Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument for God's Existence

Alvin Plantinga
For my Philosophy of Religion students.

Plantinga believes his modal version of the ontological argument avoids Kant's criticism that "exists" is not a predicate.


Modal logic concerns possibility, probability, and necessity. All modal truths are necessarily true. E.g., it is possible that a unicorn exists. The statement It is possible that a unicorn exists is necessarily true. If it were not so, then it would be not possible that a unicorn could exist. But that is absurd.


The argument:
1. There is a possible world where maximal greatness is instantiated.
2. Therefore, God exists

Maximal excellence: A being is maximally excellent if, in some possible world, a being has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

Maximal greatness: A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.

The idea of a maximally excellent being is coherent. The idea of a maximally great being is coherent.

So, both a maximally excellent being and a maximally great being are possible beings. That is, there is a possible world where a maximally excellent being exists. And, there is a possible world in which a maximally great being exists (our premise 1).

Premise 1 is necessarily true.

If there is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated, then a maximally excellent being is instantiated in every possible world.

Our world is a possible world. (That which is actual is also possible).

Therefore God exists in our world (and every possible, to include actual, world).

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Soft Atheist Converts to Hard Atheism

Former Kantian moralist Joel Marks (University of New Haven) writes: “I think the time has come, therefore, to reveal it to the world, and in particular to you, Dear Reader, who have patiently considered my defenses of a particular sort of moral theory for the last ten years. In a word, this philosopher has long been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely, that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t.”


Here’s his reasoning:

1. Marks is a “hard atheist.”

2. Hard atheism is analogous to what in philosophy is known as “hard determinism.”

3. Hard atheism (hard determinism) implies amorality.

4. “The whole crop of ‘New Atheists’ are “softies”; viz., “soft atheists” who hold that one could be an atheist and still embrace morality.

5. Therefore Marks must logically embrace amorality (= there’s no such thing as right and wrong).

He calls this “hard atheism.” I embrace his reasoning, even applaud it. Were I an atheist I would not be able to believe there is a right and wrong. Marks writes of his conversion from soft atheism to hard atheism: “So was I, until I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.” Indeed!

This whole paragraph says it well.

“Why do I now accept hard atheism? I was struck by salient parallels between religion and morality, especially that both avail themselves of imperatives or commands, which are intended to apply universally. In the case of religion, and most obviously theism, these commands emanate from a Commander; “and this all people call God,” as Aquinas might have put it. The problem with theism is of course the shaky grounds for believing in God. But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality.”

Marks’ realization sent him “reeling,” since his life, even though an atheist, was rooted in Kant’s understanding of morality. “Morality has been the essence of my existence, both personally and professionally. Now it is no more.”

Since Marks believe there is no Commander God (i.e., a God who is perfectly good in essence and issues commands that are good), the ground for morality are gone. The issues then become twofold, for me:

1. The primary issue is the existence of God. There are two options: either God exists or God does not exist. (Marks, like myself, is interested in the existence of the theistic God and not, e.g., polytheism’s multiple gods and avatars.)
2. If God exists, then we have grounds for morality. If God does not exist, then morality does not exist.

Marks then writes in answer to the question: How then shall we live?

I can agree with Marks that the only atheism worth holding is hard atheism. In that we are both dissatisfied with the New Atheist softies.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

(Not Quite) The Whorfian Hypothesis Redux

Ahhh... the "Whorfian Hypothesis" is alive and well here, in Guy Deutscher's nytimes article "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" Whorf's famous essay was published in 1940. "In particular, Whorf announced, Native American languages impose on their speakers a picture of reality that is totally different from ours, so their speakers would simply not be able to understand some of our most basic concepts, like the flow of time or the distinction between objects (like “stone”) and actions (like “fall”)." Whorf's hypothesis made a big initial impact and then, after receiving much criticism, was dismissed. It turned out "there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute." "There is no evidence that any language forbids its speakers to think anything."

But there is evidence that the language we speak influences our experience of the world. Deutscher, an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester, claims that much evidence suggests, and even shows, that the world looks different to people who speak different languages than ours. (See his forthcoming book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different In Other Languages) Deutscher quotes the famous linguist Roman Jakobsen, who wrote: "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” Whorf, holding to the latter idea, was wrong. But Deutscher thinks Jakobson was correct about the former.

Deutscher uses a remote Australian aboriginal tongue, Guugu Yimithirr, to make his point. The study of this language brought "the astounding realization that not all languages conform to what we have always taken as simply “natural.”" For example, in describing and space and the position of objects, we English speakers use the "egocentric system"; i.e., we describe spatial objects and their positions with words like "right," "left," "front," and "behind" in relation to our selves. But the Guugu Yimithirr describe spatial positions relying on "cardinal directions"; i.e., "north," "south," "east," and "west." What's interesting here, among other things, s that egocentric directions change, while cardinal directions do not. In the latter "north" is always "north," while on the former "right" shifts depending on the direction one is facing. It might seem absurd for us to tell a football player to take the ball and run to the east and then to the south. But this is how cultures speak if they operate spatially out of geographic coordinates. "So different languages certainly make us speak about space in very different ways." And that causes us to experience space differently.

So what? Here, for example: "As strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue." Deutscher concludes: "The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same."

The research that Deutscher amasses has, I think, implications for understanding religious experience. There are a few dissertations waiting to be written here. I also feel some resonances with Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By and the literature that has spun off their work.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Teens Are Embracing a Watered-Down, Mutant "Christianity"

My son Dan pointed me to this CNN report today. ("Author: More teens becoming 'fake' Christians" ) I see that Annie Dieselberg has picked up on it too.

More teens are embracing a "mutant Christianity."

The whole thing is worth reading.

Here are the bullets:

  • More teenagers embracing watered-down Christianity, author argues in new book
  • Teenagers see God as a "divine therapist"
  • Teenagers: "They don't want to make sacrifices"
  • Who's responsible for inspiring teens? Parents and pastors are

What City Am I In?

Linda and I just drove past this store. What city are we in?

The first correct answer wins a very small piece of sausage from this store. (To be presented, in person, this Sunday morning. if you win and you're there the sausage is yours.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Every Brain Needs Downtime

Multitasking Hindu deity
I'm interested in recent neurophysiological studies that look at the effects of multitasking on contemplation and meditation. Since the God-relationship, or any relationship for that matter, diminshes the more one tries to multitask it, our tweeting culture threatens that relationship.

Today's nytimes.com adds fuel to the idea that multitasking changes neurological structures.

Here are the bullet points from "Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime," by Matt Richtel.

  • Technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive.
  • A side effect of techno-multitasking is: "when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas."
  • U-Cal-San Francisco scientists support this.
  • U-Michigan neuroloscientist Marc Berman says that people think techo-multitasking refreshes them, but in actuality it fatigues them.
  • People are increasingly feeling the need to stay in constant techno-contact with people lest they miss something. This causes stress.
  •  "For many such people, the little digital asides [while shopping, driving, waiting, walking, etcing] come on top of heavy use of computers during the day."
  • If your iPod helps you get through an hour of exercise, that's good (as regards the exercise). But Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey says that "he would prefer to see people do their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing it outside, for your mood and working memory.”"
I'm be paying attention, as I teach my seminary students and do retreats and conferences, to how all this affects a life of prayer and meditation. I feel certain it will be more and more challenging to find people who know how to be still, and know that God is God.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Dystopian Revival

Dystopian literature is making another comeback. But first...

Dystopia - an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.

