Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More McLaren

I'm now reading New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren. Good stuff, mostly. But he hides behind a wall of narrative. Any questions about the content are dismissed because, "That's from the characters." I understand the need for more work in narratives, but this is intellectual dishonesty, I think. No references, no citations. But lots of facts. I think he's mostly accurate, but not helpful to those who might be critical.

However, I like it a lot. Mark Dricoll gives a very positive review to McLaren's new book about Jesus. A good friend of mine gives a great review, too. I'll need to pick that one up eventually.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hurricane Watch for Ernesto

We wait and watch. This may be Miami's first of the season. Probably won't be too bad, but we never know. Monroe county schools closed today. Manditory evacuation of visitors in the Keys starting today. Hurricane shelters open at 10am.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reflections on Preaching

In his article, "Reflections on Preaching" Mark Driscoll makes a great suggestion for preachers based on a unique observation,

Study the stand-up comedians. Stand-up comedy and preaching are the only two mediums I can think of in which someone walks onto a stage to talk for a long time to a large crowd. Dave Chapelle, Carlos Mencia, and Chris Rock are genius at capturing an audience using irony and sarcasm.

I've never heard anyone say this before, but I think it is quite helpful. So, here is a little clip from Carlos Menica -- highly offensive, and very funny.

Original Articles

Introduction to the Bible 3

So, what are the books of the Bible about?

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, or the Books of Moses. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books contain about the same amount of material as the entire New Testament. Each of them is very important and quite different, so I will summarize each one briefly.

Beginnings. The first 11 chapters are big, huge, world-wide in scope. God created the world good, but mankind messed it up. So God promises to redeem the word. He shows his anger at the rebellion of mankind by a huge flood, but miraculously saves Noah and his family. Chapters 12-50 zero in on one family. God chooses Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s family goes to Egypt because of the provision of Jacob’s son Joseph. This book is mostly narrative literature – the story of the beginning of creation, sin, redemption, and Israel.

Redemption. Moses is born and survives miraculously. He is banished from the Pharaoh’s presence, and God appears to him in a burning bush in the desert, saying, “Tell Pharoah, ‘Let my people go!’” God sends 10 plagues on the nation of Egypt, and finally the people are allowed to leave. They miraculously cross the Red Sea. God gives the 10 commandments. The second half of the book gives guidelines for building the tabernacle, a sort of moveable temple. This book is narrative in the beginning, but contains a great deal of construction plans toward the end.

Law codes. Civil laws, ceremonial laws, moral laws, case laws. This is a law book. It is named for the Levites, the keepers of the law.

This book is named for the census taken in the beginning of the book, and the one at the end. It begins and ends with lots of numbers. Almost the entire book (the middle) is the narrative stories during the wandering of the Israelites in the Sinai desert.

A restatement of the law in the terms and forms of typical contracts of the day. “Deutero” means “second.” And “Nomy” means “law.” This is the second presentation of the law. The first is in Exodus and Leviticus. This presentation is different in format, but there is a great deal of overlap, with the law codes of Leviticus, which are much less organized.

Joshua through Esther are narrative stories of God’s people after they come into the promised land. Their authors are unknown, and probably many people helped to write and edit them.

In two parts, the conquest of Israel, and the settlement boundaries for each Israeli family. Notable story – the walls of Jericho come down.

A series of bad leaders (that get worse) in Israel. Notable leaders are Gideon and Samson.

Short romantic and redemptive story that happens in the time period of the Judges.

1&2 Samuel
The Rise and Fall of King Saul, and the Rise of the Davidic Dynasty. Notable stories – David and Goliath, David and Bathsheeba.

1&2 Kings
The Reign of Soloman, the split of the kingdom, the dynasties of the North and South. Assyria conquers the North, Babylon conquers the South. Notable story – Elisha and the prophets of Baal.

1&2 Chronicles
Retelling of the stories of David and Solomon from a more kingdom-oriented perspective. They are seen in a more public and glorified way. Many parallels with 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.

Originally one book. Tells the story of the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem after the exile. Notable story – Nehemiah rebuilds the wall of Jerusalem.

Short story. While in Persian exile, a Jewish lady becomes queen, and risks her life to save the rest of the Jews from genocide. This book does not mention God, but he is clearly “behind the scenes.”

Job through Song of Songs. There is a great deal of poetry throughout the Old Testament, but these books are almost exclusively poetry.

After a short narrative setup, this is a variety of poetical speeches looking at the problem of pain and suffering through the eyes of a man named Job (usually pronounced “Jobe”). The story has very few details and only serves to introduce the problem of pain. We don’t know when Job lived, if at all.

This is the songbook of the Old Testament. Each chapter is the lyrics to a different song. There are a variety of different kinds of songs, written by a variety of authors, describing the full range of human emotion. King David wrote many of the psalms, and many are anonymous. They are meant to be used for corporate and private worship, they all are in relationship to God – most are in the form of a prayer. It is difficult, perhaps impossible to find a structure to the book.

A long list of proverbs. Very little (if any) structure. Most of the proverbs were probably written by King Solomon. These proverbs describe, in striking images, how the world usually works.

Solomon’s meditation on the futility and meaninglessness of life on this earth. The title comes from a Greek word meaning, “Teacher.” This is how the author identifies himself in the first verse.

Song of Songs
Also known as, “Song of Solomon.” A series of very erotic and explicit love poems between two lovers. The book treats sex plainly, but not in a crass or crude way.

These books are mostly written sermons. These are not necessarily manuscripts of live sermons, but rather, each book is like one, long, written sermon. Each is an evaluation and commentary on the contemporary issues of the day. The prophet speaks for God and pronounces blessings or curses for the people as a result of their behavior. They speak of God’s wrath for the wicked and of his saving grace for those who repent. The books are named for the prophet who delivered the message of the book. Some prophets lived during the time period of the split kingdom and afterward, before Jesus. Some prophesied to Israel (in the North), some to Judah (in the South), some to other nations.

Isaiah through Daniel are the major prophets. They are “major” because they are longer. Hosea through Malachi are the minor prophets.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are the four gospels. They tell the story of Jesus. All of them focus on the last three years of his life, while he was teaching and preaching, and especially on the last week of his life.

