Brother of Jesus, Friend of God

Luke Timothy Johnson, Brother of Jesus Friend of God: Studies in the Letter of James. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004. 263 pgs.

More studies in James, for the same reason as the last review I did of such a book. This time, however, I had a much better idea of what I was getting into. Johnson is an author I have read several times before. The first book I read by him was his commentary on Luke in the "Sacra Pagina" series. It was for an assignment in my introduction to Christianity course in my undergrad at UofA, and it was one of the books I used that was not on the recommended reading list. It was also the best commentary on Luke that I used, and remains so to this day. Next I came across his Writings of the New Testament. This turned out to be another excellent volume. To cut the story short, my history with reading Johnson meant that I was quite happy to find this book on James in the course of choosing material for this study.

Brother of Jesus is not, however, a commentary. It is a series of essay on James which cover a wide range of topics beginning with the (oh, so common) issues of canonicity, authorship, and dating and moving on to several much more interesting studies such as: The use of Leviticus 19 in James, the mirror of remembrance, and taciturnity and true religion (among others). Through the course of the book, though not a commentary, Johnson seeks to provide a fairly complete exploration of major issues in James, and he succeeds admirably in this goal.

Now, if I had been reading this book for academic purposes I would likely have been very glad to have the first five essays in this book. They cover the history of interpretation, the book's reception in the early church, its history specifically in the Greek and Latin early churches, and an analysis of the social world of James based on literary and historical reconstruction. Since I was not reading this book for academic purposes but, rather, for both pleasure and bible study purposes, these essays dragged on quite a bit longer than was strictly necessary. Though interesting in their own right, the reader would not be handicapped in understanding later chapters by skipping most of these (maybe just read the survey of the history of interpretation of James, the first essay).

Despite the slow beginning Johnson does not disappoint. As biblical, cultural, and theological analysis, it is as good as the rest of his work that I have read. That is to say, he provides interesting and thorough analysis of several specific issues in James. He offers eye-opening insights into several points of theology and, most of all, he brings the book to life. I can honestly say that my reading of James has never been so rich nor deep. Of particular interest was the way in which Johnson continually shifts the reader away from the common focus on James 2:14-26 (Faith and Works, or deeds as some translations put it, vs. Paul's teaching on the same thing) and towards what he views as the proper center of the book: James 4:4 and surrounding verses on the theme of "Friendship with God".

If your interested in a deeper and fuller view of James and what he has to say to us, look no further. Johnson delivers. Read and enjoy.

One more thing though. In his epilogue, entitled "The Importance of James for Theology," Johnson adds this telling point, drawn from a combination of James main theme of friendship with God and several sub-themes, including proper language (or use of the tongue) and proper attitudes towards wealth and earthly possessions:
"The church ought always to be the strongest and most convincing critic of this 'way of the world.' The church, both in its speech and in its practice, ought to represent 'friendship with God' in its rejection of consumerism and commodification. But it is a serious question whether the church today - at least in those places where capitalism reigns supreme - can exercise the prophetic voice to which James summons it. Is not the church itself so compromised by its own embrace of commercial language and practice - if not always in strictly monetary terms, certainly in terms of its zeal for program over presence, for success over fruitfulness, for influence over truthful witness - that the language of James needs first to be turned toward the church itself for self-examination?"

Got me thinking. Why do we always try to 'sell Christianity'?


Sick and Tired

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. Seriously. The books all tell you that babies will get sick 4-8 times in their first winter. What they don't tell you is that this means you will also get sick 4-8 times in their first winter.

Kristina, Hannah, and I seem to be in a cycle of passing colds and flus back and forth. Last night, around 5am, I had to gently lift my lungs up from the floor, where I had coughed them out in my sleep, and put them back in my chest so that I could go take care of Hannah who was crying in her crib. She didn't go back to sleep for an hour and a half. And I still haven't been able to clean up the carpet. I think we are going to have to get professionals for that.


Kristina and I are reading a devotional together now, since we finished Wangerin's book on the passion. It is called Wings of Healing. It was written in 1927 by J. Wilmer Gresham, an Episcopal minister, and it has been quite good. Yesterday we read an entry entitled "Take Away the Pain"

"The cry of man's anguish went up to God:
'Lord, take away pain -
The shadow that darkens the world Thou hast
The close, coiling chain

That strangles the heart; the burden that weighs
On wings that would soar.
Lord, take away pain from the world Thou hast
made -
That it may love The the more.'

