Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mixed Metaphors

As some of my readers know, I have been intently learning Koine Greek (Common Greek that was spoken and written during the times of Christ--the Greek of the New Testament) for about a year, now.  A couple of months ago I completed what constitutes first year Greek, which is the grammar.  Since then I have been reading every day, learning vocabulary words, and reading before an instructor once a week.  What I noticed about myself is often I gloss over the reading, thinking I should be able to read quickly.  I mean, after all, I've learned the grammar, so reading should be a piece of cake except for a few pesky vocabulary words.  Sometimes (rarely) this works, and I do get the gist of what is being said.  Most of the time, though, I end up sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of incomprehensible language until I throw up my hands in despair--wondering why I ever thought I could learn to read Ancient Greek.  The thing about Greek is you have to pay close attention to the endings of words.  Even if you might know the meanings of the words, if you don't carefully account for each ending, you will quickly become mired down, or worse, misread what is being said.  You may be asking at this point why any of this matters.  Strictly speaking, it doesn't; it's pretty much a big buzz.  But you see, all of life is a metaphor, so please stay with me.

When we first came to experience the beauty and wonder of Jesus and the incomprehensible love God has for us, we hung on His every word, whether it came from the Scriptures, the pulpit, or other Christians more mature than us in the Faith.  We carefully attended to the details, and listened intently during our prayers for God to speak to us.  Perhaps He never spoke audibly, but God did speak, and for a time we made great gains in our faith and wisdom because we were hearing, understanding, and obeying the sound instruction the Holy Spirit so lovingly and essentially provided us.

Unfortunately, after a time we start to believe we can wing it.  As with the hapless Greek student described above we think we can gloss over things, and believe if we only catch the high points it will be enough.  Before long we become disillusioned, frustrated, confused, and maybe even angry wondering why we no longer hear from God.  We forget that the language of God is too complex to just speed read; we must methodically and slowly attend to the details of what God is communicating, otherwise we find the beauty and inexpressible wisdom that only comes from Him slipping from our grasp, and our proper perspectives fogging over in the process.  As we used to quip back in the good ol' days: if suddenly God seems absent, guess who moved?

 It is human nature, of course, to easily become complacent. Even the most exciting life experiences can become routine for us.  For those of you who are married, just think about what it was like during the courtship and honeymoon, and you'll know what I mean.  If our love for our spouse takes a second seat to some other ambition (except God who must come first), marriage will soon turn "limp and lifeless" (said in a French accent for effect).  It's the same with our relationship with God; if our love for Him plays second fiddle to other concerns, we will quickly drift into the Sargasso Sea of life.  The tragic thing is in either case--and they really can't be separated (ponder this)--it will appear to us our spouse or God suddenly don't love us, or no longer love us the way we feel we need to be loved--even though they haven't changed, at all.  Our confidence and conceit which are really euphemisms for laziness and carelessness betray us into misreading the message.

Therefore, we need to slow down and take time with God, paying close attention to those noun, participle, and verb endings by praying continuously (yes, you can talk with God all the time; prayer doesn't need to be a formal affair).  Then we will find the sails of the ship of our life catching the wind again.  And the excitement of walking with God we once experienced will return and become self-energizing.

When I concentrate on my Greek the writing comes into focus eventually; and when it does, the sense of accomplishment and the feeling I have just been learning at the feet of God is indescribably exhilarating; I don't want it to end; I just want to keep reading, even though it's exhausting.

Okay, perhaps I've hopelessly mixed my metaphors, here; so I will rein it in this way. You don't have to learn Koine Greek to experience learning at the feet of God.  If you confess Jesus as your Lord, Savior, and King, then the place of learning at His feet is always open to you.  But you must attend to the details.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Bombing of the Boston Marathon

They are calling the bombing of the Boston Marathon an act of terrorism.  And so it is.  In fact, whenever a person perpetrates violence against another person--whether a mugging, drone attack, or any form of murder found in between--it is an act of terrorism.  I realize the dictionary defines terrorism specifically as a politically motivated act of violence.  They may well determine those guilty of the Boston bombing represent some political faction.  But I'm bothered by the immediate leap to blame the incident on terrorism in the traditional sense, and I'm not totally sure why--although I have my suspicions.  Here are my thoughts as I attempt to sort out my feelings.

By labeling this tragedy terrorism, I feel it allows us to distance ourselves from it.  It keeps us looking outside of ourselves for scapegoats to allay our fears.  For example, guns.  There has been a lot of discussion since the last genocide about curbing violence in this country by tightening existing gun laws.  I don't think people should own guns for the purpose of defending themselves against intruders and such because the principle of returning evil in kind--particularly violence--is a principle of this dark, fallen world, not of the Kingdom of God.  There simply is no room for retaliation, vengeance, war, retribution, self-defense, and so on in Christ's Kingdom.  Jesus has taught us violence will never bring peace and justice, and the world will never understand this until we, as His representatives in this world, fully embrace the Kingdom principle of justice through mercy, love, and forgiveness.  And because having a gun around presents too much of a temptation to acquiesce to this world's principle of lock and load, I submit it is better not to own guns, at all.

