Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Distinction & the League of Quite Ordinary Ungentlemen

Joe LaRoy and I, in Bangkok
(All quotes herein, unless otherwise cited, are from Francis Spufford's beautiful Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. I got is as a Christmas gift, and I'm so glad I did!)

Why did the ancient Jews make once-a-year blood sacrifices in the Most Holy Place? Why do Hindus bathe in the Most Polluted Place, the Ganges? Why do Muslims willpower their lives according to their Most Holy RuleBook? Why do some atheists utopian-fantasize, John Lennon-like, that Holy Irreligion will result in human goodness and flourishing?

Except in the instance of the naive atheist-utopians, the answer is: we are all fundamentally screwed up. (Atheists have their own version of the Return to the Garden, some pristine irreligious human "rational" condition prior to the Great Fall into Religion, or perhaps some evolutionary return to our amoral common ancestors). 

We all belong to the League of the Guilty; we're all infected with HPtStU (the Human Propensity to Screw Things Up [with great apologies to Spufford]). As William James wrote: “The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn.” (Cited in Ib., 50)

Such is our condition. We look to the horizon of life. Is any help in sight?

Enter The Rulebook. 

Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism give us laws and rules. Atheists either: 1) evangelize against The Rulebook, or 2) encourage us to cheer up because Moral Rules are nonexistent (Nietzsche, utilitarianism consequentialism, "the great journey into the secular light on which A.C. Grayling is leading us, tossing his miraculously bouffant locks" [43], and so on). 

It is at this point that Christianity leaves all of these religions. Spufford writes:

"Wiggle-room is kindly built in to the rules, so that you can cope if your water main bursts on Shabbat, or if you’re traveling and there really is no way of telling the direction to pray in. Nothing crazy or superhuman is required of you. The idea is to have a set of laws like a wearable coat, a coat that everyone can put on if they are willing to make the effort. In Judaism and Islam, you don’t have to be a saint to know that you are managing to be an adequately good woman, an adequately good man." (pp. 44-45)

These are all "religions of orthopraxy, right doing, not orthodoxy, right thinking or teaching. Do the right actions, and you can be hissing and spitting inside, or bored senseless, or going through the motions to please your family, and it still counts." (45)

Christianity does something different. It makes impossible demands and gives lunatic principles. "It thinks you should give your possessions away, refuse to defend yourself, love strangers as much as your family, behave as if there’s no tomorrow. These principles do not amount to a sustainable program." (45)

Christianity, writes Spufford, is insanely perfectionist in its standards, and is also insanely perfectionist about our motives. Jesus doesn't accept "generosity" done in the name of self-interest. Unless altruism is altruism all the way down into the heart, it's not altruism at all. Christianity gives us an ideal (Jesus - "be perfect as I am perfect") of behavior that is supersized, therefore not fit for humanity. "Everyone fails. Really everyone." We all are charter members of The League of Quite Ordinary Ungentlemen. We all exhibit varieties of HPtStU (mea culpa, Mr. Spufford). 

Christianity does not behaviorally measure people by "clean" and "unclean" because "it doesn’t believe in the possibility of clean, just as it doesn’t believe that laws can ever be fully adequate, or that goodness can reliably be achieved by following an instruction book." (46)

Indeed. It hasn't worked, and it won't. And the mere absence of religious rules won't work either. (See here, e.g.)

Let's be clear about the Christian distinctive. "Of all things, Christianity isn’t supposed to be about gathering up the good people (shiny! happy! squeaky clean!) and excluding the bad people (frightening! alien! repulsive!) for the very simple reason that there aren’t any good people." (47)  That's why Real Jesus-following isn't supposed to be some holy huddle club of the self-righteous. "What it's supposed to be is a league of the guilty." (47)

The German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein talked of "language games" as having "family resemblances." Such is the case with HPtStU, with which we're all in league. Spufford writes, and recognize the resemblances:

"HPtFtU is what flying a plane into a skyscraper has in common with persecuting the fat kid with zits. It’s what doing crystal meth has in common with having an affair with someone you don’t even like. It’s what a murder (not a pop-culture play murder but a real murder, committed by delivering one too many kicks to the head in a pissed fight at closing time) has in common with telling a story at a dinner party at the expense of an absent mutual friend, a story which you know will cause pain when it gets back to them but which you tell anyway, because it’s just very, very funny." (pp. 48-49)

I remember the day I saw this in myself. I was playing in a band somewhere west of Chicago. While on stage the thought came to me: "I am screwed up." Never a truer thing was ever thought by me. Spufford describes it this way.