Then answered the Lord to the cry of the world:
'Shall I take away pain
And with it the power of the soul to endure,
Made strong by the strain?

Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart,
And sacrifice high?
Will you lose all your heroes that life from the fire
White brows to the sky?

Shall I take away love that redeems at a price
And smiles at its loss?
Can ye spare from the lives that would climb
unto mine
The Christ on His Cross?"

Gresham goes on to reflect on the "moral uses of dark things." In the words of Shakespeare, "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

"Dark things are more than tests of our powers. They are possible additions to our resources. We drink the blood of our crosses and are vitalized by the pain we defeat. By quiet patience, by strong fighting, by persistent strength, the very fiber of life itself, out of the dark things that challenge us. We climb the steep ascent of heaven through peril, toil, and pain."

Though I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, I pray that I would find strength in the Lord in the midst of this, and all, my trials. I pray that I will always be thankful, even, or especially, for hard times. Besides, at least I have a wonderful wife and daughter to pass illnesses between. And I think giving my lungs some air has cleared up my cough a little. God is great!


The Book that James Wrote

Earl F. Palmer, The Book That James Wrote, Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 1997. 90pgs.

I am currently doing a study in James with a friend, and so a couple weeks ago I dropped by the Regent bookstore and library to get some books on the subject. I decided to buy two, and then see what the library had to offer. Usually, when I am buying books on a subject, rather than getting specific books or specific authors, I talk to the people at the bookstore and get their recommendations. They tend to be good. And that is how I came to have, and read, Earl Palmer's The Book That James Wrote.

This short book is a kind of commentary on, or exploration of, the book of James (I know, your shocked). Palmer approaches James as a book written by a pastor seeking to give sound advice and wisdom from within the Jesus tradition. Palmer pictures James as a man throwing stones into a lake, and watching as the waves ripple around the lake. James' themes interact, overlap, and repeat, all in good Jewish fashion. Within this, Palmer pulls out three major themes which James circles around: Faith (what true faith is, and what it means to have it), God (who He is, and how we can understand Him better), and pastoral advice that comes, largely, out of these first two themes.

Palmer begins his book with several short introductory chapters explore the place where this book was written (Jerusalem), who it was written to, its style, and its introduction. From there, the majority of the book (the last three chapters) explore James' three main themes.

Palmer writes in a style I have always found frustrating. Its a bit like reading Henri Nouwen. He is brief, straightforward, and simple. None of those are bad things. My reaction, nearly every time I read a book such as Palmer's, is this: when reading books in this style I feel like the author is not saying enough, or is too simple, or is making something seem deep when it really isn't. My struggle with that is that this reaction can have two sources, and they are difficult to distinguish. On the hand, it may be accurate. I could really be holding a book which is a waste of time. Or, I could be holding a book which is just beyond my experience. So, the simple and straightforward writing appears overly simple and brief to me not because it is, but because I am failing to understand and relate to the points being made. This second reaction is what I have found to be true with Henri Nouwen. Nouwen is always highly recommended, so I read a bunch of his books in my undergrad, and continually wondered why he got such good reviews. However, as I grew older, had new experiences, and specifically as I began in ministry, Nouwen became more and more helpful. But other than waiting and reading the book again, how can one tell the difference between these two sources of my reaction? I have no concrete answer to this. Partly, I rely on the advice of others; if lots of people think the book amazing, then I am probably missing something. Partly, I try to examine my reactions more deeply. Was there some part of the book that did seem to strike home? Is that an indication that the rest was badly written, or that I am not ready for the rest? And I can answer that question by comparing the different sections.

So, which is this book by Palmer? I think its a bit of both. Some of his sections are indeed simple and short. They are included, I believe, merely because Palmer had to say something about each verse, but he did not, in fact, have very much to say. However, there is some gold in this book. Particularly chapter 8, on James' pastoral advice, was excellent. This is likely because this is the section closest to Palmer's own heart, as he is a pastor in Seattle.

This may be a good place for some to start in studying the book of James. However, if you have thought deeply about the epistle before, or if you are used to reading literature on biblical writings, you will probably find this book disappointing.


