Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The apostles as whipping boys

I wish we would get off this “weren’t the disciples stupid?” kick. 
Jesus was blowing their paradigms as much as he is blowing ours. They are just different paradigms. 
When their paradigms were blown, it meant ostracism from the Jewish community and death at hands of Rome.  What does our paradigm getting blown up mean? 
I think too much of this tendency is designed to make ourselves feel better. 

What I did Wrong as a Parent

This is a hard question, made all the more difficult because I can’t do anything about it other than admit it to my son and profess it on this blog so maybe someone else won’t do the same.
1.     I worried far too much what other people would think of my parenting skills and my child.  That’s my biggest.
2.     I didn’t serve with him enough in ministry; we served separately.
3.     I sometimes put work ahead of him.
4.     I let him watch too much TV.
5.     Lost my temper at him too much.
6.     I didn’t emphasize relationships with missionaries enough.
But good?
1.     We all went to church and didn’t talk bad about people.
2.     We went to historical places for trips and only once to DisneyPlace.
3.     Made sure he knew his larger family.
4.     He spent lots of time with his dad.
5.     We had family devotions every morning for seven years of high school.
6.     He knew he was expected to be a responsible adult at 18.
7.     I didn’t do his homework.
I guess if you can point to more good than bad, you’re ok. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Lent begins Wednesday.  As a lifelong "low-church" Protestant, Lent really has not had a place in my life, but in the last ten years I have started to take it seriously as a time of spiritual preparation.

In fact, I was reading some rants against Lent.  A professor at an evangelical seminary who has become an Anglican (not my cup of tea--bad pun--but I have lots of friends who have done that, I think because of the Englishness and C.S. Lewisness and N.T. Wrightness of it) posted that he was looking forward to Lent.  Some of his "friends" went off on him, about how evil Lent was.

Evil?  Maybe Carnival/Mardi  Gras is, but not Lent.  Lent can be spiritually healthy, as long as it is not a way to build up our pride and flesh.

Lent is not about giving something up.  It is about looking forward to something.

My choice is to fast, as much as possible, from media (TV, movies, and Facebook) and sugary sweets.  The sugary sweets are bad for me, but not as bad as the media.  My husband will ask me to watch some TV with him so  I will, but I won't choose to watch anything of my own.  Why?

Media affects our spiritual longings and thought processes.  Very few media programs are going to enhance our prayer life or walk with Christ or concern for others or relationships. 

Media takes up a lot of time.  We don't even realize it.

Media takes more than it gives.

I have a massive number of projects to pursue at work; papers and presentations coming up, classes to design,  ways to improve my teaching.  

I have a long prayer list.

I have letters to write and books to read.

But I know that giving up something is worthless if it isn't replaced by what really matters.  So that is the challenge of Lent--what you fill your life with as you look forward to the cross and resurrection.


Last week I came home from a conference and was unpacking; I turned on the TV and watched, off and on, this French movie.  I admit to not watching every single minute of it.

I had a feeling of what was going to happen in the film, but cringed in shock when it did.  Spoiler alert, although spoiler alert assumes you are recommending a movie, which I am not.

An elderly couple are living out their lives in a tony Parisian apartment after lives as musicians.  The wife has a bad stroke and is miserable, in pain and bedridden.  The man cares for her.  She isn't getting better.  He feels the stress.  No one is helping, not really, especially the children, but he won't send her to a facility because she always said she didn't want that.  So one day he smothers her with a pillow and kills her.  To cover up the smell he closes up the room with tape.  Then he dies, or kills himself; that part is not clear, but he wakes up and they go for a walk.

Critics of course love this kind of stuff.  I like to watch nonEnglish movies sometimes because they seem to focus more on the cinematography, acting, visuals, and story than the dialogue, or at least I, dependent on subtitles, feel that way.  This film did have very good acting but also long shots of the camera just looking at stationary objects, such as paintings.  In other words, it was slow, but that befitted the content.

