Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thoughts on the New Pontiff

Needless to say, I am not a Roman Catholic, so my thoughts on Pope Francis I do not come from expertise in all things papal, but I do like this one's style.

He is pushing away the overdressed look of the office and pulling toward him the downtrodden, washing the feet of women in prison and AIDS facilities.  I just realized that his name, Francis, might come from Francis of Assissi, the saint of the simple life. 

We can all learn from him.  Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant I don't accept a human head of the church, but I wonder if he himself sort of questions it. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What do we call the Saturday after the Cross?

For a wonderful essay on this subject, go to my friend's blog:

Adult Education Issues and Older Adult Learners

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

We’ve all heard that statement a thousand times in our lives.  It may be true about dogs, but it does not apply to people.

I am a doctoral student in a program in Adult Education and Organizational Leadership.  It is an executive style program for mid-career professionals, or so it is advertised.  As someone who has already been employed in various forms of higher education for (gasp) 35 years, I don’t really fit the description of the mid-career professional.  I do fit the description of an adult learner, of course, and I found out today I met the standard of an older adult learner, a special class—I’m over 50 or 55.  I am 57, and I am sure a lot of my friends and colleagues think I am crazy or something a little less foolish for doing doctoral work at this age. 

I will not be able to retire for 13 or more years, due to Social Security and getting a late start on investments (and having investments that have plummeted in values twice in the last fifteen years).  I don’t really want to retire until I can do it cleanly, with no need to come back into the workforce unless I just want to.  I am sure by then I will have been long tired of working anyway, especially teaching freshmen.

Which brings me to my second reason—a desire to get out of teaching so much, maybe just one course a semester and then doing administrative work.  Or getting out of higher education entirely; maybe consulting, doing creative work, writing, speaking. 

The third reason is instrumental:  I want Dr. in front of my name for at least some of my professional life.  As a colleague says, the doctorate only matters if you don’t have it.  I am not quite that cynical, but I do see that many doors are closed to me without it. 

The fourth reason is personal:  I have always wanted to earn a doctorate, and I felt I was getting stale.  That stale feeling has definitely gone away in the last ten months.  As I often say, there is no scaffolding in doctoral work, just as there is no crying in baseball.  If someone starts talking about a theory or theorists you don’t understand, go get the book or at least look it up on Wikipedia.  The professor won’t do it for you, which is ok. 

Related to the personal is wanting my mother and other family members see me graduate with the Ed.D. (I’m not going to get into arguments about the quality or rigor of a Ph.D. vs. an Ed.D.  This program is plenty rigorous for me and it’s what I want to study, so other persons’ opinions don’t much matter at this point.)  My mother has cancer and we have no idea how long she will be with us; however, ten months ago, when she started chemo, we didn’t think she would be here at Christmas, and now it’s Easter.  Since she went through high school and my father got to the third grade, and since I am a first generation student, earning a doctorate, even at 59, will be an accomplishment.  I have always been a late bloomer (due to Kallmann’s syndrome and other reasons) so the late date is not a problem for me.

Finally, the degree is almost free and very accessible, so I am able to afford it without debt, and I am pleased to say my cohortians are wonderful people.

I assumed I was the oldest person in the cohort, although I found out that I was not.  One woman was born a year and half before I was.  I still feel like the oldest, though, so the concept of what we had to read in our textbook this week was very appropriate for me:  Adult Education and the Older Learner.

People over 55 trying to learn are a unique group, but not a small one, not a homogeneous one, and not one to be ignored.  We have different reasons for learning than do younger populations, but not entirely.  The U.S. population is aging (this is a truism and doesn’t really need support, but the Census Bureau would be a good place to verify it:   In fact, more people were 65 years and over in 2010 than in any previous census. Between 2000 and 2010, the population 65 years and over increased at a faster rate (15.1 percent) than the total U.S population (9.7 percent).”  Because Americans are aging, the needs of senior adult learners should occupy a much bigger portion of our attention as adult learners.

However, stereotypes and attitudes about aging are still very strong.  When I go to Facebook to browse, I see that my older friends love to post cartoons and memes about age.  The Hallmark old lady predominates.   “Jokes” about creaking bones, slipping memories and slipped discs, pains, grandchildren being better than children, and nostalgia about ice trays and old-time coffee makers abound, at least on my page.  If someone 60 or over wants to learn, it must be for family or personal growth, primarily. 