Dystopia - "Dystopia is the opposite of utopia (eu topos- a “good place”, dis topos- a “bad place”), depicting fictional societies in which the living is bad and imperfect caused by human misery, poverty, tyranny and terrorism. Creators of dystopian fictions explore worst possible scenario, highlighting sense of fear in order to show that a perfect society is not possible. In dystopian fiction we can rarely find hope. Although they usually depict world set in near future, they write about things they feared of in the existing world of reality, showing their own concern about some social trends, criticize them and also write about their wish to prevent it. The main theme of dystopian literature is oppression and rebellion, and the rebels are almost always weaker than the oppressors. Paranoia is very evident among citizens in dystopian societies, because they live in fear and they are being very often monitored, betrayed or manipulated. This term was coined by John Stuart Mill in 1868."

Dystopian literature -

1898 - H. G. Wells War of the Worlds


1928 - E. M. Forster “The Machine Stops”

1932 - Aldous Huxley Brave New World

1948 - B. F. Skinner Walden Two

1949 - George Orwell 1984

1953 - Arthur C. Clarke Childhood End

1953 - Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451

(Here's amazon.com's "Dystopian Literature" list.)

Dystopian movies - Idiocracy, A Scanner Darkly, 28 Days Later, Soylent Green (I saw it when it came out!), V for Vendetta, Gattaca, Brazil, Akira, Mad Max, Clockwork Orange, Wall-E, The Matrix, The Ghost In the Shell Series, Children of Men, Blade Runner, and Elf. (Just kidding about that last one. The creation of inner, personal dystopia does not here count.)

Tonight, at 12:01 AM, "Mockinjay" arrives. It's the third of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" books,
"a trilogy of dystopian young-adult novels."  "The “Hunger Games” trilogy unfolds in a grim future-world where children are sent into an arena to fight to the death. Ms. Collins has described the story as rooted in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. While dystopian fiction for teenagers has been around for decades, it has recently experienced a small revival in books like “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner and “Incarceron” by Catherine Fisher. Many of these books have also built a considerable audience among adults."

A revival of dystopian literature emerges from a birthing of dystopian bleakness in teens today. If the dystopian theme didn't interpret one's inner life no one would pay attention to it. For many, it appears, the future is dark.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saugatuck, Oval Beach, & Transgressions #2 & #3

Linda and I - our 37th anniversary!
Today Linda and I went to Douglas, Michigan, and walked around. A very artsy little town. Bought a couple of gifts for people.

Then we went to Saugatuck. We bought two kinds of imported balsamic vinegars - white peach and raspberry - at The Olive Mill.. You can taste all the vinegars and varieties of olive oils - yum! Walked and browsed the stores of Saugatuck. They were having their annual "Taste of Saugatuck," so two billion people were there. We had fish tacos for lunch. I transgressed for the second time in three days and had a piece of homemade blueberry pie.

After Saugatuck we went to nearby Oval Beach and sat on the Lake Michigan shore. The waves were big so I got to body surf - fun! I finished Greg Boyd's Present Perfect. A beautiful, challenging, hope-filled book about abiding in Christ!

Then back to our hotel to freshen up, and then to the killer Mexican restaurant (El Rodeo) in Benton Harbor. This might be our favorite Mexican restaurant in all the world (yes, I've eaten in Southern California...). It was there, tonight, at El Rodeo, that I transgressed for the third time. After the chicken chimichangas I (again) ordered their fried ice cream. I now confess this before the world.

Back home to Monroe tomorrow. Linda and I (a few pounds heavier) feel refreshed!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dune-Climbing with Mother Teresa, Bruce Cockburn, & Greg Boyd

At Warren Dunes State Park

The rain moved through and by 3 PM it was nothing but sun. Linda and I set up our chairs and umbrellas and talked, read, and fell asleep.

I read more of Mother Teresa's journals. I may write some things about this after I finish. Themes include, for me: 1) MT's humility and transparency; 2) MT's extended period of the experiential absence of God's presence; 3) contrasting MT's encounter with suffering and incarnating herself in the suffering, and Hume's detailed account of human suffering as forming an inductive argument against God's existence.

I then listened to 15-20 Bruce Cockburn songs on my mp3 player. Again... my favorite lyricist... brilliant... creative... the Annie Dillard of songwriting. Some of the songs put tears in my eyes; e.g., "Festival of Friends," as I'm watching the lake and kids and parents playing in it. And "What About the Bond?" The greatest wedding song ever written? Plus Cockburn's metaphorical ability as lyrics + melody form the "tenor" and "vehicle" (on metaphor, tenor, and vehicle see here, e.g.). Some of Cockburn's tenor-vehicle moments are shocking.

Then I read more in Greg Boyd's Present Perfect. It is, I think, a great text on dwelling now in the presence of God. I need to post some of the new insights Greg has (I say that as one who has for years taught on the history of Christian spirituality).

I hiked up the big dune - a real cardio-workout. I found myself taking 25 steps, then stopping to rest; then 25 more steps, rest; and so on. This dune is big enough to hang glide off, which we have seen done. Climbing this dune is a bit of a symbol for me. In 1986, I drove from East Lansing to Northwestern U. to submit the final copy of my dissertation. My main concern at that time was whether the margins in my document met the requirements. After my dissertation was turned in, I drove back to East Lansing. I stopped at Warren Dunes park. It was late winter. I climbed the big dune alone. As I stood at the top it was, for me, a sign of accomplishment and joy.

Tomorrow - back to the dunes and Lake Michigan with Linda!

Here are some pictures I took today.


Me, climbing the big dune


















Weathered trees near the top
of the big dune


















Sand dune trail





















Lake Michigan stone-skipping

















Weathered trees - color version

















Lake Michigan sunset

Three Days on the Beaches of Lake Michigan (plus a personal eating transgression)

Lake Michigan sunset last evening
Linda and I are celebrating 37 years of marriage with three days at Warren Dunes State Park in SW Michigan. This is one of our most favorite places on the planet. Swimming was delightful yesterday in clear blue Lake Michigan waters. I'm reading the journals of Mother Teresa, + stuff on Alvin Plantinga's modal version of the ontological argument for God's existence. Linda is reading Son of Hamas - quite a book! We've been talking about it.

Incredible Mexican food last evening. I failed in my eating habits as I ordered their cinnamon fried ice cream for dessert... It was joyful eating followed by total satiation followed by guilt.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coming: The Modal Version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence

I've taught Intro to Logic and Philosophy of Religion at Monroe County Community College (Michigan) for 10 years. Classes begin next week!

I'll begin my Philosophy of Religion class by presenting Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God. I've made this presentation so many times, and looked at tons of literature re. it, that I feel very comfortable presenting it. In fact, I love presenting this argument. It has proven to be a great way to begin this course. The argument is:

1) I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot exist.
2) Therefore, God exists.

This argument turns on: a) what it means to have an "idea;" b) logical possibility and impossibility; and c) necessary existence as an attribute of "a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.

We'll then look at Gaunilo's objection, which fails because his "island a greater than which cannot be conceived" is logically incoherent, since a contingent thing such as an island has no intrinsic maximum.

Then - Kant's objection that "existence" is not a predicate.

What will be new for me, and my class, is that I'll then look at Alvin Plantinga's Modal version of the Ontological Argument. A version of Plantinga's paper that is similiar to the one I am using (in Peterson, et. al.) can be found here. I'm working on ways to explain this version, trying to make it clear. It's a formidable task, I think, to get students who have never heard of anything like this before to get to understand it. I very much enjoy the challenge. And Plantinga's brilliance has always intrigued me.

So, here's one way to state his argument.

  •  God, if he exists, is a necessary being. That is, if God exists at all then he exists in every possible world.
  • It is [logically] possible that God exists.
  • If it is possible that God exists, then there is some possible world in which God exists.
  • If God exists in some possible world then, because he is a necessary being, he exists in all possible worlds.
  • God, then, exists in all possible worlds.
  • If God exists in all possible worlds, then he certainly exists in this one.
  • God, therefore, exists.
This argument makes sense to me. I'll look at it more closely, and I'll need to incorporate the Plantingian language of "maximal greatness" and "maximal excellence" into it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Success" in the Kingdom of God Is...

