Monday, March 29, 2010

Odds & Ends

  • This is the time of year that gray whales migrate north past the Oregon Coast. The good news is that I finally took time to go look for them. The bad news is that the storms we'd had this past week meant they'd moved offshore a couple of miles . . . which made them very hard to see. Stupid whales.
  • Something to consider the next time you preach on the parable of the talents -- the annual revenue of Herod Antipas from his tetrarchy was 200 talents; the annual revenue of Herod Agrippa I from all Palestine was 2,000 talents.
  • I'd avoided C. S. Lewis' Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer because I thought it nothing more than a collection of letters. As it turns out, the joke is on me -- the book is an "epistolary essay," i.e. like the Screwtape Letters, Lewis deals with a topic by giving us one side of an imaginary correspondence. And yes, it works . . . though I'm having a hard time figuring out just how necessary his Platonic views are to his apologetics.
  • And I'll close with this quote from Miroslav Volf: "To make a difference, one must be different."

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    This week's lesson: godliness

    It's a commonplace notion that our gods resemble us.

    But it's worth pointing out the reverse is also true -- that as time goes by, we grow ever more like our gods.

    Albert Schweitzer makes this first point in The Quest of the Historical Jesus -- the book in which he points out that most attempts to tell us what Jesus was really like usually end up telling us more about the author than the subject.
    • When a socialist writes about Jesus, for instance, he will tell us the Son of Man was a true friend of the working class.
    • But when a conservative writes about Jesus, it turns out the Son of God was a big fan of the free market.
    • And if I graduated from college believing that Jesus was a mild-mannered teacher with a strong interest in ethics . . . well, right there you can guess what most of my professors were like.
    Yes, Schweitzer was right: we do create God in our own image.

    And then He returns the favor.

    Consider the impact of social networks -- those communities of like-minded people who are united by their love of Farscape, for instance, or their belief that Sarah Palin should be the next President of the United States.

    Now if you don't share this point-of-view, then you probably won't join a group that does.

    But if you join a group that does, then you're going to believe this point-of-view all the more.

    That's one reason why groups of like-minded people tend to become even more extreme over time -- an effect called "group polarization."

    So the left gets leftier . .

    And the right gets rightier . . .

    And since it's clear to one and all that God is on our side, that gives us all the more reason to . . .

    Okay, I'm going to let you finish that sentence -- but for now, it's enough to point out two things:

    You're not god.

    So try not to follow a god who is.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Gone fishing

    It's spring break here on the Oregon Coast, so there won't be much in the way of posts this week.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    This week's lesson: truth

    This week's lesson is about truth.


    And no, this doesn't mean your Sabbath School class needs to have a long, earnest discussion about how we know when we know what we know. Philosophers have spent the last hundred years hashing out the details of epistemology, remember -- and thus far, they haven't done much better than that old, old story about the blind men and the elephant.

    Then too, I'd suggest you avoid the question of just how much "truth" someone needs to believe in order to be part of your particular group. In theory, this could be helpful -- but in practice, I've found that nothing makes people more set in their ways than a discussion of just how open-minded we should be.

    Instead, you might want to point out that ἀληθείᾳ ("truth") can be more of an adjective than a noun -- in fact, it often used to describe someone who is honest, reliable, and trustworthy. When Paul said ἀληθείᾳ is a fruit of the Spirit, in other words, he didn't just mean Truth; he also meant truthfulness.
    • If a mechanic says your car will be fixed by Thursday, in other words -- and it actually does get fixed by Thursday -- then that's ἀληθείᾳ.
    • And if you have a witness on the stand who honestly, accurately, describes what she saw, then that's ἀληθείᾳ.
    • But if you have a church where people "talk the talk" but they don't "walk the walk," then the people in that particular church may have plenty of knowledge . . . 
    But they don't have ἀληθείᾳ.

    And you can trust me on that.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Odds & Ends

    • This past week we've had hail, wind, sunshine, rain, and regular warnings to stay off the beach because of the unusually high surf. Must be time for spring vacation.
    • Any suggestions on a nice place to spend a week? Thanks to our VISA card, we can get free plane tickets to any place in the contiguous United States . . . but we've no idea where to go! (And yes, whatever place you suggest does need to have a good used-book store.)
    • The average American walks 1.4 miles per week.
    • I'm not sure why the language of business has been so steadily infiltrating our church, but I've found the Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary to be helpful -- both in understanding what some denominational leaders are saying, and in making sure I never say anything similar.
    • And I'll close with this quote: "Maybe you can't make a new beginning to your life. But you can make a new ending."

