Friday, July 23, 2010

Eat This Book... And Keep Chewing

As the prophet Ezekiel was faced with the humbling task of offering the Lord's word to the exiled Israelites, God tells him, "Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." The prophet does as he's commanded, and it is sweet in his mouth, like honey. (Ezekiel 3:3) I'm not sure how long it took Ezekiel to eat that scroll, but that kind of meal takes me weeks.

In seminary, I had a brilliant young professor named Kavin Rowe who taught two of my New Testament courses, Intro to NT and Acts. These two courses were two of the most challenging courses I had at the Div School (and two of my lowest grades), but I learned a heckuva lot. One of Dr. Rowe's maxims was that to read Scripture properly, a significant task is to try and read each book in its entirety, in one sitting, without interruption. Now, for our modern, impatient minds, this task is very diffucult- for instance, I am in the midst of reading Jeremiah straight through, and I can only handle about 3-5 chapters per night. But indeed, this is how the original readers and hearers (mostly hearers) of these texts digested them. So the idea is, that if you want to perceive these texts as closely as possible to their original authorial intent, you must read them in one sitting.

And let me tell you, this completely changes the way one understands these texts. In reading a book all at once, I have caught so many verses, passages, etc. that I have previously interpreted out of context, and so this is a strategy that I fully endorse. In a day when football players show their faith by listing a verse on their eye-black, this practice of Scripture reading reminds me of how much deeper and comprehensive Scriptural faith is than our fast-food, reductionistic view.

For a good intro to the art of reading Scripture, I recommend the following two books:
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: This book is accessible and really thoughtful.
Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible: This book is very Catholic, but very good and short.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the Aftermath of Jubilation

Every now and then, I will offer links to other blogs, articles, etc. that I find pertinent. Here is one about the 4th of July, which fell on a Sunday this year. The blogger is Dr. James Howell, the pastor from the last church where I was a lay member, Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, NC (he is also an enormous influence on my call to enter into the ministry). Dr. Howell offers a critique of the American attitude (more specifically, the Christian American attitude) towards this holiday. I think he hit it out of the park on this one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rachel Ray Sex Advice

Yes, you heard that right. Last week, I was sitting in a waiting room and the Rachel Ray Show was on. "OK," I thought, "This is normal." That is until I heard the topic for the day: Sex. I almost spit my stale coffee back into the styrofoam cup.

I'm no prude or anything, but I thought Rachel Ray was a chef?! What is she doing giving sex advice? Well, I had no other choice than to sit through the rest of this episode as Ms. Ray brought in a "sex expert" to answer audience questions- most of which made me pretty queasy- and Ms. Ray proceeded to continually put in her two cents. I would expect something like this from MTV or Oprah, but not from what I thought was essentially a cooking show. I guess anyone can give you sex advice nowadays as long as it makes money. I mean, really? If I turn on the TV to get advice about making a Thanksgiving turkey, I do not expect to hear advice about the bedroom.

But you know, the church isn't doing a whole lot to help the situation. Sex has got to be the most preached-upon topic in sermon series, and I've yet to hear a good theologically- or biblically-grounded one yet. In fact, there's not a whole lot that the Bible says about sex (it was a whole lot less of a big deal back then as it is now, apparently), and what we do have is kind of ambiguous (for instance- what really is "porneia" in the New Testament?).

Typically, I take my ideas about sex from my doctrine of creation- if the act isn't open to creation, then it probably ain't right. Therefore, I have mostly been against the idea of homosexual ordination in the church. Now you're thinking, "Wait Drew, don't you believe in birth control? Wouldn't that be against your doctrine of creation?" My only answer to that is, "Dangit". Moreover, the fact that I was disgusted over hearing sex advice in public speaks to the fact that I've accepted a public/private split on the matter of sex (so I am making up for it by being red-faced as I type this blog entry). In fact, I've realized lately how, even in marriage, so many of my ideas on sex have been influenced by popular culture (read- people like Rachel Ray), not really my theological perspectives.