Thomas Merton wrote: "Since I became a great success in the book business I have been becoming more and more of a failure in my vocation. Not that I haven't made efforts to keep my head above water; but in the spiritual life it is not so hard to drown, when you imagine you are swimming." (The Sign of Jonas)

Merton's vocation was as a contemplative. Which means: one who entered deeply into the presence of God and beheld the beauty of the Lord. And received from God. One who gets imparted unto, by God. This is, to me, John chapters 14-16 stuff. A contemplative is one who dwells in the Three-Personed God and dances in the Big Dance (= Trinity as perichoretic union).

"Success" in the world pulls one out of God's presence. The spotlight of glory shifts from the robust omni-attributed majesty of God to the oh-so-finite meagre speck of the impoverished self. One's tiny being enjoys the micromoment of micropositional fame and begins to go under the water, spiritually. When the doxa shifts from God to man, it's bad news for the self and the self's beholders. Woe to the people whose leader loves self-glory.

A few months ago a group of teens from a local high school visited our Sunday morning worship service as part of a religious project they were doing. Afterwards three of them sat with me in my office and asked the question, "As a pastor, what is the number one thing you need to do for your people?" My immediate answer was: "The number one thing I need to do for my people is to get in the presence of God and abide there." Without that whatever I "do for the Lord" will be inauthentic and irrelevant, since it will not be an overflow of what Christ is doing in me.

In the Kingdom of God "success" is: connectedness to God.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Joey DeFrancesco (with David Sanborn) at the Monroe Jazz Festival

Our city of Monroe has, every year, an incredible and free (!) Jazz Festival.

Last night we heard incredible guitarist Chuck Loeb.

Then, David Sanborn (the phenomenal saxophonist)... and... what a surprise... the world's greatest jazz organist... Joey DeFrancesco. Oh my, I have never heard Hammond B3 playing like that in my life. What a virtuoso. The ease with which he plays, the drama and energy, and the raw speed that is, perhaps, incomparable. If you think this is an exaggeration listen to, e.g., DeFrancesco's "Goodfellas" (which he wrote for the movie). Prepare for your jaw to drop.

It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring evening of music with somewhere between 5-10 thousand people there.

Clark Pinnock - February 3, 1937—August 15, 2010

I just received word that Clark Pinnock passed away on Sunday. I first heard Clark speak in the mid-70s when he came to Northern Baptist Theological seminary. I had already been influenced by Clark's writings. Four years ago Clark was one of our speakers at our annual summer conference (hsrm.org). Greg Boyd spoke at that conference, too. What an odd couple that was - Greg, with his dynamic hyper-personality, and mild-mannered Clark (Kent?)! Greg has written a note on Clark's passing on his website here.

Is the Internet Changing the Way We Think?

This question is not about ideological shifts in the "I changed my mind about ____" sense. It is about neuroplasticity, the morphing of the physical brain into something different and therefore capable of certain new tasks and incapable of certain old, familiar tasks. Nicholas Carr's The Shallows is the book a lot of the discussion is now orbiting around. At guardian.co.uk some people were asked their opinion of Carr's thesis, in the form of the question: Is the Internet changing the way we think? Here are the central points from each response.

Sarah Churchwell, academic and critic
  • It seems unlikely that the Internet is changing our brains. [Maybe it should be said this way: Our brains are morphing so as to wield the Internet.]
  • Changing our habits of thinking is not the same as changing our brains. (I think Churchwell does not understand Carr's point. This is not about thinking differently. With my brain in the current shape it is in I can think differently about things. But in the acquiring of a different skill set my brain is physically morphed in the process of acquisition.]
  • The following quote shows me that Churchwell misses Carr's point. She writes: "We've all read the jeremiads that the internet sounds the death knell of reading, but people read online constantly – we just call it surfing now. [Carr's point here is that different neural skills are needed to "read online constantly.] What they are reading is changing, often for the worse; but it is also true that the internet increasingly provides a treasure trove of rare books, documents and images, and as long as we have free access to it, then the internet can certainly be a force for education and wisdom, and not just for lies, damned lies, and false statistics."
Naomi Alderman, novelist
  • If we were cows our brains would not change very much, if at all. "But I'm not a cow, I'm a person, and therefore pretty much everything I come into contact with can change my brain."
  • Alderman misses what Carr is saying big-time. She writes: "No single medium will ever give our brains all possible forms of nourishment." She says more about what we take in to the brain. But that's not at all what Carr's book is about. It's not an issue of the brain being "nourished." It's about the brain being morphed, not by what it's being fed, but by the "medium" it's being dished out in.
Ed Bullmore, psychiatrist


  • Bullmore does not critique Carr but rather claims that the physical brain and the internet are quite alike. "Both the internet and the brain have a wiring diagram dominated by a relatively few, very highly connected nodes or hubs; and both can be subdivided into a number of functionally specialised families or modules of nodes. It may seem remarkable, given the obvious differences between the internet and the brain in many ways, that they should share so many high-level design features." [But which brain, at what point of history, in what culture?]
Geoff Dyer, writer


  • Dyer doesn't respond to the question, but simply praises the Internet for its ability to hunt down data that previously would have consumed hours.
Colin Blakemore, neurobiologist
  • I'm disappointed that a neurobiologist would not get at the heart of our question. Blakemore writes: "At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus, the pocket calculator or the Sinclair Z80. Just as each of those leaps of technology could be (and were) put to bad use, we should be concerned about the potentially addictive, corrupting and radicalising influence of the internet." [The issue is not whether the Internet is an extension of our mind, but whether or not it is morphing our minds.]
Ian Goodyer, psychiatrist
  • Goodyer writes: "Do [various] environments change the brain? Well, they could and probably do in evolutionary time." Yay! Goodyer is going after the question. Bravo!
  • "The evidence that the internet has a deleterious effect on the brain is zero." WAAA! The question is about change and neuroplasticity, not morality. Carr's text is remarkably non-judgmental re. the Internet's effect on the brain. (Although the title, The "Shallows," sends off vibes of badness.)
  • Read the rest of what Goodyer says, and you'll see he doesn't go fort the question, though his first sentences looked promising. 
Maryanne Wolf, cognitive neuroscientist
  • Wolf has a handle on the question.
  • Her answer is: Yes.
  • She writes: "For me, the essential question has become: how well will we preserve the critical capacities of the present expert reading brain as we move to the digital reading brain of the next generation? Will the youngest members of our species develop their capacities for the deepest forms of thought while reading or will they become a culture of very different readers – with some children so inured to a surfeit of information that they have neither the time nor the motivation to go beyond superficial decoding?" [Wolf thus shows herself in sync with Carr's concerns.]

Pinker's Non-Critique of Carr's "The Shallows"

Harvard's Steven Pinker reviews Nicholas Carr's The Shallows here. I am much-taken by Carr's book, but realize that there will be criticism. Indeed, every work that strongly puts forth a truth claim that is wide-ranging will be and should subjected to critique. The person who does not wish to be criticized for what they say will end up saying nothing.

Pinker writes: "If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting." But I don't see Carr making that far-reaching of a claim. I think Pinker has set up a straw man here.

