 | By: Larry Eubanks 1 Comment

What do you think?

God is spirit and has no physical form except in the incarnation of Jesus. This truth has led us to understand the imago dei in purely non-physical ways. Being made in the image of God, it is said, means that among the rest of creation only humans have souls.+

Or that humans have free will and can act beyond mere instinct.+

Or that only humans have the capacity to have dominion over the rest of creation.+

Or that humans have an intellectual capacity far above any other animal.+

Or some such.+

While I don’t deny that any or all of these things may be true, I think that when interpreting Genesis 1:26-27, we jump to the spiritual too quickly and miss the most obvious meaning.+

We look like God. Or, perhaps more to the point, God looks like us.+
Elohim looks like a human. He doesn’t look like a bull. The Canaanites envisioned El as a bull, and there is some conjecture that the etymology of name Marduk, the chief Babylonian god, refers to a bull calf.+

God doesn’t look like the gods of our oppressors, Genesis 1 is saying. But it is saying much more as well.+

Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like’

Posted on Feb 15, 2015

BOSTON—“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the book and the movie, is a celebration of the sadism that dominates nearly every aspect of American culture and lies at the core of pornography and global capitalism. It glorifies our dehumanization of women. It champions a world devoid of compassion, empathy and love. It eroticizes hypermasculine power that carries out the abuse, degradation, humiliation and torture of women whose personalities have been removed, whose only desire is to debase themselves in the service of male lust. The film, like “American Sniper,” unquestioningly accepts a predatory world where the weak and the vulnerable are objects to exploit while the powerful are narcissistic and violent demigods. It blesses this capitalist hell as natural and good.

“Pornography,” Robert Jensen writes, “is what the end of the world looks like.”

We are blinded by self-destructive fantasy. An array of amusements and spectacles, including TV “reality” shows, huge sporting events, social media, porn (which earns at least twice what Hollywood movies generate), alluring luxury products, drugs, alcohol and magic Jesus, offers enticing exit doors from reality. We yearn to be rich, powerful and celebrities. And those we must trample to build our pathetic little empires are seen as deserving their fate. That nearly all of us will never attain these ambitions is emblematic of our collective self-delusion and the effectiveness of a culture awash in manipulation and lies.

Porn seeks to eroticize this sadism. In porn women are paid to repeat the mantra “I am a cunt. I am a bitch. I am a whore. I am a slut. Fuck me hard with your big cock.” They plead to be physically abused. Porn caters to degrading racist stereotypes. Black men are sexually potent beasts stalking white women. Black women have a raw, primitive lust. Latin women are sultry and hotblooded. Asian women are meek, sexually submissive geishas. In porn, human imperfections do not exist. The oversized silicone breasts, the pouting, gel-inflated lips, the bodies sculpted by plastic surgeons, the drug-induced erections that never subside and the shaved pubic regions—which cater to porn’s pedophilia—turn performers into pieces of plastic. Smell, sweat, breath, heartbeats and touch are erased along with tenderness. Women in porn are packaged commodities. They are pleasure dolls and sexual puppets. They are stripped of true emotions. Porn is not about sex, if one defines sex as a mutual act between two partners, but about masturbation, a solitary auto-arousal devoid of intimacy and love. The cult of the self—that is the essence of porn—lies at the core of corporate culture. Porn, like global capitalism, is where human beings are sent to die.

Read more at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/pornography_is_what_the_end_of_the_world_looks_like_20150215

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Same-Sex Attraction in Real Life

Posted by Nick Roen

The great evangelical preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “You can be so interested in great theological and intellectual and philosophical problems that you tend to forget that you are going to die.” At the heart of this admonition is, I think, a reminder that ideas and issues and controversies are only relevant as they relate to people, human beings with real lives and real souls.

Nowhere is this reminder more needed in our day than within the Christian conversation regarding same-sex attraction and homosexuality. It is so easy to discuss the “issue” of homosexuality in our culture while forgetting that gay people aren’t simply an “issue” to be sorted out. Furthermore, when we quarantine the conversation to the theoretical realm divorced from the lived experience of folks with SSA, the conversation inevitably becomes blurry, ambiguous, lacking in clarity. This is no knock on philosophy or theory; these things are needed and helpful. But pushing our musings from the realm of hypothetical reflection toward concrete examples of everyday life tends to blow away the haze and bring the fuzzy corners into focus.

Therefore, I want to take many of the ideas often discussed here at Spiritual Friendship and apply them to a real person: me. In doing so, I am not claiming that I have everything figured out or especially that I am representing the views of everyone who writes for Spiritual Friendship. I simply know my own experience best, and my hope is that this exercise will help clear up a lot of what I am and am not saying about SSA.

