Friday, February 28, 2020

We can hope!

From Heather Cox Richardson, final paragraphs of an excellent summary of the last 40 years (do read it all):
This is a crisis that demands expertise and coordinated government health programs, but we no longer have those things. Instead, Trump and his surrogates on the Fox News Channel are falling back on the old arguments that have worked so well for GOP leaders in the past: Democrats are hyping the coronavirus and spooking the markets to hurt the president.

Trump, and Americans in general, are about to discover that there comes a point when image can no longer override reality. We are in the churn of that chaos now. But on the other side of it, we have the potential to rebuild a government that operates in reality, and that works for all of us.

<idle musing>
We can hope! I'm not as optimistic as she is, though. I fear far too many live in the Fox News bubble; and the Republicans have gerrymandered the voting districts so badly that it would take quite the miracle to change election outcomes. But, we can hope. And anyway, our salvation doesn't come from the polls. As Ps 121 says, our help comes from Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth. I can live with that : )
</idle musing>

What is the purpose of humanity? Or Puddleglum was right!

The foundation of religion in Mesopotamia is that humanity has been created to serve the gods by meeting their needs for food (sacrifices), housing (temples) and clothing and generally giving them worship and privacy so that those gods can do the work of running the cosmos. The other side of the symbiosis is that the gods will protect their investment by protecting their worshipers and providing for them. Humans thus find dignity in the role that they have in this symbiosis to aid the gods (through their rituals) in running the cosmos.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 88—89

<idle musing>
And that is the sole purpose of humanity in the ANE (and many other places, but I know the ANE best). People were made to serve the gods. Any imago dei was, well there wasn't any. That's probably the biggest difference between Israel as depicted in the Scripture and the surrounding cultures.

Of course, we've grown beyond that now. Now the purpose of humanity (at least the bulk of it) is to produce and consume for the sake of the 1 percent. Quite the change, isn't it? And with the increase in surveillance software, they are becoming almost as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent as the ancient gods were (because they weren't fully so).

Me? As Puddleglum said in The Silver Chair,

All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.
Yep. I'm with Aslan, even if there isn't an Aslan. Sure beats thinking we exist only to serve the 1 percent! Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Two halves?

Genesis 2:24 is responding to the question of why a person would leave the closest biological relationship (parents to children) in order to forge a relationship with a biological outsider. The answer offered is that marriage goes beyond biology to recover an original state, for humanity is ontologically gendered. Ontology trumps biology. This has shown Adam that the woman is not just a reproductive mating partner. Her identity is that she is his ally, his other half.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 80–81

<idle musing>
I'm not convinced, but it is an interesting argument. And I definitely agree with his conclusion, just not how he got there.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Chaos? Or possibility?

On my Saturday/Sunday round-up posts, I've frequently linked to Heather Cox Richardson. Well, I'm not going to wait for the weekend for this one. Today, as she goes over the latest disasters out of Washington, she ends with this:
None of today’s news is good: a serious disease, a sliding economy, an incompetent administration, an autocratic president. But all of these elements are creating an instability that will shake forces loose. It is times like these that throw all the cards up in the air. While it is scary to experience that chaos, it is also a time of great possibility. We can step back and let autocrats grab all the cards for themselves and consolidate their power. But we don’t have to. This sort of shock gives us the ability to catch the cards ourselves and reorder them on the table in entirely new patterns, ones that can build a different future.
<idle musing>
Indeed! What if this is an answer to prayer? What if this is God shaking up things to try to wake up his people?

Now, I don't for a minute believe that God wishes anyone to die of the virus, but I do believe he can use it. The question is, will the nationalists masquerading as Christians repent? One can hope.

Just an
</idle musing>

Maybe, just maybe, your view of Gen 1–2 is incorrect

From these data it is easy to conclude that Adams sleep has prepared him for a visionary experience rather than for a surgical procedure. The description of himself being cut in half and the woman being built from the other half (Gen 2:21-22) would refer not to something he physically experienced but to something that he saw in a vision. It would therefore not describe a material event but would give him an understanding of an important reality, which he expresses eloquently in Genesis 2:23. Consequently, we would then be able to conclude that the text does not describe the material origin of Eve. The vision would concern her identity as ontologically related to the man. The text would therefore have no claim to make about the material origin of woman.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 80

<idle musing>
Now this all assumes that you are not so a priori committed to a slavish interpretation of the words in a 21st century context. If you are, then all this will sound to you like wishy-washy exegesis. But, guess what? The earth revolves around the sun! That was quite the revelation to the medieval period exegetes and they scrambled to make sense of it.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the philosophical underpinnings of your exegesis should be examined. Then come back to the text and stop treating it like a history or science textbook. Because that is not what God intended it to be.

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mistranslation? A look at ṣela'

On the basis of Adam's statement, combined with these data on usage, we would have to conclude that God took one of Adam's sides—likely meaning he cut Adam in half and from one side built the woman.

When we investigate the Hebrew word and the way that it has been handled throughout history, we discover much supporting evidence for this reading. Beginning with the way that the cognate sélu is used in Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian), we find that the word has a certain ambiguity. Rarely, it refers to a single rib. Most times it refers to the entire side or to the entire rib cage. This is comparable to our English use when we talk about a “side of beef.”—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 78

Thought for the day

2Esdr. 4:10    He said to me: “You can’t even understand the things that are yours, which you have grown up with. 11How then can your mind contain the way of the Most High? How can a person who is already corrupted by the corrupt world understand the realm beyond corruption?” (CEV)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Were you born?