As the chapter by Mary Alice Wolf and E. Michael Brady, “Adult and Continuing Education for an Aging Society” (2010) argues, “For many adults—whether it be for meaning making, vocation, literacy, socialization, or personal development—learning is a voluntary, often need-driven activity.  Older people make an active decision to embark on this quixotic and dynamic path:  to partake as learners of a variety of person, programmatic, and social endeavors” (p. 369).  In other words, we must be careful as professional educators not to bracket those over 55 or 60 too easily and too quickly.  I am an example.  They give others at the end of their chapter—that senior learners in their research vary from a prison inmate getting literacy skills to a rabbi learning to deal with aging congregants.   

We are often told that those who continue to learn will be healthier and will be less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.  From what I have read, the jury is still out on that conclusion; other reasons for illness, such as genetics, can influence early morbidity and mortality.  Perhaps we should focus on quality of life rather than length.  Research cited by Wolf and Brady does show that active elders seek medical care less frequently, but learning is just one part of “activity” in terms of the elderly.  These categories still seem fluid, anyway.  I don’t think of myself as elderly (although my freshmen students do!).  Adult learning makes life more meaningful, but it seems that for the most part this is self-directed and informal/nonformal learning, although some elderly do pursue formal education and certification, and many over 55 (if we are going to use that as the cut-off) engage in continuing education and professional education for their careers and jobs.  Since it seems like technological change is constant, anyone who is still working will be expected to learn new programs and platforms, policies and procedures.  I remember years ago a local news report on a woman in her 80s who earned her GED.  She said, memorably, “The two things nobody can take away from your are your salvation and your education.” 

It is interesting that in a book with so many theories, there is only one theory mentioned in the chapter about this population, and that is Eric Erickson.   The quotation of his used is a bit depressing:  “What is the last ritualization built into the style of old age?  I think it is philosophical:  for in maintaining some order and meaning in the disintegration of body and mind, it can also advocate a durable hope in wisdom” (p. 370).  Well, thank you for that, Eric!  Disintegration, hunh?  In all seriousness, I know there are a lot of theoretical perspectives about aging in other fields, such as social work and medicine.  As the authors go on to say, in educational fields there is a great potential for older adults to not be marginalized, pushed to the side, and only allowed to follow subjects that “old people” would like.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reflections from the Valley of Vision

As I wrote earlier, I have been reading the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers, but it took me a couple of weeks to get past the first page.  Every line is rich.  Some thoughts.

Let me find . . . thy joy in my sorrow.

Over what am I sorrowful?  I am sorry, but am I sorrowful?

That young people die often from sinful decisions.
That children are abused and killed from the womb on
That my mother is facing a deadly disease
That my husband is imprisoned in mental illness
That our country is run by liars.
That the church is not holy and is pursuing pleasure and cultural relevance instead of obedience
That so many Christians face real persecution every day of their lives
That the rich of the world--like me--hold on to their wealth more than to God.

A "reblog" from a friend

A friend, former student, and now pastor wrote this blog post.  Very appropriate.

I love Santa Claus and think it's wrong to treat this "incarnation" of a great saint as if he's the devil.  But the EASTER BUNNY?  Please.  Run the other way, churches.  I love the picture on the blog of the Easter Bunny in clerical garb.

Chrisitianity Today: Whither Goest Thou?

About ten years ago when I was attending a large Presbyterian church in our city, one of the editors from Christianity Today spoke on a recent book of his about William Carey.  As an amateur historian, I had to go, but I had another reason.  I was going to get to meet one of the editors of the magazine that had sustained my faith.

I approached him afterward and told him how much CT had meant to me.  He laughed and said that he more often hears angry comments, so he appreciated it.  I was very sincere and let him know I was very sincere.

Why was I sincere?  Because at a time when I was entrenched in a branch of the church that was stifling, emotionally and intellectually, reading CT allowed me to know that other people thought like me and there was hope for thinking persons of faith.  That's the short version.

When CT went online, I stopped getting it in the mail and started my daily trek to its website to read its articles.  It still sustains me in many ways, and I often post links to it from this blog.  However, I have recently noticed a weatherchange in some of its articles that puzzle me.

