Because life is a series of edits

Archive for June, 2008|Monthly archive page

$10 Gets You 15 Songs (and Us This House)

In Family, Places, Places & Spaces on June 30, 2008 at 12:13 am

Home Sweet Home?

Six weeks ago, I posted an entry hinting that we were trying to buy a house here in St. Louis. The good news is, we’re no longer trying; we’ve bought a house, and it’s pictured above.

Neat story: after our offers for the initial house got shot down (twice) by the bank, we decided to let things sit. I went to South Dakota and pretended to be a wilderness guy for two weeks; Megan and the girls (along with our realtor, Diane), looked around at a handful of houses, but really didn’t find too much in our price range. No big deal.

Then the house shown above went on the market and, get this: it’s a block-and-a-half down the street from the one we were originally pursuing, $60K cheaper, and in immaculate condition compared to the fixer-upper for which we were going to have to pay more. The owners (sweet Christian people) have lived in the house 33 years, are moving into a retirement village next month for health reasons, and needed to sell the house asap (thus the fair asking price). Because we felt the house was easily worth what they were asking (kind of refreshing in the still-inflated real estate market), we gave them the full price. We move in three weeks.

Now comes the hard part: paying for it. My parents are loaning us the 5% down payment, but Megan and I need to come up with an additional $3,000 to bring to the closing to cover lender fees, title fees, and a few months’ worth of taxes and insurance. As of now, we don’t have it, but we’ve come up with an idea we think could work (with a little help from the Internet).

Since 2008 marks the 15th anniversary of my foray into music recording, I thought I’d put together a “greatest hits” collection (yes, smirking allowed – you know who you are). The compilation is called Remember Not to Forget: Songs (1993-2000) and the deal is this: $10 gets you 15 songs from all five albums I recorded, along with a custom-designed CD liner with music lyrics and credits, all available for immediate download.

Of course, you’re welcome to send more than ten bucks if you feel so compelled, but you don’t need to in order to get the songs (actually, you don’t need to send anything to get the songs, but we hope you will). Obviously, it’s going to take a lot of $10 purchases (300, to be exact) to add up to $3,000, so if you’d just buy the songs and put in a plug for us through your network(s), we’ll see what happens. Who knows? It is the Internet, right?

We’re set to close on the house July 18th, so the sooner the better (again, click here for all the details). Thanks in advance for any help you might be able to give us, and thanks to those of you who prayed for our house-hunting efforts. After living in eight different places in a dozen years, we’re hoping this is the last move for a very, very long time.

Happy Campers

In Places, Westminster on June 29, 2008 at 8:32 am

DSC_1_0004_004

As a close to my ramblings about Summer Seminar, here’s our group just after kayaking and one day away from heading home (yes, those are genuine smiles on all our faces).

The students’ pictures are starting to come in (thanks, Monica and Michael), so I’ve gone through my two summary posts and added shots to illustrate the narrative. For what it’s worth…

Who Owns the West?

In Places on June 27, 2008 at 11:05 am

Who Owns the West?

Thought this map (hat tip: Acton Institute) was interesting. I’m surprised both by how little land the government owns in South Dakota (just the best parts), as well as how much land the government owns in the West in general.

Also interesting is the small amount of government land in the Midwest and East compared to the West. What explains the difference? One word: gold.

Summer Seminar: A Summary (part 2)

In Calling, Education, Places, Westminster on June 26, 2008 at 7:15 am

After another 50 miles of biking on the Mickelson Trail (broken up over two days), the novelty of the South Dakota experience began to wear thin. At times, it was downright burdensome, as I was dealing with 28 high school seniors who I so desperately wanted to see “get it” with regard to the academic aspect of the trip, but wasn’t sure all of them were. For instance:

“Yesterday on the trip back from Mystic, I listened to seven senior boys wax eloquent on the virtues and ‘awesome-ness’ of Pokemon, beginning with the cards they used to play with in third grade and culminating in a discussion of their best strategies for the video game now. This went on for at least half an hour before they changed topics to music and the best technology for downloading songs for free.

When I asked if they knew that what they were doing was illegal, they wrote me off, saying it was a ‘gray area,’ and went on to talking about something else, with little desire for explanation or questions for discussion. They had already made up their minds as to what they needed the law to be, so that’s what the extent of the conversation was as well. This, on top of many of the girls not being able to complete a sentence without, like, using the word ‘like’ three times (minimum), and I recognize how overly judgmental I can be, which in itself is frustrating. I need to control my attitude better.”

