Saturday, January 31, 2015

My So-Called Life as an Author

A few days ago I posted about branding, and decried my own failure at branding myself as a writer.  I was just looking at my "deep" numbers on Amazon and they are really horrible, embarrassing.  And I have written and published four pretty good novels.   Very little money has come from it.  As a friend said, it's an expensive hobby, since you have to spend money marketing.  That's why the indie publishing thing is so appealing, but it doesn't let you out of the marketing prison.

Content is king.  Keep that in mind.  Like anything else, there has to be a reason for people to buy your product, unless you just want to give it away.  Writing is too hard to give it away, and I won't do that any more.

That said, other than writing a play that was well received at my college when produced but did not win a contest I entered (I don't think it was the kind of thing they were looking for--I think they wanted easy to produce, and mine isn't), I haven't written much creatively in the last three years, being in a doctoral program and taking care of my mother with cancer and working full-time.  If and when I go back to fiction writing, it will be with a realistic eye:  either try to make some money by writing the kind of thing that sells, or enjoy myself writing something good that approximates literary fiction, but don't expect much.  I'll still put it out there, probably mostly epublishing but still trying to find real publishers for the good stuff. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Biblical Ignorance

Over the years I have become aware of the depth of our problem in the US church regarding the high level of Biblical ignorance or illiteracy.  Most who would decry this problem would just see it as a spiritual problem, related to lack of commitment to Bible study.  I see it differently.

The real issue is a lack of ability to read long and complicated portions of text.  It is an intellectual and critical thinking problem, not just a spiritual problem (if that at all).  It is a literacy problem, not just a Biblical literacy problem.

The other day I had the BCM students who came to the meeting read through the book of Philippians in one setting.  I have a feeling they have never had to do that, or even thought it was an option--to read a whole book of the Bible at one sitting, to see the natural flow of the argument, to not lift a verse or two out of context.  Reading, dissecting, and interpreting (and reading as I am talking about it is about interpretation and meaning-making) a long portion is hard enough, and if everything comes prepackaged, online, concise, and visually supplemented, who needs to really engage text.

On top of the inability to be quiet and by themselves individually for a long period of time, what does that do to the human mind?

Branding Oneself

The local Moody station has been playing an ad for a book about needing to "brand" oneself in this marketplace.  I find it odd that a conservative Christian station would make a big deal of that subject, but I have been mystified by the concept anyway.   I have been concerned by "branding" oneself; I even heard of a first-year-experience program that based on getting the students to "brand" themselves. 

In fact, that's pretty repugnant when you think about it--telling 18-year-olds that they should be defining themselves in terms of the marketplace. 

So, I thought, maybe I misunderstand the concept, so I did some research.  Here is a pretty good website on the subject. 

As a writer, I have done a pretty horrible job of branding myself as a writer.  I just (foolishly) thought when I got started that one just wrote and people just read them, liked, and kept reading more books.  I see now I have no brand at all, no platform, and no persona. 

I am taking a MOOC (a concept I really like) on "Inventing the Future" of Higher Education.  It is designed on scenario-based planning.   One of the scenarios is all market-driven.  If such a scenario is true, even college faculty, supposedly, will have to be branding themselves.  So maybe it's not too soon to talk about it.

My brand would be "answers."  How about "Answers to Questions You Didn't Know You Had"?  "Answers to Questions Before You Ask Them"?  

Fine line

There is a very short distance from denying religious viewpoints or speech in the public square to denying religious people access to the public square.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Words That Have No English Equivalent

Ezelsbruggetje.

I just learned this Dutch word which doesn't have an English translation. 
It means something like, "A play on words to help you remember things."
Something like a mnemonic device. 

It came up in my LIFE GROUP (Sunday School class) from my Dutch friend when I said I used the phrase "General Electric Pepsi Cola" to remember the order of books Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. 

I am a word nerd. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hebrews 1:1-4


It is my habit to post my notes for Sunday School (Life groups?) lessons.  I am teaching tomorrow on this passage.

This is one of four major Christological passages, which means

1.  John 1:1-5.  This one tells us the Christ is eternal, equal to God, and creator and life and guide to mankind. 
a.  In the beginning—where else do we see that? 
b.  Word here is the Greek word logos, meaning expression. 
c.   Although the “trinity” or “tri-unity” of God is beyond full human thought, the Bible does invite us to understand and appreciate it through such passages.  The Son of God is distinct from God the Father but not a “separate” God.  God was not diminished while Christ was on earth, not “separated” or “split.”
2.  Colossians 1:15-20.  This passage points to the fact that the Son of God is creator and sustainer of the physical world, that He is the eternal expression of God, and reconciler.
a.     firstborn is not a title of time, but of pre-eminence. 
b.     Notice that in both passages we have not just who but what He does eternally for mankind. 
3.  Philippians 2:5-11.  This was a hymn in the first century.  Called the gnosis.
a.  emphasis on, as in Hebrews, the transition from eternal Son of God to person on the cross to exalted Son.
b. the mystery of the trinity is that they are co-equal and co-eternal but there is still a type of subordination and that the Son of God “gained” something through the incarnation. 
4.  Hebrews 1:1-4. 
a.  same emphasis as 1 and 2 on expression
b.  same emphasis as  in 3 on the experience of the cross back to exaltation.  Now, because of the cross, the church has started and the world experiences the Godhead in a new way.  He is exalted from a human standpoint, not an eternal one.
c.  same emphasis as 1 and 2 on Son of God as Creator and Sustainer
d.  God is outside of time.  (Now my brain is tired). 