"You stop making sense to yourself. You find that you aren’t what you thought you were, but something much more multiple and mysterious and self-subverting, and this discovery doesn’t propel you to a new understanding of things, it propels you into a state where you don’t understand anything at all. Unable to believe the comfortable things you used to believe about yourself, you entertain a sequence of changing caricatures as your self-image." (p. 50)

When this happens, what do we do with this? What happens when I realize that my inner self is not as awesome as it appears to be on Facebook?

When we realize we've screwed up, when we no longer make sense to ourselves, we turn "towards the space where the possibility exists that there might be someone to hear us who is not one of the parties to our endless, million-sided, multigenerational suit against each other. To turn towards a space in which there is quite possibly no one— in which, we think as we find ourselves doing it, that there probably is no one. 

And we say: Hello? Hello? I don’t think I can stand this any more. I don’t think I can bear it. Not another night like last night. Not another morning like this morning. Hello? A little help in here, please?" (53)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pray for God to Lead You (PrayerLife)


Thomas Merton writes:

"I am tired of being my own Providence, or wanting and seeking things for myself, of making decisions for myself, and yet, quite apart from my own will, I am in this complex of things that seem to stand between me and God. All I want, Jesus, is more and more to abandon everything to You. The more I go on, the more I realize I don't know where I am going. Lead me and take complete control of me." (A Year With Thomas Merton, June 23)

This is an important spiritual lesson to learn; viz., the depth of our addiction to control and our need to be released from the illusion that we are in control (similiar to Jacque Ellul's "illusion of technique").

Henri Nouwen writes much about getting free from our need to control other people and situations. He cites Jesus' words to Peter in John 21: "I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go."

...And takes you where you don't want to go. 

This is hard for the control freak who, in their own mind, is their own Providence. 

Trusting in God means letting go of control.

Pray: "God, lead me. Take me where you want me to go."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Out of Control" Is NOT the Sign that God is Moving

Tipp City, Ohio store

I have seen, in some Christian contexts, "out-of-controlness" being valued as a sign that the Spirit is really moving. To be "overcome" by the Spirit so much that one can no longer say 'Yes' or 'No'. Mostly, I do not think that is a good thing, if ever. 

In this regard I really like what Mike Bickle counsels in his book Growing In the Prophetic. (This is the main text we use on our RMS Prophecy class.) Few people have witnessed more genuine and fake Spirit-manifestations than Mike. And there is no doubt that he values the authentic moving of the Spirit. So we need to listen when he writes things like this.

“Over the years, I have witnessed prophetic people being asked to stop speaking or behaving in a certain way. Some prophetic people claim that they are unable to stop because they are “overwhelmed” by the Holy Spirit. However, the Scriptures are clear that people operating in the power of the Holy Spirit are governed by love and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)” (Bickle, Growing In the Prophetic, 163) 

Paul “would not let prophetic people in the NT church claim that they could not help what they were doing in a meeting… [A]nyone claiming that they cannot control what they say or do because they are “overcome” by the Holy Spirit is naïve… Paul admonished and required each believer to contribute what he had in an orderly way by using self-control (1 Cor. 14:28-40).” (Ib.)

“One aspect of self-control is the ability to rule our spirits or to control our words and actions. ‘He who rules his spirit [is mightier] than he who takes a city.’ (Proverbs 16:32) ‘Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls.’ (Proverbs 25:28)

This is not about trying to quench or take control over the Holy Spirit. It is to say that, when the Spirit moves, one does not lose their self-control but actually finds it to be one of the manifestations of the Spirit. 

There is a Spirit-given self-control and a fleshly, Spirit quenching self-control. Seek the former.

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Sin" As HPtStU

Window, in Ann Arbor
Sin, writes Francis Spufford, is the Human Propensity to Screw things Up (HPtStU; except that Spufford uses another word for 'screw'). 

"For us, it refers to something much more like the human tendency, the human propensity, to [screw] up. Or let’s add one more word: the human propensity to [screw] things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff ” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch. Now, I hope, we’re on common ground. In the end, almost everyone recognizes this as one of the truths about themselves."
- Spufford. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, Kindle Locations 408-413)

When Jesus-followers talk about "sin," it's this sort of thing that we mean. It's a universal human condition, "unless you're someone with a very high threshold of obliviousness."

