Friday, May 28, 2010

The Final Four

Gearing up for the last four posts which will happen over these next two's what the posts will be about:

The Fall- where i talk my struggle with the Christian doctrine that has confused me the most over the years and what i think of it now.

The Faith- where i was and where I am now.

The Favorites- some favorite posts over the years

The Final- where i write something awesome and touching and you cry at you computer.... or maybe not...

stay tuned dear readers!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


i love the tv show LOST. my buddy Jason got me hooked on it around at the beginning of the third season and it's been one of our favorite shows ever. between that and the new Battlestar Galactica, we were in tv heaven.
i've resisted posting too much on it until now, so if you don't want to read any spoilers, read no further.


don't read if you think you'll watch the show....

you sure?

okay... here we go...

wait, really? you're not going to watch it? or have you already... okay, i'll quit stalling...

i love the whole narrative of LOST, it has something for everyone. it is very post-modern this way as it largely could be experience in a variety of ways. if you like drama, it had it. action, tons! mystery, how 'bout a big freak'n smoke monster, Egyptian statues, a 1800's ship thousands of yards inland, and strange science stations littered around the island protected by a mysterious group of "natives." but largely, the narrative was character driven, so however you watched it, it had to be done with the characters and their connections and relationships in mind.

LOST can't be categorized either. it had everything. " 'Lost' is in a class by itself," ABC's programming chief, Jeff Bader, said this week in this WashingtonPost article. "It is the most successful cult show ever." so what the hell was it about?

I think the show was offering us a big ol' allegory, for everything! The primary one is on how life should be lived. Namely an ongoing effort to understand each other and ourselves and this can only happen to it's fullest when undertaken with a community of people. a plane crashes, people meet up and figure out how the live together. their motto is "live together, die alone." and that was initially in reference to, "live with us and behave, or go out and get killed by a polar bear, the smoke monster, or the Others." but i understand that differently now.

we live together, we are defined by our relationships. yet no one can tell us who we are, we make our own narrative. yet we don't do this alone, we intersect and get feedback and such. we come into the narrative, the conversation, and it's already going on, and it will continue long after we're gone. who started it? not important. what is it about? about life itself. about what's real and what's worth paying attention to, how we should live and what "this" is all about. when we have listened long enough, we may enter in and vigorously discuss. but everyone does, articulately or un, explicitly or implicitly, live in relationship to the conversation. and after all our striving and figuring out, and trying to understand this existence comes to a close, we die alone.

yet not alone. we are surrounded by our memories of those who have come before us, and maybe, just maybe, we may find that the exact same people we lived with, already there, waiting on us. at least, that is my hope, some don't believe this, but Lost puts it in there and i like it.

the show was an awesome riff on Apokatastasis as everyone is together and reconsiled at the end. what we know is that there was a plane crash, people survived and lived together for a time. there is also a "side-ways universe" where they meet again and remember the island and everything that happened on it. it turns out that this place of meeting is an after-life, a place to reconnect and remember. and they move on from there.

this story gets us to ask many questions, and the questions we ask about "the island" are the exact questions we ask ourselves today. the main three at 1. what is the island? 2. why are they on it? 3. what happens when they leave? this can be translated to 1. what is existence? 2. why are we here? 3. what happens when we die? these are important questions... much like the ones Al raises on his most recent post.

i loved the "inclusio" in the finale. Lost started with an extreme close-up of Jack opening his eye and ended with him closing it. that was a bit of poetry and really stuck with me. great narrative move by the writers.

I like how this EWonline Article summed it up:
Lost is asking ''what if?'' What if our actions on this planet counted against some eternal reckoning? How does that possibility change things for you? If that possibility does inspire you to live a better life, then... how? And even before then, what is a ''better life''? Is it doing ''good''? But what is ''good''? Lost doesn't have answers for these questions and the others that they raise — it's just demanding that we ask them and discuss them. Together. Are we? Are you? Am I? Do you even have a choice? 
There is a lot to chew on. There are also many questions left unanswered, some of which aren't really all that important. what is important is the relationships formed during the time these people were alive. they were with each other on the journey, and still are. and they may forever be as far as we know. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Orthodox than I look... Thoughts on Marcion

I recently posted a paper on the Old Testament and was visited by Beowulf, who identifies as a Marcionite. He had some interesting things to say and after researching my books (Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Chrsitianity, and Bart Ehrman's The New Testament) as well as looking at his site and claims, I am finding that I'm much more orthodox than i look. Here's how:

I affirm and intersect with the following historians, all who wrote against Marcion in one way or another:

Irenaeus of Lyons thought that the crown of creation is humanity, and is a free and responsible being. The purpose of our lives is to enjoy an ever-growing communion with our creator, but on the other hand, the human creature is not made from the beginning in is final perfection. Instead, we are guided by God to become the perfect human which is found in Jesus Christ. God's purpose is to make us ever more like the divine, and thus Genesis was no the goal of creation, just it's beginning. so for Irenaeus, there is a fall, but it is a fall upwards.

