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Friday, February 25th, 2005
Watching coverage of the Pope's health reminded me of what a different world we live in now than some decades ago.
At one point in the evening, I heard Billy Graham in a telephone interview discussing his relationship with the Pope. It is difficult to imagine this kind of warmth and respect between a Protestant evangelist and a Pope existing before the Second Vatican Council.
As a person, I like John Paul II, from what I've seen of him in the media. On a personal level, I hope his recovery continues.
On another level, though, I'm really curious as to what the next pope will mean to the Catholic Church. If he is distinctly more conservative or more liberal than the current pope, the public face of Catholicism will change greatly. Many recent converts from evangelicalism likely felt welcome on account of John Paul II himself. I wonder if they will continue to feel welcome if the next pope is much different. Many will argue that on principle it makes no difference to them. Perhaps. And if the church gets another pope much like the current one, there may be no real difference. But I wonder.
Imagine a really conservative pope. No. I mean REALLY conservative. Someone who pleases nobody except Mel Gibson. In this most unlikely of scenarios, Vatican II is repudiated, and all the popes since John XXIII are declared antipopes. Would the recent converts feel comfortable then?
Now imagine someone more conservative, but to a more imaginable degree. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II, so he is not completely out of sympathy with him. He considers his predecessors to have been legitimate popes. But he disagrees with the style. He affirms the doctrinal statements of Vatican II, but claims that the liturgical reforms went too far. Back to Latin. Back to women covering their heads. Would the recent converts feel comfortable?
How about someone more liberal? Someone who goes much further than John XXIII. Who doesn't bother to correct the errors of the past, since he doesn't consider past dogma, or any dogma, really binding. What would converts who were drawn in by the promise of absolute certainty do then? Could they even admit that such had happened?
I don't honestly believe that we will see cataclysmic changes upon the election of a new pope. But I do think it is not unthinkable that big change could occur some time into the next papacy. (Think of how Supreme Court justices often drift far from the position of the Presidents who appointed them.) And I am curious as to what it might look like.
Even without large changes in direction to the right or to the left, having a younger man in office will be interesting. Younger people have never seen a world with a young pope. Then again, the current situation allows us to see what frailty can still accomplish.
10:30 am Pacific Standard Time
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Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005
I just read a column by Doug Giles on Runaway Prophets. Giles explains how God can be very direct and even harsh in dealing with those who fail to fulfill their destiny. But how God will stop the lesson once people wake up and take their appointed responsibilities.
In a sense, Giles's column is a refreshing read. He notes how far too often, we hear Christian biographies in which future leaders hear the call, respond, and reap "Taco Bell Grande-size rewards." Yet how the Bible portrays people as being more, well, human. Which is hopeful for the rest of us who are more like Bible characters than the Christians written about in biographies.
Yet I think Giles is at least open to being misread himself, whether or not he has rightly read the Bible. He assures the reader that when the lesson is learned, the runaway will, like Jonah, be vomited up, out into greatness. It is the word "greatness" that is open to misreading. When we read the Jonah story, we find that Jonah does get to leave the whale when the lesson is complete. But he doesn't particularly like his calling even then. He doesn't feel so great even when he has completed his task. His deed is a great one. But Jonah doesn't feel rewarded upon its completion. He feels bitter. Not great.
The focus is not on us, here. When God hounded Jonah, it was for the sake of the people of Ninevah moreso than for the sake of Jonah's inner piety. The attitude adjustment was considered sufficient when Jonah was willing to go about his appointed task. But I can't say that his attitude was a good one even at that point. Apparently God cared more that the Ninevites had a chance to repent than that Jonah's crummy inner world was fixed.
I write this because my friend Steve Byrnes and I have had a lot of conversations recently about the moral teaching of the Pauline Epistles. Steve is convinced, and has me convinced, that these sections are misread when the primary focus is put on the inner improvement of those being written to. No. What all the advice has in common is outreach beyond the church. Gross immorality, bad as it is, is not to be tolerated because it causes scandal which keeps people away from the church, which is where they can find forgiveness in Christ.
This can be read as both Law and Gospel. The Law reading is more obvious to us. God is likely to deal with us with the degree of harshness necessary to keep us from preventing others from being saved. The Gospel reading is easier to miss. God will, and more to the point, already has, dealt with innumerable people in the same way for our sakes. Which is why we were able to come to faith. Had God coddled the Corinthians and others, perhaps none of us would be in the faith today. The churches would have been racked by scandal and died.
