Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chloe Got Her Mac

A few weeks ago, I was asking about Mac laptops. Chloe, my oldest, was about to graduate from high school (the ceremony was last Thursday night in Rocky Hill, CT) and her mother and I had decided to get her a laptop for graduation.

The question of exactly what to get her, and then actually getting the computer, fell to me. I couldn't decide between PC and Mac. So I finally spilled the beans for Chloe's sake and asked her. As you know now, she said "Mac." But then the question was, "Well, which one? Outfitted with what stuff?"

James, I gotta tell you. I took all of your suggestions and the result was nothing short of perfect. My daughter is thrilled, to say the least. Thank you!

Now if she'll use this machine to do top-level college work at West Texas A&M and send her dad an occasional email . . . .

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Why Gregory Came Back

On Tuesday, I talked about how Gregory of Nazianzus bolted when he was chosen a Christian leader. He eventually came back and took up the role to which he'd been ordained. Why did he come back?

In his "Second Oration," also called "On the Priesthood," he openly admits, "I did not, nor do I now, think myself qualified."

However, he also recognizes that God has arranged things so that "those for whom such treatment is beneficial, should be subject to pastoral care and rule, and be guided by word and deed in the path of duty; while others should be pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the church, those, I mean who surpass the majority in virtue and nearness to God."

In other words, Christian leadership is divinely ordained. It's God's idea, and it's vital for the church.

Yes, leaders should and must be godly. They must be well acquainted with and have taken on the mind of Christ. But when there are such people in the body Christ, and when they are recognized by the community as having those qualities, then the candidate should take on the role that God has intended. And the purpose of it all? Gregory answers:

"But the scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings,
to rescue it from the world and give it to God,
and to watch over that which is in his image, if it abides
to take it by the hand, if it is in danger,
or restore it, if ruined,
to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit:
and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon,
one who belongs to the heavenly host."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why Some Good People Run Away

Gregory of Nazianzus didn't want to be a priest. His priestly father, with a little help from his friends, I imagine, forcibly ordained him in 361 A.D.

Gregory immediately ran away. Literally. He retreated to his familiar contemplative life, and didn't come back to face the music until the next year. Months later, when he came home and embraced the role to which he'd been appointed he realized he had some explaining to do. His sermon-apology "On the Priesthood" is one of the first extended reflections on Christian ministry. And it's a great read.

In it, Gregory mentions several things that kept him from desiring the priesthood. Most of his reasons come straight from the category of "some things never change." Like this one:

"I was ashamed of all those others, who, without being better than ordinary people, nay, it is a great thing if they be not worse, with unwashen hands, as the saying runs, and uninitiated souls, intrude into the most sacred offices; and, before becoming worthy to approach the temples, they lay claim to the sanctuary, and they push and thrust around the holy table, as if they thought this order to be a means of livelihood, instead of a pattern of virtue, or an absolute authority, instead of a ministry of which we must give account."

Preachers, elders, teachers, leaders: Like all stewards, you must and will give account. Be holy. Others are watching. Some with much greater promise and potential than you. Will those people be drawn to or repelled from Christian leadership because of you? Think about it. Pray about it. It's eternally important.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Saturday in the Park

Greetings from New Haven, Connecticut. I flew into Hartford on Friday and will be up here for a few days. My Chloe graduates from Rocky Hill High School on Thursday night.

I have to tell you about Saturday. My kids and I have always said that "one of these days" we were going to go to one of the two "Bellizzi" restaurants down in Westchester county New York. Well, Saturday we did it. From Connecticut, we drove down to the "Bellizzi" in Larchmont, NY and had lunch. The place was so nice and the food was terrific. So we were relieved as well as satisfied.

Anyway, we started asking questions and found out we were only a mile or so from the train station. We wound up taking the train down to Grand Central and then caught a cab to Washington Square Park. It was a nice day in New York, which always means a lot of people are going to be out and you're going to see and hear some interesting stuff. Saturday was the best ever.

Among other things, we saw a jazz group with this one guy who played two trumpets at the same time. At another spot, there was a guy playing an electric sitar, accompanied by a friend on drums. Chloe took some pictures and I plan to post a few later this week.

This week I get to take a summer term course at Yale Divinity School: "Christian Leadership in the Early Church: Wisdom of the Great Tradition." I'm looking forward to it and will try to keep you posted about how it's going. I hope you have a great week.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Listening and Looking for What?

In his book From Survival to Celebration, Howard Hanchey tells this story:

"Two people were walking along a crowded sidewalk in a downtown business area. Suddenly one exclaimed: 'Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket.' But the other could not hear. He asked his companion how he could detect the sound of a cricket amid the din of people and traffic. The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to listen to the voices of nature. But he didn't explain. He simply took a coin out of his pocket and dropped it to the sidewalk, whereupon a dozen people began to look about them. 'We hear,' said the zoologist, 'what we listen for.' "

Then he makes his point:

"Mission-minded Christians enjoy, more than anything else, the work of listening and looking for signs of God at work in the world. As a result, their common life rings with both a present strength and a future hope."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pondering Paul

During the fall semester of 2006, I taught a course on the "Life and Teachings of the Apostle Paul."

A big bunch of questions immediately confront the teacher for a course like that. Trying to figure out how the class should go was one of the toughest jobs I've taken on in a long time.

For example, the two main sources for the topic are (1) the letters of Paul and (2) the Book of Acts. But the question of how those two sources might work together for someone who's trying to figure out "the life of Paul" . . . well, that's hard to answer.

