Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Got Signs?


Would life be better with signs from God?

Arguably, one doesn’t witness signs from God, today, in the way that people did in the scriptures. Prophets aren’t telling nations to repent, God’s not smiting the wicked, and people still pray. Did God leave the world to its own devices? Have people stopped being sinners? Are prayers going unanswered? Would life be better with signs from God? The scriptures have prophets, there is lots of smiting in the Cannon, the word of the Lord came to God’s chosen in the Bible. Nations feared the Lord in biblical narratives.

Perhaps, one can argue that God was more active in people’s lives, during biblical times. Did having more signs from God make biblical figures holy people? Evidence is to the contrary. People spoke to God, people were chosen by God, and they were still sinners. King David was the leader of God’s people and he had some illicit behaviors (2 Sm.11; 2 Sm. 12). David, the king, was still a sinful man.

Life without signs from God hasn’t made the world more or less corrupt. With or without signs, Original Sin has always tainted humanity. The Early Church had signs and they kept asking for more (Jn. 6). Why do people continue to pray for signs and miracles; when that’s never been what brought humans closer to God? The more miracles and signs Jesus did, the closer he got to being crucified (Jn. 6:35-7:1). Pray for healing, pray for forgiveness, pray for help, pray for wisdom, pray with thanksgiving, pray in mourning, pray for faith, pray for hope, pray in lament, pray with joy, and pray for endurance. Prayers can still be answered (and are answered) without Jesus having to walk on water.

This world was broken and sinful when miraculous signs occurred with the same frequency of television episodes. Signs don’t make life better in the long run; they make life better, until one needs another sign. The Lord hears our prayers and faith is God’s gift to the world. Generations come and go, signs last like seasons, but people remain sinners. God has not left the world to fend for itself; rather, God has graciously answered the prayers of a world full of sinners – whether spoken or unspoken – with the hope of the resurrection. Life and the world have never been better because of signs from God. Instead of signs, it is God’s love and grace for all that has redeemed and will continue to redeem the effects of Original Sin. The only sign one needs from God was given to all through the event of the cross.   


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gender of God: What if God is Female? (Part 4 of 4)


What if God is female?

In retrospect, the problem is the application of interpreted language, tainted by experience, imposing human attributes upon a transcendent deity. Use of masculine or feminine language does not make God male or female; nor, does it deny the need for divine gender perceptions. God transcends gender (linguistically and physically). Physiology and language are not the same, but they work together. Hence, language interpretation is of critical importance. Theologically, God, as father, is important to biblical context and to redemptive interpretation. The language of a divine father or a divine lord is meant to replace – to purify – the distorted image of human fathers and rulers.

 In conjunction, what if that redeeming image can be used to call God, Mother? What if the counseling figure of the Holy Spirit represents God in feminine form? The Spirit of God is a guide to disciples, she is like a nurturing mother. People are baptized with the Holy Spirit, as an induction into the Church. This is their “new creation.” Baptism of the Holy Spirit is ones beginning in the family of God; their birth into the Christian faith (Mk.1.1-13).

Finally, what if God is neither male nor female in physical form, but both, masculine and feminine in gendered language? This is the work of a transcendent God, who is revealed in, through, and beyond the language of gender. God has no organic gender, but God is represented in a dialectal gender. God’s alternate gender dialect is a redeeming gift that has the power to heal the wounds of our tainted gender-language. Truly, this is why, God’s gracious work of the cross is so powerful. Because, people like me (and maybe you) need the love and grace of God.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Gender of God: What if God is Female? (Part 3 of 4)

If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of, “The Gender of God: What if God is Female?” 

What if God is female?

Honestly, who would have thought so much complexity could arise from referring to God as he? God transcends gender. There is a theological function and biblical context in the use of gendered language. The Godhead (Trinity) is the basis for reconstructed use of gendered language. Biblically, God is portrayed as Father and by the masculine pronouns. One might contest this hermeneutically (which was addressed earlier in this discussion). One may contend that masculine language for God emanates from a male-dominated biblical culture. Nevertheless, there is a redemptive hermeneutic (interpretation) in this biblical language and it should not be ignored.

In reality, God’s fatherly depiction (when understood properly) is meant to present an alternative image of what a father should be. It is not the distorted portrait of a father that has already been discussed. God the Father is loving, forgiving, just, redeeming, and gracious. God is the father to the fatherless (Ps. 68.1-10). God steps in as the surrogate father to the abused and abandoned. Redemption is the champion argument in favor of God as father. One is redeemed in Christ’s work of the cross (death and resurrection). This is the promise of God.

As the divine, God transcends gender, but it is evident that language is important. What if God is omnigender? What if God is female and male? The Godhead is three persons and one God. The Holy Spirit takes on two forms in biblical language, feminine (Hebrew) and neuter (Greek). But, linguistic gender (he, she, masculine, feminine, and gendered language) and physiological gender (whether one perceives God as a male or female being) are different matters. These distinct definitions have, unequally, influenced the interpretation of divine gender issues.  






Monday, November 28, 2011

The Gender of God: What if God is Female? (Part 2 of 4)


What if God is female?

