Writing

If you write for God, you will reach many people and bring them joy.

If you write for people — you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.

If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you wish you were dead.

~Thomas Merton

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Scandal!

Curious-George-ReadingCurious George, though universally included within the taxon of monkey, referred to as such within the body of literature which contains his various adventures, does not in fact have a tail.[1]

Thus, it is more accurate to refer to the inquisitive primate as an ape.[2]

 


[1] As portrayed in a selection of books and animated series, George does not have a tail.  See, for instance, N Di Angelo and Mary O’Keefe Young, Happy Valentine’s Day, Curious George! (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)

[2] Larry, “The Monkey Song,” notes, “If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey, if it doesn’t have a tail, it’s an ape.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–szrOHtR6U [accessed March 11, 2014]

 

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Obedience is better than Sacrifice

Spoke on the atonement this morning. Flew up to Nampa, Idaho to join in with the Wesleyan Theological Society. Good time. Good people.

I’ve never really been all that interested in doctrines of the atonement. I was raised in a Christian family and so never had a dramatic conversion. And the other popular interest in atonement theories almost always are about drawing divisions in Christianity, using the cross as a bludgeon to attack people who don’t measure up to a perceived, generally parochial, orthodoxy. The conference theme was on atonement so I started thinking about it last Summer, and once that started, I got very interested in where my studies were taking me. So, over the last 2.5 weeks I wrote a 25 page paper as a beginning exploration of what I think is a somewhat novel approach. Well, novel in theology, it’s entirely throughout Scripture. That’s my argument and evidence at least. Got it down to 10.5 pages to present this morning. Seemed to go well.

Anyhow, here’s my intro:

Over the last half-century, there has been a shift in how we think about God’s eternal nature and work in this world. This relational turn in theology emphasizes a social model of the Trinity and with this a sociality of God’s kingdom rather than a political or hierarchical model. This is not, to be sure, a new conception.

The terminology of perichoresis—God’s eternal dance—has, for instance, been a key model especially in the Christian East for many centuries, dating back to the early church. In what follows, I will propose a model of the atonement that derives from this emphasis on God’s relationality. This is a preliminary exploration for what is a much larger project certainly in need of further refining and development. For the moment, I will propose themes and lay the groundwork for this approach that can be honed in future works.

A theology of the atonement involves two extremely important underlying questions. The first asks what is sin? Is it a violation of God’s honor as Lord? Is it corruption that leads to death? The tendency to establish a scapegoat? The devil’s capture of us in enslavement?

These questions point to the second key question. What is God’s primary pattern of interaction with this world? In the late twentieth century there was a shift of understanding of the human condition away from a strict legal construction and towards understanding sin as more of a disoriented identity that results in relational violations.

Such a view on the human situation is key in the theology of many contemporary theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann. They both assert that attempts to establish our identity in a person, cause, activity, or goal other than God results in dis-integration—with God and with others—as nothing other than God can sustain identities into eternity. Such dis-integration requires re-integration.

However, models of the atonement have not derived, for the most part, from the starting point that Pannenberg and Moltmann, and others, suggest. This gap highlights the need for a new model, one that better incorporates contemporary understanding of the Trinity and anthropology.

This may also become a model that can include other models within its scope as it suggests the underlying priority, expressed through different themes, of God’s work throughout the Biblical narrative.

My initial conception is this: The relational trust between God and humanity that allowed for relational intimacy was broken through sin. God’s initiating movements then created contexts of obedience or disobedience as particular people chose where they would put their trust.

The expressions of obedience were insufficient both as a sustaining and as a fulfilling expression. The judgment of God expresses a relational displeasure, a response to betrayal and falsehood in attempts to instantiate ourselves through alternative means.

The cross becomes the ultimate expression of obedience and thus trust, denying false forms of identity and embracing the fullness of God’s promise. This act of obedience becomes the avenue of trust for humanity and the avenue of trust for God, who trusts those who trust the Son.

Such trust is first an ontological restoration as it orients a person within God’s field of force, his perichoretic substantiation that we call justification. This then re-initiates those who trust in the cross into a new transformative path of obedience, a new birth that re-constitutes the human identity and leads it to a path of identity reformation, which we call sanctification.

I’m not posting the whole thing because I’m considering what I want to do with it. It’s at least a book project, maybe my summer project now, but I may work on submitting the initial version as an article.

Posted in academia, education, Scripture, speaking, theology | Leave a comment

Me and Tommy Jefferson

Big Five Personality Test

Out of 25 U.S. Presidents, you are the most like …

Thomas Jefferson

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.”