If we are all formed from dust, yet at the same time we are born of a mother through a normal birth process, we can see that being formed from dust, while true of each of us, is not a statement about each of our material origins. One can be born of a woman yet still be formed from dust; all of us are. That means that even though Adam is formed from dust, he could still have been born of a woman. “Formed from dust” is not a statement of material origins for any of us, and there is no reason to think that it is a statement of Adams material origins. For Adam, as for all of us, that we are formed from dust makes a statement about our identity as mortals. Since it pertains to all of us, it is archetypal.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 76–77

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Another time around the web

Another week and another set of interesting (at least to me) links.

First off, a historical journey through the last 200 or so years of US history.

A lot of folks have been asking me lately if America has ever been in such a crisis before and, if so, what people in the past did to save democracy.

The answer to the first question is yes, it has, three times, although only once was this bad. In the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1920s, oligarchs took over the nation’s government, controlling the White House, Congress, and the courts.

Same old story, different names, but same theme. Enough of that, though. How about our education system? The old curmudgeon is concerned about the view of (too) many that education is simply a factory to produce "meat widgets" who do jobs. Read it; he's right. Maybe that is tied to the previous story, now that I think about it.

Speaking of meat widgets, Roger Olson looks at the ethical perils of gene editing; here are the final two paragraphs, but read it all; it's short:

There are no easy answers in modern bioethics. And Christian pastors and lay people need to inform themselves of the its cutting edges and bring the discussion into the churches and take the answers, if any are found, into the public square.

One Christian seminary professor (of ethics) told a story about a man in the congregation to which she belongs. She did not know him well. In a group setting she mentioned that she would be attending a convention that included dialogue between biologists and theologians. He said (and I paraphrase) “I’m a molecular biologist and I didn’t know theology and biology had any relationship with each other.” This is the ignorant belief of too many Christians and others.

The final paragraph is the most harrowing to me. We're failing if people don't see Christianity as an all-encompassing life submitted to the lordship of Jesus. By the way, lordship means ruler, you know, the one calling the shots, making the rules, etc.

While we're on Roger, here is a post he did on Methodism. He isn't one, but he gives a fair evaluation of it's heritage.

And speaking of religion, Scot McKnight looks at the heritage of religious freedom.

It was not church wars that gave rise to national and secular theories of toleration but Christian thinking about Christians that led to toleration as a public doctrine. Religion, Tertullian argued, can’t be imposed or coerced. There can be, Wilken concludes, “no justice in society without liberty in the things of God.”
Let's expand that a bit to freedom in general. Missio Alliance takes a look at the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during WW2. A black spot on the record if ever there was one.

Not sure where to put this one, but next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and apparently some churches are doing ashes to go. I'm not a big liturgical guy, but that is just so wrong. As he says

The whole “ashes to go” thing seems rather glib and flippant to me. I’m not saying that’s the intention, but it’s how it comes off.

And the modern church has embraced the trend of making the whole church experience too easy and accessible. We’re literally not even asking people to set foot in the building, or even getting their lazy butts out of their cars, in order to visibly align themselves with its message.

Yep. And here's a piece on animal ethics. I had a theology professor in college who said you can always tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their animals. He claimed it was an Orthodox Jewish statement, but I've never been able to back that up. Still, quite true.

Speaking of kindness, here's a nice piece on kindness. We have a plaque on our wall that contains a portion of 1 Cor 13, Love is Kind. On more than one occasion I've seen that and been convicted about what I was saying or how I was saying it. I like how he ends the post

God won’t say: “Will one of the angels get a Kleenex and head down to row three million and five and wipe away the tear from the eye of worshipper 3376459?”

No, God will come down that row, walk up to you and go “There, there, don’t cry. It’s okay now.”

Our King is kind from beginning to end. Then kind from the new beginning that will never end.

No meat widgets in the new creation! Ever feel like the other person isn't listening? Especially in close relationships.
There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.
Yep. Goes back to the kindness thing again.

OK, three final links. An unexpected anti-climate change initiative being endorsed by the current ruler, despite his "there is no climate change" rhetoric. May it happen and prosper!

Times Higher Ed takes a look at how many hours academics work. Good thoughts by a variety of academics. When I was still an undergrad, a professor once told me that he forgot to take enough research-related books with him on his "vacation" and didn't know what to do. And I grew up in an academic household; my dad was always reading journals to keep up. How many hours is enough? Not an easy question to answer.

Final link. What is your idea of an ideal bookstore? Mine? For an academic one? Hands down the old Seminary Co-op Bookstore in the basement of CTS. All those nooks and crannies and ducking to keep from hitting the heating pipes. I spent many an hour and many a dollar there. For families? Without a doubt, 57th Street Books, also part of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. We spent many hours as a family there, especially in their fantastic kid's section. What about you? What's your idea of the ideal bookstore?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dust to dust

On the basis of biblical evidence, we must therefore conclude that all people are formed from dust (see also Eccles 3:20). This is confirmed when we learn in Genesis 3:19 that dust is an expression of mortality—dust we are and to dust we will return. All of us share that mortality. We thus discover that Adams formation from dust does not pertain uniquely to him; it pertains to all humans. Further evidence can be found in Job 10:9: Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again? Here Job sees himself as molded by God, which is not a claim that he was not born of woman like everyone else. When the text reports Adam being formed from dust, it is not expressing something by which we can identify how Adam is different from all the rest of us. Rather, it conveys how we can identify that he is the same as all of us. Being formed from dust is a statement about our essence and identity, not our substance. In this, Adam is an archetype, not just a prototype.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 76

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Unique or archetype?

