Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recommendations

If you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, you should. Wonderful film. Swept me away. I rarely say that. My theory is that movies are supposed to transport you into another world. Most do not. This one did.

Also I would recommend the book The Contested Public Square by Greg Forster. He is amazingly Reformed in his approach; the book discusses the various leading views on political theory throughout the church's history. I learned a lot, or I should say, my understanding of many concepts deepened. I would like to teach the book in my Baptist church, but Baptists like to have their ears tickled more than study something in depth (oh, that was cruel). I can write this because no one reads this blog anyway.

I have gotten into Facebook. I see its appeal, but it's tempting to write really innocuous and frivolous things on it. I was surprised to find out a former student had voted for Obama. I was tempted to scold him for claiming to be prolife and voting for someone who wasted no time making sure we have more abortions in this country and the world.

The best explanation I have heard of Obama is that he was able to convince people he was for what they believed in even if he was not. He was (as a candidate) a perfect blank slate; even when he stated his positions, people who voted for him ignored him. Case in point: a student wrote on a paper that Obama wants to legalize narcotics. What??? Obama doesn't even want to lower the drinking age to 18, much less legalize narcotics. He does want more equitable penalties for different drugs--a sensible position. But why does this student think that? Has he looked at the issues, or just assumed that Obama agrees with his own views because ......? Another example is those who believe Obama supports gay marriage, when he has clearly stated he does not.

I am tempted to say Obama won because stupid people voted for him. Now, before you get mad, I didn't say everyone who voted for him was stupid. If someone truly studied Obama's positions and agrees with them and the direction Obama wants to take the country (albeit kicking and screaming!), I respect that. That's the American way; he's not the anti-Christ, although I virulently disagree with a lot of his positions. What I'm talking about is the people who voted for him without any knowledge of his positions, or who voted for him knowing the positions, disagreeing with them, but thinking Obama was cool and his kids were cute. That's just plain stupid.

Of course, I have to live by my own standard, and be hoisted on my own petard (that sounds vulgar). A lot of people voted stupidly for conservative candidates in the past. A lot of people.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Addendum to Lent

I now know what I'm giving up for Lent. Anger.

More specifically, in the spiritual journey to the resurrection that is traditionally called Lent, I want God to mine the depths of the anger within me and reveal its source to me so that I might pursue a path of repentance and renewal and then experience the resurrection in a metaphorical way, as Christ did in a factual and literal way.

What am I angry about? It's not so much the object but the disposition. I am angry about the economy; the stupidity of this situation we're in both politically and morally and economically; the lies of the news media; the belief that we must be what our emotions tell us to be and must do what our inclinations tell us to do; the holocaust of abortion and all oppression of the stronger and powerful by the weaker, whether in Darfur, China, or the more polished society of the U.S.; the greed that got us here; the apathy of the church, (not even sure it qualifies as apathy--one must be aware before one has the choice to be apathetic, and I see massive cluelessness in most of us who sit in the pews, and not much more than that from the pulpits); the laziness of my students who have such a great opportunity before them and squander it; unmet expectations of my own life, relationships, and work; my daily failure to walk with God in a meaningful way. . . . So you see, that's a lot of anger coming from, I think, a sense of idealism but also I think a sense of self-righteousness and perhaps even entitlement.

I'm not sure who the philosopher was who began this discussion, but I think we humans live somewhere on a continuity of love and justice. Some of us are lovers; some of us are justice-bound. I'm on the justice-bound side. Each has its good points, but extremes are always likely to be bad. Fortunately for us, God embodies and expresses the perfect balance of justice and love, which we can only mirror in a very limited way. Perfect love and justice meet in the incarnation and cross of Christ.

Some of my anger comes from being so justice-bound. It will be, must be balanced by love, but not some love I generate. Anger, as communication research shows us, is a poweful but unpredictable motivator, one more likely to lead to frenetic as opposed to productive action. Thus, it must, for me, be repented of so that something else can take its place.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mardi Gras Reflections

For some reason I am more conscious of Lent this year, maybe because I'm conscious of Mardi Gras, maybe because Lent is a reasonable but unrecognized part of the year (by Baptists). Giving up something for Lent is, of course, a misunderstood cliche, and not what this is about.

If Christians, especially evangelicals, understood the origin of ceremonies or rituals such as Lent, we would appreciate them more and seek to weave them and the cycles of the natural world into our spiritual focus.

Which, of course, has nothing to do with Mardi Gras, the New Orleans version of Carnivale, which of course comes from "carne" or "flesh", that is, a celebration of the flesh before repentance. Party before you straighten out; get really drunk before you sober up. Eat a gallon of ice cream before a diet, something like that.

Yesterday a coworker had brought in a king cake. I "got the baby"--the little plastic doll that's baked into the cake. It is symbolic of the Christ Child; finding it in one's cake apparently means you get to bring the cake next year. I'll have to save the baby and bake my own cake; they aren't sold in Chattanooga (an entirely non-Mardi Gras city).

