Author: Eddie (page 6 of 12)

Haiti: Where was God? or Where were we?

The understandably inevitable question after a natural disaster or massacre is “Where was God?” Ben Witherington III (BW3) discussed this recently and offered pointed thoughts.

But what I wanted to pull out specifically was the following quote.

Haiti has been a disaster happening and waiting to happen for ever. Had most of the buildings in Port au Prince been strengthened or rebuilt to withstand such disasters, literally millions of people would have been less likely to be harmed in that city by what has just happened. And we have known about these problems in our own backyard for decades. For decades now the U.S. would rather throw good money after bad on military adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere when in fact with a fraction of what we have spent in the last decade on war the entire country of Haiti could have been rebuilt and given decent housing!! Yes its true. And these are our backdoor neighbors. But of course they do not have oil and other commodities to offer us, so we as a nation have largely ignored them and their cries for help, hoping that the piecemeal efforts of small U.N. and Christian agencies would pick up the slack—which they have been unable to do, so overwhelmed have they been by the grinding indigenous poverty and needs of that whole country, not to mention governmental corruption over many decades.

Where were we (in particular the Church, but that can also extend to the US) before any of this happened? A 7.0 earthquake can occur today in the Los Angeles area and maybe a couple of older bridges could collapse. Maybe a few older apartment complexes could have some structural damages. Possibly some people could lose their lives. But nowhere near 3 million people would be homeless. Nowhere near the entire city would be in a pile of blood and rubble. Nowhere near 100,000 would be dead. I’m not arguing that we need to help every poor nation on Earth with their buildings and infrastructure. That’s not practical. But Haiti is our close neighbor, and we’d rather shell out nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars to fund a war in Iraq (which, remember, was completely unjustifiable). It would have cost only a fraction of that to shore up Port au Prince and the surrounding impoverished areas against major disasters.

Christians killing Muslims in Nigeria, violence begetting violence

The summary by CNN’s John Blake for his story “Religious hatred simmers in terror suspect’s homeland” could not have been stated better:

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab wouldn’t have to go to an al Qaeda camp in Yemen to learn how to hate. He had examples closer to home. Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of his lifetime.

As comes in later in the story, “violence begets violence.” But what John Blake stated was very true: when killing is the culture you grew up in, there is no need to learn it from elsewhere. When you factor in the history of Nigeria (brought up and summarized in the story), the general history of Christian and Muslim animosity, and then the retaliation and attitude of revenge taken by those Christians in Nigeria who chose to act in that way and be part of the violence, it would be difficult not to breed violence in the younger generations.

Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of AbdulMutallab’s lifetime. At least 10,000 Nigerians have died during Christian-Muslim riots and ethnic violence during the past decade.

That is a very telling statistic. That is not the message and mission of God’s Kingdom. That is not the Good News of Jesus. That is not serving and loving your neighbors and enemies. That is not the way of the cross.

I understand there is a lot of cultural turmoil behind the violence. As was also brought out in the story, poverty is a big factor. Poverty and oppression was a major influence in the time of Jesus as well, especially to the zealots who wanted the violent uprising and takeover of their home from Rome and the elites. Still Jesus came in, supplied the method and means to revolution, and not one bit of it was violent. Despite the history, despite the social factors, despite the oppression, the Christian leadership and missionaries there have to bring the focus back to the message and teachings of Jesus. Let Jesus guide the response of the people.

Yes, that is difficult. Yes, that seems “pie in the sky.” But please show me where Jesus said something to the effect of “You don’t really have to do what I say or follow my example. That’s just idealism. Try your best, and if you can’t do it, then go ahead and kill your enemy. Take over with bloodshed. Either way will work out for you.” (Okay. So I ran on a little with that one.)

Am I saying had the violence not existed that young men like Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab would not take up the call for violent, militant, suicidal jihad? Of course not. I am saying it’s very, very hard to kill someone who does nothing but love you, serve you, take care of you when you’re sick, visits you in prison, gives you clothes when you’re cold, shelters your family from the rain, houses your community’s widows and orphans, develop methods and utilization of technologies that help restore the communities, speaks up for you when you are being oppressed and wronged.

The situation is not simple. The answers are not simple. But Christians must be guided by the Lord, not natural impulses or even common sense. Leaders and communities there know far better than I do how that will look and feel and proceed. However, the second violent action is sanctioned, condoned, or even endorsed, our Christ is chucked aside and told to stay inside the church walls while the Christians go do the will of God.

No, I do not believe the violence in Nigeria is actually that widespread and all encompassing. But anywhere that Jesus and violence seem to join hands is a place where the Good News is being suppressed. And that should be troubling for all Christians, everywhere. Christianity is given a bad name here in the US because of the ties it now has to such things as imperialism, occupation, oppression, capitalism, torture, militant anti-abortionism, anti-gay, and capital punishment. So much so that there are Christians who are tending toward not really liking being called Christians. Too many negative connotations involved, and preconceptions in the minds of those who hear you are a Christian. There needs to be a change of that tide here in the US (and there is evidence of that actually happening), and also in places like Nigeria. If the dominant idea of Chrisitans in Nigeria is “they are in a fight with Muslims,” then the name and message of Jesus gets dragged through the mud a little bit.