Robert J. Sawyer, Wake, Viking Canada, 2009. 356 pgs.

Here we have one of Canada's most successful authors. Sawyer has written 19 novels, and numerous short stories. He has won over 40 awards for his writing, including all three of the top SF awards available (Hugo, Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award). He is the author of FlashForward which is now a popular TV series in its first season. Personally, I have read and enjoyed quite a few of his books, beginning with Calculating God and moving on from there.

Wake is the first book in a planned trilogy (which I didn't find out until after I had started the book... I normally hate to read series before they are completed, because I tend to get into them and then they require patience; and while I am an incredibly patient person, I hate waiting! It's so frustrating!) which explore consciousness and being. This particular novel follows four story-lines (though the first two take up the majority of the novel): the story of a blind girl, Caitlin, who gets a an implant that, while intended to restore her vision, intially allows her to see the web. The story of a being growing on the web that, in interacting with this blind girl, is stimulated into consciousness and learning. The story of an ape hybrid and the researchers working with it as it proves to be the world's smartest primate. Finally, the story of an outbreak of deadly bird-flu in China which results in massive government censorship and the death of thousands of people.

All three of these stories explore the consequences of changes which effect society, focusing on the reactions of humanity to these changes. Upon seeing the amazing results of Caitlin's implant, her doctor/researcher, Dr. Kuroda, is immediately concerned with patents and making money. When the being on the web is discovered, the adults do not realize what it is and are wary that this might be some NSA or CIA secret they have stumbled upon; Caitlin, understandably worried about the reactions people would have to the truth, hides this new found being. Meanwhile, the reaction to the ape is that he ought to be sterilized or castrated, and in China information is prevented not from going out, but from getting in.

As a polemical exploration of change, consciousness, being, and our reactions to these things, Sawyer's book is thought provoking and well done. Personality conflicts bring out different sides of the issues and add excitement to the narrative, but they are not what the book is really about. I think it is fair to say that the real focus of the book is just on how amazing science and technology are.

Sadly, as a narrative, the book had some fairly glaring weaknesses. The stories themselves fail to link together in any meaningful way, other than the fact that they explore similar topics. Furthermore, the personality conflicts and technological events, while interesting, fail to appropriately fuel the novel. The descriptions themselves, of a blind girl learning to see, and of a new being emerging on the internet, quickly change from being provocative to repetitive and then to boring. Now, I know that this is the first book of a trilogy, so presumably conclusions are yet to come; but I still hoped for some kind of ending to this book, and there isn't one. The book ends where any chapter might have; its a natural enough break, but not and ending.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but if you haven't read Sawyer, read something else first. Also, maybe wait until the rest of the series comes out. The only exception is for SF fans. If you are an SF fan, then by all means, pick it up. You will enjoy it.


Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Back Bay Books, 2005. 286pgs.

The first time I heard of Malcolm Gladwell was when I got my brother's Christmas wish list this year. On it were two books by this guys, What the Dog Saw and The Outliers. I had no idea what these books were, and I thought the titles rather strange, but I like getting people books as gifts, so I headed off to Chapters to take a look. When I got there, the first book I found by Gladwell was this one... and I was significantly less than impressed. It was my shallowness again, my 'Blink' judgement. Here we have a book with an all white cover, designed to look professional and business like, and look at that subtitle! The power of thinking without thinking? Sounds like some lame self-help book that suckers buy because they want a shortcut through the hard work of life. Still, they were the only books on my brother's list, so I picked up What the Dog Saw and figured I would never give Gladwell another thought. Little did I know that Kristina, who is not quite so prone to judge a book by its cover, actually looked inside some of these books (what a revolutionary concept!). Having done that, she came to the exact opposite conclusion that I did, thought I would like the books, and got me What the Dog Saw for Christmas. You know when you open a present, and your trying your best to smile even though your disappointed, and the conflicting emotions turn your face into a kind of grimace? Yeah... Kristina was quick to explain why she bought the book, and I decided to give it a chance. Since then, I have bought every book Gladwell has written, and Kristina and I are reading them all together. 3 Down, only The Tipping Point left to go (which we have now started, and are continuing to enjoy).