Specifically, it is in the Hermeneutics page, which I still generally find enlightening.  But recently the page has had a fascination with body image and movie stars.  Cases in point.

An editorial defending Seth McFarlane's song at the Oscars ceremony, "We saw your boobs."  OK, it was funny, but was an editorial about it in the flagship evangelical Christian publication necessary?  Seth McFarlane is one of the crudest people on the planet who has no time for the things of God.  Why give him any time?

A piece defending Lena Dunham (actually more than one), a really insecure actress and writer who parades naked on her television show, sees sexual promiscuity (I typed promiscruity, which is a good combination) as a form of self discovery, and also hates the things of the church?  Who compared voting for Obama to the first sexual experience?  Why waste time on her?

An article comparing Jennifer Lawrence to Anne Hathaway and why we like one and don't like the other.  Hello?  Do we know either of these women beyond their celluloid image?

Fortunately, the bulk of CT's articles are still about doctrine, theology, book reviews, and humanitarian efforts of the church (I am staying away from the word social justice because it has so many connotations).   But one has to wonder about their editorial choices. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waiting in the Chemo Room

My mother has cancer.

That is the defining fact of my life right now.  Although it doesn't have a direct impact on me every second now, it does affect the structure of my week (must have Wednesdays free), my planing of the future (like vacations, and my emotional health.

I take her to her chemo.  She is on her second 6-month cycle now.  The first did not change her condition, only kept it stable.  The chemo drug she is taking now is much stronger and is affecting her symptoms, although she has lost her hair.  She does eat pretty well, though.

Sitting in the chemo room with the other patients is part of my life.  I spend at least three hours there; during some of her treatment, which runs about six hours (lab, premeds, actual chemo infusion) I go get some lunch, do her errands, do my errands.  All the patients are on different protocols, so we do not see all of them every week; whether we do or not is a bit random.

However, they are a community in that room (the second of two at this doctor's office).  Five women can occupy that room, with a family member to accompany them.  It is a little crowded.  There is a TV that mostly gets ignored.  My mom has made friends.  One woman, my age, has adopted my mother as her second mom because her own is 3,000 miles away in California.

The overwhelming truth in that room is suffering.  The women wear hats to cover their new baldness; they wear extra clothes to keep warm.  They eat whatever they feel like because with cancer, diet for other conditions is not all that important.  You might as well eat fat and salt and sugar if that is what you can keep down.  Some women talk a great deal, some are very quiet.  Some are upper middle class; my mother is on Social Security and never has had much money.  All have access ports on their chests and some have an extra one in their abdomens.

They all "look bad," as my mom would say.

There is fragile hope in that room.  Every bit of good news feeds the hope; sometimes there is no good news.  All are fighters, though.  They must be, because they are taking chemo.  My mother did not want to, back in the spring when the tumor started to be an unalterable fact.  She didn't want to take the second round; she still doesn't, of course. Who would.  But my only argument was that she wouldn't want to have to say, "I wish I had done something."  I believe she would be gone now, and selfishly, I am not ready for that. 

Bait and Switch Salvation

I wonder sometimes if Christians sit in church and listen to a sermon about totally committing one's life to Christ in service or sacrifice and think, "did I sign up for this?"

How many people come to Christ, pray the prayer, and wonder if there was a bait and switch going on?

What am I getting at?  I am getting at soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, and more specifically, how we present the salvation experience, or conversion, to people.  "Ask Jesus into your heart," "Admit, believe, confess," "Pray this prayer" and you will be saved. 

There is, of course, no way that a person before conversion can really understand the full ramifications of their decision, but for it to be a real decision, they need more information than they are usually getting.  The Bible does not prescribe any prayers or confessions to become a Christian--it's an individual matter with the core of confession of Jesus as Lord (Romans 10), trust in him to the extent one does and can understand his sacrifice, and a sense of need and sinfulness.  But no set of words to say.  How many people have struggled with assurance because they didn't say the right words (which don't exist?)

But the Bible does make it clear that the step toward Christ will mean radical change in life and departing from one's sin.  New Testament folks understood this clearly, and sometimes walked away.

On the other hand, some preachers put burdens that are too heavy to bear on their listeners for the sake of rhetorical flourish.  However, I wonder how many people hear they are supposed to tithe and think "I didn't know this when I walked in the door?"