For this example, I will use a composite of many of my real friendships and combine them into one specific story. That story is about my friendship with Rick (fake name, real experiences).

Rick and I met at a gathering hosted by my church back in college. I remember seeing him for the first time and feeling a pronounced physical attraction toward him. Now what do I mean by “attraction”? I mean the pre-cognitive physical reaction that makes us take particular notice of certain people. This is what my pastor, John Piper, has described to me as “noticing with pleasure.” I saw Rick, I got “the butterflies”, and it was nice.

It is at this point that a clear distinction must be made. This initial attraction toward Rick was not a desire for sex. Indeed, an attraction is not a desire for anything. It is simply a physical experience that happens in the brain based on chemicals and stimuli. Instead, it is important to note that attractions lead to desires. I was attracted to Rick, which led to the feeling, “I want to (blank).” The “I want to…” is the desire, not the initial noticing with pleasure.

Also, notice that I said attraction leads to desires, plural. As I noticed Rick with pleasure, the attraction produced all sorts of “I want…” desires in me. One of those desires was a sexual desire. No, I wasn’t immediately imagining what it would be like to be in bed with him, but the seed was present. However, I also experienced many heightened desires toward Rick that had nothing to do with sex. I desired to go talk to him, shake his hand, get to know him, laugh with him, and serve him by bringing him a glass of punch. In other words, not only were the seeds of sexual desire present, but the seeds of desires for friendship, hospitality, emotional intimacy, sacrificial service, and love were there as well. All different desires, all colored by the same initial attraction.

Mardi Gras Is Meaningless without Ash Wednesday

Posted on No Comments »

 I’m not very good at feasting. That’s not to say I can’t put down a few drinks or eat a lot of rich food. I’m not very good at feasting because I’m not very good at fasting, and I’m even worse at ordinary, everyday eating. Feasting is an art in contrast. We can’t have steak every night or a big bowl of ice cream (at least we shouldn’t). Steak is special because it is not an everyday meal; it is expensive because it is limited (there are only a few steaks per cow.) Ice cream is special because, like cigars, it’s okay to have one every now and then. But as an every-day affair it will kill you.
Still, too often I want steak on Tuesday and ice cream on Wednesday, and while there is a great deal worth celebrating, too much special makes nothing special.

On Tuesday we celebrate Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. It is a day to feast, but it only makes sense if we follow it by the fast of Ash Wednesday. Without Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras is just a party signifying nothing. It becomes a feast because it is answered by a fast. And both feasting and fasting are measured by the ferial.

Ferial eating is everyday eating. It is casseroles and slow-cooked food from a crock pot and whatever you can throw together from the fridge. Ferial eating is that old-fashioned kind of thrifty eating where spoiled milk becomes sour pancakes and yesterday’s roast chicken is turned into today’s chicken salad. It is eating full of flavor and savor, if done right, but it doesn’t carry the same kind of richness that feasting does. It is stew instead of steak, an apple instead of apple pie.

Our culture isn’t very good at telling the difference . . .


Monday, February 9, 2015

The One-Dimensional Humanity of ‘Downton Abbey’



brief Bible thought: is there resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament?



Is there resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament?

No. Not really. Well, sort of. O.K., yes, but it depends on how you look at it.

Resurrection is pretty central to the New Testament, in case you haven’t noticed. Yet searching for that kind of resurrection it in the Old Testament makes you come up basically empty-handed.
We do have one lengthy passage, Daniel 12, which is an important text for understanding the development of Jewish faith later in the Second Temple period (in the second century BCE) when “resurrection” of individuals was in the air generally within Judaism (more below).

2 Maccabees is another example of a text from roughly the same period and which mentions the future resurrection of the dead as if no one needs it explained to them (e.g., see 2 Maccabees 7:9)
Neither Isaiah 25:7 (the Lord will “swallow up death forever”) or 26:19 (“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise”) seem to be “resurrection from the dead” texts.

The first seems to echo Canaanite mythology about Baal who hosts a victory banquet after his defeat of the sea god Yamm (representing chaos).

The second is a more likely candidate, but if both of these passages are read in the larger context of Isaiah, it’s hard to escape their metaphorical meaning: deliverance from the “sure death” of foreign oppression/threat. At any rate, even with these texts, the silence of the Old Testament on future resurrection is deafening.

But this brings me to where I think resurrection is very much part of the story of Israel, and it goes like this.

A perspective on the Adam story that I lay out in The Evolution of Adam and The Bible Tells Me So is that Adam represents Israel’s entire epic journey in the Old Testament–Adam is a “preview” of Israel, so to speak.