Clement of Alexandria steps up and mixes the Jewish Law with Gentile Philosophy. he is convinced that there is only one truth since God is one and thus would be the truth and the classical philosophers and prophets were one in the same and were pointing to the ultimate truth of God. the texts have more than one meaning and the literal sense, while important, isn't the only way as the meanings beyond the texts that the truly wise must discover. God cannot be described in human words, only in metaphor and in negative terms, and human language can do no more than point to a reality that is beyond its grasp. pretty post-modern for a dude living around 215 CE huh?

Then up steps Tertullian of Carthage, the heretic hunter and bane of Marcion. he's legalistic and rigid and sets up inflexible doctrines. Anglican Boy would really get a thrill out of this guy's writing cause he's a lawyer, and a really good one at that. so much so that Tertullian despises speculation as he states:
Seek until you find, but once you find, you are to believe. Thereafter, all you have to do is hold to what you have believed. Besides this, you are to believe that there is nothing further to be believed, nor anything else to be sought.
Tertullian and i would not have gotten along. however, he's overwhelming in his case the incarnation stating how a suffering God is one unique to the Judeo-Christian scriptures. we are to seek what God as done and not speculate on what God could do or has in store and we can only do this through the use of the Gospel's and what the Gospels rest on, namely the prophets and the OT. he writes that Jesus and the God of Israel are not only one and the same, but the Christian God is the Jewish God and then resorts to saying how Christians now "own" the OT. i don't like that step, but i do like how informed and knowledgeable Tertullian is of midrash, the Talmud, and the rabbinic literature; not something i see too many church father's having, Marcion included.

In writing against Marcion he askes what good is Marcion's god. The God of the church and the OT made the entire world and all its wonders, whereas Marcion's god has not created a single vegetable.what was Marcion's god doing before the last revelation? Is this love just a quick affair?

thus it is with this type of inflexible logic and mordant irony that Tertullian writes against Marcion, Praxeas, and Demetritus and becomes the "champion of orthodoxy."

then up steps Origen of Alexandria who notes that there are more than one creation story in the bible. he focuses specifically on the two in Genesis, which wasn't really a big deal because the Jewish scholars were writing about this long before Origen gets around to it. the spin he puts on it was that the first creation was purely spiritual, and the second physical. Origen found a God who wants us to return to our spiritual home but yet know the pain and joy of a physical life. in the end, we'll all be reunited in universal reconciliation, since God is love. he even goes as far as to state that even Satan will be saved. there will be judgment, but more in the fact that we must admit that we haven't lived up to our higher ideals, that our potential wasn't fully reached. afterall, Jesus' first call was for us to "repent and believe the kingdom was close at hand." he expounds beautifully on that, where as Marcion had no judgment at all in his theology.

whereas Marcion had a profound dislike towards both Judaism and the material world and thus developed an understanding of Christianity that was both anti-Jewish and anti-material (Gonzalez 61). Jesus had some hidden knowledge or revelation that showed that his God was a God of love whereas the Jewish God was a God of Justice-and arbitrary justice at that. He sought to establish a benevolent God where no acts of genocide, war, or choosing one group over another are attributed to him. just as the fundamentalists decry today, you can't pick and choose, and thus the OT was the word of an inferior god and should not be read nor used as the basis for Christian instruction. Paul and Luke became the core message of Jesus' life; yet even then Marcion rejected or radically reinterpreted the doctrines of creation, incarnation and resurrection; namely Jesus appeared as a grown man during the reign of Tiberius, there is no judgement in his message, and God is absolutely loving and offers free grace. sounds an awful lot like J. Denny Weaver, James Allison, and other adherents to nonviolent atonement.

Marcion may have been onto something, but questions of theodicy are never so easily solved. he seems to miss the "more-than-literal" readings that both Origen and Clement spoke about. he dismisses the incarnation with a docetic model. he is anti-semetic (not that Tertullian or many of the church fathers weren't) but worse, he's anti-material. no love of human emotions or urges has he, he makes Augustine look like a hedonist.

what i read in Beo's writings as well as other "reconstructionist" movements like the Toltec, Gnostic, and Hellenistic writings is a desire to do away with the bad parts of history, and pick out only the good. to say "that wasn't me" and not allow oneself to be implicated in history. but you are. like it or not, if you're white in the US, you're condemned for slavery. if you're male, sexism. if Christian, crusades and "slash-and-burn" fundamentalism. we're not pure. not ever.

 it's no secret that people use all sorts of crap to justify their bad behavior or exploitive practices. God and reason, religion and science are all co-opted to betray our best intentions. 

this is humanity. it's flawed. we're strange and dangerous and we hurt each other. but this is our doing. the desire to hide the nakedness of our greed and our natures in "polite" society on serves to veil the brutal facts of human life from itself. the inevitable hypocrisy which is associated with all collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective humanity an outrage to their conscience.

i think it's in the OT that we get the best insights into the outrage of the human character as well as our surprising redemptive and altruistic intentions. we get stories of resistance and subversive communal living within the limitations of all that it means to be human. of which, Jesus is grounded in and exemplifies. one without the other doesn't work, IMO. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Religions Final Part Three