Blink, Gladwell's second book, examines snap judgments and (though he never uses the word himself) intuition. In his words, he wants to explore the first 2 seconds, when we decide much more than we realize (about people, objects, decisions, etc.). Gladwell, in his typical fashion, begins with an interesting story that illustrates his points and then gives us his outline. He lays out 3 tasks which he hopes to accomplish in this book. 1. "To convince you of a simple fact: decision made very quickly can be every bit as good as decision made cautiously and deliberately." (14) 2. Answering the question: "when should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them?" (15) 3. "To Convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled." (16) In order to accomplish these tasks, Gladwell takes the reader through numerous situations, from predicting the success and failure of marriages with Gottmann, to what we can learn from someone's bedroom, from judging the authenticy of ancient statues to shoot-outs in the Bronx, and from electing bad presidents to winning (and losing) war games which cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Gladwell introduces "Thin Slicing" which is the idea that our brains can extract an extraordinary amount of information from very small pieces, or thin slices, of experience. He then explores how this thin-slicing can go wrong because of our unconscious prejudices, and how we can educate ourselves to listen with our eyers.

What is so enjoyable about reading Gladwell is the way he constructs his arguments. First, Gladwell tells a story. The story is always interesting, puzzling, and involves some questions concerning his topic which are difficult to answer. Then, drawing upon multiple fields and experts in them, he constructs a thorough explanation and answer to the initial story he set out. His arguments, more than seeking to convince (though of course they do that), seek to explain and then rely on their own clarity, coherence, and compelling nature to convince the reader. I never feel like I am being beat over the head with an idea; instead, I feel like I am being led to a discovery, and what I am discovering usually makes a lot of sense.

As well as style, Gladwell doesn't just make his points; he also encourages us to do something with them. Thus, we come to the end of his book and Gladwell encourages the reader to take into account how snap judgments, thin slicing, and the first 2 seconds of an encounter affect our actions and life, and then take control of those moments. Rather than falling completely on the side of 'trust your instinct' or 'slow and steady, think it through' Gladwell recommends a balance.

Perhaps the most striking section for me was two contrasting police stories. In the first, the story that goes so very wrong, 4 officers new to the drug squad and patrolling the Bronx at midnight see an African-American standing in a doorway and peering out into the street. To them, he looks like a point man and lookout for a robbery in progress, so they park the car and approach him. Meanwhile, the man at the doorway is just getting some fresh air, doesn't speak English very well and doesn't understand what is going on. Reacting in fear he turns to run, and, upon getting to the door, reaches into his pocket. The officers, giving chase, think they see a gun, and shoot him 41 times. Brutal, but before you judge, read the book. In contrast, Gladwell also tells the story of another, more experienced and older, police officer chasing 14 year old gang member. This kid actually does have a gun, and the officer, his own pistol in hand, watches, in what he describes as slow motion, as the kid actually draws the gun. But, reading fear on his face, he decides to give him as much time as possible before shooting. In the end, the gang member pulls the weapon out of his pants, drops it on the ground and surrenders. The officer says: "Something in my mind just told me I didn't have to shoot yet." (240)
Gladwell then adds this explanation: "This is the gift of training and expertise — the ability to extract an enormous amount of meaningful information from the very thinnest slice of experience. To a novice, that incident would have gone by in a blur. But it wasn’t a blur at all. Every moment — every blink — is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction."

This is a very good book. While I know that Gladwell's style will not appeal to everyone, I think it is worth reading, and that most will find it very interesting.

Reliving the Passion

Walter Wangerin Jr. Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. 156 pgs.

Walter Wangerin. Author of The Book of the Dun Cow, and many other excellent works. I had read him before, and enjoyed his writings, so when a friend recommended this book, and had a copy on hand for me, I couldn't resist. Apparently, my friend has been reading this book for Lent every year for a long time now. And that is how the book is structured; it contains 40 daily readings, one for each day of lent, all focused on the Passion of Jesus as told in Mark. So, I got the book, and Kristina and I read it together for our lent. Overall, it was a very good experience.

Other than the outline, which I already gave you, this book seems to be focused (at least in many of the readings) on getting the reader inside the story of Jesus' passion. Often Wangerin will write from the perspective of one of the characters, but just as often he writes himself, and thus the reader, into the story. In each case, he is trying to flesh out the story and make it more real to the many Christians for whom the Passion has become just another dead narrative tale of the bible. He seeks participation, and for the willing there is great reward.