Additional notes:
Author?  Most say Paul.  I am noncommittal.  Why wouldn’t he say so? Most early church wrote like they believed it was Paul.
Audience? Hebrew Christian and almost Christian
Purpose:
1. to encourage those under persecution
2. to create a defense of the faith especially in the Jewish minds
3. to encourage those on the fence to cross the fence to true faith commitment to Christ alone.  He draws on OT references to Jews who didn’t “go all the way.”

verse 1: 
Sundry times and in diverse manners.  The way God spoke in the past was fragmentary and incomplete (not imperfect in our sense).  It was to the Jewish people, to whom were given “the oracles of God.” (Romans)
In these latter days – could be thought of as recently but also as the beginning of the end.
Verse 2:  Spoken by His Son.
How does God speak by (or in) His Son, Jesus?
1.     physical existence, the incarnation.  Neither materialism or Gnosticism.  The body is a good thing, and Jesus embraced his physical existence. 
2.     teachings (which we tend to overlook)
3.     miracles
4.     cross
5.     resurrection
6.     ascension (which we also overlook)
Jesus is
            a.  heir of all things
            b.  co-creator of all things (like a family business!)
Verse 3:  Express image of His person and brightness of His glory—where?  On earth or in heaven?  Both, but physical glory was largely hidden on earth; he was not impressive on earth.  Emphasis is on the fact that he shows and communicates God.
a.     He purged our sins.  More than atone or cover, but cleaned, purified a poison from our system.
b.     He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  Several times this act is mentioned, to express completion of His work and return to exaltation with God.  It also is fulfillment of prophecy.  See Psalm 110:1. 
Verse 4:  Having become so much better than the angels.
Well of course he was?  What is the point?
Psalm 8:4-5.  Mankind is a little lower than the angels
Hebrews 2:9 Jesus was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.
It is a reference to his becoming a man (below angels) and then exaltation, a common theme in Hebrews.

Summary and walking points:
1.     Some things are hard to understand.  Why?
a. they need more study
b. they are miracles
c. to protect us from pride
d.  We are incapable of  thinking God’s thoughts God’s ways
e. Sometimes we understand but don’t much like it.
f.  The nature of revelation itself
§  progressive, but now complete.   Controversy.  Does God speak to us personally through the Holy Spirit to apply scripture (John 16:13) or reveal new ideas today (Revelation 22:18)? 
§  what God wants us to know, not everything there is to know
§  “baby talk”
§  how we are supposed to read it.  Line upon line.  Contextual.  Like a letter between two people we don’t know.  Hebrews is a good example because we jump right in without reference to the author, audience, problem, past, etc., and we have to figure it out as we read.
2.     If we aren’t straight on Jesus, we won’t be straight on anything else.  Cults
3.     Sufficiency of Christ.  Total rest in what He has done.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Post Random Thoughts here

We used to say "Is the Pope Catholic?" as a sarcastic response to an obvious question.  With this pope, it's a real query.  Is this guy Catholic?  He has some unusual ideas . . .

Our College had a common reader experience this year around a book about happiness.  I will not get specific.  I read the first chapter of it last night and thought, "White people's problems."  Or as some people call it, first world problems. But it has got me thinking about how we throw around words without common understandings. Happiness.  Balance.  Meaning.

The book on happiness seems to have no reference to spiritual sources of happiness or contentment, so I don't think I will pursue it.  It seems to be an "I did this each month for a year" kind of approach.  Whatever.  Happiness comes from gratitude and acceptance.

Balance.  Well, balance between what?  Can two unequal things be balanced?  What people mean when they talk about balance is that they are bogged down and spending too much time in activities they don't want to do.  They don't want to work as much as they do.  They don't want to spend as much as time on X as they do, or as much physical and emotional energy.  Balance is not really a goal, anymore than happiness is.  They are means.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hashtags and Reality

This is my first blog post in almost two weeks.  I started a new job on January 5, one that requires my attention to some extent 50 hours a week right now as I am getting used to it.  I am an interim assistant vice president for academic affairs at my institution.  So far I am enjoying the job immensely, but it does affect my blogging.  One, I don't have time; two, I don't have time to come up with ideas that would be appropriate; and three, in this position I feel a responsibility to measure my words much more than I normally would.  Teachers can be provocative; administrators not so much.

But I do want to exercise my freedom of speech, which is subject of this blog.  Breakpoint has a good essay on the Je suis Charlie trope here. I am all for free speech and press, but as they point out, we don't have to defend what people say just because we defend their right to say (or write, or in this case, draw) it.  If most Americans were to actually know what the Charlie Hebdo magazine was about, they would probably be less likely to say We are Charlie blithely.  I'll pass.  This event is about more than free press and speech.  It's about fear and how we will respond to radical Islam in the future. Unfortunately, some peaceful Muslims will be on the wrong end of the issue and will be persecuted due to the actions of the militants and murderers.

Boko Haram goes far less reported than the Charlie Hebdo murders.  A few years back there was a movie called Sahara.  It was not a bad film, fund to watch, but hardly Oscar-worthy; however,  one line stood out to me.  An evil overlord character said, "No one cares about Africa," making the point that the evil overlord plan he concocted to destroy Africa's environment to make money would not draw any attention from the West.  That pained me greatly; it was too worldly wise a line from a throwaway movie.  That is what I think of when I hear of Boko Haram.  Two thousand innocent people are destroyed and the news is barely reported.  Does any care about Africa?  Do black lives matter in that part of the world?

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Share #1, January 3, 2015

I'm going to start a new category, sharing links to good stuff I see.  This is just funny, from a former student, now pastor in the Midwest.

Daniel Jepsen's blog


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

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