Author Archive

East of Eden

Six months ago I devoured John Steinbeck’s mythic tale, East of Eden.  Steinbeck creates fantastic and believable characters in a larger than life sort of way.  He even gives one of his characters a horse named Doxology.  Doxology is only the most amazing name for a horse ever. I really must buy a horse just to name it Doxology.  Anyway, some of you may remember Liza Hamilton.  If not, allow me to introduce you to her.  Liza is a small, strict woman with a rigid set of moral standards.  Life is black and white for Liza Hamilton.  On one occasion, in the book, Liza’s husband Samuel stays out all night hanging out with some neighbors.  Now, Samuel was not out doing anything scandalous but was just out later than Liza deemed appropriate.  The next morning Liza disapprovingly chides Samuel, saying, “Maybe you can find it healthy to rove all night, but the Lord God will do what He sees fit about that.”  Now I am not interested in discussing whether or not the fictional Liza was justified in her conviction.  What I am most interested in discussing is the narrator’s comment immediately after her rebuke:

“It was well known that Liza Hamilton and the Lord God held similar convictions on nearly every subject.” (Penguin Books, East of Eden, 178)

The narrator’s quip is both amusing and illuminating, don’t you think?

I have all too often discovered myself assuming that God thinks similarly to me on a variety of subjects.  If I am in a fight with Colin, I might say something like, “Well, why don’t you pray about that?”  Hmmm, I’m pretty sure that what I really mean is, “I’m going to give you a couple of minutes to testify that you fully agree with me that God is on my side in this argument and not yours.”

Sometimes we get so overconfident in our understanding and knowledge of God that we simply assume all of our opinions are synonymous with His heart.  We seem to think that if only we knew Scripture word for word then all of our thoughts and opinions would be in continuity with God’s own. There are so many problems with this assumption, not least of which is the sin in our hearts that causes us to, at times, misunderstand or misappropriate the Scripture that we have so impeccably memorized.  Now, this is not about disparaging knowing the Bible or memorizing Scripture. This is about resisting the assumption that if we know the Bible well we can co-judge with God.

The other day as I was scrolling down my twitter feed I read a tweet by one of our siestas, Fran Thomas.  She typed the following:

“Just because you have the gift of discernment doesn’t make you right all the time.” And then she wrote in parentheses: “talking to myself.”

Her tweet was a gorgeous reminder and it took me back to the Liza Hamilton in myself. Thanks for that word, Fran, if you are out here in these interwebs today.

The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. Deuteronomy 10:17

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This Shall Turn out for My Deliverance: An Exercise in Intertextuality

Greetings, Siestas!

I am cold.

How are you?

I will have you know that Houstonians have been notified that we have a 70% chance of snow flurries over the next twenty four hours. We are all nestled at home by the fire, awaiting the likes of the Chicago blizzard. The doors of schools and workplaces have been locked and abandoned. Food stuffs have long since been purchased. Shelves are practically empty. In short, we are all certifiably insane.

In other news, on Tuesday night at Bible Study my Mom read out of Philippians 1.19:

For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (NASB)

Every time I hear this verse, a bell starts ringing in my head and it drives me crazy because I can never identify it. But, at last, the other night I finally discovered that the echo is coming from Job 13.16. We can see that the phrase “this shall turn out for my deliverance” in Philippians 1.19 (τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν) finds a word for word correspondence in the Greek version of Job 13.16:

Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (NIV)

For those interested, you can see the correspondence in the Greek below:

Philippians 1.19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Job 13.16 καὶ τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν οὐ γὰρ ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ δόλος εἰσελεύσεται.

The Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible are known collectively as the Septuagint (commonly abbreviated LXX). The LXX is overwhelmingly the Bible that Paul uses in his letters. What is fascinating about this instance in Philippians 1.19 is that Paul does not use any introductory formula (for example, something like, “the Scripture says”) to introduce his allusion or echo of Job 13.16.  This discussion is a conversation in intertextuality.  Intertextuality, in simplest terms, is the relationship between texts. So what I am getting at with this particular discussion is, how is Paul using Job 13.16 in Philippians 1.19? If that question does not make sense, think of it this way: what is the relationship between Philippians 1.19 and Job 13.16?

There are several explanations as to what may be going on but here are just a couple of general options:

1) In spite of the verbatim verbal correspondence, Paul has not consciously invoked Job 13.16. It is sheer coincidence and no implications should be drawn about the relationship between these two texts.

2) Paul has uttered the words “this will turn out for my deliverance” in passing, without too much thought. It is noteworthy that we do this all the time, not because we are trying to invoke entire contexts of biblical passages, but because of our familiarization with a certain verse. For example, when we have a friend who has suffered a loss, we might say, “All things work for the good of those who love him” without even realizing we just quoted half of Romans 8.28. Our intention was not to point our friend to the entirety of Romans 8 but simply to quickly apply a very familiar verse to a new and relevant situation.

3) In Philippians 1.19, Paul has intentionally echoed the language and context of Job 13.16 because he is identifying himself and his circumstances with Job, the paradigmatic righteous sufferer who, in his suffering and affliction, hoped in God for ultimate vindication and redemption.

Discussions of intertextuality, like this one, can be quite fascinating and complex since the line between option two and option three is often difficult to discern. If you wish to do so, take a look at the pertinent verses and let me know what you think. First, look at Philippians 1.19 and its surrounding context. Second, check out Job 13.16 (read all of Job 13 if you really want to make the most of the discussion). Finally, go back to Philippians 1.19 and try to discern the nature of the relationship between the two texts.

As a side note, today I forgot my Bible, so I am using one of my Mom’s old ones and it is dated to approximately 1990. The marginal notes are full of stars, exclamation marks, and observations in curly little cursive handwriting and it is making me so happy.

Have a great evening, dear ladies.  Whatever you do, do not make your way to Houston; Chicago, Antarctica, the North Pole, anywhere would be safer than Houston.

