Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Birthday Meme

Via LutherPunk

The Rules:
1) Go to Wikipedia
2) In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3) List three events that happened on your birthday
4) List two important birthdays and one death
5) One holiday or observance (if any)

Here are my answers:

Three events that (may or may not have) happened on my birthday are:
1) 445 BC - Ezra reads the Book of the Law to the Israelites in Jerusalem
2) 1517 - Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg
3) 1892 - Arthur Conan Doyle publishes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Two important birthdays and one death:
1) 1887 - Chiang Kai-shek, Nationalist Chinese leader, former Republic of China president (d. 1975)
2) 1963 - Fred McGriff, baseball player
1) 1926 - Harry Houdini, Hungarian-born magician (b. 1874)

Holidays and observances
1) Reformation Day

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Christ the King

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
-John 18:33-38

My wife read an essay on Fundamentalism today. One of the five main points of Christian Fundamentalism is belief in a 1000 year reign of Christ on earth with the saints following the second coming. She sent me an e-mail at work asking, "Do you believe in the 1000 year reign."

Of course, I couldn't give a simple answer like "no" to this but had to go into my understanding of the symbolism of revelation, the apocalyptic imagination of the Old Testament prophets and the meaning of the kingdom of God. Valiantly wading through all this, she pressed the question, "So in what way are we reigning now?"

I gave her my thoughts on the hiddenness of the kingdom and the lordship of Christ, but I have to admit that it's not a simple question. Then while I was at lunch it dawned on me that this Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. So many of you have probably also been contemplating this topic, right?

So, how do you view the reign of Christ, present and future?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On the Basis of the Breads

As I've been trying to learn Greek, one of the things I've been doing is trying to regularly read a passage from the New Testament. To this point I've been doing this just to get comfortable pronouncing the Greek, since I hadn't had either the grammar or the vocabulary to quite make out what I've been reading. But slowly, the lights are starting to come on. According to the text book I'm using, I ought to know about 70 percent of the words now.

Last night as I was reading I came across the phrase "epi tois artois". Since epi is a word that's been giving me trouble, I slowed down to figure out what that was saying. So I parsed it out, "epi followed by a dative is...'on the basis of'". And then I looked, "on the basis of the breads"??? I try not to pay attention to what passage I'm reading, but here I looked it up.

"for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened"
-Mark 6:52

Strange book, the Bible.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The New and Living Way

I started listening to Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book today. Thirty minutes in, I'm finding it to be full of great insights, the first of which came together with this week's lectionary texts for me.

Peterson begins his book with a story about his grandson Hans. Seven-year-old Hans had just been given a New Testament as a first communion gift. Though he couldn't read, he sat and looked at the book reverently. He was, Peterson says, "honoring in a most precious way this book but without awareness that it has anything to do with either the lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich he has just eaten or the museum he is about to visit, oblivious to his grandmother next to him: Hans 'reading' his Bible. A parable."

I listened to this shortly after having read this week's lectionary texts. I was wondering very curiously what my pastor will do with this week's texts. Having recently studied the book of Daniel, and apocalyptic texts more generally, I felt like I knew pretty well what these readings were about, what tied them together, but it's not the kind of thing you hear very often in a Sunday sermon.

But how deep was my understanding?

From Daniel 12:1 ("At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise."), I was summoned into the apocalyptic imagination. I've become convinced recently that the Gospel is intrinsically apocalyptic. It's all about God breaking in to the world to bring history to it fulfillment.

So as I read the text from Hebrews, I was looking for this message. It begins with some teaching about Christ as our high priest and moves on to an exhortation to enter by "the new and living way he opened for us". With enough force I could stretch that into the apocalyptic message I was looking for, but it wasn't quite natural. Then, there it was, in 10:25, "and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Check.

And, of course, the gospel reading this week is Mark's little apocalypse. So I was confident that I had grasped the meaning of the texts, but I couldn't imagine my pastor preaching an apocalyptic sermon.

But when I listened to Eugene Peterson's "parable" it hit me. In my "understanding" of the week's texts I hadn't really asked myself what it had to do with the lettuce sandwich I had just eaten or the museum I was about to visit.

So I went back to the texts, and there it was. Earlier I had read the Hebrews passage as saying, "Yada yada yada ... and all the more as you see the Day approaching." But the "yada yada yada" was the important part. It was telling me what all of this message about the inbreaking kingdom of God has to do with the lettuce sandwhich and the museum.
Therefore, my friends,...let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This is the meat of the text, to be savored and taught by.