"The existence of neural plasticity does not mean the brain is a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience. Experience does not revamp the basic information-processing capacities of the brain." Pinker writes this to state that constant Twittering will not shape the brain so much as Carr thinks it will, but will make the person into a more effective Twitterer. Twitter postings will not turn your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings. I want Pinker to say much more here, which he could had he the space. When a person becomes adept at all the physical and mental skills needed to tweet, the brain has been shaped. It's like this: before I could not tweet (tweeting was foreign to me, awkward, etc.); now tweeting is "second nature." More accurately, tweeting is now "nature" to me. It is "natural." Behold the morphed brain.

Pinker writes: "Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, especially to people with attention deficit disorder. But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time, ask your spouse to call you to bed at a designated hour." I'm confused. What else is "addiction" but the shaping of the physical brain. And then, as always with Pinker (it seems to me), I am confused as to what "develop strategies of self-control" means for someone who seems to deny free will. Do we really have a choice, on Pinker's worldview? It's not clear to me.

Pinker concludes: "Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart." Note that Carr sings the praises of the Internet and information technologies as well, when he points out what they do and do not do, giving positive value to certain aspects of them.

Pinker's little nytimes piece is very brief. He is a brilliant thinker, and could say much more. He does not really engage Carr's reasoning here, so I don't find it to be a helpful review. At most we know Pinker is not fond of Carr's book.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Crafting of a Sermon - #10

Worshiping at Redeemer
I've carried my sermon notes around for the past two days. I've made changes, got illuminated by the Spirit on some things, and worked the material over into the notes below. These are the notes I'll take with me as I preach tomorrow. Here are some final thoughts about sermon-making.
  • Study the text. Study it hard and deep. "Rightly handle the word of God." Everything in me wants to get the interpretation right.
  • Pray the text. I ask God what He wants to say through me. As God speaks to me in the process I write it down.
  • I write out my sermons. I know many who do. This helps me not ramble on and get off the subject. (One of the greatest preachers I've ever heard, John Maxwell, wrote his sermons out before he preached them.)
  • The more time I have, week after week, to soak in the scriptures and notes, the less note-dependent I'll be on Sunday mornings.
  • There's many "living words" in the sermon to be given tomorrow. Much application.
  • The sermon must be clear. I think: just be clear, John, and watch what God does.
  • God will go beyond my sermon notes. What I preach tomorrow will be different, in some or even many ways, from these notes. One reason will be that God gives me insight that I do not currently have. Or God will stop me on a particular point.
  • I do not yet know how the sermon will end. I trust that God will let me know when we get there. I cannot box God in.
  • God often leads days before the message is preached. That's why I keep writing things down.
  • Tomorrow morning I will probably drive around for an hour prior to our service, looking at the message for one last time.
  • I need to be able to stand before God and my people knowing I've given this message everything I can give. That will be true tomorrow morning.
  • I am excited about tomorrow's message! There's new learning and new revelation, for me, in it.
  • If you've been following these posts, and are there tomorrow morning, let's watch how God shakes the whole thing down and encounter us with love and truth.
*****
JESUS APPEARS TO MARY – John 20:10-18


August 15, 2010

Today is Easter Sunday in August at Redeemer! Jesus is risen!

*****

John 20:10-11 - Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.

The term κλαίω (klaio) "denotes the loud wailing typical of people in the Ancient Near East." (Kostenberger, John, 567)

Mary of Magdala… is wailing… is in deep mourning… for Jesus… and all she has lost.

She was at the cross with Jesus. She saw him dying… she saw him die… she heard his words…

She was at the tomb… when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in the tomb. (Matt. 27:61)

Now his body is missing. Someone, she is certain, has stolen his body.

Mary is sobbing… grief-filled… at this loss.

She is heartbroken. She thinks the body has been stolen. She doesn't know where Jesus' body is.

Now I've got a lot of thoughts going through me. How would I feel if Linda died, was buried, and grave-robbers stole her body?

Even though she was dead I know I would feel for her. The body of the love of my life is in someone else's possession.

I feel violated. I also feel for her, though she does not feel at all. I'm angry and sad and concerned.

I’ve lost my life-partner. How will I do life without her?

Mary has lost… her compass. Her Lord.

She’s lost her healer and deliverer….her Shepherd… her life-coach…

Mary had been delivered… of “7 demons”… which probably means she had given herself over to demonic spiritual activity.

The demonic was Mary’s drug of choice. It was her way of manipulating reality.

Jesus delivered her and healed her and led her and spoken to her… the One she has been following beginning way up north in Galilee…

Many times freedom comes in stages… gradually…

In Mary’s case “freedom” was instant… immediate… and it lasted!

That happened way up north… in Magdala… a little town on the Sea of Galilee.

…How is she going to live without Him?

N.T. Wright calls Mary an “exile.” She, like a lot of people, is trying to get out of “Egypt”… out of exile… to become “post-exilic.”

In the exile of the kingdom of darkness… what is normal is death.

Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse.

Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks.

NTW says: Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)

Mary still lives in the land of the dead… not the land of the living.

She lives in the land of holding on to dead bodies and placing them in tombs and visiting graveyards… and collecting their bones after a year and placing the bones in an ossuary…

…that’s got the family name on it… and storing and caring for the ossuary.

If there is a land where this does not happen… then Mary is exiled from it.

For you and me… if Christ did not rise… then we’re just left crying over dead bodies and holding on to dead bodies.

*****
John 20:10-12 - Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

Mary bends down… and again looks into the tomb. Maybe she just didn’t see his body?

When you’ve lost something… you say… “I know I looked there already… but I don’t know where else to look… so I’ll look again…”

Angels appear to Mary. I spoke a few weeks ago about angels, as we've slow-cooked in the empty tomb stories. I believe in the existence of angels.

I always have… since that day… 40 years ago… When God came to me…

I know there are many who are Jesus-followers who struggle with the idea of angels and demons. I interpret that as a matter of our Eurocentric, Western enculturization.

I’ve met Jesus-followers for whom angels and demons are “theoretical.”

“In theory… angels exist.”

Or… they are part of our historical past…

Here at the tomb Mary of Magdala did not meet two theoretical angels.

In preaching I do not want to come at the text from a Cartesian or Humean worldview.

There are two angels – messengers from God – in the tomb, in the place where Jesus’ body lay.

When John writes that Mary saw two angels this does not imply that she recognized them as such.

Mary "probably did not recognize" that the two white-garmented beings were angels.

Mary thinks she's talking to two ordinary people, and not to angels. She does not have a response of fear, which is typical of people when they see an angel.

But… they were wearing "white!" So what?

I wore white a few weeks ago on Sunday morning and no one said “Look – an angel!”

"Worshipers wore white or linen in worship services," and priests generally wore white linen. So it seems that the mere wearing of white is not evidence that the white-wearer is an angel.

Craig Keener writes: "The angels were at the head and feet of where Jesus had been, marking the holiness of the site of the resurrection."

*****
John 10:13 – They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

Maybe the angels know? What the heck has happened to my Lord's body!!! She cries this out amidst tears and desperation. Jesus' body is missing. With a trace. I.e., with grave clothes intact. I know the feeling of losing something or someone precious. It's gone. It's a very weird feeling. It can be accompanied by fear if you think you've been robbed. Who would have done such a thing? Who could have done such a thing?

EXAMPLE: When Linda and I had our car stolen, with our wedding pictures in it.

The feeling of being violated.

N.T. Wright asks us to stand with Mary, peeking into the tomb. We bring our cares to these angels, saying... "They've taken away... my home... my husband... my children... my rights... my dignity... my hopes... my life."

“They have taken away my master."

*****
John 20:14 - At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

• Mary turns around and there stands the Missing One.

o She wonders where the body is… and there’s the body standing right before her eyes.

• Only she does not recognize him. How is this possible?

I thought of the old Superman tv show… and Superman comics and Superman movies.

Superman’s disguise” is: to put on a pair of glasses.

