briefly, 2 am raw exegesis of 1 Corinthians 8.1

17/04/2014 Leave a comment

This was a personal fb status literally at 2am Thursday, between one baby going back to sleep and another waking for a bottle. I stand by the core concepts here, but recognize that it’s decidedly unpolished work done on my trusty BlackBerry Z10 with bleary, burning eyes. I still thought it worth mentioning here. I did tweak a handful of typos because I still have a sense of dignity. –b.

***

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” is a mistranslation, and a verse frequently used to abuse and sully Christian intellectuals into marginalization and staying out of the affairs of the church. I know this because I’ve seen it happen to others and I’ve had trample all over me with this verse (Exactly who is being puffy in these situations, anyway?)

‘Puffs up’ is Gk. ‘physioo’, as in physical, but English translations (obviously) denote inflation. Inflation, though, should have a ‘pneuma’ base or root, and certainly Paul, master of creating compound words and word-pictures in the Greek would be explicit this way. Why would he write ‘physioo’ if he’s not talking about something physical?

On the other hand, ‘love builds up’ is ‘oikodomeo’, a Pauline compound specialty joining ‘oikos’ (the Greek family unit) and ‘domeo’ (dual meaning, probably intentional, the act of building…as well as the Roman family unit.)

The (partial) verse should read closer to ‘knowledge is good for the self, love is good for the home.’ Paul is NOT saying that knowledge is sinful or counterproductive to the life of a Christian; after all, the man was Sanhedrin-trained and fluent in Roman and Jewish laws and customs!

Paul is, by virtue of the entire verse in question and the larger context, speaking directly to the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols in the Roman home, precisely because it was an issue threatening Christian families within that specific sociocultural location. The knowledge of food sacrificed to idols bows to the reality that not eating would rip the family apart and threaten Christian witness specifically designed to work within such intimate settings!

The reality of the matter is that nothing ‘puffs up’ more than ignorance.

Categories: briefly, Life, Religion

that most eminent of economists, jerry reed: an annual tradition unlike any other

15/04/2014 Leave a comment

Happy annual shakedown day, America.

Categories: Culture, Economics, Life, Music, Politics

four months is quite long enough, thank you: dftbl, day 98, the final day

11/04/2014 Leave a comment

Later this morning, I will be signing an offer letter to begin at my new place of employment next week. I’m finally off the bread line, and couldn’t be more excited to get started.

During this period, I said I wouldn’t compromise. Of course, I did. We all do to an extent: we do or we die. That said, life isn’t about whether or not we compromise, but for what we compromise. The job I was hired for wasn’t exactly the position I wanted, but it is the best fit for the time being within that firm with real opportunity to move up and around into something more suited to my talents and work-related skill set. Those things are already out in the open, almost mutually expected, and that gives me hope and drive to succeed.

The funny thing about this series of events is that I applied for a few positions with this company shortly after being dispatched from The Man’s employ. A recruiter was intrigued enough to give me a call and discuss other opportunities with the firm, and it’s been a four-month dance culminating today. At first, I applied here as a safety net, as we were unwilling to depart from Mecca, then as an anything-but-Plan-A, as we were unwilling to depart from Mecca to return to God’s Country. A recruiter and I went through something like seven or eight roles before settling on getting me in and seeing where we can go from there. And it’s a great company; a locally-based boutique subsidiary under the umbrella of a major corporation with an obvious values-based, employee-centric ethos. The pay’s not quite there, not yet, at least, but it will most certainly work for now, and the benefits are comparable to what the The Man provided. And clearly, they saw something in my resume package that was worth fighting for weeks over.

At one point, I had over fifty resumes and applications out, from Texas to Kansas to Minnesota to Ohio. Every single one of them either said no, or Ric Flair lowballed me with what they were offering. It’s nice to be wanted, and it’s nice to be treated with dignity.

While I’m here, it warrants mentioning that any talk of a real economic recovery is absolutely bogus, and there isn’t a single person anywhere on the political sphere–it’s a circle, not a line–who deserves to talk about working families or the unemployed. Many of the jobs out there right now are high attrition, meager pay, low ceiling positions, or, the very roles that were always there regardless of economic climate. The best jobs are taken by those with experience–there were more than a few responses from potential employers who loved me and what I had to offer, but couldn’t find it within them to pull the trigger on someone they had to fully train–and held on to by those who tacitly understand that the grass isn’t greener anywhere else right now. Markets might be booming, but so are gas prices, groceries, and other things that are exposed to inflation. Any talk of recovery is either from someone thoroughly punch drunk on their own kool-aid, or trolling for low-information votes from low-information voters.

I’m fortunate to have found work within 100 days of my dismissal, and I will never forget that there are some who have been out in the cold for a lot longer in far more desperate circumstances. If anything, my time here allowed me to spend lots of time with my twins and wife-mama, get the [J]PSTD out of my system, gain an appreciation for and real sensitivity to the needs of those who are down on their luck, and develop an awareness of just how out of touch politicians and powermongers are with reality, and how absurd their solutions are to problems for which they are ill-equipped to address.

We were also truly, actually, definitively blessed by more than a few people–some anonymous, some not–who gave us grocery gift cards, coupons, vouchers, utility assistance and, occasionally, considerable amounts of cash. These all helped keep us alive and our little family operation running. Literally. You may not realize it, but there were days, plural, where we were wondering what we were going to eat and on the verge of having the power cut off. In the middle of winter. In the middle of the worst winter flyover country has seen in a century. Thank you.

Call it God taking care of us, providence or people just being kind and generous with an exceptionally fortuitous sense of timing; call it what you want, but it kept us from complete disaster, and also from me turning the blog into a virtual intersection, me with a digital cardboard sign and a link to indiegogo. (It almost happened, several times, in fact.) I’m thankful for not having to pimp the readership.

I thank you for reading these posts and, as always, for being a part of sailerb.

PS–If you’re still in the bread line, my heart goes out to you. If you need to vent your frustration, you’re absolutely welcome to contact me privately, information on the About page. Not sure that’s a lot of help, but I do understand the simple need for the discouraged to get their angst out.

***

Dispatches from the Bread Line were not-exactly-recurring blog posts until I was employed again. Which I am now, technically speaking.

sing no evil, see no evil

08/04/2014 1 comment

It was 15 years ago that I first began to seriously interact with the theology of Greg Boyd. My brother and sister-in-law attended his church in St. Paul, Minnesota, then meeting at Harding High, before they had kids; I had heard him speak and preach a number of times, but was far too young to engage his ideas and material. Boyd was a guest speaker for a week in the gulag’s chapel services, and that’s when I was hooked. About the same time, InterVarsity Press published one of his landmark works, God at War, in paperback, and I picked up a copy. Having too much coursework to do, and being more concerned with cutting as many corners as possible as an underachiever, the book sat on my shelf for two or three years.

When I finally started reading it, I could only really get glimpses of his overall proposition with a few skyrockets here and there that challenged my presuppositions and invigorated my mind. I used it as inspiration in a template for community in a class that tried, um, teaching us how to have informal church services in parachurch environs. (Yeah, I know.) Where everyone else aimed for mediocrity and drilled the target, I, along with a skeptical-of-my-machinations partner, took us through the Minneapolis skyways and instructed the group to not say anything, just to watch people and get a sense of the reality of the world we were supposed to be engaging with the gospel. It was well-received that day, didn’t grade out particularly well and no more than a week later got swallowed up by the entrenched mediocrity as we went right back to acoustic guitars and Bible studies de rigueur to collegiate evangelical ministry liturgy.

A few weeks ago, I got the itch to pick God at War up once again and reread it. This time, with more exposure to theological ideas, a thorough education in philosophy and generally being more mature intellectually and, well, as a person overall, I couldn’t get more than a few pages in before it started catching my mind’s gears. I may turn this into a multi-post series, I might not, but I strongly recommend Boyd if you have any interest in either the theological or philosophical problem of evil, theories in church and culture or generally enjoy provocative and engaging reading material from one of the more underappreciated first-rate minds in America today. Anyways.

***

“Radical evil … cannot be captured in abstract definitions. … The essence of evil transcends words, for word are always one step removed from a concrete reality. Evil cannot be adequately grasped in detached, neutral, abstract theorems. All approaches to the problem of evil that do not go beyond these will be in danger of offering cheap and trite solutions. Radical evil can be known only when incarnated and experienced concretely.

[snip]

“The modern experience of evil is the reek of burning children. Every honest view of reality must confront the immediate, personal, physical reality of the burning child.” — Boyd, God at War, ‘Hearing Zosia’, p. 34

Most people will have a hard time setting scenes like this to music, and rightfully so. Such atrocities ought not be dignified with score and lyrics. Indeed, it is easier to write and sing songs about love and happiness and fun and even heartbreak and loss; these things run the gamut of human emotion and experience. The ups and downs of life’s clichéd rollercoaster tend to refrain from imagining the corkscrew ahead was connected to nothing.

Evil is not nothing, more to the point, it is the actualization of the rollercoaster’s track having been built without an end, someone/something having removed or sabotaged the track that was previously there, cars flying off the end of the track, the wreckage and injury of those in the cars and thinking such events, when realized, are laughable.

Church and culture alike have taken great lengths to ignore Zosia, preferring our own conceptions of evil which are, in actuality, akin to social problems: hunger, homelessness, poverty, villages in third-world countries without water, things that are all truly unfortunate and need resolution but are not inherently or necessarily evil.

At this point, I freely admit I expose myself to detractors who will stop at the end of the previous sentence and take my strawman down. I ask for the benefit of the doubt, as I in no way am dismissing the aforementioned as mere trivialities. I feel it necessary and instructive here to point out the difference between tragedy and atrocity with relation to evil: what is atrocious is tragic, but what is tragic is not necessarily atrocious. In this respect, what philosophy and theology classes toss around as natural evils: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like, are tragedies but not atrocities. The inappropriate conflation of natural evil into the scope of, um evil-evil, creates a particular problem for the theist or Christian: how can this system created to be in stasis be evil? A hurricane in one part of the world is tranquility in another, no one created Katrina and aimed it at the Gulf Coast.

Atrocity–evil-evil, as I perhaps too cheekily put it–is the destructive act which is willed or intended, 9/11, Columbine, Dachau, Siberia, the Trail of Tears, the Killing Fields, Zosia, the Assemblies of God blacklist. (Make no mistake, there may be no greater acts of evil than those which are perpetrated by those who would commit them in the name of the greater good for a respective religious affiliation.) These things are tragic in that they are really and truly unpleasant, decidedly unhappy events, and in that someone intended them to happen. To address evil as merely hunger and homelessness is to selfishly and self-righteously ignore the atrocities that manifested from the depths of man (or, spirit.)

The tragic ought to be responded to with grief and compassion, the atrocious with both and a measure of outrage, as well the willingness to confront and seek its obliteration. If a village needs clean water, it is to build a well. If it is a government which deprives said village of clean water, it is to provide the well and seek whatever reforms necessary to a power structure which would deprive its citizens or subjects of life.

The Church is really quite good with responding to tragedy. What we aren’t so good at is responding to atrocity, because we are unwilling to be frank about the reality of evil in our world, or the reality of the actual existence of opposition to God. Instead, we talk a big game about going to the mythical downtown, witnessing to prostitutes and the homeless and the drug addicts, failing to address the home a block from the church where there is abuse, worse yet, failing to address the prominent church member who abuses his wife and children. We trumpet our willingness to throw thousands of dollars at missions efforts across the globe, much of which is going to places thoroughly missioned and Christianized, while maintaining a status quo in our churches and neighborhoods.

Atrocity is also the will to sideline ourselves where we are. Ask Bonhoeffer or Niemoller about that.

Atrocity then necessarily includes singing songs about how wonderful God is, while refusing to stand against destructive forces and those who would will them here in our midst. That kind of happy fluffy bunny existence is neither Christ-like nor in any way fulfilling God’s perpetual mandate to be a blessing to the world. It’s just singing without any purpose but making ourselves feel good about ourselves. Some people get high, some do the Thirsty Thursday (…and Friday…and Saturday…) thing, others masturbate.

We sing flowery songs about a flowery relationship with Jesus, how happy we are, how good God is and how happy we’re going to be when we’re dead or raptured, how happy we are, how good God is, how happy we’re going to be when we’re dead or raptured, so on and so forth. Lather, rinse, repeat. What’s the difference, to God or to a world we leave exposed to evil?

It is understandable to prefer the passivity of singing to the trenches of action, the status quo to the exposure which comes with placing one’s self in front of a tank. One would hope we would have made the connection between these preferences for familiarity and comfort and Paul’s lamentation about the ongoing battle between flesh and spirit, but we either do not or cannot. Is it really possible that no one sees these things as, in the truest sense of the term, self-serving? We embark on capital campaigns which would take us further away from the unpleasantness of the world and repeat the chorus again, this time a step up for more goosebumps.

Meanwhile, Zosia screams out in horror endlessly into the night. Let’s sing it again, this time a capella!

The song curses, the service divorces. The further we detach from the world is the farther we are from God. To be indifferent to the reality of evil in our world, unwilling to confront it with the full power of the resurrection at our disposal, is the most obscene atrocity.

And to do so in the name of our ‘worship’ activities reproaches the God we claim to honor with our songs and services.

Categories: Culture, Life, Philosophy, Religion

briefly, beautiful destruction: in praise of march madness

23/03/2014 Leave a comment

After today, there will be 52 losers.

There is no greater stretch of four days on the American sports calendar than the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. After the absurd opening games weed out four sacrificial lambs, 64 teams face off nationwide and begins three weekends of March Madness™. Thousands, if not millions, fill out their brackets picking winners. After today, most of us are losers, too.

I always do multiple revisions of my picks: the first is on selection night, and I usually revise at least twice until tip-off Thursday morning. My brackets are toast right now, and I couldn’t be happier. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did three revisions. The best? The first one. I successfully managed to think myself stupid. This is why I don’t work in Vegas.)

Now that the pressure’s off, I can sit back and enjoy the games. The excitement and drama of the Big Dance™ has been strangled by pools and brackets and all-but-impossible odds to (sorta kinda) win a billion dollars. Then there’s the stuffiness of the coverage: gone are the fanatical, um, fans, replaced by middle-aged corporate suits and the alma mater sweater vest set. The commercials are all the same six or seven investment firms, insurance companies, Ricky Gervais biting his lower lip. The civil unrest and raw, insurrectionist joy on the court is inversely proportional to the cynical and suffocating packaging off it.

We root for the underdogs and the Cinderella story, while being treated to ads from ÜPS and CrapitalOne and AT&Fee.

But the games! They’re why I watch, why I do my best to make sure my schedule is clear for this first weekend.

After the tournament, we’re treated to another four days of bliss, a tradition unlike any other, and otherwise enjoy suffering the presence of the execrable and awkward Jim Nantz: The Masters™. And all of this happens right as we start another glorious year of the American pastoral, baseball.

I wouldn’t know it by looking out the window or checking the thermometer, but hope wells up within when I see a robin, or Clark Kellogg looking at the wrong camera, or a guy in the second row on his cell phone selling off parts of his portfolio rather than paying attention to the low blocks.

Spring is here. We have 52 losers and thousands of beautifully busted brackets to prove it.

Categories: briefly, Culture, Economics, Life, Sports

the science of inspiration

19/03/2014 Leave a comment

A reflection on scripture and the recent news about the Big Bang.

Yesterday was more important than anyone seems to realize.

News went viral across the interwebs that a team of scientists at the South Pole discovered proof of the previously-theorized cosmic inflation theory. Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde, one of the main authors of the theory which built upon and further articulated Einstein’s relativity, broke down when he heard the news that his life’s work had been validated. It’s a pretty cool story, if you haven’t read it yet. So, we no longer have a Big Bang theory, but a Big Bang fact, not only proving cosmic inflation, but a very old universe.

This also pretty much directly negates the literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis and thus, literalism in general, which is a great ramification of yesterday’s news. We can finally, and with sobriety, have a serious conversation amongst Christians across the board, but in particular, Evangelicals and fundamentalists, about the nature of scripture.

I preface this with an anecdote from my graduate school faculty advisor, now the Dean at Bethel Seminary, Dr. David Clark. He told us in several courses about a time when he was participating in a formal public debate, fielding questions from the audience. One student came to the microphone and asked what he apparently thought was a killer question: if incontrovertible proof came to light that disproved God’s existence, would he still believe–the implication, of course, being that real Christians hold faith, in this case, built of straw as reason to believe in the absence of valid reasons. Professor Clark responded with a clear-throated no, which took the student and the audience aback. Without reason to believe, faith in faith (fideism being the essential technical term) is not and cannot be justified; in the light of dis-proving God, there is no valid reason to continue to believe. Religious faith must be informed by–and even governed by–the data we have available, be it science or the scriptures.

With the scientific community publicizing these findings–take note, conspiracy theorists and Chicken Littles, doing so without ulterior motive–we need to seriously reconsider how we’ve traditionally approached and interpreted Genesis 1. Now, this is where I need to note that it should have never come to this point to have this conversation. There is sufficient prima facie evidence in the text without needing to connect scientific dots to reasonably and compellingly call literalism into question. There is also prima facie evidence in the world to undercut a literal reading of the creation account. Our strength, though, is our weakness: we are so staunch and bullheaded in our religious mindset that there is no room for questioning or doubt, never mind that staunchness or bullheadedness and questioning or doubt need not be mutually exclusive.

So, can we finally concede that the Bible is not, and was never meant to be, literally and factually accurate? Because the validity of the big bang obliterates any reason we had to believe in a literal six-day creation. It’s almost a shame Ken Ham got all that publicity a few weeks ago hosting that debate with Bill Nye: now he doesn’t have a leg on which to stand.

I’ve already anticipated the response from most believers, ‘If the Bible isn’t absolutely literally true, how can we believe any of it?’ First, this kind of response, though understandable and natural, doesn’t cast the question on the scripture so much as it betrays the amount of anxiety believers have in a fundamentally-fideistic framework. The accounts in the text are true because the scripture is God’s literal word, and God doesn’t lie, so the scripture must be true. It’s question begging, for one, and, while we’re here in fallacy country, it’s a slippery slope for another: so the universe wasn’t created in six literal days. Who cares? It does not change the nature of the Abrahamic covenant, the poignancy of the prophets and certainly needs not cast a pall over our claim of resurrection as our mode of salvation or the wisdom of Paul (properly interpreted, that is. Suck it, complementarians.) To invalidate everything because we were wrong is philosophically inappropriate and existentially weak. Then again, our tendency to react to problems like we’re two-year-olds who had our favorite toy taken away after beating our little brother with it is also existentially weak.

Necessarily, a recalibration of the text’s literal factuality must also raise questions about the nature of inspiration. Most Evangelicals and fundamentalists hold that the Bible is verbal plenary inspired, which is absurd fancy talk for the idea that God sat these writers down and told them exactly what to write. The difference between verbal plenary inspiration and, say, something frowned upon in church circles such as trance writing is no more than special pleading and the wife barging in on the philandering husband, who ejaculates, ‘uhh, this isn’t what it looks like!’ No, it is exactly what it looks like: if it is wrong to believe that a person is in-spired by sinister entities to write things, it is wrong for a person to be in-spired to write anything. The nuanced equivocators (equivocants, perhaps?) amongst us believers will ironically take a figurative sense of inspiration as being moved to freely write, though that isn’t at all what verbal plenary inspiration means and is about as accommodating as the foreign policy of the current presidential administration.

Again, I anticipate the response from most believers: ‘If the Bible isn’t inspired, how is it God’s word?’ Well, the text itself doesn’t claim to be God’s ‘word’: Paul, though clearly having a healthy ego, does not refer to his own work when he says that all scripture is God-breathed and profitable: even then, he does not equate ‘scripture’ with logos. Logos doesn’t even rightly translate to ‘word’, but to ‘idea’ or ‘concept’: ‘logic’, as in “In the beginning was the idea, the idea was with God and the idea was God…” The text is clear that the logos of God was first in Torah, then fulfilled in the person of Christ, which is John’s poetic [read: figurative] meaning in his prologue. It should also be clear that Jesus ~ the Bible, unless we’re engaging in biblicism which negates everything the covenants stood/stand for and makes the scripture itself a graven image worshiped in place of God.

I want to deal with this aspect at another time, but the scripture is a heritage, passed down from generation to generation, written by us for us in our understanding of who God is and what God, through us, is doing in partnership to be a blessing to the world, reconciling creation to God. And this is entirely and wholly OK!

We ought to take care of this text, and negotiate with it on its own terms and clauses. It has the power to change people and it chronicles a history of us as people missing the point and God’s faithfulness to keep his end of the bargain. It is still vital, essential and necessary to who we are, just as the stories, myths and legends we tell ourselves have meaning and inspirational efficacy. Not all of it may be factual, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

The garden of Eden is a story, not history. And that fact gives it real teaching and correcting power, for it tells us that we’ve been easily deceiving ourselves from the dawn of our existence, that we’ve been in need of help to save us from ourselves this entire time. And, if that’s not all, there is still one wink to be had with the amazing news broken yesterday: they know what, but still can’t say how or why.

Congratulations, Dr. Linde, and the community of astrophysicists involved, you’ve done truly remarkable work. In so doing, you’ve accomplished more for biblical studies than you could ever imagine.

Categories: Culture, Life, Philosophy, Religion

briefly, hello again, sorry about that.

13/03/2014 Leave a comment

Things went dark here over the past few weeks, so I’d like to take a moment to bring all of you up to speed.

First, we left Mecca. We didn’t necessarily want to, but ultimately had no choice. Our money ran out, so we had to pack our things and return to God’s Country, though it may as well be a small-g god, because we abandoned a semblance of spring for perhaps the coldest move in recorded history. Advice: don’t ever try moving during a mini-polar vortex event.

Though it could probably be inferred from above, second, I’m still without a job. I had a puncher’s chance at the job I interviewed for about a month ago, but ended up being the third person in a race where the first two won. They were very complimentary of my resume and experience, and seemed to genuinely like me as a person and candidate; they’re also keeping me in mind for other comparable job openings should any come available. Not much of a consolation prize, but I fared well with one of the largest companies in America, and someone there wants to get me in there. Not all bad. In the meantime, I’m back to square one, with a few promising possibilities.

Third, One of our beans is crawling. Both beans are cutting teeth. This, right now, might be the most uninterrupted time I’ve had in front of a computer since January. (that is, about 20 minutes.) It’s hard to write, or think, when the pressing issue is making sure girlb doesn’t discover the stairwell, or discovering that girlb is trying to discover the stairwell, or wall sockets, or the cord to the floor lamp in the corner.

Number D: I have an entirely new disdain for anyone writing or otherwise talking about poverty. The matter is far, far more complicated than anyone would have anyone else believe. I understand the homeless post-graduate degree holder, the pandemic of underemployment, the fundamental indignity of both not working within one’s area of expertise, and not working at all. Most, if not all would-be pundits from every vantage point are better served to keep their traps shut.

V: The economy is incredibly weak, gas prices have once again strangled the consumer through the pump and trickled through to the grocery sector, the service sector continues to engage in shell game tactics to try to maintain sales, at least two major retailers I’ve visited in the past three weeks still have significant amounts of Christmas stuff (!) on their shelves. Yes, that crap is normally slashed down by 80% in January to get rid of it, and it’s still there. If you’re looking at the Dow, you’re looking in the wrong place for anything close to a real economic barometer.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, the two things that most directly damage people in situations not unlike my own are gas and groceries. It’s a good thing that we have policymakers who are in tune with market fundamentals and are working to…oh, wait. I can say this much, just by the eye test: Wisconsin’s job market is a lot more intriguing and appealing than it was when we left five years ago. (Feel free to draw your own conclusion.) Missouri’s is a lot less than when we arrived there five years ago. (Ditto.)

Thank you for your patience with me, it’s been a very crazy past few weeks. I’ll get back to normal soon enough.

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