Monthly Archives: April 2010

(synoptic) quote(s) of the day

The first comes from William F. Buckley, Jr.:

I mean to live my life as an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancients; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.

The second comes from an ancient–Socrates:

I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live.

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shows what I (don’t) know

Just for fun, I took the ‘Who Should You Vote For?‘ in the 2010 UK elections (HT: clayboy). I must admit that my knowledge of UK politics is rather laughable, and my being from the States has very little to do with that. (My knowledge and appreciation of American politics is slightly less funny). This meant that on several questions, I found myself responding: ‘Yeah, I have no idea what the really means’ and then choosing the lesser tick or cross. My doing so might be reflected in the results.

What I did find a bit strange was the ‘Info’ link following each statement. It pretty much tells you who or what party is backing or opposing that particular idea; thus, if you want to favour (or oppose) a certain party, then you might be inclined to respond according to what the ‘Info’ says, regardless of whether or not you agree (or disagree) with the particular idea. Since the quiz is aimed at determining the personal preference of the quiz-taker, I would say answer the questions without looking at the ‘Info’ and see what happens. That way you will answer according to how you stand on particular issues and not according to how party-positions might sway you. Who knows, you might be surprised (I was).* Here are my results:

Labour 32
Conservative 10
UK Independence -1
Liberal Democrat -16
Green -28

You expected: CON

Your recommendation: Labour

Click here for more details about these results

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* Keep in mind, this is an internet-based quiz.

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So far so good

I have finally started reading Peter Enns‘ book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (2005).*  I have been meaning to read this book for some time now, but I have simply not had the time to give it the attention it deserves.  That time has changed (obviously).  Admittedly, I am only a preface and one chapter into the book, which means I will not be able to speak fully at this point.  However, I can say that what I see so far is reasonable and quite good. 

The first chapter lays the groundwork for the approach Enns seeks to take as he explores the manifold nature of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  Specifically, Enns wants to examine the (striking) similarities between what is found in the Bible/OT and what appears in similar genres and texts from the ancient Near East (ANE).  Two seemingly contradictory things stand out for me in this regard: 1) Enns is not denying the unique quality of the Bible/OT by doing this comparison; 2) Enns wants to understand how to deal with the similar form and content between the Bible/OT and texts from the ANE in a way that maintains the uniqueness of the former.  Or to oversimplify: Enns want to understand how the Bible/OT is like other texts from the ANE but at the same time unlike those texts.  When I was working on my MA thesis in Seminary, I found myself wrestling with the same sorts of questions/issues and wanting to come out of the stuggle in a similar way.  While I am not entirely sure how well I came out in that process, I do know that I have a greater sensitivity and respect for this type of discussion.  (I now wish I had Enns’ book during that writing stage). 

One final thought on the opening of this book deals with something just below the surface–something easily overlooked if one is not paying close enough attention.  I have read a few articles by Enns and they carry with them a deep sense of clarity and what I would call a ‘humble boldness’.  In other words, Enns is ‘to-the-point’ and incredibly insightful but not in a way that reeks of academic smugness.   In his book (at least the preface and first chapter), there is a slight sense of vagueness and what could be termed, ‘humble reserve’.  I get the the impression that Enns knows his argument is controversial and even difficult to address in an honest fashion.  However, that he expresses himself with this humble reserve tells me that he is not dealing with this material lightly nor is he wanting to be seen as a ranging liberal bull in a quaint little conservative china-shoppe.  At the very least, Enns should be commended for that; and I do.

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* As many will know, this book was the shot heard ’round the world in that it ultimately (and sadly) led to Enns losing his position at Westminster Theological Seminary.

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grrrrrr

For the first time in a long time, I will keep my commentary on a particular news story rather brief.  Reason being: the more I think about this story the more it bugs me. 

Here’s my rant and then I need to get back to work: giving generously to others for the purpose of gaining something personally in return is not generous giving; it’s called self-serving at minimum, not disintrested somewhere in the middle and deceitful at maximum.  In effect, that sort of (as they call it: ‘self-interested’) giving demeans the very nature of generosity.  The result of their definition of generosity and the reasons for its practice is that genuine acts of generosity will then be (by default) considered suspect.