I never bought into the idea that Superman could disguise himself from the entire world by merely putting on a pair of glasses. I know that if I put on glasses and walked around the house everyone + my dog would know who I am, and especially my dog.

OK – Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus. How is this possible?

When you are not at all expecting to see something you might not really "see" it even if it is right before your eyes.

AND… Jesus’ body is transformed. It’s a “resurrection body.” Not a “resuscitated body” (like Lazarus’s body).

• The last time Mary saw Jesus, his body was a wreck… perhaps almost unrecognizable…

Her eyes are flooded with tears, so physically maybe she doesn't see so clearly.


EXAMPLE: The photo of Linda and me. All of you recognized Linda. Some of you asked who was that guy standing next to you?



• So I don’t find it surprising that Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus… right before her eyes.

• She’s so grief-filled she doesn’t recognize anything… the angels… or Jesus…

*****
V. 15 - "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Mary thinks this man is the gardener.

Mary thought Jesus was a "gardener." That makes sense, since the tomb was in a garden (the word can be better translated as "orchard," or "plantation").

It's early morning. Other mourners could be there. Gardeners attending to the grounds would have been the only other people around.

 Craig comments: "That Mary offers to carry Jesus away if the present burial site was inappropriate suggests great devotion; to protect his body from the dishonor of an unmarked or unmourned grave, she is willing to exert what, for Mary by herself, would have likely involved tremendous physical effort." (Ib., 1190)"The one whose body she is seeking is asked for a solution to the mystery of the empty tomb." (Ib., 568)

• That would be like you coming up to me and asking me where I am.

• In all of this it's important to keep in mind how distressed Mary is. She has just been agonizing and wailing.

They have a little dialogue. Jesus goes with the dialogue.

Part of me wonders… Why? Why doesn't he take of his glasses immediately and say "Mary, it's me, Superman!" Why this little game? Or perhaps: Why not? There's no logical inconsistency here. And maybe this is not a game at all?

Maybe Jesus is breaking it to her slowly? After all, Jesus once cast 7 demons out of her. He knows what's in her heart and what she is capable of.


*****
John 20:16 - Jesus said to her, "Mary."

Jesus reveals his identity to Mary by simply revealing her name to her. "Mary."

God has a history of calling people by name. For example:

• Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Genesis 22:1)

• The angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 22:11)

• And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!"

"Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 46:2)

• When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." (Exodus 3:4)

• The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam. 3:10)

• "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things... (Luke 10:41)

• "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. (Luke 22:31)

• He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4)

God often got his people's attention by calling them by name, often a double name." (Ib.)

OK. But I call a lot of people by name. This seems important to me.

"What's the uniqueness about that?"

Yet I remain touched, when Jesus says "Mary." My own father, at the end of his life, called me by name when he said, "John I love you."

I can barely write that sentence... it means so very much to me... that he spoke my name.. the name he had given me.

It feels far more powerful than had he left my name out and simply said "I love you." That would have been great. Yet the addition of my name, the personalization of this encounter, takes the words "I love you" out of the ballpark. What was already a home run has become a 700 foot home run.

I find myself touched when Jesus speaks "Mary," and that becomes the moment of recognition.


Now, right now, I feel touched by this. It feels beautiful and loving to me.

The way Jesus says her name... it's unique.

The fact that he addresses her by name... it's personal and intimate.

However she hears this, it is enough and dead-on.

Mary is a spiritual exile… liv ing w/o her Lord… dwelling in a land of shattered hopes and unfulfilled dreams… and no rescue in sight…

Then… Jesus says "Mary" and it's like turning on a light switch in her heart.

It's the illuminative moment.

When my own father called my name and told me he loved me… that was a lot different than the many times other people call me by name.

WHEN YOUR LORD… not just some other person… YOUR SAVIOR… calls your name…

Jesus has already said that "his own sheep would recognize his voice, especially when he called them by name (10:3-5)." (Ib., 1190-1191)

John 10:2-5 - 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

I like this very much! In fact, it happened at my conversion.

One moment I didn't believe in a God who was experientially with us; the next moment my world is rocked and I meet Him.

When Jesus calls Mary of Magdala by name… It's a revelation of his real presence happening in the place of total non-expectation.

Craig Keener calls Mary's encounter with Jesus one of several "recognition scenes" in the Gospel of John. (Ib., 1189) I like this.

This is a "My Lord and my God!" moment. It's dramatic. The eyes widen. The heart beats faster.

I think I am so very touched by what Jesus does here… because I was once spiritually fatherless, a stranger with no hope… [that’s the “exile” thing]…

…Your kindness wakened me, wakened me from my sleep…

Personally, Jesus called my name. I am now on a first-name basis with Jesus.

Important – you cannot force this on people!

I’m calling it… a revelation of God’s real presence happening in the place of total non-expectation.

*****
This is the tender, intimate moment. Jesus says, "Mary." Mary answers, "Rabboni!"

John 20:16 - She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

John writes the Aramaic word, which serves to "create a heightened sense of intimacy." (Ib.)

Mary responds, very personally, with the words "my teacher." That's more intimate than simply "teacher." It's like "I am my beloved's and he is mine..." Mary is saying, "You, Jesus, are my guide, my instructor, my Rabbi... you belong to me... you are the one I take direction from... you are the one in whom I place my trust... You are my mentor... my Sherpa... my platoon leader... my coach... my Shepherd..."

*****
17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus tells Mary, "Don't hold on to me." Or: "Don't touch me." "Don't embrace me physically." Craig Keener says that "touch" probably refers to "embrace."

I assume, as many scholars assume…, that Mary of Magdala has grabbed hold of Jesus… maybe she’s embracing his feet…

…clutching his hands…

Craig Keener says that the Greek wording suggests the translation as: "Stop holding on to me."

Which would imply, of course, that Mary was already holding on to Jesus' physical body.

• The idea of Jesus saying "Don't hold on to me" is this: He's going to ascend, and the relationship is going to be deeper with him - in the background here is John 14-16 (again) - we'll dwell in him rather than just hold on to him.

 He is saying, "Mary, the whole thing is going to be different, there's kind of a new fellowship, a personal communion where I'm going to be inside of you, living in you."

Jesus' use of "my Father and your Father, my God and your God" is "fictive kinship language." (Ib.) It was "a way of emphasizing a common bond." (Ib.)

It's a way for Jesus to say, "Mary, you are in my family!" This is a huge statement, and I cannot just pass it by.

MY GOD AND YOUR GOD

EXAMPLE: I'm now thinking of my neighbor Dave, who is a very cool guy and a great neighbor. He plants a huge garden every summer that produces beans and peppers and other delicacies, to include the summer delicacy of all delicacies, tomatoes. Linda and I LOVE tomatoes fresh from the garden. Dave has told me, re. his garden, "John, everything I have is yours." So, just a few hours ago, I walked back to Dave's garden... no, it's my garden, too, since Dave has told me that everything of his is mine..., and picked fresh tomatoes and fresh hot peppers and a green pepper, right off the vine.

“My garden is your garden.” "My tomatoes are your tomatoes."

What's cool and amazing about that is I have done nothing to grow Dave's garden. But I am the recipient of its bounty. When Jesus tells Mary that he's returning to "my Father and your Father," it says she is the recipient of all that the Father has for Jesus. That seems big to me.

Jesus, in our passage of concern, gives Mary of Magdala a "stunning invitation."

There she is, weeping, mourning. She is an exile.

Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse.

Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks.

NTW says: Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)

Andreas Kostenberger writes: Here we have a turning "from the possibility of grave robbers to the reality of the invasion of God's power.”

Jesus asks her, "Who are you looking for?" Does Mary know? Yes, and no. Yes, of course, she knows Jesus. But Jesus is not alive "with a new sort of life, the like of which we'd never seen before." Wright then invites us. "Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you've brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today." (Ib., 146)

From grave robbery to an invasion of God's power - nice!