Returning to the problem, one can debate that the deeper issue herein is a psychosexual-demigod complex. More simply put, the Theology of Glory. Strict usage of gendered language, when talking about God, is the result of a cultural movement. What is a psychosexual-demigod complex? It is a process that happens when one forgets to acknowledge the mysteries of God.

First, one can seek to “know” God and to understand God so much that they forget that God is awe-inspiring. Second, one can become so fixated on talking about God as he or she that the act of worship starts to get cloudy. Third, one can develop an, “I’m married to Jesus” phenomena. In no way, is it healthy to have that sort of attraction towards ones savior. It’s problematic. Fourth, always seeking to please God so, “he won’t punish us,” and so we can become “better Christians” is also a problem. All of the above, are components of the aforementioned psychosexual-demigod complex. Why is this problematic? If we achieve perfection, this makes us God (thus, a demigod). If my abusive or scary heavenly father is going to hurt me, I want no part of that God or that father.

Moreover, what if God is female? What if God is male? What if God doesn’t have a gender? What if all this talk about God’s gender makes people think of God in a, subliminally, sexual fashion? What if gendered language prompts the association of God with abuse, molestation, or abandonment? What if the result of all of these things is the distortion of faith in God? These gender connotations can be a distortion of God, faith, and healthy relationships (when used improperly) which is dysfunction. The result is dysfunctional theology and a diluted perception of God’s message. In order to rectify this distortion, one must look to the work of the cross; knowing, this is the work of an infinite, transcendent God – who cannot be contained in our languages –and we need to do away with gendered language or use it correctly.





Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Gender of God: What if God is Female? (Part 1 of 4)


 What if God is female?

In many Christian spectrums, people primarily use masculine language to describe God. In other words God and the Godhead (Trinity) are referred to as he. Hence my question, what if God is female? The relevance of the question is to illustrate problems with gendered language. If God, the Father, is strictly referenced as he, how does masculine language affect ones interpretation of their faith? If one has issues with their biological father, such as, domestic violence, molestation, or abandonment, they might transfer those issues to their perception of God. This is sad – arguably unhealthy – and can create an anti-evangelistic barrier.

In analysis, what if God is female? Better still, what if God is neither male nor female? God transcends gender. This means that God is infinite and doesn’t fit in the box of our languages. In support of the thesis, I will deconstruct the opening question. Gendered language limits God to the essence of the human forms, which, sadly, limits God. One uses gendered language to understand God. In spite of this necessary obstacle, one should contend that God cannot be female; just as much as, God cannot be male because that takes the issue of gendered language and gives it a new disguise. However, there is theological value to gendered language in scripture, which will be addressed prior to concluding arguments.


The discussion continues, use this link: “The Gender of God: What if God is Female?”(Part 2 of 4).


Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving: Redefining "Family" as God Redeems the Raw and Gritty


It is Thanksgiving weekend and I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am thankful for the God of the cross who has carried me through one breath at a time. God gave me everything. It is through the gifts of God that I live in grace and redemption.

I understand God through the event of the cross and the cross is the lens I look through to see life. I am blessed. Sure, this past year or so has been like, a cinematic tragedy, and I’ve spewed a fair amount of raw and gritty emotions. Now is not the time for raw and gritty.

I’m thankful for my family and friends; without whom, I might be singing a darker tune today. But, God gave me you, wonderful people to share life with; so, I’ll be damned, if I’m not going to stop and feel the love long enough to say thank you.

In 28 years, I have only missed Thanksgiving with family on two occasions. In 2009, I spent a memorable day with some of my close friends at Trinity. Honestly, a handful of my friends are an extension of my family; therefore, Thanksgiving, to me, is about family (relative and friend). In turn, I may have spent Turkey Day in 2009 and 2011 apart from relatives, but I was still with my family (thank you Lance and Jeff, I love you guys)!

I’ve spent this weekend thinking of family (friend and relative) missing the family who I could not be with, share a meal with, pray with, laugh with, and love face-to-face. It’s been a warming reflection. I laughed as I remembered last year living with Grandma, being banned from the kitchen due to Mono, and sneaking in to carve the turkey as my last girlfriend saved the meal for the five of us. Grandma’s not here anymore, but I got to live in her home for her last Thanksgiving; without a doubt, I am thankful for that memory!

Austin, Holly, Jake, Hillary, Jeff, David, Kristin, Lance, Brandon, Scott, Jeremy, Kellie, Jim, Susan, Dick, Cindy, Michael, Carol, Kyla, Karly, Morgan, Ally, Sam, Michelle, Chase, Dave, Valerie, Melissa, Nadia, Matthew, JP, Phil, and the countless people who have supported me this year, I am incredibly thankful for the presence you have had in my life! I dedicate this post to all of you my family (friend, relative, and church). Again, I thank God for all of you, all you’ve done for me, and what you mean to me. With a prayer of thanksgiving, I am especially grateful, in a different way, for my dad and Holly and continue to pray for the Lord’s healing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tim “Jimbo” Kellogg 

(While I wrote this, I listened to:)

Monday, November 21, 2011

How will they Know We are Christians (if We don't Know)?


