Thursday, March 24, 2016

Intercessory Prayer, Christ, and Holy Week, Part VI

Hebrews 7:24-26  - “but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”
This passage is clear enough, without my commentary.  So what are the take-aways?
  1. Pray like Jesus prayed, for what Jesus prayed for.  Intercede not because of any authority of our own, but because He is interceding.  We are to pray for healing (James 5:15, as well as many Biblical examples); for our daily sustenance and care; for spiritual knowledge, growth, wisdom, enlightenment (Ephesians 1) for ourselves and others; for political and church leaders; for travel; for those who persecute you; for all the Lord’s people; for those who give the gospel to do it clearly, fearlessly, and effectively and in more and more places; that we should be worthy of His calling; and that we be delivered from evil people.  I did not provide the verses here—use a concordance or to find them and benefit from the effort.   
  2. Prayer is assumed in the Bible to be intercessory, in other words, not about us as much as about other people. 

Intercessory Prayer, Christ, and Holy Week, Part V

Jesus is interceding by the act of the cross, but also by the words on the cross.  Most notably he says of those who crucified him, the Romans, in Luke 23:24, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In eternity I am going to ask about this verse.  First, because my edition notes that it may be an addition later and not in the original text, although it parallels what Stephen says as the first martyr and is connected to psalms that prefigure the crucifixion. Second, because in some ways it flies in the face of reason—the Romans did know what they were doing, and were experts at the torture, but they did not know the full ramifications of what they were doing. 
Third, because it probably highlight the tension between free will and sovereignty as much as any verse.  They may not have known what they were doing, but they need forgiveness because it was still sin.  They hated this Jew and had no qualms about making him suffer, so there was plenty of sin to go around.  If they weren’t knowledgeable and responsible, why forgive?  And yet none of us really knows the full extent of what our sin does, none of us really knows what we do.  
This suffering was from and through God’s hand, as is all of ours, but the instruments of suffering are not free and blameless.  Figuring that one out will take a while, but we will have time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Intercessory Prayer, Christ, and Holy Week, Part 4

John 17 is not the first place where we have a record of Jesus praying and that for his disciples, but it is the most explicit.  It is early morning before the cross, and understandably prayer is all He can do.  John does not record His torment in the Garden of Gethsemane, but the prayer in John 17 refers to it obliquely. 
In verses 1-5 Jesus prays for Himself, but not that the cross will be any easier or shorter.  He prays about what will be accomplished by it—the glorification of the Father and of He Himself, the Son, and the ultimate salvation of those who believe.  All the significances of the cross (and John Piper has written a wonderful book on this subject) must start and end with this: that God is glorified.  A Christian without a God-centered world view has missed the point.
In verses 6-18 He prays for the eleven disciples, and I would imagine the other two who would come.  Since it is so clearly for the disciples, we should be careful of taking any of it upon ourselves.  They will be the mouthpieces to whom the gospel is entrusted now. 
In the remaining verses Jesus prays for us, now, those who believe because of the apostles’ words—that they should be one, that they should know love, and that they should see His glory.  Not a lot of the things we would expect Him to pray for us, which might include political power, prominence for the church, historical impact, or intellectual legacy.
Jesus is the perfect Interceder, Intercessor, Mediator; therefore the  way He intercedes must be followed and understood.  What He prays for us takes priority.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Intercessory Prayer, Christ, and Holy Week, Part 3

The third Old Testament example is the prophet Samuel, who speaks at length to the people of Israel when Saul is crowned king despite the warnings that a king could become despotic and enslave the people.  They wanted a king to be like everyone else.  This please sounds so much like politics today that I feel like using the abbreviation SMH!  “We want Bernie Sanders the socialist so we can be like the European countries.”  “We want Donald Trump so we can make America great again.”  In all three cases it seems that personal and corporate responsibility  for the future outcomes is being rejected to allow someone else to take care of the crowd.  A democratic republic demands the knowledge, responsibility,  and involvement of all citizens to work. 
In Samuel’s case, he says in I Samuel 12:22-24 some of the sweetest words in the Bible:  “For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has please the LORD to make you His people.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you.”
Samuel is interceding for the people through his prayer, but he is also interceding for God.  He is another imperfect example of the perfect Mediator.  And for him, to not engage in intercessory prayer for them is a sin.  Considering how often we are commanded to pray for others in the New Testament, it would seem reasonable to claim that a failure to pray intercessorily is also a sin. 