EXAMPLE: A friend told me that once, in the church they were in, there was a time of worship & ministry at the altar…

She went forward. Then she had what she can only describe as a powerful, personal encounter with Jesus… right there… so that it was almost as if she saw Jesus with her own eyes.

It was so real, so startling, that her immediate response was: “Jesus, what are you doing here in church!”

Either "Look at All the Lonely People" OR "You've Got a Friend"

“No other comparable nation,” the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes, “has such a high level of multiple marital and cohabiting unions.”  (In Daniel Akst, "America: Land of the Loners," in The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2010)

Highlights of Akst's essay include:
  • Family life in the United States is unstable.
  • This is due to the loss of real community, as Americans create greater and greater distance between one another.
  • "Friendship could pick up some of the interpersonal slack."
  • "Sizzling eros" hogs the spotlight in America.
  • A return to philia, "friendship," will help us all.
  • "Today “friends” are everywhere in our culture—the average Facebook user has 130—and friendship, of a diluted kind, is our most characteristic relationship: voluntary, flexible, a “lite” alternative to the caloric meshugaas of family life."
  • Modern friendships are a "thin gruel." Deeper friendships provide a "more nourishing fare." (Note: much ink is now being spilled on how shallow a culture we are. Anyone interested in deeper living and deeper friendships would do well to read J.P. Moreland's The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life.)
  • Ahhh... I just cited Moreland, then return to more of Akst and read: "Aristotle, who saw friendship as essential to human flourishing, shrewdly observed that it comes in three distinct flavors: those based on usefulness (contacts), on pleasure (drinking buddies), and on a shared pursuit of virtue—the highest form of all. True friends, he contended, are simply drawn to the goodness in one another, goodness that today we might define in terms of common passions and sensibilities." J.P. would like this!
  • If Aristotle took this too seriously, today "the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and in our culture we take friendship—a state of strong mutual affection in which sex or kinship isn’t primary—far too lightly. We’re good at currying contacts and we may have lots of pals, but by falling short on Aristotle’s third and most important category of friendship, we’ve left a hole in our lives. Now that family life is in turmoil, reinvigorating our notion of friendship—to mean something more than mere familiarity—could help fill some of the void left by disintegrating household arrangements and social connections frayed by the stubborn individualism of our times."
  • "We live now in a climate in which friends appear dispensable. While most of us wouldn’t last long outside the intricate web of interdependence that supplies all our physical needs—imagine no electricity, money, or sewers—we’ve come to demand of ourselves truly radical levels of emotional self-sufficiency. In America today, half of adults are unmarried, and more than a quarter live alone."
  • "In a separate study, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, authors of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (2009), surveyed more than 3,000 randomly chosen Americans and found they had an average of four “close social contacts” with whom they could discuss important matters or spend free time. But only half of these contacts were solely friends; the rest were a variety of others, including spouses and children."
  • "The number of household pets has exploded throughout the Western world." Which suggests that our best friends are our dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, and parakeets.
  • "John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist who studies loneliness, says he’s convinced that more Americans are lonely—not because we have fewer social contacts, but because the ones we have are more harried and less meaningful."
  • Cultural contributers to our loneliness include: 1) relocating for a different job, thus losing any established friendships; 2) our high divorce rate; a couple not only loses one another but an entire family netowork; 3) the American way of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and self-reliance; and 4) "the remorseless eroticization of human relations that was bequeathed to us by Sigmund Freud."
  • Tribal cultures understand friendship; we don't.
  • "Living in a society of friends has many advantages. Friendship can moderate our behavior (unless, like the television mobster Tony Soprano, you happen to choose immoderate friends). Friends help us establish and maintain norms and can tell us if we’re running off the rails when others don’t notice, won’t break the news, or lack the necessary credibility. Both our relatives and our friends, the psychologist Howard Rachlin writes, “are essential mirrors of the patterns of our behavior over long periods—mirrors of our souls. They are the magic ‘mirrors on the wall’ who can tell us whether this drink, this cigarette, this ice-cream sundae, this line of cocaine, is more likely to be part of a new future or an old past.”"
  • Friendship can prolong our lives.
Akst's essay is a good read. The subject matter is important. The implications for those of us who are Jesus-followers are many.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Islamic Christology on Film

Because I'm going to Kenya in a couple of months I occasionally turn to The Daily Nation, based in Nairobi. In today's paper there's a news piece, "Lebanon bans Iranian biopic of Jesus Christ."

Lebanese Christians say the film denies basis of Christianity. It's called "The Messiah," and was originally released in Iran in 2008. Because the movie is based on the Quran's statements about Jesus it will deny actual, historic Christianity.

From the article:

"Christians believe Jesus was the son of God and died by crucifixion before resurrecting and ascending to heaven. But Muslims say Christ, or “the prophet Issa” in Islam, ascended to heaven while still alive, a notion which is made clear in the series.


“The Koran talks about Jesus many times, and about Mary many times,” director Nader Talebzadeh said in an interview to CNN in 2008, when the original movie was released. “But he is never the son of God, he is a prophet, and also he was not crucified — someone else was crucified in his place,” he added."

No serious scholar of Jesus takes into account the Quranic version of Jesus.

Every Educator Should Read "The Shallows"

Multitasking is everywhere.
Nicholas Carr writes: "Just as the pioneers of hypertext once believed that links would provide a richer learning experience for readers, many educators also assumed that multimedia, or "rich media," as it's sometimes called, would deepen comprehension and strengthen learning. The more inputs, the better. But this assumption, long accepted without much evidence, has also been contradicted by research. The division of attention demanded by multimedia further strains our cognitive abilities, diminishing our learning and weakening our understanding. When it comes to supplying the mind with the stuff of thought, more can be less." (Carr, The Shallows, Kindle, 2,211-23)

Multimedia requires multi-tasking while learning and understanding (deep understanding) requires focus and mono-tasking.

The Crafting of a Sermon - #9

Double rainbow over
Munson Park

I took a long walk with my sermon notes yesterday. I just slow-walked through the park that is across from our home. I felt God spoke some new things to me. I wrote them down.

Now I have shaped Sunday's sermon into the notes below. I am, in a few minutes, going to ride my bike to Lake Erie (Sterling State Park) and ponder these notes, plus (I think) swim in the lake.

At this point in my sermon prep I have:

1. Meditated and soaked in the scriptures I will preach on.
2. Gone to three "John" commentaries that I respect.
3. Prayer-walked with my sermon notes, and received additional insights and revelations.
4. Put together those into the form below, which basically has 4 major sections:
a. Mary's deep, mourning grief. Her great loss. She's an exile who is remaining an exile.
b. The "recognition scene."
c. The new, stunning releationship Mary now has with Jesus ("My God and your God...")
d. The situation turns from grave robbery to the invasion of God's power.

After I go over the notes below, I may check out some other commentaries, using Google books to look at D.A. Carson, Jerome Neyrey, Ridderbos, Marianne Meye Thompson, Bauckham, et. al. I usually do this after much preliminary praying and studying and listening to God.

Finally, I may check out some other resources, like how other pastors have preached these verses. Sometimes that adds a nugget of wisdom to what God is putting together in my heart.

And, it has often happened that the message I had planned on giving changes as it is given on Sunday morning. I'm always open to that. But note that this is not "winging it" or "flying my the seat of my pants" (an odd metaphor, no?). It's precisely the hard prayer-and-study work I've done prior to the preaching moment that allows God's Spirit to be creative through me.

*****
JESUS APPEARS TO MARY – John 20:10-18

August 15, 2010

Today is Easter Sunday at Redeemer! Jesus is risen!