Paul treats Adam as an archetype when he indicates that all sinned in Adam (Rom 5:12). In this way, all are embodied in the one and counted as having participated in the acts of that one. In order to determine whether the treatment of Adam in the text focuses on him primarily as an archetype or as an individual, we can ask a simple question: Is the text describing something that is uniquely true of Adam, or is it describing something that is true of all of us? If only Adam is formed from dust, then it is treating him as a discrete and unique individual. If God only breathes the breath of life into Adam, he is thereby distinct from the rest of us. If Eve’s formation conveys a truth about her that is true of her alone, then it is the history of an individual. If, however, any or all of these are true of all of us, it would cease being a reference to a unique, individual event and would have to be interpreted more broadly to capture its intended sense.

When we begin to examine the evidence with these questions in mind, our findings may surprise us. First, we discover that all of us have the breath of life and that it comes from God (Iob 27:3; 32:8; 33:4; 34:14-15; Is 42:5). Then we discover that all creatures have the breath of life, presumably given by God (Gen 7:22).—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 75

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

From dust . . . to dust

Nevertheless, some have been reluctant to adopt this view [that "dust" equals mortality] because of a sense that other scriptural passages contradict it. Specifically, many have concluded that since Paul states that “death [came] through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12), people were created immortal. We must carefully consider whether this is what Paul is saying. Besides the likelihood that Genesis 3:19 suggests people were created mortal, another piece of evidence in Genesis offers even stronger evidence. In the garden, God provided a tree of life. Immortal people have no need for a tree of life. The provision of one suggests that they were mortal.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 73

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Are we really that gullible?

There's a two-hour documentary about Amazon on PBS tonight. The Washington Post reviewed it today (ironically owned by Bezos). They ended their review with this:
Are we really so tech-besotted that anything goes? No one forced us to hand over all our personal data and install Amazon’s listening devices or surveillance cameras in our homes — we just did, because we, too, want the future to be cool. We rationalize our immediate need for its delivered products against environmental impact or any other effect, be it physical or psychological.

The creepiness of all this comes through in Amazon’s recent holiday campaigns, where its smiling cardboard boxes sing Supertramp’s ’70s rock ballad “Give a Little Bit” on their journeys to customers’ doors.

“Even in Amazon’s commercials, the people are almost like shadows and silhouettes,” says Bloomberg News e-commerce reporter Spencer Soper. “Happy boxes singing and bumbling their way to your door. They don’t even want you to think about how they do this, they just want you to be wowed. . . . They wanted people to think, ‘Whoa, magic!’” (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Moral of the story: Buy local? Well, that's just part of it; perhaps a better moral: Don't get suckered into thinking that the consumer society is the pinnacle of civilization and that stuff makes you happy! If that were the case, we, as the richest society the world has ever produced, would be the happiest. But we aren't. We are sick, fat, lazy, and depressed. Ponder that before you hit the buy button. Maybe a brisk walk (or even a not-so-brisk-walk) would be better for your happiness than that latest little do-dad that you could easily live without.

Just an
</idle musing>

English or Hebrew?

More than half of the occurrences [of "form"] are shown by context to be unrelated to material. Many of the occurrences listed above communicate how God ordains or decrees phenomena, events, destinies and roles. Most of the occurrences not listed here could easily be translated by alternatives like “prepare,” “ordain” or “decree.” This understanding corresponds precisely with the perspective of functional origins proposed in Genesis 1. We therefore discover that our predisposition to understand “form” as a material act has more to do with the English translation than with the Hebrew original. Even those committed to literal interpretation must recognize that any literal reading must be based on Hebrew, not English.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 71

Monday, February 17, 2020

Maybe, just maybe, it's more complicated than you think

Although I believe that Adam and Eve are historical personages—real people in a real past—these cannot be their historical names. The names are Hebrew, and there is no Hebrew at the point in time when Adam and Eve lived. If these are not historical names, then they must be assigned names, intended by the Hebrew-speaking users to convey a particular meaning. Such a deduction leads us to the second observation. In English, if we read that someone’s name is “Human” and his partner's name is “Life,” we quickly develop an impression of what is being communicated (as, for example, in Pilgrim's Progress, where characters are named Christian, Faithful and Hopeful). These characters, by virtue of their assigned names, are larger than the historical characters to whom they refer. They represent something beyond themselves. Consequently, we can see from the start that interpretation may not be straightforward. More is going on than giving some biographical information about two people in history.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 58–59

<idle musing>
I'm not as convinced that Adam & Eve were real personages as he is, but otherwise he is right on the money. There's more going on here than the surface reading would suggest. Remember, this is theological history, which differs dramatically from our mundane, cause and effect, closed box, history.
</idle musing>

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Another week...

Well, it's been almost a week since the last round-up of stuff I found interesting. As always, read the posts for yourself to make sure I'm not misrepresenting them! Let's begin then...

Remember last week I said it would be interesting if someone used the dispensationalist framework to look at the current state of affairs in the US? Well, Benjamin Corey did it.