Can we claim which paths are rabbit trails or authentic? This seems to be the primary concern of the mega-church. A quick test is to look at the measure of love of God, neighbor or self. But how could we really with any integrity? It would be like a climber speaking with authority about paths on the other side of the mountain that he has never been on. The climber may read about these paths in books or have talked to another climber on that particular side. This then, would prove to the climber that all paths seem to be heading to the same place. But any serious climber knows that only those who have climbed the path can speak with authority about where it leads and how it gets there. Once again, to say that there are "other mountains" is a poly-mountain idea and I'm only talking in a mono-mountain context. Nor is it good to assume that all are going up. Taoism seems to state that we should be content with where we are an interact naturally and non-utilitarian with our contexts and those we find in it. The Abrahamic faiths are the ones that seem most concerned about getting to the top and pondering what’s up there. The point being, we should listen to one another and hear what they have to say about their journey.

If people of other faiths want to swap faithful stories of their path and journey up the mountain, then great! In fact, I get a better handle on my faith when I hear these stories. If people of other faiths with whom we are in dialog decide to convert to our path as a result of this sharing, fine! However, conversion is not the ultimate purpose here of interfaith dialogue, sharing the joy and wisdom gleaned from our climbing experience is.

All We Have Is Metaphor 
Religions are like art, poetry, not science. It is after spiritual truths and seeking the best way to live, one that is in tune with a wider and more transcendent reality. I don’t know what to call this, so throughout this paper I have called it God, even though I recognize that other religions don’t have this concept. All we really have is metaphor to describe this experience. Hell, that’s all we have to describe anything! The word apple isn’t the essence of the little red/green/gold thing that grows on trees.

I'm reminded on a Joseph Campbell story about a tribe in Australia whose social order was maintained with the aid of bullroarers which are long flat boards with a couple of slits cut in them and a rope tied at one end. They are swung around over one's head and the low humming sound is other worldly. When the gods were angry the men of the tribe would sound the bullroarers in the woods at night. No one in the tribe knew this of course. The males of the tribe would explain why the gods were angry and what behavior had to change. In the initiation rite of young men into manhood in the tribe is very violent and bloody. Its culmination is the revelation to the boy by the chief priest of "We make the noises."

I believe we do. The noises we make are us trying to attach meaning to the experience of living. Most noises are self-generated and self-interpreted in this model and it seems to be about control. I have no interest in this. My future ministry will be about trying to get behind the buzz of the bullroars and experience the true sounds of the world. Sometimes God is in the thunderstorm, or earthquake, but often God is in the nothing. Just a still small voice in the wilderness. My ministry will be trying to get behind the feedback and attach some meaning to the shared existence of the community I will serve based on the tradition we come out of, namely Christianity. I also naturally tend to look at the similarities between not only my denomination and act ecumenically, but also bring in interfaith dialog. I base this on the shear fact that I share this existence on this planet and it could have been otherwise.

We are made of stardust and tied to the universe. Life on earth is very linked and interconnected. Authoritative claims take away this connection and the church has been a large part of this. So this leads me to think that there's something behind it all... some higher order behind the chaos. I call this something God. Which leads me to a different take on the incarnation: What if we are the incarnated universe trying to figure itself out?

So with that in mind we're called to wrestle and figure it out not make super vague claims like "Jesus is the answer PERIOD" like the mega-church would say. Nor say "There is no god, objective empiricism is the only way to go" like the stalwart atheists do. We are not objective, and while we may have some access to the facts, our brains can’t connect them all as we are very limited. There is an emotional and spiritual side that must be accounted for and atheists often miss this or don’t put enough emphasis on it.

We humans are making noises to try to understand the infinite. We are putting up boundaries on something that cannot be bound and what we place there should only be looked through into the grand divine. I too will look for wisdom where I find it whether in Taoist, Buddhist, Islamic, or one of the other of the world’s great religions. The way I see it, Jesus taught from somewhere between 1 and 3 years. The records we have are spotty at best and completely spun or even fabricated toward a particular editorial slant at worst. Jesus didn’t and couldn’t have taught a comprehensive view and this becomes apparent when Christianity is compared to the vast teachings of the Buddha’s 40 year career.

What I do know is that religion can make all the dogmas and doctrines it wants, the divine won't be contained. It's knocking over fences, crossing property lines. I am compelled to follow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

World Religions Final Part Two

Views of God 
What I now see this dispute boiling down to is a fundamental disagreement on the nature of God. There are at least two different concepts for thinking about God, and both are found in the Bible and the Christian tradition. The first conceptualizes God as a supernatural being “out there” and separate from the world. This being created the world a long time ago and who may from time to time intervene within it, but largely is absent. This doesn’t keep God from demanding conformity and adherence to the Law passed down in the holy writ. In important sense this God is far and distant from our shores, is unchanging and can be fully known and experienced directly but only if the belief is correct and mediated by some hierarchy or holy writ or tradition. This is the God of Supernatural Theism. It is widespread within the Christian tradition and found also in Judaism and Islam, and could it be the majority thought of those who think about God (both believers and non). Some accept the existence of such a being, and some reject it but it is the notion of God as a supernatural being “out there” that is being accepted or rejected. I think that this first notion of God is nice, and served us well but belief in this style of God must be done away with as it cannot serve and only brings harm. It is Biblical yes, but not all of the Bible presents this vision of God. This idea of God is what I hear when conservatives speak. Deconverts from the faith, atheists and agnostics, who I’ve talked to state this model as the type of God they don’t believe in… and neither to I.