For the reader who is able to enter this narrative, the experience is unique and inspiring. However, it should be said that some will find his style, and the details he necessarily has to add to the biblical story, barriers to this entering in and participating. His style can tend towards the middle ground between poetry and prose, which makes for a non-rhyming semi-rhythmic kind of tale. I happen to enjoy this style, but many do not. As for the details he adds, they are, as far as I could tell, fairly historically accurate; nonetheless, many readers of scripture will find this move awkward, or, perhaps, impious. As I say that, I am in mind of Paul's discussion of meat sacrificed to idols; strictly speaking, imagining the details of biblical stories is not wrong (so long as we remember they are our imagined and added details), but that some have trouble with this is acceptable as well (though one might question how we can really read biblical stories without adding details from our imagination and historical knowledge).

That criticism aside, Wangerin accomplishes his goal as only a master storyteller could. His skillful writing enables the reader to experience each poignant detail of the story which is central to our faith. He does his work so well, in fact, that at times I found myself not wanting to read on. The crucifixion is not something to be taken lightly, and the question of whether or not we really want to experience deeply the dark and disturbing parts of the passion narrative is a fair one. That, however, is a compliment to Wangerin who rightly assumes that, as much as our gaze recoils from our savior dying on the cross, our hearts need to be filled with that awful saving sight.

If your looking for some lenten reading, look no further. Next year, along with giving something up (like facebook or chocolate or unnecessary electronics or whatever) read this book. You won't regret it.

Reviewing Books

I mentioned in some post a while ago that I intend to review all the books I read. Why am I doing it? A couple of reasons. First, by reviewing a book I force myself to summarize it and think about it, cementing what I have learned in my mind and hopefully aiding in my long term memory of it. Secondly, it is a good way for me to practice my writing. Of course, this requires me not to get lazy as I do it, which can be a problem. Thirdly, I hope that by reviewing this books I can provide anyone who reads them with some insight and help in deciding whether or not they want to read that book.

That explained, I have 4 books to review right now... so get ready :)


The Reason for God

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008. 281 pgs.

We do indeed live in an age of skepticism. Questions about religion, God, Christianity, and pretty much everything else (except science, TV, and youtube I guess) abound. I've been a student for a long time, and a pastor for a short time, but in both positions I have run into a lot of questions. So, books like this are always interesting to me. Especially when they are well written and highly recommended, as this one was.

He opens his book with an awesome quote:

"I find your lack of faith - disturbing."
- Darth Vader

And from there he takes a very interesting approach to what might be traditionally called apologetics. He lays this approach out in his introduction. He asks people to doubt, but not in the way we are used to. To those who believe, Keller encourages them acknowledge and wrestle with their own doubts, as well as with the doubts of skeptics, friends, neighbors, and so on. However, he also points out, especially to non-believers, that all doubts are, embody, or have beneath them an alternate system or set of beliefs. In his words: "You cannot doubt belief A except from the position of belief B." (xvii) His hope is that by helping believers to appreciate and deal with doubts (as well as helping them try to understand outsider skeptics) and by asking skeptics and non-believers to doubt their own doubts, that he might create some ground for respectful dialogue. His book, thus, follows this very pattern. First he lays out seven common questions of objections to Christianity, and explains how each of these is, in itself, based on a further, often hidden, set of beliefs that is equally (or more) vulnerable to critique than the Christian belief under question. Then, in his second section, he lays out seven reasons for faith. He then concludes with a final word about starting the journey of faith.

In terms of style and writing, Keller is excellent. His words flow; they are easy to read, they make sense, and they draw the reader along. In terms of argumentation, he wavers a lot in my opinion. For the first seven chapters, his approach is good and important, but it doesn't often take one all the way. So, we now see that everyone has a belief system, and that they are all open to questions... but what about answering those questions? For the believer, it is all to easy to read this chapters and feel as if one is suddenly armed with a sure-fire way of taking down opposing arguments. Keller would, no doubt, point out that this is not the point. And it isn't; but it may easily be the result. The fact is, however, that pointing out the weakness of another's beliefs (whether those beliefs are explicit or implicit) does nothing to shore up one's own. That said, some of his first seven chapters do an excellent job of following through to the point where the objection is answered, or at least so riddled with holes that it ought to be quickly dropped. Unfortunately, these tend to be the weakest arguments to begin with. So, the objection that there cannot be just one true religion is answered well (its a ridiculous objection anyway; something has to be right, even if its not something we have found yet. Law of non-contradiction and all that). Meanwhile, issues of science are necessarily given short-shrift (not enough space) and thus Keller's points only carry us halfway.