The solution:  better evangelism, better discipleship, better public relations in terms of letting others know what following Christ means, not that it means belonging to a church that has a Starbucks and a playground for the children. 

Baptist Reflections

I attend a Baptist church, Southern Baptist even.  This does not mean I embrace everything about Southern Baptist churches.  I could make a lot of comments on things I don't like, but that's not the point here.  The point is what I do like, what is endearing and even more, reflecting of the real gospel, in my thinking.

Baptists have built in servanthood in their churches, innate humility.  That is hard for some from more hierarchical churches to see, and I've experienced plenty of arrogance especially from men directed at me just because I was a woman.  But I noticed today when we were being served the Lord's Supper.  We were being served it.  The deacons brought it to us.  In other churches, the people go forward to the priest.  There is something symbolic there, of both the gospel and the idea of leadership.  The leaders serve.  The people do not approach the leaders as if the leaders were holy shrines.

Baptists baptize after conversion.  It is an active choice, and I think, therefore, more meaningful. 

Baptists do not have hierarchies.  Deacons--that's it. 

Baptists have a lot of church autonomy.

Baptists can reinvent themselves.  They are starting to see their role in humanitarian efforts, for instance.  In the last fifteen years Baptists have become one of the leading disaster relief agencies.  They are the official feeding agency for the Salvation Army.  This is little known, but I would challenge the skeptical to look into it.  They served millions of meals after Katrina alone. 

The younger Baptists are calling the denomination to a radical change in lifestyle.  I prefer the concept of "gospel simplicity" to radical because of connotation of radicalism, but let's not argue semantics.  While there are some legitimate criticisms about Platt et al's methods, the motives are right.  Baptists, who have never been wealthy as a group but now seem to be more upper middle class, are being challenged to rethink their place as affluent Americans.

Baptists, at least in theory, look to the Bible.  They are not creedal (not that there is anything wrong with that; I actually wish we would recite the Apostle's Creed).  Therefore, they value good preaching.

Baptists have great music in their churches.  I sing well.  I have to.  I go to a Baptist church.

Baptists come in many varieties.

They have built a number of good colleges, starting with Brown University.

Baptists have the most missionaries.

Now, after all that, let me be honest.  Baptists can be close-minded, racist, legalist, and sexist.  Baptists can get too comfortable in their megachurches.  Baptists have bought into the modern worship style big time without a clear theology of worship.  Likewise, I think they lack a clear theology of the church.  Baptists sometimes seem too concerned about church growth than inward growth, and they are competitive with other churches, and they like to act like other denominations just don't get it right.  Most Baptists do not know the history of their church or why they are Baptists. 

But I'll stick around for  a while.

Jesus Had a Dysfunctional Family

In teaching about the last sayings of Christ on the cross this morning, I noticed that Jesus gave the care of his mother to his trusted disciple John.  Where was his family?  Matthew tells us clearly he had four brothers, and even names them--James, Judas, Simon, and Joseph.  Was it because they were in Jerusalem and the rest were back in Nazareth?  Were the others poor and not able to take her in?  Is this the act of the oldest son?  Were his brothers stepbrothers or halfbrothers?

Or were his brothers just not responsible people?  Were they jealous, angry, spiteful toward Jesus and their own mother for some reason?  Did they feel shame in their small town because of Mary's "surprise" pregnancy?  All this is conjecture, but the fact remains--Jesus had drama in his family.  In one incident in the gospels, recounted at least twice, his family wanted to collect him and take him home during public miracles and teaching.  The text implies they thought he was acting crazy. 

I take great comfort that dysfunctional families are  not necessarily anyone's fault. 

Do Dogs Have Sin Natures?

I am trying to get more readers for this blog, and I thought that heading might bring in some viewers.

Bloggers either have to have a theme (mine is vague) or a big name (not me) or provocative posts. 

Maybe the first question is whether people have sin natures?

In some respects, that is one of the most evidence-based theological concepts.  Even people raised in the best of circumstances do terribly things (Hitler was from a middle-class family with a loving and indulgent mother).  Babies start rebelling against authority pretty early.  On the other hand, a lot of what we call sin is not sin, and I think people should feel a real sense of their own personal sinfulness for conversion, not just a general, ethereal "we're all sinners whether we feel like it or not" belief.  It's too easy to pass them one off.