Having left our campsite at Custer, we hiked up and down Harney Peak (the highest peak in South Dakota) before making our way through Deadwood (hello, tourist trap), and finally into Spearfish, which I really liked. While the kids did laundry, a few of us staff visited a local coffeeshop, checked out the bookstore at Black Hills State University, and then we all took an afternoon trip across the Wyoming state line to see Devil’s Tower (cool, but you only need to see it once). That evening, we made a really tough (1,000-ft. in three-fourths of a mile) hike up Spearfish Canyon, but the sunset at the end was a nice reward.

DSC_0241_0018_018

Leaving from Spearfish the next morning, we hiked Bear Butte, one of the most sacred Indian religious sites for the Plains Indians and a historic meeting point for many of the most famous chiefs like Red Cloud and Sitting Bull. As we had done at most of our major stopping points, we had our final “core” here, the third of our ethics track. In general, the students seemed to enjoy these formal presentation times (nine altogether) from their teachers, after which I would usually give a writing assignment to serve as a mechanism for response. I just would have liked more informal discussion from them along the trails and in the van that showed real interest, but the groupthink/herd mentality proved too strong.

415059-R1-020-8A_005

After the hike, we drove to Pierre (pronounced “Pier”) for pizza and an overnight in a hotel, before meeting back up the next morning with Caleb Gilkerson, our guide and trip outfitter in the Badlands, for two days of kayaking and a night (our last) camping out on the river. We were scheduled to do the Cheyenne, but because of all the rain, the river was too high and had covered all the campsites; thus, we opted for the White (which was anything but), and kayaked approximately 20 miles over two days to where the White met up with the Missouri.

415059-R1-024-10A_007

Though the mosquitoes were bad, the food (steak and walleye) was great, and I had the best night of sleep on the trail in my tent up on the 15-foot-high sand bar (two Sominex probably had something to do with that). I enjoyed the serenity of the kayaking, but because the Missouri was so high downstream, there wasn’t much of a current; it was like paddling on a lake, which was fine – we weren’t in a hurry – but by the end of two half days, I had fulfilled my kayaking quota.

DSC_0219_0038_038

After pulling out of the river, we drove to Firesteel Creek Lodge to enjoy a last night in some nice accommodations before driving eleven hours home the next day. We had our last meeting as a group that evening, in which I gave the students the details of “turning in” their writing assignments (due this Saturday). I also asked them to include a self-evaluation of how they made the most of the trip (and perhaps how they didn’t). I’ll be interested to read their observations in hopes that sitting down to think and write about it on their own might teach them some of what we may not have on the trip.

At the Badlands

Personally, the two weeks were impacting in several ways: I came away with a new appreciation and sympathy for Native Americans as a people (both past and present), as well as a new desire to camp and make better use of our National Park system (though don’t look for us at a campsite near you anytime soon – more on that next week). I also want to read more American history and get past the broad brush strokes of my current understanding into more of our history’s nuances, as well as give new consideration to environmental organizations that I perhaps had not paid as much attention to before.

And, I want to keep exposing kids – my students at Westminster, as well as my own – to these important ideas and experiences, persevering and praying them through the inevitable periods of apathy that often accompany affluence, somehow planting seeds of mercy, justice, and humility along the way that one day might grow into fruit of the same kind. In many ways, the Summer Seminar was reaffirming to my calling to teach and to write, and for that (among many other things) I’m grateful for my time in South Dakota.

Summer Seminar: A Summary (part 1)

In Places, Westminster on June 25, 2008 at 4:49 am

It’s high time I got back on the saddle here with a summary of sorts of my recent journey to South Dakota. It was a good trip, but I’m glad to be home in St. Louis, as I missed Megan and the girls something terrible. Though I didn’t take a camera, I’ll have plenty of pics to post when the students send me theirs (along with their writing assignments) at the end of the week. In the meantime, here are some excerpts from my journal, along with a few elaborated highlights – hope they suffice for now.

Badlands

DSC_0082_0038_038

We started off in the Badlands National Park, which felt like a giant playground to all of us. Camping out for two nights, we spent the days hiking around and running up and down the area’s protruding round rock hills, which the kids loved. We saw a lot of wildlife up close – prairie dogs, deer, buffalo, and even two rattlesnakes – so that was new and different.

