Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gaps in the Christian Echo

Founded in 1902 by G. P. Bowser (1874-1950), the Christian Echo is the oldest periodical in circulation among African American Churches of Christ. . . . Unfortunately for historians, in 1946 archival materials on the early issues of the Christian Echo were destroyed in an automobile accident as G. P. Bowser was moving to Detroit. Therefore, early issues have been difficult to locate, complicating research. (Jesse Curtis Porter, in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 191).

The question of whether the U.S. Olympic team should participate in the 1936 Summer Games at Berlin was a big issue in the black community in this country. A good number of those who qualified for the team were African-American. Because of Nazi Germany's racism, there were calls for an American boycott of the Games. Some people wondered about the safety of black as well as Jewish athletes in Hitler's Germany.

But there were several other parts to this story. For example, some of the leading members of the International Olympic Committee--which had, in 1931, extended the invitation to Berlin to host the Games--were American big shots. They were clearly embarrassed by the turn of events in Germany beginning in 1933, when Hitler had seized control. They didn't want to make any changes. Were some of them anti-Semites themselves?

At the same time, some in the black community wanted their athletes to go to Berlin and practically disprove racism by winning in their events. In retrospect, this position has been vindicated, above all, by the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens and the hero status he attained in Berlin.

Also, some people in the U.S. were saying, in effect, "Germany isn't any more racist than we are. So why not go?" This was an embarrassing admission, and had the effect calling into question America's own terrible history and condition.

Along this line, one of my current research interests is to find out whether the Christian Echo ever weighed in on these questions at the time. But the back issues of the Echo for the pertinent years are unavailable so far as I can tell. Can anyone help me out with this? I wonder if there' any chance that an unbroken set of the Echo can be put together? That, I think, would be a worthwhile project.

Can some of you Stone-Campbell historians be some assistance here? I need all the help I can get. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Like a Dickens Novel Came to Life

Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival 1941-1946 (New York: Pegasus, 2009), by Greg Dawson.

This fine memoir recounts the odyssey of Zhanna Arshanskaya and her sister, Frina. A true labor of love, it was written by Greg Dawson, Zhanna’s son, and a long-time columnist for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

Born in 1927, Zhanna, the author's mother, was the older of two sisters. The girls’ parents were Dmitri and Sara Arshansky, non-religious Jews who were raising a young family in Berdyansk, Ukraine, a resort town on the northern coast of the Sea of Avov. Dmitri, the father, was a candy-maker by day and an amateur violinist by night. Passionate about music, he had high aspirations for his two girls. His early dreams were fulfilled.

By the time she was six years old, Zhanna, a prodigy at the piano, was occasionally playing live on local radio. One such performance revealed the level of her skill and poise. As Zhanna played at the radio station, the lights in the studio suddenly went out. But there was no break in the music. Dmitri had always insisted that his daughter not only memorize a number, but that she never so much as look at her hands when she played. Anytime she learned a new piece, her father required Zhanna to perform it with the lights out. For her, a flawless recital in the dark was nothing unusual. But with the Stalinist crack-down in the Soviet Union, followed by the Holocaust, the blissful lives of the Arshanskys were changed forever.

Hiding in the Spotlight tells the story of how Zhanna and Frina survived the mass execution of more than 15,000 Jews at Drobitsky Yar in December 1941, when their parents and grandparents were murdered; how they went on to become, of all things, German-sponsored entertainers living in Berlin, literally next door to the Nazis who had marked them and all "their kind" for death; and how, eventually, they became scholarship students at the Julliard School in New York after the War was over.

The Nazi regime murdered nearly 6 million Jews. This is the story of two Jewish girls who survived not in a camp or a cellar, but in the spotlight. Riveting stuff.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:15

9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. 11 Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self restraint. --1 Timothy 2:9-15, New American Standard Bible.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote what follows based on the wording of an older edition of the NASB, which appears above. I probably picked that translation because of its literal approach. As you'll figure out from my comments, I certainly don't think it's a superior translation of this passage.

I know, everyone wants to know the meaning and proper application of especially 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Maybe someday I'll talk about those verses here at "Frankly Speaking." For now, I'm content to deal with another not-so-easy part of this passage: verse 15.