But traditional Christian theology says we are all born in sin and will transgress God in real life eventually, given the time. 

So what does this have to do with dogs?

I asked my husband this question the other day because our dogs love to be given an inch and take a mile.  If I let Nala the pit bull up on the bed when I am reading (she loves to be there with me!) I want her to stay on a blanket, not my good quilt I spent long, long hours making.  And she will get on the blanket, almost all of her.  She puts her head on the quilt, and not because of lack of room.  She also will give me a coy look as if to say, "You're not going to forbid me to get on this quilt after all, are you?  Look at how cute I am."

My husband said that since in the fall of man the natural world was affected, that means dogs.  I refer to Romans 8:19 and following:  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

I am, of course, kidding about the dogs having sin natures.  They are dogs.  We anthropomorphize them, attributing human behavior, personality, and wills to them when they are just being dogs, and any of their cute behaviors we find so fascinating just comes from their being conditioned from being around people.  My dogs do very little but sleep, eat, fart, defecate, walk with me, bark at random noises, beg for more food, chew on bones, and play a continual game of "I've got your Nylar bone and I'm taking it away from you." 

But I am not kidding about the physical world.  If the physical world is subject to frustration and is waiting for redemption, does that mean we take care of it or let it continue to suffer?  I don't think Genesis 2 was ever rescinded, for us to use our dominion for stewardship of the earth, not exploitation.    

Being Defriended on Facebook

Most of the time when I am defriended on Facebook, I don't know about it.  I currently have 1031 "friends" on Facebook (I know, that is ridiculous.  I do not know who some of them are, and I'm pretty sure they don't know me).  But yesterday I had 1032.

My son defriended me.

Why?  He posted something about buying a new notebook computer, and I responded, "You bought another computer?"  He took it as me being critical, or controlling, or something, and defriended me.  We were all eating dinner yesterday and I let him know how angry I was about it, and he really didn't have an argument, and his daddy and grandma joined in the censure.  I told him he would pay for it.

It hurt me a lot, but it's probably for the better.  I don't need to stalk him.  He's an adult, let him be an adult.   I will also stop following his tweets.  When he figures it out, I'll have a long chat about gratitude, about all the extra hours I worked to put him through college, about what it is to be a parent of a child with epilepsy (which he had), and I'll lay on some mommy guilt.

I have defriended people as well.  It reminds me of the old Seinfeld show where he was trying to "break up" with a guy friend from elementary school.  They had become friends because the other guy had a ping pong table and Jerry had wanted to play with him.  They had remained friends but Jerry wasn't sure why because they had nothing in common and got on each other's nerves.

The only two people I have purposely defriended were two fellows I used to know (even dated one) who are now gay and I got tired of their outrageous comments.  I have another dear friend who is gay and he doesn't advertise it in every post, every two hours.  I also hid a person's comments who posts every five minutes about absolutely nothing (this is a man in his 40s) and a student who described his bowel movement.

Facebook has trivialized the meaning of friends, to be sure, but we had probably done that before the popularity of Facebook.  An old pastor of mine said that you would be fortunate to have five really true friends in your life.  As with most things today, we want more quantity, at the risk of shallowness, than we do quality, which takes a sacrifice in relationship.  Not just the sacrifice of time, although that's a big one, but the sacrifice of self, opinions, hurt feelings, etc.  We are too quick to say "A relationship is not worth it--the drama, the time, the listening." 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Catching up on Random Thoughts

Did Mark Twain really say/write all those things that get attributed to him?

I don't know if I will watch Downton Abbey next year.

A woman in my Bible class told me Omaha, Nebraska, is very diverse.  Who would have thought that?

I tried to read John Rawls' book on justice.  Worst book ever written.  Even Habermas is easier to read and makes more sense.  So many times these tomes have very few ideas but a lot of pages, and the ideas are really simple (and often wrong).  His:  Justice if fairness. There is so much wrong with that idea I don't know where to start.  Justice only tangentially has anything to do with fairness.  It has to do with rightness.

I do not like our president any more, or less, than I did four years ago. 

Our gifts, especially our talent gifts, can become such idols in our lives and we must fight to subsume them to the worship of God.