The first three gospels are called “synoptic” gospels because they share the same outline, and there are many word-for-word parallels. It almost seems like they did a “cut and paste” job using each others’ work, though each of them has unique material, too. John’s gospel is very different.

Authored by one of Jesus personal friends. Written to a Jewish audience, and spends a good deal of time showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Written by a close associate of the Apostle Peter, the leader of the early church, and friend of Jesus. Very fast-paced gospel, has very little of Jesus’ speeches or sermons.

Written by a very careful physician as if he were an investigational reporter, for a non-Jewish audience. This is the longest of the gospels. Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ teachings on money and his teachings on radical equality for women.

Written by Jesus’ closest friend, much later than the other gospels. John’s gospel is less like a biography and more like a sermon. Only a few incidents are recorded, but John spends a long time on each one, showing the theological and pastoral significance of each one.

Written by Luke as a sequel to the gospel. The story of the spreading of the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The title is short for “Acts of the Apostles.”

Romans through Jude. Letters written by various church leaders (mostly Paul) to the new churches. These letters contain clear and specific theology and practical wisdom for living the Christian life. Most are named for the audience they were written to, some are named for their author.

Written by John (the gospel writer). It is the “Revelation” of Jesus. Hotly debated book in a genre no longer in existence called “apocalyptic,” which was common in the time it was written. As such, it is difficult to understand for many people. Has many vivid pictures and symbols. Revelation speaks of the end of the world and the victory of Jesus over all things.

Introduction to the Bible 2

The Bible tells the story of God’s people and his relationship to them. As the relationship develops, we see that God is faithful and consistent in his love and affection while his people are quite the opposite. They constantly turn away from God. Through his love and sacrifice (chiefly in Jesus, the God-man), he transforms his people from a group of morally-depraved, poor, ignorant slaves into a group of reforming, generous, well-informed servants of God, freely giving their lives away to the benefit of all those around them, and to the glory of God.

Genesis 1-11 is the back story, the prelude to the story. It sets the stage for the story. If the story were a musical, this is the opening orchestral themes before we meet the characters. This section of scripture tells us that there is one God. He is the Creator and sustainer of all things. He created us good and charged humankind with managing his creation. However, we corrupted the earth and everything in it. As such, we are all depraved. Instead of loving each other, we fight against everything and everybody (even ourselves). Time does not fix this problem. And though God is clearly angry and disappointed (the Flood), it becomes clear that he is not going to give up on his creation (the Ark). Rather, he is going to work through the depravity, which will show his glory all the more.

The story begins with Father Abraham, the founder of our faith. God comes to Abraham and picks him – at random, it seems. God promises to be faithful to Abraham and his offspring. He promises to give him his own country, and that he and his family will be a blessing to the entire world. Abraham leaves his home and begins to wander around the area we now know as “the Promised Land.” Abraham has a son, Isaac, whose son is named “Israel” by God. Israel has many sons who take wives and have lots of kids, and God’s family begins to grow. One of Israel’s sons is named Joseph. Through a wild series of events, Joseph is estranged from his family and ends up in Egypt as the “vice-Pharaoh” during a severe famine that hit most of the Ancient Near East. Joseph’s family comes to see him, looking for food and the family is reunited in Egypt.

Our story jumps ahead 400 years. Joseph’s family (now many thousands of people) did not integrate into Egyptian society, but remained separate. They became outcasts of the culture and finally became slaves. They were involved in the manual labor of building the monumental architectural masterpieces of Ancient Egypt. God appears to Moses as he did to Abraham, seemingly at random. He tells Moses to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt, and back to the “Promised Land.” No small task in the middle of the Pharaoh’s construction projects. After a series of great miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea, he does so. And a group of more than one million people finds themselves in the Sinai desert. Just after they enter the desert, God gives Moses the “Ten Commandments.” These are “house rules” for God’s family. Moses writes an incredible commentary on these Ten Commandments by giving hundreds of case examples of how they are to be followed. Forty years later, Moses dies and Joshua succeeds him. Joshua is a great military leader who leads a short but very successful campaign in taking the major cities of the Promised Land.

As Joshua dies, he commissions the rest of Israel to continue the war and fully inhabit the Land of Israel. They don’t. Instead, they try to live peacefully for 400 years with the native residents in the various towns and cities. This becomes a nightmare, and the stories of the book of Judges are some of the most violent and abusive in the entire Bible. Various leaders, misnamed, “Judges,” lead God’s people, but none is able to bring peace for long, and none organizes all God’s people together. This sad state of loosely connected Israelites is one of the darkest periods in Israel's history. Soon, the people begin to organize and demand a king, “like all the other nations.” A king will organize them, centralize government, and provide peace and prosperity to all.

Golden Age
Around 1000 BC, by God’s direction, the prophet Samuel anoints Saul to be the King of Israel. The people love having a king and a royal court to centralize the government, but Saul turns out to be . . . less than what they expected. God works specially with an outcast boy throughout his life, and when Saul dies in battle, David becomes king rather than any son of Saul. David becomes the best king Israel ever has. He is a warrior poet par excellence. God promises to David that one of his descendants will rule Israel forever, bringing peace to the whole world. When he dies, David’s son, Solomon becomes the greatest peaceful king. He builds a magnificent temple for the corporate worship of God, and a palace that becomes the envy of all other countries. He expands the national defense, public works, and education. Of course, all this takes lots of money.

Split Kingdom
During the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, the country splits over the issue of taxes. More than half of the country proclaims Jeroboam their King. This new Northern Kingdom retains the title, “Israel,” while the Southern Kingdom takes the title of their largest tribe (or state), Judah. Our current term “Jews” comes from the word Judah. The Bible follows the stories of the Israel and Judah.

Israel has many short dynasties – the political story is full of espionage, assassination and scheming. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered Israel. There was a massive and permanent foreign exchange program that quickly assimilated all the Israelites into the Assyrian culture, and they were never heard from again.

Judah keeps the dynasty of David in tact (just barely, at times). They are finally defeated by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians took many Jews by force back to their home country. Different from Israel’s exile, however the exiled Jews never assimilated. The Persians defeated the Babylonians, and the Jews became exiles to Persia, who did not have the history of bad blood with the Jews. The Persians let the Jews go back to their homeland 70 years after they were taken captive. When they return, they rebuild the cities and the temple.