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Shame on both of you (but for different reasons)

The shame falls first on the antagonist in this story, which bothered me to the depths of my very being:  a 7-year-old boy, adopted from Russia by a 27-year-old girl* from Tennessee, has his life completely altered for the worse after he thought it was forever changed for the better.  After six months, the boy (Artem) is duped by his adoptive ‘parent’ (Torry-Ann) into thinking he was going on an exciting trip to Moscow, but instead was returned to the orphanage.  The gist of Torry-Ann’s explanation: ‘I don’t want the child; the orphanage misled me about his behavioural problems’, which really translates into: ‘this child is an inconvenience for me and I would like to return him’–much like an unwanted pair of shoes.

Two things: 1) the orphanage misled Torry-Ann about Artem’s behavioural problems no more than she misled them about her parenting skills (of which she apparently has none); and 2) if you’re not willing to embrace a child for everything that child is–in spite of any problems that child might have–and if you are not willing to love and care for that child, no matter the difficulty, the hardships and the cost; then I would seriously begin to wonder if you know what it means to be a parent.  I’m not a parent, but I do hope to be (sometime soon), yet I understand what it means to be unconditionally loved by a parent and to be fully accepted in spite of flaws.  Children are human beings and they deserve to be loved by those to whom they belong, no matter what.  Children are not accessories, commodities, or even trophies possessed by those who think it’s a cool idea to have one or because it’s fashionable.  The moment they are seen as such, they are easily discarded when the convenience or novelty wears off.

The shame falls second on the writer of the story, who strangely remains unnamed.  Here’s why I say ‘shame on the writer':

The regional court had sanctioned his adoption in autumn 2009, a year after he was separated from his birth mother. Coincidentally, the story of his abandonment came on a day American-Russian relations were strengthened in Prague. US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev put their signatures on a historic nuclear arms reduction treaty.

The second and third sentences are completely unnecessary for the the larger story.  Not only that, but the second is a terrible segue for the third.  That’s just poor journalism.

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* Yes, I use ‘girl’ on purpose because she is obviously not mature enough (or responsible enough) to be considered a woman.

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Revolutionary size

I’m pretty much a dork when it comes to fonts.  I always search for new and interesting (not to mention, free) fonts to load onto my computer, because you just never know when you’re going to need them.*  I also find myself trying to figure out fonts when I see them, either in real life situations (billboards, shoppe names, etc) or on the screen (credits on TV shows, movies, etc).  Yeah, it’s sad.

This morning, I came across this article about how people can save money on printer ink just by changing the kind of font they use.  In many ways, the article was quite interesting and helpful; and yes, when the article rattled off a list of certain fonts to use, I knew exactly what they looked like.  Again, sad.  But I was struck by one comment near the end of the article:

But while using less ink at home can help you buy roughly one fewer printer cartridge each year, it’s not necessarily better for the environment. That’s because some fonts that use less ink, including Century Gothic, are also wider. A document that’s one page in Arial could extend to a second page if printed in Century Gothic. Blohowiak said her research suggests that ink comprises the main cost of a printout, but the environmental costs of paper are probably higher.”Maybe the individual characters use less ink, but if you’re using more paper, that’s not so green, is it?” said Allan Haley, director of “words and letters” at Monotype Imaging Inc. in Woburn, Mass., which developed Century Gothic.

I half expected that an article about saving money would turn into a discussion about being more ‘green’ (which seems like a contradictory pun to me–is that possible?).  What struck me about this ‘changing fonts to be more green, yet it doesn’t seem to be so green’ dilemma was that the obvious solution was completely overlooked.  Before dealing with the obvious, let’s use the variables of Blohowiak and  Haley’s argument to see just how big the difference would be:

  • US Letter paper (i.e. 8.5 x 11), 1 inch margins all around, 652 words, Arial, 12-point: one page exactly. 
  • Same initial variables but with Century Gothic, 12-point: one page, and 1.5″ of another. 