Here's an example of "sin," from today's nytimes:

"Bangui's [Central African Republic] public prosecutor, Ghislain Gresenguet, said authorities on Wednesday discovered some 30 bodies clustered near the Roux military camp by a hill on the edge of Bangui. The corpses were scattered over a 200-metre (yard) area.
"Some of the bodies were tied up. Others had big gashes and wounds which showed that they had been tortured," Gresenguet told Radio France International. "They were likely killed somewhere else and dumped there.""
Examples of sin abound every day. You don't have to look far to read about them, or see and experience them for yourself. To find an exemplification of sin, you need look no further than your own self. Spufford writes:

"For most of us the point eventually arrives when, at least for an hour or a day or a season, we find we have to take notice of our HPt*StU (as I think I’d better call it). Our appointment with realization often comes at one of the classic moments of adult failure: when a marriage ends, when a career stalls or crumbles, when a relationship fades away with a child seen only on Saturdays, when the supposedly recreational coke habit turns out to be exercising veto powers over every other hope and dream. It need not be dramatic, though. It can equally well just be the drifting into place of one more pleasant, indistinguishable little atom of wasted time, one more morning like all the others, which quietly discloses you to yourself." (Kindle Locations 415-420)

The Christian idea of "sin" is that it is a universal human condition. "Sin" is just the particuar word that refers to this condition. Literally, in Greek, to sin is to "miss the mark." The idea of sin is that humanity is off target, spot off. The condition is there; you can refer to it by whatever word you want.

"You can put it as Freud did, and say that there are unconscious processes which resist and subvert conscious intentions. You can think of it in terms of evolutionary biology, in which case one of the best expressions of it is the geneticist Bill Hamilton’s wonderful description of the human animal as “an ambassador sent forth by an unstable coalition.” Or you can quote St Paul: “What I would not, that I do. What I would, that I do not.” Wherever the line is drawn between good and evil, between acceptable and unacceptable, between kind and cruel, between clean and dirty, we’re always going to be voting on both sides of it, despite ourselves. Not all of us, on every subject, all the time, of course; but all of us on some subject or other some of the time. 

And this is a state of affairs in the face of which we are, for the most part, currently clueless, toolless, committed to alarmed denial rather than to any more useful or hopeful response."
- Ib., Kindle Locations 472-479

This means me. And you. 

HPtStU is in here, not somewhere out there.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Prayer Get a Grip Off Life (PrayerLife)

Ann Arbor

For many years now at Redeemer we have spend New Year's Eve worshiping. I love doing that! And, often, God speaks to me.

This happened on New Year's Eve 2011. It began when I saw X come into the sanctuary. 

"Yay," I thought. "X is here! "


X needs to be here. 

X needs God, needs to get close to God. 

Then...  "I hope X stays here for the entire worship experience." 

"I hope they enjoy the whole evening and don't get bored. I'll be disappointed if they leave."

And I was burdened and concerned. God spoke to me, saying: "John, don't hold on to people. Wear them loosely." 

God would not tell someone that if they were not holding on to people too tightly. I wrote in my journal, "This... is a very good word for me. Deepen this in me, Lord. Then I will be free to love people with no strings attached." Attachment to God produces non-attachment to people and freedom to love them. This is called "trust."

I cannot control the hearts and minds of others. Therefore I must hold on to people lightly. Hold on to things lightly. Keep a loose grip on people, things, and plans.  This will allow me to be non-manipulative and non-controlling with X.

It's easy to hold lightly to people, things, and plans if they mean little to me. If some people were gone it would mean nothing to me. There are certain things that, should they be missing, I would not care at all. Indeed, I am certain there are now things I am missing that I don't know of, which shows they don't mean much to me!

It's the people I love and the things I cherish and the plans I hope work out - these are hard to part with. It is this clinging that skews my spiritual life, stunts my spiritual growth, and hinders my appreciation and love for people.

Hold lightly to your own plans and your own agenda.

In prayer, get a grip off life so as to take firm hold of God's plans and purposes.

The Song "Imagine" as the "My Little Pony" of Philosophical Statements

(I got a copy of Fraqncis Spufford's Unapologetic for Chrisdtmas; hence this post.) 

Even though it is constitutionally mandated that every high school choir perform, at least once, John Lennon's song "Imagine," I have never liked this piece of philosophical drivel. One reason being that Lennon himself was a wife-beater and child-abuser

But that's just ad hominem stuff and, as such, irrelevant to the song, which fails on its own demerits.

I like what British philosopher Francis Spufford says about it. He writes:

"For a piece of famous fluffiness that doesn’t just pretend about what real lives can be like, but moves on into one of the world’s least convincing pretenses about what people themselves are like, consider the teased and coiffed nylon monument that is “Imagine”: surely the My Little Pony of philosophical statements. John and Yoko all in white, John at the white piano, John drifting through the white rooms of a white mansion, and all the while the sweet drivel flowing. Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people, living life in— hello? Excuse me? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? I don’t know about you, but in my experience peace is not the default state of human beings, any more than having an apartment the size of Joey and Chandler’s is."
- Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, pp. 11-12)

So funny; so true.