Why? Because neither Luke (writing Acts) nor Paul (writing his letters) was particularly interested in a biography of Paul. This is just one of the many places where the actual character of the Bible doesn't fit so well with the interests of scholars and the procedures of the academy. But that's another post.

Next, what about the teachings of Paul? Should the students simply read the letters in chronological order (assuming that you have that figured out)? Or would it be better to take a thematic approach, dealing with different topics?

For what it's worth, my class walked through the letters in what I think might be their chronological sequence. But this naturally begged for some sort of explanation from me. And, it required a basic level of historical competence on the part of the students. (As much as I like my students, I have to say that such competence is uncommon). Why go in order of time if the students have no concept of the the overall story?

Since some of you teachers and preachers out there will wonder, Yes, we used the book by F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, as the supplemental text. But I don't think I'll do that again.

Why not? Well, for one thing the book is a bit of a hodge podge. Bruce never set out to write a text about Paul. Most of the chapters in "Paul" were originally published as articles in a wide array of journals and magazines. I'm guessing that it was a publisher's idea to bring them all together, have Bruce fill in the gaps, and come out with a book on Paul. Not to mention that the Bruce book is a little beyond most of my 1st and 2nd year college students.

So, just in case I ever teach that course again, what can you tell me about how you might decide some of these questions? What approach might you take? What alternative to the Bruce text can you recommend? (For reasons explained above, Wright is wrong for my purposes). Anyone been a part of a great Paul class? Who taught it? And how?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Musings about the Museum

The brand new 27 million dollar Creation Museum was opened to the public last week. The 60,000 square-foot facility is located in northern Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati.

From what I gather, the museum is an extension of the Creation Science movement. It insists that a correct reading of the Bible, especially the Book of Genesis, leads to the conclusion that the cosmos was created in six 24-hour days, and that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old.

Creation Science also says that because most of the the scientific community has rejected God and the authority of His written Word, it has come up with an alternative that includes no god and no creative work. This has led, say the creationists, to the moral and spiritual decadence that we see in the world today; by rejecting the beginning of the Bible and its teaching about origins, modernistic science undermines all of the Bible, putting more and more distance between people and the one true God, who is the ultimate author of Scripture.

There were a few protesters at the grand opening. They argued that the sponsors and promoters of the museum begin with a narrow set of religious presuppositions. Then, in order to prop up their viewpoint, these believers abandon just about everything that astronomy, biology, geology, etc. are telling us about the age of the earth and how it came to be the way it is today.

The museum's director responded by saying that both sides of the argument begin with a set of beliefs. It's not as though the people who side with "real science" have no presuppositions about how to read the evidence. Both sides are reading the evidence, says the director. And, unabashedly, he has decided to read it through the lens of the Bible.

When I came across this story, I began to think of Christians who subscribe neither to Darwinism nor to Creation Science. I count myself one of them. Which is not to say that I reject all of mainstream science. And, of course, I don't want to deny what the Bible affirms.

In the spring of 1922, three years before the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial," the great N. B. Hardeman spoke night after night to overflow audiences at the old Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. In his address on "The Bible" he said:

"Due to a failure to understand one or both, the Bible and science have been considered by many contradictory, and the fight has been on between them. But I have an idea that in the not far distance pseudo-scientists will have reached their limits, and then real science and the Bible will set out on convergent lines that will by and by come together. Forgetting, then, the bitterness of the past in the joy of newly found truth, they will clasp hands and together cast the crowns of their triumphs--triumphs of science and Christianity--at the feet of their common Author and God shall be proclaimed Lord of all."

Of course, I don't know how many years Hardeman thought it might take to get to "the not far distance." But it's now been 85 years since he said that. For all of his wisdom and eloquence, he can't play 21st-century quarterback like I can.

Maybe he underestimated the capacity of science to be not a servant of human good, but an aspect of human power. And maybe the ways in which people read poetic texts about primordial events need to be reconsidered.

Either way, I often find myself befuddled by it all. And I always wish I knew as well as I am known. What do you think?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Linda, My Friend

There is a side of us that longs to find a place, some quiet corner of this world, where joy is never mixed with pain, where delight is never interrupted by tragedy.

Christ and his closest followers have always known better. Jesus told his disciples that they would have to take up their crosses. Paul just accepted that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." And Peter knew that part of what Christians have been called to is suffering.

Within the last several years, I've decided that the people I respect the most are those who live in hope, deeply knowing the inseparable link between joy and pain; people who, living with the realities of the here and now, do not allow the sad or even tragic parts of life to bring on a permanent sense of ruin, as though God had nothing left to say; people who recognize that sometimes doing the will of God doesn't bring you health and wealth, but instead brings poverty and a cross.

Yes, all of the people I respect the most are tried and true Christians, brothers and sisters who have lived this Way for a long time.

Some of the most disadvantaged people I've ever known also happened to be the most joyful and hopeful. They have always lifted my spirits, not merely because of their attitudes, but because they serve to remind me that there is another spirit at work in our world besides the self-centered spirit of our age.

Linda Smith, my sister and friend, was one of those people. She died last Sunday and I've been sad all week because I loved her so and can't believe I won't get to hear her laugh down here ever again.

Maybe sometime I'll tell you more about her. But until then, make the time to be good and godly to somebody. It will do them good and bring glory to your Father who is in heaven.