The second concept of God in the Christian tradition is quite different. God is the encompassing’ Spirit: we and everything’ that is be in God. God is not “out there” separate from the universe but rather; God is a nonmaterial layer or level or dimension of reality all around us. God is more than the universe yet the universe is in God. This is the concept of God called “panentheism.” God’s self-revelation is given and received in an earthly, worldly, human way. God is never directly present to us in self-revelation, and no one ever had a direct, personal relationship with God. God comes to us and we can know God only indirectly. It is in this indirect way that we come to know and enter into a personal relationship with God. God’s being is so different from our humanity, yet God is in us and through us, so all that we see and all that we are all parts of God yet God is bigger than the sum of all. We also know that people yearn to see God’s face and have some irrefutable evidence, like Moses and even the disciples of Christ, but “No one can see My face and live” God says to Moses and Jesus says “If you have seen me, you have seen my Father.”

Panentheism implies that God is not just close, but in and through everything. We are a part of God, yet God is still separate. God is with us and daily bears our burdens and yet is transcendent. God is with us and in us, in our midst when we pray alone with the doors shut or when two or more are gathered. There is no line between sacred and secular just like at the end of the Gospel of Mark where the curtain is torn in the temple, signifying a God which can’t be boxed, can’t be contained, and in and through all of creation. Therefore I affirm the omnipresence of God, but not the omnipotence of God. I think omnipotence of God was a bad move made in the 14th century by medieval theologians. This raises all sorts of pointless questions like “Can God create a rock so big God can’t lift it?” Instead, I prefer to view God as “omnipotentiality.” This view can be found in Exodus 3:14, right when Moses asks God for God’s name and gets the reply of “YHWH.” This has many possible meanings and for me, they are all true. YHWH could mean “I AM HE WHO IS", “HE WHO CAUSES TO BE,”"I AM WHO AM" or "I AM WHAT I AM" or “I will be what I will become.”

In Exodus 31, Moses asks to see the face of God. God tells Moses to crawl into a cave and God will put ‘his’ hand over the opening and Moses will be able to “See my behind.” This is a literal translation of the Hebrew. A deeper translation would be, “you will see where I was.” Not even Moses could see God in the present. This is a God we get only glimpses of. These highly personal encounters are still filled with mystery and, although we may experience God’s love, justice, spirit, or forgiveness directly, we should never take it for the totality of God.

Communities of God 
Community is a big deal in both Testaments and in all of the world religions we studied this semester. Religions seek to answer the question “how then shall we live?” and each comes up with a different answer as they also define a different problem that spawns that question. Christianity sees that humans have fallen out of relationship with God and need to change it while Buddhism sees the problem as suffering caused by desire from grasping at a world that isn’t there. Taoists see people who are out of tune with their own natures and Islam sees humanity as not being in submission with the will of God. All of these are plausible answers, and depending on how one’s community views life and the problems associated with it, they will use different language to articulate this. I note how each religion never comes out and states that the fundamental problem with the world is that everyone is not like us. It is nowhere in the founding documents or speeches of various religious movements. Islam comes the closest with talk of putting infidels to the sword but they have grace with the “people of the book.” There is a difference between missional and imperial. But what happens when people don’t adopt your faith? What happens when religions come into conflict?

Many Christians, like the mega-church, seek to save people from the fires of hell and feel they do so out of love. However, many of their actions are imperial, which is the very notion I view Jesus as fighting against. Jesus fought against the imperial actions of the Roman Empire as well as a more localized system which dehumanized its own members, namely the Temple System. What I view Jesus teaching primarily, is that there is no such thing as a personal relationship with God without a personal relationship with our fellow human beings.

The driving force behind Christian colonialism is John 14:6. This verse is interpreted as: "I am the (only) way, the (only) truth, and the (only) life, no one (absolutely no one) comes to the Father/God, except through me (by believing specific beliefs that are Christian ).” I liked what we learned in class, that through a panentheistic and Trinitarian view, this verse becomes:
"God is the way, the truth and the life, no one gets to God except through God."

Jesus isn't calling for these sheep to change shepherds; he is trying to get us to recognize that the human family is one flock, with one shepherd. What he is NOT saying is "different strokes for different folks" nor is he saying "anyone can worship the god of one's choice, it's all good, no matter what." Which faiths? They aren't identified. We may surmise that faiths that truly follow the one Shepherd actively promote the love of God, neighbor, and self as Jesus did. Jesus also states that people shouldn't worry about what path others are on. He demonstrates time and time again throughout the Gospels for his disciples to concentrate on walking their own path and offering hospitality to those they meet on along the way. The Good Samaritan parable is the core here image here with answering the question of “who is my neighbor?” with a big and surprising “EVERYONE!”