Still, I can admire a work of art and not like it.  I think that is one of the problems with our experience of art; for some reason we think we have to like something that is well done, and if we don't like it, either something is wrong with us or the art isn't "good."  That's nonsense.  Liking and a judgment of "quality" are not the same thing, any more than they are mutually exclusive.  I understand why Faulkner's novels are brilliant.  I doubt I will ever choose to read another one.

What I don't like is that this kind of art makes us feel not just empathy for the husband who has to care for his wife--who wouldn't--but helps us excuse his action, which is reprehensible.  Her desire not to be in a home where she could be cared for does not trump the wrongness of his intentional murder of her.  She was wrong to expect that of him in the first place; maybe it was her wish, but then she makes him a murderer.  The film sets up a dramatic false dilemma, which I find often happens in Hollywood, which has no mirror in reality.  Yes, things are not easy, but when a loved one can no longer care for the invalid, there are other options, not just murder.

Part of the problem in this film is that the man does not want help from his daughter, who would like to help, and that he appears to have no community around him.  When we lose community outside our immediate partner or children and refuse help from others, we paint ourselves into a corner.  So, in a sense, the dramatic world is so constructed that his murderous action seems inevitable and therefore, somehow, right.

The title of the film is love, which is ironic.

Walking My Dog

The other day, Friday, was balmy and breezy.  We've had unseasonably warm weather in North Georgia and I for one am tired of it and would like some snow.  But my husband was replacing the cover on our boat (which is more like an anchor because it's out of commission). The old cover had become torn due to weather and age. 

It turned out to be a bigger deal than we had expected, because a cat had taken up residence in the boat.  For how long, I don't know, but it was in the hull and not interested in coming out.  Because the old cover was torn, the cat probably had crawled up in there in a storm. 

I have to stop here and say (and I deal with this in another post today) that we have recently become a haven for cats.  I have counted at least eight in my yard when I drive in at times.  Black, tabby, and mostly greyish ones.  They are not feral; they belong to someone who feeds them (most of the time) but they love our yard, which makes no sense because we have a dog. Of course, she is tied up and only able to reach so far, and they know to stay out of her area.  The cats like to walk on my car, hide up in the wheel wells of my husband's old (covered and inoperable Chevelles), and hunt for rodents in the small area of woods between our subdivision and the next. 

I do not like cats.  Plural.  I am ok with one, will hold it, let it around me.  But multiple, and the idea of cats, no.

So, to flush this cat out we let the dog into the boat.  She confirmed our suspicion that there really was a cat hiding in it, but she and the cat got into a stare down and the cat wasn't budging.  We put some milk out for it;  then we upped the anty and put out some tuna.  We were about to give up (although Nala the dog was not; she was very upset about the cat being in there and we had to remove her) when a little head poked out, enticed I am sure by the tuna.  She let me pick her up--no scratching--and we freed her from our boat.

All that to say that I guess my dog has a purpose.  Maybe.  But she is a commitment.

As I've written before, she is a 50-some pound pit or pitmix.  She is all muscle.  She needs to be walked every day and if I don't, I pay the price the next day in her over interest in every possible smell and animal, her rambunctiousness, and her insistence on going directions I don't care to follow.  We have a nonverbal discussion.

"Let's go this way."
"Let's go this way."
Let's go this way."

On the third time she gets a yank or even a strong nudge with my foot in the backside; not a kick but it gets her attention.   She can hold up my weight, by the way, when she's on point, and I am not a small woman. 

Having a dog like this means you have to walk her or let her run, and I don't trust her enough to run (neither do I expect my neighbors or others to tolerate a dog like her running maniacally through their yards and into the streets).  Whereas I used to, pre-dog, be able to walk at the mall or on a treadmill, the commitment of a dog to me means primarily a 40-minute walk in sometimes unwelcoming weather almost every day of my life.  There is also the "We can't leave her for long periods of time" and "what are we going to do with Nala on this trip" and the "clean up her poop in the yard and wherever else" (I call her Princess Poopsalot) and the expense and because she is so strong the occasional bruises (I have photos to prove it).  But the walking is the daily reminder of the anchor that is a dog.

Cats don't need walking, and they can hide in boats for indeterminate times without food.  Hummmm.