A friend who is a humorist was using humor, as he often does, in talking about something, and I told him he was not being serious because he used humor.  He told me that was my assumption.  He's right.  To me, humor, not matter how necessary and pleasurable, trivializes a subject. 

Do dogs have sin natures?

Being a Baptist and attending (even belonging to) a Baptist church are two totally different things.

My Franklin Covey planner has really good quotations in it.

I am striving for 1000 blog posts in the next couple of weeks.  Now, if I could just get my public to respond (that's supposed to be funny).

My Recent Reading

Elsewhere I posted on one of my recent reads, The Secret Confessions of an Unlikely Convert.  I am also reading a lot of doctoral material, primarily; Quiet; Great Expectations and Anna Karenina; Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Sermons; and The Valley of Vision.

Having given up television for Lent allows more time for the eternal and at least the cerebral.

The first page of The Valley of Vision is below.  I have not been able to get past it.  This reading is not for the faint of heart.  It is for people who want to stop and ponder the depths of the Christ experience for a while.  '

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let mefind thy light in my darkkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

A Song to Change Your Life

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath-
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God-slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

How Much Introspection Can One Person Take?

What a title.  But it's how I feel right now.

I am in a doctoral program at UGA in Adult Learning and Organizational Leadership.  Let me say from the outset that its rigor is kicking my butt and I should be working on my papers and dissertation prospectus right now rather than blogging, but it's been a while since I've posted here and there are also some thoughts I want to put up for Holy Week.  Also, I spent 10-12 hours yesterday on doctoral work and need a break. 

Secondly, let me say I thoroughly enjoy the classes, the content, and the profs.  They are genuinely committed to our cohort, incredibly knowledgeable, and excellent teachers.  My cohortians are fabulous.  This is all sincere.

However . . . one of the practices, philosophically, of the program is that we are put through the processes that we read about.  In a sense, we are guinea pigs (the profs are using us for research, but that's ok--the dissertation we have to write employs action research so the profs should be engaging in it, too, and we are willing and knowledgeable participants).  In studying organizational change, we study a lot about becoming change agents and processes and theories for changing ourselves as well as organizations.  So, what does this mean?  It means we have to do a great deal (and I mean great) of reflection, introspection, critical thinking, assumption question, dialogue, and writing about it all.  And sometimes that is not fun.

Case in point, to use a cliche.  Last week, using GoToMeeting (neat technology, but the free/cheap version only let's you see six people at a time) most of the class met to go through Kegan and Lahey's Immunity to Change Map.  Here you write down (and of course reflect) on your desires and improvment goals, then think about how you get in your own way, then your competing commitments, and then the assumptions that underlie those competing commitments.  Sounds easy, right?  IT IS NOT.  It's hard enough alone, but with 17 or 18 other people (and the professor doing it also), I felt like a limp dishrag afterward.  I took a two-hour nap afterward, and feel like taking one now just thinking about it.  I was not alone in this feeling.

Some (most) of us were talkative (through the chat feature), but I notice some stood on the sidelines.  I don't blame them.  I think I am going to join them.

I have learned a huge amount about myself in this program.  How opinionated I am, how inflexible, how I don't delegate, how I am a people pleaser and too dependent on others' approval, how I talk too much in groups and yet step back and clam up when some one says something outrageously liberal, metaphorically folding my arms in front of me.  I have been asked to dig into the whys.  This has been healthy and painful.  I has been spiritually revealing.  It has been transformative.  But enough is enough.  I get the point and want to get my dissertation done and graduate.  I want Dr. in front of my name, which is the main motivation for doing this, let's be honest, despite how thankful I am for the classes and opportunity--and that it's paid for.

The best dissertation is a dissertation with three signatures.

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith

I recently bought and read this book, having seen an article about it on the Christianity Today website.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  At first, I didn't believe it.  It sounded too good to be true, like someone had made up the story or embellished the details to make the conversion more dramatic.  But it is totally true, and she was a lesbian English professor in feminist studies, etc. who came to Christ. 

Dr. Butterfield is totally honest in the book, and I was quite enthralled by it until about 2/3 in.  She is honest about her own past, her own motives, her own mistakes as an early Christian, and the mistakes made by her friends and counselors during her early Christian walk.  For the first half I thought this would be an excellent book to give a nonChristian, especially one dealing with GLBT issues.  And I still think the first part is an endearing and searing testimony to God's power; she calls her conversion a "train wreck" because it was so unplanned, so out of nowhere, and so powerfully devastating to what her life and worldview were.  So, I would recommend the first 1/2 to 2/3; then, put it down.