Beware of Christians, an independent film surrounding the orthopraxy of Christian living, discusses what it means to live out the teachings of the Bible and how believers struggle to be set apart, truly practicing their faith, and allowing Christianity to make a difference in human lives.

Beware of Christians, inspired this post, but the approach herein is from a different perspective. However, I am asking a question the film implies. How will they know we are Christians? Whoever they are, they probably don’t know we are Christians or they know because we call them sinners.
  
We, all professing Christians, do not see Christ and scripture within the same lens. We are a mixed breed and the best (or worst) of sinners. We are liberals, legalists, complacent, conservative, spiritual, fundamentalist, moderate, and/or religious. We are not the same, but we share the same God and the same label.

Apart from a mixture of differing theological views, Christians are redeemed from their sinner state through the work of the cross event (Jesus’ death and resurrection). Whether they focus on sin or grace, Christians, like the rest of the world, are people and the Son of God died for people (Christians, sinners, non-believers, everyone) as God’s gift to the world.

Are we, as Christians, aware that we are the ones responsible for our own disrespect? Christians who are anti-sins have driven people to disregard what we say about God. Christians who are pro-grace have spent so much time “being all things to all people” that we are forgetting to see if it’s made a difference to the rest of the world.

Will we start loving each other in a way that lets the world know who the God of the cross is and why Christ’s redemption is relevant to all humanity?

The world knows who Christians are and that is why they don’t know Christ.

How will they know we are Christians, is the wrong question. Instead, I ask, knowing that I am equally responsible, how will we (the world) know Christ? We will know because the cross event has redeemed the world through God's love.
 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"The Dark Passenger:" Today's Sinner-Saint Narrative


The human condition sees many of us struggle with the “Sinner-Saint Complex.” But, perhaps, this historical paradigm falls on deaf ears for many young people today; as spirituality becomes more prevalent than bring religious. In light of a perceived paradigm shift, I turn to entertainment to illustrate this archetype of human nature. The TV hit, Dexter, speaks of a “Dark Passenger;” folks, this is the “Sinner-Saint Complex” at its best (or its worst, depending on how you look at it).

The “Dark Passenger,” is that internal component of the human mind that drives our selfish desires. In contrast, “The Code of Harry” (the show’s representation of light and good) lives in tension with the “Dark Passenger.” Why do light and darkness present themselves in the form(s) of a complex? In short, Original Sin (Lutherans call this the Bondage of the Will and Reformed traditions call it Total Depravity). How does Original Sin cause us to live in tension with “The Code” (saint) and “The Passenger” (sinner)? It is the fact that we cannot rid ourselves of one or the other. We are both saint and sinner.

One doesn’t have to be like the Dexter character (a serial killer) to need their own “Code of Harry” or to struggle with their own “Dark Passenger.” This is the human condition, this is the bonded will, this is the totally depraved, and this is our nature. Now, how do we reconcile this reality? There are a few common routes people take; first, we can fight our “Dark Passenger” making sure we live every letter of our “Code of Harry.” Second, we can deny our “Passenger” and conclude that we don’t need a “Code” if there is no “Passenger.” Third, we can give into our “Dark Passenger” and wallow in a state of constant misery, rage, depression, lust, hatred, envy, etc. Fourth, we can receive the external grace we need because “The Code of Harry” is not enough to overcome the “Dark Passenger.”

The first option (living “the Code”) might make you a saint, but you’ll still be a sinner. The second choice (denial) is the illusion of Free Will (so, good luck with that). The third – a concession – indulgence of “The Dark Passenger;” The Fall, without hope of redemption. The fourth, a contrast to all the others, finds us covered in grace; sanctified by “the Code,” bound to the “Dark Passenger,” and redeemed by the external grace of God.  



  

Monday, November 7, 2011

When Life Defecates, Get Wisdom; Proverbs, Prudence, and Prostrating


Proverbs is not the book for me – I’m a rock-star-rated-R-silver-tongued-servant-of-the-pulpit – and this book takes me to church. Rather, to the cross. One of the challenges of teaching people about the scriptures, is that one tends to be taught – though, not so willingly – along the way. If I’ve learned anything from the deep study and lessons I’ve taught on this book of compiled wisdom sayings (one of few compilations in scripture) it’s that wisdom begins and ends with the fear (meaning reverence) of the Lord.

In order to possess wisdom, one has to have virtue, prudence, reservation, and humility (among other things). Easier said than done, I’m sure. Hence why I said the book of Proverbs takes me to church. But, this isn’t about getting religion, winning metals for moralism, or becoming a better Christian. It’s about gaining practical wisdom. Unfortunately, practical wisdom doesn’t come easy.

However, practical wisdom puts scholars, like me, in our place. Nine times out of ten, the wisest person in the room is the only one not talking or waiting to be heard. Wisdom is the authenticity I promote, but mockery falls through my lips like a thief. Knowledge is the prudence of a good friend; recklessness is its ruin. Reservation is one’s investment; saying all there is to say leads to sorrow. The humble seek wisdom, but the proud are fools. In other words, don’t be a jerk.