Because he has spoken of Eve's transgression in the previous verse, in verse 15 Paul names the specific way by which women can gain salvation: they can do it through the bearing of children. What does that phrase and the rest of the verse mean? Of course, there's a lot more to be said than I'm going to say here. Feel free in the comments to add what you'd like. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to quickly sketch the three main interpretations and then ask you what you think.

1. Some interpreters say that Paul meant that Christian women, in giving birth to children, will be kept physically safe. Apparently, this is the view taken by the translators of the New American Standard Bible quoted above. The translation of the NT by James Moffatt clearly supports this view: women will get safely through childbirth. The problem here is that not all Christian mothers have been preserved in giving birth. Tragically, many thousands have lost their lives. A second point against this interpretation is that Paul consistently uses the word translated preserved in the NASB to speak not of mere physical safety but of personal salvation (see, for example, 1 Timothy 1:15 and Titus 3:5). Because of this, most other translations use the word saved instead of preserved. I agree. I think saved is the more-accurate word here.

2. A different view suggests that verse 15 is pointing back to the birth of Christ. According to this interpretation, Paul is saying that when Mary gave birth to the Messiah, the transgression which was introduced by Eve began to be reversed. Salvation entered the world in the person of Jesus. The wording in the margin of the Revised Standard Version reflects this view: woman will be saved by the birth of the child. But this view also has its problems. For one thing, the verse never specifically mentions Mary or Jesus. And, as many of the commentaries point out, if Paul had wanted to make such a statement, he would likely have been much more specific and would have chosen different words.

3. A third view, and one that I think has the most going for it, takes the word translated preserved or saved as a reference to final, personal salvation. It's no promise or guarantee of physical safety in childbirth. Instead, this view understands childbearing as a reference to what might be called "raising kids." That is to say, the phrase refers to all of a woman's duty, especially to her children. The rendering of the Twentieth Century New Testament expresses it well: women will find their salvation in motherhood. The salvation of women, says Paul, comes as a result of fulfilling their God-given role in bearing, nurturing, and teaching children, a major part of what Titus 2:5 speaks of as being workers at home. Of course, simply doing her duty will never save a woman. No Christian lady is going to be finally redeemed simply because she was a good mother. According to this interpretation, that's exactly why at the end of the verse Paul insists that women must continue in things like faith, love, holiness, and good judgment.

So what is this verse talking about? What do you think?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Preaching on Mother's Day and Fathers' Day

A recent post over at John Alan Turner's place led me to start thinking about sermons.

Now, I realize that no one's personal experience counts as research. Impressions are not the same thing as statistics. But I couldn't resist the urge to identify what seem to be some trends in preaching when it comes to Mother's Day and Father's Day, especially in the group I know best, the Churches of Christ. Here's what I recall:

When I was a kid (the 1970s took me from age 7 to 17), I don't remember the preachers in my home congregation ever preaching a Mother's or Father's Day sermon. Seems like there were a few years on Mother's Day when the preacher felt compelled to acknowledge the corsages in the crowd, which led to a few remarks of appreciation. But it was never more than that.

I'm guessing that it was in the 1980s that this type of preaching became more common in the Churches of Christ, beginning with a sermon on Mothers' Day, if not one for Fathers' Day. Then, by the 1990s, both had become a bit of a fixture in this fellowship. If, like me, you're old enough to be a sort of walking history book, does my description match up with your own experience?

Here's something else I've noticed. In the Churches of Christ, the Mother's Day sermons I've heard (and, yes, preached) have typically gone something like this: You ladies are great! You certainly deserve a lot more credit than you get. We love you. Please, for our sakes, keep up the good work.

And then there's the Fathers' Day sermon, which has typically gone something like this: Some of us, maybe most of us, had fathers who were deeply flawed. Truth be told, most of you dads out there are a bunch of Homers too. If you only realized your great potential, you'd work a lot harder at being a good father (husband too). So get with it! Oh well, at least God is our father.

Again, does this sound familiar to you? Either way, I'm interested in hearing the experiences of others. A few questions:

What sorts of cultural norms and stereotypes influence this sort of preaching?

With May and June coming up quickly, what do you think preachers need to hear from the rest of us regarding how to handle these preaching occasions?