Compared to the general population, you are:

  • Low on Extroversion, indicating that you are an introvert who prefers calm environments to large social gatherings.
  • High on Openness, indicating that you are very impatient with the way things are and always on the look for the new, the untested, and the untried.
  • Average on Agreeableness, indicating that you alternate between being tenderhearted in some situations and tough-minded in others.
  • Average on Conscientiousness, indicating that you take a balanced approach between sticking to plans and deadlines and being flexible about updating your current goals.
  • Low on Neuroticism, indicating that you are relaxed, cool under pressure, and not shy about presenting yourself or your ideas.

According to a study done by Jeffery J. Mondak, Ph.D., your scores indicate that you are:

  • Not likely to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation.
  • More likely to be pro-choice rather than pro-life.
  • Likely to feel trapped by the status quo.
  • Likely to enjoy complex and abstract discussions.
  • Likely to be more knowledgeable on academic topics.
  • Less likely to have a tolerant attitude towards smoking.
  • More likely to favor harsh criminal punishments over milder ones.
  • Less likely to watch TV and read the news, preferring instead to follow your own interests.
  • Less likely to mobilize your friends in your own interests, preferring instead to immerse yourself in your interests in solitude.
  • Someone who seems impassive to others, while being in fact quite sure of your own views.
  • More likely to enjoy fitness training and physical exercise.
  • More likely to nurture a few select beliefs that you regard as settled in stone.
  • Less likely to flirt with harm and danger.
  • Less likely to have insurance or to belong to a labor union.

According to a study done by Jayme Neiman, Ph.D., your scores indicate that you are:

  • More likely than the average person to enjoy bitter vegetables like broccoli and arugula.
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Winter is the time for atonement

The theme of the conference is atonement.  Saturday morning will feature a special treat:
Patrick Oden, Fuller Theological Seminary, “Atonement as Obedience and Restoration of Trust,”
and
Scott F. Grover, Azusa Pacific University, “Violence, Identity and Sanctification: A Developmental Model of the Atonement”
Not sure why they listed me as Fuller. Well, when I submitted it in September I was scheduled for 2 classes with Fuller and 2 for APU.
We meant to do a co-operative presentation (we each present separately but on a shared theme) but it looks like we’re doing a joint presentation.  We’re looking at atonement through the lens of identity, relationality and personality.  So, it should be fun.
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On Finances

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend about the topic of finances. He sent it out to a number of people and asked for any tidbits, words of wisdom, advise, caution that you have learned, experienced or heard concerning discussing finances with your significant others.

FinancesI thought about it for a couple of days, nothing came to mind, and thinking that’s no reason to not reply, I wrote something up. Here’s what I said.

Amy and I are very different in terms of finances, both as a goal and in our family histories. But, while there have been tensions at times, I don’t think we’ve ever had arguments or battles. Partly because for the most part we really haven’t had much finances to work with. :-)

That being said, I’ve been thinking about why it’s never been a huge issue even as we have different understanding. One, I think it has to do with our general pattern in marriage. We’re a team. That means there’s give and take, letting go insisting that our individual assumption of reality has to work in every situation. More important, seeing as being on a team means we think more about common goals. What is our mission in life and how do our finances 1) reflect this and 2) lead us deeper into this mission? We also make it a matter of prayer and trust in God, and learning how to trust each other. There are times I’ve taken risks and Amy feels tense but then sees God working in the midst of those moves. Then there are times I know God is using Amy to lead us to very wise financial decisions.

We both seek God, we seek fullness for each other, we try to live out our faiths in our finances, and give ourselves grace at times. There’s a place for “sabbath” in finances too, using what God has given to help bring restoration or rest or renewal in life. But, that’s not about satiating either our desires or our frenzy–that concern for absolute security that leaves no room for faith.

Which means we start by talking through our visions of life, not formally, but as part of a continuing commitment to openness. By being on the same page with the big issues–life, faith, mission–the financial stuff falls into place as we talk about finances in the context of the other, bigger, already agreed upon ideals.

I don’t know if that was helpful (my friend said it was), but it’s what came to mind. Amy likely would have something else to say.

Posted in everyday theology, marriage, money | Leave a comment

Why Ravens?

Ravens are important in many cultures and harbingers in more than one religion. It  is not hard to see why. Anyone who has spent a moment listening or watching must be struck with curiosity at what these aerial acrobats are about.  two ravensThey are among the most intelligent of birds. They are social, and talkative, with a complex language that shows regional dialects. Few animals show as much love for their own abilities as these birds. They fly, and they are aware how cool it is they do so. Drifting on a warm updraft, diving through a valley, riding the wind of battered air in storms and fire, wrestling with each other midair, they exult in their mastery of the sky.