Was John Lennon at peace? Fellow Brit Spufford writes:

"I’m absolutely bloody certain that John Lennon wasn’t. The mouthy Scouse git he was as well as the songwriter of genius, the leatherboy who allegedly kicked his best friend in the head in Hamburg, didn’t go away just because he put on the white suit. What seems to be at work in “Imagine” is the idea— always beloved by those who are frightened of themselves— that we’re good underneath, good by nature, and only do bad things because we’ve been forced out of shape by some external force, some malevolent aspect of this world’s power structures." (13)  

Let's stop philosophically abusing the minds of our high schoolers and remove this song from the choral canon. (Yet already this little pony gallops with the DNA of adolescent culture.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Nature of Time -- William Lane Craig

Here is a fairly accessible video of Bill Craig on his view of "time."

Bill is one of the world's leading philosophers of time.

Two reasons I put things like this on my blog are:

  1. They are resources I can quickly access regarding the study and research I am interested in; and
  2. I can link students in my philosophy classes to these resources as they are helpful to the student.

Merry Christmas From the Piippo Family!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

- Isaiah 9:6

John, Allie, Dan, Linda, & Josh

Monday, December 23, 2013

Arsenokoites and Duck Dynasty

Leaf, in our backyard

I returned home from some last minute Christmas shopping to turn on the TV and see a CNN talk show host and Jay Bakker talking about the meaning of the word arsenokoites in the Bible. All because of "Duck Dynasty." The vast improbability of something like this should convince even the greatest skeptic that there is a God.

Bakker said, in one sentence, "We don't know what the meaning of that word is."

The CNN talk show host-theologian was spinning the "dialogue" to bolster his already-established conclusion, a very bad theological not to mention logical move.

Wow - These are exciting theological times!

I posted a few years ago on arsenokoitais, and recently reposted, due to that Dynasty called "Duck." Here is some more on this word, from New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.

  • Some want arsenokoites to mean (as used in 1 Corinthians 6:9) exploitative homosexual intercourse (rather than mutual homosexual intercourse). Gagnon writes: "A broadening of the word arsenokoites to include exploitative heterosexual intercourse or even a restriction to exclude non-exploitative homosexual intercourse appears unlikely in view of the unqualified nature of the Levitical prohibitions." (Gagnon, Kindle Locations 5767-5769)
  • A straightforward reading of arsenokoites would be: arsen ("male") + koite (related to the very keisthai, "to lie"). Thus: a man who lies with a male. This word, in ancient culture, "was not restricted to pederasty." (Ib., K5779) [Note: Gagnon argues that arsenokoites is limited to homosexual behavior. He writes: The suffix on the second element of the compound noun (-koites) indicates that "bedders of, the ones taking to bed or lying with" is masculine. The first element of the compound (arsen-, "male[ s]") is the object, not the subject...  Ib., Kindle Locations 5864-5866)"That arsenokoitai refers to same-sex intercourse is strengthened by its pairing with malakoi." (Ib.) 
  • A socio-rhetorical study (as Gagnon does) of the word reveals that arsenokoites means: "men who have sexual intercourse with men." Simpliciter. 
"Duck Dynasty" has forced us to examine this word. The great theologians at CNN are working overtime to spin it in the direction they want (this is called "eisegesis"). Phil Robertson had it right, at least biblically. (That is, there is some very strong biblical scholarship behind him, even though he is surely unaware of it.)

NOTE: See Gagnon and Dan O. Via, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Via writes:

"I believe that Hays is correct in holding that arsenokoitēs refers to a man who engages in same-sex intercourse (Hays 1997, 97). The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts (Martin 119). But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God." (p. 13)

Are You Being Persecuted?

(From Rachel Held Evans)


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Prayer and Deus Absconditus (PrayerLife)

Sterling State Park (Lake Erie)
I talked recently with a friend who shared with me that God's presence seems to have withdrawn from them. As they told me they felt like crying. 

This person is a Jesus-follower who, for many years, has lived in a near-constant experiential sense of God-with-them. Now, God seems to be far from them. They know intellectually that God is with them, but currently lack experiential reality of this. 

What can we make of this? Here are some of my thoughts, which are not all directly related to this one person's spiritual desert.