The baby doll reminded me of the little plastic babies that prolifers use to show how perfectly formed even young fetuses (feti?) are. It was a little freaky to find it in the cake; I suppose there's a slightly macabre tone to the practice.

Regardless, I propose to use the 40 days from now til Easter, April 12, on a spiritual journey to find an answer to a particular thorny problem of mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unstimulated

I'm at least disappointed and at best terrified by the stimulus bill. It's just payola to Democratic cronies. If the media would shut up and Americans would study history, they would know this isn't as bad as the Great Depression but might be if the government doesn't leave it alone.

Why is federal government giving states money for schools? Why are the states accepting it? Don't they know what this will mean?

And what is this about the census being taken over by the White House? Since when was that their job?

The temptation is for Christians to hunker down and try to wait this out. Well, our first act should be prayer for God's intervention in this human craziness. Then get our own house in order--are we as led by greed as the whole country?

We are in this mess because of sin--greed, lies, fast buckitis, failure to pay our bills and taxes, etc.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

II Thessalonians 1

First reactions.
1. Very similar to I Thess 1 – not written a long time later
2. How many personal pronouns are there? 27 we, us, our, you. What does this say to you? I am reminded of Matthew 10:29-31, Matthew 6.
a. I’m going to be honest here—I struggle with believing God cares about little details of my life. Because I take great pride, too much, in being a person who takes care of things, I figure I can handle it. That is the wrong attitude, one because it’s pride, two because it’s denying the Scripture, and three because it’s not letting me enjoy God’s attention to detail in my life. I figure God takes care of the big stuff, I’ll take care of the little stuff, but the little stuff keeps getting bigger and bigger until I’m running the show. Example—I don’t pray for help in daily tasks that may seem insignificant but are really very major. And because I don’t pray about the little things, I don’t pray about the big things either. I had a roommate in college who was having a bad hair day and said, “I’m trying to learn what God is teaching me through this.” I wanted to say “He’s teaching you not to be so vain.” But God was teaching me not to be so snarky, which I haven’t learned yet, and to see that this young woman needed assurance about her anxieties and self-concept. Today she still suffers greatly from it, has never been able to work, didn’t have children, etc. My point is that even in that encounter, a little daily thing, God mattered—not about her hair, but about her heart, and about mine and my reactions to people and their problems. Discussion.
3. Stark contrast between the saints and those who aren’t.

When you read this chapter, do you feel it is basically uplifting and positive or do you get the sense that something harsh is going to be said? Let’s look at I Corinthians 1:1-9. Paul is kind, and there are the similarities of format that are found in all letters from the ancient world, but there’s not this sense of “I am so proud of you that I’m telling everybody about your testimony for the Lord in this persecution.”

Let’s look now at each verse.
1-2. Identical to first two verses of I Thess. . Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take the time to start every email with “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”? If we did, how would it change us, and the people around us? Would it make us slow down? More aware of our place in the universe? Instead of “hey” or no greeting at all, which is what most emails are? How do you end them? A friend of mine signs “grace and peace;” I like his emails so much.

v. 3. When we did I Thess. 1, I challenged you to send a letter or note to someone thanking them for their influence on your life. We read Brenda’s to Martha, and I wrote one to Dr. Steve Euler, among others. I Thess. makes it very clear that Paul saw something special in these people; he asked them to pray for him at the end. Here Paul is thanking God for them NOT for their influence on him but their spiritual growth and testimony in the big picture.

What three things does he specifically thank God for that he sees in them or hears about them?
1. Their faith is growing
2. Their love is abounding
3. They have patience and endurance in persecution
Furthermore, he brags on them. Can you imagine knowing that Paul the apostle brags on you? Do you ever brag on people and it gets back to them? Has it happened to you? Isn’t that the greatest encouragement?

We already know that persecution is their biggest problem—not internal sin or schisms like the Corinthians, not legalistic teaching like the Galatians—but pressure from the outside. Sometimes when a Christian community faces external persecution, it means they don’t have the luxury of deep theological study. When I taught at Tennessee Temple in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we had a contingent of students who came from Romania, which had just ridded itself of its longstanding dictator, Nicolae Ceau┼čescu. They had faced so much opposition and had great faith, but they had not had the opportunity to learn the nuances of doctrine. I think this is where the Thessalonians are at this point.

Verse 5 takes a different turn. “The tribulations you endure are plain evidence that God is righteous and his judgment is righteous.” Now, I start to lose Paul here. If these people are overcoming persecution, what does that have to do with God’s righteousness? Righteousness is one of God’s primary attributes, and we tend to think of it as “holiness” or “sinlessness,” but it is also about justice and judgment. In other words, God is just, and the connection is that those who persecute them will receive God’s judgment, and their persecution in this world is proof that there are wicked people who oppose God and who deserve judgment.

Verses 6 and 7 extend this theme and promise rest to those who are troubled. “Rest” is a rich word in the Bible, and a misunderstood one, and it points us to one of the themes of this book.