Just as Adam was created by God out of dust and placed into a Garden paradise, and remaining there was contingent upon obedience (don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge), so, too, Israel was created by God from Egyptian slavery, placed into the paradise-like Canaan, and remaining there was contingent upon obedience (to the covenant, the Law of Moses).

This reading of the Adam story is not mutually exclusive of others, but it has medieval rabbinic precedent (Genesis Rabbah), and you have to admit the parallels are at least worth thinking about. So even if you’re skeptical, work with me here.

Remember that Adam was warned that “on the day” he eats of the the forbidden fruit, he would die (Genesis 2:17). Now, the fact of the matter is that “on the day” Adam and Eve do not die so much as they are banished from the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24).

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2015/02/brief-bible-thought-is-there-resurrection-from-the-dead-in-the-old-testament/#ixzz3RG04x94n

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Getting Caught Up In Telling Stories


NBC News anchor Brian Williams with his daughter, actress Allison Williams, and his wife Jane Williams at HBO's "Girls" fourth season premiere party in New York.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams with his daughter, actress Allison Williams, and his wife Jane Williams at HBO's "Girls" fourth season premiere party in New York.
Evan Agostini/AP 
A lot of folks are trying to make sense of what would drive Brian Williams, a reporter, the face of NBC news, to make up easily fact-checkable stories about his experiences as a reporter embedded with troops during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. His apology has only made things worse.

He says he made a "mistake." But it just isn't plausible that a mistake of memory could have led him to believe that he'd been in a helicopter shot down over enemy territory. No, he lied about it. The question is, why? Ego? Self-aggrandizement? Trying to make himself seem better, braver, tougher, more experienced than he really is?

I have a slightly different hypothesis: Brian Williams is a storyteller and storytellers can't resist a good story.

Read more at  http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2015/02/06/383975796/getting-caught-up-in-telling-stories

Friday, February 6, 2015

Conflict and Ego

If you read the online versions of newspaper columns you can click over to the reader comments, which are often critical, vituperative and insulting. I’ve found that I can only deal with these comments by following the adage, “Love your enemy.”
It’s too psychologically damaging to read these comments as evaluations of my intelligence, morals or professional skill. But if I read them with the (possibly delusional) attitude that these are treasured friends bringing me lovely gifts of perspective, then my eye slides over the insults and I can usually learn something. The key is to get the question of my self-worth out of the way — which is actually possible unless the insulter is really creative.
The natural but worst way to respond is to enter into the logic of this status contest. If he puffs himself up, you puff yourself up. But if you do this you put yourself and your own status at center stage. You enter a cycle of keyboard vengeance. You end up with a painfully distended ego, forever in danger, needing to assert itself, and sensitive to slights.
Clearly, the best way to respond is to step out of the game. It’s to get out of the status competition. Enmity is a nasty frame of mind. Pride is painful. The person who can quiet the self can see the world clearly, can learn the subject and master the situation.
Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/opinion/david-brooks-conflict-and-ego.html?smid=fb-share

Subhuman or #TrulyHuman? Finding Healing for the Sickness and Death of Sin


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I had gone 40 years without ever having the flu.
I had this unbelievably great healthy track record of not getting the flu until this year. My wife and I had spent a Saturday afternoon in early January installing a new back splash at my mother-in-law’s house. Our little remodeling project prompted the little arguments and multiple trips to the local hardware store common to most projects we work on together. As we were finishing up, a creeping achiness began to overtake me and when the project was complete, I sat on the floor in the kitchen leaning against the hard cabinet assuming I was just tired. Nope. The flu was just beginning to settle in. My wife and I headed home and within two hours we both were wrapped up in blankets, shivering, coughing, and feverish. With three boys it is hard enough when one of us is sick, but this scenario was worse; we were both sick, with the flu, at the exact same time.+
For the next couple of days I wandered around the house like a nomad. Wrapped up in an old bedspread, covering my sickness-attire of sweat pants, wool socks, hoodie, and faded Kansas City Chiefs hat. I would meander to the kitchen to get a drink, trying to keep the fluids going, and then would slowly find my way back to the couch in the living room where my feverish body, lethargic and lifeless, found a temporary home. We were both miserable. It felt like warm death. We attended to the kids the best we could, but for a couple days we laid around zombie-like, energyless shells of former ourselves.+
We were truly less than human. We returned to health after a few days and within a week or so our energy levels returned and we felt like ourselves again. At one point while I sat in my bed-spread cocoon, praying for my fever to break, I had a thought: having the flu is like suffering the effects of sin.+

'American Sniper' Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize. Almost.


Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper in 'American Sniper.' Warner Bros
I saw American Sniper last night, and hated it slightly less than I expected to. Like most Clint Eastwood movies – and I like Clint Eastwood movies for the most part – it's a simple, well-lit little fairy tale with the nutritional value of a fortune cookie that serves up a neatly-arranged helping of cheers and tears for target audiences, and panics at the thought of embracing more than one or two ideas at any time.
It's usually silly to get upset about the self-righteous way Hollywood moviemakers routinely turn serious subjects into baby food. Film-industry people angrily reject the notion that their movies have to be about anything (except things like "character" and "narrative" and "arc," subjects they can talk about endlessly).

This is the same Hollywood culture that turned the horror and divisiveness of the Vietnam War era into a movie about a platitude-spewing doofus with leg braces who in the face of terrible moral choices eats chocolates and plays Ping-Pong. The message of Forrest Gump was that if you think about the hard stuff too much, you'll either get AIDS or lose your legs. Meanwhile, the hero is the idiot who just shrugs and says "Whatever!" whenever his country asks him to do something crazy.
Forrest Gump pulled in over half a billion and won Best Picture. So what exactly should we have expected from American Sniper?

Not much. But even by the low low standards of this business, it still manages to sink to a new depth or two.

The thing is, the mere act of trying to make a typically Hollywoodian one-note fairy tale set in the middle of the insane moral morass that is/was the Iraq occupation is both dumber and more arrogant than anything George Bush or even Dick Cheney ever tried.

No one expected 20 minutes of backstory about the failed WMD search, Abu Ghraib, or the myriad other American atrocities and quick-trigger bombings that helped fuel the rise of ISIL and other groups.

But to turn the Iraq war into a saccharine, almost PG-rated two-hour cinematic diversion about a killing machine with a heart of gold (is there any film theme more perfectly 2015-America than that?) who slowly, very slowly, starts to feel bad after shooting enough women and children – Gump notwithstanding, that was a hard one to see coming.

Sniper is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism. The only thing that forces us to take it seriously is the extraordinary fact that an almost exactly similar worldview consumed the walnut-sized mind of the president who got us into the war in question.

It's the fact that the movie is popular, and actually makes sense to so many people, that's the problem. "American Sniper has the look of a bona fide cultural phenomenon!" gushed Brandon Griggs of CNN, noting the film's record $105 million opening-week box office.

Griggs added, in a review that must make Eastwood swell with pride, that the root of the film's success is that "it's about a real person," and "it's a human story, not a political one."

Well done, Clint! You made a movie about mass-bloodshed in Iraq that critics pronounced not political! That's as Hollywood as Hollywood gets.

The characters in Eastwood's movies almost always wear white and black hats or their equivalents, so you know at all times who's the good guy on the one hand, and whose exploding head we're to applaud on the other.

In this case that effect is often literal, with "hero" sniper Chris Kyle's "sinister" opposite Mustafa permanently dressed in black (with accompanying evil black pirate-stubble) throughout.

Eastwood, who surely knows better, indulges in countless crass stupidities in the movie. There's the obligatory somber scene of shirtless buffed-up SEAL Kyle and his heartthrob wife Sienna Miller gasping at the televised horror of the 9/11 attacks. Next thing you know, Kyle is in Iraq actually fighting al-Qaeda – as if there was some logical connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

Which of course there had not been, until we invaded and bombed the wrong country and turned its moonscaped cities into a recruitment breeding ground for… you guessed it, al-Qaeda. They skipped that chicken-egg dilemma in the film, though, because it would detract from the "human story."

Eastwood plays for cheap applause and goes super-dumb even by Hollywood standards when one of Kyle's officers suggests that they could "win the war" by taking out the evil sniper who is upsetting America's peaceful occupation of Sadr City.

When hunky Bradley Cooper's Kyle character subsequently takes out Mustafa with Skywalkerian long-distance panache – "Aim small, hit small," he whispers, prior to executing an impossible mile-plus shot – even the audiences in the liberal-ass Jersey City theater where I watched the movie stood up and cheered. I can only imagine the response this scene scored in Soldier of Fortune country.

To Eastwood, this was probably just good moviemaking, a scene designed to evoke the same response he got in Trouble With the Curve when his undiscovered Latin Koufax character, Rigoberto Sanchez, strikes out the evil Bonus Baby Bo Gentry (even I cheered at that scene).

The problem of course is that there's no such thing as "winning" the War on Terror militarily. In fact the occupation led to mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of deaths, a choleric lack of real sanitation, epidemic unemployment and political radicalization that continues to this day to spread beyond Iraq's borders.