  • That God is with his followers is a truth that is not necessarily related to one's experience of God-with-us. For example, I know that my wife Linda always loves me. Her love for me is constant, as is mine for her. But I do not always experience her love for me. The lack of such experience does not cause me to doubt that she loves me, and loves me now. I think the same of God. I have had many experiences with God. I've also had many times when I lacked God-experience. While I often want more God-experience than I have, this does not cause me to wonder why I don't feel God as powerfully as I have at other times.
  • None of us experience pure, unfiltered, face-to-face God-experience. All our God-encounters are "see-through-a-glass darkly" events. Yes, some claim more immediate (= unmediated) God-encounters. My own belief is that even purported unmediated God-encounters (such as certain Christian mystics report, Meister Eckhart among them) are still mediated events. Some are more so than others. God-experiences are more or less proximal. I am not expecting full-blown unmediated face-to-face God moments, and thus am not disappointed at the lack of them.
  • The Psalms contain Deus absconditus moments (the "hidden God"; God as experientially hidden from us). Ps. 10 complains of God's hiding - "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Ps. 30:7 expresses sadness that, after a time when the psalmist felt secure, he then felt God went into hiding: "When I felt secure, I said, 'I will never be shaken.' O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.'" Ps. 44 expresses outright ticked-offness at God's hiding, suggesting that God is morally irresponsible: "Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?" Part of the noetic framework of Judaeo-Christian theism is experiencing the absence of God.
  • My personal history (43 years) of brief and extended times of sensing God's presence makes me confident that God is with me and near me and dwells within me even when I am not experientially aware of this. Even when I do not feel God I know God is near me, even within me, by his Spirit. I do not find myself doubting this. Indeed, this is more of a reality today than ever.
  • John 20:29 may be instructive here. Jesus says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are they who, not seeing, believe." This implies that Jesus-followers who believe even without perceptual experience of him have something, perhaps an existential certitude, that needs no empirical proof of the reality of God-with-them and God-for-them. Jesus applauds this kind of faith and trust.
  • I am thinking of Henri Nouwen's distinction of a "ministry of presence" and a "ministry of absence." Persons who engage in redemptive activity know that there is a time to be with people and a time to not be with people. The difference between the two is a matter of discernment. Sometimes, even often, the best thing for a person we are helping is to not be with them. Perhaps this is also how it is with our Redeemer God and us, with God knowing the difference. This may be related to the soul-making theodicy of Michael Murphy (via John Hick) in his "Deus Absconditus." (In Howard-Snyder and Moser, Divine Hiddenness)
  • The "hidden God moment" par excellence is surely Jesus' cry of "Why have you forsaken me?" Uttered from the cross, it expresses (I think) a total absence of God as a result of bearing this world's sins. Sin makes a separation from relationship with God; Jesus' experience of abandonment was absolute. Sometimes, therefore, our sin causally effects, in a negative way, our sense of God's presence.
  • Is "experiencing God" equivalent to "feeling God?" I think not. I see "experiencing God" as the broader class within which "feeling God" is a subset. Thus one may experience God without feeling God (the relationship being assymetrical). This is a broad sense of "knowing" that includes yet is more than "feeling." In this regard I am interested in two sources I am currently reading: 1) the work of Paul Moser, especially his idea of "filial knowledge" found in "Cognitive Idolatry and Divine Hiding" (In Divine Hiddenness), and The Evidence for God (esp. Ch. 4 - "Personifying Evidence for God"); and 2) James K.A. Smith's Pentecostal epistemology in his brilliant Thinking in Tongues.
When you are a Jesus-follower and are suffering, or are in need of rescue, you want God to come out of hiding and show up. At such times the feeling-absence of God seems painful. Yet if "knowledge" is more than feeling, then you can know God is with you in the absence of feeling. That, too, can be an experience if we understand that experience is not reducible to feeling simpliciter.

Therefore, pray anyway.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Prayer Makes Room for the Unspeakable (PrayerLife)

I took a picture of this bumper sticker in Monroe.
I didn't honk.

Real prayer happens in a no-spin zone. There's no need or use for posturing, preening, and pretending before our omniscient God. God knows our hearts, and desires to search us out so as to lovingly restore, renew, form, and transform us.

We should embrace, nor fear this. But I have met Jesus-followers who are afraid of God. If they have lived in an environment of judgmentalism, condemnation, and shame it's hard to come clean before the Lord. Things that need to be spoken stay unsaid, and intimacy ("into -me - see") is blocked.

I like how Philip Yancey writes about this.

"Prayer makes room for the unspeakable, those secret compartments of shame and regret that we seal away from the outside world. In vain I sometimes build barriers to keep God out, stubbornly disregarding the fact that God looks on the heart, penetrating beyond the [outer appearance] to where no person can see. As God informed the prophet Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”" (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 748-751)

The Lord looks at the heart. The Lord searches and knows my heart.

Therefore pray, from the heart.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Michael Brown on the "Duck Dynasty" Controversy

See here

New Testament Greek Classes at Redeemer

Rev. E. Paul Albrecht, Pastor of The Journey Church in Westfield, IN, has been collaborating with Redeemer on a new format for teaching his seminary course, "Introduction to New Testament Greek."  This is a 15 Lesson study that will present students with all the grammatical pieces they need to read the New Testament in the original Greek. During the lessons, we will also work through portions of 1 John and the Gospel of John. 