DSC_0099_0021_021

We also drove through Pine Ridge Indian reservation on our way to Wounded Knee:

DSC_0024_0095_095

“My first trip to a reservation was an ironic combination of beauty and poverty. From my understanding, though the land is ‘reserved’ for the Indians, they can do nothing on it without government permission. So much wrong with all that – not even sure where to begin.

Saw Wounded Knee yesterday – very different from what I thought it would be, as it has not been turned into a sanitized memorial, but instead is a rugged, simple place of remembrance that cries out to be felt and not just acknowledged. Read the last chapter of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while there. Hard to imagine the ugliness of it all in such a pretty valley of waving grass.”

The next day on our way to our campsite at Custer State Park, we made a weather-shortened trip to Mount Rushmore. The experience was anti-climactic for me, so much so that I didn’t even write about it. There’s something incredibly disturbing about the faces of four presidents carved into the side of a mountain overlooking stolen land, and yet despite my discomfort, I bought a Mount Rushmore puzzle and snowglobe to bring home to the girls. Feeling the tension between injustice and patriotism was one of the defining themes of the trip.

Biking was another part of the trip in which I felt tension:

“Biked 54 miles yesterday on the Mickelson Trail from Custer to Edgemont – the longest distance I’ve ever ridden. One of the staff gave me the Indian name ‘Head Between Knees’ after I had to stop four times in the first six miles because I was dizzy from the altitude and the inclines between our campsite and Custer. Once I got past this, I did fine, but it was hard – strong headwind the whole way, and a very sore behind. Still glad I did it, but not sure how I’ll fair on the next two rides (shorter but sorer, I’m sure).”

The scenery on this first trip was beautiful – lots of serene valleys and see-for-miles vistas – and despite my exhaustion (note to self: one 6-mile training ride does not a biker make), I found myself thinking several times how glad I was someone had the Rails-to-Trails idea of converting old railroad lines into a network of public-use paths. The kids seemed to enjoy it as well, and that night was the first one that everybody went to bed earlier than the night before.

One of the major highlights for me on the trip was meeting author/rancher Dan O’Brien:

“Just got back from Dan O’Brien’s Broken Heart Ranch – a highlight of the trip for reasons all too familiar. It’s funny how city kids are so entranced by things so non-urban; for me, it’s just a different kind of farming. O’Brien owns 2,000 acres and runs around 200 head of buffalo (instead of cattle) on his ranch halfway between the Black Hills and the Badlands. He’s 45 minutes from anywhere and lives with his ‘life partner,’ Jill. Other occupants include a 73-year-old hired hand named Erney, and an intern from France.”

O’Brien himself was a fascinating guy, one with whom I would have loved to have spent more time than our 4-hour visit allowed. We did get to talk a little about writing, and I had him sign my copy of his book, so that was cool. After a tour of the ranch (complete with feeding cake from the back of a pick-up to his herds), he and Jill fed us some pulled barbecue bison right out of their kitchen. While I was hoping for burgers, the meat was tasty and the kids really enjoyed sitting out on his deck, asking questions and listening to him speak about what he’s trying to do.

“In many ways, O’Brien is living an ultimate existence – owning land, writing about it, succeeding – but I don’t want to even think about all the work that has, does, and must go into it all. His focus is intense, and his understanding of the land impressive. I wonder if he gets lonely or bored…or frustrated or angry…or just tired or worn out by the scope of his vision of restoring the High Plains through the grazing of buffalo (rather than cattle) on 1 million acres of public land.”

More to come.

Fulfilling a Four-Year Wish

In Family on June 17, 2008 at 2:00 am

Sorry to disappoint. This isn't Craig, it's Megan. Be prepared for constant misuse of the comma, as there's nothing Craig can do about it (at least not for another five days – rest assured, he will come here and fix this up next Sunday).

When we entered this whole weird world of blogging some four or so years ago, I wanted to just have one family blog where we would both write. You know, we're so similar in what we write about: Craig's always telling you about his laundry issues and how he struggles with his hypocritical slide off his anti-high-fructose-corn-syrup soap box and all that, and I often talk about the lofty things of seminarians. We're so similar like that, right?

Okay, not exactly, which is why we've got separate blogs. But just this once, I'm hacking into Second Drafts, where I'll post my first draft like usual and not give it much of a second draft thought. That's what drives him nuts (and what will ensure this only happens one time), but I'm doing it because I can and because he's had no Internet access in seven days and won't see this for five more.