One could ask, what do we do when practical wisdom doesn’t follow through, the “bad guys” win, and life goes to excremental proportions? Start over. For, wisdom begins with our reverence (respect, worship, or admiration) for God. In juxtaposition, wisdom is from God.

“The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NRSV).
“The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone” (Proverbs 16:33, NRSV).

The Lord’s wisdom can be frustrating at times and we can glean from it other times. On one hand, practical wisdom from the Proverbs can be quite useful in daily life. On the other hand, practical wisdom doesn’t stop life from defecating on us. In turn, it’s God we seek to understand wisdom. By the grace of God, both the wise and the foolish will meet at the foot of the cross with our humble questions.

      

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Bible Says, but What if Mine Doesn't?

Exegesis is not for the timid or the lazy. What do we do when our two major English formal translations (NASB and NRSV) have very different content? In Proverbs 11, there is a verse that could alter interpretation of the whole passage depending on which translation we use. Why were the versions different? In the passage at hand, the NRSV uses an ancient Syriac Greek manuscript. Conversely, The NASB, NIV, KJV, and other English translations rely only on the Hebrew Massoretic Text. However, this is not a case of majority rules.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “The Bible says,” but what if yours or mine doesn’t say something? In the case of Proverbs 11, v.16 has the ability to change how we read the rest of the chapter. Not to worry, there’s nothing wrong with the Massoretic Text (Hebrew). But, there’s nothing wrong with the Syriac Greek text either; in fact, it may predate the Hebrew in this case.  

Hebrew based translation: “A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, NASB). 

Greek based translation: “A gracious woman gets honor, but she who hates virtue is covered with shame. The timid become destitute, but the aggressive gain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, NRSV).

As you can see, these two versions of the same verse are a more than a little different.
           
Honestly, the main reason that the Greek manuscript could change the meaning of the chapter’s context is that the NRSV uses the word timid, which means hesitant and/or afraid; whereas, the word lazy might make more sense (as used in the Good News paraphrase). The flow of parallelism in Proverbs 11 and elsewhere is very important to its interpretation. English translations of Proverbs using the Massoretic or Greek text don’t tell us that one Bible is right and the other Bible is wrong. Instead, they tell us that we need to ask questions as we read the biblical text in any translation because there is always more to good exegesis than, “The Bible says….”  


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fear vs. Hope: "Written on the Bullet" (A Film Reflection)

In a gripping case of art imitating life, the film April Showers took me back to April 20, 1999, where I sat in my Freshmen Government class at my Denver High School, as we watched the events of the infamous Columbine shooting on the local news.

As a Denver native, the effects of the Columbine High School shooting have always different – like it went down in my neighborhood. On the other hand, the bombardment of attention Columbine received got old after too long. I, like many others, just wanted to move on from the tragedy. After watching the movie April Showers, which pays tribute to the countless victims of school shootings, I was reminded of Columbine, and thought about something deeper.

What would I think about God if I lived through something like that; moreover, what would I think if I lived and a friend didn’t? On top of that thought, how would I feel if one of my friends did something like that? A tragedy like Columbine has a lot of complex facets that don’t exactly wrap up into a neat package. Events like this changed the nation. In turn, what is a Christian response to violent, deadly, events that change the face of our schools and our nation?

Our world is broken, this is nothing new. It’s okay to feel sorrow when things fall to pieces. It’s okay to doubt and question God when the chaos of the world unfolds before our eyes. Yet, we are here with a life to live, even if that life is amidst chaos, pain, tragedy, violence, and other human brokenness that we don’t fully understand. We can choose to live in hope or in fear. But, a line from April Showers shares some insight, “The fear of pain is the fear of living.” Hopefully, these horrific events in our world don’t leave us bound in fear and we can put our hope in the redemption of the cross through the faith God gives us.
  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crucified: In the Name of Love


Today, on Facebook, I saw a lot of activity revolving around the campaign to WipeoutHomophobia on Facebook (WHOF). I support the idea behind this group. Its purpose is to generate awareness of hate-speech that has led to hate-crimes. As a Christian, I recognize that supporting this group has its implications. Thus, I decided to clarify my thoughts behind my public support. I am for the freedom of speech, I am against censorship, and I am all for discussion of difficult topics.

Freedom of speech is not necessarily free – people can and do get hurt – so we ought to respect that freedom. Personally, I’ve hurt people with my words. Saying things that offend, insult, upset, or cause discomfort to others is in our human nature. On the flipside, the ability to reason is, also, within our capabilities.

In some cases, our free speech and our reason don’t go hand in hand. We want our voices to be heard, but not if someone is going to speak against our viewpoint. Hence, I am also against censorship, but uncensored, free, speech has a cost. Sometimes, we lose favor with public opinion (something I’m not unfamiliar with) and other times the price of our words can be deadly. Speech that leads to violence and death should be met with education over censorship, in order to prevent hate-crime.

As a result, I have a challenge for the protesters – whether for or against GLBTQ rights – my challenge is borrowed from Jesus himself:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40, NRSV).  