Love,

Melis



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Urgent Siesta Prayer Request

My Dear Ladies,

It has been *so* long since I have written on this blog. WOW. Things have been so busy at work and around the Fitzpatrick house but today I got some news that compelled me to get on the blog immediately. Joanne Heim, a dear siesta, suffered a stroke this morning. She is the thirty-eight year old wife of Toben and mother of Audrey (12) and Emma (9). Some of you around here may know her as the Simple Wife. Joanne has inspired me countless times with her witty and profound comments. She is a brilliant student of Scripture, an amazingly devoted wife, and a fun and creative Mom. The last time I heard from her she told me that she was teaching her girls Greek. My heart was pierced when I heard the news a few hours ago and I have not been able to get the Heims out of my mind. Please hear me when I say that I know nothing except that Joanne has been in surgery, they located a blood clot, and she is out of surgery. I have been stalking news about her on Twitter, and apparently she is still sleeping but has been responsive by squeezing her husband’s hand.  The family will not know anything substantial until she wakes up.  I am not an authority on what is going on as I have very few details (and the ones I do have are from Twitter!), but Mom, Amanda and I do want to invite you to pray for our dear sister Joanne. If you feel inclined, please use the comments on this post as prayers for Joanne and family.  We have been told that there is a call to prayer tonight at 6:00 CST. Check Twitter (@joanneheim/#prayingforjoanne) because the last we heard, they were going to try to Skype. No matter when, no matter where, let us all join together and pray for all things concerning the Heim family.

Love to you all,

Melissa

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Context is King

Yesterday I was doing some work on James 1.17: Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (NASB). I was doing a search on the Greek word ἄνωθεν, which is translated “from above” in the translation above. Somewhere in the middle of all this I got distracted and went off on a tangential search when I saw that the same word, ἄνωθεν, is also used in John 3.3.

The NASB, which is the version I typically use, translates John 3.3:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

And for the Greek readers out there, the Greek reads:

ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

So, my question, after looking at the Greek of John 3.3, was, why isn’t John 3.3 translated “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Then, I started going through the English translations to see if this was something that the various translators offered as a lexical possibility. And, lo and behold, these were my findings:

NIV In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
ESV Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NASB Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NET Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NLT Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The Message Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”
CEV Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!”
NAB Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
NRS Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
KJV Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
NJB Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
HCSB Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

** The English rendering of the Greek word ἄνωθεν is in bold in each instance.

You do NOT need to know Greek in order to be able to see where the interpretive issues are in this verse, all you have to do is make a chart of the various English translations and compare them.  Start asking the question, “where do the translations differ from one another?”  Of course, comparing the translations doesn’t resolve the issue entirely but it can give you a really good idea of what issues are at stake. Learning to ask the right questions is a major part of exegesis.

Sure enough, after glancing at a couple of lexicons, I found that the word ἄνωθεν can mean both “from above” and “again.” BDAG (Frederick William Danker, ed.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 3rd Ed (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 92), the standard Greek Lexicon, gives the basic semantic range for the word ἄνωθεν as the following:

  • 1. in extension from a source that is above, from above
  • 2. from a point of time marking the beginning of something, from the beginning
  • 3. for a relatively long period in the past, for a long time
  • 4. at a subsequent point of time involving repetition, again, anew

Our verse, John 3.3, is listed under categories 1 and 4. In other words, the immediate context of John 3.3 is suitable for both meanings (1 & 4) and not even BDAG, the Greek Lexicon par excellence, knows, unequivocally, which meaning is best. BDAG says that John 3.3 is “designedly ambiguous.” But what does “designedly ambiguous” mean, exactly? This seems to be the same question that another lexicon has when it says the suggestion that both meanings are meant “is superfluous and unprovable” (Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol 1. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 378).   But to this ostensible skepticism, J. Gerald Janzen quips, “The charge of superfluity in a gospel that abounds in double-meanings is supercilious” (“How Can a Man be Born when He is Old? Jacob/Israel in Genesis and the Gospel of John,” Encounter 65 (2004): 323-343).

Welcome to lexical study, Siestas.

Isn’t this fun?

As you can see on the chart, the NET Bible translates the word ἄνωθεν “from above.” In a fairly extensive footnote the editor explains to us the reason for the translation:

The word ἄνωθεν has a double meaning, either “again” or “from above”. This is a favorite technique of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and it is lost in almost all translations at this point. John uses the word 5 times, in 3:3, 7; 3:31; 19:11 and 23. In the latter 3 cases the context makes clear that it means “from above.” Here (3:3, 7) it could mean either, but the primary meaning intended by Jesus is “from above.” Nicodemus apparently understood it the other way, which explains his reply, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” The author uses the technique of the “misunderstood question” often to bring out a particularly important point: Jesus says something which is misunderstood by the disciples or (as here) someone else, which then gives Jesus the opportunity to explain more fully and in more detail what he really meant.

I often recommend the NET Study Bible to people (you can also find the entire text along with notes online), because even if one does not agree with the translation at various points, the notes are plentiful and invaluable. They really give the reader an idea of what is going on in the translation process. Just picture yourself as a little fly hovering on a brittle old papyrus in Daniel Wallace’s office when you read the notes.

It’ll be fun. Kind of? I mean, if you like this sorta thing.

Just in case you got bored and/or distracted but are somehow still reading out of compassion for my mental health, the bottom line is that we do not know whether the word in John 3.3 should be translated “from above” or “again” or if the word is providentially ambiguous in light of its double meaning.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says, “The meaning of anothen in John 3.3, 7 has been a matter of debate among scholars. It can mean that a person must be born “again,” but it can also mean that one must be born “from above.” Perhaps we do not need to choose between the two, for when we are born from above (i.e. born from the Spirit of God), we experience rebirth (i.e., we are born again)” (Verlyn D. Verbrugge, ed.  New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 56).   Similarly, William D. Mounce says “the ambiguity in the word beautifully covers both concepts” (William D. Mounce, ed. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 274).  Sounds to me like a very nice way to say, “Get a grip, folks. Stop bickering about minutiae because both renderings end up meaning exactly the same thing.”

But, then again . . .

🙂

So, just to clarify, here are the major interpretive options:

1) In the context, the meaning of ἄνωθεν is probably “again.”
2) In the context, the meaning of ἄνωθεν is probably “from above.”
3) In the context, the double meaning of ἄνωθεν is intended; it is intentionally ambiguous (I am not sure how these folks would translate the verse into English since they can still only choose one English word)
4) Considering the context, it really does not matter if ἄνωθεν means “from above” or “again” because ultimately the theological meaning of being born again and being born from above is exactly the same.

So, who do you think is right?

This is just one (relatively insignificant) example of the issues translators have to deal with on a regular basis.  Perhaps we should pray for them.  For real.  I recognize that this is fairly tedious at some points, but I really want to know what you think. Given the data, what do you think is the best interpretive option for John 3.3? Try to carefully examine the immediate context of John 3 (I would read all of John 1-3 to be safe).  As the exegetical pundits like to say, Context is King.  What does the immediate context tell us?  There are things about the immediate context that support the translation “again” but there are also things that support “from above.”  What are they?  Also, don’t forget to survey the four additional verses in John’s gospel where the word ἄνωθεν is also used: 3:7; 3:31; 19:11; 19:23.   What do these additional usages tell us, if anything?