I’d honestly started this post intending to be silly, and during my research began to find the coincidences and certain numbers happening to match a bit amusing the first few times. But at a certain point the coincidences added up or got too specific, and it wasn’t funny anymore– it was deeply unsettling.

And by the end? Well, stick with me as the prophecies grow more specific, and you’ll see why my mind was a bit blown–and why as a Christian my spirit was deeply unsettled by the the end of it

Read the whole (or at least skim it for the headers). If dispensationalist theology is accurate (and I don't believe it is), then we had better head for the hills (Matt 24).

And another theologian, Roger Olson, weighs in. Mind you, he's no fear-monger, but he ends the post with this:

The time has arrived to fear every government led by a would-be dictator as soon as he or she punishes subordinates for nothing other than obeying the law.
That prayer breakfast fiasco takes a slam; a Classicist looks at the fall of the Roman Republic and the acquittal vote.
But the Senate impeachment trial has shown us how far along the identification of leader and state has moved in the Trump era. A central part of the president’s impeachment defense is, as we have seen, that the personal will of the president is indistinguishable from the will of the state and the good of the people.

Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur.

Mind you, I'm with him. But, let's move on to other, happier things. Scot McKnight gets interviewed on his own blog about his book Kingdom Conspiracy—a very good book. And Nathan Hatch looks at what only the church can do (HT: Jim E.).
Churches clearly need to form the faithful in how to think—and sometimes act—in the arena of politics and society. But that task needs to be done with great humility and with a depth of historical and theological reflection rarely seen. Such nuance will definitely not conform to current political orthodoxies and may make it very difficult for believers to become full-throated advocates for either major American political party.

Most of all, our nation needs communities of faith that give meaning, dignity, and love to twenty-first-century people who are lonelier, more stressed, and with less sense of hope than at any time in recent memory. People need acceptance for who they are, not for what they do, and forgiveness for the stray paths that all of us have stumbled onto. Let the church be the church, in concrete places, in specific places and neighbourhoods. Let it renew and manifest its primary reason for being: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Amen! George Yancey remarks on the loss of moral authority on the part of the church because of its current support for the current ruler. He ends with this:
This should not be hard stuff. As Christians our ultimate protection comes from God and not the government. This does not mean that we cannot participate in the government or support our chosen leaders, but it should mean that we do not depart from our values in order to look for governmental protection. Instead, we are to live out our values even as we engage with our government.

So, to my Christian friends, reality offers you a choice. You can continue to lose your moral authority and ability to speak to our society or you can begin to challenge this president. When he calls his ex-mistress Horseface or denigrates the National Prayer Breakfast you can call him out. You can begin to establish that you do not approve of his gross sins. Or you can continue to be ignored by everyone except those in your own inner circles.

And speaking of changing, here is a nice look at growing in holiness. He starts out by stating what most think salvation is:
A prevalent understanding of Christianity in the western world, both inside and outside the church, goes something like this: Through Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven so that when we die, we will go to heaven instead of hell. This, it is assumed, is what salvation is all about.
Wrong answer. That's a truncated gospel, just the beginning of what God wants to do in you:
Coming to know God’s love for us in Christ enables the new birth, the beginning of sanctification. The Holy Spirit specifically brings to birth holy tempers in the heart, most especially love for God and neighbor. Sanctification is the process of growing in that love and other marks of the new birth such as faith, hope, humility, peace, and joy. This transformation of the heart leads to transformation of life as we begin to live these out in the world.

Holy tempers are dispositions of the heart; they make us increasingly the sort of persons who love God and neighbor, who have the mind of Christ. As a result, we have new motivations and desires; our intentions are increasingly aligned with God’s. We also see the world with new eyes, looking at persons and situations through the lens of love.

But some would say that sin is just too powerful (I've heard that argument! As if sin were more powerful than God!!!). He finishes with this:
Wesley’s optimism of grace then extends from prevenient grace to Christian perfection. He is fully aware of the power of sin, but even more confident that through grace love triumphs, in this life and the age to come. Whatever God has promised, Wesley is certain that in God’s own way and time God will do.
Amen! I agree. The power of God via the Holy Spirit within us is more powerful than sin. Of course, that means a moment-by-moment surrender. His ways, not mine. Yep, never said it was easy, but it isn't a list of dos and don'ts. It is from the heart, which is why many like to call it "heart holiness." Ponder that for a bit, and then read this on why we should read. I'd love to quote the whole thing, but here's the last few paragraphs (do read the whole thing, though):
Reading causes us to reflect on the human condition. What is admirable? What is despicable? And what kind of person do I want to be? How have people faced adversity? What makes the difference between those who become bitter and those who become better?

And lest we get too serious, reading can be fun. Silly rhymes can make us laugh. Stories can amuse us and bring us joy.

I wonder whether in the press to pass standardized reading tests, our children may miss the opportunity to discover these humanizing aspects of reading, that also make reading deeply satisfying. I also can’t help but wonder if parents and educators who are in touch with these deeply human longings and weave them into their practice will educate more highly motivated readers.

He's correct, of course. Reading isn't about passing tests or the power of knowledge—or any kind of power except the power to empathize. And lest we move too quickly away from theology, here is a piece on penal substitution and its many problems. He offers an alternative with good pedigree, Irenaeus:
Offering a credible alternative that competes with the storied character of penal substitution is the larger challenge, but it can be done. Irenaeus of Lyons (b. 130 AD), for example, sketches a powerful picture of God’s redemptive effort in terms of “recapitulation.”
Personally, I think any one "theory of atonement" is too small, and he acknowledges that. Do read the whole thing.