You preachers out there: Do you like or loath preaching on these two Sundays? And what are you planning to do this year?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Neighbors, by Jan T. Gross

Gross, Jan T. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

In Neighbors, Jan Gross tells the story of a summer day when half the population of a small East European town murdered the other half (7). The author, a Polish Jew who now teaches at Princeton, gives special attention to the question of who did what in the town of Jedwabne [Poland] on July 10, 1941, and at whose behest (10).

As his title intimates, the evidence points to a shocking conclusion. Those who tortured and slaughtered nearly all of the 1,600 Jews of Jedwabne were apparently not the soldiers of the recently-arrived German army. They were, instead, the Polish residents of the town, the long-time neighbors of the victims.

The report of the trial of 22 people accused in 1949 as perpetrators has every appearance of being perfunctory and hastily done. By contrast, the 1945 testimony of Szmul Wasersztajn—one of only seven Jewish survivors of the massacre—provides many details of the hellish events that took place in Jedwabne in late June and early July of 1941. Gross insists that the first-person accounts of Wasersztajn and others must be taken seriously. The speakers, he points out, have no reasons to lie. Their stories corroborate one another and match up well with what the people of the region still say about that time.

Of course, the specific events described in the book took place within a set of contexts, and the author is careful to mention and discuss them as well. The totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler made every effort to exploit any sort of division or resentment. In that world, says Gross, a person living in a place like Jedwabne, completely disoriented by the events of the Second World War,

could simultaneously endear himself to the new rulers, derive material benefits from his actions (it stands to reason that active pogrom participants had first pick in the division of leftover Jewish property), and go along with local peasants’ traditional animosity towards the Jews.

Gross goes on to say that if

we add to this mix encouragement by the Nazis and an easily whipped-up sense that one was settling scores with the ‘Judeo-commune’ for indignities suffered under the Soviet occupation—then who could resist such a potent, devilish mixture? (162).

That someone of his background could make such observations indicates that in this book we have not only the work of a fine historian. We also have the mature and thoughtful reflections of someone who has managed to tell about a crooked world in a remarkably straightforward way.

Neighbors is a small book that can and should be read in a day or two. It is accompanied by several photographs of some of the victims and their families, two excellent maps, and several pages of endnotes. If you want to get a taste of the book, here is a pdf of the chapter entitled "Outline of the Story."

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Southern Baptist Scholar's Case for Baptism

For the record, put me in the category of those who'd like to see the Saints win, but who also think it'll be the Colts.
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Nearly twelve years later, I can still remember sitting in the library at Harding University's Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. In front of me was one of the many journals I had picked up to peruse.

By the way, this is one of my favorite things to do: go to a good library, pick a dozen or more current periodicals off the shelf, and see what people are thinking about. (I know, a lot of people do something like this every day from their computers. But trust me, it's just not the same). Anyway, the point of all this is, if anything really catches your attention, you can read it. And, of all the things you don't read, at the very least you have an idea of what the current trends and topics of interest are. If you're a preacher, this is something you should do. But I digress.

Here's what was so memorable about that day. One of the periodicals I had in front of me was the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. It wasn't one of my usual picks. But I had noticed a title on the cover of the latest issue: "Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament," by Robert H. Stein. With that title, how could I resist? Besides, I already knew Stein's name from other things he'd written. Everything I had read by him was first-class. This article turned out to be no exception.

Within the previous month or two, I had heard a couple of preachers from the Churches of Christ backing away from our traditional insistence on baptism as an essential part of a person's initial response to Christ. But not Stein. He held up a balanced, fair-minded view of what the New Testament says about baptism and its connection to Christian initiation and identity. I was not pleasantly surprised; it was more like astonished, floored.

That was back in the day when, if you really liked an article, you didn't link it to something you said in your blog, or pass it around via email. You made a paper copy. Which is exactly what I did at the time. I mentioned the article to a few friends. I might have even made a few copies of my copy and passed them around. Anyway, a couple of days ago I was going through some old files when I came across the article again and wondered if, since 1998, the article had ever been posted online. It has.