The majority of the 15 lessons are being recorded to DVD and our first meeting will be at Redeemer on Saturday, January 18th, 2014 @ 10am where we will begin Lesson 1. After the lesson, we will consult with Paul via phone or Skype, ask questions, receive our assignment, and schedule the next lesson (probably bi-weekly).  Pastor Paul plans to be with us every 6-8 weeks for a weekend of review, on-going teaching, and translation work in the New Testament. 

The class should finish by the early summer.

Two texts are required:
1. The Greek New Testament with Revised Concise Greek-English Dictionary 4th Edition Edited by Barbara & Kurt Aland (these can be found online for about $35)
2. Paul's textbook ($35 purchased through Redeemer)
Additional costs:
1. Class fee estimated @ $30-50 (for the DVD recording costs)
2. $200 honorarium (Tax-deductible gift to The Journey Church) which can be made in $50 installments over the first 4 months.

The Best Book on Spiritual Discernment

I don't think I've read anything better on individual and corporate discernment that chapter 3 of Ruth Haley Barton's Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. Here are some main points (the chapter is much richer than what I've bulleted here).

  • If you don't know how God is leading you, you won't know how to lead others.
  • Discern first; add ministries only if God tells you to.
  • A common leadership mistake is: to assume we can assemble a group of undiscerning individuals and expect them to be discerning leaders.
  • "Without spiritual discernment it won’t matter whether you have a clearly articulated discernment process, use Robert’s Rules of Order or just offer perfunctory prayers to bookend your meetings—discernment is not going to happen! The people aren’t right and they’re not ready." (52)
  • "There is no individual discernment outside a communal setting and no communal discernment without individual discernment. Each individual profits from the communal activity of discernment and the community profits from each individual’s discernment." (53)
  • Spiritual discernment is a process that takes place in and through the Trinity.
  • Realize that the impulse to discern—to want to respond to Christ in this fashion—is in itself a “good spirit” that needs to be cultivated.
  • Needed: a deep belief in the goodness of God. "In order to surrender to the discernment process, we need to go beyond intellectual assent to cultivating a deep, experiential knowledge that God’s will is the best thing that can happen to us under any circumstances. We need to hear God’s voice whisper words of assurance to us, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for your harm” (Jer 29:11), and believe them in the depths of our being." (55)
  • Love is our ultimate calling - love for God, love of self, love for others and love for the world.
  • Be committed to doing the will of God as it is revealed to us. "It does no good to discern the will of God if we are not committed to doing it." 
  • Discernment is way more than decision making; it is a way of seeing that can permeate our whole life. "Cultivating the habit of discernment means we are always seeking the movement of God’s Spirit so we can abandon ourselves to it." (57) 
  • "The discernment of spirits helps us to distinguish the real from the phony, the true from the false, in the external world but also in the interior world of our own thoughts and motives." (57-58) Barton links the moods of consolation and desolation to discernment of spirits.
  • The first and most essential dynamic of discernment is the movement toward indifference... In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that “I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.” (63) Be free from undue attachment to any particular outcome. Ask yourself: "What needs to die in me in order for God's will to come forth in my life?" 
  • Pray, asking God for wisdom. (See James 1:5)
  • Notice without judging: "Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to notice everything pertinent to the situation—both external and internal—without judging, at least at first." (64)
  • Pay attention to dreams: "There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that God has given up on speaking to us in dreams. In fact, in my work as a spiritual director I often encourage people to pay attention to their dreams because when we are asleep we are less ego-defended and more able to receive a prompting from God that is beyond what our cognitive faculties can accept." (65) 
  • Gather and assess information: "Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to ask good questions and to allow those questions to help us gather data and gain perspective." (68)
  • There's more...   what an excellent chapter!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let's Ban Weddings

HT to A.P. for pointing me to this - "Let's Ban Weddings and, While We're at It, Baby Showers Too." (Note: it's pro-marriage; therefore it's anti-gargantuan weddings.)

For more see my: "The $20 Wedding."

The American work force has some of weakest mathematical and problem-solving skills in the developed world

I've taught logic and critical thinking in the philosophy department at Monroe County Community College for 13 years. I love teaching these classes, and helping students grow in their critical thinking abilities. I'm grateful MCCC has a logic class.

Most of my students come in with low critical thinking skills. I have wondered how they could be so ill-prepared. I think this is not due to any innate inability to think logically, but to our educational system in general. The comparative data now coming out supports this.