So perhaps when we think of the runaway prophet, we should see him in another way. Yes, Giles does have a point that we all tend to be like this. Which makes us feel like we're in good company. An important thing. But the good news is not that the runaway prophet's life is going to improve when he gets his head on straight. The good news is that God will get the runaway prophets to preach the good news for the salvation of others. The good news is that God made a lot of runaway prophets preach, which is why we know about this in the first place.
God has been good to us. And he will be good to others, too. We may or may not like how that affects our own lives. But that doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, as much as it matters to you or me today. We may find ourselves in Jonah's shoes and not like it. When we do we need to remember that we first stood in the Ninevites' shoes. That may not make Jonah's shoes pinch less. But it will remind us that all of this happens because of God's mercy.
12:39 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Monday, February 21st, 2005
“These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.” from “John Wilkins' Analytical Language”, by Jorge Luis Borges in his Selected Non-Fictions.
Borges is a kick. He is my favorite author discovery in the last fifteen years. If you haven't discovered him for yourself, check him out. His career spanned from the 1920's to the 1980's. His Selected Non-Fictions include a movie review of King Kong from when it opened, and his preface to Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, among other things. Borges never bores. I read the entries in this book out of sequence, and found that very shortly, I could find no entries that I had not read in its 500+ pages.
10:40 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Wednesday, February 16th, 2005
Prince Charles's engagement to Camilla Parker Bowles has caused a stir in the blogosphere. I have been on the worldmag blog and seen a long train of comments on an article on this subject. Many issues are stirred up. Some involving the ethics of marriage. Some involving how the Anglican Church is treating the matter. The conversation is helpful, and I have learned some things from it.
But I can't escape the impression that people jump into the difficult matter of deciding whether someone may remarry before asking what Scripture says marriage is. They begin in the middle. They assume that they can apply all the Scriptural strictures to our current practice. So nobody quite knows what is being violated if they break the rules.
This reminds me somewhat of the difficulties St. Augustine ran into. He took a concubine when he was young, and was faithful to her for many years. She even bore him a son. Yet his mother "St. Monica" did not find his match to be suitable. She pressured him to break off the relationship so that he could find a more acceptable wife. In a footnote to my edition of the Confessions, I found that Augustine had to wait two years until this suitable wife would reach the marriageble age of ten years old! Augustine found that giving up sex was difficult, and he fell into fornication. When he returned to the church, he pursued a celibate life.
In this whole story, the person I wonder about is St. Monica. This pious woman was attempting to merge the social expectations of the times with strict Catholic morality. She ended up causing great damage. If somebody had asked the question of what God thought marriage was, I think that Augustine would have been pushed to marry his concubine and remain faithful to her.
In Genesis, there is no mention of a marriage ceremony. Some might argue that Genesis cannot be taken as normative, since proper marriage now requires witnesses. I would argue that while marriage may require more for propriety than it did back then (and remember, Adam and Eve were joined before the fall), it has not fundamentally altered in character. And Jesus takes Adam and Eve as normative. What Genesis speaks of is the two becoming one flesh. St. Paul uses the same term of those who lie with prostitutes.
The reason marriage is a public act is to keep people honest. To keep them honest about something that might exist before a ceremony. If two become one flesh, God does not want them to be put asunder. To argue that they should be put asunder for the sake of proper marriage is an odd thing. For the purpose of proper marriage is to keep people from being put asunder. The problem with the man and the prostitute is that neither intends to remain faithful to the other. But with Augustine and his concubine, Augustine was faithful for many years. His break with her might be considered a divorce.
I am merely suggesting a way of looking at the situation. Many of the institutional protections we have are a best attempt at remedying things when they go wrong. We make them official so that people respect them. Yet when we forget this, we often use the offical to bulldoze the genuine thing that was supposed to be protected.
I have read a few different accounts of Prince Charles's relationship to Camilla. I don't know who bears the key blame for all the ill that has happened in the meantime. Any attempt to figure that out on my part would be an attempt to apply Scriptural principles to gossip. But I do imagine that it would have been much happier if the two had honored their bond in the beginning, before either of them had married others, and remained faithful to each other. (One article I read said Charles did propose, but Camilla refused. Pity.) Many of the things that kept them apart would fall under the Reformers' category of invented works. Attempts to do more than is required by God. Such works often begin by looking better. But they leave a wake of unhappiness behind.