So given this, it is naive for a practitioner of any faith to claim that theirs is the only "true" path. Religions do this to garner power over those too fearful to think in this way. Now there is a difference between best path for a person to take, so long as this claim is on an individual level or at the very most a tribal level. Becoming deeply rooted in the tradition of the tribe, one is then able to act in a more universal way, as they have a strong sense of identity and are not threatened by other beliefs outside their experience. It is also my hope that these people investigate other religions and not just for the sake of putting their own faith above it or gathering apologetic fodder. There's no shame in this and in fact it leads to a better understanding of our fellow persons. My childhood priest was a Jesuit and stated that one of the best ways you can know your faith is to encounter another. We can see how our faith takes a unique approach to problems and how these intersect, conflict with, or can even be informed by another faith.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Religions Final

this paper was written this year but explores two old posts on the blog. the first being 

Can there be one way to God? and the second To Clarify the Mountain here is my updated take on it, posted over three days. please check back!

World Religions Final

 I am writing this paper on how I will use what I learned in the world religions class in my future ministry. I will have to get creative here as I have always planned on using world religions in my future ministry, specifically Buddhism. The purpose of this paper is to explore how my views of world religions have changed. This paper will be a conversation with my past-self, based on two blog posts I wrote at the beginning of seminary.

The blog post was written on 12/11/07 after reading about how Christianity is the best religion and how ONLY Christianity has the truth. It was written by the pastor of a mega-church my sister was attending. My sister asked me for my thoughts and I responded. It is a rather long post, so I will just hit the highlights in this paper and then see how I relate to it today, after taking my world religion’s class. I will then conclude by how I intend to use world religions in my future ministry.

The Mountain Metaphor 
The mega-church attacked the “mountain metaphor.” The metaphor states that major world religions are like hikers climbing up different sides of a mountain. Each tradition has discovered a unique route for reaching the top. In the case of Christianity and others, they have found a new route off of another (Judaism) established way up the mountain. Now while these hikers are climbing, they cannot necessarily see one another. Individuals within the climbing parties may not even be aware that others are ascending the mountain as they may think they are making the ascent alone. Yet when they reach the top, the climbers are surprised to find one another. Each party has reached the same goal by a different route. I added the caveat to the metaphor that each path adds its own boundaries which define the path, thus taking a deontological ethical view of the groups and stating that all unethical routes cannot reach the top.
The mega-church claimed that this was religious relativism and that not all paths were seeking the top nor defining the top in any way that could be widely agreed upon so, they concluded, it obviously meant that there are different mountains. It is the Christian mountain that is of the most importance as the other mountains were false or didn’t reach as high. I argued back on the basis of relativism is a scientific fact, but now I see the metaphor differently. I still view relativism as an important factor but that was not the basis I should have argued on. I should have argued on the basis of what the mountain represents. In my understanding, the mountain symbolizes earth. All of the different faiths are all on the same mountain and they must learn to get along or the mountain will quickly become an unhappy place. There is an assumption that there is only one mountain since if things were not going well, people could simply find another mountain to be on; one free of the group that troubles them. I would love to find a mountain free of religious fundamentalists; however, this is not the case. Seeing as all the hikers are on the same mountain it presupposes that there is only one context in that the metaphor can operate. We can’t go to another planet; we are forced to figure out how to peacefully coexist with other faiths.

The mega-church countered that the roads are on different mountains as they lead in fundamentally different directions and end on completely different summits. They went so far as to state the summits are different (false) gods. I found it ironic that a Christian church would try this route as this argument by its very nature is polytheistic. There is no accounting for anthropological and theological evolution and history. The argument doesn't take into effect agnostic or “atheistic” faiths like Buddhism or Taoism which do indeed have many deities, but no overarching “creator” of the ultimate. The church also didn’t take into account the gods that came before the Jewish God was ever thought of. By that same argument, we then would still be on the losing side of the argument as our Christian God is actually the Jewish God in three parts which somehow equal one.

I asked in the post as to whether God would allow for different routes, each with its own integrity. A Buddhist may find a way to the top through withdrawal from the world, while a Christian may find it through immersion into the world on behalf of justice. Wouldn't God be in both places if God is everywhere and created everything? The church stated no, there can be only one right way, and that way is the “narrow way” of Jesus. I countered that the routes up the mountain engage different terrain, with different obstacles and challenges, different vistas, and different places of rest. This fact illustrates that God's plan for the world is larger than our human minds can comprehend. Despite significant differences of approach to God, we are all included in God's love, which exceeds beyond our wildest imagination.

My view then and now accounts that God would only speak to people in a language that they would understand, using images pulled from their natural context. In that sense, God is relative. It would make no sense if Jesus came and talked about germ theory or the placebo effect while he was healing people as it would make no sense to them. He, taking the view that Jesus is indeed divine somehow, would have to talk about disease-as-demonic-possession as that is how people in the context understood disease. Maybe he did talk about germ theory and such but because the eye-witnesses had no idea what he was talking about and so it didn’t make it to the Gospels but that is my speculation.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


After three years, today is the day!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Old Find: What does the Old Testament have to offer the Church/Individual

written May 5, 2008, from my second semester. I thought it would be cool to post something from the end of my first year here to see how i match up with it at the end of my last year. surprisingly, i still agree! enjoy!