Intercessory Prayer and Christ, Holy Week, Part 2

In Numbers 14 we read of Moses being an intercessor, again imperfectly, when the spies return from the promised land and the nation decides that no, they won’t be going into the promised land, and not only that, they start to whine about coming out of Egypt.  We have here an interesting part of the debate of human free will and God’s sovereignty.  They chose to leave, didn’t they?  Why are they blaming Moses and God for their choice?  Of course, staying in Egypt would probably have been a rough go after the ten plagues visited on the country by the Hebrew deity.  Moses attempts to intercede.  On a superficial level in the English it sounds as if Moses is saying it would be a bad PR move for God to punish them all, and that he is flattering God.  Moses’ intercession is partly successful—the rejectors will never see the Promised Land, will never have a homeland on this earth, but their children will, as will the faithful Caleb and Joshua.  
Intercession from a Biblical standpoint seems to mean presenting an argument for grace, forgiveness, and a second chance on the basis of God’s character.   What else would there be as a basis?  Standing against the follies, sin, and rebellion of men and women is love and grace, and intercessors present a defense on that basis, not the potential redemptability, the inherent goodness, or the possible turn for the better on the part of those needing intercession.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


I went to see this at the second run theater last night, a gift to myself. I really don't like going to movies alone, but some are best seen alone, and this one perhaps.  It is an emotional roller-coaster, and sometimes you just need the freedom to be alone and tear up.

The film is about home, what it means, where we find it.  While some of the main character's choices in the second half of the film may seem odd to some, maybe even enough to disqualify her as a "sympathetic hero," I didn't feel that way.  I felt that she was working through the grief and confusion of losing her sister, guilt for having left her to what turned out to be a blessed life in New York, responsibility toward her mother, and doubt that she should have married someone from a different culture so quickly.  Sure, she shouldn't have gotten close to the Irish fellow, but she could be seen as being in a trance, a dream, remembering the good of her homeland now with different eyes, living on the other side now as a visitor with strong ties.  In retrospect I identify with her more than I did watching the film, but the reason it is a great film is that it would take much reflection and even more than one viewing to get to the bottom of it.

Of course, I read the posts on and posters say, "It's different in the book," but I have no intention of reading the book right now.  Once a writer sells his or her book to a different medium like play, screenplay, or teleplay, he or she has given up something. 

It's not a perfect analogy, but it's like seeing a photograph of a great painting like the Burial of the Count of Orgaz and seeing the real artwork.  I picked that because I have seen it in Toledo, Spain, and it struck me more than I expected.  I have seen the Mona Lisa (La Giaconde) and it didn't do that much for me, although the eyes and expression are creepy.  The most moving painting I have seen is Picasso's Guernica, which brought me to tears, and I do not cry easily. 

Anyway, enough travelogue.  The movie is not just a smaller version of the book, a condensed version that takes two hours to watch rather than several days (at least for me) to read.  It is an entirely different medium  In a photograph one cannot usually see the depth, the texture, the size of the work, all its characteristics, as one would with the real painting.  One is left up to the choices and the skills of the  filmmakers, so comparisons are in some ways beside the point.  Either the film stands on its own as a film or it doesn't, but one can't say, "But in the book. . . " 

It's a slow film, "eligiac" as one has said, very visual, sweet and charming, with just enough reality thrown in to remind us that the immigrant experience has not been sweet and charming for everyone but that coming to America is still worthy of the dream.

Intercessory Prayer and Holy Week, Part 1

My “Life group” a church has been studying from a small book on prayer, designed for a woman’s group, and it is quite good.  However, this week’s topic/chapter was on intercessory prayer and I felt the particular chapter fell short, especially since it is Holy Week, so I went my own way with it, which I often do. I will post a series of shorter posts that constitute my lesson today.   Writing on the Internet must by nature be short and focused. 
To intercede literally means “to come between.”  Interceding and intercession are key themes in the Bible, with Christ being the perfect intercessor or mediator.  The Old Testament gives examples of imperfect intercessors, and we see in the New Testament that Christ interceding before, during, and after the cross. 
In Genesis 18 we read the account of Abraham’s “negotiating” with God about Sodom.  God announced that He would destroy Sodom for its depravity (which, yes, involved lack of hospitality and care for the poor, as mentioned in Ezekiel, but obviously included other behaviors).   Because Lot, his nephew, lived their with this family, Abraham asked God if He would spare the city for fifty righteous people, and then the number reduced to ten.  But there weren’t ten, as it happened.  Abraham isn’t successful in this imperfect intercession because of his abilities, but because of God’s longsuffering and grace. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Marilynne Robinson and the "trilogy"

Of course, Robinson's three books of Gilead, Home, and Lila are not a trilogy in the traditional sense but a set of interconnected books around two families of ministers in a small Iowa town.  I recently finished Home, and consider it the best (to me) of the three.  It is a retooling of the Prodigal Son but so much more.  Reading it just before my mother-in-law's death leads me to connect it to an emotional occurrence in my own life, so that may be why I hold it in the highest esteem, although of course the other two are excellent in different ways.  I am not sure that the books can be read separately, though!  Lila really won't make much sense if you don't know "the old man," John Ames, a Congregationalist minister, whom she marries after a life of privation as a migrant worker. 