At that point, two things happen in the narrative (this is not a reflection on her writing, which I enjoyed, or her honesty, but on the turn the book and her life take that I don't think everyone would be ready for).  For some reason, after years of lesbianism, within six months after her conversion she finds herself engaged to a friend who helped her become a Christian.  As I read it, I said, "What?"  How could she have overcome the patterns of life inherent in a different sexual orientation (I'll use those words) so quickly?  Of course, the small group of Christians in her church were elated that the former butch woman was now looking "normal" and getting married to someone who wanted to be in the ministry.  No, no, no, I'm thinking.  This marriage would be a train wreck; her being a pastor's wife would be a train wreck.

Fortunately, she realized it, and even more fortunately, she forgave the people who didn't stop her from making such a mistake; she made the decision to end the engagement on her own when her fiance's deeper problems became apparent.  But while she is brutally honest here, and I appreciate it, I'm not sure that is something I would want a nonChristian to read. 

Secondly, she goes off into an apologetic for the somewhat unusual worship practices of the church to which she is committed and in which she serves now as a pastor's wife. It is a small Presbyterian denomination.  She spends a chapter explaining why she concluded that singing psalms only (with no instruments) is correct for worship.  Oh, my.  As a Baptist who loves the rich hymnody of the last 2000 years, that was hard for me to take!  I don't think it added anything to the book.

She ends with the wonderful story of her and her husband's adoption of four children and their foster parenting of others, and the disappointments in that.  She is a person I would want to meet.  She homeschools but sees the problems with it.  Her honesty is refreshing but at the same time all encompassing and hard to take.  She is an academic through and through, even now as a full-time mom. 

So, if you can get a copy and want to give the first half to an unbelieving friend, do so.  But do a little surgery on the book first.

The Sayings of Christ On--and After--the Cross

Sunday Bible Study Lesson, March 24, 2013.
The study book talks about the identity of Christ as Messiah, Lamb, and King.
What are some of his other identities?
How do we relate to him in these other identities?

Key thought:  As awful as the crucifixion is, it is meaningless unless Jesus is who he says he is, if these are not his identities.  We cannot separate the cross from his identity(ies).

Relationship with Jesus means we must understand fully who he is and what he wants.

See his heart in the gospels.  

His heart is clearly seen in the seven last sayings from the cross.  Our pastor has been preaching on these but I missed two of them, so I want to recap and use that as our starting point for discussion and reflection.

1.     Matthew Luke 23:34.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Other translations?  “They do not know what they are doing.”
a.    As usual, he calls God “Father.”  He is interceding, as in Heaven now (Hebrews 5).
b.    Who is he talking about?  I think the Romans in that context, who really wouldn’t have known or understood at that time.   They would not have known who he is, what his purpose was, or the consequences.
c.    The context tells us the difference in the attitudes of the ruling Jewish elders; they were more aware but still ignorant.
d.    Some editions of the Bible will have a note that says this is not in the oldest manuscripts.  That is always confusing for believers—do we accept it or not?  It does go along with the rest of Scripture, especially Stephen’s martyrdom.  Other passages are not in the oldest available manuscripts, such as John 8.  Even if we say, “I don’t accept that,” nothing is really changed about the content of scripture.
e.    He is fulfilling Matthew 5:44 – “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you.” 
f.     Another reference is Ps. 109:4:  “I give myself to prayer for my enemies.”
g.    He will be followed by Stephen, the first martyr, who in Acts 7:60 said, “Do not lay this sin to their charge.”
h.    My reflection:  What is Jesus saying here?  That they are not knowledgeable, therefore not responsible?  If they weren’t responsible, they wouldn’t need forgiveness The need for forgiveness implies the existence of sin.  We don’t need forgiveness if there is no sin or harm.  .  None of us ever knows the full consequences of our sin.  We can’t know how a sharp word wounds another.  We can’t know how selfishly affects others.  So we all need forgiveness because, while we choose the sin, we do not understand the sin, even when we confess it.
i.      Further, Jesus knows their hearts, so this is a true statement; he could not speak untruth. 
j.      This saying embodies TOTAL GRACE.