A pagan site speaks of these totemic birds:

If a raven totem has come into our life, magic is at play. Raven activates the energy of magic and links it to our will and intention. With this totem, we can make great changes in our life; the ability to take the unformed thought and make it reality. The raven shows us how to go into the dark of our inner self and bring out the light of our true self; resolving inner conflicts which are long been buried. This is the deepest power of healing we can possess.

Though a mish-mash of do it yourself religions, this speaks of distant understandings, held by many peoples throughout time.

Norse mythology, of course, prominently features two ravens, companions of Odin, bearers of knowledge and information. Thought and memory is the meaning of their names. They are the embodied soul of the All-Father, whispering from his shoulder the goings on of the wider world. The Edda, an epic Norse poem, states:

The whole earth over, every day, hover Hugin and Munin; I dread lest Hugin droop in his flight, yet I fear me still more for Munin.

Because of these constant companions Odin has been called the Raven god.

This he is not.


Long before the Norse laid claim to mystical tales and the gold of other lands, the God of Israel revealed himself to be Lord and protector of all, even the ravens.

“He gives to the animals their food,” Psalm 147:9 reads, “and to the young ravens when they cry.”

“Who provides for the raven its prey,” God asks Job rhetorically, “when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?”

He was answering Job out of the storm in chapter 38, replying to Job’s complaints not by direct answers, but by showing his character and power.

In return ravens served the God of Israel. Noah sent out a raven, which flew back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Ravens being what they are, it appears this one left the constraints of the boat for its own tasks. A dove was the next messenger, the one which came back.

The prophet Elijah ran into many troubles as he spoke the words of God to those who did not want to listen. He had power over wind and rain, and God had power over him. Savoldo Elijah Fed by the RavenA drought began, which parched the land.

In chapter seventeen of 1 Kings we read:

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan River. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.

So, he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith valley, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.


This is a website for those who now live near the Kerith, a place where water rushes through a narrow valley. God is calling many back as his own, and in doing this places them for a time in the midst of the wilderness, with drought and famine all around. There is water to drink, if it is sought, and food to eat by God’s gracious hand.

Many paths in this world lead onwards, but only one leads to the end. One travels with a goal in mind, and only those paths which take one to the expected end have perfect merit. There is only one path, the Way. Yet, along this path many sights are shared.

Forgotten views are highlighted elsewhere. Other paths may intersect, leading to their own interesting sights. Some travel far along, others stop very short. So, while there is only one way to the end, all others are worth consideration. For like the tale of ravens they remind us of our own stories, pointing us back to forgotten truths.

The Christian faith is ancient, laying claim to its history and the history of the Jewish people prior to the coming of the Messiah. The modern representations have lost much of the purview, limiting to specific words and angrily repulsing other voices. All truth is God’s truth. All those who hear truth, hear Yeshua. The Spirit moves wide and broad, teaching, reaching, grasping, enlightening. With an eye on the goal, and an open ear to hear the words which others speak, we walk together along the Way.

Moses knew this path. Into the wilderness and out he led the people, fully committed to the word of God, fully dedicated to the One who saves. To Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite, he said this:

We are on our way to the Promised land. Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has given wonderful promises to Israel! But Hobab replied, No, I will not go. I must return to my own land and family. Please don’t leave us, Moses pleaded. You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide and we will share with you all the good things that the LORD does for us.

RaveninflightNot of the people of God, but welcomed. Hobab knew what they did not, and could assist. In return, should he add his wisdom to their promises he would receive ‘good things.’ So we stand firm in our faith, with a listening ear and open mind to the work of the Spirit beyond our own understanding, trusting that it is he who draws people more than we. And thus we continue on the Way, trusting God will send ravens to bring food, everyday.
 

I wrote this about 6 or 7 years ago and it’s been a page on my website, though one rarely visited.  As I prepare for this new year, and all it entails, I thought it a fitting way as I renew my focus and thoughts.

Posted in personal, theology, writing | 2 Comments

Who is my enemy?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45).

We know our neighbor. Or at least we should. Jesus tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Whether we’re the person beaten up or the person passing by, we can see a deeper understanding of neighbor.

But who is our enemy? That seems like an easy question and maybe through much of history it was. When there were clear lines drawn, wars waged, property under dispute, freedom at stake.

Nowadays, it’s trickier. Because we don’t like to think in terms of enemies. We’ve blunted the admonishment by refusing to admit we have actual enemies. That’s judgmental and divisive, right?

We have people we disagree with, people we compete with, people we want to correct, people who want to correct us. But they’re not our enemies. We’re aghast if we hear someone say so boldly, “that person is my enemy.”