No Christian lives an earth-centered existence. No matter how much we get bogged down in the dailiness of life, we aren’t really living here and now. Eternal life has already started for us. We will die and step over into another stage of life, or Jesus will return and that will happen, but in God’s eyes we are already in his kingdom. Our lives are defined by eternity with God. This is the biblical truth that I struggle to understand and live with more than any other. How does my daily life reflect eternity and how does God’s eternal kingdom affect my daily go-to-work, pay-the-bills, keep-my-health-up, take-care-of-my-mom-and-family, fulfill-my-calling life? This is not it. It will be over, sooner than I would like, and I’ll be with God forever.

I am a closet Presbyterian, so my confidence that I’ll be with Christ is all about him, not about anything I do. I’m not going to run Jesus off; I’m not going to sin in a way that affects my going to heaven. I don’t worry at all about eternal security, and feel sorry for those who do. What I struggle with is what eternity means to me when I get up in the morning and go through the ritual of preparing my external appearance to be around people (a ritual that takes far too long no matter how short I make it or how early I get up); when I eat breakfast and read Scripture; when I get in the car to drive to Dalton State College and face students and love them for Christ’s sake but fear it’s not showing at all; when I come home and change roles; when I go see my aging mother; when I prepare these lessons; when I try to write; when I make sure the bill collectors don’t come after us and the mortgage is paid; when I . . . What does all that have to do with God’s eternal kingdom? Does anyone have the answer to that one?

Paul is not going to answer that question here. He just tells them, “God is just; God will repay.” No one likes the doctrine of hell. But would God be righteous without eternal punishment for those who reject him, oppose godliness, kill innocents?

Notice that verses 1-8 is a long sentence. He follows it up with an emphatic, short one in verse 9. Verse 10 abruptly gets us off the subject of judgment—“when he comes, in that Day, to be glorified in his saints. . . “ Not by his saints, but in his saints. He’s already glorified. Glory is weight, worth. He already has that. We’ll get it, we’ll reflect it. “And to be admired among all those who believe . . . “ and here, the mystery comes, “because our testimony among you was believed.” Wait—what happens on earth affects what happens in heaven? How can that be? Is that my answer to the question of two paragraphs back? Yes. If God’s kingdom is eternal, and we’re already living in it, what happens here affects eternity and what happens in eternity affects the here and now. We can’t dismiss the dailiness of life. It matters. It all matters.

How? In the words of Barack Obama, that’s above my pay grade. I just have to take it and run with it.

Therefore, since he is coming (when, not if), Paul says, “we pray for you.” What does he pray?
1. That God would count you worthy of his calling
2. That you would fulfill his purposes and pleasure in you with power
3. That God’s glory would be seen in you.

At salvation a seed is placed in us. Our spiritual DNA is changed. But the seed has to grow. We can stunt the growth or nourish it, but the seed is there.

The chapter ends with “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace provides the bookends of this chapter (and the whole book). Is grace your bookends? Bookends hold books up. Is that’s what holding you up, or are you cramming the books in so tight there is no room for grace to support us?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

I Thessalonians

We have been studying, and I have been teaching, I Thessalonians for the last two months. It has been a special study for me, for one reason that I Thessalonians is a quiet book, one with treasures to be unearthed but often overlooked. In that way, I Thessalonians is like most people--quiet with overlooked wonders. This is one reason I want to write fiction, to uncover the lives of unnoticed people, of unnoticed good people (much fiction today tries to elaborate the lives of bad people or people who have hidden darkness or evil secrets.) P.D. James said once that it is much harder to write about good people, but I don't know truly evil people, nor do I care to, so I'll pick up the challenge of writing about the good.

I have put my writing aside for a while because in the middle of the school year there are too many demands, but my mind is starting to turn over plots for my next novel or novel series, which is set here in northwest Georgia/Chattanooga and resembles my husband's family's lives. They are a far more dramatic and interesting group than most of my family. We are excessively boring. As I was telling some colleagues, David Baldacci, the famous writer, is my cousin's cousin. Not a relation of mine, but the first cousin on his mother's side to my second cousins on my father's side. His aunt Hazel was also the girl that accompanied my mom to Washington, D.C., when they moved to the "big city" after WWII. The two girls met cousins and married them. So I'm connected to him on two fronts (I'm a fan of the six degrees of separation theory, if you haven't figured it out). One of his books, Wish You Well, is about his family members and my mother read it, saying, "I know who that old man is, that's his grandfather." And so it goes.
I said all that to say he would have to look to that part of his family to find anything worth writing--he wouldn't find it in the family his aunt married into.

I Thessalonians reminds us of the good people of the church. It is almost free of intense passages about the evil world around the persecuted Thessalonians, emphasizing that the Thessalonians must find strength from one another through Christ. And I am thankful that I get to experience that in my own church.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 28:1-8, second pass

The passage is unclear as to whether the two women saw the resurrection here, but I don’t think so.   They would probab...