Stein's article is the second one in the Spring 1998 issue of SBJT. There's other good stuff in this particular issue, too. Take a look.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Tennessean's Front-Page Story

In case you missed it, here's the article about the Churches of Christ that appeared on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean last Sunday. Title: "Churches of Christ drop isolationist view, work with other faiths."

Maybe a bit behind the times. And the title should have started with "Some". But overall, I thought it was a pretty fine piece of journalism. Being a newspaper article, it couldn't go into much depth. Within those limitations, writer Bob Smietana did a good job.

What did you think?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ice and Snow on the High Plains

I thought this was a good one:

A little girl walks into a pet shop and asks in the sweetest little lisp, "Excuthe me, mithter, do you have any wittle wabbits?"

The shopkeeper bends way down, puts his hands on his knees so he's on her level, and asks, "Do you want a wittle white wabbit, or a wittle bwack wabbit? Or maybe that cute wittle bwown wabbit over there."

She puts her hands on her knees, leans forward and says in a quiet little voice, "I weally don't fink my pyfon cares."

Amarillo and the surrounding area got another 5 inches of wet, heavy snow last night. For those keeping score at home, that's nearly a foot and a half of snow since last Thursday. Neither Amarillo nor the Canyon school district issued a delay this morning. An hour delay would have been the right thing to do. Alas, I was not consulted.

The one truly good thing about all this is the moisture. It does my heart good to imagine the snow and ice melting and seeping into the soil here on the high plains.

My folks tell me that, following last week's incredible ice storm, electrical power was restored to a few parts of Altus, Oklahoma yesterday. But that didn't include their house. The mayor of the city has said that it might be as late as Sunday, February 14th--another week and a half--before all residents of Altus have electricity again.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Bit of Bible and Religion News

I saw a notice about this not too long ago, but just recently came across the homepage for the digitized Codex Sinaiticus. Here's a blurb from the website about what this is:

Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the Christian Bible written in the middle of the fourth century, contains the earliest complete copy of the Christian New Testament. The hand-written text is in Greek. The New Testament appears in the original vernacular language (koine) and the Old Testament in the version, known as the Septuagint, that was adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians. . . . The significance of Codex Sinaiticus for the reconstruction of the Christian Bible's original text, the history of the Bible and the history of Western book-making is immense.

For the world to be able to see this manuscript is a truly great development.

The 2011 Trust has been established in order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, first published in May 1611. I've mentioned this before, but think it bears repeating: next year would be a good time for Christian preachers and teachers to do some teaching on subjects like "How We Got the Bible" and "History of the English Bible" (especially the King James Version). People should know these things. The stories deserve to be told.

Sixty-five years after his martyrdom, the legacy of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer continues to grow. A large number of books and articles are published every year. I think I'll get a copy of the new biography by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen coming out at the end of this month.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Inglourious Winter Weather

I'm currently part of a seminar on the Holocaust. So should I rent Inglourious Basterds? Never thought I'd be doing homework with Quentin Tarantino. . . .

Last Thursday's major snow storm continues to be a bit of a problem here in West Texas. As usual, we can use the moisture. But road crews in this part of the country aren't equipped for that much snow. Amarillo received anywhere from about 8 inches to a foot.

Last Saturday, one of my step-daughters had a gymnastics meet in Lubbock. We started out early, thinking that the roads were still pretty bad. We were right. Even the interstate was mostly covered with ice. By the time we made it to our destination, we had been in the car for over three hours and had seen dozens of cars and trucks stuck in the median and ditches. One 18-wheeler was on its side. Michele and I talked about turning around and going home. But we made it to Lubbock and back, safe and sound.

Since then, it hasn't gotten much better here in Amarillo. Side streets, like the one I live on, haven't been plowed, and now look like they could be used for the Olympic mogul competition. On major thoroughfares, snow has been piled up in the middle of the street, as opposed to the side. In some places, the piles are so high, when taking a left turn, you just have to close your eyes, say a prayer, and go for it.

I know, it could be a lot worse. My hometown of Altus, Oklahoma is without electricity. Has been since last Thursday. Word has it that power won't be restored until late this week. But the folks are fine.

Today the sun is shining and it's supposed to reach 47 degrees in West Texas. Let the melting begin! And hurry! I might try to make it to the funeral for the late Global Warming.