400 years
There are 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. During this time, we have good historical documents regarding the Jews, known as the Apocrypha. Basically, several different civilizations come into the Jewish territory and exert various levels of influence, resulting in a few different revolts. Finally, the Romans end up occupying the territory and exerting significant control and providing protection.

Jesus was born between BC and A.D. He is a descendant of David and claims to be the one predicted that would rule forever. He intentionally picks his followers and they accompany him in his ministry of miracles and teaching. He is an authoritative teacher that explains the Old Testament law (from Moses) in simple, yet profound ways. His bold, authoritative, in-your-face words are contrasted with his humble, loving, gracious, gentle actions. Rarely do these go together and he becomes instantly popular with the lower classes, while the ruling classes seek to kill him.

The Romans did not consider him a threat as much as the Jews did. In fact, the Romans were glad to have such a character that raised the morale of the lower class. The Romans prohibited the Jews from capital punishment, but the Jewish leaders were outraged by Jesus’ clear claim to divinity. Finally, the Jewish leaders convinced the Roman officials that Jesus was a threat because he believed that he was better than Caesar. On this charge, the Romans, urged strongly by the Jewish leaders gave him the death penalty. His leaders thought he would be the King like David. They hoped he would rise up an army and defeat the Romans, but instead He was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.

Early Church
He met with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. They were astonished and began to understand Jesus’ kingdom as unfolding slowly and through love rather than quickly, and by force. They stayed in Jerusalem (the capital city of Israel) for a long time, enjoying each others’ company and converting more and more Jews to follow the now-absent Jesus. As the Jewish leaders began to feel threatened again, the Romans gave them more liberty and they began killing the new Christians. As a result, the Christians spread throughout the Roman world and started churches in most major cities. One of the most ardent Jewish leaders tracking down the Christians was named Paul. He had a miraculous conversion experience, and became the primary spokesman for the new Christians, and is responsible for starting most of the new churches in the various cities.

Introduction to the Bible 1

The Bible was written over a period of at least 1500 years. It is composed of many different “books.” So we can speak of the Book of Genesis, which is part of the Bible. But Genesis is a kind of book by itself, too. There are 66 books in the Bible. There is great variety of kinds of books; for examples, some are historical, some are collections of poems, some are like very long sermons, and some are individual correspondence between two people. Each book is then divided into chapters. These chapters are typically much shorter than a typical chapter you’d find in a book at Barnes and Noble. The chapters are then divided into verses. Even in prose and narrative literature, the entire Bible is divided into verses. Each verse is typically about a sentence or two. With this “mapping” system, we can refer to a very specific sentence or even one word and communicate its location easily. For example, “Genesis 13:6” refers to the Book of Genesis, chapter 13, verse 6. These chapter and verse divisions were added in the 1500s after the invention of the printing press, they are not part of the original texts.

OT, NT The Bible is divided into two parts which are significantly different: The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is much larger, covers much more history, and is much older than the New Testament.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Polemical Plagues?

Chapters 7-12 of Exodus contain one of the most well-known stories in the entire Old Testament. The Plagues brought upon Egypt illustrate God’s power over creation, and his love for Israel, among other things. There have been many attempts to explain why the plagues were what they were. Yahweh could have chosen to plague Egypt with nausea, drought, butterflies, or any other number of things, but he did not. He chose the following:

1. The Nile river was turned into blood. This caused the fish to die and eliminated much of the drinking water (Ex 7:14-25).
2. The plague of frogs (Ex 8:1-15).
3. The plague of lice (Heb. kinnim, also translated “gnats” or “mosquitoes”) (Ex 8:16-19).
4. The plague of flies (also translated “dog-fly”) (Ex 8:21-24 ).
5. The murrain (Ex 9:1-7). Much of the cattle and livestock (of the Egyptians only) were killed by terrible disease.
6. The plague, of "boils and blains" (Ex 9:8-12).
7. The plague of hail, with fire and thunder (Ex 9:13-33).
8. The plague of locusts, which covered the whole face of the earth, so that the land was darkened with them (Ex 10:12-15).
9. The plague of darkness (Ex 10:21-29) covered "all the land of Egypt" to such an extent that "they saw not one another." It only occurred where the Egyptians were.
10. The plague of the death of the firstborn of man and of beast (Ex 11:4,5; 12:29,30).

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Many have attempted to give an explanation for why these plagues were chosen rather than any others. One such attempt is discussed in this paper: the plages were a polemic against the gods of Egypt.

The Position Presented
There is one clear passage giving the reason for the specific plagues, Numbers 33:4.
“. . . while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn whom the Lord had struck down among them. The Lord had also executed judgments on their gods.”[i] This commentary on the story in question gives a different and enlightening perspective on the reason the plagues were given. In Exodus, it appears they are simply to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go (this is accomplished by sufficiently showing the supremacy of Yahweh to any other gods). However, we see more clearly the attack of Yahweh against the gods themselves as a reason for the plagues in Numbers.

There are many Egyptian gods that are well documented.[ii] Each town and city had a different (but very related) set than all the others. Some universal gods had (more or less) different traits in some cities than in others.[iii] It is therefore difficult to pinpoint what gods were attacked by what plagues. The following explanations take a generalized view of the gods they refer to.

The plague of blood could be seen as attacking Khnum, creator of water and life, or perhaps Hapi, the Nile god, or even Osiris (whose bloodstream was the Nile).[iv] The fact that fish are directly mentioned (Exodus 7:21) would also indicate that Ptah, the Memphis “Lord of Fish,” is being attacked in the first plague.[v] The Nile River itself was honored as a god. Egyptians would sing hymns and pray to it according to some of the papyri. Some suggest that Pharaoh’s visit to the River when Moses and Aaron encountered him was for this very reason.[vi] Yahweh’s perversion of these gods showed that he was more powerful then they. For if the Nile was not clean and healthy, the Egyptians would stop worshiping them. They therefore, would have stopped Yahweh if they could have. Obviously they could not.

The natural progression from the first plague would be to bring out something from the Nile river. The second plague does this with the frogs. Heket was the water goddess with a frog head. She was also the deity controlling birth and creation.[vii] Again, the Egyptians would grow to hate Heket (or Heqet) quickly if she could not control the frogs. A quick read over the beginning of Exodus 8 shows that she did not control them, but the God of Moses did.
After the plague of the frogs, Moses struck the ground with his staff, and the dust “became lice” (Exodus 8:16-17). Geb was the god of the ground to the Egyptians.[viii] This seems to be the god attacked by the fourth plague (flies) as well.[ix] Most gods had some sort of animal form. The plague of livestock pestilence could be directed at any number of gods. Two of the most popular were Hathor, the goddess of the sky and Apis, the fertility god. They took the form of a cow and a bull, respectively.[x] For the next plague, boils affected even the miracle workers who should have been able to be immune from such afflictions. Egypt, which was the most powerful nation on earth at the time, prided itself with its superior medical advances. Yet with all their knowledge, they could not cure the boils, only Yahweh could.[xi]

Hail was particularly rare in Egypt, so to have a terrible hail storm that destroyed crops was certainly supernatural. Yahweh could here be battling Seth, the god of the wind and storms, or Isis, the goddess of life who grinds, and spins flax and makes cloth.[xii] Along with the plague of hail, the locusts destroyed the Egyptian crops. Together, these plagues can be seen as attacking Min, the god of fertility and vegetation who was the protector of crops. Of the timing of the plagues, Zevit Ziony says, the “plagues came just before flax and barley were about to be harvested, but before the wheat and spelt had matured. A widely celebrated ‘coming out of Min’ was celebrated in Egypt at the beginning of the harvest. These plagues, in effect, devastated Min’s coming-out part.”[xiii]

The plague of darkness (ninth) is the worst so far with respect to the gods of Egypt. Ra the sun god was perhaps the strongest of all the gods and his worship reached across all Egypt. He is associated with creation of the world.[xiv] Others have suggested this plague could be against Aten, Atum, and Horus.[xv]

The last, and most dreadful, plague is generally seen as attacking the Pharaoh himself, who was certainly regarded as deity. He was the protector of the people, and the fact that he could not even save his own son, shows his vulnerability and weakness.[xvi]

Evaluation of the Position
This explanation of the reason for the specific plagues has not come without good criticism. There are so many gods in Egyptian culture that no matter what the plagues happened to be, one could find a god to match it. In fact, some of the plagues must be attributed to lesser known (shall we say obscure?) gods as it is (boils, lice, flies). Also, the gods attributed to the plagues are pulled from different time periods in Egyptian history. Some theologians fail to recognize that “Ancient Egypt” covers a vast amount of time and not all the gods were worshiped congruently. No evidence has risen that would point to the fact that all these gods were worshiped during the time of the Exodus; indeed, one would tend to think otherwise. There have been a variety of alternative views offered to explain the plagues’ significance.[xvii]

The plagues certainly point out the fact that Yahweh is much greater and more powerful than all the gods of Egypt (or really any other god, for that matter). It does not appear that the plagues should each be tied to a specific god (or even a few gods). Numbers 33:4, then, should be understood in a general sense, not a specific one. That is, the Biblical commentary on the plague narrative was meant to point out that Yahweh was over all the gods of Egypt. He was “taking them all on” in each of the plagues, and the stakes were raised with each one; He was not “picking them off” one at a time. As this story once again illustrates, we serve a great and mighty God, who is to be revered by all people everywhere. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

[i].This and all other biblical quotations from NASB. © 1960, by the Lockman Foundation.

[ii].The works consulted for this paper on this topic were: Rosalie A. David, The Ancient Egyptians (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983). Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1948). Robert Kirk Kilpatrick, “Ancient Mythology Versus Eternal Reading: Judgements upon Egypt,” Turpin Library, Dallas Theological Seminary, Paper presented to Evangelical Theological Society, 1994. Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. trans. G. M. Goshgarian (London: Cornell University Press, 1996). Alexandre Moret, Kings and Gods of Egypt, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912). Alan W. Shorter, The Egyptian Gods, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1937).

[iii].Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, 24.

[iv].Ziony Zevit, “Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues,” Bible Review 6 , no. 3 (June 1990): 21.

[v].Kilpatrick, “Ancient Mythology,” 13.

[vi].F. B. Meyer, Exodus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1952), 118.

[vii].Kilpatrick, “Ancient Mythology,” 14., Zevit, “Three Ways,” 21., and Shorter, Egyptian Gods, 131.

[viii].Kilpatrick, “Ancient Mythology,” 15.

[ix].Ibid., 16.

[x].Ziony, “Three Ways,” 21.

[xi].Kilpatrick, “Ancient Mythology,” 18.

[xii].Ziony, “Three Ways,” 21.

[xiii].Ibid., 21.

[xiv].Shorter, Egyptian Gods, 138., Meeks, Daily Life, vii., Ziony, “Three Ways,” 21.

[xv].Ziony, “Three Ways,” 21.

[xvi].Ibid., 21.

[xvii].Ibid., 21.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Two of the best, together on "So What."

Pastoral Care for the Suffering

A pastor cares for sheep. He leads them to warm, green pastures and to refreshing waters. He leads them and they follow him. As a pastor, I care for people. I lead them to Jesus. Most of the time, people are rather satisfied with their lives. They feel well cared for, their needs are met, and they understand their lives. Other times, they feel completely out-of-control, wildly hurdling through unknown space, not knowing what the next day will bring. These sheep need special attention and care. I wish to speak about this sort of pastoral care in this paper.

What would (will) you do if (when) you learned you had cancer and only a few months to live? Your understanding of your life and all your relationships and activities would change drastically. It would be a painful experience filled with great suffering. How could a pastor help?

Pain and Suffering
“Pain can be defined as a greater or lesser degree of physical discomfort.”[1] Pain can be inflicted by a gunshot, a lack of food, or the prick of a needle. Pain is usually managed by the person himself or herself, and by healthcare professionals in more severe cases. “Suffering, on the other hand, can be defined as the existential anxiety, fear, worry, or hopelessness that may or may not accompany pain.”[2] Suffering may or may not have a particular pain associated with it. Suffering is usually managed by the person himself or herself, and by pastors and psychiatric professionals in more severe cases. To understand the role of the pastor, we must first understand patterns of behavior common among those who suffer greatly.

Those who suffer learn to cope with their suffering in different ways. When pain causes fear, worry, anxiety, or a feeling of hopelessness, this suffering is quite unpleasant. How people learn to react to this “unpleasant-ness” is called “coping.”[3] Coping is a learned behavior – a reaction to suffering. Think about a boxer who has been hit with the same right jab three times in a row. He will soon learn to deal with this suffering (resulting from the pain in the nose) by dodging or ducking or striking first or perhaps by throwing in the towel. These are examples of coping.[4] Some boxers are better than others at finding a coping mechanism that works well. Though I am not a boxer, I would think that striking first would work better than dodging. The same is true for other sufferers.[5] Now, we will look at some patterns of typical coping behaviors.[6]

Coping Strategies
1. Seek or deny information. Some people, when confronted with a crisis seek information. This can be quite helpful if a decision needs to be made. Sometimes, however, the information-seeking behavior is a distraction. It can be a way to deal with the crisis academically and cognitively so as to not deal with the crisis emotionally – thereby reducing the level of suffering. In medical crises, many have turned to the Internet for information – they can find more information than they could possibly use. Others refuse to learn about the crisis, preferring to be content and oblivious to the facts. These people often are quite resigned to follow the will of others and do not wish to be bothered by information. They reduce the level of suffering by reasoning that “I cannot do anything anyway, so why worry [or get involved, or be anxious]?”

2. Community or isolation. Some seek solace in community. During times of suffering, some exhibit behaviors that draw others in to commune with them – to identify with their sufferings. Many people find relief from their suffering by sharing their burden with others who can lighten the load. Others, however, feel that community only causes more suffering. The presence of community adds to the already unbearable stress, so they repel people (politely or otherwise) in order to avoid further suffering.

3. Busyness or Idleness. All of us have seen a child in pain from a clumsy fall who is quickly distracted from the pain by a piece of candy or a favorite toy. As adults we may do this with movies, music, sports, or TV. Those in crisis may distract themselves with business – that is, keeping busy. Perhaps they continue as if the crisis had not occurred (some might even say it this way), others may find new tasks or tasks that have been put off for many months or years. People learn that if they are busy, they are less likely to think and reflect on the crisis, the pain, and the suffering. A few others learn that idleness can have a similar effect. Inactivity comes in the form of fantasies, commonly.

4. Compliance or Noncompliance. In a crisis situation, many people become highly compliant with almost any directive. Many will ask strangers who care to listen, “What should I do?” And they might just take whatever advice is given. In the hospital, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals like these people because they are so easy to work with. These sufferers learn that passivity makes them feel less responsible for their actions. Less responsibility results in less suffering (though not always less pain) because one feels less guilt. Other people become noncompliant in a crisis and are at least suspicious of every direction given to them. They think that no one is benevolent and if they comply, their suffering will be heightened, therefore, they reduce suffering by refusing to comply with any directive.

There are many other sorts of coping mechanisms and ways to classify them. This is just a survey of some of the more popularly used strategies.[7]

Pastoral Care
The pastor has much to gain from a good understanding of coping mechanisms. People naturally seek to find meaning in life – a connection with the spiritual world – with God. They long to know and feel that they matter to God and to others. When that knowledge or feeling is disrupted by pain,[8] people suffer and they respond with coping mechanisms. What is the pastor’s role?

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Theology of the Cross
Martin Luther speaks about a “theology of cross” vs. a “theology of glory.” Richard Eyer explains

…the theology of the cross says that God comes to us through weakness and suffering, on the cross and in our own sufferings. The theology of the cross says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The theology of glory on the other hand says that God is to be found, not in weakness but in power and strength , and therefore we should look for him in signs of health, success, and outward victory over life’s ills.[9]

Suffering of Christ
As pastors, we must help people to embrace their sufferings – not masochistically[10] – but in a way that acknowledges that Christ meets with us through suffering. He speaks to us through suffering. He suffers with us, and for us. He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah before he becomes the One enthroned on High. Far from indicating the displeasure of God, pain and suffering helps us to identify with him in his sufferings. The Apostle Paul speaks to us this way,

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.[11]

Pastor's Role
The pastor’s role is to point each sheep to Christ in the midst of pain and suffering – to know, understand and feel the grace of God in the midst of (not necessarily relieving them from) suffering. The pastor must resist the temptation always to enter in to the coping mechanisms of the patients and help her or him continue to avoid suffering as much as possible. How can the pastor do this?

For some, the most effective way to help the sufferer to know, understand and feel the grace of God is to remind them of the truths they hold so dear. For example, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” and answers, “That I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…” Perhaps reading a passage of scripture (such as Romans 8 or John 10, etc.), perhaps praying with and for them. In John 11, when Martha’s brother Lazarus died, Jesus came to see her. Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus then goes on to explain, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will yet live.” These are words that Martha acknowledges that she knows and believes, but she needed to be reminded in this time of crisis.

Mary comes to Jesus a few verses later and says the exact same thing (word-for-word) as her sister Martha. Jesus responds completely differently. He weeps. Why the difference? These two dear friends of Jesus were processing their suffering in completely different ways. They were, no doubt, using different coping mechanisms in response to their sufferings – they were asking completely different questions even though they were using the same exact words.
As ambassadors and representatives of Christ, pastors must learn to use good judgment in pointing sufferers to Christ. This skill will be honed through experience, wisdom and training. When a sufferer is using coping mechanisms to avoid his suffering out of a theology of glory (this applies to all of us at one time or another), the pastor must use great wisdom to know when and how to challenge that coping mechanism and invite the sufferer to see Christ in the middle of the suffering.[12] This kind of difficult work should drive us to our knees in prayer and humble dependence upon God’s Holy Spirit for heavenly wisdom.

[1] Richard C. Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (Concordia Publishing House, 1994), p.44

[2] Ibid., 44

[3] This is an over-simplification, but for the purposes of this paper, it is adequate.

[4] Some boxers might cope by taking medication that will dull the pain (and thereby reduce the suffering). This kind of coping is important, but best left to the medical professionals, and so will not be discussed in this paper.

[5] It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss which coping mechanisms are better than others – or even how to determine the difference between bad and good. These questions would be a good place to start further studies.

[6] We will look at several different kinds of coping strategies for the purpose of providing examples to show how coping works and what it looks like in real life – not for any sort of diagnostic resource.

[7] These strategies are taken largely from Avery D. Weisman, The Coping Capacity: On the Nature of Being Mortal (Human Sciences Press, 1984), p. 31-60

[8] Most people (at least in American culture) naturally think and feel that the presence of pain means that God is displeased with them, thereby disrupting their feeling of love and acceptance.

[9] Eyer, p. 27

[10] This stance of helping people to suffer is not masochistic, because they (we) suffer for a greater joy. This is not unlike helping a teenager endure the pain and suffering of a new and difficult job at McDonald’s in order to gain the joy of the paycheck.

[11] Philippians 3:10-11, NIV

[12] The methods employed by the pastor to point to Christ in the midst of another’s suffering could be the topic of a future study.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Conan and Simpsons

Two of my favorite things.

Pastoral Preaching

A fairly recent reflection on two kinds of preaching.

I consider myself a good speaker. Not great, but not poor either. I’m good. I consider myself an emerging preacher. Not good, but not poor either. I’m emerging. Preachers communicate. They deliver a message from one person to another. More specifically, they communicate the gospel from God to his people. Therefore, preachers must know God, and his message. They must study the Bible and learn ancient cultures to understand the message clearly. If they do not understand the message, or the author, no amount of speaking skills will get the message communicated. A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew. Second, a preacher needs good skills of communication. He needs to speak clearly, loudly, use imagery, etc. Seminary gave me the tools to understand God’s message and equipped me with good speaking skills, as it does for many ministers. However, seminary is not able to give preachers what they need to understand their parishioners, the receivers of their communication. Without this, the message of preachers may be clear, but it will not be received, and good communication will not happen. So, to whom are we talking? When I first started preaching, I fell into the common beginners’ trap of treating my listeners as if they were exactly like me (this was probably more unconscious than conscious). But they are not all like me. The emerging preacher in me has been thinking about this. Who are these people? What do they need? What are they like? What is God’s message to them? How can I communicate it to them?

Hosptial vs. Military Base
Is the church a hospital or a military base? Of course it is both. The church is a place where people with spiritual illness and injury can come and receive care, working toward spiritual health. The church is also a military base where people who are ignorant and poorly equipped to face a spiritual enemy can come and receive training, education and equipment to go once again into the battle and face the spiritual enemy. Which is a better analogy? Which one fits better? I am not sure there is a correct answer to the question – hopefully pastors and preachers will utilize both analogies in the course of their parish ministry. However, I would think that most ministers primarily think of one of these over the other.

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Those ministers who are more intellectual will probably favor the military image. They are trained in doctrine and church dogma; they’ve been to seminary and know the right interpretations of the Bible. Their development into a minister has come primarily through learning. They are well-qualified ministers because they have been equipped – they’ve gone through the military training, and are now able to equip others.

Those ministers who are more emotional will probably favor the hospital image. They have been spiritually and emotionally healed (to some degree); they’ve seen their share of hard times and have held on to the promises of God. Their development into a minister has come primarily through their own existential pilgrimage of suffering. They are well-qualified ministers because they have been healed – they’ve gone though spiritual surgery, and are now able to heal others.

What kind of sermons will these ministers preach? Military Generals will preach sermons that are primarily doctrinal, equipping. Hospital Physicians will preach sermons that are primarily pastoral, healing. I would guess that parishioners gravitate toward preachers based on their felt needs – some feel poorly equipped and others feel ill or injured. Of course no one (preacher or parishioner) is at the polar ends of this spectrum, but somewhere in between.

Illness and Injury
I have found the actual hospital to be a good place to practice and hone the skill of this analogous hospital preaching. My “parishioners” are those hurting physically, not just spiritually. In fact their physical illness or injury has given rise (in almost every case) to a spiritual illness or injury. A physical crisis almost always leads to spiritual crisis. When a person is struck by physical illness or injury, they must face their own finitude, brokenness, and the depravity in the world (and sometimes their own personal depravity). The faith of the sick is challenged and taxed by their difficult circumstances and they often (if not always) begin to doubt the promises of God in ways they never imagined. Physical illness or injury leads to spiritual illness or injury, which calls for pastoral-type preaching. These are my people, and probably yours, too. For physical illness or injury are not the only paths to spiritual illness or injury. In a typical congregation, how many are going through a divorce? How many are still grieving the loss of a loved one? How many are suffering from infertility? Undiagnosed mental illnesses? Racism? Unfulfilled hopes and dreams? Family fights? Lost jobs? Injustice? Bad marriages? Poverty?

Hospital Preaching
If these are our people, or at least some of them, let us not try to equip them with doctrinal defenses and weapons to go back into the spiritual battle. Rather, let us heal wounds and infections. How do we do this? I think the first step to pastoral preaching is getting to know your people – it is relationships. Get to know them in their pain, their struggle, their particular illness and injury. Listen, learn, and bring their suffering to yourself.

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Second, I think we should prepare our sermons by asking and answering the questions of the text that they are asking. In my private study, for my personal growth and learning, I am able to ask whatever questions I want (I will probably ask questions which are related to how I developed as a minister, the General track or the Physician track). However, our study in preparation for a sermon is not just for us, it is for our people. So, we must ask and answer the questions of the text that they would ask. These questions will probably include, “So what?,” “Where is God?,” “Why doesn’t he rescue me?,” “Does God really love me?,” “Why me?,” “How can I get God back on my side?,” “Why can’t God help me?,” and “What did I do wrong?” Of course, a preacher will never know what questions the people are asking if he does not know them.
Third, we must be honest about our own illnesses and injuries. The obvious question that many will ask of us is, “How do you know?” or, “How can I trust you?” Or said another way, existential questions need existential answers; just as doctrinal questions need doctrinal answers. Both can be rooted in the Bible, but they apply the same truths quite differently. The most common way of applying truths doctrinally is through logical proofs (of which there are many methods). The most common way of applying truths existentially is through stories (again, there are many methods). It is interesting to me that the Biblical literature contains both stories and logical proofs, and it is even more interesting to me that the stories far outweigh the logical proofs in terms of length, number.

Fourth, preachers can find a close friend or other parishioner to honestly give feedback about his or her perceptions of the sermons as to their relevance to the questions and concerns of people suffering spiritual illness and injury.

Fifth, there is no better way to improve preaching skills than by observing good preachers. For pastoral preaching specifically, it would be helpful to identify some good pastoral preachers, and digest their sermons in your own way for our personal spiritual nourishment. This will help us see the illness and injury in our own souls so that we can identify with others. We can identify because we are fellow-sufferers and we can identify because we have experienced the process of healing. Also, this will help to put us in the mindset of a Physician, rather than a General.

I do not pretend to have discovered anything fantastic or paradigmatic. This paper is simply a reflection of my continuing journey as an emerging preacher. It has often been said the gospel afflicts the comforted and comforts the afflicted and this is true. It seems to me that Military Preaching’s goal is to afflict the comforted (to spur new growth and equipping), and Hospital Preaching’s goal is to comfort the afflicted (to heal wounds, and eradicate infections).

It has also been said that seminary graduates usually need at least as many years in full-time ministry after graduation as they spent in seminary before anyone is able to understand what they are saying. And sadly, this is true too often. Seminary Generals equipped with the truth can easily get caught up in themselves, thinking (unconsciously, sometimes) that their congregation is mostly like themselves – rarely is this a good description of reality.

I pray that God will help all of us to be mindful of the many and diverse needs of those to whom he has called us to minister – those whom he has bought with the blood of his dear Son.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Redemptive Overview of History

This was a short article I wrote several years ago and lots of people have found it to be quite helpful.


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At Creation, God made all things out of nothing. He made all things perfect and wonderful and beautiful. An essential part of this wonderful creation was perfect communion in perfect community. That is, Adam and Eve (and presumably any children they would have had) lived together in perfect harmony with each other, with God and with all his creatures. Part of God’s perfect creation was that men and women were supposed to “fill the earth and subdue it.” That is, God created the world perfect, but he did not want the world to stay the same way he created it. He wanted a dynamic world, not a static world. He wanted men and women to have children and to build culture. He wanted them to make roads and buildings, art and music, pasta and computers – all so that God would get the glory. So, God’s world was perfect, but in some senses, it was incomplete.

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At the fall, Adam and Eve (and therefore all their children after them) sinned against God. Everything was messed up by the fall. Because of the fall, men and women are separated from God, and are now destined to live that way for eternity. There is no longer harmony between the different parts of creation. Think about how the fall put strife and difficulty between these:
Man and God
Man and Man
Man and Nature
Man and Himself
Because of the fall, we now have Parkinson’s disease, earthquakes, destructive viruses, divorce, autism, jails, firemen, racism, locks, schizophrenia, government welfare, and famine. Because of the fall, men no longer want to build things for God’s glory, but they like to build things for their own glory – roads and buildings, art and music, pasta and computers.

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Everything that sin messed up, redemption restores. Redemption started immediately after the fall and is accomplished entirely by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of that, all things are being and will be restored to its original condition. Think about how redemption heals the brokenness between these:
Man and God
Man and Man
Man and Nature
Man and Himself
Not only does redemption give us a right standing with God (ending the strife between man and God), but it also will eventually end Parkinson’s disease, earthquakes, destructive viruses, divorce, autism, jails, firemen, racism, locks, schizophrenia, government welfare, and famine. Obviously, not all these things have ended yet. We are living in this “already, but not yet” stage. That is, redemption has already been won, but it has not yet been fully applied yet – however, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

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When Christ comes back to claim his throne and his Kingdom and to resurrect all the dead in Christ and judge all those who are not Christians, He will re-create the world. The end of Revelation talks about this final kingdom in the same terms as the first creation, but better! The second creation (accomplished by the redemption by Christ) will be like the Garden of Eden, only better! How is it better? Because there will be more than two people and there will be more culture. God told people to “fill and subdue” the earth. We have been doing that for thousands of years, albeit sinfully. There are many good things that have been made and invented, and every good thing, the Bible says, comes from the hand of God – roads and buildings, art and music, pasta and computers.

Monday, August 14, 2006

James Cone

An essay I wrote on James Cone two years ago, updated slightly.
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These past few weeks, I’ve been living with James H. Cone. I do not pretend to have a full understanding of him or his work. Reading Cone felt much like looking for the wind. I can see where he comes from, I can see where he is going, and I can see the affects of his theological framework, but I can’t really see his theology, itself, yet. However, I think I am able to make some good observations, interpretations and perhaps even a few applications, as well.

First, let me comment on the books I read. Then I will briefly summarize some of the main points of Cone’s unique theology, and critique it as best as I can.

Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1969)
This was Cone’s first book, and it is full of anger and hate. He describes it in later writings as a conversion experience. He wrote the entire thing in a few weeks during the summer of 1968 (shortly after Martin Luther King was assassinated). After he had studied Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and other typical “white” theologians, Cone abandoned “white” theology that summer as he birthed this new work. It seems to me that this is still the first book to read, for any who are interested in Cone’s theology. In this book, Cone asks all sorts of questions and leads the reader to carefully selected answers. His theology is not yet formed. He is still working with it. He has not yet come to identify himself as a “Liberation Theologian.” He is just saying, “Something is not right” – and I think that most readers would agree with him, though they may not like his tone or his proposed answers.

A Black Theology of Liberation (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1970)
The table of contents of this book reads like a systematic theology – revelation, theology proper, Christology, anthropology, eschatology, etc. Using standard categories, Cone addresses the same issues as his previous work, but with a stronger, more confident tone. He generalizes more, and he has adopted the language of Liberation. For example,

In contrast to this racist view of God, black theology proclaims God’s blackness. Those who want to know who God is and what God is doing must know who black persons are and what they are doing. . . . It is to be expected that whites will have some difficulty with the idea of “becoming black with God.” . . . “Who can whites become black?” they ask. This question always amuses me because they do not really wan tto lose their precious white identity, as if it is worth saving. … The question “How can white persons become black?” is analogous to the Philippian jailer’s question to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” … The misunderstanding here is the failure to see that blackness or salvation (the two are synonymous) is the work of God, not a human work.