*****
John 20:10 - 10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.

Mary of Magdala… is wailing… is in deep mourning… for Jesus… and all she has lost.

• The disciples went back to their homes. Mary of Magdala stood outside the tomb crying. The term κλαίω (klaio) "denotes the loud wailing typical of people in the Ancient Near East." (Kostenberger, John, 567) Mary is wailing outside the tomb. (Note: I took two years of biblical Greek while in seminary. I know enough Greek to look words up, understand and read some sentences, but because I have not kept up with my Greek it's not what it could be. Here's the Greek Bible website I use.)

Mary of Magdala is wailing, not because Jesus has died, but because his body has disappeared. "Abuse of the dead was considered an abhorrent offense." (Ib.)

She was at the cross with Jesus. She saw him dying… she saw him die… she heard his words…

She was at the tomb… when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in the tomb.
Now his body is missing. Someone, she is certain, has stolen his body.

Mary is sobbing… grief-filled… at this loss.

She is heartbroken. She thinks the body has been stolen. She doesn't know where Jesus' body is.

She refers to Jesus as "my Lord."

Now I've got a lot of thoughts going through me. How would I feel if Linda died, was buried, and grave-robbers stole her body?

Even though she was dead I know I would feel for her. The body of the love of my life is in someone else's possession.

I feel violated. I also feel for her, though she does not feel at all. I'm angry and sad and concerned.

Mary has lost… her compass. Her Lord.

She’s lost her healer and deliverer.

Mary had been delivered… of “7 demons”… which probably means she had given herself over to demonic spiritual activity.

The demonic was Mary’s drug of choice.

The One who had delivered her and healed her and led her and spoken to her… the One she has been following beginning way up north in Galilee…

…How is she going to live without Him?

N.T. Wright calls Mary an “exile.”

"Normal" life is death-inevitable. Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse. Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks. Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)

Mary lives in the land of the dead… not the land of the living.

She lives in the land of holding on to dead bodies and placing them in tombs and collecting their bones after a year and placing the bones in an ossuary…

…that’s got the family name on it… and storing and caring for the ossuary.

If there is a land where this does not happen… then Mary is exiled from it.

For you and me… if Christ did not rise… then we’re just left crying over dead bodies and holding on to dead bodies.

*****
John 20:10-12 - Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

Mary bends down… and again looks into the tomb. Maybe she just didn’t see his body?

When you’ve lost something… you say… “I know I looked there already… but I don’t know where else to look… so I’ll look again…”

N.T. Wright asks us to stand with Mary, peeking into the tomb. We bring our cares to these angels, saying... "They've taken away... my home... my husband... my children... my rights... my dignity... my hopes... my life. "They have taken away my master."

Angels appear to Mary. I spoke a few weeks ago about angels, as we've slow-cooked in the empty tomb stories. I believe in the existence of angels.

I always have… since that day… 40 years ago… When God came to me…

I know there are many who are Jesus-followers who struggle with the idea of angels and demons. I interpret that as a matter of our Eurocentric, Western enculturization.

In preaching I do not want to come at the text from a Cartesian or Humean worldview.

Mary "probably did not recognize" that the two white-garmented beings were angels.

Mary thinks she's talking to two ordinary people, and not to angels. She does not have a response of fear, which is typical of people when they see an angel.

When John writes that Mary saw two angels this does not imply that she recognized them as such.

But… they were wearing "white!" So what?

I wore white a few weeks ago on Sunday morning and no one said “Look – an angel!”

"Worshipers wore white or linen in worship services," and priests generally wore white linen. So it seems that the mere wearing of white is not evidence that the white-wearer is an angel.

Craig Keener writes: "The angels were at the head and feet of where Jesus had been, marking the holiness of the site of the resurrection."

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John 10:13 – They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

Maybe the angels know? What the heck has happened to my Lord's body!!! She cries this out amidst tears and desperation. Jesus' body is missing. With a trace. I.e., with grave clothes intact. I know the feeling of losing something or someone precious. It's gone. It's a very weird feeling. It can be accompanied by fear if you think you've been robbed. Who would have done such a thing? Who could have done such a thing?

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John 20:14 - At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

• Mary turns around and there stands the Missing One. Only she does not recognize him. How is this possible?

 When you are not at all expecting to see something you might not really "see" it even if it is right before your eyes. (I never bought into the idea that Superman could disguise himself from the entire world by merely putting on a pair of glasses. I know that if I put on glasses and walked around the house everyone + my dog would know who I am, and especially my dog.)

• Her eyes are flooded with tears, so physically maybe she doesn't see so clearly.

• Jesus’ body is transformed. It’s a “resurrection body.” Not a “resuscitated body” (like Lazarus’s body).

• The last time Mary saw Jesus, his body was a wreck… perhaps almost unrecognizable…

• EXAMPLE: The photo of Linda and me. All of you recognized Linda. Some of you asked who was that guy standing next to you?

• So I don’t find this surprising.

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V. 15 - "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Mary thinks this man is the gardener. They have a little dialogue. Jesus goes with the dialogue. Why? Why doesn't he take of his glasses immediately and say "Mary, it's me, Superman!" Why this little game? Or perhaps: Why not? There's no logical inconsistency here. And maybe this is not a game at all? Maybe Jesus is breaking it to her slowly? After all, Jesus once cast 7 demons out of her. He knows what's in her heart and what she is capable of.

Mary thought Jesus was a "gardener." That makes sense, since the tomb was in a garden (the word can be better translated as "orchard," or "plantation").

We read, in John 20:15 - Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Craig comments: "That Mary offers to carry Jesus away if the present burial site was inappropriate suggests great devotion; to protect his body from the dishonor of an unmarked or unmourned grave, she is willing to exert what, for Mary by herself, would have likely involved tremendous physical effort." (Ib., 1190)

It's early morning. Other mourners could be there. Gardeners attending to the grounds would have been the only other people around.

• "The one whose body she is seeking is asked for a solution to the mystery of the empty tomb." (Ib., 568) That would be like you coming up to me and asking me where I am. In all of this it's important to keep in mind how distressed Mary is. She has just been agonizing and wailing.

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John 20:16 - Jesus said to her, "Mary."

Jesus then calls her by name. "Mary." Now, right now, I feel touched by this. It feels beautiful and loving to me. Whenever I feel something like this in preparation for preaching I take it seriously, as possible revelation from-God.

It’s like God is saying to me: "Preach this, John."

The way Jesus says her name... it's unique. The fact that he addresses her by name... it's personal and intimate. However she hears this, it is enough and dead-on. Jesus says "Mary" and it's like turning on a light switch. It's the illuminative moment. Now I am thinking this. A person today thinks Jesus is not real, and then turns around and it's him and he calls their name, and they know it's him because of the way he says their name. It's a revelation of his real presence happening in the place of total non-expectation. I like this very much! In fact, it happened at my conversion. One moment I didn't believe in a God who was experientially with us; the next moment my world is rocked and I meet Him. (I am now thinking of checking out a book I have called Conversions, and re-reading some of them, looking at these kind of sudden revelation-moments that come in the land of zero expectations.)

Craig Keener calls Mary's encounter with Jesus one of several "recognition scenes" in the Gospel of John. (Ib., 1189) I like this. This is a "My Lord and my God!" moment. It's dramatic. The eyes widen. The heart beats faster.

Jesus reveals his identity to Mary by simply revealing her name to her. "Mary." Jesus has already said that "his own sheep would recognize his voice, especially when he called them by name (10:3-5)." (Ib., 1190-1191) This is a good connection. Thank you for commentaries (again)! it seems simple, but I might not have noticed it. This seems important to me, since I find myself touched when Jesus speaks "Mary," and that becomes the moment of recognition.