Those “neighbors” Jesus was commanding people to love were the nations that the religious leaders opposed because they did not adhere to the laws of God. In doing so, Jesus changes the rules. I propose we try to end hate – whether it’s hate for the gay community, the homophobe, or the religious people who preach against their interpretation of sin – because love is the only thing that will save the world…it’s why Christ died for us all.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cross of Life: Rip You Wide Open (Luke 9:1-27)


One day Jesus told the disciples to go out proclaiming the good news of God and to take nothing with them. Frankly, if you’ve ever done something like this you know it’s scary and makes you feel a bit crazy. Who knows if that’s exactly what the disciples were thinking, as they were going off to heal people, but it makes sense to this light traveler. Yet, “Sometimes risking everything is the only choice you have” (The Air I Breathe, “Pleasure”). Though, I debate what that means.

Unfortunately, when we risk everything – even if you’re a disciple doing God’s work – we don’t always do the right thing. When the disciples came back from their journey they just wanted to chill out with good ol’ JC and send the people away from their presence. The disciples, like we often do, missed the point. If Jesus didn’t want the villagers to turn his disciples away on their journey, why would he want the reverse to happen when the townspeople just wanted to be a part of the story? In truth, the story of Luke 9:1-27 is a lot like life; it’s risky, it’s messy, sometimes we miss the point, it’s not always a matter of choice, and it reminds us that we are broken creatures. Not to worry, “’Cause all my favorite people are broken. Believe me, I should know” (Over the Rhine). Like the disciples, I’ve taken risks because those risks felt like my only choice and, in the process, I didn’t and don’t always get the full picture.

After all this traveling and feeding thousands of people business, Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” When they eventually replied with the word, “Messiah,” Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Recently, I’ve been thinking that life, itself, is the cross we carry every day. We don’t always get to say, “Can I think it over?” We can’t always change how it works out; in fact, “Sometimes the things you can't change end up changing you.” And we don’t walk away unscathed because, “scars are the road map to the soul” (Air I Breathe). Most of all, life is our daily cross to carry because we join Christ in the crucifixion. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we join Christ in resurrection. Nevertheless, life, like a cross can be heavy and we need grace – I need grace.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.  
 – Niebuhr
  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

At the Cross Roads of Orthodoxy and Existentialism

“We must distinguish between what we should believe (orthodoxy) and what we actually believe (existential faith).” – Craig C. Broyles

I found these words in my scholarly reading a couple of years ago and thought they were pretty cool. A few days ago, I saw them in a flashback Facebook status. Since then, I’ve been marinating on the essential quality of this statement.

As a person who generally understands the divine through orthodoxy, theology, and intellectualism, I rarely relate to experiential and existential interpretations of the divine. Ironically, life has its way of screwing with orthodoxy through our experiences. Lately, I’ve asked a lot of “why” questions and said a lot of “I don’t knows.” Orthodoxy doesn’t make me feel better; nothing does. Yet, I’m not one to endorse therapeutic-deism – I don’t think God’s here to make me feel better about life. Therefore, when that viewpoint gets thrown into upheaval by experiences, what is one to do? When the going gets tough, most of us want to get the hell out of dodge. 

Sometimes, we get caught behind “the fan” and existential faith wins. At present moment, what I’m thinking, feeling, experiencing, and believing contradicts my orthodoxy. I wanna feel better about the God who walked away. Translation, I’m feeling like a therapeutic-deist. However, orthodoxy tells me to look to God, who’s found at the cross, and leave my shit there. Orthodoxy also tells me that God has given us the gift of faith. In spite of the fact that my existential faith is stewing in frustration – over the seemingly inactive divine God – it is orthodoxy that allows me to look to the cross and relay on God, the giver of faith, when I feel hopeless.    

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Doesn't Kill You















I’d rather feel – feel anything but this
I want to cry…
Don’t want more dying:
I want to laugh,
I want to love,
I want your touch.
I’d rather feel – feel anything but this
Emotionally exhausted,
Mentally tapped out,
I want to laugh…
Instead, I have rage:
Haunted by the past,
Haunted by the present,
Haunted by the future.
I’d rather feel –feel anything but this
Been beaten numb.
What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you stronger
What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you.
I’d rather feel – feel anything but this.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saved: A Tale of Human History and Divine Mystery


Trial and hardship are one of the oldest tales in human history. Early in the story of Job, the loyal servant of the Lord loses everything and worships God in response. In effort to address my own trials, I look at Job and ask, how did he not blame God? It seems like a natural human response to challenge our devotion and perception of the divine when things get tough. What makes Job different from so many of us? Perhaps, he knew that some things in life are a mystery.

In the face of trial, salvation takes on a different meaning. If we’re not “saved” from trials and hardships, what are we saved for? Maybe, it’s so we lean on God when we don’t understand. Maybe, it’s so we remember that we are not gods. Maybe, it’s so we can testify that God brought us out of our situations. Maybe, it’s so we’ll receive the gift of grace by the faith God has given us. Or, maybe it’s all a part of life and we don’t have a decent answer.

Normally, this is the point where I’d try to bring things together in a well thought out theological package, but that part of me feels lost amidst the mysteries of life and mysteries of God. In college, I said, “The more I learn, the less I know.” Today, the more things I survive and endure, the less I understand. Now, I wonder, how do we live with mysteries?