I have to make a larger point here; it is my nature.  The necessity to walk her is not a burden because I have been walking 40 or so minutes a day for decades.  A doctor told me to when I was in my 20s and it was the best health advice ever.  I should have diabetes and don't.  I don't have bad knees like so many people my age.  It allows me to write novels in my head, listen to podcasts, pray, work out difficult conversations, and get over anger (of which I have more than enough). 

When I read the New Testament I see a Jesus who walked, and to be honest, this is one of the reasons I love him.  How many miles did Jesus walk in his ministry?  He did not sit under trees for people to come to him.  He did not wage wars. He walked to where people were to heal and feed and meet human need and talk about God's love. Yes, and other things, I'm not whitewashing Jesus, but he was walking and asks us to walk; life is a walk.  

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 12:22-32

These verses seem simple on the surface but really are a mystery.  Our former pastor, who has moved to a larger church and got a lot of notoriety from a sermon he preached on a sensitive issue, used to explain that the rabbis taught that the Messiah (according to Edersheim, I think) would heal the blind and raise the dead.  So Jesus does, which leads to verse 23, the multitudes believing in him.  “Multitudes” is a tricky word. Thousands, in the book of Acts, believed in the early church, and they were Jews in Jerusalem, so the Jews per se were not against Jesus.  But multitudes also were calling for his crucifixion.  These multitudes did not have to deal with social and mass media, which give a faulty view of reality.

On cue, the Pharisees claim he can cast out demons because he is controlled by Satan, that is, a sorcerer. Jesus claims to do it by the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit), and they have called that Spirit Satanic, therefore committing blasphemy.  This is a point of no return, not knowing the difference between the Holy Spirit and Satan and openly and deliberately confusing them.  It is all part and parcel of the continued rejection of the revealed Christ, who says, “You’re either with me or against me” in verse 29.  Perhaps the things about Matthew 12 is that it is a line in the sand, one we don’t necessarily like.  I have a fellow instructor friend who is so very fun and affable in class that when he fails (or assigns a failing grade, I should say) to a student, the students find it incongruous.  We want the kind, happy, Jesus, with children on his knees.

If Jesus took the Meyers-Briggs test, what would be his letters?  For some of us, they would be our own, because we think our combination is the best!  Maybe he should be E, I, N, P, T, J, etc., since he is  the Alpha and Omega and every letter in between.  I’m being a wise guy here, since the Lord Jesus Christ transcends such test (especially the Meyers-Briggs, which is not really as reliable or predictive as people who tout it want it to be).

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 12 Again

I do seem to be stuck here, but there is reason to be. There are several indisputable claims to uniqueness here that, as Lewis says, you can dismiss as the ravings of a nut or take very seriously:

“I’m greater than the Sabbath.”  “I decide who is guiltless.”  “I interpret Old Testament Scripture.”   
One also gets the sense that Jesus is being followed around by the Pharisees. He doesn’t stop there, but heals a man after asked.  Their type of adherence to tradition, culture, and law had put moral blinders on them. If our version of God’s law hinders us from doing good, from showing compassion, we have misunderstood it. 
I have been so guilty of this, so focused in decorum versus freedom to serve.  The two are not enemies in God’s universe, just in our own application.  My son told me an interesting story last night. He was late for a meeting at work and found himself rationalizing why he had not helped a homeless man on the street in Dalton.  He said, “How messed up is that?”  Indeed; he had  a responsibility to his employer to be on time but a human responsibility to offer help, at least to make the offer.  These are not easy choices, but our faith is one of choices and intentionality and thinking through these matters, not rote obedience.

Why did the Pharisees in this passage decide to destroy Jesus?  Well, he made them look bad—not just unauthoritative, but mean.  “Is it lawful to do good (and give this man a working hand) on the Sabbath?”  They would have said no.  But—they started the conflict!  They lost at their own game.  Pride, control, fear of loss of position—this was part of why they opposed him.  They saw the future, at least as far as their own political and social situation was concerned.  Jesus did the healing also knowing what would happen.  He did not just make it a theoretical argument but acted upon the question about the Sabbath.  WE can talk about service to those on the margins but not follow through (which I think we do more than we get credit for, but there is plenty more to do). 
(Those on the margins may be a better term than "marginalized" because the past perfect makes them victims—being there was done to them by someone rather than just a statement of where they are.)

