a subtle poke(?)

While reading a published PhD dissertation from 1900 (as you do), I saw this in the introduction:

It is the purpose of this book to present a study of Alexander Campbell’s theology by the historical method. He was not a voice crying in the wilderness and having no connection with his age except to receive from its degeneracy an impulse toward reformation. Try as he would, he could not sweep aside all that men had thought during the past eighteen centuries, and lead a religious movement or formulate a system of Christian doctrine as if a true word had not been spoken since the death of the Apostles.¹

I may be wrong (which is always possible), but I think he just took a shot at Joseph Smith with that last sentence. Or maybe even Dispensationalism. Either way: If so… well played, sir.

¹ W.E. Garrison, The Sources of Alexander Campbell’s Theology (St Louis: Christian Publishing, 1900), 14-15.


something else

So apparently, this Gap ad was perceived to be racist*–despite efforts to explain the pose:

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Yet, as far as I can tell, this earlier version was not perceived in a similar way:

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But putting that debate aside, I’d like to point out one small(ish) detail that’s getting missed:

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Either Cherokee/Target or Gap has some ‘splainin to do. Who wants to go first?

* And since perception (not truth) is all that really matters these days, it must in fact be racist.

one detail

Just discovered a job that looked rather interesting:

The College of Christian Studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor seeks applications for a tenure-track faculty appointment at the rank of Assistant/Associate Professor of Christian Studies beginning August 2016. The College of Christian Studies is committed to preparing men and women for service to the church as well as providing core courses in Bible and theology for all the University’s undergraduate students. UMHB seeks faculty who are active Christians and dedicated teacher-scholars to prepare students for leadership, service, and faith-informed discernment in a global society.

Sounds good. Tell me more about the job.

Faculty Responsibilities: Activities required of all faculty include exemplary teaching, curriculum development and student advising; professional attainment; and service to the department, college, university, and the community. While primarily a teaching institution, UMHB recognizes and rewards research, publication, and other forms of scholarly attainment.

Specific Responsibilities: The successful candidate will have competence in biblical studies and/or theology for teaching in the Core. Teaching responsibilities include online as well as classroom courses. Full-time faculty members typically teach 12-14 hours per semester with three course preparations.

Very nice. All fairly standard. What about the candidate?

Qualifications:  Ph.D. in biblical studies or theology is required. Excellent teaching and communication skills, a dedication to professional attainment, and commitment to quality improvement are essential. Because of the specific mission of the College of Christian Studies, the successful candidate must be a Baptist and must sustain active membership in a local Baptist church.

Ah, crap… That Baptist thing gets me every time. Oh well, the search continues.

jabs with bad analogies

For the past couple of weeks I’ve seen more and more people (or groups) taking pot-shots at Christians, trying to make it look silly or inept. It might be because we’re a few days away from Christmas and that’s what normally happens. But it appears as though, because there is not a huge show-stopping crapumentary on the Discovery Channel or H2 or whatever about Jesus, the attempts have been reduced to quick jabs–or sucker punches, if we’re honest–given for a cheap thrill or an easy laugh.

Earlier this month, Conan O’Brien gave this little quip (about 5:28 in):

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A few days later, I saw these images floating around, the first slightly more subtle than the second:

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(Whether people stole it from Conan and rejigged it or Conan got it from these images is not really my concern. Frankly, I don’t care).

There are two initial problems with these kinds of claims. First, they are not fair to the discourse that needs to happen concerning the refugee crisis. In fact, these types of claims not only politicize the crisis, which is insulting those who truly need refugee, but also reveal that at least one side of the debate is happily wearing its “ideological blinders”.* The other side might be, but they are not as expressive or honest about it.

Second, these sorts of political jabs are uncalled for, primarily because they operate on a faulty premise and a crap analogy. For those who have done their homework, it will be obvious that the image of Mary and Joseph frantically looking for housing in Bethlehem only to be turned away repeatedly until some gruff inn-keeper’s wife Gibbs-slaps him and make him offer the barn; that is nothing but sensationalized tradition. The historical and textual evidence about the birth narrative does not support such view.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Mary and Joseph situation was anything comparable to the refugee crisis. Mary and Joseph were not trying to flee their home country and find safe harbor in another. They were simply traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purposes of taxation. If we wanted to say anything (admittedly in dramatic terms), we could say they were being “hunted down” in the same way that the IRS wants our money each April. But they were not under threat for their lives because of the ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, etc. To say otherwise betrays a lack of understanding about the data and an inability to make an appropriate analogy.

The refugee crisis is admittedly an awful situation, one that has created a rather heated debate with varying and often conflicting responses. It is a situation that needs to be taken seriously and it is one that deserves conscientious and respectful discussion and action. It is one where all sides of the debate need to come together and shut up and listen openly and fairly. And it is a situation that most certainly deserves more respect than being used as one side of a crappy analogy for the purposes of taking cheap-shots at Christians. Such one-lines are good for a laugh and caricaturing a group of people, but they do nothing for moving the discussion forward. It’s school-yard antics. It’s weak. It’s empty. And it’s hypocritical.