I'm always very suscpicious of people who are quick to say that Christianity isn't about doctrine or even proclamation but about the way we live with one another. I think it sells Christianity short. But if the doctrine and the proclamation aren't leading us to this new way of living with one another, they are nothing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Bible to eat.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Evidence and Existence

Yesterday on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" one of the topics was "evidence for and against the existence of Bigfoot." "Bigfoot" wasn't at all what I was expecting to follow that introductory phrase. Forgetting that it was "Science Friday" I expected to hear "evidence for and against the existence of God" though I would have probably been annoyed. It got me thinking about that.

Generally, I think that there can be NO evidence for or against the existence of God. As a matter of principle, there can be no "evidence against" the existence of anything, including Bigfoot. But what about evidence for existence? The idea of "evidence" for the existence of God seems to me to involve either a misunderstand of who God is or a misunderstanding of what evidence is, at least as applied to existence.

Evidence as applied to existence is an inherently scientific construct. It is based on the physical -- examining the physical to see what has effected it physically. God on the other hand is other than physical. I don't mean to say that God is "supernatural" and thereby divorce God from the physical world, but rather to say that God acts in the physical world in non-physical ways (though perhaps sometimes through the physical and with the Incarnation as an obvious exception).

An analogy.... This summer as I was driving around the country, I came across a sign that said "high winds may exist". I remarked to my wife what a delightfully philosophic statement this was. I mean, in what way can you say that winds exist? Can you look closely and find wind? Can you hold it? If you examine the air in the presence of wind all you'll find is the particles of air that were there before the wind came, and they're not even all moving in the direction of the wind. So does wind exist?

This analogy breaks down quickly, of course, because while wind is a secondary effect of the physical, I would say that the physical is a secondary effect of God, but it kind of captures what I was thinking. People are far too ready to see physical explanations of what God does as evidence against God's existence.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prayer and Life

Tonight I learned what very well may be the most important thing I've ever learned about prayer, and I learned it in one sentence. I'll give you two for context.
We pray from the same base as we live. Our prayer reflects the way in which we respond to life itself, and so our prayer can only be as good as the way we live.
-Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict

I'd be a bit surprised if this hit you the way it hit me, but for me this was one of those things that as soon as I read the first sentence above I said to myself, "Of course! That's what I've been overlooking."

I tend to struggle with prayer, by which I mean the oratory kind of prayer. I can't sit myself down and speak to God. It just doesn't go well. And from what I gather, this is a common experience. If Esther de Waal's insight is correct, and I think it is, this is likely because we (those of us with this struggle) live a life relatively free of God for 23 hours and then expect to be able to sit down and commune with God in the other hour.

Actually, that's not quite my problem (and probably not quite anyone else's either). I possibly spend more time thinking about God than anyone I know. What I fail to do, or at least fail to do consistently, is relate my "secular" activities to God. Take cooking for example. I like to cook, but I don't think about God while I'm cooking. Yet if you think about it there's a really deep connection there.

And so I have this result. Lectio divina really clicks for me as a form of prayer. I open the Bible. I listen for God's voice. I "hear God's voice" (I'm reluctant to say that too strongly). I respond. This works for me. But I have trouble integrating my personal life into prayer. Trouble is, I've been approaching prayer "from above".

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

20 Books

Ben Myers at Faith and Theology started a tidal wave by posting a list of the 20 books that have most influenced his theology. I can't pass up a chance to make a list of books.

Whne I read some of the other lists I thought, "Man, some of these guys are pretentious." Then I made my own list, and I had to think, "Man, this guy is pretentious too, but perhaps not as well read as the others." Anyway, here's my list:

20. The Kabir Books translated by Robert Bly
19. On Earth as in Heaven by Dorothee Soelle
18. Confessions by St. Augustine
17. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
16. God For Us by Catherine Mowry Lacugna
15. Eyes Remade for Wonder by Lawrence Kushner
14. A Christological Catechism by Joseph Fitzmyer
13. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky
12. Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulen
11. The Rule of St. Benedict
10. Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
9. The Nature of Doctrine by George Lindbeck
8. Lutheranism by Eric Gritsch and Robert Jenson
7. On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde
6. Mysterium Paschale by Hans urs von Balthasar
5. Lectures on Galatians by Martin Luther
4. For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann
3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
2. Getting to Know Jesus by George MacDonald
1. Baptized, We Live by Daniel Erlander