The message of Jesus in the first century was revolutionary and far from passive (there’s a difference between being a pacifist and being passive, but that’s not the last time I’ll have to mention that); nonviolent to the core, but very active and obviously subversive in the community. The message has not changed now 2,000 years later. So maybe we need to confront the Good News and be told what to do.

I welcome you to read over John Blake’s article and engage in the conversation. How can you and I help in any way? Should we help? What is best: a defensive, retaliatory Christianity or one more pacifistic?

Time’s Top 10 Underreported Stories

I saw Time’s Top 10 Underreported Stories of 2009. A couple really caught my attention, of which I completely agree they were underreported. But maybe that’s simply because I felt other stories were overreported. Among the list are Nigerian Blood for Oil, Ethic Unrest in Iran, and Obama Allows Faith-Based ‘Discrimination’. But most notable is probably the last story: Experimenting with Children, about testing genetically modified grains (golden rice) on humans in China, including children as young as six. And that, knowing the grain was not even cleared for human consumption.

But for the most part I see even Time’s list falls short of significant stories that truly went underreported. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) gets very little coverage. There is seemingly more press on or around Osama bin Laden (e.g. 4,500 results in CNN story search) than on DRC (424, or even Darfur at 659). Two weeks ago there was a story on the UN-backed military operation in DRC causing the deaths of 1,400 civilians in 9 months, with 7,500 girls and women being sexually abused during that time. The UN Security Council is apparently going to be voting on whether or not to continue the peacekeeping mission. I wonder how many news listeners/watchers/readers know there is a difference between Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, a.k.a the Congo. I wonder how many can locate Darfur on a map. Yet they might easily recognize the names General Petraeus or Captain Sully.

Well, consider this my end of the year attempt to get folks to think a little more about the struggles in east Africa. I tried anyway.

New poster in the works: Essence

Here’s a sample of a poster I’ve been working on.

I am looking to push my upside down kingdom production up a notch, and this poster is a step in that direction. Much like other posters I have worked on in the past, this one contains an element requiring the viewer and the owner to do a little more than just have a look. This is an area I’m quite passionate about, and enjoy promoting the cross-centered, upside down kingdom of our Lord.

Will I sell these and others? Yes. Do I do this for the money? Hopefully you know me well enough by now. But if you don’t, this is certainly not for the money. I hope to cover production cost (printing and shipping) and raise support for missions, local and international groups, and my own dreams of New Testament translation work in East Africa (or wherever else the Lord might take us).

I’m making available a small sample right now, along with a detail view of the center. This is not yet finished. I still have issues to work out, finer details to get under control, and make some changes here and there. The poster will be 11 x 17 when all is said and done. I hope to have this final within the week, then I’ll look at a future printing date. Feel free to leave comments; I look forward to them.

Homeschool and History with Trial and Triumph: Polycarp

You’ve heard the old saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Well, more often than not, truth makes a better story than fiction. And in Hannula’s own introduction to Trial and Triumph (click here to see my intro into the blog series), he said the stories were

not fiction but historically accurate, biographical sketches. The background events and actions of the subjects were drawn from the most reliable sources, and all quotations were taken directly from the subject’s own speeches and writings. (pg. 11-12)

I went into the text with fairly high expectations, as when I open up my texts of primary sources. Having been a student of the writings of and about Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp, I think I had some unreasonably lofty hopes for what Hannula had to put together for children. If Hannula had not written those words into his introduction, I think I would have been comfortable viewing these stories much like movies depicting historical personalities and events. For the most part they are true, and they can summarize a life story while moving the narrative forward and not lose people along the way. We give them some wiggle room for the sake of telling the story.

But, alas, Hannula said the stories are “historically accurate” and “drawn from reliable sources.” So I have to start there.

The opening to the story of Polycarp (pgs. 17-20) were done quite well, giving the background to the early church, persecutions, and setting the stage for the mid-second century. On page 18, the tale of Polycarp opened with a story of a young Christian of Smyrna in the arena with a lion. After rejecting the call from the Roman governor to renounce Christianity, to swear the oath to Caesar, and live, the lion attacked.

In an instant the two were intertwined, with the animal tearing at the man with powerful swipes. The lion closed his massive jaws, and the young man went limp. The crowd cheered. “Death to the godless!” some shouted.

One of the Roman leaders spoke up. “He was just a follower.” Another shouted, “We want Polycarp, their leader! Death to the godless! Death to Polycarp!”