OK, this is getting long, but if you use a smart phone or computer (and especially if you use one of those voice contraptions like Alexa), you will want to read at least this, part one. It would be good to read part two as well.

Let's end with a high note: Independent bookstores are making a strong comeback. If you are in the book business, this is old news, but it's finally getting mainstream media attention. And how they are doing it is being held up as a model for others who want to prevent the apocalyptic mess in the preceding two posts.

Based upon the 3Cs practices of community, curation and convening identified in Raffaelli’s research, the American Booksellers Association reversed its membership slide that bottomed out at 1,651 in 2009 to rise 49% to over 2,500 last year.

Even better, the ABA stores are thriving. While big-box bookseller Barnes & Noble reported revenues decreased by 3% in fiscal 2019 ending April 27, 2019, the ABA reported sales among its members grew an average of 5% year-over-year in 2018. That is a level of growth any retailer would be over-the-moon to report.

Stop and think about those 3Cs: community, curation, and convening. Doesn't that sound like what the church should be doing?

And that's it for this week. Happy reading!

Friday, February 14, 2020

It's a home, not just a house

This concept of sacred space carries across to Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, we find an account of how God had created sacred space to function on behalf of humans. It does not say where sacred space is centered, only that God has ordered a place for people to call home, even though it is ultimately his place. In Genesis 2, the center of sacred space is identified, explanation is given concerning how humans will function on behalf of sacred space, and we see God interacting with people in this sacred space.

Reading the chapters as a home story allows the emergence of rich theology that is obscured by reading the text as a house story. We learn that, even though God has provided for us, it is not about us. The cosmos is not ours to do with as we please but God’s place in which we serve as his co-regents. Our subduing and ruling are carried out in full recognition that we are caretakers. Whatever humanity does, it should be directed toward bringing order out of non-order. Our use of the environment should not impose disorder. This is not just a house that we inhabit; it is our divinely gifted home, and we are accountable for our use of it and work in it.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 52

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! That's why dumping excessive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides (e.g., neo-nics), herbicides (e.g., Round-up™), and destructive mining (e.g., fracking, strip mining), just to mention a few things, are wrong. We are destroying God's creation and we will be held accountable.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


Throughout his controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus insisted that it was never a violation of the Sabbath to do the work of God on that day. Indeed, he noted that God is continually working (Jn 5:17). The Sabbath is most truly honored when we participate in the work of God (see Is 58:13-14). The work we desist from is that which represents our own attempts to bring our own order to our lives. It is to resist our self-interest, our self-sufficiency and our sense of self-reliance.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 48

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A restful state

When God tells the Israelites that he is going to give them rest (nwḥ) from their enemies (Deut 12:10; Josh 1:13; 21:44; 2 Sam 7:1; 1 Kings 5:4), he is not talking about sleep, relaxation or leisure time. The rest that he offers his people refers to freedom from invasion and conflict so that they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. It refers to achieving a state of order in society. Such rest is the goal of all the ordering activities that the Israelites are undertaking to secure their place in the land.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 47

Monday, February 10, 2020

You're missing the point

Genesis 1:1–2:3 contains a seven-day account of origins, not a six-day account. Our frequent reference to a six-day account is at least in part the result of not knowing what to do with the seventh day. What does God resting have to do with creation? Why would God need to rest anyway? What would it mean for God to rest? Perhaps one of the main reasons we face this conundrum is that we have assumed that the account is a material account, and nothing material takes place on day seven. In contrast, I maintain that even though people are the climax of the six days, day seven is the climax of this origins account. In fact, it is the purpose of this origins account, and the other six days do not achieve their full meaning without it. Rest is the objective of creation.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 46

<idle musing>
He's argued this in his other books, more fully in Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology. I pretty much agree with him; by looking for a material explanation we are missing the point of it all. We are so blinded by our materialistic outlook that we miss the spiritual and symbolic aspects of the text. Not just here, either, but throughout Scripture. I'm not advocating a return to Origen's levels of meaning (although he is usually oversimplified and misrepresented), but there is more lurking in the depths of Scripture than just material stuff.
</idle musing>

Sunday, February 09, 2020

And so it goes

I've got a few links you might be interested in, but honestly, there seems to be precious little good news these days. I can understand the despair of many, with glacial ice disappearing at a faster rate than thought (sorry, can't find the link right now), Bees being systematically attacked, Neo-nics on the loose, the Humanities in the tank, Amazon tracking us (you knew AZ would show up, didn't you?), the climate change deniers secret industry backers, the absolute lack of pro-lifers in the Democratic run, the ChurchToo and patriarchy link, and that's just the links I kept! Some were so depressing I couldn't finish reading them.

And yet, there were bright moments, too, in the darkness. For example, book collectors who since 1762 have been saving precious manuscripts, a computer science professor, who has come to realize the value of the humanities. And, of course, the much attacked and argued about vote by Mitt Romney. That bears a bit of virtual ink here. Take a look at this analysis:

In a world saturated with words—often, it seems, an overabundance of words—it’s easy to overlook silence. We tend to think about silence in terms of absence rather than as something meaningful and substantive in itself. Moreover, in a digital era of hashtags, tweets, and memes, silence isn’t easily quotable, and it resists the rapid circulation that has so much cultural currency today.