These are not popular fiction books, though.  Her style is such (and I admire this because I reveal things too quickly in my writing, I fear) that you know what you need to know to understand the minds of the characters at that point. 

The copy I bought from Amazon was used, and the previous reader had put in the front this note:  "She is kind of wordy but a pretty good writer."  Generous considering she had won a Pulitzer. 

Election 2016 - the Kobiyashi Maru or something worse

I continue to be appalled, almost to the point of despair, by this election and the ascendancy of Trump. 

Has anyone every had a more ironically appropriate name?  He has trumped good sense, civility, democracy, Republican ideals, and Christian faith.

This article in CT says it all

During WWII, the Confessing Church had to separate itself from the church that supported Hitler.  I don't equate those two characters (that's out of line), but. . . I do feel that a separation is necessary between "evangelicals" who would succumb to Trumpism and those of us who stand in amazement and horror at the devotion to Trump held by so many so-called Christians and evangelicals we thought we had something in common with.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof

I have now watched this documentary twice, once after coming across it on Netflix and a second time after inviting an artist friend over.  She had been trying to see the film for over two years, so I was glad to oblige.

I was immediately drawn to the photographs more than the mystery, although that soon pulled me in.  I thought the film was well constructed to parallel both Maloof's uncovering of the life of Maier along with the chronology of her life and work.

I have read reviews that dismissed Maloof as 1.  being too prevalent in the film (I did not find it so, and he was clear that it was the story of his detective work and 2. an opportunist trying to make money off of Maier's work (I find this sour grapes from people who wished they had found the negatives; Maier also spent years and lots and lots of money to do this work and get the materials, so he is just getting his investment.) and 3. a dilletante who doesn't know good photography and is trying to foist her work on the poor, victimized art world (please.  The art world has a lot of fraud.  Her photographs have a magic and pull with or without the art world's approval.  This is not Thomas Kinkade we are talking about here.  She might have been self-taught, but she was still good and understood how to create humane and lasting images.)

Not to say she wasn't odd.  That's the other side of this. One of the issues in the film is that she didn't print the negatives (well, she did a few) and must not have wanted them seen (she wanted her French compatriots to see them).  Printing photographs cost a lot of money and doing it yourself requires space, which she didn't have as a nanny.  My husband pointed out that she had the negatives, which may have been enough for her to know the photographs were good (and she knew they were).

I take it one step further.  I understand as an artist what it means to want to create art but not spend time promoting art. She wanted to create the photos, but perhaps the displaying, the promoting, the business, the marketing, were not for her. So just as her photos spoke to me, this tension did as well.

I do, however, question her ethics.  I really don't believe in taking people's photographs without their permission, and she was not concerned about those kinds of niceties.  Some saw her, some did not.  She says in the film that she is "a kind of spy."

For anyone interested in photography,  artistic expression, Chicago, or a good mystery, this is worth spending an hour and half.  It is slow in some parts of the beginning, but I did not find that a problem at all.  It made me want to find a book of her photos (she took hundreds of thousands of them) and just sip tea and look on a rainy day at a time past remembered in that luscious black and white and gray film that nobody wants to use anymore. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Talking Too Much

Maybe some of us just need to shut up.

This coming from a woman who blogs and has posted all kind of videos and memes mocking Donald Trump.

I just was surprised by a certain preacher of a HUGE church in Atlanta (son of the pastor of another HUGE church in Atlanta) having to walk back some stupid comments from the pulpit.  And by the endorsement of another pastor in TX of above mentioned candidate.  (He should be disciplined by his body or denomination for violating the tax exemption thing and getting them embroiled in politics). 

Think twice, speak -- well, maybe not.  Think three times before blogging, or more.  And so I will end my blogging for a while.  I asked on Facebook for people to explain to me why they were supporting Trump.  No one did.  No one gave me a reason.  Interesting--out of 700 or more people. I have several writing projects but writing something long term seems like a prison. 

The End of Downton Abbey

Well, I did it.  Even though I kept telling myself I wasn't going to watch the Edwardian version of Dynasty one more season, I did.  Sigh.  Like many I had become increasingly annoyed with the plots but kept coming back, and now I feel something will be missing in my life.