Seems like Blohowiak and Haley might be onto something.  But wait a minute; here’s a thought: why not simply change the size of the font in the second instance?  (*gasp!!*)  What a revolution this would be!  Here’s what happened when I applied such a groundbreaking theory: 

  • US Letter paper (i.e. 8.5 x 11), 1 inch margins all around, 652 words, Century Gothic, 11-point: one page, and I have space for one more line of text–that’s at least 15 more words, and it’s still readable because the change was not that drastic. 

There you go, Blohowiak and Haley; problem solved, greenness maintained.  Now, where’s my medal for alleviating this environmental crisis?

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* For the work I do, that’s hardly ever.

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Good Friday, Saturday limbo

Christians traditionally celebrate ‘Good Friday’ as the day when Jesus made the ultimate (or better still, infinite) sacrifice nearly 2000 years ago. Moreover, Sunday is the day at this time of year where Christians celebrate the fact that the death on Friday did not conclude the story for Jesus and his purpose–let alone God’s purposes. Put succinctly (something I rarely do): Sunday makes Friday make sense. But what about Saturday? More times than not, nothing really happens between that celebration and ‘Resurrection Sunday’ (or, Easter)–except maybe finishing off the plans for Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, or maybe even catching up on a few things that need to be done around the house. Maybe for some of us, Saturday is a day for nothing at all. Basically, Saturday during the Easter season tends to be the day for whatever.

Friday night, while I was struggling through a massive headache (one like I’ve never had before) and my lovely wife was caring for me, we watched a BBC special called, ‘The Day Jesus Died.’* The show was hosted by a historian called, Bettany Hughes who wanted to know what the early Christians thought the crucifixion meant. She wanted to know what purpose (or need) they saw in Jesus having to die the most gruesome and painful death possible. Hughes noted that the Gospels accounts do not really supply reasons for why Jesus had to be crucified; they seem to narrate the events and then move on to the next bit of the story. She then wanted to know if those who came after the time of the Gospels shed any light on why Jesus died. Before this, however, Hughes decides to meet with a few scholars to get her bearings for her investigation.

Hughes first meets with Ed Kessler, a specialist in Josephus studies, to consider how the Jews of Jesus’ day would have perceived the crucifixion. Kessler rightly explains that Josephus (and other Jews of his day) would see a crucifixion as something reserved for criminals, but the crucifixion of a man claiming to be the messiah proves the falsity of such claims. In the words of NT Wright: a crucified messiah is a failed messiah. She then meets with Islamic scholar, Musharraff Hussain, who explains(?) the cryptic references in the Qur’an about Jesus’ (non-)death on the cross. The Qur’an essentially states that Jesus only appeared to have died, for the sake of his followers, because Allah would not allow his unique prophet to die in such a horrible manner. Finally, Hughes met with the good bishop, Tom Wright to gain a perspective on Jesus’ understanding of what he was doing and how that would have resonated within the walls of the Temple. For Wright, the timing of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and subsequent crucifixion coincided with the Jewish celebration of Passover–an annual festival for remembering that God graciously liberated the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Jesus would offer himself as the Passover lamb, but in grander form, in order to liberate humanity from slavery to sin.

With these bits of data in hand, Hughes then sets out to explore how later thinkers dealt with the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. She does this because she remains confused over the idea that Jesus died for the sins of humanity as a whole–throughout all time. Hughes struggles to understand how a death 2000 years ago has meaning and impact today. The first thinkers considered are Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394 CE) and Gregory the Great (c. 540-604 CE). For both of these men, the answer lies in the conflict between good and evil; God and Satan. Because of sin, humanity belongs to Satan–the king of sin–and his grasp on the human soul is seemingly unbreakable. The only way to free the human soul from the clutches of Satan would be to come in through the back door with a surprise attack. Enter Jesus: the sinless soul of God covertly housed in a sinful body of humanity. As such, Satan had no real claim to the life and/or soul of Jesus. Therefore, for Gregory and Gregory, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a baited hook onto which Satan was easily ensnared and thus defeated by God (the holy, divine trickster). Result: Satan no longer had authority and/or power over human souls.