It’s not always easy or natural to lean on God. Sometimes, it feels like we’d have a better go of things if we were gods; but deep down, that’s just a fantasy to make us feel better about the state of life. In turn, testifying of God’s victory only serves as a means of comfort. Faith and grace don’t always leave us with comfort in hard times; yet, they might keep us going when we don’t have anything left inside. Whatever it is, God has to know how it works because it’s a mystery that we’re all facing together. I don’t have answers and I don’t understand; all I have are pleas for mercy, comfort, and rest. Thus, God is still God and I am not like Job because I am lost in the mystery – hoping God will “save” me from something.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rebuilding Sand: an Unorthodox Theology of Death


Death is a reminder for the living that we’re still human – built more like glass than stone – we cannot and we should not walk alone. For some of us, death is the final moment of life. For others, it is the day the Lord has called us home. For others, still, it is when the departed get the answer to that “never ending why” and the living have lost someone dear. With great sorrow, death is no stranger to the life of this author. There are two things I wonder, where does God play a role and what would we do without friends and family to support us? In the first case, my recently deceased grandmother would say “pray.” In the second, I know we all reach a point when we have to lean upon the love of others to endure.

Honestly, I don’t think faith means answers and that is not always an easy pill to swallow when facing grief and hardship. Personally, my theology on death has very little for answers. It makes the hearts and minds of the living cry the tears of the forsaken. Doubt is sure to creep in. If God is the creator of people and giver of love and grace (as myself and countless others believe) then detailed systems of repentance, decisions for Christ, or even an understanding of God are irrelevant. The Lord has called many of my loved ones home and the details of what they believed or didn’t seem pretty trivial in light of this short breath we call life. I know they are with God regardless of their theology. Death is a mystery of life and of God for the living and we will need some form of comfort.

Thus, the body of Christ is the people that stand by our side as we, the living, mourn. Community is such that we need others to cry with, laugh with, converse with, love, and share in each other’s sorrow. Our friends and family can take glass that’s crumbled to sand and turn it into something strong like stone – strong because we are not alone and because we hurt and suffer together – this is the body of Christ. In doubt, suffering, hardship, loss, and the pain of life may we recognize the need for community support; all the while, praying, even if we don’t have words to say to God. If I have ever “lived the impossible,” as I’ve said before, I have not done it alone – I could not do this alone – I need people to support me, and whether I like it or not, I need God’s hope to carry on.   


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Practicing what I Preach...or Trying to


Life is short. Perhaps I’m about to preach to myself, but life is too short to stay pissed off. Initially, theories of atonement were on the agenda for this post, but that wasn’t going places. In searching for a topic that wasn’t deeply personal, a discussion on morals seemed like a good second choice. Ironically, writers-block opened the door to speak about something that matters more than atonement models or moral debates. “Will you practice what you preach; would you turn the other cheek?” Life is too short to stay pissed off, but it’s awful easy to forget that truth.


Dear LOTH church,

You probably won’t read this, but I have some important words for you. I’m sorry I failed you, I’m sorry we parted ways in the fashion we did, I’m sorry I never got to say goodbye, I’m sorry most of your members don’t know what happened, I’m sorry that the circumstances of departure hurt me, I’m sorry that people have had to hear me vent about this for a year, and I’m sorry I let it get to me all this time. Most of the time, I miss you; so, I want you to know all is forgiven. Life is too short to stay pissed off; it hasn’t eased my pain, it hasn’t helped me be the minister I’m called to be, and it hasn’t helped me to practice what I preach. May we walk together, yet on separate paths, in the grace and forgiveness of our Lord. From the bottom of my heart, peace and love to you. Consider this the goodbye I owed you one year ago.

Sincerely,
Tim

P.S. As I looked at my dad’s broken and battered body, a few weeks ago, I was reminded that life is too short and that some things don’t matter as much as we make them seem.

As someone who teaches and preaches, I’ve learned from every young person I’ve ever led. I’ve learned from their families. I’ve learned from the classroom. I’ve learned from books. I’ve learned from friends. I’ve learned from my own family. I’ve learned from the mysteries of God and the trials of life. If you are like me, it is time to make our houses homes, it is time minister while being ministered to, it’s time to practice what we preach – turning the other cheek – and extend grace (even if it doesn’t make sense).


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

God is Personal: The Human Relationship to God


For nearly three years, all I’ve been able to do is grumble in disgust at the words, “Personal Relationship with God.” Today, I’m getting personal with God. Considering that I’m not a deist (most days) and that I would like to believe God is active in this world, it is difficult to deny the likelihood that God is personal. Consequently, God is also relational. But, I’m not talking about some touchy-feely, mushy, psychosexual-deism. Jesus is not my “homeboy;” Jesus is our redeemer, God is our creator, and the Holy Spirit has given us the gift of faith. We are inherently connected to the divine, which means we have a relationship to God, and it is undoubtedly personal.
 