And, oh yeah, I am not going to tell you what I think.  Mostly because I am totally open to your persuasion.

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

{Actually, let’s be honest, there is a right or wrong answer, but none of us are going to know it on this side of eternity}

Talk to me.

P.S. I think I’m going to start calling Christ followers “born-from-above-Christians” just to be annoying.

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Because it’s the weekend.

Happy Friday, everyone!

It has been a great work week, but oh my word, my brain is utterly fried.  I am tired.  I have absolutely nothing of any sort of substance to share with you.  Just some very random pictures coupled with commentary in like fashion.  I was going through the camera roll on my iphone today and decided I would share some of them.  I love to scroll through the pictures my friends take with their phones.  I think you can learn something new about someone by looking at the little things they like to capture throughout their day.  So the following jumbled mess is a string of some pictures or moments that I have captured over the past few months.

Eatin’ breakfast across from my love.

A perfect mid-morning, continued.

One of my favorite areas in Atlanta: West Midtown.  It is raw and industrial; it provides all kinds of inspiration.

Piedmont Park, midtown Atlanta.  One of the many Atlanta parks I frequent weekly.

A good friend of mine recently made approximately one hundred individual origami butterflies and strategically arranged them on the wall one at a time. The pattern is brilliant.  I’m in love.

But not quite as in love as I am with the real thing. This butterfly was showing off for me. If I were a butterfly, I would want to spend my afternoon perched near these flowers, too.  Little kaleidoscopes of colors bursting with oranges, pinks, and yellows.

My **favorite** sandwich from Alon’s.  Roasted eggplant, roasted red peppers, sliced tomato, cold chunks of fresh mozzarella, and homemade basil pesto all held together with whole wheat bread. Insane, I tell you.

Columbia Seminary’s Library . . . One of my happy places.

One benefit of having the window seat. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Psalm 19.1

The moon testifies, too. One beautiful night I slipped out for a walk and the moon was so bright, one could nearly have mistaken it for the sun. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever . . . who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever . . . the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever”(Psalm 136.1, 5, 9).

Tomato Juice?  I warned you that this was going to be random.  I don’t even like tomato juice but for but for some odd reason I have a fierce loyalty to it when I’m on the airplane.  Maybe the recycled air changes its chemical composition or something. Also, I really wish they would go back to serving peanuts.  The one meager little package of tiny pretzel sticks leaves a lot to be desired.

My nephew and a Stetson box.
Now you see him.

And now you don’t.
Sort of?

My little niece.  This may seem like a random picture to you but it thrills me to no end because she looks so much like Amanda here. Her lips and eye shape are identical.  I keep praying her eyes are going to turn sea green like Amanda’s.  Okay, you caught me, I haven’t actually been praying about it. But, I’ve been hoping.

Dear Chicken and Fluffy Biscuits, I could eat you every night of the week.  I was Colin’s hero when I made this dish.

A few evenings ago I was running in my neighborhood and I was struck by the way the light was plummeting down through this tree like a lightning bolt.  The leaves were so illuminated that it was nearly impossible to discern their color.  A few of them looked like brilliant white snowflakes.

My crazy Dad and his portable but sizable hunting blinds. This was my first glimpse of my parent’s house upon my arrival into Houston a few weeks ago. Needless to say, it felt good to be home. Never a dull moment in the Moore house.

Um. Yes, please do.  This might be the most profound graffiti I have ever seen in a bathroom stall.

A pretty church in our neighborhood. I love the rose window. Makes me feel like I got off at the wrong Marta stop and magically ended up in Europe.

Our local bagel shop, Belly General Store.  They make the BEST olive oil and garlic bagels EVER. Also, the style and design in this little shop are out of this world.

The side of Belly General Store, equally as aesthetically fabulous.

Typical Melissa and Colin.

Mom, Annabeth, and me in Houston. This picture was originally taken with a DSLR camera but I decided to throw it in the mix because I saw it today and it made me smile.

Working in the Living Proof Office in Houston. And, sipping on coffee, of course.  The coffee that we were guzzling that particular day is called Stumptown Coffee.  Stumptown Coffee is Kelly Minter’s favorite coffee roaster.  Evidently it makes her long for the New Jerusalem.  She has got some good taste.  We were licking our coffee cups when we weren’t busy taking turns running laps around the office in a caffeine frenzy.  Apparently, according to several Siestas from the Northwest, Stumptown Coffee is from Portland, Oregon, but it also has locations in Seattle.

Today I went to run an errand and when I went to pay the parking meter (downside to intown living), I noticed a little note.

It blessed my heart that someone took the time to write out this little message for a stranger.  But I did wonder where he or she got the scotch tape.  I don’t typically carry scotch tape around with me but maybe I’ll think twice about it next time.  Anyway, after I saw the little note, I went to look at my parking spot and lo and behold, I had parking spot 601.  Gotta love it.

I will end this late night tangent with a picture my Mom just texted me from Chicago. If you look super closely, you can see the sky-line in the distance. You can definitely see the Sears tower (or Willis tower?) to the right. Also, you can tell the leaves are going to turn for fall soon. Oh be still my heart. I wish I were going to be at the event tomorrow! Not to mention, Chicago is my favorite city in the world.

Have a wonderful weekend, Siestas. Whether you are busy with work, church, high school football games, or just hanging out at home, I hope this weekend brings each of you peace and restoration and that whatever you are up to, you are supremely blessed by God in the midst of it.

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Calling all Biography Lovers.

COMMENTS NOW CLOSED SO THAT WE CAN DO OUR DRAWING. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Happy Tuesday, friends!

We are going to do a fun little giveaway today!

For the last several evenings I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer until the wee hours of the night. I was going back and forth between reading Metaxas’ biography (Thomas Nelson, 2010) and Eberhard Bethge’s (Revised Ed. Augsburg Fortress Press, 2000). Bethge’s book obviously has the advantage insofar as he was Bonhoeffer’s close friend and he also married Bonhoeffer’s niece, Renate. In the end, I decided to go with Metaxas’ biography because I heard great things about it from a good friend, and, well, it is 591 pages and not 1049. Seemed like reason enough to me.