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    This week's lesson: righteousness

    Look! Up in the sky!

    It's a bird!

    It's a plane!

    No, it's the subject of this week's Sabbath School lesson!

    To be sure, δικαιοσύνης ("righteousness") does not sound like the kind of word that belongs in a comic book. No, it's a "church" kind of word -- a word that summons images of people whose shirts are white, whose shoes are polished, and whose meals consist of tofu and tapwater.

    Reason enough that Batman and Superman were never joined by "Righteousnessman."

    But as the NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words points out:
    All the words in this group derive from dikê (justice, punishment). Dikê was the daughter of Zeus, who shared in his government of the world. . . . in order to make human life possible, he gave dikê, justice, whose implacable enemy is bia, violence.
    The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology adds that:
    [Dikê] was the enemy of all falsehood, and the protectress of a wise administration of justice. . . . [She] appears as a divinity who severely punishes all wrong, watches over the maintenance of justice, and pierces the hearts of the unjust with the sword made for her by Aesa.
    Kind of like Wonder Woman, only without the Lasso of Truth.

    Now obviously, the concept of  δικαιοσύνης is going to develop and change before it finds a home in our Bible -- but even there, it is more active, more public, and much more concerned with the state of our society than we usually give it credit for.

    In short, the superheroes' "Justice League" was a league of δικαιοσύνης.

    And this week's lesson tells us δικαιοσύνης is also something that God's people should encourage.

    Even if we don't wear a cape.

    Monday, March 08, 2010

    Odds & Ends

    • I've been known to mutter that people who buy Apple Computers have joined a religious cult. "You buy a Mac," I'd say, "and the next thing you know, they have you out on a street corner selling carnations." These remarks were grossly unfair and unkind, of course . . . so as a gesture of peace, I am running a video about Apple computers from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theater.
    • We had gorgeous weather on Sabbath -- but a cold-front blew through on Saturday night, and took away all our warmth.
    • On average, American adults in 1820 drank one cup of whiskey every day -- roughly five times today's consumption. (Now you know why the Temperance movement got started!)
    • My schedule has changed enough that I won't be able to post anything on Sundays for some time to come. So . . . expect a post of "odds and ends" on Mondays, and a reflection on the Sabbath School lesson every Thursday. 
    • And I'll close with this quote: "Just because you can't do anything doesn't mean you're doing the wrong thing."

      Thursday, March 04, 2010

      This week's lesson: self-control

      Anyone who talks about "getting in touch with your inner child" should try teaching high school.

      I do.

      To be sure, high school students are wonderful people -- but as any neurologist could tell you, their brains are still getting wired for concepts such as "doing this could put me in a world of hurt." Now add surging hormones (not to mention their almost perennial lack of sleep) . . .

      And the results can be kind of like driving a Toyota, i.e. lots of accelerator, but not much in the way of brakes.

      Never mind graduation, in other words -- simply keeping them alive is a matter of replacing the external controls of childhood with the internal controls of adulthood; it's teaching them that urge to "go for it!" may not always be a good idea.

      In short, they already have passion; what they need now is something that will let them use that passion (instead of the passion using them). Yes, they need something the Greeks called ἐγκράτεια, or "self-control."

      And no, there's nothing wrong with being spontaneous and passionate and hopelessly idealistic -- in fact, these are the things that make high school students so much fun to teach.

      But if you're going to "get in touch with your inner child," then trust me:

      That's when you need to make sure there's an adult around.

      Tuesday, March 02, 2010

      "Pastor, I'm wondering if we could get together and talk . . . "

      Sometimes it's a phone call; sometimes, it happens while I'm shaking hands after church . . .

      But always, it's a church member asking that we get together and talk. Something has come up, in other words -- something heavy that requires my advice.

      And I'm always glad to help -- but 90-percent of the time, they don't need to make an appointment. No, I can usually deal with it right then and there.

      If I'm on the phone, I'll say something like, "I'd be glad to get together and talk; why don't you give me some idea of what's going on, so that I can be thinking about it."

      And if it's after church, I'll say something like, "Well, I should be finished shaking hands in about five minutes or so -- if you're willing to wait here with me, we can talk about it then." (You'll notice, by the way, that I don't usually ask them to wait in my office; that's because I've found they tend to disappear before they get there. Instead, we usually end up talking on the front steps of our church.)

      Now if turns out they need to make an appointment, then well and good.

      But most of the time, as I said, I can get them the help they need, right then and there, in five-minutes or less.

      (And next Tuesday, I'll talk about what to do when a stranger calls and asks for an appointment.)