Verse 15 shifts it all, though.  BUT JESUS KNEW IT.  Is the imperfect or preterite?  He always knew it, not just in that moment. 

In Matthew 12:15-21:  Knowing the Pharisees’ opposition and plans to destroy him (not news but the five words say a lot), Jesus did not stop his ministry, he just moved to a place where they would be less likely to find him.  Perhaps there were “local chapters” of Pharisees United, since he’s out of Jerusalem and up in the Decapolis.  He warned the people not to reveal his whereabouts, and then Matthew cites one of the Servant passages in Isaiah, all of which are used to refer to Jesus in the Testament.

Two of the lines refer to Gentiles.  This may be why dispensationalists say there is a change in his ministry here.  Even though I’m not totally buying that, we can’t overlook the Gentile angle.  The other angle is that the Servant is not raucous, self-promoting, quarrelsome.  Like in Isaiah 53, as a lamb before her shearers is dumb, Jesus is silent.  His questioners prevail and yet the Gentiles will trust in him.

Matthew 12:18-21.
There is probably a whole book to be written about how Matthew uses prophecy from the Old Testament.  This is a prime example.  We would look at a phrase “and he warned them not to make him known” in v. 16 as of minor importance, but Matthew shows us it is a much bigger idea than that.  It ties Jesus to the Servant of Isaiah who “will not quarrel or cry out and of whom no one will hear his voice in the street . . . till he sends forth justice to victory.  It’s not just a parallel for Matthew; it is the fulfillment of prophecy.  Until the cross, when justice is sent forth to victory, he is not to be a ma of popularity or acclaim. 
He will be gentle, not putting out struggling fires of breaking things hat are already weak.  MacLaren, the Scottish preacher from the 1800s, says it is more; he will not just refrain from these actions, but he will bring the weak and struggling things to life and fullness and fruition.  The bruised reed will be restored and healed and the smoldering flame will come to full flame. 

The day before I read this, I had an experience of “looking down” on a group of Christian people.  Not only was I not bringing the flame to fullness, I was indirectly putting it out.  I can’t help everyone, but I can get out of the way.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The People vs. OJ

Man.  I got hooked on this on NetFlix, mostly because a former student was a background actress in it and I wanted to see her.  I didn't because I was too caught up in the show.  I can't say I recommend it because it will take eight to nine hours of your life that would be much better spent on helping your neighbor, learning a new skill, praying, etc.  But it was addictive.  I did not pay much attention to the trial when it happened, I confess.  I think I had a life to live at the time.  At the time I just couldn't believe OJ would do such a horrendous crime so I chose not to accept that he was guilty, but I soon knew better.

My outstanding (in my mind, not in quality) thoughts:
1.  Considering the race relations at that time, perhaps it was best that he was acquitted to avoid a repeat of the riots in L.A.  Since he will be in jail for a while still, is disgraced, lost everything, etc., justice was done.  He would never have been executed anyway, so disgrace, poverty, and decades in jail is just.
2.  I have to wonder if the Kardashians were behind financing this program because their dad really comes off well, like one of the few decent people.  Although one has to wonder how he could be so good a friend with such a narcissist.
3.  Cuba Gooding was ok as OJ, but not the best pick.
4.  Race relations have not improved much, according to the world created in this show. 
5.  The Goldmans were treated respectfully and that one scene with them and Marsha Clark was the only one I was emotionally involved in.  The rest was like watching a train wreck, sort of like the election returns in November.
6.  Black people in general do not come off that well, in my opinion.  I am surprised there wasn't more criticism of it on that score.  They come off as totally unconcerned about facts, only with symbolism of a black man on trial being let off. 
7.  I had no idea Mark Fuhrmann was such a horrible person.  I am shocked that he was a commentator on Fox News.  Consequently, I will not be watching Fox News again.
8. At one point OJ says, "I'm not black, I'm OJ."  This is something he said at one time.  That is a gut-wrenching statement.
9.  Bob Shapiro recently says OJ still owes him money for the defense.  I guess a lot of people got shafted in this situation.