12:59 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Tuesday, February 15th, 2005
I just found the new issue of Addenda, the monthly e-mail newsletter from MARS HILL AUDIO, in my inbox this morning. It contains a link to an article called The Classics in the Slums, by Jonathan Rose. This is a must-read. The article counters the claim that great literature is irrelevant to the working classes by showing just how much they used to read (more than the educated classes do now), and how it affected them.
If you are unfamiliar with Mars Hill, you need to subscribe. Nobody does what they do better. They publish an audio journal six times a year which relates Christianity to broader culture. Ken Myers is the producer, and his big category is that we live in a created ORDER. Reality is structured. Many of his treatments of subjects either attack orderlessness, or the imposition of an arbitrary order that violates the order of creation. The subscription normally costs $36 per year, and you can choose to receive it by CD or tape. I find the journal expensive, not on account of the subscription price, but because I have to buy so many books and CD's that Ken Myers has brought to my attention. To check out the Mars Hill site, click here.
11:44 am Pacific Standard Time
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Saturday, February 12th, 2005
After 27 years, the King Tut exhibit is returning to Los Angeles. I can't wait.
I saw it with my dad when I was twelve. I had been anticipating that for two years. One of my fourth grade teachers, Miss Firpo, was into imagination and into ancient Egypt. She told us the stories of mummification, and the finding of King Tut's tomb. (I still remember her dramatizing the story by announcing the "mummy's curse" with a whisper. That part was probably urban legend, but we loved it.) She paged through the entire book of items found in the tomb, explaining the details. For example, how the gold statue of Selket had stood so long (almost 4,000 years) on the wooden base that the wood had sunk. She told us that a Tut exhibit would be touring in two years. I wondered if I would go.
Some time later, my dad's sister Georgana visited us, and told us that she and her husband had tickets. I was insanely jealous. It wasn't fair! I wanted to go more badly than she did!
My dad ended up getting a couple of tickets through work. My mom surrendered what would have been her ticketafter all, I wanted to go more badly than sheand my dad and I went to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA). Everything was amazing. So many pieces of such high quality. Many would deserve to be in a museum if they had been created last year, for art's sake. There was so much to see, that I had forgotten what I had been looking forward to all along. The solid gold mask depicting the young king's face. I was not disappointed.
I have told people this was the greatest exhibit I expected to see in my life. Well, a better one is coming to LA. The new exhibit has what the old exhibit did, and more. Instead of 55 pieces like last time, there will be more than 130 pieces. The added pieces are from other Pharaohs.
I once told someone that if they had only one day in a major world city and had a choice between sightseeing in the city or seeing the Tut Exhibit, they should choose the Tut Exhibit. Don't let this one pass you by. The exhibit will also stop at the Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale and The Field Museum, Chicago. For a website with more information on both Tut and the exhibit, check out National Geographic.
11:14 am Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | 18 comments ]
Friday, February 11th, 2005
This morning, a friend sent me a link to an article where a writer was ranting about how in the whole budget process, nobody asks the question as to whether or not budget items are Constitutional. So far, so good. The trouble was, the article writer himself did not cite the Constitution when he claimed that specific items were not Constitutional. He also failed to mention that the President is not directly required by the Constitution to present a budget [The Congress made a law requiring him to do so.], and his budget is a suggestion [It may be ignored.].
Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution
"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law."
If the money is drawn from the treasury through law, or legislation, and Congress has all legislative powers, then it follows that Congress has sole power to draw money from the Treasury. Congress spends money. The President does not.
So can any President's budget really be considered a violation of the Constitution, given that it does not really spend any money? (That's an ethical point worth arguing, but it is not so clear-cut as the Congressional budget.)
Just as no pastor should ever be charged with false doctrine without the Scriptures being cited, so also the President should not be charged with unconstitutional actions without the Constitution being cited. To be sure, I think we are in a world of hurt. I agreed with many of the points the writer made. And I thought much of his outrage was justified. I just wish he had proven the points. As it stands, if he convinces people to go out and fight for his points, they go out onto the street unarmed. They will likely get beaten up by those of the other side who can cite something, albeit wrongly, for their position. [The 'General Welfare' clause on behalf of welfare, for example.] They will be dejected and perhaps give up fighting altogether.
Whatever your political persuasion, avoid writers who cannot ground their claims with citations. If the position is a good one, you can be sure that an abler writer exists who can make the case in such a way that you can be more certain of it and argue it better on the streets.