For those of you who are not familiar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian who was executed for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Among his writings are well-known books such as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.  He was murdered on April 9, 1945, evidently under Hitler’s direct command. I thought that I knew quite a bit about Bonhoeffer since I have studied some of his theology in the past, but now I realize that I knew so very little about this extraordinary man. Did you know that his older brother worked on splitting the atom with Albert Einstein? At age 23? Crazy, huh? Metaxas, in my opinion, is a particularly meaningful person to have written this Bonhoeffer biography as he is half-German. His grandfather was one of many unwilling soldiers who nevertheless lost his life in the war. Metaxas’ own background plays a poignant role in the intimacy with which he tells his subject’s story.

I’m not typically a biography reader, but this one may convert me. Since I am a little over halfway through with this book, I’m already thinking about the next one I may want to read. I asked my Mom, the biography enthusiast, what her favorite one is and she said one of her “many favorites” is A Chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliot’s biography about the life and legacy of Amy Carmichael.

So, what about you?!

Are you a biography reader?

Tell us what your favorite biography is, along with your first and last name and you will have a chance to win your choice of either Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy:


OR,  Elisabeth Elliot’s book, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael:

We’ll do a random drawing and report *ten* winners on Thursday afternoon, along with further instructions.

Now, talk to me.

What is your favorite biography?

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A World of Pure Imagination

Greetings, Blogworld.

Happy Friday!

I’ve been tucked away in my little condo way too much lately. I’ve been inundated with work and personal study, both of which I thoroughly enjoy, but both of which tend to keep me indoors for long periods of time. And let’s be honest- who really wants to go outside right now? Dear inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, in case you didn’t know, that was a rhetorical question.

It has been insanely hot in Atlanta. I’ve sworn heretofore that Atlanta has been dubbed “Hotlanta” because it happens to be where a bunch of beautiful people live, but now, after enduring my third consecutive August in Atlanta, I’m pretty sure that was naïve or just plain wrong.  Please take a sister’s word for it: Atlanta is called “Hotlanta” because, well, it is hot as heck-fire. I have a smile across my face right now because I’m thinking about my friend who recently moved to Kuwait. Yep, Kuwait. I just glanced at the weather report for Kuwait tomorrow and it looks like it is predicted to be a balmy 118. She would rebuke me for grumbling about a good ole classic 100 degrees but I would quickly retort: “It’s the humidity that makes it unendurable.” She wouldn’t be impressed though, and well, I don’t really blame her. So let’s put it this way: relatively speaking, the heat has been pretty nasty around here. I ran into my neighbor earlier today and she told me she has gained several pounds this month because she refuses to leave her house. We both shook our heads and carried on for a good while in mutual astonishment until finally there was nothing left to do but to prophesy about the glory days to come: autumn in Georgia. By the way, “autumn” sounds way more glamorous than “fall”, right? Autumn in Georgia covers a multitude of summer sins. Some folks get annoyed when people small talk about the weather, but I get a kick out of it. I like that the weather is something that everyone has something to say about, no matter how bashful the person may be or what season it is. The weather is just good neutral common ground, you know? Also, you can get really good and worked up over the weather and you won’t hurt anyone else’s feelings. It’s kinda fun.

But back to my recent case of condo fever. Several months ago I explained to my Mom that I think I am equal parts homebody and wanderlust. She laughed at me, not with me, and explained that I’m more like 99% wanderlust. “Your boots were made for walking, sweetheart.” That’s how she put it. She may be right. A perusing of a world atlas can be sacramental to me. When Colin and I were first dating he told me that he wanted to have an entire wall of his house dedicated to a huge world map. Although I was slightly horrified by the aesthetic ramifications of a big map mural, I had never loved him more.

I love to travel. To see a new place and to experience a new culture. But there is this little thing called adulthood. And responsibility. For some weird reason our landlord keeps demanding that we pay rent every month. Plus, there are events like weddings and family reunions that stack up and demand a big percentage of that small slice of vacation time each of us are allotted.

I’ve had the travel itch lately without the practical availability to travel. I’m like a bird in a cage. I know there is a fabulous destination out there with my name and respective 50-degree weather attached to it, but I just can’t make it happen right now. The very idea that there are people walking around places like Tuscany or Madrid, well, it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something that might have been. I mean, for crying out loud, somewhere over the rainbow, there are people mounted on the Alps eating Swiss fondue.

The most serious symptom of my condo fever has been chronic daydreaming. I can’t remember a time period of my life when I daydreamt this much since my fifth grade teacher taught us long division. Back then, I used to drift off and imagine Willowbrook Mall was my own personal closet. I would roam to and fro throughout this gigantic shopping mall, from Limited Too to Gadzooks, to pick out my new outfit for school. Don’t ask me how Limited Too and Gadzooks were able to coexist in my daydream because I’m not sure. But they were.

Some twenty years later my daydreaming hasn’t matured or progressed all that much. I won’t tarry long on this for sake of my own tender ego but I will say, I have eaten lots of freshly picked strawberries on the rolling green hills of the shire with a handful of delightful little hobbits. I also cried the other day when I heard the theme song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You know, the song: “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”? Who wouldn’t want to drink from a waterfall flowing with milk chocolate? Or pick the fruit from a tree that renders elephantine gummy bears? And what about red and white polka dotted mushrooms the size of giant patio umbrellas, bulging with buttercream icing?

And you’re thinking, Oh Melissa, you need to get out more. But that is exactly what I’m trying to tell you, dear, I can’t leave the house right now. So in attempt to deal more constructively with reality, I’ve been trying to take note of the beauty around me during the particular season I’m in. I don’t think the drive in me to constantly see something new all the time is all that bad. Sure, it could be bad. But for the most part, if it’s harnessed properly, I think it’s okay. Not to mention, it is kind of part of being human. At least for a lot of us, I think. Having said that, I would like to learn how to discover beauty in a season of repetition. Not a season of suffering or hardship, but just a season that is filled with mostly repetitive tasks. A season when I’m feeling a little domesticated and maybe a little bit too familiar with my surroundings. The whole “wake up, eat, work, eat, go to bed” monotony can be disillusioning over time and sometimes someone needs to look at us and say, “Snap out of it! There is beauty to behold, even in your mundane little world!”

All this typing has made me think of the paragraph from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.” (See Part IV “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy)

If you haven’t read Chesterton before, you need to immediately. Orthodoxy should be required for baptism. I’m kidding, I think. Chesterton was a man of extraordinary brilliance and imagination and even if you think he has lost his mind at times, his writing will make you think differently about the world we inhabit.

But I’m not done talking through my dilemma. I wonder if imagination itself is one key to enjoying and delighting in the mundane. What if, instead of dreaming about how bright the city lights are in Bangkok, or longing for a cool starry night out on a ranch out in Montana, I took notice of the way the sun dances on my old cracked hardwood floors from the hours of 6-8 pm, as if they were its vintage stage? What if, each time I saw a butterfly, I imagined God standing at an easel painting the delicate and intricate patterns displayed on its wings?  Or, what if, instead of being annoyed by the boisterous giggling of two people in my local coffee shop, I thanked God for the gift of laughter and comic relief or imagined the kinds of things that may bring a smile to His face.  I wonder what my life would be like if I used my overactive imagination, not to daydream about far away lands or fantasy peoples, but to make sense of and delight in my own little world and the people I encounter on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget when I first read an excerpt from one of Kyle Lake’s final sermons. For those of you who are not familiar, Kyle Lake was the pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, TX. He died, far too young, in October of 2005. I did not know Lake personally but I did attend his church on several occasions when I was a Baylor student and had the opportunity to hear him preach. Somewhere along the way I heard that they read the following excerpt from one of his final sermons at his funeral:

“Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun. If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time. If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well. Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own. If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And grieve well. At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.”

Be PRESENT.

I like that.

I want to be present.  In every season.  Even the ordinary ones.

“Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” James 1.17

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A Recent Article

On Monday afternoon I went down to fetch my mail and I was delighted to see the August edition of Christianity Today at the bottom of the pile.  Brushing off the junk mail, I saw that my Mom was on the cover.  I already knew she was going to be featured in one of the coming editions but I’ve found there is very little by way of preparation for a moment like this one.  It is difficult to describe to you the feeling of seeing the face of the one who bore you on the cover of a magazine.  I do not mean this in a pompous way because it is not a feeling of pride.  It is a feeling of great sobriety.

During that moment the butterflies in my stomach were akin to the ones fluttering around on the day my Mom spoke during chapel hour when I was a sophomore at Baylor University.  Or the evening Mom spoke at Founder’s Week during my first year as a transfer student at Moody Bible Institute.  I have, on numerous occasions, watched Mom speak in venues with 20,000+ people and it not even fazed me but these two gatherings were different. The events at Baylor and Moody were composed of a whole bunch of people I knew, people I loved and respected.   Mom’s been in a bunch of magazines over the years.  But Christianity Today is the one and only Christian magazine I actually read.  Although “they” don’t know me from Eve, I feel like I know them.  I laugh with them, cry with them, “amen” with them, and I even argue back and forth with them.  These folks are supposed to be my friends, right? So this time when I picked up the magazine it was a little bit different.  It hit closer to home.

It was a little bit more vulnerable.

You may think that it is the fear of criticism that is so sobering about a moment like this one, yet that is not exactly true. Sure, criticism is tough but far worse is the momentary thought that, for better or worse, I sit as a passive observer while my Mom’s value is being weighed under the critical scrutiny of a bunch of my peers and professors.  Please understand what I am saying, even if the responses are exuberant and laudatory in nature, it is the careful scrutiny of a parent that is the rub.  It is, of course, also a significant part of the life God has graciously and providentially given to me. And His tenderness never fails me in moments like these.

As I held the magazine in my hand, the daughter in me said, “Proceed with caution. You might get hurt.” But the student in me said, “Come on, Melissa. There are no questions that are off limits. No one is above question, observation, or criticism.”  Eventually I mustered the courage, put on my cloak of “objectivity,” and took the plunge.

As I made my way through the first article, I found I could understand or identify with the bulk of it.  I saw my Mom represented on the pages in more than just photographs, and whether the words were kind or critical, I found them to be fair. Again, no one is above careful observation because we all err in many ways.  We all need each other to get this thing right.  Even I, the biased observer, can recognize that much.  Christianity Today’s ability to represent a diverse set of viewpoints is the primary reason I read their work in the first place. There are very few voices left out of their articles and conversations and that spirit of diversity contributes, I think, to an overall appreciation of the richness and variety in the church, even if it is mostly the evangelical church that is represented.

So as I finished the last sentence of the first article I took a deep breath.  “It’s over and I’m still alive,” I thought.

Just kidding. It really wasn’t all that rough.

But I had yet to read the second article.

As I began to read the second article entitled “First Came the Bible,” some things started to become a bit opaque for me.  I do not want to get too pedantic and I certainly do not want to bore you all to tears, so I’ll get to my point.  And at this point you’re hoping I have one, right?  Wink. What troubled me most about the second article was a paragraph that purports the following (again, this can be found in the August edition of Christianity Today on page 27):

Moore is truly a Bible teacher.  Her teaching is rooted in her strong affinity for Scripture.  She does not show much interest in theology or tradition, distrusting the way the academy has, at times, handled the Bible. “Godless philosophies have not been my temptation,” Moore comments.  “In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture.”  Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them, she argues, “Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments.  They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun (27).

As I began to read through this paragraph, something just did not sit right with me.  The first half sounded sort of like Mom but the language was peculiar and the harsh indictment against seminaries took me by surprise. I assumed that if Mom said such a thing about the pride and arrogance of the theological and/or seminary world, she was most likely speaking about me.  And frankly, it would have been warranted.  I was one single theology class into my education when I began anathematizing every Christian I knew, including my Mom, Dad, Pastor . . . And I could go on.  So, in light of my own interests and experience, I began to wonder where these quotes were pulled from and the context in which Mom stated them.

Even though I am intimately acquainted with Mom’s writing and speaking, I still didn’t know where exactly these quotes originated.  I came to find that, to the best of my knowledge, the various pieces were pulled from Believing God (the trade book) and Stepping Up (the bible study).  The first quote, “Godless philosophies have not been my temptation. In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture,” was pulled from Believing God. Although the quote is fairly clear in isolation, when you read the immediate context carefully, you find that Mom has tempered her claim by statements such as “Thankfully, many churches and Christian institutes of higher learning teach the God of Scripture, but why do so many others default to a lesser-God theology?” and even stronger, “Flawless churches and Christian universities don’t exist because they are full of flawed people just like me.” Should you be interested in reading further please look in and around pages 47-50 of the Believing God book, not the bible study workbook.

I think you will find that Mom is not writing about her hostility toward “the academy” (a term that needs to be clarified in the article itself) but the tendency in all of us to minimize God in our pursuit of the knowledge of Him.  Mom presents academic institutions as the most influential place where this minimizing can be found, but very clearly acknowledges that the tendency is not to be limited to the academic world, or even descriptive of the academic world.

The second quote is far more bothersome because it implies that Mom only reluctantly admits that seminaries have any value. After a bit of searching I made my way from Believing God to Stepping Up because of the author’s mention of Psalm 131, a Psalm of Ascent.  None of these sources are referenced in this particular paragraph in the article, by the way, which made these “quotes” really *fun* and convenient to track down.  Please raise your hand if you think magazines should abide by Turabian! Thank you, nerds of the blogworld.  I’m going to quote the second part of the paragraph from the article “First Came the Bible” again:

Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them, she argues, “Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments.  They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun (27).

First, the way the author has set up the quote is nothing short of misleading.  Mom has never said that she believes seminaries are necessary despite the “stunning arrogance” and “theological snobbery” that reside in them.  Instead, the author has combined snippets of three different portions of text from Stepping Up. When the order has been changed and all three snippets are worded together, they, at the very least, produce an exaggerated claim. At the very worst, they produce a disfigured one.

If you would like to see this clearly for yourself, you can consult Week 5 Day 3 of Stepping Up and make your own conclusions about the way the quotes were construed.  For those of you who do not have the workbook, I have also typed a large part of the text myself and included it here so that you can get an idea of what is going on.   There are various breaks in the text because I don’t have time to type all of Day 3. I have, however, typed quite a bit of it. I figure the more context I can give you, the better. You can tell where the author of the magazine article is drawing the quote by the text I have in both bold and italics.  Week 5 Day 3 is entitled “Things Too Great” and it is a study of Psalm 131, one of the shortest of the Psalms of Ascent:  A Song of Ascents, of David. O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.  2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.  3 O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.

I am now going to begin quoting Mom starting from the top of page 131 in Stepping Up:

“Like so many in the Gospels, the metaphors of the psalms came from common scenes and experiences in the daily lives of God’s people.

  • Psalm 126 pictured seeds watered by tears turning to sheaves of joy.
  • Psalm 127 sketched sons, like arrows in a quiver, defending their father.
  • Psalm 128 centered on the family table with moms like fruitful vines and children like olive shoots.
  • Psalm 129 drew us the unforgettable picture of plowmen leaving furrows on the backs of the oppressed.
  • Psalm 130 painted the image of a night watchman on a city wall.

God drew each metaphor from a common sight seen by a common people. Perhaps no sight was more ordinary than the one etched in Psalm 131, particularly as throngs of Israelites made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. It’s the same common sight I see every time I go shopping: a child in a mother’s arms.

Psalm 131 reminds us the words of God are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun. The words of God are for people who run late to work, hop out of the car, and spill coffee on their crisp, white shirt. It’s for people who run to get their trash to the curb before the garbage truck comes and end up strewing it all over the driveway. It’s for people who need to change the litter box and who realize something green and furry is growing in their fridge. The words of God are for people whose neighbors drive them nuts. And mainly, I suppose, for people who drive themselves nuts. Like me. Maybe like you.

If you’ve concluded that Scripture is for how you do church, teachers like me have failed you. Scripture is for how you do life, whether at home, at work or on a date, at a baby shower, at a funeral, or at church. Scripture is for servicemen defending their nation and for mothers nursing their babies…if they can keep their eyes open. Today we will be wholly preoccupied with the first verse of Psalm 131, and actually, we’ll have to work diligently to limit ourselves to this space.”

[Break in text & some interactive questions]

“The term ‘haughty comes from the word high’ and in the context of eyes it describes people who look down on others. Of course, none of us is going to immediately admit, ‘That’s me!’

We recognize snobbery and pride pretty easily in others and despise nothing more. Somehow when we are the snob, however, the thin air at the altitude where we keep our noses impairs our judgment. The Bible tells us that God abhors pride and probably for no few reasons. Both you and I have had tug-of-wars with God – however ridiculous and futile – that revolved around our pride.”

[Break in text for an interactive question]

“Since I made you answer such an exposing question, I’ll offer a few reasons of my own. I am convinced that my pride over a specific matter was a tremendous contribution to the horrifying sifting season God put me through a few years ago.

I also think God cannot bring the kingdom increase to our harvests that He desires (John 15:7) until our egos decrease.

Finally, I think our pride is a strobe light flashing how ignorant we are about God, despite our lengthy quiet times and in-depth studies. Above all things besides love, humility is the truest sign of intimacy with God. Like little else, a humble spirit says we really do ‘get it.’

Though Psalm 131:1 certainly applies to haughtiness and pride in general, when we consider the congregational aspect of the Psalms of Ascent, I think a tighter interpretation may be what we could call theological pride: arrogance regarding God, His words, or ways.

Stunning arrogance slithers down the halls of many academic institutions of theology. Thankfully, some professors are wise enough to slam their office doors and refuse to let the snake bite them, but they must be overtly intentional to resist a lure as old as the garden.

I wish the problem of theological snobbery only resided at institutions of higher learning, but it doesn’t. Every one of us, until life pummels us into knowing better, is drawn to things that feed our flesh and make us feel smart.

Reflect on the words of Psalm 131 again: I do not get involved with things to great or too difficult for me.”  I think this verse could very well refer to times when we get our big heads into matters we know nothing about- times we have the gall to speak for God or explain His actions when a wiser person would have kept their mouth shut. God has a fitting expression for it.”

[Break in text for interactives, etc]

“Obviously God is not saying that we are never to offer possible explanations for the deeper things of Scripture and its divine Author.  Furthermore we most assuredly need higher institutions of theology and well-trained professors.  And a good debate between them can be tremendously insightful.

So, where’s the line?  How do we know when a matter is too great for us? Deuteronomy 29:29 may offer the best example.”

[Break in text for Interactive and several paragraphs]

“Over and over Scripture attests that God can do no wrong.  It also blatantly assures us He is sovereign and could stop any  ill.  How can I make those ends meet?  I can’t . . . but God can and one day will.  Between His arms that seem at times outstretched in opposite directions, you will find His heart.  Out of the ashes of the unfathomable, sooner than later Lazarus-faith must rise from the dead- questions still unanswered- or the Devil has won.  Perhaps Anselm, an eleventh-century English monk, voiced an approach that draws today’s lesson to the best conclusion:

I do not seek, O Lord, to penetrate thy depths.  I by no means think my intellect equal to them: but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.”

End of quote.

Please note that the chunks of text the author pieces together are not in consecutive order and her summary does not include the necessary qualifications to do honest justice to Mom’s writing.   One primary example is that she pulls the phrase, “theological snobbery” from its immediate context where Mom has clearly qualified her statement to encompass not just institutions of higher learning BUT “every one of us.” This is a very real misuse of Mom’s work.  Again snippets of quotations from Stepping Up have been combined to create a new meaning, one that Mom herself does not support.  Various qualifications that Mom made in the text have been ignored or left out of the article.  Another example is the author’s use of the word “despite” to head the sentence.  Although the word “despite” is not in quotations (signaling that Mom herself did not say or write it), it is misleading as a header for the entire quote.  On the contrary, when Mom wrote, “Furthermore, we most assuredly need higher institutions of theology and well-trained professors.  And a good debate between them can be tremendously insightful,” her words are accompanied by an enthusiastic tone, not a reluctant one like the author inserts.

While Mom’s use of biblical and theological scholarship may fail to meet this author’s standard, it does not necessarily follow that Mom’s voice echoes Tertullian’s famous cry: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What communion is there between the academy and the church?” The chasm between Mom’s faith and intellectual inquiry is surely not as wide as this author asserts.  If you read the text from Week 5 Day 3 that I recorded above, you might have noticed Mom’s quotation of Anselm at the end: I believe, that I may understand.”  Anselm’s maxim is a basic motto in many Christian academic institutions, for it has often been identified as the appropriate bridge between the church and academic inquiry.

I would hardly find it significant enough to mention this misuse of Mom’s work, if I did not also think that it misrepresented Mom’s heart on the matter. Unlike Amanda, I was never interviewed by the folks who wrote these articles. So in brief, I want to say what I would have told them if I had been:  Mom has, more than anyone, stimulated my passion for academic study of the Bible. I will never forget the day she called me from Oxford University in England.  I could hear her voice breaking over the sea that stood between us as she described to me how inspiring it was to walk on a campus that had been a home to so many great minds.  She has been a constant support during my entire theological education- spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

From the semester I first learned about the JEDP theory in my Old Testament class at Baylor, to my transfer to Moody Bible Institute’s Bible department and even on through my days as a little metaphorical P.O.W. in the Biblical Exegesis Program at Wheaton Graduate School.  When I hadn’t slept forty eight hours straight because I was up late writing yet another exegesis paper or reading Calvin’s Institutes, she reminded me why I was going to school in the first place- in her words, “ to get your feet planted firmly on the ground (biblically & theologically), with your hands raised straight up in the air.”  She was also the one who taught me my first great piece of hermeneutical advice, “If you’re completely alone in your interpretation of a certain verse, then you’re most likely wrong.”  Apparently her mentor, Buddy Walters, had passed that one down.  I’ve never forgotten it all these years. Even more stunning and meaningful to me has been Mom’s love and support for me over this past year when I completed a Th.M. in New Testament at a PCUSA seminary that assumes a completely different doctrine of Scripture than she does.  She has been my primary dialogue partner in this quest and brave enough to support me in my theological journey even when it has gone beyond her own theological comfort zone.  Now, Mom is certainly not an academic in the technical sense, but equally true is that she is no mocker or skeptic of the academic world. Mom not only rests on the work of many academics in her research, but she goes to great lengths to express her great indebtedness to them along the way.  Academics who spend each day in the pedantic little details of exegetical methodology and at the same time love God with all their hearts are Mom’s heroes.

Well, as you can imagine I called Mom to speak with her about the article as soon as I closed the final page.  I said, “So what did you think?”  She replied, “They were kinder than they had to be.  And I learned a lot.” I said, “You learned a lot? Seriously?”  Apparently she learned a lot.  Now that is just vintage Mom.  I told her that although I was moved by her humility, I was also troubled by this little paragraph in the second article. While, I too, think being teachable is a virtue, I also wonder if there is not an appropriate time to express some concern about what may appear to be a misunderstanding of Mom’s work.  Only once someone is properly understood should he or she be criticized.

It seems to me that for the most part using criticism constructively would imply that the criticism is legitimate and in this particular case, I do not think it is.  Even if I got this all wrong and Mom very coincidentally said these exact words in another work or speaking engagement, I would not find them to be warranted in a discussion of the four fundamental themes that are threaded throughout all of Mom’s writing.  The reason I felt burdened to write this blog for you is that I think you deserve to know that Mom, and so also Living Proof Ministries, tremendously respects and makes regular use of trustworthy biblical scholarship. Now, I, would argue until my dying breath precisely what Mom said about Scripture being for everyday living and not primarily for the academic world.  But does that undermine my passion for biblical and theological scholarship?  I don’t think it does.

We love you and esteem you enough to carefully walk through something that could be confusing.

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Veggie Tales.

Howdy blogworld.

I’m so pleased to be greeting you from way down deep in the heart of Texas.

The last time I was in Houston, my parents and grandparents had just planted a garden.  I wasn’t all that impressed, really, as it just looked like a bunch of dirt and seemed like a kinda boring hobby to me.  Over the past few months, Mom has been sending me photos from her cell phone of some of the new growth but the pictures haven’t been of stellar quality so I could not believe it when I saw the garden with my own eyes!  It still has a way to go but I cannot believe it is already bearing some fruit!

I’m so excited for my parents and grandparents to have this new little garden! My grandparents, who are in their mid to late seventies, tend to the garden every single day. Each time the four of them grow something new they quarter the vegetable and eat it together, even if it’s a tiny little Roma tomato. I’m also pretty floored. I do not have a green thumb. A few years ago Colin gave me his cactus plant to take care of for a few months and I killed it in record time. I’ve even been known to starve a variety of bamboo, which, according to Colin, is pretty impressive. And please do not get me started on the rosemary I tried to plant during my cooking craze.  The death of the rosemary plant was the final straw, not to mention a prophetic foreshadowing signifying the doom of my overall Betty Crocker agenda.

Do you have a garden?  If so, what kind of fun stuff do you grow?  If you’re like me and you don’t have a green thumb, what is your latest hobby? My latest hobby is photography.  I can’t get enough.  I’m driving my entire family bonkers.

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A Culture of Sorrow: Part One

I called my Mom after work this evening to check and see if she was blogging tonight and when she said she wouldn’t be able to just yet I decided I would throw a little random post your way. Since I’m out of classes, you might find some random or boring (??) discussions on this here blog every now and again. What you’ll find here tonight is meant to be less of an assertion than it is a discussion about some new thoughts I find intriguing.

Last summer I read a book called Ain’t Too Proud To Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer by Telford Work (2007). Dr. Work is assistant professor of theology at Westmont College. I don’t know him personally but I enjoyed him to no end through his writing. His book is a rare and thrilling infusion of disciplines. I don’t want to summarize or review this unique book here, but it is certainly worth a read. Even if you disagree with Work at various points, I promise you’ll learn some things along the way. Plus, in your heart of hearts you know you feel compelled to read a book by an author named “Telford Work.”

As I do with all the books I really love, I picked the book up again last night and started flipping through it and glanced over the places where I had highlighted or made notes in the margin. I loved this book so much that even my revisiting of it took me all the way to the epilogue. The epilogue is composed of several of Work’s sermons. One of these sermons in particular caught my attention.  In this sermon entitled “You Can Say That Again,” Work coins a phrase, “culture of sorrow.” He uses it in reference to our own culture and “the common sensibility that life’s true character is misfortune and that sadness rules over us” (226). He says:

“In our culture of sorrow, sadder is cooler. Joy may be desirable, but it’s not fashionable. What is? Ask the fashion industry! Does that look of aloof, disheveled, emaciated, sophistication strike you as happy? Me neither. But it’s cool! Or name a big pop band that has looked happy in its photos since the Beatles in 1964. Cool means hard stares, angry sneers, lust, and brooding . . . angst, ennui, existential despair, cynicism, political decline, environmental catastrophe, and social alienation . . . Master these and you’ll be the life of the dinner party” (226).

And taking it further, he says again:

“In our culture of sorrow, sadder is wiser. Misery has become our myth, our metanarrative. Joy is liable to be taken as immaturity or ignorance . . . If you want an Oscar, don’t go with a so-called Hollywood ending. Go with a gut-wrenching tragedy like Million Dollar Baby . . . Sadder is deeper. . . What moves a personal relationship from small-talk pleasantries to greater sincerity? Telling the truth, of course. And for us the deepest truth-telling generally involves the disclosure of pain, hardship, and anxiety. Relationships tend to deepen from shallow happiness to more authentic sorrow . . . Sadder is greater . . . Anger, fright, and fantasy bring out voters and volunteers, not joy. Fear and greed drive the economy, not joy. Sorrow acts and we react. It calls the shots” (227).

Brief Tangent: If you’re like me, you are becoming increasingly suspicious of the phrase “in our culture” because it is used so often to introduce all kinds of authoritative but contradictory statistics. I use this phrase “in our culture” out of sheer habit and because it is so delightfully malleable but I always question myself when I use it because I know full well it is typically going to introduce a generalization. Having said that, some generalizations are more legitimate than others. So even if you’re like me, and you’re super skeptical and annoying, you have to hand it to Work because his “culture of sorrow” idea sure seems to describe a significant aspect of our culture even if you don’t agree that it is indicative of our culture across the board.

The other day Colin and I watched “The Road” with Viggo Mortensen. The movie was based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Now to be fair, I did not read the novel but the movie, in my opinion, was one horrific and unimaginably depressing scene after another. Just when I thought I was watching the worst the movie had to offer we were abruptly hurled into a whole different strata of horror. And the characters didn’t even have names. Not my idea of a blockbuster night. Typically I like an emo and soul probing flick but I couldn’t discern even one strand of hope throughout the film and this led to the hardness of my heart.  Anyway, the book was evidently deemed one of the most important and brilliant movies of the year. I wish I could say that the accolades surprised me but they did not.  In my own opinion what was profound, was not the movie itself, but the very fact that so many people had heralded it as profound—to me that said more about “our culture” than anything else.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of this whole “culture of sorrow” thing… as soon as I read the phrase I was mentally slapping my knee thinking to myself, “Telford Work is just so painfully right!!!” You know those people who can articulate a once rather opaque phenomenon dead on– well that is sort of what reading this entire book was like for me. I just kept thinking, “I would have written this myself if I would have known how to explain it.” That is the best kind of book- when it hits so closely to home that you feel you yourself could have written it even if you don’t have a fraction of the writing ability that the author has.

When Colin and I were first married, people would say things like, “Tell us the truth, what is marriage really like?” I almost felt forced to whine, complain, bare my melancholy soul—or be exposed as superficial, inauthentic, or worse–simpleminded.  Now, of course, it is one thing to be honest when things really are tough and difficult, but even when things were not tough at all, and I was in fact enjoying my life and marriage, I would feel the need to give some token piece of what “reality” was really like or some slice of darkness to build credibility with my conversation partner. Good night . . . as though life is not tough enough without feeling pressure to forge expressions of grief. If you’re bothered by folk who tell you they’re “fine” when they’re really not, what about people like me who have, on occasion, acted as though things were tough when they really weren’t?!?

Egads.

I was laughing a few weeks ago when I was on our trip and someone made the comment, “Everyone on this trip, is just so . . . happy!” I gotta be honest, I was sort-of-kind-of thinking the same thing to myself at first, until I saw my own log in someone else’s plank. I mean seriously, would she, or I for that matter, rather them all be depressed and lethargic rather than happy and peppy? I’ve also, time and time again, fallen prey to the naive mistake of assuming that the most thoughtful and intelligent people I know, the “thinkers” if you will, are mostly those people I know who are usually despondent. Work’s discussion of “our culture of sorrow” gave voice to some of my assumptions that I hadn’t really given much thought to before.

Now before you slap me silly, this post is not the end of the story.  And it isn’t even the end of Work’s sermon. I cannot sum up this entire discussion here.  This is only Part One. In Part Two of this blog (to come in the next week), I would like to explore the place of both joy and sorrow within a Christian worldview. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water (By the way, where in the world did that phrase come from? It is just beyond weird). So, for now, even though you haven’t likely read the book, what do you think about Work’s initial sermon thoughts? Have you encountered this phenomenon before? Is this perhaps a bigger issue for one generation than another?

Have you found that sadder is often “cooler” or “wiser” or “deeper” or “truer”?

Talk to me.

P.S. For those of you who have expressed a desire to buy the book–please know that this subject is not a major issue in the book, it is only in the epilogue in a short sermon.  Also, it is a fairly academic read.  Having made this full disclosure, I still think you will like the book.

😉

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