We've heard from Craig exactly two times: he called on Thursday night to tell us that Friday would be the big 50-mile bike ride; he then called us on Sunday to tell us he'd been dubbed with his Indian name: Head Between Knees. Apparently it's a good idea to be riding a bike for a while (i.e.: training) before going on a 50-mile bike ride. I kidded him before he left that he lived in Colorado for 12 years and never really rode a mountain bike, then we moved to Missouri and the sport suddenly sounds appealing. Funny one, that man.

We miss him. We really really miss him. I'm pretty self-sufficient and, to my shame, probably communicate that to Craig more than I mean to. I spent a lot of time alone during my teenage years and learned to be comfortable with that. In college there were a couple of married ladies who would ask me to come spend the weekend with them when their husbands were out of town because they were afraid to be alone. I've never had that problem. Whenever Craig's traveled before, I've made it just fine.

But he's never been away from us for this long, and I realized today that my "just fine" lasts approximately 7 days. I've lost my brain today. I had some errands to run this morning in between dropping M9 off at daycamp and going to Jerram's office to work on his book collection (this list is nowhere near complete – I'm just getting started). My goals were simple: swing by the post office and fill the van up with gas (not at the post office). I went out of my way to go to a gas station near the post office closest to the seminary. On my way back, I completely missed the post office and didn't even realize it until I was almost to Covenant. Once I reached Covenant, I realized I had left my computer at home. My head is a melon.

I was relating all of this to my friend April, who works at FSI (where Jerram's office is), and said, "I'm just a mess – half of me is missing and I'm just now noticing it."

Five more days. Hurry home, Craig. We need you.

Summer Seminar

In Education, Humanity, Places, Thought, Westminster on June 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

Beginning Monday, I'm out of town for the next two weeks as one of seven staff taking 28 soon-to-be-seniors on Westminster's Summer Seminar to South Dakota. Though I hate being away from Megan and the girls that long, I'm looking forward to the trip. Here's the official write-up:

"The Summer Seminar in Liberal Arts is an interdisciplinary course designed to stimulate physical, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Over a 12-day trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, students will explore the theme of “shalom” (restoration) through three, two-day course cores in literature, ethics, and science.

The focus of the course is the development of a biblical understanding of 'shalom' (restoration) as finite creatures living the reality of the Gospel in community with each other and the whole of creation. Students will interact with a variety of literary selections and participate in a three-day bike tour, selected day hikes, and a two-day float trip down the Cheyenne River.

The Summer Seminar is not designed to be an 'adventure' course. While the physical activities will be demanding, the seminar is an attempt to integrate reflection, aesthetic appreciation, and the life of the mind in the formation of a Christian understanding of the world. Ideally, each student would complete the seminar having integrated the Creator’s imprint in nature, community and the liberal arts into his or her understanding of restoration. Students may take the course for a one-semester elective credit."
Parts of the itinerary I'm most looking forward to are:

Unless I find some free wi-fi (and some spare time), I doubt there'll be much action here on the blog over the next couple of weeks. In the interim, if you happen to land here and think of us, pray for safety and meaning on the trip, as well as that Megan and the girls will be okay while I'm gone (don't worry – they've got plans).

Happy trails.

The Brutality of Love

In Thought on June 7, 2008 at 9:40 am

Getting back to our final installment of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Interpretation, what do we do with the perception in the minds of most modern people that “the Bible is a deeply ugly book”? With regard to passages like Leviticus 19:18b and Deuteronomy 13:7-11, what were Moses’ purposes and the needs of the nation (not the state) of Israel that led him to encourage loving one’s neighbor in Leviticus and, at the same time, punish his neighbor so violently if he enticed him to forsake God? Don’t Christians have to apply even the most brutal passages then to be consistent today?

As I mentioned in my post on Women and Head Coverings, context always comes into play; we can’t read our 21st-century perspective back into an ancient text, but have to allow it (and what we have learned about it) to inform us before we try to apply it. This is especially important in understanding the many casuistic – or “case” – laws in the Bible and what they were trying to protect; to do otherwise would be akin to someone three thousand years from now reading our modern-day traffic laws and determining that, because we place limits on speed, we worship slowness, when what we’re really trying to do is save lives.

Gordon Wenham writes in his Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch:

“They (case laws) do not express Old Testament ideals: they only deal with problems…they deal with serious contraventions of the law and thereby set a floor for social behavior. There is…quite a gap between the ethical ideals of the Old Testament, that is how it was hoped people would behave, and the laws which define minimum standards of behavior…The modern reader must bear this in mind in reading these laws. They are designed to curb the worst excesses of Old Testament society: they do not define its ideals.” (p. 71)

So how do we apply this thinking to passages like Deuteronomy 13? Again, let’s start with context. From where were the Israelites coming? From Egypt, a land whose people worshipped man-made gods, and, as a result, treated the Israelites as slaves in the building of temples to these gods for 600 years. In addition, the Egyptians determined that the Israelites had become too numerous, so they began a program not unlike genocide to control and contain their numbers. This was when God, because of his covenant with the nation of Israel, intervened and called Moses to lead them out of Egypt.

To where were the Israelites going? To a strip of land smack in the middle of other nations of multi-god-worshipping peoples. God did not remove the Israelites from interaction with other nations; he led them into more of it because of his love and commitment for all of his creation, not just the Israelites. To this end, God instructed the Israelites by his law – a reflection of his character and for the Israelites’ good – to learn both how to function as a people (remember – they had been slaves for 600 years and didn’t know the first thing about being an organized, functioning society), as well as how to be the people of God (hence the emphasis on exclusivity in the midst of so many peoples worshipping other man-made deities).

J.A. Thompson writes in his commentary on Deuteronomy:

“The number of gods that might claim Israel’s allegiance was considerable, ‘gods which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples that are round about you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other’ (verses 6-7). By means of this vivid language it was made plain to Israel that no god whatever was to take Yahweh’s place (5:7).” (p. 175)

Thompson then writes on the punishment for such practice:

“The penalty prescribed was severe, stoning by the whole community with the family leading the way. It was more necessary for the family than for others to show that it neither had been nor wished to be a partaker in the evil deed. Until recently many societies in the Western world prescribed the death penalty in order to stress the serious nature of certain crimes. While, in practice, this penalty was not always carried out, it remained as a measure of the seriousness of the crime.” (p. 175)

F.F. Bruce elaborates in his NIV commentary on the “due process” often forgotten in a cursory reading of the text and agrees with Thompson that, just because the law was on the Israelities’ “books” does not mean it was always carried out (God himself sets this precedent of mercy in his interaction with Cain after his murder of Abel – see Genesis 4, particularly verses 15-16):

“The responsibility of ‘casting the first stone’ would both discourage careless accusation and – unlike capital punishment today – make the ‘executioners’ personally involved in the sentence…The emphasis on purging the community of infection corresponds to Paul’s demand in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Yet there is little evidence that the death penalty was generally exacted in this and in similar cases (17:12; 19:11-13; 21:18-21; 22:21-24; 24:7) so that it has been suggested that the provision was intended basically to emphasize the gravity of the offense.” (p. 269)

Thompson once more:

“Whatever the origin of such a law, it served the purpose of making clear to a man who acted in this way that society disowned him, and that it would collectively destroy him. The procedures here accord well with the strong emphasis throughout Deuteronomy that society as a whole was involved in the national life. Conversely, each individual was required to play his part in the maintenance of the national life and the good order of society.” (p 175)

Christopher J.H. Wright, in one of my favorite Old Testament works, sums things up well, transitioning from the practice the Old Testament law prescribes to the principle of it that Jesus lives out in the New Testament:

“Deuteronomy 13 is one of the starkest chapters in the Old Testament, dealing with the threat of being enticed into the worship of other gods. With immense realism and perception it anticipates that the temptation to go after other gods may come not only from highly plausible but spurious wonder-workers (verses 1-6), not only from the social pressure of a whole disaffected community (verses 12-18), but also from within the bosom of one’s closest family – ‘your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend’ (verses 6-11).

Even if so, the enticement is to be resisted with a steely firmness that puts loyalty to the Lord alone above even such familial ties. This was a choice Jesus himself faced – not in the sense that his family wished to entice him into blatant idolatry, but rather that in pressing him to return to his family responsibilities they were inadvertently drawing him away from obedience to the will of his Father. Jesus promptly highlighted the stark nature of that choice when he redefined his family in terms of those who, like himself, would put the will of his Father above all else (Matthew 12:46-50).” (p. 344)

So what does this mean for us today? Do we dismiss the Old Testament as simply too brutal to be taken seriously? Hardly, especially since mankind is just eight years out of the most violent century (the 20th) in the history of the planet (and not exactly off to a great start in the 21st). Instead of kidding ourselves that we’ve made so much “progress” regarding human life, we ought to recognize that death is still a strong deterrent for most of us, as well as an ultimate punishment that illustrates how seriously God takes life, which is what God’s laws have always sought to protect.

Are we to stone family members who do not worship the God of the Bible? No. We are not a theocracy (Oxford American Dictionaries: “a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god”) as the nation of Israel was in the Old Testament, nor are we called to be one. Jesus’ new covenant (see Jeremiah 3:31-40 and Luke 22:14-20) established the Church in the New Testament as the chosen people of God, not the nation/state of Israel. This does not automatically exclude Jewish people, but it does not automatically include them, either (read Romans 9-11 for more on this).

That said, in our world today, we as the Church are called to apply the same single-hearted commitment to God as encouraged by the Old Testament laws and modeled perfectly by Jesus. This is why Leviticus 19:18 still applies: the idea of loving God was truly the only way one could love his neighbor. This “brutal” love for God and (as a result) neighbor is why God gave the law in the first place, and what Jesus later explained in Matthew 22:34-40 as the basis of the life he lived as the Fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Thoughts?

Top Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Last Year

In Education, Westminster on June 5, 2008 at 7:54 am

Here’s a list I prepared and presented yesterday at Westminster‘s new teacher induction:

10. Don’t let the physical exhaustion you experience during the first week of school scare you. Though it’s tiring, give your body a chance to catch up from summer (it’ll take a good week).

9. Just because a student smiles at you doesn’t mean he likes you; just because a student frowns at you doesn’t mean he hates you. Don’t take things personally either way.

8. It may take months (for me it was eight) to really feel like you matter to a student, but it will happen eventually. Give it time.

7. Creating disequilibrium in the classroom is key to making something stick. Without coming across like you’re trying too hard, don’t be afraid to try anything once (just don’t get burned twice).

6. Never make a joke at a student’s expense. If you embarrass a student in public, ask forgiveness for doing so in public.

5. Respond to parents promptly and graciously and you’ll have little problem; let stuff go or hint you don’t care, and you will curse the day you were born.

4. There’s nothing wrong with letting your students see you disappointed; there’s also nothing wrong with letting them see you pleased. Either way, talk with them and make sure they know how to tell the difference.

3. Though it will feel like you just don’t have time, reflect and take notes each week on how things are going, sit in on and ask questions about other teachers’ classes, and try to invest your lunch break in getting to know your colleagues.

2. Remember your students have more issues than National Geographic. Oh, and so do you.

1. Sure, teaching may not pay much, but the vacation time is great. Enjoy it and use the time to be the student you want your kids to be.

Okay, so maybe I knew some of these already, but it was fun thinking about them and putting the list together for someone else anyway.

Women and Head Coverings

In Thought on June 4, 2008 at 7:47 am

Before we try to apply a right hermeneutic to one of the passages in question, let’s apply its principles of authorial intent and audience need to the Bible as a whole. Allowing the literature to provide its answer of authorship, we understand the Scripture was written by God. Granted, there are huge questions that go with this statement (who is God? what does inspiration look like?, etc.), but for the sake of brevity (and regardless of what we think about it), we must understand from the text (see 2 Timothy 3:16 for an example) this ultimate ascription.

That determined (again, whether one agrees or not is not the point; we’re simply trying – from the text – to establish claimed authorship), what was God’s intention in inspiring/writing it? Based on numerous passages of Scripture, God’s ultimate goal seems to be revelation – the revealing of himself as author, creator, redeemer, savior – of those he claims to have created and for whom he takes responsibility. In other words, the authorial intent is that God wants people to know about him so people can know him.

Know him why? What do we understand from the text as to what the author claims his audience’s need is? There seem many possibilities: love, forgiveness, redemption, discipline, provision, care, etc. Without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing on one or more for now, if we rightly understand the overarching narrative that runs through the Bible – not just pulling out strange or confusing passages (we’ll deal with those later) – we recognize that, when it’s all said and done, 1) the author is telling one ultimate story; and 2) that story – like all the best stories (think Lord of the Rings) – is made up of many smaller stories that help tell it.

Now, with regard to Paul and the early church concerning women, what is the author’s (Paul’s/God’s) intent and the audience’s (people then and now) need? Some cultural background (taken from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters):

“Although some Greek and Roman women became philosophers, higher education in rhetoric and philosophy was usually reserved for men. In a society where most people were functionally illiterate (especially much of the Empire’s population), teaching roles naturally would fall on those who could read and speak well. Nearly all of our Jewish sources suggest that these roles were, with rare exceptions, limited to men.” (p. 589)

This in and of itself is descriptive, not prescriptive; in other words, just because the Greek and Roman cultures were like this does not mean it was right, nor that Paul/God endorsed it; it was simply (and sadly) reality. But what about Paul’s words about women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence”? Doesn’t this line up with the same perspective held by the Greeks and Romans?

Here’s where our historical/cultural (I would argue “American”) prejudice I mentioned in my previous post comes in. In light of our preoccupation with/worship of freedom and free speech, we read Paul’s words as limiting, sexist, and (perhaps the biggest offender) un-American. But think about this with regard to the Timothy passage, as well as the other controversial passages on the topic (1 Corinthians 11 and 14):

“It was common in the ancient world for hearers to interrupt teachers with questions, but it was considered rude if the questions reflected ignorance of the topic. Since women were normally considerably less educated than men, Paul proposes a short-range solution and a long-range solution to the problem. His short-range solution is that the women should stop asking the disruptive questions; the long-range solution is that they should be educated, receiving private tutoring from their husbands.” (p. 590)

While feminists today would probably scoff at this as patronizing, we have to remember that, for the time, Paul was among the most progressive of ancient writers on the subject of a woman’s intellectual potential. The issue of “in silence” was not how just women were to learn; this would have been the way all novices were to learn, and characterizes the desired behavior of the whole church (1 Timothy 2:2).

What about the question of a woman teaching? Again, let’s consider the context of the audience’s need in Ephesus (the city in which Timothy was pastoring) and Paul’s intent as evidenced by the text in addressing it:

“Clues in the text indicate the following situation: male false teachers (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17) have been introducing dangerous heresy into the ephesian church (1 Timothy 1:4-7; 6:3-5), often beginning by gaining access to its women, who would normally have been difficult to reach because of their greater restriction to the domestic sphere (2 Timothy 3:6-7). Because the women were still not well trained in the Scriptures, they were most susceptible to the false teachers and could provide a network through which the false teachers could disrupt other homes (1 Timothy 5:13; cf. 1 Timothy 3:11). Given Roman society’s perception of Christians as a subversive cult, false teaching that undermined Paul’s strategies for the church’s public witness could not be permitted.” (p. 591)

As I’ve already mentioned, Paul’s solution to dealing with these heresies was not to shut women up but to let women learn, which they did. So does that mean women should be free to teach? No and yes. F.F. Bruce writes in his NIV commentary:

“When, however, it comes to the matter of teaching, Paul’s tone becomes more authoritative. In addition to repeating his exhortation regarding ‘quietness,’ he declares categorically, I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. This prohibition in no way contradicts Titus 2:2-3. It relates to teaching in the church in the presence of men and to the fact that authority in matters concerning the church is not committed to women. The apostle’s argument is founded on the initial relationship of man and woman.” (p. 1477)

In other words, Paul’s statement of the differences between the roles of man and woman is one of purpose, not of worth or order. This goes back to God’s original model in Genesis 2:18-24 (again, we have to remember to keep the smaller narratives within God’s larger, overarching narrative as the text claims he is the ultimate author), and I don’t find this model changed or repealed in the Scriptures since. As Jack Collins notes in his commentary on Genesis 1-4:

“Paul’s argument does not turn simply on the order in which they were made; otherwise the animals would be over man! Rather, the Genesis text itself declares a rationale for the woman: she is not the same as the man but complements him. For many people in the modern Western culture, this is sexist or discriminatory. This is because for them, to be equal means to have equal access to any role one aspires to…[but] simply to label something sexist because it sees a difference in men and women does not say anything worth saying, because nature itself is sexist in that sense (since men do not have access to child bearing). Rather, a more useful definition would be one that grounds any differences between men’s and women’s roles in different relative worth of men and women – and there is no evidence that the Bible employs such a rationale in its teaching.” (p. 141-142)

With regard to head coverings, we need to understand their purpose at the time and in the culture – to outwardly illustrate the aforementioned idea of women submitting to God in their role of complementing men. Should women have to wear head coverings today to do that? Based on our study, no – there are plenty of more culturally acceptable ways for women to demonstrate obedience to God’s purpose for them (not crying “sexist” would be one), so ladies, feel free to leave the head coverings at home.