I should add that, despite my above criticism, no one book can do everything, and the careful ready will realize which arguments go how far. After all, Keller does not claim to completely answer all the questions, but only to go so far as to show how they themselves are based on weak foundations and then move towards an answer.

On the other hand, his reasons for faith were very good. Probably because I have read most of his sources, I did not find much new in this section. Nonetheless, he sums everything up well, and has a very good way of saying it all. He also does an excellent job of contrasting the common assumptions about Christianity with what Christianity actually teaches (especially true in chapters 11 and 12, "Religion and the Gospel" and "The (true) story of the cross").

Now, all that said, the conclusion. I find that I too am easily misunderstood, and so someone reading this review might think me harsh, or that the book wasn't very good. Not at all; I list my concerns to try to help people be careful readers. My conclusion is that this was a very good book which I enjoyed. It is well written and an excellent resource. In fact, as a place to start for those who want to explore these questions (as either a believer, or skeptic, or anywhere in between or more extreme) I highly recommend this book (I will be trying to get our church library to get a copy, or else just getting one myself for our youth library). For those more well versed in the literature, it will be a quick read, but still good as a reminder and perhaps new perspective or approach or way of looking at things.

Cassandra's Questions Considered

About a week ago I posted these questions. How would I answer them?

I think I need to start by saying that these are not questions to answer once and for all. Rather, they are questions to consider in the midst of our relationships. They are questions to come back to in order to help us think through how we ourselves might be contributing to a problem, especially a problem we thought we were trying to solve. Take a look at each of those questions; they all have that kind of situation in the background. When trying to love, we can cause our loved one to lose their own identity. When trying to control, usually in order to help, we really just make it easier for the other person to be week. In allowing dependence, which we may do in order to hold another up, we hurt. And so on. So, these are not really questions without context. The implied context is a relationship in which one party, in trying to help, is actually hurting. I think the (slight) exception is the last questions, but I will come to that.

How does love trigger the disintegration of the loved one?
- This questions points us to a problem which can come about when we mistake love for a vague sort of 'closeness', or redefine intimacy as correspondence and resemblance. Loving someone does not mean they cease to be their own person, but if we take love to mean this then either the love will end or one person's identity will disintegrate; that is, literally lose its integrity and cease to hold together.

How do efforts to control another become an adaptation to the other's weakness?
- I can't help thinking about Hannah in this question. Babies don't let us do this, but the easiest way to 'control' her would be, for example, to never let her learn how to walk. She would be much easier to 'control' if she lacked mobility. There are a lot of mistakes in that assumption (even when babies can't move, they are a handful for instance. Also, what kind of control would that really be, and so on), and it would be wrong to act that way (obviously). But, how often do we do something analogous as adults? Rather than give people freedom, and thus also create the chance for failure, we 'control' them by allowing them to stay where they are, and do whatever we need to for them to keep them there.

Why does dependency kill?
- Because eventually that which you are depending on will fail, and then what are you going to do? The exception, I believe, is God. But, even there, God does not allow us to depend on Him in such a way that we do not ourselves grow and gain strength.

How does rigidity in one person create self-doubt in another?
- If 'he' is so sure, then why am I not? What's wrong with me? Why does nobody else ever ask any questions? How can they be so sure? OR They are so sure of themselves, why? And when no ground is found for that certainty, then the questions flow.
- We shift from that kind of rigidity (that of certainty in belief/choice/action/whatever) to rigidity in terms of inflexibility then the process is very similar, but may begin with restrictions instead of surety.

Why is it the nature of craziness to drive those who try to understand it in others crazy?
- gonna skip this one

How does support weaken? or challenge become a form of caring?
- When someone needs to 'grow up' so to speak.

When does responsibility for others become irresponsible?
- When our taking responsibility prevents them from growing in their own ability to do the same.

How do words lose their power then they are used to overpower?
- Another post I think.


What Goes In...

We all know the saying: What goes in must come out. And it's so true. But how often do we apply that to our whole lives?