The second thinker was the philosopher-theologian, Anselm (c. 1033-1109 CE). Hughes investigates how Anselm disapproved of the idea that God would lure Satan onto a baited hook is such a sneaky way; it just did not sit well with Anselm’s view of God (and rightfully so). Essentially, Anselm read the feudal system of honor and justice of his day on the structure and operation of God’s creation. Thus, humanity, as servants, owe allegiance to God, the master or Lord. If an offence is made by a servant toward the master, a penalty must be paid. Logically, and by the nature of the relationship, the offence of humanity (i.e. sin) has infinite consequences or repercussions. In dialogue with Rowan Williams, Hughes discovers Anselm’s solution to this plight: God deserves infinite love, justice and honour, but humanity is unable to produce such things. Accordingly, God himself comes in (finite) human form in order to offer infinitely what God deserves. Thus, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the infinite act of divine justice in order to restore humanity to a right relationship with God. Result: the debt owed to God was paid (by himself).

The third thinker is one that comes as a bit of a surprise: the French philosopher-theologian, Peter Aberlard (1079-1142 CE). After being banned (and castrated) because of his love affair with Héloïse, Aberlard decided to join a monastery where he devoted himself to the Scriptures and service to God. Due to his own experiences, Aberlard sought to understand the nature of the cross as an act of suffering-love and not necessarily as one of justice. Hughes notes that Aberlard perceived the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the greatest act of love toward humanity. Aberlard believed that this view of the cross would elicit a more profound response from humanity than seeing the cross as a defeat of evil or an exercise in divine justice. Hughes then meets with Vincent Nichols in order to tease out the implications of Jesus’ sacrifice as suffering-love. Nichols rightly notes that faith is at its core a relationship, one shared between the Creator and creation (or, creature). Thus, as a relationship, expressions of faith are (or, should be) saturated with love. And, as Jesus says: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

The final thinker is the German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann (1928–present). Moltmann was a German solider captured during WW2 and taken as a prisoner of war to camp in Nottingham (England). Hughes points out that Moltmann’s experiences in the war played a significant role in his decision to become a pastor. Moltmann saw first-hand the amount of suffering and evil that could be dispensed on the world by the hands of humanity. The usual response in such times would be: where is God in all of this? How can a good God allow such suffering on such a massive scale? Moltmann wrestled with this usual response and would later come to a dramatic realisation, one prompted by his first-time reading of Mark 15.33-37. The realisation was that God, in Jesus, was right in the middle of human suffering–suffering with and alongside humanity. This makes the limits and impact of Jesus’ sacrifice historically unrestrained. Hughes then consults John Sentamu to understand better the meaning and relevance of Moltmann’s claim.  Sentamu highlights the fact that God is always with his people, throughout all time, in the midst of their suffering, assuring them of his enduring compassionate presence.

After all of this investigation, and after considering all of the various perspectives provided through the centuries, Hughes offers her final (rather anticlimactic) thoughts:

Over the centuries, the crucifixion has been interpreted as a sacrifice for sins, a defeat of the devil, an act of love, and a moment when God shares in the suffering of humanity. They’re all attempts to explain something that may forever remain a mystery. But what’s clear is that all of them have had elements of truth for the age to which they spoke.

I say ‘anticlimactic’ for two reason. One, I think it would be safe to say that all of these interpretations are true at the same time: Jesus’ death on the cross is a sacrifice for sins, it is a defeat of Satan, it is an act of divine justice, it is an expression of eternal love and it is God suffering with and alongside his people. The moment we say it is one or the other, or more of a combination of some than others; that is the moment when the full relevance of the cross is lost. And two, Hughes set out to understand what the early Christians thought about the meaning of the crucifixion but she does not return to that concern. Her conclusion, while certainly apropos, does not address this original intent in the way it should have. Hughes only focuses on how the meaning of the cross has been interpreted and/or understood since the early Christians. However, I would hope that Hughes would see–or at least allow me to say–that the thoughts of those she considered in her investigation were not revolutionary or infinitely removed from the early followers of Jesus. I would bet the early followers of Jesus–especially those who were with him throughout his life–wrestled with the meaning of the cross and that they understood it in similar ways–if not others. I am sure they wrestled with how to make sense of what happened to their Lord. After all, Saturday was a long and arduous day for them.

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* If you’re outside the UK, I’m sorry if you are unable to see this episode. Accordingly, I will give a summary of its contents.

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