2.     John 19:27.  “Woman, behold your son;  Son, behold your mother.” 
a.    There are four women at the cross:  Mary, Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.   Sort of like my class with four Ashleys in it!
b.    John, the beloved disciple, is being entrusted with care for his mother.  This raises questions—where is the rest of his family?  Why aren’t they taking care of her?  As the oldest son he is responsible, perhaps.
c.    The burden on Mary is enormous here, to see her baby, her firstborn, executed like that.  What was she pondering then? 
d.    Despite the agony of the crucifixion, Jesus has TOTAL AWARENESS and is still conscious of the humans around him, as we see in the next one.

3.     Luke 23:43:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
a.    We have recently heard a sermon on this.  The usual takeaways are that we are immediately in God’s presence after death (as opposed to waiting indefinitely for the resurrection) and that faith alone is needed for salvation, not rituals such as baptism or church membership.  Deathbed conversions have their place.
b.    It also says to me that God accepts us as we are even with limited knowledge and that there is no formula for conversion or salvation.  Many people suffer from lack of assurance of salvation and go over and over in their minds, “Did I say the right words?”  What would be the right words, according to the Bible?  The Muslims have a confession that makes them a Muslim, automatically.  No such confession, verbatim, is given to Christians.  It is our understanding, our trust, our will, that matters, not a formula or ritual.  Unfortunately, that causes a lot of people anguish, needlessly. 
c.    This saying speaks to the TOTAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE FUTURE that Jesus has, except for the second coming.

4.     Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34.  “Eli, Eli, lama sabach thani.” 
a.    If Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon didn’t feel adequate to preach on this, neither do I!
b.    It is the ninth hour (about 3:00) and the sky is dark; at his death, the physical world reacts.
c.    Theologically, there are two men:  Adam (in whom all die) and Christ (in whom all are made alive).
d.    Jesus is speaking as humanity now, and also he is becoming sin for us.
e.    This cry, which is almost unthinkable, tells us of Jesus’ taking on the TOTAL PENALTY FOR SIN.

5.     John 19:28.  “I thirst.” 
a.    At this point he is given sour wine; it is forced upon him.
b.    Earlier he had been given sour wine or vinegar mixed with a type of aromatic painkiller (myrrh rather than gall), which he refused.  Matthew 27:34.
c.    This saying speaks to his TOTAL HUMANITY. 

6.     Luke 23:46:  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
a.    Psalm 31:5 reference, although the Psalmist adds, “You have redeemed me.”
b.    I Peter 2:23.  He was committed his spirit in the same way he had committed everything else.
c.    This saying speaks to his TOTAL COMMITMENT.
d.    Also, it speaks to his TOTAL WILL, CHOICE, and CONTROL in his death.

7.     John 19:30:  “It is finished.”
a.    What is finished?
b.    This saying speaks to TOTAL VICTORY. 

All of these sayings portray Jesus TOTAL LOVE. 

Although we speak of the seven last sayings of Christ, they aren’t his last sayings.  There are many more, because of the victorious resurrection.  The many sayings after the resurrection fall into four categories.

Sayings about Proof:              Luke 24:17 ff (Emmaus conversation)
                                                Luke 24:39-41; “Behold my hands and feet” 
John 20:28-29; proof to Thomas alone; faith is better than sight!
Acts 9:4-6 – Appearance to Saul/Paul

Sayings about Peace:             Here, Jesus recognizes that they are scared to death to see him alive!
                                                Matthew 28:9 – “Rejoice!”
                                                Matthew 28:10
                                                Luke 24:36
                                                John 20:17 – Appearance to Mary Magdalene
                                                John 20:21
                                                John 21:5-25 – Restoring Peter

Sayings about Purpose:          Matthew 28:10
                                                Matthew 28:18-19
                                                Matthew 16:15ff (debated verses)
                                                Luke 24:44-49
                                                John 20:22
                                                Acts 1:4-8
                                                II Corinthians 12:9 – My strength is made perfect in weakness

Sayings about his Promised Presence:          Matthew 28:20
                                                                        John 20:22

Closing Thoughts:

The church is not a corporation with employees (pastoral staff) and clients (members).

It is a family where everyone has a role and task.   

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