Another scapegoat is political factions.  Truly, these have always been a threat to peace, perhaps no more so than in the present times.  Even though political extremists are an ever present danger, it is too easy for us to single out an entire people group because some subset of that group has gone postal.  Fear has a way of pushing reason and objectivity out the window.  Besides, whether we think ourselves as more civilized than this or not, we all tend, because of our inherent self-interest, to exult ourselves at the expense of others.  Racism, the great Sin, travesty, and national shame of America, as with all forms of prejudice, is nothing more than a power play.

If we think about it in the silence of solitude--a situation most of us avoid these days--I'm sure we can dredge up other scapegoats for the violence in our country.  But I propose, unless we are truly honest with ourselves, we won't likely implicate ourselves.  I submit if we really want to shift the current violent tide in our nation we need to take a long, hard, and yes painful look at ourselves--starting with what we buy and sell in the guise of entertainment.

Do we really believe the virtually unchecked flow of graphically violent movies, books, songs, magazines, video games, and so on don't significantly corrupt the consciousness of a people--especially young impressionable minds?  Do we really think we can create a nation that respects women and cherishes the innocence of its children when we hungrily pursue pornography, either soft or hard core? Do we really believe animated sit-coms where the young kid shoots his dog full of bleeding holes qualifies as edifying humor? (Don't play the Loony Tunes card, here; the violence of Bugs Bunny is a far cry from the amoral cruelty of so-called comedies of today).  Do we really believe the barrage of sarcastic, crude, junior high, and disrespectful humor pawned off as good situation comedy--let alone the raft of mindless reality shows--fosters a society of mutual trust and respect?

Now, superimpose all of this on a generation--nay, on generations--of disenfranchised, unloved, abused, and angry children and the adults they have grown into; haven't we created the perfect storm for the violence we are experiencing?

If we are really concerned about the escalating violence in our world--and we should be--we must stop looking for scapegoats, and start looking at ourselves.  And when we do, it is my supreme hope and prayer that we will repent of this world and its methods--methods we are all guilty of--methods that don't work, nor have ever worked, nor never will work to bring peace--and turn our hearts to the living Christ, whose way of love, forgiveness, and mercy is the only solution for the violence killing us all.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Life in the Pond

Last week I was a little fish in a large pond.  Now, before I say another thing I want to assure you I am not looking for any sympathy or pity; I am very happy about my status last week; I count it as a great privilege to have been in that wonderful pond, at all--as a little fish or otherwise; it is the truth.  It is as Prof. Peter Schickele, the alter ego of the famous P. D. Q. Bach once said, "Truth is truth, you can't have an opinion about it."

The pond I entered was the annual theology conference held at Wheaton College.  This year's topic was Christian Political Witness.  I won't be recounting the substance of the various talks given, so relax; besides, much of what I talk about on this site was discussed at the conference.

It was clear I was an outsider from the get-go.  While I was waiting for the shuttle one morning, I had a chance to meet one of the presenters.  I asked him where he heralded from and what school he currently taught at--that sort of thing.  Then he asked me what I did.  I told him I was a research chemist.  He kind of scrunched up his face--not caustically, but definitely with a hint of 'they'll let anybody come to these clambakes'--and said, "Ah, why are you HERE?"  Notice the emphasis wasn't, "Ah, why are YOU here?" which would have been caustic.  I had to laugh inside because had he showed up at an American Chemical Society Convention, he probably would've been asked the same question, and likely with considerably more causticity; because we are, after all, chemists (get it? caustic? chemistry?) Sigh.

The Lord knew I would feel a bit disenfranchised at my first foray into the theological academic world; consequently, within literally five minutes after my arrival I met a new friend who is a pastor from Idaho and who kindly took me under his wing.  He turned out to be a genuine kindred spirit, and he patiently listened to my ideas and responses to the various papers I would have otherwise been forced to hold in.  I hope I was equally a friend to him.  The only negative thing about my friend Steve was he was a dangerous person to be around when perusing the sundry books for sale outside the auditorium; I came home with six new reads and a drained pocketbook, thanks in part to Steve's encouragement.

One observation I made of the various guns brought in to present papers is a person's congeniality and willingness to spend time talking with you was inversely proportional to his or her age and stature.  The really big names would shake your hand (fin), say a few words, and quickly move to next person (fish).  Each was like a water-skipper darting across the pond, always with minimal contact to the water.  I don't fault them for this.  Most of those sturgeons boasted at least six different titles for sale on the book tables, and one doesn't become that productive without being somewhat preoccupied and busy.  It reminds me of when the servant of the great opera composer, Puccini, criticized the latter for his unpredictable bouts of aloofness: how apparently Puccini would often stop for no apparent reason on one of their walks and become lost in his thoughts while tapping his cane against the ground to some unheard music.  I thought, well of course, dummy, you don't produce the works Puccini did without your mind wondering once and awhile.  The same is likely true of the Titans of theology I was afforded the opportunity to hobnob.