I have had reason to consider this in the past, as I have examined contributing factors to my own bad behavior and struggles with sin, as well as when I have tried to think about using my time well. I am sure most of us have heard the analogy about keeping our 'tanks full'? Avoiding 'burnout'? Been warned about how you won't have anything to give if your not getting something? Maybe I have just heard talks like that a lot because I have been studying to go into ministry (and am now doing it) and so I got all kinds of warnings along these lines.

Whatever the case may be, in my past and yours, I have had lots of reasons to think about this. And its not exactly a new theme; Jesus and Paul talk about it often.

Mark 7:14-23 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said,"Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you." After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked himabout this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked."Don't you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,adultery, greed,malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you."

Of course, Jesus is making a slightly different point here. However, note the phrase "for it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach..." What about the things which do go into our hearts? Have you ever thought about what those things are? And how deeply different activities or inputs in your life are able to penetrate your heart? How much do music, tv, movies, books, friends, sermons, lectures, etc. really get to you? And have you taken account of that in being careful what you take in? I didn't for a long time...

Luke 6:43-45 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

Here, of course, is another version of the initial saying in this post, and in the title. What we are filled with will come out. Another analogy is a spilled cup.

All those questions I just asked you, I have asked myself. The answers surprised me. Reading, an activity I enjoy and do a lot, is something that doesn't penetrate very far. At least it doesn’t touch my heart not without help. I think that an unintentional side effect of the training I have received by being in school for so many years of my life has made it very easy to keep the printed word at a distance. Now, since discovering this, I know how to allow books to penetrate deeper when I choose, as well as how to stop them, which is very handy. It makes controlling what goes into my heart in this area of my life relatively easy.

Meanwhile, music is precisely the opposite. I have never been a huge music person. Don't get me wrong, I like music, it's... nice. But, there are no bands that I care enough about to know the members names. There are no singers whose lives I have looked in to. And, in general, I do not go out of my way to listen to music. I like it on while I am driving, that or a lecture, and sometimes I listen if I can't sleep. But I do not walk around 'plugged in' or go out and buy CD’s much. Despite all of that, music has a huge effect on my heart, and, more specifically, on my emotions. Listening to a song which matches my mood will intensify it; listening to one which is opposed is grating. Since learning this I have found that I can actually gradually shift how I am feeling by listening to music which, song by song, progressively moves from my current mode to where I want to be. (I.E. Last night, feeling melancholic, I did the following: "I Wish I Cared" -> Sukiyaki (4PM) -> Why Me Lord ->Puff the Magic Dragon -> God Shuffled His Feet -> What if Jesus came back like that -> What if she's an angel -> would Jesus wear a rolex -> Everything is Beautiful. In the course of those songs I went from melancholic depressed to mellow remembering to sad thoughtful to humored and finally to peaceful, at which point I turned off my MP3 Player and went to sleep). I have also learned that I need to be careful what I listen to; my inattention to music is probably precisely what makes me vulnerable.

Other forms of entertainment vary. Video-games do not hit my heart, but they are not a good use of my time. I don’t stand up from an hour long gaming session feeling relaxed and fulfilled. The only exception, I think, is playing with friends. The community and competition add an element to gaming (whether on computers, boards, or other platforms) which I enjoy thoroughly. Even there, however, I need to be careful that my competitiveness does not get the better of me and trump my desire to display the fruit of the Spirit.

TV contains some specific triggers, movies as well, but I think I have gotten pretty good at filtering certain content (mostly because I am so cynical).

The point, however, is not to ‘get good’ at eating garbage. It may be possible, but it is certainly not helpful or healthy. The point is to learn more about what is good and avoid what is bad. This is the advice Paul gives in Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

So, what are those good things in my life? Family and friends top the list, good reading (primarily the bible) and good music come in close behind, right at the same level as the beauty of creation. All of these end in time well spent and a heart filled with the more love.


Cruciformity: The Review

Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. 401 pgs.

Finished. Well, actually I finished a couple of days ago; right about the time I posted this. It's taken me a couple of days to write this because I have been trying to think about what I want to say.