Yet silence is important, and sometimes silence says much more than words. I know this from my own experience as an oral historian. I’m trained to listen to both words and silence, and I know that understanding people’s stories requires paying attention to when the people I interview speak, but also when they stop. When they take a deep breath. When they bite their lip. When they fight back tears. When their emotions are so heavy that it finds expression in only the small sound of a hard swallow.
. . .
More importantly, Romney’s silence reveals the deep religious commitment that guided his decision. This interpretation might seem strange because we typically associate intense religiosity with noise—an exuberant “Hallelujah!”, an emphatic “Amen,” a plaintive hymn, a passionate prayer. We think of praise bands and street preachers and politicians quoting from the Bible.

Romney offered none of this noisy religious piety. As he detailed the reasoning behind his decision, he delivered his carefully prepared remarks in a measured, deliberate manner, absent the bluster and bombast we so often hear in Congress.

Most of all, there were meaningful silences, which did more to express the significance of his religious commitments than any of the words he uttered. At first, the silences were subtle. For example, when Romney stated that he “swore an oath before God,” he set apart the words “before God” with short pauses that emphasized the sanctity of his promise.

Do read the whole thing before you attack the man. Here's another look:
I know that I’m predisposed to think too highly of someone with a Yale PhD in history and a background in Christian higher education, but Sasse’s mum-ness is the silence of someone who ought to know better: someone who has the words, but won’t speak them. Romney’s conscience found voice in a speech that will echo in history — whether as a tragic eulogy for what was lost in these years or the first note of a swelling chorus sung by a country that rediscovered the better angels of its nature. The consciences of the Sasses in the GOP can do no more than whisper, admitting in private what they dare not say in public.

Then there are my own silences.

Read it all! And, lest you think that is overdoing it, the unchained nature of this president is already making an appearance in revenge firings, among other things. There will be more; just watch for them. I suspect we are only beginning to understand just how fast a republic can collapse. The moorings have been gnawed at from the bottom since at least 1980, they are just now becoming more obvious.

And lest you think Trump is the last hope in standing against paganism, read this. Perhaps we're looking in the wrong direction?

The resemblances between the modern paganism feared by [T.S.] Eliot in 1938 and conservative politics in 2020 are uncanny. The “paganism” that future Christians will need to identify and resist, he warned, will appear as unrestrained capitalist greed; as authoritarianism seeking to weaken democratic norms; as callous environmental degradation; as a superficial Christian moralism seeking to fuse church and state; and as a petty “sanctimonious nationalism.”

In the poignant final paragraph of his essay, Eliot confesses that the churning political surprises of the 1930s had left him shaken, not only because of the events themselves, but in the revelation of his own country’s moral poverty. In the face of Britain’s failure to mount an adequate response to modern pagan violence, Eliot felt a justified “humiliation” that demanded of him “personal contrition” along with “repentance, and amendment.” He felt “deeply implicated and responsible” and began to question his country’s frequent claims to moral authority. When Eliot enjoins his readers to fight against modern paganism, it is specifically because its brew of authoritarianism and capitalism were already beginning to charm Christian intellectuals who should know better. . . .

But modern paganism can also assume subtler forms, whenever the common good is reduced to ruthless economic competition, confirming Eliot’s fears that we have no values more essential than our “belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends.” The paganism we should fear is not secularism, sacred immanence, or pantheist naturalism. It is power celebrating its violence, perceiving the world empty of everything save the contest of wills, a nihilism ruled by the libido dominandi.

This paganism views moral responsibility as a fool’s errand for the weak, since all that matters is to dominate or be dominated. It sacralizes the emperor as an agent of God, scorns truth, despises the weak, and tortures the vulnerable. And it cloaks its nihilism, to cite Eliot once again, in “a disguised and peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism, accelerating our progress toward the paganism which we say we abhor.”

Two final links: Why Common Sense doesn't always work in school reform. Good thoughts; not simplistic, which is why it doesn't happen. And, in keeping with Black History Month, NPR looks at the rise and decline of franchises as a model for advancement in the Black community.

<idle musing>
And a final thought from me, before I sign off for the day: I don't read Revelation in a dispensationalist framework. I did, many years ago when I was a teenager. I devoured Late Great Planet Earth and other such books. I never got into identifying the "Anti-Christ," but saw the book titles. Well, what would happen if those same people, many now enamored by the current administration, would take their dispensationalist logic and apply it to the current situation? In their dispensationalist outlook, the Anti-Christ was a great friend of Israel, among other things. You take it from there.

Food for thought? or just an
</idle musing>

Friday, February 07, 2020

What is this image anyway?