Yet the movie glosses over all of this, and makes us think that killing Mustafa was some kind of decisive accomplishment – the single shot that kept terrorists out of the coffee shops of San Francisco or whatever. It's a scene that ratified every idiot fantasy of every yahoo with a target rifle from Seattle to Savannah.

The really dangerous part of this film is that it turns into a referendum on the character of a single soldier. It's an unwinnable argument in either direction. We end up talking about Chris Kyle and his dilemmas, and not about the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and other officials up the chain who put Kyle and his high-powered rifle on rooftops in Iraq and asked him to shoot women and children.

They're the real villains in this movie, but the controversy has mostly been over just how much of a "hero" Chris Kyle really was. One Academy member wondered to a reporter if Kyle (who in real life was killed by a fellow troubled vet in an eerie commentary on the violence in our society that might have made a more interesting movie) was a "psychopath." Michael Moore absorbed a ton of criticism when he tweeted that "My uncle [was] killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards …"

And plenty of other commentators, comparing Kyle's book (where he remorselessly brags about killing "savages") to the film (where he is portrayed as a more rounded figure who struggled, if not verbally then at least visually, with the nature of his work), have pointed out that real-life Kyle was kind of a dick compared to movie-Kyle.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/american-sniper-is-almost-too-dumb-to-criticize-20150121#ixzz3QyQa2pWq

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ethics and prayer (part 1 of 2)



If we are faithful in the way we follow Jesus, then our deepest and truest desires will find their expression in godly, counter-cultural, justice-shaped prayers passionately aligned to the kingdom and mission of God. Our best prayers will be ethical prayers.

In this and my next column, I want to explore the relation of ethics to prayer – what’s distinctive about ethical prayer, and how to do it well for maximum effectiveness and social impact.

We all pray, some more intelligently and strategically and often than others.   And we include ethical considerations in our prayers, whether public or private, silent, written or spoken.

We pray for peace in place of conflicts large and small. We pray for the defeat of evil and the triumph of good. We pray for our political leaders, and for electoral and legislative processes. We pray that God will intervene and bless people suffering in the face of natural and human-induced disasters, epidemics, famine and poverty.

We pray for practical divine demonstration of justice and mercy in our world. And sometimes we pray for the necessary wisdom, money and human resources to sustain moral communities and extend the ethical dimension of the kingdom of God in the world.

Prayer is an indispensible part of the life of a Christian, and intercession on ethical issues is indispensible to prayer (e.g. 1 Tim 2:1-4). When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, the pattern prayer that he gave them was profoundly ethical in its orientation and content (Mt 6:9-13).

Read more at http://togethermagazine.com.au/2015/01/08/ethics-and-prayer-part-1-of-2/

Ethics and prayer (part 2 of 2)



Together, the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) express our restless discontent with the way things are in the world, in our communities, and in our hearts.  They offer a daily rhythm, challenging us to refocus on what matters most, calling us to remember the unfailing goodness and mercy of God.

As German theologian Karl Barth put it, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

The point of the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” is not so much a call to moral vigilance in the face of threats posed by the pleasures of the flesh but a general call to holiness and godliness.  This is part of the fruit of knowing God’s will – ordering our lives, our passions, our minds, so we can serve God fully and freely as genuine disciples.

Read more at http://togethermagazine.com.au/2015/02/05/ethics-and-prayer-part-2-of-2/

Retrieving a Radical Barth: Gorringe's Reading

Recently I've been reading, marking and inwardly digesting Timothy Gorringe's excellent contextual study, Karl Barth Against Hegemony (New York, Oxford Press, 1999).
Copies of this book tend to be pricey, but my wife tracked down a copy -- from somewhere across the pond, I think -- for about $30.

The book, part of the Oxford series Christian Theology in Context that Gorringe edited with Graham Ward, offers a genetic-historical overview of Barth's theological development from his student days to his final dogmatic writings in Das christliche Leben (The Christian Life). Rather than focusing on paradigm shifts in Barth's thought (as Bruce McCormack does, for example), this text book presents Barth's theological work as, on the whole, exhibiting a more or less unified trajectory. In this vein, Gorringe draws heavily, though not uncritically, from the provocative interpretation of Barth proffered in the early 1970s by the German socialist theologian Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt.

In brief, Gorringe reads Barth as sort of proto-liberation theologian whose polemical and positive dogmatic claims were shaped by the Swiss theologian's profound commitment to human freedom and were aimed at fostering emancipatory praxis. . .
Read more at http://derevth.blogspot.com/2015/02/retrieving-radical-barth-gorringes.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter