13 September 2016

Children's Games

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.
- from The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton

16 August 2016

Europe Before Luther

"In [Luther's] day, as Catholic historians all agree, the Popes of the Renaissance were secularized, flippant, frivolous, sensual, magnificent and unscrupulous... Politics were emancipated from any concern for the faith to such a degree that the Most Christian King of France and His Holiness the Pope did not disdain a military alliance with the Sultan against the Holy Roman Empire. Luther changed all this. Religion became again a dominant factor even in politics for another century and a half. Men cared enough for the faith to die for it and to kill for it. If there is any sense remaining of Christian civilization in the West, this man Luther in no small measure deserves the credit.”[1]

[1] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Meridian, 1977) 15.

Journaling Luther

Okay, so I know my blog hasn't been really active for quite some time. Life happens. So for a while, all I've been posting are book reviews. I'm planning on beginning something more substantial though.

The upcoming year, 2017, is a special year for the history of the Church. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation in Germany. 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and in honor of the occasion I've set myself a project to complete. I'm going to keep a "Luther journal" as a sort of commonplace book and verbal scrapbook, and to fill it with notes, I'm planning on immersing myself in the world of Luther as much as possible over the next year. I'm starting by re-reading Roland Bainton's classic and authoritative Luther biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, since I haven't read it since college and college seems to be continually drifting farther back in time. I have a few other books in mind to read about the time period, and I also plan on re-reading Luther's Bondage of the Will as well as several of his treatises. The big thing though is that I plan on reading through the complete sermons of Martin Luther to get a feel for Luther's pastoral heart.

So what that means for this blog is that I'll probably be posting lots of quotes from various sources that I copy into my journal and find interesting enough to share here as well.

Also, just for fun, here's a picture of me dressed as Martin Luther from way back in my days as a youth pastor.

09 August 2016

The Lie of Practical Politics

"When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: 'Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.' Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election."

-from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

23 July 2016

The Man in White

Johnny Cash wrote a book about the Apostle Paul? Yes! And here's the rundown on The Man in White.

Johnny Cash was actually a capable writer. He clearly put a lot of research and time into his exploration of the pre-conversion life of Saul of Tarsus, and felt a strong personal connection to the apostle. He has great description of Paul's mystical experiences, and most of the characters in the book are well drawn.

On the other hand, I'm not very convinced of Cash's interpretation of Saul's character before his conversion or the relationship he had with the Sanhedrin and his fellow pharisees. In Cash's story, the Sanhedrin views the Christians as heretics and worthy of death, but at the same time they view Saul as a dangerous and rather annoying fanatic. The high priest is only too happy to give Saul the required letters simply in order to get him out of Jerusalem. Of course, the Bible doesn't paint a clear character picture for us so it's mostly just a matter of personal interpretation, and Cash is careful not to contradict the Scriptures in any particulars. The ending felt a bit rushed as well, and there were a couple of factual historical errors that were clearly simple editorial oversights; Diana is called the goddess of love, for example.

To be honest, I most enjoyed the lengthy introduction to the book written by Cash. It details his spiritual journey as a Christian through his later years of addiction to pain killers up through the death of his father. I especially liked the image of Johnny Cash traveling with a saddlebag stuffed with three Bibles, and copies of Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius. Cash writes nonfiction with much more ease and style than he does fiction.

Overall I would recommend this book for fans of Johnny Cash as an interesting curiosity. Also for folks who are big fans of historical fiction, this is a shortish read that you may want to check out as well. Otherwise, you're not missing out if you give this one a skip.

25 June 2016

The Brother of Jesus

I was fortunate enough to be taking Archaeology in college when the “James Ossuary” was revealed to the public. It was an exciting event for the class to talk about, and, as I recall, it was a topic everyone wanted for their final term paper. Alas, our teacher made us all pick a different topic. I ended up writing about the bytdwd inscription found at Tel Dan, but that’s another story.

The ossuary (bone burial box) is engraved with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. If this inscription is authentic to the first century it might refer to the James in the New Testament, the head of the Jerusalem church. This would truly be an exciting find. Unfortunately, there were several problems with the ossuary when it was made public. First of all, it wasn’t found in situ. It was part of a private collection and purchased on the antiquities market in the 1970s. This automatically casts a shade of suspicion over the find in the minds of many professionals. When it was initially revealed, a number of professional epigraphers and paleographers concluded that it was authentic and from the latter half of the first century AD. However, other scholars registered skepticism about the possibility that the find could be authentic. And even if the ossuary proves to bear an authentic first century inscription, what is the likelihood that the Jesus, James, and Joseph in the inscription are identical with the Biblical characters.

Even now, over a decade later, the ossuary is a matter of controversy. In 2004, the Israeli Antiquities Authority released a statement saying that they had tested the box and that it was a late forgery. However, other independent studies seemed to confirm the first century date. The owner of the ossuary was put on trial by the Israeli government for forgery and was found not guilty, but this doesn’t settle the matter of whether the box is authentic.

This particular book,  The Brother of Jesus, written soon after the ossuary went public, is really two books in one. The first part of the book, written by Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, gives the archaeological background of the box. As one of the people responsible for the public unveiling of the ossuary, he gives the inside story of how the box came to the attention of Andre Lemaire, and how he recognized the possibility inherent in the inscription that the owner had never considered. Shanks tells the background story on the ossuary and goes on to explain the controversy surrounding it up to the time the book was written and the methods used to date the box.

The second part of the book, written by Ben Witherington III, turns to the character of James himself. He gives a background of who James was in the New Testament and how he is important to the history of the Christian church. Some of this is basic info that any Bible reader would know. However, the most interesting part of his section was the exploration of later legends that developed around James and the political and theological biases that led to them. Also he talks about the implications of the ossuary for various views of the brothers of Jesus in the New Testament, explaining how the authenticity of the ossuary would affect Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theology. He gives a background and evaluation of the origin of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary doctrine as well. Finally he concludes with a plea for the significance of James as an equal to the more well known and understood Peter and Paul.