As creator, God made us, gave us this earth, and said this is, “for you” (Gen. 9). As redeemer, God died for us and declared our forgiveness (Matt. 26:26-30). As spirit, God gave us grace and set us free (Rom. 8). How can I not take that personal? At a finite level, when I create something (this blog, songs, poems, etc.) it is deeply personal. If I make sacrifices of myself for others, it is immensely personal. If I give someone a gift (without expectation of reciprocation) or receive a gift, it is heartwarmingly personal. Yet, I’m a finite human being; if creation, sacrifice, and gifts are personal for me, how much more are they personal for God?

Honestly, personal isn’t always pleasant and relationships aren’t without pain. God may have made us and gave us this earth, but this doesn’t mean we were all given an equal or, seemingly, fair portion. God may have given us the spirit, which sets us free, but we are still here to toil and groan (Rom. 8:22-23). God may have given the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption and forgiveness, but that doesn’t stop life’s pain.

Finally, from August 3, 2010 to August 3, 2011; I’ve had one reason after the other to groan and get personal with God. Unemployment, girlfriend troubles, Mono, injured hamstring, ex-girlfriend, bankruptcy, and severely injured father; with a list like that in twelve months, it might be easier to be a deist. Conversely, I believe God is personal and relational; having compassion upon my pain, my hardship, and my groaning. I’m all for getting personal with God, even if personal isn’t some pretty, peachy, cozy, fa├žade. God suffered for us; God suffers with us.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Human Suffering: Why?


Three years ago, I was asking a lot of questions about God, faith, and theology – even going so far as denying the existence of God. Nevertheless, asking those heavy questions made for a short dance with Atheism, which led to the foot of the cross, a message of grace, and a deeper understanding of what I believe and why I believe it. At that time, my pastor was talking with me about life, how intense my life has been, and if I ever pondered why me and my family go through a lot of hardship. I said, “No, I’m kind of used to it.” Today, I’m asking, “Why?”

I’ve never had much of a theology of human suffering and I stopped believing in Dispensationalism many years ago. If justification (salvation) is not about Eschatology (the end times) and God doesn’t cause our hardships, then why are some protected and sheltered, while others suffer? God must be saving us for something; if not, I don’t have a clue what I’m being saved from. Admittedly, my life has been a bit of a monsoon and it keeps raining hard and heavy – at some level I can live with this – but not today. I’ve watched people hurt, suffer, mourn, weep, die, and bleed more than I’ve ever gotten to see them blessed, smiling, laughing, and “living the dream.”

However, I’m a minister, a biblical scholar, and a theologian; therefore, I’m bound to have some view on this human suffering thing. Human suffering sucks, it’s not balanced in a socialist aspect across humanity, everyone can face hardship, and God allows it. Often, people blame God for the bad stuff in this life. Honestly, I think that’s because people don’t know why. It’s not God’s fault that my sixty-two year old father, who has more health issues than I can list, fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his back for the second time – but, it does piss me off.

Finally, I’m asking “why?” I’m tired of being “used to it.” I’m angry that I have to watch my dad slowly deteriorate every day from a chronic disease, I’m angry that this poor man has to endure a broken back – for the second time – on top of a life threatening disease, and I’m angry that someone, whom I love very much, has sacrificed everything for me; only to suffer for thirty years. In turn, I look to the God I believe to be gracious and loving, and ask a “never-ending why?” 
   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pieces














An ego of shattered glass…
A broken mirror taped back together…
A well of tears bursting forth…
The dam walls no longer hold them….

Pieces of a failure…
Anything but glue…
Watching you take the pain…
Nothing for the walls to lean on….
 
The remains of a loser…
Held together by scars…
A blood-stained cross…
What’s left of the walls; a dirty pool called grace….

A heart of sand…
All that’s left of ground up concrete…
Yet tears rain, rain, rain…
The dam is broken…
The pool is flooding…
 Reflections of ego in the tear-covered walls….








Thursday, July 7, 2011

The God Who Wasn't There: a Scholarly Response

The documentary film, The God Who Wasn’t There, by Brian Flemming makes a lot of statements, but not all of them are obvious to the film’s creator. The filmmaker is a former Fundamentalist-Christian, turned Fundamentalist-Atheist. Thus, his interpretive lens is trapped by his past and present bias; unable to see Christianity, its scriptures, its doctrines, or traditions outside of that Fundamentalist viewpoint. Strategically, the documentarian attempts to turn “Moderate Christians” and Fundamentalist Christians against one another, by claiming that Fundamentalists have it right. In the film, Flemming uses historical criticism and literary criticism to bolster his anti-theology. However, his historical criticism is weak, his literary criticism fails miserably, and he completely ignores any cultural analysis.

In a historical timeline, the documentarian refers to the time between the gospel events and the gospel recordings, as the period “everyone forgot.” He goes on to state that this was a forty year time span. As for forgetting, in the words of scholar Rowan Williams, “There is little or no trace in the first Christian decades of a Christianity unmarked by devotion to Jesus as a living agent.” In contrast to the film’s proposed 70 A.D. authorship, of the gospel accounts, and the forty year gap between events and their recordings: the first accounts of Mark could be as early as 65 A.D. (Christopher Tuckett). Additionally, Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and Galatians were recorded around 50 A.D. (Markus Bockmuehl). Okay, so what, the film’s historical timeline is off by two, possibly three, decades; Flemming still has literary criticism.