The image of God as an Old Testament concept can be understood in four categories. It pertains to the role and function that God has given humanity (found, for example, in “subdue” and “rule,” Gen 1:28), to the identity that he has bequeathed on us (i.e., it is, by definition, who we are as human beings), and to the way that we serve as his substitute by representing his presence in the world. When Assyrian kings made images of themselves to be placed in conquered cities or at important borders, they were communicating that they were, in effect, continually present in that place. Finally, it is indicative of the relationship that God intends to have with us.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 42

Thursday, February 06, 2020

The rise of a dictator

If you don't follow Heather Cox Richardson's commentary, you should. She is a historian, and a good one. Here's a snippet of what she wrote late last night:
So here’s my two cents. This is not normal political behavior. This is not normal partisanship. While, as you must know by now, I believe that the future always remains unwritten, and we can always change the outcome until it is, the steps Trump takes are consistent with the rise of a dictator. And now with him freed from the cloud of impeachment, we appear to be entering a new phase of escalation. It looks like he is beginning to single out his opponents for punishment, justifying it with the argument that those opponents are hurting America.
Read the whole thing—and then do something counter-cultural: Love your neighbor. Especially the one who isn't lovable. Be honest with yourself and others. Don't "other" people—love them instead. Not mushy, feel-good love. Real love with boots on them. Shovel their walk; offer them food; offer them yourself as a friend.

Think I'm overreacting? We'll see in about six to nine months, won't we? Remember, the current ruler won on a minority of votes. He doesn't represent the majority of registered, voting, voters, let alone the majority of the US public. And the US public is getting less and less white, upper-middle-class all the time. This is the reaction of a fearful minority who see their power slipping away.

Government overthrows usually happen in the name of restoring an imagined past. That's how Octavian (Caesar Augustus) presented himself. He was just restoring order and the traditional Roman mores. We all know how that turned out, don't we? There's always a Nero waiting in the wings. . .

What does real leadership look like?

I guess this section of the Bible needs to be cut out by those who cravenly bowed to the ruling power yesterday.

 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42–44 NRSV)

OK, I know that some of you out there don't like the NRSV (I don't especially either), so here it is in a couple of other versions:

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (ESV)

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (NIV)

42  Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 43  But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 44  Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all. (CEB)

And obviously any section of the scripture that talks about God overcoming fear is wrong, too, so cut out those as well. After all, we know that fear sells and convinces, so it must be stronger than God! 

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Thought for the day

12 I know how many are your crimes,
and how numerous are your sins—
afflicting the righteous,
taking money on the side,
turning away the poor
who seek help.
13 Therefore, the one who is wise
will keep silent in that time;
it is an evil time.

Amos 5:14    Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD,
the God of heavenly forces,
will be with you just as you have said.
15 Hate evil, love good,
and establish justice at the city gate.
Perhaps the LORD God of heavenly forces
will be gracious…  (Amos 5:12–15 CEB)

Sure is pretty!

The function of the sea creatures is to furnish and beautify this world that is being prepared for humans in God’s image. All the functions and functionaries are discussed in light of that intended purpose——serving human beings. God is putting the cosmos in order not to serve himself but to serve humans. This is very different from what we find in the rest of the ancient world, where the gods set up the cosmos to function for themselves and humans were a utilitarian afterthought.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 40

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Even the chaos monsters? Yep!

If it is correct to consider bara’ the act of giving a role and function in an ordered system, then this verse [Gen 1:21] is making a remarkable claim. The creatures of the sea were in a liminal zone in the ancient Near East. After all, the sea was the very embodiment of non—order. Therefore, there would be questions about the functions of the sea creatures (and whether they even had any). Liminal creatures (whether sea dwellers or desert dwellers) were sometimes considered to be representatives of non—order (sometimes referred to as chaos creatures, referred to in Greek as daimon; many were later classified as demons). The tannin referred to here (NIV: "great creatures of the sea") are counted among the chaos creatures in the Old Testament (see Job 7:12; Ps 74:13; Is 27:1; 51:9; Ezek 32:2; cf. the Ugaritic chaos creature tunnanu). It is remarkable that these creatures are included in the ordered world in Genesis 1, and this is made explicit by virtue of the use of the verb bara’. The creation events of this day again focus on order and not on the production of material objects.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 40

Monday, February 03, 2020

What are those lights in the sky?

We need to continue our investigation of whether there is also an element of material origins in this discussion of the functionaries. The first important observation to make is that in the ancient world they were not aware that the sun, moon, and stars were material objects. In Israel, they believed they were exactly what the text calls them—lights, not material objects that produce light or reflect light. In the rest of the ancient world, they were also considered gods. No one knew that the sun is a burning ball of gas or that the moon is a rock in orbit that reflects the light of the sun. They believed these two lights to be very close (inside the solid sky, Gen 1:17). They are discussed not as being or becoming objects but as having designated functions in the ordered system of humans.—;The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 38–39

Sunday, February 02, 2020

What's going on?

Well, outside of Washington, DC, that is. I won't touch on that, other than by mentioning Ron Sider's call for fasting and prayer. And you might want to check out the modified Wikipedia page (just do a search, it's everywhere), which I think is probably too accurate. By the way, if you want a historian's view, check out Heather Cox Richardson. She does daily updated (HT: Jim E.)

It was the 75th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz this week. Here's a post reflecting on it by a daughter/granddaughter of survivors and here's one by a son who survived, but whose mother didn't. She wrote him a letter just before being gassed to death.

Let us never forget. It could happen here, indeed, it is happening here in the border detention centers. It's wrong!

Meanwhile, in education, a Brit looks at grade inflation. Some good ideas there. And BLogos has a first-person account of microaggression in higher ed.