Overall this was a great book. Both parts were well written and informative. The second part has probably held up better than the first, as the debate on the authenticity of the ossuary has moved on since Shanks’s overview. However, it still stands as a fascinating account of how the ossuary was made public. If you’re interested in archaeology or New Testament backgrounds and theology, you’ll probably find this book interesting.

27 May 2016

Time to get Political


03 May 2016

Responding with Empathy

Here's a cute but important little video about the difference between sympathy and empathy from Dr. Brene Brown.

18 April 2016

Yet Still More Music for Grading

I'm not in the habit of doing Top Five lists anymore like I used to on this blog. However, it seems like without my meaning it to, it has become a tradition at some point each year to share the music I'm listening to while grading papers.

Music for Grading

More Music for Grading

Still More Music for Grading

So here's what's on my playlist this year. I guess my musical taste hasn't changed much here.

1. Andrew Peterson, The Burning Edge of Dawn
Someday Andrew Peterson will release a new cd that doesn't make my cry like a little baby when I listen to it. But this isn't the one. Powerful, painful, and lovely.

2. Jon Foreman, Sunlight and Shadows

3. Jon Foreman, Darkness and Dawn
Jon Foreman called these four cds "The Wonderlands". There are 6 songs per cd, 25 songs in all (okay, so one cd actually has 7 songs), each song corresponding to an hour of the day.

4. Randall Goodgame, War and Peace
Charlie Brown, Harry Truman, Pope Joan.. what sort of album is this? It's funny sometimes. And sad. (The title is "War and Peace" after all.)

5. M. Ward More Rain
M. Ward is always great music for relaxing.

14 April 2016

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves

Do you ever feel like people are counting on you to have the answers? To have it all together? To be strong? Do you feel like you fall short? Like you aren’t enough? Like if anyone found out what you’re really like, you would be pushed aside and forgotten? This is the feeling of shame.

Aristotle defined shame as “pain or disturbance in regard to bad things, whether present, past, or future, which seem likely to involve us in discredit.” This definition meshes well with the way Curt Thompson talks about shame in his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves. Shame is the feeling that you’re not enough, will not be enough, cannot be enough. It’s a fear that you can never meet the expectations that people have for you, or that you’re not good enough for people to care for you.

According to Thompson, shame is a key component of the lives of all people. While shame comes in many forms and in varying levels of intensity, it is always there, whispering in your ear, causing you to reshape the story you tell yourself about your life and relationships with others. The main fear that shame promotes is the anxiety of separation from others, the fear of abandonment and lonliness. Paradoxically, shame causes us to hide who we really are in response. We can’t show our weaknesses. We have to appear strong, with it, and put together lest people reject us as not good enough for fellowship. As this shame creeps like a pernicious weed into every part of our lives, we can end up withdrawing from people altogether and experiencing the lonliness that we feared at the beginning of our shame journey.

Thompson points out that shame is different from guilt. Shame can exist alongside of guilt, but unlike guilt, which can be good for us, shame is always negative. Without guilt, shame separates people. Because of the fear of separation, shame drives us to hide ourselves from one another, not willing to be vulnerable and weak. Alongside of guilt, shame causes us to hide from God, wearing our fig leaves and avoiding confession. Shame coupled with guilt also prevents us from confessing our sins to one another for fear of the rejection we may experience from others if our sin should become known.

This book shows how shame begins to have its effect on us from our earliest childhood experiences. It is inculcated, usually unknowingly, in our families. It features strongly in schools for both students and teachers. It infiltrates all organizations and workplaces. It can especially be prevalent in church communities, the one place one would expect to find freedom from shame.

Through the course of this book, Thompson talks about how to be attentive to shame and deal with its lies that it feeds us on a daily basis. He gives a reaffirmation of vocation the way God intended it to be, and shows how we can combat the way shame strips us of joy and fellowship in our lives.

This was an excellent book in every way. Thompson does great research into the neuroscience of shame. There is a lot of information about the brain and how the experience of shame affects the operations of the brain. Apparently shame can actually shear off neural pathways and affect our ability to form accurate memories of events that we experience. Shame is a state of mind that we slip into unconsciously, and by being consciously attentive to the process when it happens, we actually alter the physical functioning of our brains to combat shame. Thompson pays special attention to what it means to be humans, embodied creatures with body and soul. While our mind and our brain are not identical, the functioning of our brain has a great effect on the health of our souls.

I appreciated Thompson’s numerous expositions of Scripture. He shows how shame was present and active at the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. He shows how shame was active in the early church communities and addressed by Paul. He shows how Jesus dealt with shame and guilt in the way he talked to others and interacted with individual sinners.

I also appreciated the numerous case studies of his patients and clients. As a practicing psychiatrist, Thompson has a wealth of personal experience to draw on. It would be very surprising if you were to read this book and not find a situation that connected with you directly.

For me, this book has already changed the way I talk to my children on a daily basis. From finding ways to encourage hard work and creativity without the fear of falling short, to finding ways to deal with sin and bad behavior in order to restore fellowship rather than shame, this book would be helpful to any parent. I think this book is going to greatly affect the way I deal with students as a teacher as well. Schools, especially schools with a strong academic reputation, are hotbeds of shame. This book definitely explains the burnout I’ve seen in many students over the years. Oftentimes shame is a chain reaction in educational environments affecting administrators, teachers, parents and students. And this holds true from large schools to homeschool co-ops.

In conclusion I don’t think there is a person, family, school, organization or church community that would not benefit from this book, and I’m going to be recommending it like crazy to everyone I know.