In conjunction with the filmmaker’s weak historical criticism, there are at least three major literary criticism failures. The first, claiming that “God isn’t a moderate,” the film quotes Luke 19:27 for support, and ignores that this is the end of a parabolic text. In other words, Jesus was telling a story. The second, inferring that Paul never thought Jesus was, “on Earth,” the documentary uses a quote from a verse in the book of Hebrews. Yet, if “nobody told Paul,” why does he mention Jesus’ interaction with Peter and the twelve (1 Cor. 15:3-7)? Nevertheless, many scholars – conservative and liberal alike – indicate that we don’t know the author of the book of Hebrews.

The third fail, claims that the Gospel according to Mark was not based on history; this automatically implies that the accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John weren’t either – because the documentarian, Brian Flemming, says they all came from Mark’s account. Using the film’s position against itself – because the Synoptic Problem (Matthew and Luke) and the Two-level Drama concept (John) are too great for the scope of this post – if the events of the gospel accounts were not historical, why did non-Christian figures in history, like Josephus, mention that Jesus was put to death by Pilate? Perhaps, The God Who Wasn’t There showed up in the scholarship. Perhaps, The God Who Wasn’t There is gracious enough to redeem a trapped interpretive lens. Perhaps, The God Who Wasn’t There is no reduced God, to this “Moderate Christian.” The God who is there, died for you.


 For more thoughts on this film visit:The Logic of the Cross.

 



Sunday, July 3, 2011

CFA: the Hegemony of the Human Will

There is nothing greater than the grace of God, brought forth through the cross event. Nevertheless, even in the grace of Christ’s redeeming work, we can become control freaks. “Hello, my name is Tim, and I’m a control freak.” Preachers have given sermons, Theologians have written discourses, and Apostles have proclaimed the truth; humanity is infected with a chronic illness called sin and it deceives us.

In turn, this condition of sin is nothing new. The Apostle Paul said, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NRSV). Thus, I welcome you to CFA (Control Freaks Anonymous). As a professional grace pusher, I know that the grace of God trumps the effects of sin. As a human, I know that we live with this tension of sin and grace. The human will is “mutable” – forever changing and fickle – and cannot willingly cling to this divine promise of grace that is beyond its comprehension.

As a result, we are addicts of the sin that ails us, and the only cure is the unmerited grace of God. Translation, we are not in control, but we’re fixated on the illusion of control. Certainly, we could blame an American workaholic attitude for our false conceptions of control and perfection, but this is a symptom of a greater condition. Still, if grace is the cure, why are people, like me, control freaks? Our human will is in a state of hegemony – it perceives that it is free to do all things, through its own determination; yet, it is a slave to addiction, blind to illusions of its own creation – and this is the result of our sin condition.

However, there is hope because this hegemony is not the work of God. “Wherefore, the work of Satan is, so to hold men, that they come not to know their misery, but that they presume that they can do all things which are enjoined” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will). Therefore, I confess that I am a control freak (insistent that my determination will endure the hardships of life) and only the grace of God, illuminated in the cross event, can cure my condition and heal my addiction.


This post was inspired, influenced, and "standing on the shoulders" of the words and story of a "Sarcastic Lutheran".  


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Eucharist: from Cheese Crackers and Sobe to the Real Presence

From cheese crackers and Sobe to the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ; Holy Communion has lived in tension for this believer. Several years ago, without any knowledge of the scriptural backing, I held to a symbolic understanding of the Eucharist. Eventually, this symbolism (technically known as memorialism) got blended with the concept of Sacramental Living (the sacramental doctrine of the Salvation Army). Then, Lutheranism came along and messed with my Sobe and cheese crackers.


Traditionally, the Real Presence (Luther's philosophy on the Eucharist) holds that the sacrament of the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. The physical substance of the bread and wine have not changed (that would be the Roman Catholic interpretation known as transubstantiation). Rather, the bread and the wine – when joined with the words of Christ (Matt. 26:26-28) and the Word who is Christ – administer and proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

Arguably, my Sobe and cheese crackers were conjoined with the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; in spite of the fact that this was unknown to me at the time. Furthermore, “If the Word be joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament” (Augustine). However, I would not advocate the use of Sobe and cheese crackers, unless, it is all one has available. Martin Luther said it best, “No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood by virtue of these words which are added to the bread and wine.”

Until recently, I wasn’t totally sold on the Real Presence – the idea sort of freaked me out. Yet, as I listened to the controversy and chaos that many have experienced with this sacrament; I realized, only the Real Presence of Christ (in the Eucharist) could give us the words to proclaim forgiveness over controversy and absolve its recipients. In turn, it sanctifies those who partake, with “a food of souls,” and redeems this sacrament from the chaos of relativism, legalism, and reductionism. Symbolism and Sacramental Living remember the cross event; meanwhile, the Real Presence partakes in the gifts of the cross event – grace and forgiveness.    


Ironically written to the sounds of Kid Rock’s “I am the Bullgod.”