See today's nytimes editorial "Why Other Countries Teach Better; Why Students Do Better Overseas." Here are some bullets.

  • "The American work force has some of weakest mathematical and problem-solving skills in the developed world. In a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global policy organization, adults in the United States scored far below average and better than only two of 12 other developed comparison countries, Italy and Spain. Worse still, the United States is losing ground in worker training to countries in Europe and Asia whose schools are not just superior to ours but getting steadily better."
  • "Finland has for years been in the highest global ranks in literacy and mathematical skills... all high school students must take one of the most rigorous required curriculums in the world, including physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy, music and at least two foreign languages." I went to the link, and was amazed at the comprehensiveness of Finnish educational standards. Just the requirement to learn philosophical thinking was wonderful.
  • "The most important effort has been in the training of teachers, where the country leads most of the world, including the United States, thanks to a national decision made in 1979. The country decided to move preparation out of teachers’ colleges and into the universities, where it became more rigorous. By professionalizing the teacher corps and raising its value in society, the Finns have made teaching the country’s most popular occupation for the young." May we pause here, stand, and applaud? Are not our teachers undervalued and underpaid? (Thanks partly to our media-driven culture that pays its media heroes...  for being media heroes.)
  • "Canada also has a more rigorous and selective teacher preparation system than the United States, but the most striking difference between the countries is how they pay for their schools. American school districts rely far too heavily on property taxes, which means districts in wealthy areas bring in more money than those in poor ones. State tax money to make up the gap usually falls far short of the need in districts where poverty and other challenges are greatest."
Educationally, America has been far-surpassed and is even being more-overtaken.

The Difference Between Religion and Experiencing God

South central Kenya
In her book Forged In the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality, Diana Hayes distinguishes between African American religion and African American spirituality. Hayes writes:

"What is most amazing about the spirituality of African Americans is the simple fact that it exists in spite of the myriad trials and tribulations they have experienced in the course of their centuries-long sojourn in the United States." (Hayes, Forged in the Fiery Furnace:  African American Spirituality, Kindle Locations 861-863) How were they able to persevere as people of faith under such conditions?

The answer lies in the difference between "religion" and "spirituality." 

  • Religion involves the institutionalization of rites, rituals, and dogmas, which make it possible for persons to be "religious" without experiencing God; spiritual identity is the result of an actual encounter with God.
  • Religion teaches people to appreciate God's love; spirituality challenges human beings to directly experience the transformative power of God's love.
  • Religion is a belief system on the nature of ultimate reality; spirituality is the method and manner by which the ultimately real actually touches the depth of being of the human personality, transforms it, and causes it to long for true community.
  • "Religion may enlighten the mind; spirituality converts one's entire existence." (K575; Hayes is here drawing from Resurrection Song: African-American Spirituality, by Flora Wilson Bridges)
"African American spirituality is firmly rooted in the slaves’ experience of and encounter with the all-encompassing power of the Spirit." (Hayes, K 885-886) Religious theories won't help you when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Only experience will. 

Technology and the Decline of Creativity (Jacques Ellul)

Store, in Bangkok
Ever read anything by French sociologist/theologian Jacques Ellul? (Greg Boyd has recently rediscovered Ellul, and quotes him a lot.) A long time ago I read Ellul's then-famous The Technological Society, and The Ethics of Freedom. There is a prophetic timelessness we get from Ellul. Here's an example, with Marva Dawn commenting on Ellul:

"Fifty years ago...  Ellul warned that technology, in spite of its many lauded gifts, also presented great dangers. Its most important threat was its development into the totality of an unremittingly encompassing milieu. He realized that human beings would become immersed in, and completely subjected to, an omnipotence made possible by the intertwining of technology, money, politics, and other forces. He protested that it would be vanity to pretend that this monolithic technical world could be checked or guided, for people would discover that they were too enclosed within their artificial creation to find an exit...
...Ellul called it a "profound mutation" because technology and its paradigm would become the defining force of civilization." 
- Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In an Affluent Society, pp. 1-2

Technology has extended our physical being. The smartphone that the hand wields is the hand. This morph-mutation "contributes to the increasing move to "entertainments" and consumption for our moments of enjoyment." (Ib., 2)

Two Ellulian dangers of this technomorph are:

  1. that the primary criterion in a technological milieu is efficiency; and
  2. that the proliferation of means would bring about the disappearance of ends. (In Ib.)
Hence, among other things, the decline of creativity (with "ends" not in sight, and human creation guided and channeled by apps - see Gardner and Davis). 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Worldview Colonizes Every Language

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

On the flight to Nairobi I read Ngugi wa Thiong'o's  Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. His challenge to African peoples was to abandon, in practice and experience, the languages of the cultures that colonized them and return to a full adoption of their native languages. This is because: in a language there is an embodied worldview.