Our exchange was an example of a microaggression. Harvard Psychiatrist Charles M. Pierce coined the term in 1970. Microaggression is defined as intentional and unintentional daily insults, slights, and dismissals directed towards marginalized groups. As a diversity officer in a Christian Liberal Arts school, I make an effort to appropriately substitute secular terms with biblical language to provide a Christian perspective on bias, racism and sexism. I believe that using the scriptures to inform biased behaviors is more effective at changing hearts and minds for Christ followers. The biblical term for microaggression is contempt: the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.

My interactions with the business professor was full of contempt. As a black woman working in the academy, he did not consider me worthy to have high or independent ideas. I walked away from the conversation baffled by a white male professor who I had interacted with for less than ten minutes. Within that brief period of time, he complimented my work, invited me to lunch, and determined the limits of my cognitive abilities and creativity. As a new employee, I pondered how he treated his female students and students from racialized communities.

Ouch! Which segues nicely into a post by Bob on Books about what you share on social media.
Jesus called his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We may wonder whether what we do makes a difference. I would suggest that it does not take much salt to flavor something. Even a small light can pierce and dispel darkness. “Tipping points” happen when a number of small changes come together and have a cumulative effect. Imagine what would happen if the 65% of self-identifying Christians in the U.S. took truthfulness online seriously. It may not end our political disagreements, but I wonder if it would change the online world and the rancor and discord we encounter.
Amen and amen! He offers a few pointers and links to some good sites to check the truthfulness of a statement. And that segues nicely into a post by Roger Olson on true and false Christians. I can't follow him all the way, in that I believe in open communion, but he makes some very good points.

This week also brought a pile of posts on Evangelicalism. This one looks at the impact of publishing and business on the Evangelical world, while this one is a new hymn, written to the 81 percent. And this one looks at what passes for worship. Sure, you can hear the axe grinding, but the turkey that passes for worship needs to be slaughtered so that true Thanksgiving can happen.

This isn’t worship, it’s a scam.

I don’t think that Hillsong, Kari Jobe, or most of the other big names in the worship industry even realize what they’re doing. But the unwitting nature of the scam makes these folks even more dangerous. They are running this con with an earnest passion that is contagious. That’s why so much of the church has been overtaken by it, both on Sunday mornings, and every time they go to a concert or turn this schlock on their radio.

Don’t be fooled.

God’s grace can’t be sold for the price of admission.

In the kingdom of God there is no Awake package. Remember how Jesus responded to the mother’s request in Matthew 20.

“You will indeed drink from my cup.”

That cup is costly, but it can’t be bought. (emphasis original)

And Scot McKnight ponders the decline of church attendance and the politicalization of the church:
Why go to church if one’s FB friends and one’s church people are the same? or if one’s FB banter is the same as the preacher’s banter?

Indeed, Why?

This makes me wonder if the politicization of the church in America deconstructs the church of America. Maybe the decline of the church is correlated with increasing politicization. I think so.

Meanwhile, Philip Jenkins muses on historical weather anomalies and church revivals. And Adam Laats wonders if people realize the ramifications of breaking down the wall between public funding of private religious schools (the so-called Baby Blaine amendments):
It seems too obvious to need elaboration, but neither religious groups nor state governments should want to put state governments in charge of choosing “legitimate” religion. As Curmudgucrat Peter Greene put it far better than I ever could, governments would need to establish
the Official Bureau of Religious Okee Dokeeness; now the state will determine which religious groups are “legitimate” or not.
If, on the other hand, states decide simply to include ALL religious groups in voucher programs, they will need to be prepared for the fallout. Certainly, that will include religions that endorse anti-LGBTQ ideas or racist ones. It will include religions that force brutal, even fatal “healing” services on children. It will also include churches of flying spaghetti monsters and Satan.

OK. One final story, totally unrelated to all the above, but one that rings true with my experience in industry before jumping into publishing fifteen-plus years ago: the role of private equity firms and the high percentage of businesses bought by them that go bankrupt. They offer three theories, all of which have merit:

Theory 1: Sometimes, private equity firms really are just looters.
Private equity investors have a reputation for being corporate looters that buy and pillage businesses for profit before moving on to raid the next unsuspecting office park. Sometimes, it’s undeserved. But often, it’s entirely earned.

Theory 2: Private equity firms are especially terrible for industries experiencing upheaval, like retail.
Brick-and-mortar retailers, which are fighting for their lives thanks to online competitors like Amazon, are a perfect example. Take Toys R Us, which ended up shouldering billions of dollars in new debt after it was poached by a group including KKR. The company was stuck paying hundreds of millions every year toward interest, which insiders say made it impossible to invest properly in the business and compete as Jeff Bezos’ kraken devoured the toy business.

Theory 3: It’s too easy for private equity firms to borrow money.
There’s a third factor underpinning all this: cheap debt. Private equity has boomed over the past couple of decades in large part because borrowing has been incredibly inexpensive. More deals are inevitably going to lead to more disasters. But free-flowing credit may also be encouraging the industry’s worst habits. In “The Economic Effects of Private Equity Buyouts,” for instance, the authors found that after a leveraged buyout, companies tend to become more productive. But they see smaller improvements, on average, when borrowing is cheaper. How come? The authors theorize that “when credit is cheap and easy, it may be more attractive to rely on financial engineering tools to generate returns” such as dividend recapitalizations, instead of actually trying to make companies run better. In other words, easy money equals easy looting.

Yep. I've seen it in my own experience, especially the first one. 'Nuff said. Have a great week and remember that Jesus is Lord and the kingdom of God is not of this world, although it works in this world.