The article ended suggesting that perhaps we needed to start a fresh new government in a new location. An island owned by the article author, perhaps? No location was mentioned. No thanks. I don't want to start anew with people who are angry about the government but don't cite the Constitution, any more than I want to start a new church with people who are angry at the pastor but don't cite Scripture.
We need to have a culture where citation is the rule, not the exception.
I have cited the pertinent parts of the Constitution for the points I have made. If I am right, then people can see what the grounds of my argument were. If I am wrong, then people can see what it is that I misunderstood. In either case, the argument is not of the form, "Such-and-such is unconstitutional." "No it isn't!" "Yes it is!" (Somehow I imagine John Cleese arguing the above. But that isn't really an argument. Yes it is. No it isn't!)
8:28 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Monday, February 7th, 2005
In Lutheran theology, we have a term sedes doctrinae, or in English, 'seats of doctrine'. This term refers to the fact that certain Biblical passages are at the epicenter of the Bible's teaching on a subject. The idea goes deeper than that, though. In some ways it even trumps the hermeneutical rule that clear passages always interpret obscure passages. If the passage in question is a seat of doctrine, it is to be allowed to speak for itself.
I ran into an application of this idea long ago while reading about the Lord's Supper. A Lutheran writer wrote that the Words of Institution (i.e. words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: "This is my body...This cup is the New Testament in my blood...") are not commentary on the Lord's Supper. They are constitutive of the Lord's Supper. They make it what it is. I knew that people would often try to pull me into First Corinthians when we debated the nature of the Supper. And in one sense, I was happy to go there, as I thought First Corinthians was as Lutheran as any of the Gospels. But in another sense, I knew that it was wrongheaded to do this. The writer was right. The Words of Institution create the Supper.
To miss this is to imagine that inspiration works as it does not work. This was a point I got from Luther. Luther saw such a danger in the schwaermerei, those who believed in the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture, that he not only attacked the idea that Christians did that in our age. He said that even the prophets had Scripture informing their revelations. After seeing just how saturated the Book of Revelation is with the Old Testament apocalyptic literature (read Revelation 1:12-16 after reading Daniel 7, if you want but one example.), I think he was right.
So when Paul comments on the Lord's Supper, he too must have the Words of Institution in mind as formative for his understanding. Even while his words are inspired, and kept by the Spirit from error, Paul does not get a standalone revelation about the Supper. The revelation he receives comes from meditating on the Scriptures he has received. So his words are not a "clearer commentary" on the Lord's Supper than the Words of Institution offer us. They are a commentary on the Words of Institution themselves. In such a way that we cannot bypass understanding those words in order to get to some other "biblical doctrine" of the Lord's Supper.
I said above that the idea of sedes doctrinae trumps a hermeneutical rule. That's probably an overstatement. In the current case, the Words of Institution are clear words. All too clear for most people. They want someone to tell them that they mean something other than what they say. But it remains true that when they attempt to do this, people are misunderstanding the nature of revelation.
For another example of sedes doctrinae in action, just ponder how Jesus would not allow even Old Testament revelation to trump the clear language of Genesis where we have the sedes doctrinae for marriage. The Pharisees tried to quote Deuteronomy in support of their practice, but Jesus pushes them back to the words which define marriage (Matthew 19:4-9). Jesus is not only telling us what the right doctrine is. He is teaching us how to read. And how not to read.
9:46 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Thursday, February 3rd, 2005
The older I get, the more I am convinced that proper reading the Bible is something that happens over time. Nobody gets it the first time through. Granted, we are fallen. But I think that some of what we miss is due to connections that take time to make. We don't get them until we have seen one passage shortly after seeing another.
Some people look at fallenness in ways that are themselves perhaps fallen. We live in an advertising culture. When we think of how we fall short, it is usually the ways the media tell us we fall short: basically ways that can be seen and measured. I used to look at medieval pictures of Adam and Eve and think, "Surely the unfallen or newly fallen people would have had more physical vitality than that!" What a misreading. A picture of the fall is meant to get across the idea of wretchedness. To make the unseen visible. But even with an unfallen Adam and Eve, the idea to get across is of blessedness. And the good artist will have to be a good theologian, and not a silly modern person.
My point about this for reading is the following. We imagine that the unfallen people would not have to have a learning process to understand anything. The theological knowledge would already be in them, as the laws of Geometry were born into the slave boy in Plato. But is this true? Was not Eve taught by Adam what God had said? God commanded the man before the woman was created. So even in Eden, there was a learning process before the fall.
I like to imagine that St. Paul's depth came partly from meditating on the Old Testament in light of Christ during his fourteen years in Arabia. And I like to think that John's depth came from meditation as well. He had longer than St. Mark had to ponder who Jesus was and what he meant. Mark's writing was without error. But that doesn't entail that it is as deep. Time counts for something.
It was in seminary that I began to learn that the Old Testament background to the New Testament was more central than I had ever guessed. At first, when professors cited possible Old Testament allusions, I was incredulous. "The writer surely wasn't thinking of an obscure Psalm at that point." Obscure to whom? The Psalter was their hymnal. Or "The understanding of the text cannot be affected by the Theodotian version of the Septuagint! Who has ever heard of that?" Answer, lots of people in Jesus' time. I'm sure that in the future, if not the present, people who speak other languages will find the idea that our phraseology comes from the King James version hard to believe. If someone hears one of us say "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..." they know we are quoting the King James. But to a non-English speaker, that identification might sound difficult to prove. "Couldn't the speaker have come up with that independently?" No. Probably not.
I've gotten into the habit of looking up the Old Testament references when I'm reading the New Testament. The one I just looked up yesterday was the citation in 1 Corinthians 15. "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15: 54). I thought to myself, "Okay. So where is that saying written?" I looked it up and found that the saying comes from Isaiah 25:8, "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off their faces; and the rebuke of his People shall He take away from off al the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it."
I have also gotten into the habit as I do this to read further ahead and behind the cited verse to see if more of the passage was likely on the mind of the New Testament writer. It often is. Perhaps the part about "the trumpet shall sound" is taken from Isaiah 27:13. In any case, the surrounding Isaiah passage talks of the great feast at the end of the age. And many other elements that are later found in the Revelation. So Paul's thought is tied to John's thought through Isaiah. When you look these things up in the Old Testament, you often find that there is much less need for special revelation for the New Testament writer to know the future. He knows it not from direct revelation from God speaking something new, but from reading the Old Testament aright. This is not to deny inspiration. But I see inspiration in these cases as God the Holy Spirit bringing the right part of the Old Testament to the mind of the writer, and preserving his writings from error.
This kind of reading leads in some interesting directions. If we see how a New Testament writer reads the Old Testament, we can follow suit. The New Testament writer's way of reading the Old Testament is a template to be followed. And it will make for a richer reading. How much of the book of Revelation comes from Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah. What if we read the other sections of those books as St. John did? Would that not be more worthwhile than those ghastly Tim LaHaye books? We could prophesy to our own time in some wonderful ways. But we mostly do not. And I think the key failure is one of imagination.
12:55 pm Pacific Standard Time
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Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005
At St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Laguna Beach, CA, we hosted a marathon reading of the book of Genesis a couple of weeks ago. We had a dozen adults from the church together on a Sunday afternoon taking turns reading a chapter or two at a time. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to make it through the book.
I would highly recommend this experience to any church group. It offers one of the regular benefits of congregational reading: knowing that everyone who was present is familiar with the passages read. And it offers another benefit. Reading or hearing a book in one sitting allows a person to make connections that can easily be lost if the book is parcelled out into smaller bits. During our reading, I noticed for the first time just how often someone was saying something along the line of "Why have you done this to me?" (So much for Bible characters being offered primarily as moral examples! The people in Genesis were regularly victimizing each other.)
A light lunch provided by our Fellowship Committee helped make the sitting more comfortable.
We used a large print text of the English Standard Bible for our text.
One woman asked beforehand if we were reading "Genesis by Dr. Martin Luther." I told her that no, while Luther did write a famous series of lectures on Genesis, this was the ancient book from the Bible upon which his lectures were based. This reminded me that there are people out there who need opportunities to catch up on what they were not exposed to. The woman in question was new to Christianity. And has been in Bible Study for a number of months. But while that ensured her learning some solid doctrine from the text of Scripture itself, it did not ensure that she was familiar with some of our most fundamental texts. (Dr. Wilbur Smith from the early days of Fuller Theological Seminary used to say that you could remove any one chapter from the Bible and it would still make sense. Where information was vital, it was always repeated somewhere. With the exception of Genesis chapter three. Without that chapter, the rest of the Bible doesn't make sense.) It is good to know that the woman now knows what Genesis says, and probably better than others who have read it in the distant past.
I would like to do another Marathon reading in the future. Perhaps Luke-Acts.
2:02 pm Pacific Standard Time
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