It’s seems so, so, well, implacable.crowd So irreconcilable. And what we want is reconciliation, right?

Of course we don’t. We want to be right. We want to ease the fury in our own souls. We want to put people in their place if they violate us or others we care for.

We shy away from the term, but we have enemies. We all have enemies. Toss aside the therapeutic or ethics-laden language, and it’s clear.

Like in the Good Samaritan passage, Jesus connects this idea of loving your enemy to our relationship with God. It’s not a secondary issue. It’s what, we might even say, distinguishes Christians from others.

But the question remains. Who is my enemy?

I don’t have a parable, but I have an idea. Comes from watching my own life and the lives of others. Enemies are all around us.

Who are they?

If I always assume the worst possible motives for what someone has done, they are my enemy.

If something happens and I don’t know the reasons, but immediately jump to the worst possible conclusions. They are my enemy.

If I expect that they are malicious in what they are doing, like they are purposefully offending us, they are my enemy.

What are our assumptions about a given person? The people we love, we excuse, we defend. Often to a fault (which means its not always right to defend them or something they have done).

The people who are our enemies, we accuse and lay blame, create a crime with the least possible support. We assume the worst about them.

We immediately jump to the most negative way we can explain their behavior in a given situation. We justify our anger at them, we give credence to our hatred, we give support to our loathing.

If our enemy is the person we consistently attribute the worst motives in what they do, then it seems our enemies are all around us. public-enemyAlmost every marriage turns from a relationship of friend to a relationship of enemy. We have enemies in politics and enemies in causes and enemies in religions. We have enemies in the workplace and at social events and in traffic.

We assume the worst motives in what they do, or say, or think. They are our enemies.

Love them, Jesus says. So that we may be children of the Father.

Maybe that means instead of jumping to the worst possible motives, we take the time and perspective to discover their true motives and thoughts and reasons for decisions. That’s what love does. It hopes for the best, it hopes in the best, of others.

Note, that Jesus doesn’t say, “Love other people’s enemies.” That’s usually a lot easier. “Love your enemy,” he says. So first we have to consider who our particular enemies are.

Posted in 500, musings | 2 Comments

Let me never be put to shame

In various monastic writings we find two verses emphasized as being among the most spiritually effective prayers. Psalm 71:1-2 (NIV)–

In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and save me.

It is emphasized because it is the prayer of desperation, encapsulating a heart’s cry, pointing it efficiently towards God. The spiritually wise suggested repeating this regularly, throughout the day. Not only for those who are encountering crises. For everyone. Because while it is the prayer of the oppressed, pleading for God’s salvation, it is also a prayer of grounding. Those who deal with pride, or arrogance, or easy living are reminded of their status and their goal. This establishes the relationship, a pledge of allegiance of sorts. We are all in need of God’s salvation, and asking for it reminds us of those places that we might like to hide from or ignore–or do not see in the moments of bounty.

Worth looking at other translations.

New Living Translation:

O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me and rescue me,
for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me,
and set me free.

New King James:

In You, O LORD, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.

NRSV:

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Along with the Jesus prayer–”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”–these verses are a way to center and re-center, orienting us right in the midst of our busy lives. Easy and profound expressions of deep theology and deep faith.

As I’m writing today I’m hit with another passage that serves much the same purpose. Rather than being prayer towards God, however, this one is a reminder from God to us.

Exodus 14:13-14

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Here we have an antecedent to Ephesians 6 and Isaiah 31.

The Israelites have been freed from Egypt, but they are not yet free. They stand at the edge of the Red Sea, blocked. Pharaoh realizes he made a mistake. Who is this God of Israel that could take away his slaves? He gathers his army. He pursues the newly emancipated.

Exodus tells us:

They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Life became overwhelming. They were terrified, broken, emptied of hope. They saw what was following them and they despaired.

“Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

The Egyptians throughout Scripture represent ‘the world’–its terrors, its promises, its enslavements, or its companionship. Sometimes it is a place of God given safety. More often it is the feared oppressor or the false security. We run from Egypt because of its power. We embrace Egypt because it promises protection.

We see the Egyptians about us. In our struggles and in our temptations. We fear. We lose hope. We stumble in the strain. We go crazy, act angry, no longer reflections of Christ.

And God reminds us.

“Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

This is a post I wrote in 2008. It came to mind for various reasons today, one of which has to do with my leading a discussion on the Lord’s Prayer at church this morning. Got me to thinking about other key summary prayers and how they serve as a continual re-orientation for us.

Posted in prayer, re-post | 1 Comment