* Taken from “West Wing”.

approaching 50. a bit of catharsis.

Developmentally, 50 is a landmark number. However, diversity reigns when people attempt to define the value of this landmark. On the one hand, most fear its ominousness; some dread its arrival; others succumb to its reality and effects; and few choose to waste away in its prison. On the other hand, there are those who meet it with fortitude; those who embrace it as a new lease on life; those who see it not as an anchor but a badge of honor; and those who (repeatedly) seek to redefine perceptions of it–i.e. “50 is the new 40”, “…the new 30”, “…the new 25”, etc. Yet in the midst of this diversity, there is one constant: the definitions and/or perceptions are ultimately choices; they are not predetermined assignments from which there is no escape. Thus, those who feel confined by negative conceptions and perceptions of turning 50 are free to abandon such things and embrace more positive views. While it is that simple (in theory), it is admittedly not easy (in practice). And while some might not make the needed choice, the difficulty of it cannot be used as a legitimate reason for refusing to act.

I’ve still got a little ways to go before I reach 50. In just a small handful of months, I will turn 39. But I am nearing a different kind of 50–one that has brought with it many of the negative sentiments that come with human development. The 50 I’m referring to is the number of “No”s I’ve received in my search for full-time employment.* Since March 2009, I have kept a log of all the jobs I’ve applied for and the reasons why I failed to score an academic post. (Admittedly, a few of these attempts were part-time positions, but I applied with the hope that they would become full-time). In 2011, I broadened my search to include ministerial positions, because that is a vocational option we will not rule out. But that list pales in comparison (only 4)–i.e. the bulk of my applications have been academic.

When I reached 20 “No”s (near the middle of 2012), a cloud of anxiety and uncertainty began to descend. I not only started questioning why I was not successful but also started (subconsciously) nursing doubts about my abilities and worth. By the time I achieved 30 (near the end of 2013), the questions and doubts gave way to annoyance and frustration–primarily because, by that time, I saw several people (roughly the same age, with roughly the same credential [sometimes less]) easily landing jobs. Candidly, there were a few times when, “What the crap?!” gushed from my lips and I was  tempted to quit trying and do something entirely unrelated to the nearly 10 years of educational training I endured. When I reached 45 (near the middle of this year), melancholy set in for a while and then it transformed into a sense of numbness. I simply got to a point where I had to shut down emotionally from the rejection. Doubts, questions, frustration, and tears got me nowhere. Why not try apathy? After all: if I didn’t care, I couldn’t get hurt. But then something happened. Or, I should say: someone.

Right after my 47th rejection, my lovely wife came to me with a healthy (and necessary) dose of supporting love and brutal honesty. She said she noticed an obvious change in my person, and it was a change that she watched developed over a couple of months. At first I rejected the idea, but I quickly realized that such a rejection was masking what I knew to be true. As soon as the mask fell, everything came out. There was nothing to stop the flood. For the first time in a long time, I admitted that I was fighting feelings of insufficiency, ability, and even worth. I confessed that I was deeply hurt, I was in pain, I was angry, and that I loathed applying for jobs because I already knew what would happen. And it was in this release of thoughts and emotions that I finally realized something: in this area of my life, I was faithless. I didn’t say this, but my wife sensed it and spoke directly to it. She reminded me not only of God’s definition of me, but also the faithfulness he has displayed throughout my life–especially in the past few years. In not so few of words, she showed me that my imprisonment was my own making. I put myself there and I decided to stay there and complain about the circumstances. And she was dead right.

That night, after our conversation, I realized (and remembered) that my perceptions about my situation–i.e. failure to secure a full-time job–were my choices. I chose to have doubts, questions, frustrations, sadness, anger; I chose to devalue to my worth, my abilities, and my contributions. And I (stupidly) chose to opt for a faithless approach. Because I chose these things, I failed to see that because they were choices, I could choose to see things otherwise. But before that could happen, I had to make a more immediate and foundational choice: I had to choose to trust in God’s provision and faithfulness. I had to choose to surrender inadequate views of myself and embrace the indescribable reality of his person and the incomprehensible abilities he has to (re)shape who I am. I had to choose to decrease so that he might increase. I had to choose to rest secure in his Yes when others say No.

I knew such choices would be difficult, but they had to be made. Failure to make them was not only hurting me but also expressing doubt in God. Thus, my prayer that night was not simply one of rescue but also renewal. I needed forgiveness and restoration. I needed God to help my unbelief. That has remained my prayer. And since praying, I have sensed his answer: I am more at peace than I have been in years. I am learning how to see myself (again) as a new creation in Christ–a vessel to be shaped and used for his purposes and glory. And I am being strengthened to choose the ways of God over all other competing ways of defining self and success. So I’m ready for 50, no matter the outcome.