What does a biblically-informed ethic of sex really look like? How does this ethic fit with a doctrine of creation? Obviously I am disgusted by the idea of people like Rachel Ray, and not the church, informing our sex life; yet, I have realized how much of my own sex life has been informed by people like her. How should the church teach sex?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

View from the High Horse

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been co-leading (mostly observing) a book study of Fearless by Max Lucado. Before this study, I had never read any of Mr. Lucado's books. But I had heard a little about them from others. And the sense I got was that my Duke-educated, highfalootin', book-learned self would not see a bit of redeeming value in anything he wrote. So when I was asked to help with this book study, I was a little nervous.

It turns out that I was right, but in a good way. Sure, Lucado's not exactly going to deal in the same terms as Bultmann, Barth, and Hauerwas, so the book was not something that I would get a lot of redeeming value out of. In fact, his writing is very simple, and even by the way the typeface was set, I felt that my intelligence had been insulted. What's more, his writing does come off as a little too "warm and fuzzy". But given all of this, it was not far off base. Fearless was pretty orthodox and Lucado drew straight from several biblical examples (some I thought risked reductionism- the reading of a text out of context, but most often not).

All of this reminded me how pseudo-intellectual, seminary-educated folks like me can totally miss our mark when we communicate with our parishioners. It's obvious that the reason that the Christian book-buying public eats up works by authors like Lucado and Osteen (but don't get me started on him) is because they are accessible. Sure, I would love if folks in the pews had a basic understanding of Hays or Lindbeck, or even if most knew how much they've been influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr, or how much I wish they would eat up some Lesslie Newbigin, James Howell, or Lauren Winner (I offer the latter four examples as authors who are well-learned yet somewhat lay-accessible). And I still encourage folks to read these people as well. But the truth of the matter is, that outside of worship, it is difficult for folks to find the time and desire to read more than a 5-page chapter in large type that requires very little thought. So my hat's off to you, Mr. Lucado, for spreading the Good News in a very accessible way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fear Not!

There are countless Scripture passages which teach us not to fear: Matthew 10:26-31, Psalm 46, and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 just to name a few. It seems that we who fear God ought to not fear anything else. I am even currently co-leading a study at church on a book by Max Lucado called Fearless (maybe after the study is finished I can share my thoughts on the book).

But yesterday, an event happened in the neighborhood of our church that struck fear into many of us here at Trinity. Two armed men carjacked an employee at the Piggly Wiggly down the street from the church. The two men fled, were chased by police, wrecked the car a few blocks from the church, and ran. Police apprehended one of the two gunmen. Read about it here.

We were holding a staff meeting, when a co-worker stuck her head in the door of the conference room to tell us the news. Immediately, some of us (myself included) ran out of the room to find and update our loved ones. For most of the rest of the day, we were on lockdown in the church- no one could come in or go out.

It's situations like this that remind me how far we fall short of God, who fearlessly loves us. In our nihilistic culture which sees death as the absolute end, we lack any sense of eschatological hope. This has bled over into our churches, where I find very little preaching of eschatological imagination other than simple pie-in-the sky theology. It's too risky, too unknown to profess faith in a God who resurrects and creates newly. So we put our ultimate faith in folks in lab coats and politicians who legislate health care laws. Don't get me wrong, I admire and partake of advances in medical sciences as much as the next person. I am extremely fortunate to see a doctor to cure my ills and do so affordably. But is this really the absolute end? Is our health, our earthly life, all there is? Why can we not see healing, as it was in the Bible, as a sign, which points to the God who makes us new?

Even our naive confessions of pie-in-the-sky fall too short for me. How does thinking that I'll die and play the back nine with Jesus in the sky, be reunited with my old dog, and have tea parties with Aunt Norma shape us as a community of disciples? We've got to think deeper, longer, and more imaginitively about God's reclamation project for all of creation, not just about our whims and desires. Only then can we live with the love which casts out fear. My recommendation: read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

All the time, I witness God re-claiming a life, making something out of a mess, leading my fellow depraved humans in faithfulness and obedience despite the pressures of the world. How can this not be a sign, a foretaste of a new creation? I have no idea what God specifically intends for us after this life, but as for myself, I imagine myself sitting around the throne of God proclaiming the eucharistic affirmation of the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.