Some approaches to teaching Esther

I have changed the header on this blog to reflect that I post resources for teaching Scripture to small group.  Here is my resource for Esther.

The challenge of Esther is, of course, that the name of God is not mentioned, nor the covenant or even the law.  It is very Jewish, very sly, very dramatic, very providential.  I think it should just be taught as a whole and should not, I repeat, should not, be allegorized in any way.  I don't think any Scripture should be and should only be studied for what it is directly saying, which I realized cuts into some sermon approaches.

Why do I say sly?  Well, I mean humorous.  Think of these:
--> It is hard not to read Esther closely and see the humor or at least irony..
1.     The noblemen are afraid that their wives will misbehave because of Queen Vashti’s refusal to appear. 
2.     Haman thinks he’s the one who is going to be honored. 
3.     The king makes a law to destroy all the Jews and then forgets about it and honors Mordecai the Jew.
4.     Haman is  a big crybaby after Mordecai is honored.
5.     Haman’s wife is a shrew and worse than he is.
6.     The king is a fool and executes Haman because the king thinks he is trying to assault Esther rather than that he is trying to kill the Jews.
7.     The Persians could not just revoke  a law.  

I was going to start my lesson with this quiz, which might be a good way to pre-test to see how much Esther has seeped into their conciousness--or not.

1.     Who is the king in the story of Esther? 
a.  Mordecai       b.  Ahasuerus       c.  Haman      d.  Cyrus        e. Darius

2.     Who is Esther’s relative and guardian?
a. Ezra        b. Haman      c.  Mordecai       d.  Ahasuerus      e.  Nehemiah

3.     Who is Vashti?
a.  the queen before Esther      b.  Esther’s maid
c.  Mordecai’s wife                      d.  Esther’s mother

4.     What does Vashti do?
a.     encourages Esther to approach the king
b.     discourages Esther from approaching the king
c.      accompanies Esther back to Jerusalem
d.     refuses to appear before the king and the nobles as the king’s feast

5.     Who is the villain in the story of Esther?
a. Ashasuerus      b.  Haman    c. Mordecai       d. Sanballat

6.     What country/empire is the setting for the story of Esther?
a. Babylonian       b. Assyrian     c.  Persia         d.  Egyptian

7.     The story of the book of Esther takes place:
a.     during the same time as Ezra and return from exile in Babylon
b.     several decades after the time of Ezra
c.      before the time of Ezra

8.     What is the big choice that Esther has to make?
a.     to leave Persia with her family and go back to Jerusalem
b.     to join a beauty contest to be in running for queen
c.      to enter the king’s presence to ask a request
d.     to not eat the food served her

9.     Why does Esther have to make her big choice?
a.     A decree from the king requires the execution of all the Jews
b.     Her family member is about to be executed for praying
c.      The king wants her to do something immoral
d.     She has to decide whether to return to Jerusalem and leave being queen

10. Esther and her family member had been born in Judah and brought as exiles to this pagan country.
a.  yes            b.  no

11. Esther’s Jewish name was
a. Hannah        b.  Hadassah    c.  Rachel        d.  Miriam

Some final takeways:
1.     What are you here for?  What might be our “such a time as this”  that takes us out of our boxes and requires courage?
2.     What do tragic events in our lives mean? 
Humor? I heard a speaker this week say that if you can laugh at your tragedies, then you can conquer them.  Maybe.  I just think somethings are too awful to be laughed about. 
Theological lessons? (this teaches us about God).
Lessons about ourselves? (makes you stronger).
Existential? (that’s just life, live with it, keep going.) 
To become more like Christ?
           3.  God did not just preserve the direct line of Christ but his culture, too. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Hysteria Revisited

NPR again--apparently The Handmaid's Tale is now the novel of the age.  We are all going to be living in a patriarchal theocracy where the women are "Hagars" to Abrahams.