It is no different in the world of science.  I remember when I was in graduate school my adviser invited me into his office to meet some high-octane chemist from the west coast.  After a few platitudes I asked him about a topic of physical organic chemistry, whereupon he jumped down my throat, "YOU'RE a graduate student and YOU don't understand this?" (Notice the caustic emphases).  On the other hand, when I was a fledgling visiting Illinois as a prospective graduate student, I had the chance to meet Dr. Paul Flory, the very famous polymer chemist and Nobel laureate.  In stark contrast to the other famous guy, Dr. Flory spent considerable time trying to get to know me as a chemist and a person--me, who had not yet even attained the status of a little fish.  Dr. Flory has since passed on, but I will never forget him.

Another observation I made while swimming about the pond last week is each fish is trying to mark out his or her own place in the underwater garden by courting the bigger fish.  I wonder, in fact, if this isn't the primary reason the younger fish are more cordial than the older ones.  I'm not criticizing them for their political stratagems; how can I? I tend to do the same thing, myself.  But it is fascinating to watch as one of the younger academics offers a gift of her new book to the elder statesman--the big large mouth bass--with the comment, "I'd love to know your opinion of it."

Everyone in the pond last week was friendly but definitely in their own element.  I was both a little fish and a foreign fish.  But as with all fraternities, to join, one must pay the dues.  I haven't done that yet, so for now I must remain on the outside.  And as I have already stated, this is perfectly okay and the way it is.

In another respect, though, it is a sad testimony that in a group of Christians--both great and small--who convened to talk about the proper Christian political witness--only one person of about three hundred offered his or her hand, unsolicited, by way of introduction to this outsider.  Does such behavior really constitute what Jesus meant when He commanded us to love each other as He has loved us?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Our Spring vacation, which began in Texas, ended with a wonderful Easter dinner with extended family.  We spent part of our time together watching the finale of the miniseries, The Bible, on the History Channel.  Someone in the room commented on the viciousness of the Romans.  Another agreed, and said it is no different today with the Muslims in the Holy Land.  I thought how misguided it is to pin cruelty on any one group.  No one in this world has ever cornered the market on brutality.  Every people who has come and gone on this tormented planet--yes, I include America--has had a proud history of barbarism.  Indeed, those in the room commenting on Rome and the Middle East, proudly support the American military machine.  They do so, as did so many church members throughout the many centuries past, because they hold with Augustine of sixteen hundred years ago the belief in the possibility of a just war.

Last week I was reading through the proceedings of a trial of several people who had committed war crimes at Auschwitz concentration camp.  Witness after witness came forward to implicate each of the men of horrific atrocities.  And each of the defendants unabashedly denied any guilt of or even involvement in any of the crimes mentioned.  The closest any of these butchers came to a confession was the closing statement of one who said something to the effect of, "I believed in National Socialism, and I was loyal to my Fuhrer. I guess I was wrong."  I wonder if he really meant he felt remorse for the things he had done, or if he was simply stating he must had been mistaken because the Nazis lost the war.

One of the things that struck me about Texas is there is a church and three signs on every street corner.  The three signs read in various incarnations, "I don't call 911," "My gun does my talking," and "Love your enemy but keep your gun oiled."

Somehow, we have lost sight of the Gospel of Christ.  Most of us have yet to leave the wilderness Christ paid such a heavy cost to save us from, and fully enter His Kingdom.  Most of us still believe peace can only come to this world from out of the barrel of a gun.  God tells us otherwise.  As Brian Zahnd explains in his book, Beauty Will Save the World, true peace will only come through love and forgiveness; and God proved this by raising Jesus from the dead.

Today, I read a review of Al Gore's new book, The Future.  In it he discusses the six drivers at work to change the fate of humanity: 1) The emergence of a Global economy, 2) The emergence of a Global Mind, 3) A shift in Global power from West to East and from the individual to the Corporation, 4) Rapid population growth with concomitant depletion of resources, 5) Powerful new technologies to manipulate matter and life itself, and 6) Human impact on the environment.  I find it difficult to disagree with his prognostications.  I wonder, though, if Mr. Gore has adjusted his lifestyle sufficiently to make a positive difference in any of these categories.  Whether he has or hasn't certainly doesn't alter the veracity of his claims.  In any event, I am the last person to pass judgment on him because I certainly don't do all I can to remedy any of these vital concerns, let alone others.

All of which brings me to an excellent article that appeared in the April, 2013 issue of Christianity Today.  In this taut piece, Marguerite Shuster attempts to answer the question, "Did God plan the Fall?"  Or to put it another way, "Why is there evil and sin in the world?"  As far as I am concerned, the answer comes in the first two paragraphs, where she relates an incident of about hundred years ago when a reporter asked the famous theologian/philosopher, G.K. Chesterton (my bud), "What's wrong with the world?"  Chesterton purportedly answered, "I am."