Discussion Paper: What does the Old Testament have to offer the Church/Individual?

The Old Testament has much to offer the church and humanity in general. This paper will first define what the Old Testament is, make a modern parallel and then explain what it has to offer the modern reader.

The Old Testament is a collection of theological myths and stories from the Israelite nation. These are historical books but not histories. The writers of these stories are reflecting on their history and trying to find both reasons and God’s role in their events. What then could we compare this to? Surely nothing in our modern context would be like this as we’re concerned with facts, not myths!

But we are. I think my first book will be called, The Bible of America; Holy Myths and Fiction of American History. From George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, to the life of a cowboy, we are steeped in myth and urban legends. Stories like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley are American myths. These characters are told to us in our childhood and teach us about what our country holds dear. These stories do have a historical basis, but the myths and folklore add to that basis and bring out what is true about America. We even have myths about our founding fathers! Stories of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams abound, even though we have their original letters that dispel many of these myths. The Old Testament does this same thing for the nation of the Israelites.

The stories we hold tell a lot about us. The fact that we hold stories shows that we’re not too far removed from our ancient brothers and sisters. We try to make sense of the world through stories. Reading the Old Testament this year has shown me that we have some very similar concerns and reactions to our day to day living. The concerns are the same: how to raise a family, how to live “right”, what concerns are worth having, what cultural identity means, will our culture be over run by another and such like. The expressions of those concerns are what separate us from our ancient brothers and sisters. There is also word choice (Bible is patriarchic and largely misogynist), context (we have the internet and are not farmers, etc), history (we Americans were the underdog but now are the empire, Israeli’s were largely the underdog), and other such matters that separate us as well, but the similarities are still amazing to behold.

Some look at the Old Testament and say it only supports the New. I can see the argument here but remind those supporters that the New was written with the Old in mind, not the other way around. Some look at it and see a culture rife with violence and sexism. Turning on American TV, I see the same thing. Our culture is just as violent as theirs, if not more so. Others would say that these people are barbaric and legalistic. I would counter that the complexities of our laws vastly out-weigh the TANAK’s "legalism." We are just as much victims of circumstance as they are. Some look at it and see a bunch of stories with no facts. I would say that the facts don’t always hold the truth. When we see the connection between our ancestors and our modern context, we are engaged in a holy activity. We recognize our connection to the past in hopes of figuring out our future. We are then able to see God’s work in both.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LTS Senior Skit

here is our senior skit, i'm in there a few times. it was written by my good friend KT (the narrator) and really gives a flavor of our seminary. lots of inside jokes, but still some good stuff. enjoy!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I dunno, but it has something to to with race.

I was walking my Sonny and Eve just the other day and something strange happened. i'm used to it. i get into strange conversations all the time and have random encounters walking around Lancaster. It's really quite fun and interesting! this recent encounter was not fun but it is interesting. first, some set up:

my dog Sonny is a 75lb greyhound who is really friendly. often when we're walking around he does this little side-to-side dance and pulls up his teeth in a "friendly smile." many people are put off by this as Sonny forgets that 2" fangs aren't endearing to humans. he's frightened many people on our walks so i try to avoid this as much as possible on our walks.

which brings me to our story for today: i was walking down the street and saw an African-American woman on her cell-phone sitting on some steps to my right. I notice Sonny start into his little "YAY! PEOPLE!" greeting dance and decide to push him over so he's walking on the curb, well away from the woman who is chatting away, facing the opposite direction. the last thing i wanted was her to turn around into a giant, gapping dawg maw. i mean do you really wanna turn and see THIS?! -->

so i pass the woman and hear her say something, but figure it's to the person who she's on the phone with. I walk a few more steps and she says, "I'm TALKING to you!" I glance back over my shoulder and she's staring right at me. I'm a bit shocked. so i say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were on the phone, you were talking to me?"

she states into her phone, "I'm gonna have to call you back." then to me, "Yeah. I SAID you too good to share the sidewalk with a black person?!"

i'm befuddled. i'm confused. i'm shocked. i don't get it. so i said, "Umm... no. I just didn't want him to startle you, you were on the phone after al..."


"?" my face says as I'm literally too stunned for words.... "I...."

"That is a stereotype you know." she states.

"Well... every black person I know has a dog save for one family, but they just moved in. That doesn't make any sense..." i reply.

"MMMM-HMMM.." She states with a head-wiggle and an angry look on her face.

i pause, she still looks pissed, i feel my flight-response kick in and i say, "well, i'm sorry for the offense. I didn't mean anything. you take care now." and i walk away.