Yes, I've read it. Interesting enough book.  But why in the world would people on the left think that America was going to become like that?  Isn't the view of women in it more like the Muslim countries than a secular republic?

I do hesitate to use the word hysteria in regard to women, knowing that the origin of the word was a slap at women, in a sense--same word as hysterectomy, referring to the womb.  Only women are supposed to have hysteria, according to the ancient origin of the word.  Men have plenty of it, although with men more violence gets involved.  In this case, however, the hysterical reactions seem to be coming from women, mostly.  

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Au Revoir, Les Enfants

I have to thank TCM for doing its 30 Days of Oscars alphabetically this year.  Although there is no thematic continuity (Blazing Saddles followed by Blow-up?), it allows me to follow better.  Even more, now TCM has streaming videos of all its movies for a few days after, so I was able, at my husband's recommendation to watch this masterpiece by Louis Malle, better known as Murphy Brown's husband (hard to believe).

I rarely cry at the end of a film.  This one did it.

Go watch it. It is truly breathtaking.  In brief, two upper class brothers are secluded in a Catholic boarding school in France during World War II.  The younger one, about 12, is sort of the leader of the pack and looked up to by the other boys for his talents and coolness.  The older one is a bit of a turd toward women but has a lot of hutzpah.  What they don't know is that the monks are hiding Jewish boys.  The younger son, Julien Quentin, becomes friends with a new boy with a secret and who proves to be his competition.  Enough said.  Go watch it, be prepared to read some subtitles and be blown away by the spirituality and courage of it.  Great acting and directing, too.

The ending is profound; very French, but absolutely perfect. 

Ezra: 20 years and 10 chapters in 20 minutes

 I am supposed to teach from Ezra tomorrow.  These are my notes, for what they are worth.  

Date of happenings: 535 B.C. and following, right after book of Daniel. 
Date of writing:  end of this period, by the priest Ezra who joins the exiles later in the story (not beginning)
Theme: Exiles in Babylon return to Judah (journey took 3-4 months)
Three big take ways:
1.     God moves people for His purposes
2.     Worship is central to who we are individually and together
3.     God restores (in this case Israel, with whom He is not finished.  However, we the church are not Israel;  the U.S. is not Israel; we should not confuse the three).

Chapter 1: (Read in entirety). “In order to fulfill the word of the Lord by Jeremiah,” God moved Cyrus, the king of Persia, to send the Jewish exiles who wished to go back to Judah.  Isaiah also prophesied this, long before, but there isn’t a specific record of Jeremiah saying it.

Cyrus did not force them; he also instituted freewill offerings rather than taxes.  They were allowed to take the instruments of the temple to restore temple worship.  
What was in it for Cyrus?  Hard to tell; the Jews know they are still “captives.”
v. 5, “Everyone whose heart God moved,” so apparently some were chosen to return.
Only Benjamin, Judah, and Levites; what happened to the other ten tribes?

Chapter 2: About 50,000 returned; most stayed or were scattered; Esther, Mordecai

Chapter 3: Worship begins to be restored. Read 3:10-13. 

Chapter 4:  Account of opposition to temple building by Samaritans/pagans; commanded to stop by new king

Chapter 5: Maybe about 15 years later, under leadership of Zechariah and Haggai, prophets, they start to rebuild and appeal to Cyrus’ earlier original command when opposed. The prophets motivated them by the fact that they were building their own houses but God’s was laid waste.  Like Daniel, they didn’t cave easily.

Chapter 6:  The governor Tattenai agrees and the temple is built and worship begins.

Chapter 7:  Ezra sent as prophet, teacher, and leader, comes with about 1,000 more exiles and families. 

Chapter 8:  Details of who came with Ezra. 8:21 is interesting. 

Chapter 9: Problem of marriages with pagan women since returning

Chapter 10:  Problem dealt with; 133 men involved; repentance and “putting away wives according to Mosaic law.” 

My personal thoughts:  Let God move people for His purposes.  Make worship central and a priority. Understand the difference and similarities between Israel, church, and U.S., and don’t confuse them.

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...