Craig points out that God has a history of calling people by name. For example:

• Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Genesis 22:1)

• The angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 22:11)

• And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!"

"Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 46:2)

• When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." (Exodus 3:4)

• The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam. 3:10)

• "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things... (Luke 10:41)

• "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. (Luke 22:31)

• He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4)

Craig writes: "In Scripture and in other early Jewish sources, God often secured his people's attention by calling them by name, often a double name." (Ib.) OK. But I call a lot of people by name. This seems important to me. Yet I imagine myself listening to a sermon that points out some kind of significance in calling a person by name. I might wonder, "What's the uniqueness about that?" Yet I remain touched, when Jesus says "Mary." My own father, at the end of his life, called me by name when he said, "John I love you." I can barely write that sentence... it means so very much to me... that he spoke my name.. the name he had given me. It feels far more powerful than had he left my name out and simply said "I love you." That would have been great. Yet the addition of my name, the personalization of this encounter, takes the words "I love you" out of the ballpark. What was already a home run has become a 700 foot home run. I am thinking something like this. I'm thinking about the importance of names and naming in ancient Hebrew culture.

I think I am so very touched by what Jesus does here… because I was once spiritually fatherless, a stranger with no hope… [that’s the “exile” thing]…

…Your kindness wakened me, wakened me from my sleep…

Personally, Jesus called my name. I am now on a first-name basis with Jesus.

Important – you cannot force this on people!

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This is the tender, intimate moment. Jesus says, "Mary." Mary answers, "Rabbouni!"

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

John writes the Aramaic word, which serves to "create a heightened sense of intimacy." (Ib.) Kostenberger says that, because Mary calls Jesus "Teacher," she has not yet come to terms with the reality of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus is her teacher, but he is far more than that. We must keep in mind the fact that Jesus had saved Mary from a "dire condition." (Ib.; when Jesus cast out 7 demons)

Mary responds, very personally, with the words "my teacher." That's more intimate than simply "teacher." It's like "I am my beloved's and he is mine..." Mary is saying, "You, Jesus, are my guide, my instructor, my Rabbi... you belong to me... you are the one I take direction from... you are the one in whom I place my trust... You are my mentor... my Sherpa... my platoon leader... my coach... my Shepherd..."

EXAMPLE: A friend told me that once, in the church they were in, there was a time of worship & ministry at the altar…

She went forward. Then she had what she can only describe as a powerful, personal encounter with Jesus… right there… so that it was almost as if she saw Jesus with her own eyes.

It was so real, so startling, that her immediate response was: “Jesus, what are you doing here in church!”

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17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "


18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

"Jesus commissions Mary as his agent - although first-century Palestinian Jews rarely appear to have used women as agents - to his "brothers" (20:17)." (Keener, John, 1191) By "brothers" Jesus does not mean his physical brothers. Jesus' physical brothers did not believe him (John 7:5). Now, those who believed in Jesus were his "brothers" (see Mark 3:34).

Jesus' use of "my Father and your Father, my God and your God" is "fictive kinship language." (Ib.) It was "a way of emphasizing a common bond." (Ib.) It's a way for Jesus to say, "Mary, you are in my family!" This is a huge statement, and I cannot just pass it by.

EXAMPLE: I'm now thinking of my neighbor Dave, who is a very cool guy and a great neighbor. He plants a huge garden every summer that produces beans and peppers and other delicacies, to include the summer delicacy of all delicacies, tomatoes. Linda and I LOVE tomatoes fresh from the garden. Dave has told me, re. his garden, "John, everything I have is yours." So, just a few hours ago, I walked back to Dave's garden... no, it's my garden, too, since Dave has told me that everything of his is mine..., and picked fresh tomatoes and fresh hot peppers and a green pepper, right off the vine.

“My garden is your garden.” "My tomatoes are your tomatoes."

What's cool and amazing about that is I have done nothing to grow Dave's garden. But I am the recipient of its bounty. When Jesus tells Mary that he's returning to "my Father and your Father," it says she is the recipient of all that the Father has for Jesus. That seems big to me.

Jesus tells Mary, "Don't hold on to me." Or: "Don't touch me." "Don't embrace me physically." Craig Keener says that "touch" probably refers to "embrace."

I assume, as many scholars assume…, that Mary of Magdala has grabbed hold of Jesus… maybe she’s embracing his feet…

…clutching his hands…

Craig Keener says that the Greek wording suggests the translation as: "Stop touching me," or "Stop attempting to touch me," rather than "Don't touch me." Jesus' command is probably best translated as: "Stop holding on to me."

Which would imply, of course, that Mary was already holding on to Jesus' physical body.

Keener writes: "More than likely Jesus simply places a temporal limitation on Mary's embrace or wish to embrace: soon Jesus must ascend, so the post-resurrection rendezvous Jesus promised must be carried out urgently." (Ib.)

Like - "Stop holding on to me, because I've got things to do, like ascend to the Father who is, btw Mary, your Father as well."

Maybe Jesus is counseling Mary "not to become excessively attached to his physical presence... In any case, Mary seems to understand Jesus' message correctly, for she devotes herself immediately to bearing his message." (Ib., 1194)

Kostenberger interprets Jesus' words "Don't hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father," to refer to "the awkwardness that surrounds the interim between the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit." (Ib., 569) This is a transition period. The disciples are not to act like it's the good old days with Jesus. They cannot get a hold of "the nature of the new spiritual relationship with their Lord that soon will be mediated to them by the Holy Spirit." (Ib.)

• Had Mary already touched Jesus? Keener believes so. Scholars have debated this. Pause now and note: Scholars have so studied the Gospels in the minutest details that they've even spent big time effort trying to decide whether or not Mary of Magdala had already physically touched Jesus. If so, then Keener makes sense. Witherington, Raymond Brown, et. al. also think so. So... when Jesus said "Do not hold on to me," he said this because Mary was at that time holding on to him.

• Jesus says what he says because his permanent being-with her (abiding with her) in the near future is not to be physical, but in the Spirit.

• Jesus has not yet ascended. Kostenberger writes: "Jesus is not yet in an 'ascended' state; his process of glorification has not yet been completed. By salvation-historical necessity, Jesus must move on; the Spirit will take his place." (Ib., 570) This is helpful. I'll ponder it and re-word it, translating the scholarly language into language most will understand. This is but one of the ongoing challenges of preaching; viz., to take deep ideas and make them available to the common person. ("Common person" does not mean "ignorant person," but rather, in this case, "theologically untrained person," or non-scholar in this area.)

• For Jesus this is not the time for holding on to him; it's "not the time for sentimentalities." (Ib., 570) It's time for action. Jesus entrusts Mary with this very important message. Now watch how Kostenberger puts this: "The message to be conveyed by Mary to Jesus' disciples is that Jesus is 'in the process of ascending' to God the Father. That's beautiful! And, to be explained...

Jesus, in our passage of concern, gives Mary of Magdala a "stunning invitation." There she is, weeping, mourning. She is an exile. All exiles are now invited to join her. "Normal" life is death-inevitable. Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse. Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks. Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)


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FROM GRAVE ROBBERY TO AN INVASION OF GOD’S POWER

Andreas Kostenberger writes: "In what follows the Johannine narrative turns the attention away from the possibility of grave robbers to the reality of the invasion of God's power, with angels adduced as witnesses to the activity of the Father." (Ib.)

Jesus asks her, "Who are you looking for?" Does Mary know? Yes, and no. Yes, of course, she knows Jesus. But Jesus is not alive "with a new sort of life, the like of which we'd never seen before." Wright then invites us. "Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you've brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today." (Ib., 146)

From grave robbery to an invasion of God's power - nice!