She gets up and walks across the street, dialing on her cell phone.

i have no idea what happened here, but i'm pretty sure it has something to do with race. in hindsight i could have said, "Oh sorry, would you like to pet him?" or just launch into funny things about him and his stats like "he was a racer in Daytona Beach FL, rescued from Greyhound Welfare, he's 8 and really likes people. he also does this funny "roach" thing where i think he's beaming up the mother ship. This is my daughter Eve, she's 13 months, and what's your name?"

i read in YES! magazine how one youth program that focuses on race actually had to teach the youth the stereotypes so that they could then teach them how to overcome them. i thought this was really stupid and backwards, but after this encounter i think they might be right.

how would you responded? what was going on here? any insights? helpful responses?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Christology of John 10:11-15

recently i posted Christological Categories and now i would like to show how these would go together while reading the bible. This is taken from my paper for class, i hope it shows how to use these categories as a means of interpretation.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the Christology in the passage of John 10: 11-15. I will explain how I will be reading this passage, what the basic image of Jesus is in the passage and how it makes me feel. I will then determine what doctrines of the atonement and person of Christ that would be compatible with this image.
The method of exploring this scripture is a new one for me since coming to seminary. I will be operating on a purely subjective methodology that will focus solely on the image presented and my reactions to it. This means no looking into the literary analysis or putting the text through the critical method. I will be operating on a purely subjective methodology that will focus solely on the image presented and my reactions to it. This is to help focus my thoughts and feelings in a Lectio Divina style meditation on this passages and what associations it brings up to the readings that were assigned for class.
Thoughts and Feelings
            On my first reading of the passage, I felt secure, taken care of. I would hope to be in this flock and that I would be protected by this shepherd. Then I started thinking “What the hell kind of shepherd is this?! I don’t want the shepherd to die for the sheep; I want him to beat the snot out of the wolf with his crooked stick! Where was he during the wolf attack? Does he not interview well if the hired help runs away? Doesn’t seem like a good shepherd to me!” Then I started noticing the details of the story and image.
            Jesus is not just a shepherd but a “good” one. There is a hired hand there but he had no ownership of the sheep and ran away when trouble started. Jesus not only owns the sheep but cares for them as well. This suggests that Jesus is more than “just” a shepherd but THE shepherd, as this is a popular description of God and God’ relationship with Israel. The flock is scattered and a wolf has attacked, apparently not while the “good shepherd” was around but instead when the hired hand was around, who allowed the attack to happen and ran off to save his own hide. Unlike that hired hand, the good shepherd will lay down his life, meaning he may lose, but he will fight to the death. It doesn’t say that the shepherd will win against the wolf or that the flock will be brought together, but there is a sense of commitment and relationship between the sheep and shepherd.
            Jesus criticizes the Pharisees just before this passage for not being good leaders and bringing great harm to the people.  Jesus condemns them as bad shepherds – shepherds who hurt the flock. The Pharisees then, according the author of John, were these cowardly shepherds who wanted the wage but were unwilling to pay the price. I am taking ministerial ethics and this reminds me about spiritual abuse and how to cope with the damage spiritual leaders can leave. These abuses come from self-serving pastors with bad boundaries, or boundaries that only serve themselves. A spiritual leader who’s looking out for him or herself will not make sacrifices because it costs them something. It would be akin to a pastor getting rave reviews and having the people feel that they are cared for, but at the first sign of an external threat, like a financial crisis the pastor splits. Jesus isn’t looking out for himself, he’s looking out for us and so he makes sacrifices that cost him everything.
            When I understand the phrase in that context with those considerations, I am more open to it. I feel safe or at least safer in comparison to the hired hand. A tragedy has befallen the flock, a traditional metaphor for Israel and the leadership that was around at the time was not enough and proved to be self-serving. The owner is now gathering the flock and repairing the harmed caused. I imagine Christ as a shepherd knowing each of his sheep by name, checking each sheep at the end of the day, inspecting and bandaging all the places where they are wounded.  He remembers that and comes back to check and mend as often as they need it. This image is one of total care and protection.
Atonement and Christological Implications
            John 10 is a sacrificial model. It is pretty straight forward as it is said twice that the “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (15:11,15). To whom or to what and why is uncertain. Presumably to the wolf or maybe the whole life is spent tending to the sheep, and therefore that is what is meant by laying down one’s life. It could be said that pastors lay down their life for the wider church as that is what they will spend most of their life doing. In this understanding, postal carriers would lay down their lives for the delivery of mail to use another example. This would be akin to someone who would dedicate their life (give up in a sense) to a cause, like Saving Private Ryan, for example. I do not think that is what the passage is directly point to, although it is part of it.
            The problem is not that humanity needs to be bought back from someone nor that victory will be gained over the wolf. The sheep are the victims in the story as those who were hired to watch over the flock did not. The model fits with the “Classical” model (Barrett para 2). In this model Jesus’ death on the cross atones for human sinfulness. I initially thought that the Latin view the atonement would be made for the sins of the leadership/hired hand for letting the wolf attack the flock and scatter them and Jesus, like God, desires to maintain order and works to take away the sin that has happened (Barrett para 2). However, the hirelings run and are never mentioned again. It is purely for the sheep's sake (with no mention of the sheep's sin) that is the focus and the feeling is one of fighting evil forces, no reparations for sin. The sheep are known and wanted by their owner and this is a “compelling affirmation of belonging” (McGrath 8). The security is total while there has been an acknowledgement that tragedy has happened; the image given is one of dedication and security. Much like the picture On the Lawn by Amedeo Bocchi as described by Alister McGrath:
What is the broader context? Where exactly is the lawn? What lies beyond the picture’s margins? We have no idea. The threat of war may loom. Troops may be on the move. Economic recession may have gripped the nation. Yet here, frozen by the artist, is an image of personal security and acceptance. Whatever the context may be, this child is enfolded and protected. She is loved, accepted and wanted (9).
This is the same feeling I get from the passage. The people are experiencing their religious leaders as out for themselves, they feel taken advantage of, scattered and divided and used. Yet here is Jesus saying that they are wanted and that they belong to his flock and harm will not befall them again as he will lay it all on the line. In fact, Jesus is the ideal shepherd much like the images of God that can be found in Ezekiel as well as many Psalms (most notably Psalm 23). This would seem to point to the atonement theory of Anselm.
            In Anselm’s theory, a new relationship is forged between God and the world and it is God who acts as both the reconciler and the reconciled (Aulen 30). In this image, Jesus is not just the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) but the Shepherd and therefore the fighter, the victor over the wolf, however, there is no mention of whether the wolf would be defeated or not, thus the metaphor isn't completely Classical, but more on this later.
              In John's understanding, God has come down and seeks to put together what humankind has torn apart. Jesus as the Shepherd, namely God, points to either an Antiochen or Alexandrian view of Christ. With Jesus using shepherd imagery and that image being closely linked to God, I believe rules out Ebionism. The reference to Jesus dying for the flock rules out Docetism as a bodily death must happen. Given that God tends the flock and would be an ideal shepherd, I believe this points more to an Alexandrian understanding than an Antiochen as the divinity of Christ would be the governing principle. The Antiochen model divides up the actions of humanity and divinity, so speaking about being a shepherd would be very human, but the long tradition of God as shepherd leads me to regard the divinity dominating the humanity of Jesus in this statement.  
Another Consideration
            The image in John is one of safety and security. It is one of gathering and reconciliation out of the love God has for his sheep. Jesus seeks to do what the religious authorities could not do (and what the Zealot, Essene, and Rabbinic movements also claimed). However, the image doesn't fully get the job done. So I do have another interpretation of this image if I take into account that the wolf could be a symbol for Rome. 
          In the myth of Romulus and Remus, a she-wolf suckles the boys who go on to found Rome. In this understanding, Jesus is protecting the flock, namely the simple agrarian farmers of the Galilee from the Romans since the Temple authorities could not protect from oppression and invasion. Jesus will give up his life for the flock while the hired hands run away. There is no concept or reference of the resurrection in this statement, although given the rest of John’s gospel it is implied in the narrative arch. This understanding is plausible as well yet changes the atonement model from sacrificial to the empathic model, where Jesus provides a powerfully moving manifestation of the extent and depth of God’s love for humanity (Barrett para 4). The Christology remains Alexandrian in terms, as the image of God as Shepherd is too strong to be ignored.
            I have explored two possible meanings for the image presented in John 10. I am normally drawn to Jesus as political revolutionary but challenged myself to explore another mode of interpretation. I find that both fit in this instance. While I prefer the political revolutionary, I see how the Christus Victor model cannot be avoided here due to the Gospel of John’s view that everything Jesus says or does is somehow related to his death. The laying down of the life can be interpreted as Jesus willing to go and fight and sacrifice himself for the good of the flock  or due to the fact that he knows that Rome will kill him for his words and desire to unite the flock against the imperial colonizers. Reading with both images in mind help provide a fuller understanding of how people can approach the same text and come away with different thoughts and feelings. This paper was fun to write and was a useful exercise. It has helped me respect the different Christologies.

Works Cited

Aulen, Gustaf. Christus Victor: A Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement. Eugene Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 1931.

Barrett, Lee. "Theories of Atonement (The Work of Christ)." Class Handout (March 22, 2010).

McGrath, Alister. Redemption. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

What We Could Be...

why we're not:

What Should We Do About that Moon? by Hafiz

A wine bottle fell from a wagon and broke open in a field.

that night one hundred beetles and all their cousins gathered.

and did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby
and began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.

Then the "night candle" rose into the sky
and one drunk creature, laying down his instrument,
said to his friend--for no apparent reason,

"What should we do about that moon?"

Seems to Hafiz
most everyone has laid aside the music

tackling such profoundly useless questions.

Some Thoughts
let's take today and just be silly. try not to be offended, laugh instead. crank the radio before dinner and have a dance party and invite others to dance with you. friend and family will think you have lost your mind, but they will soon join in and remember the taste of what it means to be alive and outside of expected routine.

don't worry, the world won't fall apart while you're doing this.

there will still be bigots, racists, fundamentalists, and they won't take over while your guard is down.

there will still be flowers, trees, coo'n babies, and other good things too, they won't go away during this time.

so dance! dance and be silly and enjoy the absurdity of life and it's preciousness. who knows? maybe this time will make it more so.