* This list exclude the four “Yes”s I’ve received since the same time; although those are/were not full-time academic positions.

the absenteeness is not the point

I was struck by James McGrath’s being struck¹ by Allan Bevere’s treatment on God as absentee landlord. Part of what struck me about the whole thing was that Bevere only mentioned the idea in passing (and really as a follow-up point to his overall case), yet McGrath snatches up that passing comment and makes a rather definitive (albeit brief) statement about it: you’re wrong, Bevere; God is an absentee landlord, and the Jesus says so. And by doing this (i.e. contradicting Bevere’s comment), McGrath, in effect, undermines the overall point that Bevere was trying to make, which was: in spite of our perceptions and experience, God is near, God is listening, and God answers. Absentee landlords don’t do those things.

But the other part of what struck me was McGrath’s support for his counterargument: “that very image of God [as an absentee landlord] appears in one of Jesus’ parables”. Seriously? We’re going to make definitive theological statements from extremely limited data? Aside from Matt 21.33-40–the parable McGrath has in view–we might be able to rope in Matt 25.14-30 and… oh, wait; that’s really all we have. And we’re going to make definitive theological statements because of an interpretative decision about a parable? Especially when the absence of the landlord is not even the primary focus?² C’mon; we have to do better than that. And are we to ignore the fact that the parable describes the landlord as essentially going on vacation and returning; he’s not skipping town and hiding out because he’s a deadbeat, a swindler, anti-social, pick-your-pejorative-description. And are we going to ignore the fact that the same emphasis appears in the only other parable that somewhat suggests an absentee landlord: the dude goes away on a trip, but he comes back. And let’s not overlook the fact that the other parables about a landlord/landowner show him as not absent.³

Sure, McGrath (rightly) points out that “Absentee landlords have been hated by ordinary people down the ages” and admits that he’s been wanting “to do a study of the negative images of God and the kingdom of God in parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels”. But my two basic questions would be:

  1. Are the two parables in question truly presenting God as an absentee landlord–i.e. the kind that are timelessly hated–or are they focusing on something else, thus making the absentee dilemma a moo point?
  2. Similarly, are the other parables truly presenting “negative images of God and the kingdom of God” or are they merely using the dramatic to make a point–you know, like parables do–or are the parables only being perceived as negative because their contents and meaning are misunderstood?

¹ Apologies for the ads and occasional delays in page-loading. It is a Patheos site.
² Umm, hello: the bit found vv34-39 is far more problematic than a landlord being temporarily absent. In other words, the primary issue in the parable is not the (temporary) absence of the landlord; it’s the evilness and wickedness enacted by the hired workers while the landlord is away on vacation.
³ And please, for the love of bacon, do not come back at me and say: “Ah, well, you see, this discrepancy in the portrayals of God as landlord raises serious questions and doubts about both the reliability/authenticity of the accounts and the theological message being advocated.” Crap! It’s a parable.

ignorance is bliss

Two days ago, on the Facebook, I linked this always pleasant bit of information: we dodge extinction because a huge asteroid will sail right past us on Halloween. (And by “right past us” I mean, c. 300k miles). What gave me a slight chuckle was the article’s admission that this asteroid was just discovered, as in: “Oh crap, there it is; and it’s coming fast.” No time to rustle up some guys from an oil rig, train them in space flight, launch them into space, blah, blah, blah. Nope. This cosmic beanbag is almost here. It also gave me a chuckle because the story reminded me of something I read from Bill Bryson, who always gives me a chuckle.

After supplying a useful analogy for the sheer number of asteroids and the Earth’s interaction with them, Bryson writes:

As Steven Ostro of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put it, “Suppose that there was a button you could push and you could light up all the Earth-crossing asteroids larger than about ten metres, there would be over a hundred million of these objects in the sky.” In short, you would see not a couple of thousand distant twinkling stars, but millions upon millions upon millions of nearer, randomly moving objects–“all of which are capable of colliding with the Earth and all of which are moving on slightly different courses through the sky at different rates. It would be deeply unnerving.” Well, be unnerved, because it is there. We just can’t see it.”

–Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), 171

A few pages later, Bryson unfolds the really good news:

I asked [Ray Anderson and Brian Witzke] how much warning we would receive if a similar hunk of rock [i.e. the one that caused the Chicxulub crater] were coming towards us today. “Oh, probably none,” said Anderson breezily. “It wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye until it warmed up and that wouldn’t happen until it hit the atmosphere, which would be about one second before it hit the Earth. You’re talking about something moving many tens of times faster than the fastest bullet. Unless it had been seen by someone with a telescope, and that’s by no means a certainty, it would take us completely by surprise.”

–Bryson, 179

The next three pages are fairly detailed educated guesses as to what would happen next. It ain’t pretty. Happy weekend, everybody.