First, let me tell you about the book. This book explores Paul's 'cruciformity.' That is, his desire to "know nothing except Jesus Christ - that is, Jesus Christ crucified." The book focuses on the intersection of the cross with experience in the writing, teaching, and life of Paul. In order to examine this, Gorman spends four chapters (1-4) examining Paul's experience of God (Father, Son, Spirit, Three-in-one). He then moves on to explore and expound upon cruciform faith, love, power, and hope. And if your wondering about that one term stuck in the middle, the one that seems out of place in the nearly so familiar list, it is added in order to completely explore what Gorman considers the narrative patterns about the significance of the cross. Faith, hope, and love are Paul's common triad; power is added because much of what Paul has to say about the cross deals with this subject matter. Gorman then concludes with Paul's vision of a cruciform community, and a brief excursus into modern challenges to, and from, cruciformity.

Now, I have been having trouble finding what to say because for me, with the reading I have already done through school and interest, this is a different kind of book. Whether I have been reading others who have drawn from Gorman, or others who Gorman has drawn from, (I am pretty sure it is a bit of both) there was not a lot of new material here. However, in this case, that was not a bad thing. Instead, this book proved to be a synthesis, and a very well done one at that. Hence, I have had two posts of lists from this book which I found very helpful and though provoking.

This is, like many of the books I read, a library book. I can't afford to pay to keep myself in books, nor do I have the space to store them. However, due to the nature of this book, it has crossed a line which books rarely cross: It has gone from being a book I happened to pick up in the library to a book that is now on my 'to buy' list. Why? Because the synthesis provided in this book is so well done, in fact, that I know I will want to turn to chapters in this book in the future to refresh my memory, find material to help me with lessons, sermons, studies, etc.

That said, I would not recommend this book to someone who is not at least mildly well-versed in Pauline scholarship. This is not, and not meant to be, an introductory volume. The exception I would make is if you are used to reading this kind of academic material, and don't mind that it will take longer if you are unfamiliar with the literature, but you just haven't gotten to the subject yet and would like to. In that case, go nuts! If, on the other hand, you have some background in the subject, then this book is most definitely useful, interesting, and maybe even thought provoking. For me, it was all of these. Though there was not a lot of new material per se, it did remind of much and put it together in ways I had not considered before, which definitely brought up new ideas.

Well worth the read and, having read it, I know it will be well worth the money, whenever I get around to buying it. :)


On My Mind #3

Haven't done one of these in a while.

Obviously, I've been thinking about the books I am reading; but you can see my other posts for that.

Now that I am done school (YIPEE!), the next 'project' to work on is getting ordained. Right now the Alliance district offers two tracks for ordination. One is called the individual track, and the other the cohort track. Apparently this second is being pushed. What's the difference? Well, you read the same books, meet all the same requirements, but if you are on the cohort track you meet twice a year with your cohort (group of other pastors doing the same process) to talk, hear speakers, and so on. I believe there is also interaction from a distance over the year. So, its the same program but one offers more input/community and takes more time and money. I really don't want to do the cohort track... My job takes me away from my family for overnight trips enough already!

This week is pretty sweet though. I have some time to look ahead and plan for big events (like History Maker Conference; good times), some time at home more than normal (last week was super busy, so I am taking half of today off; and its a long weekend). Plus, we are doing the stations of the cross at our good Friday service tomorrow, and I always enjoy those a lot.

Speaking of History Makers, I hope that this conference works out really well. Our youth group planned on going to Legacy Youth Conference, but that fell through due to lack of people registering (bad timing though, very bad timing). HM2010 better do better!

A couple weeks ago, Kristina and I got to go to Point of Grace/Mark Schultz concert, and now I want to get some CD's by Schultz.

Oh, and these quotes:

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.
Orson Welles

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book.
Groucho Marx

The experience of watching television has become the social and intellectual glue that holds us together, our ‘core curriculum,’ our church.
James Twitchell

The answers to life’s problems aren’t at the bottom of a bottle. They’re on TV!
Homer Simpson

We are threatened by a new and peculiarly American menace. It is not the menace of class war, of ideology, of poverty, of disease, of illiteracy, of demagoguery, or of tyranny, though these plague most of the world. It is the menace of unreality.
Daniel Boorstin

Nothing is as ruinous to the character as sitting away one’s time at a show, for it is then, through the medium of entertainment, that vices creep into one with more than usual ease.
Seneca (Roman stoic philosopher writing 2000 years ago)