Thursday, December 3, 2009

That Crazy Harmonica

Well, once again it's been a while since I've posted (not than anyone's reading anyway!), and my wife and I just got back from a wonderful retreat in the Texas Hill country. In attendance at the retreat center was a musician who I'd never heard of, but then again he's in the country/folk circuit which explains things. However, the guy, Buddy Greene, is a phenomenal musician, a genuinely humble guy, and just plain old fashioned cool. He did a little set for one of the evenings and played the William Tell Overture on his harmonica - yes, I kid you not, he played the freakin' William Tell Overture on a harmonica. (The WTO is the Lone Ranger theme music, in case you were wondering). He then told us afterwards that he had played this piece live at Carnagie Hall with Bill Gaither (another legend in the Christian/Country/Folk music realm). Here's the video on Youtube, and he actually begins with Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach), then does Mozart's Sonata, and then goes right into the WTO. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Words of Genesis

As promised, here are some thoughts I've had on the Words of Creation that God spoke in Genesis 1, "Let there be light...". For further discussion and some great insights into the issues this raises check out the responses to this same post on another blog I contribute to called Mockingbird.

I was intrigued to see the post “Are you there Jesus? It’s me, Woman” and returning to the realm of Genesis and Creation. The other day I was reading my copy of the teaser edition of “Two Words”, and I noticed that the first entry was, appropriately, from Genesis. And so, my little mind got to thinking about understanding the words of creation in Genesis in light of the Two Words of Law and Gospel. When God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), was that a word of law or grace? Both? Neither?

Let me actually begin my treatment of Genesis 1 by starting with Jesus and the Gospel. It is no secret that most Americans would readily categorize “the Gospel” as an invitation: Jesus comes to you and invites you to follow him. After all, that’s what he did with the twelve disciples, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). And Jesus knocks on the doors of our hearts and invites us to choose to allow him to come into our hearts, etc., etc.

This is, in fact, not the Gospel. The Gospel certainly requires a response, but it is a response that is made not to an invitation but, first and foremost, a response to a proclamation. Jesus has died for the sinner in his or her place and has been raised again according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). That is not an invitation, it is a declaration of the completed work of God’s grace to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Those who hear this Gospel declaration respond by receiving it through faith (Romans 10:17). But so very often the Second Word, that of Gospel grace, is erroneously treated as a word of invitation, rather than a word of proclamation. God’s grace is not merely an invitation but a reality that is declared to sinners. Likewise, God’s Law is not an invitation but a righteous demand of which we fall short. By treating both Words of Law and Gospel as mere invitations we diminish the power and significance of both.

Consequently, it is dangerously easy to treat God’s word of Creation as an invitation. I have heard it put this way: in order to create, the Divine Essence had to ‘make room’ for the things that were made. In other words, “Let there be light” is an invitation to the light to not be afraid and be the light. It was meant to be and God would ‘back off’ and allow light to be light. Thus, the words of creation are also erroneously categorized as invitation rather than command(1).

Therefore in neither case, of Creation’s Command nor of Gospel’s Grace, are we shown God’s invitation, but rather his proclamation. God’s Law is not an invitation to obey, it is a demand to obey. Similarly, God’s Gospel is not an invitation to obey, it is a declaration of what God has done for those who cannot and will not obey (we must also add that out of the faith which trusts this Gospel, obedience does spring forth; see Romans 6:17). Two final thoughts.

First, taking such an approach to Creation, wrt the Gospel, puts humanity in its place and God, rightly, into His. We are rendered very much passive to the God who both Commands and Forgives. I am amazed at how this also changes my understanding of what Genesis means when it indicates that humans were made in the image of God. Many people and churches over the millennia have taken that statement to remove humanity from its passive relationship to God, that in so creating people ‘in his image’ God made them active agents in the face of his Law and Gospel, rather than passive. But it is truly the passive sinner to whom faith is given who may trust and believe in the Active One.

And lastly, how are we to understand the Words of Creation? Are they Law or are they Gospel? In a very real sense there is the First Voice of the Law in Creation, God bringing things into existence under submission to his absolute moral authority. But on the other hand God makes no qualifications upon the created things other than to declare them ‘good’. However, the only giving of law really occurs on Day 7 (Genesis 2:1-3), when God rested from his work, thus establishing into the fabric of Creation the Law of Rest (Sabbath), which is a foretaste of the eternal rest that will come, remarkably, only as a result of the Fall and its remedy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we may also argue that in the Words of Creation (“Let there be…”) we also find Gospel – that God made something and someone in love, knowing that they would rebel, knowing that the irrevocable corollary to “Let there be…” is the crucified cry of “It is finished!”

1Walter Brueggemann is a good example of this position, that the Word of Creation is invitation, and vehemently opposes the idea that it is a command.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Bored in Germany...

OK, there's nothing deep, profound, or even remotely theological about this but it is about the coolest, most absolutely speechless-ifying thing I've seen. Ever. I don't think it's fake, but really I could care less if it is, it's that cool. Enjoy the giant waterslide.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer Duldrums and Jesus

Well, its summer time, and that means re-runs. With 695 channels there's still nothing on, but it's even worse in the summer time. However, pre-season football is just around the corner and I'm definitely looking forward to the new season of Castle (it's the Firefly fan in me - it's like watching Malcolm Reynolds solve murder crimes, what's not to love). But we're still months away from the much anticipated final season of Lost, and so in the spirit of longing I want to share with you this very creepy, kinda Lost-esque, picture of Jesus from one of my all time favorite websites. I've got some thoughts on Genesis (the book of the bible, not the musical group) brewing for a future post, but until then, enjoy the Lost Jesus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jesus In the Land Down Undah

So someone sent me a link to this video on Youtube. It was a commercial that aired in Australia, I'm desperately glad to see deep in the 1980s, and it is advertising a wonderful product: Jesus. Yes. Jesus. On a commercial. It covers his life and who he was. I especially like the title, "Can't keep a good man down", Jesus from the land Down Undah!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shooting the Moon, Transformers style

I grew up with the Transformers. I loved the cartoons, I loved (and owned) many of the toys. "More than meets the eye!!" Sigh. So how jazzed was I when it was announced that a film was being made. Very. And to be honest, the first 45 minutes of Transformers was some of the best sci-fi film footage I've seen in a while. Great build up, great character introductions, solid pacing and, well, it just worked. And then it ground to a halt (with that ridiculously long and stupid scene at Shai LeBoufe's house), veered clean off the road, and became a sound, light, and camera-shots-which-are-shaken-to-bring-you-more-into-the-action-but-shaken-so-much-that-your-brain-feels-like-it-has-been-pureed-by-a-sledgehammer overload fest. I walked out of the theater, dazed, bewildered, and slightly disappointed. Now Michael Bay has just released Transformers 2:Revenge of the Fallen. Naturally, I hesitated somewhat when this one came out. When I asked my good buddy Chuck, who had just seen it, what he thought, he just laughed and emailed me a link to this online review. I submit that this is one of the best film reviews I have read in a long time. It pans the film so badly that I actually kinda want to go see it now, out of sheer morbid curiosity.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Youth Ministry Anyone....?

A friend of mine sent this to me and it is a brilliantly cheesy look at everything that is wrong (and also right) about youth ministry. And I love the name.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Man Who Gave Us Green Beer

I was on my way home from work yesterday and realized it was St. Patrick's Day. It kinda snuck up on me, and if it were a rake I might be dead. Nevertheless, I read a rather interesting article on St. Paddy on MSN's The article makes the typical, and correct, assertion that very little is actually known about St. Patrick himself. Most of what we know about the "historical St. Patrick" does not inherently and by necessity lead to the consumption of green beer. Americans came up with that twelve-hundred years later.

The point that the article is actually making is that everyone seems to want and try to claim Patrick as 'their own'. "The scarcity of facts about St. Patrick's life has made him a dress-up doll: Anyone can create his own St. Patrick." Roman Catholics depict him as a bishop, ordained and commissioned by the Pope himself. Protestants reject this claim and see him as an innovative evangelist, from whom came a distinct form of what is called today Celtic Christianity. But what I found interesting is the observation in the Article that Mormons associate with him in that he traveled over the sea to evangelize barbarous people there - much like what is 'recorded' in the Book of Mormon and the supposed indigenous Lamanites and Nephites in pre-Columbian North America.

Even more recently Patrick is now claimed by gay activists, and interestingly, is the feature of a recent Fox TV special called "St. Patrick." This Fox Patrick leads the good people of Ireland in a revolt against the English bishop who says they owe taxes. "The fearless colonist [i.e. Patrick] leads a tax revolt against the villainous English. We Americans, like everyone else, think St. Patrick is one of us."

What I found interesting in all this St. Patrick-ing, is the similar way that Jesus is treated. Whether it is the 'historical' Jesus, the Buddy Jesus, or Bad Religion's "American Jesus" (wow, does that take you back to the early 90s or what), there is a limitless supply of versions of Jesus dressed up to look like what people want or need him to be.

This tells me two things. Firstly, all people have desperate need of a hero, or a substitute, someone on whom they can lay claim. Now, this might not be the same hero their whole life, in fact, it might suffice to lay claim to a particular hero once a year on March 17th, or on December 25th for that matter. But the point is that all people need someone outside themselves from whom they can draw identity. Shrinks might tell you this is merely a form of transference of what's already there, but even if it is (and I don't think it is), the reality for people is that we need our celebrities. We have to know that someone above us relates to us and that we can claim for ourselves, even if we've never met them nor have any chance of ever meeting them (because they are, for instance, dead and have been dead for centuries).

This of course can get sick and twisted fast, ergo stalkers and crazy fans who have to get restraining orders and therapy. But why do so many people and so many groups of people scramble to claim Patrick as their saint. Why do so many people desperately want to do the same with Jesus, your own personal Jesus (Depeche Mode)?

The second this all the tells me is that the difference between Patrick and Jesus, apart from the whole question of divinity, is that the definitive portrait of Jesus is found in the Gospels of the New Testament. Many scholars claim that even this Jesus of the Gospels is a construct of the writers of the Gospel, but as Richard Bauckham argues brilliantly, if a little dryly, in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, "such a historical Jesus is no less a construction than the Jesus of the Gospels"
In the Gospels we don't get a 'dress-up doll' on whom we can pin whatever hopes and dreams and desperate needs and thus create in our own image.

Instead, what we find in the Gospels is a savior. The hero who has come to earth and in whom it is good and right to lay claim. Our inherent and desperate need for a substitute is wrongly placed in all manner of celebrity and historical figures, like Patrick, but rightly placed in Jesus, because he is the only one, according to the Gospel, who can actually do something about our plight, and in fact has done something. This is the Jesus of the New Testament, for any other Jesus is inevitably our own personal Buddy Jesus, even if we are scholars trying to find out who he really was. Don't believe me, go and read them for yourself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

God bless you please Mrs. Beamish

Lots of us grew up with Saturday Night Live. I remember in high school we watched it so religiouslyit was almost 'family TV time', along side MASH and The Cosby Show . How many of you remember "In Living Color" (Fire marshal Bill, anyone?). Going even further back how about "Laugh In"? Don't worry, I didn't watch it either. But going back even further, have you ever heard of "Beyond the Fringe"? It was a British radio SNL of sorts (Dudley Moore got his start as part of it). There is a magnificent sermon making fun of the depressingly typical Church of England (C of E) vicar, which some day I will post for your amusement. In the meantime, here is a little number in a similar vein of Beyond the Fringe called "Mrs. Beamish". If you've been in the C of E or it's American equivalent (guess what that is?), I think you may have met her. And if not I hope this might send a smile your way anyway.