The plotlines were annoying because they would set up a potential tragedy and then everything just worked out.  No long term problems.  Everyone happy.  Barrow tries to commit suicide.  Later in the program he's ok.  Carson has Parkinson's--it's ok, Barrow will take his job.  The only people who suffer are the non-main characters.  Lord Merton has leukemia--oh, no he doesn't!  The Drews have to leave their home because Edith can't get a grip on the fact that her child was raised by the woman.  The Crawleys can be magnanimous with their servants when it fits the plot but are really not nice people.  And in the end, everybody (except the gay guy) has a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse.

Others have written about the total absence of faith in the show in a time when it would have been far more a part of their lives.  Other than the obligatory uses of the church for funerals, weddings, and christening, these people are beyond the pale as secularists.  At least one time when Daisy said, "Oh, my God," (which she probably wouldn't have said), Mrs. Hughes the Scotswoman told her not to take the Lord's name in vain, to which Daisy (who became the world's most annoying character--she acts 14 despite the fact she would have been 27 at the end of the show) gives a snarky reply.  I chalk this absence of God in DA up to political correctness, bad writing, and bad research. 

Someone wrote a piece on Hermeneutics that the show was about terror.  No, it was about terrible things happening to people, sometimes due to the WWI, sometimes due to lack of medical knowledge, some of which were written well (like Sybil's death, one of the few real moments in the show) and some of which were not (let's just get Lavinia out of the way, shall we?  The Spanish flu will do!).  And why did those girls and their American mother never go  to the U.S.?  Robert did once, but don't you think in 13 years they might take one trip to New York?  To alleviate the boredom, if for no other reason?

But, heh, the clothes were great.  Like Jane Austen novels, they signify a time of outward grace and manners, let's just overlook the fact that their lifestyle depending on the hard work of the poor.  We live in an unmannerly time, when people come to funerals in shorts and tank tops, when men don't know when to take their hats off.  Manners are deeper than that, but do display a respect for social order and decency and community. 

On Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I am slowly working through The Cost of Discipleship (TCOD) , a provocative read.  My original plan was to write a series of posts responding to it, and while I will from time to time, I think I would do better to just encourage anyone with the slightest interest in Bonhoeffer and who he was to just read the book. But it is not a book you just sit down and read; it's not a murder mystery or a self-help book.  It is one you should read with the Bible beside it, checking his references, using your concordance, and reading S-L-O-W-L-Y, and art we have lost because there is so much to read and there is FOMO:  Fear of missing out on something (which leaves one disappointed both ways).

TCOD is one of those few books of all that are written, a small fraction of the published world, that is worth reading slowly.  I do not mean by that that everything in it is "correct," whatever that means.  I wouldn't venture to say whether it was or not.  I mean that everything in it is worth considering and mulling over and reflecting on and praying about.   It is a book for a serious reader who wants to be made uncomfortable. 

I am aware that there is a controversy over his theology (more liberal than conservative, a disciple of Karl Barth) as well as one over his decision to be involved in a plot to kill Hitler.  Both of those seem to be at odds with some of the things in the book.  For that reason I do not say, Follow this book--it contains all you need.  I would never do that--I don't believe in gurus.  While I can enjoy and benefit from the teaching and ideas of a certain "expert" or "teacher," the Bible reminds us that wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors and we have a responsibility to consider, evaluate, think, be rational.  The four R words--revelation, reason/rationality, religion (practice), and reflection--need to be in their place, but revelation comes first and controls all of them. 

That said, some chapters of books are better than others.  I would recommend the sixth chapter, on the Beatitudes.  The first chapters set it up, but they are more difficult reading, and I can see why someone might be put off or even confused by the first chapters.  They must be read in context of a state church that is succumbing to a dictator who is using them for his own ends.

My son mentioned at lunch the other day that the Catholic Church during WWII engaged in a plot to kill Hitler, also.  It's an interesting point to consider; in retrospect I cannot judge their efforts.  It is interesting considering our own political realities now.  They are not equal but it is hard not to see some parallels to the Putsch when violence is breaking out at a Trump rally.  As much as I dislike Trump and his ideas, he should not be shut down because some leftists think they can cause a riot. 

Final thought:  an academic usually will say not to criticize or praise any work until it has been read, seen, or experienced.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I agree with that.  (Pornography and slasher films excepted.)  That's why I would say read TCOD before even a biography or before buying someone else's views. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Update, March 11

We had a death in the family of a close family member last week, so my blogging has been curtailed.  At some point in the future I will resume.  For now, work and family dominate. Please go back and read some of my past posts--they go back ten years.  I would love comments.  God bless, and friends don't let friends vote for Trump.

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...