Okay. We’ve tried to understand authorial intent and audience need with regard to Paul’s/God’s teaching about women in the church. If I were teaching my high schoolers, this would be where I assign a response essay; instead, I’ll just ask you to comment. What do you think?

I’ll try to deal with the Old Testament passages in question in another day or two.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Interpretation

In Movies, Theologians, Thought, Writers on June 3, 2008 at 11:40 am

A few weeks ago, a post in which I wrote on gay marriage got quite a bit of traffic and discussion. In the midst of the interactions, some important questions came up pertaining to my use of the Bible as the basis for my thinking.

For instance, escapethedrain wrote in comment #2:

“If you are using the bible to prove your point that homosexuality is wrong, then you also have to include the scripture that says:

(1 Tim. 2:12)
‘Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.’

(Lev 19.18b)
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.’

Do you believe in this as well? I am interested in your response.”

In addition, transientreporter wrote in comment #3:

“Mull over this:

(Deuteronomy 13:7-11)
‘If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or your intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known,gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the LORD, your God…’

The bible is a deeply ugly book.”

I summed up the tensions (see comment #5) as being 1) the use of ancient Scripture (Old and New Testaments) to address modern issues, and 2) the brutality of the Bible. While I’m not sure if the two readers who asked the questions are still reading (thanks for sticking around if you are), I promised to try to address their questions, so I will (though it’s going to take a couple of posts to do it – hang with me).

Let me start with an illustration. As part of the recent build-up to the new Indiana Jones movie (which I’ve still yet to see), Slate ran a review that started with this:

“If some 32nd-century archeologist were to unearth a DVD copy of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount), her first task—after converting the barbaric early digital technology to a more current brain-wave-based viewing system—would be to understand what this object meant to the culture that created it…Though it’s a scholar’s job to shed her 32nd-century prejudices and understand the belief systems of those long dead, our archeologist will have to ask herself: What were these scribes thinking?”

When I read this, I thought immediately of our recent discussion. It’s true: many aspects of the Bible can seem foreign to us because of where we are (or aren’t) historically in relation to them. However, we aren’t being fair to the Scripture (or to any ancient text) if we approach it with our 21st-century prejudices.

For instance, I just finished reading Richard Dawkins‘ book, The God Delusion. Make no mistake, Dawkins is a good writer, but listen for the modern bias in his take (found on page 269 in case anyone’s following along) on the beginning of the Old Testament:

“Begin in Genesis with the well-loved story of Noah, derived from the Babylonian myth of Uta-Napisthim and known from the older mythologies of several cultures. The legend of the animals going into the ark two by two is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children and also, for good measure, the rest of the (presumably blameless) animals as well.”

Dawkins continues:

“Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don’t take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the athiest’s decision, without an absolute foundation.”

Dawkins then dismisses the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 and the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 before starting in on the New Testament and questioning Jesus’ “somewhat dodgy family values” (page 284).

For the record, I agree with Dawkins that, unfortunately, there are plenty of theologians who don’t take Genesis literally any more, but I am not one of them. This doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make me a flaming fundamentalist by default; I do not read Genesis as a science book anymore than I read Song of Songs as a recipe. I read Genesis as narrative and Song of Songs as poetry, for reading either as something they’re not does not respect their genres as literature, which, in my mind, is as big a problem for fundamentalists as a figurative-only reading.

But I digress.

My point is that Dawkins (an evolutionary biologist) gives little to no consideration to the first basic rule of hermeneutics (interpretation) – that is, we have to understand an author’s intent as well as the needs of the author’s first readers to rightly understand the text. Dawkins seems only interested in picking apart the text; likewise, if any reader does not interact with ancient writings beyond their words, then she is not playing by the rules of good exegesis.

So, getting back to the questions above, what was the Apostle Paul’s intent and his audience’s needs that caused him to write about women and submission? What were Moses’ purposes and the needs of the nation (not the state) of Israel that led him to encourage loving one’s neighbor in Leviticus and, at the same time, punish his neighbor so violently if he enticed him to forsake God? We have to try to get as close to these original intents and audiences before we can begin figuring out what (if any) meaning these passages have now.

And that’s where we’ll start tomorrow…

Here’s the Story…

In Thought on June 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm

The girls have been bingeing of late on DVD episodes of The Brady Bunch. I’ve decided I would be a better parent if all my decisions were accompanied by cheeseball music and a laugh track.

Curse you, Mike Brady…and a pox upon your architect’s desk.