From my linguistic studies background (doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory) wa Thiong'o's ideas connected me with "the Whorfian hypothesis," which is: a worldview colonizes every language. So I did a little research this morning to see if others have discovered the connection, and wa Thiong'o's indebtedness to Whorf.

Samuel Gyasi Obeng (African Studies, and Linguistics - U.of Indiana) connects Whorfian linguistics to wa Thiong'o's African appeal. Obeng writes: "According to Whorf, the structure of human language influences the manner in which human beings understand reality and behave with respect to it."  (In Samuel Gyasi Obeng, Political Independence With Linguistic Servitude: The Politics About Languages in the Developing World, 98-99)

Obeng cites Abiola Irele's powerful argument in favor of African languages. Irele writes:

"For even if it is true that all languages are systems whose reference to reality is arbitrary, there is a naturalization of particular languages to specific environments which plays an important role in the process by which they not only come to signify but to achieve a correspondence with the total configuration of the perceived and experienced reality within the environment." (In Ib.)

I was thinking of wa Thiong'o today, and googled him in the news. I found this: "Foreign tongues: Today's slave drivers" (11/23/13). In a recent lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam wa Thiong'o said that "African leaders and scholars have become captives of their foreign languages, and so maintain colonial ideals to the detriment of fellow citizens."

The African continent continues to suffer from "language slavery." Wa Thiong'o "proposed that our local universities should translate the knowledge from foreign languages to local dialects for the benefits of all communities." (Ib.)

How deep, how radical (latin radix; "root"), should this go? Wa Thiong'o "
warned Africans against wasting their time and skills trying to change their accents to English; instead, they should spend their time and skills to protect African resources and language."

We wage war with language. To overpower and defeat someone is to also indoctrinate the captives with the victor's language. It is to force them to convert to the enemy's worldview. 

Reject the oppressor's language. Cast off the enemy's accent. 

Prayer and Bringing My Ignorance to God (PrayerLife)

Lake Erie shoreline in Monroe

It's more than OK to express your doubts to God in the act of praying. You should do this. Otherwise the conversation is inauthentic and unreal.

Philip Yancey writes:

"Prayer allows a place for me to bring my doubts and complaints — in sum, my ignorance — and subject them to the blinding light of a reality I cannot comprehend but can haltingly learn to trust. Prayer is personal, and my doubts take on a different cast as I get to know the Person to whom I bring them."
- Yancey, Philip. Prayer, Kindle Locations 729-731)

God doesn't freak out when we doubt. But it is weird to have a doubt and pray as if the thing is nonexistent.

In prayer we can and ought to be real with God. God is all-knowing; we are not. God loves us, so any fear we have of God is unfounded.

God gives me permission to bring my entire being to him, including my vast ignorance.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix

If you love music...  unadulterated by gimmicks... 

Prayer and the Grand Invasion (PrayerLife)

My back yard
I have built solitary prayer into my life. It is more and more my life, like DNA continues to shape my physical and mental being. 

I have done this because Jesus prayed, in solitude. Therefore, so should I, as his follower. As He goes, we go.

I have found this to be a special challenge in a world that is APP-addicted (see here, e.g.). In 1961 Howard Thurman wrote: "The fight for the private life is fierce and unyielding. Often it seems as if our times are in league with the enemy." (A Strange Freedom, p. 21) What might Thurman write about this were he alive today?

Thurman saw our world as a "great huddle" of people who are inwardly desolate, lonely, and afraid. There's a lot of stuff going on, a lot of activity, and a lot of desperation and loneliness. To combat this he wrote: "There must be found ever-creative ways that can ventilate the private soul without blowing it away, that can confirm and affirm the integrity of the person in the midst of the collective necessities of our time." (Ib., 22)

These cultural collective necessities mitigate against the deeper life by enforcing their fearful, urgent, task-ordering upon us, trying to shape the human heart into their purposeless, vacuous doings. All this herd-like busyness inoculates the soul against what Thurman called "the Grand Invasion" of the presence of God.

Thurman writes:

"There is within reach of every man a defense against the Grand Invasion. He can seek deliberately to become intimately acquainted with himself. He can cultivate an enriching life with persons, enhancing the private meaning and the personal worth. He can grow in the experience of solitude...

...He can become at home, within, by locating in his own spirit the trysting place where he and his God may meet; for it is here that life becomes private without becoming self-centered, that the little purposes that cloy may be absorbed in the Big Purpose that structures and redefines, that the individual comes to himself, the wanderer is home, and the private life is saved for deliberate involvement." (Ib .)

Get alone and pray today. Let the Grand Invasion begin.