Spirituals and Blues (New York: Seabury Press, 1972)
This book comes in response to many of Cone’s critics. They suggested that he was not following his own advice. He had said that theology must come from the oppressed people, but he was doing his theology using categories of a sophisticated and trained theologian (such as he was and is). This book shows us that his theology has his roots in the African-American tradition and in the black church more specifically. This book was easier to read. It is a documentary of the way that African-Americans have “done theology” rather than a prescriptive statement of “this is the way things are and ought to be.” He interprets songs, both spiritual and secular. I would guess that this would be a great introduction to the meaning and purpose of black spirituals as a means of theology for anyone interested in such a topic.

God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury, 1975)
Cone again responds to his critics. This work is a rehashing of the same material, but looking at it from still different perspectives, namely social concerns. Particularly helpful is his interaction with Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. Cone points out that Niebuhr’s work is useful, but he does not understand the relationship bewteen the oppressed and the oppressor in society. How does God relate to culture? He relates much differently toward the culture of the oppressed than he does the culture of the oppressor – and Cone goes on from there.

My Soul Looks Back (Nashville: Abingdon, 1982)
Here, Cone has matured somewhat. This is his religious and spiritual autobiography. It is fairly easy and quick to read. When struggling to understand someone’s point of view, it is often helpful to learn his or her story. Indeed, this book helped me put a lot of pieces into place, and I understood him better, even in places I still disagree with him.

Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, NJ: Orbis, 1991)
This is, I think, the most interesting of Cone’s books. He evaluates the ministries of Martin and Malcolm with special attention to their changing messages and their relationship to each other. Cone, himself, spent the 60’s in a library rather than in marches or at rallies. Cone points out that at the end of their respective lives, Martin and Malcolm moved closer to each other ideologically. Martin moved into the Lawndale community of Chicago and experienced, for the first time, the racism of the northern ghettos. He lost some of his hopes and dreams, and became more despairing of America’s future. After Malcolm broke with Elijah Muhammad, he visited the Holy Land and saw people of all colors coming together in multi-ethnic worship and began questioning the doctrine of the white man as the devil. He found hope, and saw the power of love to change behavior.

Cone sees that God’s major purpose in the world is releasing the politically and socially oppressed from their bondage to their oppressors. God is on the side of the oppressed, and against the oppressors. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with violence itself, as long as it is not one people-group oppressing another people group. In fact, it is the duty of blacks to use any means necessary to gain equal social standing in society. One question I have for Cone is this, what happens then? Whose side is God on, when blacks take over and start oppressing whites?

Sin and guilt are only corporate. Cone never talks about individual sins (even individual sins of oppression). He occasionally talks about the oppression of men (even black men) over women. However, as best as I can tell, he would say that a black woman never has the opportunity to sin because she is not a part of a group of people who are oppressing another group of people.

I think that Cone is right about much (but not all) of what he professes, but is wrong in his exclusivity. Is God’s purpose in the world to release those who are socially oppressed in the world? It is certainly not less than that, but it is so much bigger than that. However, Cone is a helpful corrective to white theologians who have the option not to think about God in the light of social oppression.

Why is Cone so popular? He is controversial (which always draws a crowd) and he is influential. Why is he influential? He is a very intelligent black man, raised in the black church, with a white theological education. He is able to dialogue articulately with both blacks and whites about the issues. Further, many whites with “liberal guilt” like to read him to pacify their guilt – he is the identified “angry black male theologian,” and for those who consider themselves tolerant of others, they like to read him – he is en vogue. Or, to put it another way, whites read Cone to say, “look how tolerant I am, I’m even reading something as crazy as this!”

For blacks, it seems to me that he represents a Christian version of Malcolm X. Many blacks were drawn to Malcolm, but could not leave Christianity to follow him. Cone gives Christian support for Malcolm’s conclusions, though Cone is not nearly so eloquent. I think the black attraction to liberation theology is based on at least two things. First, what he is saying has a lot of truth to it. His words ring true to their experience of the world, and to their understanding of God, religion and the Bible. Secondly, they like how he woops up on white people. Ah, mixed motives -- is any motive pure? I don’t think so.

Finally, I should note that as I have reflected on Cone with my friends who know him and his tradition, his voice is nearly so influential as it is popular. In my experience, African-American Christianity is far more peaceful and forgiving than Cone. As one black pastor told me, "I don't know why white people think Cone represents the black church -- he doesn't." Perhaps we whites need to broaden our understanding of the multi-faceted nature of black theology. Cone's voice is one among many.

I am ready for James Cone to move out of my home for a while, now. I’m sure I will entertain him again, he was a wonderful and helpful guest, and he has taught me a lot. I am a better person, a better chaplain as a result of my time with him. Let me finish with a quote from Black Theology and Black Power I find to be quite helpful and a good summary of Cone’s value to us.

Reconciliation does not transcend color, thus making us all white. The problem of values is not that white people need to instill values in the ghetto; but white society itself needs values so that it will no longer need a ghetto. Black values did not create the ghetto; white values did. Therefore, God’s Word of reconciliation means that we can only be justified by becoming black. Reconciliation makes us all black. Through this radical change, we become identified totally with the suffering of the black masses. It is this fact that makes all white churches anti-Christian in their essence. To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people!

It is to be expected that many white people will ask: “How can I, a white man, become black? My skin is white and there is nothing I can do.” Being black in America has very little to do with skin color. To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are. We all know that a racist structure will reject and threaten a black man in white skin as quickly as a black man in black skin. It accepts and rewards whites in black skins nearly as well as whites in white skins. Therefore, being reconciled to God does not mean that one’s skin is physically black. It essentially depends on the color of your heart, soul, and mind. Some may want to argue that persons with skins physically black will have a running start on others; but there seems to be enough evidence that though one’s skin is black, the heart may be lily white. The real questions are: Where is your identity? Where is your being? Does it lie with the oppressed blacks or with the white oppressors? Let us hope that there are enough to answer this question correctly so that America will not be compelled to acknowledge a common humanity only by seeing that blood is always one color.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Newer Listening

Major update to the "Good Listening" article. Link always on the right column.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two of the Greatest

Ray Charles and Johnny Cash

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hurricane Chris

Should be here in a few days.

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