While the scene of a Christian in an arena being killed by a lion was nothing fictional, the story was very much far from reality. This is the real story:

But thanks be to God, for the devil did not prevail against any of [a group of prior Christian martyrs]. For the most noble Germanicus encouraged them, fearful though they were, by his own patient endurance; he also fought with the wild beasts in an outstanding way. For when the proconsul wished to persuade him and asked him to consider his youthfulness, he forcibly dragged the wild beast toward himself, desiring to be released as quickly as possible from their unrighteous and lawless life. For after this the whole multitude, marveling at the bravery of the God-loving and God-fearing race of Christians, began shouting, “Away with the atheists! Find Polycarp!” 1

Germanicus, far from just standing there and letting the lion attack, brought the lion to himself. And that is not the only time I’ve read of that sort of zeal from the martyrs. Compare the two stories—from Hannula and from the primary source, the Martyrdom of Polycarp—and you see the differences. You see the embellishments, you see the movie making, and you see where Hannula is trying to fill in what he thinks will keep the attention and spur the imaginations of the children. While as with historically based movies I am willing to recognize the story and goal through the theatrics and the not-so-accuracies, I have a difficult time going there with this story of Germanicus mainly because of the unnecessary misrepresentation.

The story of Germanicus itself is profound, especially in light of the historical context. The persecutions on going in the area were intense, and the authors of Mart. of Polycarp included it because of it’s special place in the Christian community. Granted, there was no need to list the details of what a lion killing a Christian looked like back then; they were living it almost daily. Children in our day, here in the US at least, would find it hard to understand. But that is no reason to change the story. Moving on.

The narrative moved on to the arrest of Polycarp and his being in the arena. Now, the story of what happened in the arena is well done. I do not really have a complaint. But if there is anything to dislike it would be what was skipped over. Hannula did not talk about what happened during the search for Polycarp leading to his arrest. That span can give you a very good picture of the kind of man and more importantly the kind of Christian Polycarp was. I recommend taking a look at what Polycarp did and talking about that with your children. Especially to American children not exposed to what persecution looks and feels like, being killed for Jesus can be quite foreign. But if they could see the life of a martyr, they might understand the significance a little better.

The search for Polycarp is found in Mart. of Polycarp vi-vii. Knowing he was being hunted, Polycarp left his house and hid in another. Members of his household betrayed him. So the soldiers later found him and were ready to arrest him. Instead of running again, he declared, “May God’s will be done.” Polycarp ordered that a table be prepared for the soldiers and they ate while he went and prayed. After that, he went with the soldiers.

It’s a powerful testimony, the life of a martyr inseparable from his death. It’s a testimony that I would love to have seen included, and that I believe could have done a lot of good for Christian children today. The story of Polycarp is very important, and it’s no mystery why Hannula included it in his summary history. But I do wish he would have given just a little bit more. He had the space, but otherwise it’s a good chapter.

1 Martyrdom of Polycarp, iii

New additions to our personal library and a question

Here’s some lovely new additions to our personal library, thanks to the kindness of three family members.

1901 edition of the Home Study Circle Library, American Literature, Vol. II: Poe, Hawthorne, Holmes. Excellent antique book. Very good condition, with superb illustrations. A welcome member of the antique book collection.

The Hal Leonard Mandolin Method, Book One, put together by Rich DelGrosso. This looks to be a great resource for helping me learn Mandolin, and also allows to stop relying on library check outs of another mandolin beginner book.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Craig Hovey’s To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church. So far this has been a truly wonderful read, has challenged my thinking on a couple issues, reaffirms a couple others, and got me to say, “Well, I think you got that one wrong,” on two occasions. But I’ll try and cover that stuff when I’m done and can write up a little review. I have not been disappointed one bit.

Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, by Ched Myers. Mark’s Gospel swiftly became my favorite Gospel in the last few years. I’ve heard from many reputable sources (friends and theologians and reviewers) that this text is a must. So this will be an amazing adventure. I’m really excited. It looks incredibly meaty.

And then there’s this next text, that could very easily be a life changer if I’m not careful.

Documenta Anabaptistica Volume 8: The Forgotten Writings of the Mennonite Martyrs, edited by Brad Gregory. I cannot express how much this means to me. I’m finally bearing down and learning dutch, folks. I’ll stop there for now as my mind is starting to race.

Here are my questions to you. (1) What was your favorite read this year? That one book or journal article that tops everything else you read. One that still gets you thinking and wondering. I’d love to know. (2) What one other book or journal article would you recommend other folks read in 2010?

I look forward to your responses.

My answers? Favorite read this year wasWhat about Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World (Christian Practice of Everyday Life, The) by Robert Brimlow. My recommendation for 2010 would be Tripp York’s The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom. Enjoy!

True health care reform

Health care reform is needed here in the US. We’ve known that for quite a while. But nothing has changed for that same amount of time.

Today, the Senate passed (on strict party lines, 60-39) their version of the health care reform bill. Now they need to debate a little more and merge theirs with the version the House of Representatives put together earlier.

This was a monumental step toward reform, whether you are in favor of the two bills or not. Something is moving forward. Change is going to happen. My conservative Christian friends will be up in arms over this, mainly because of the abortion issue. I can understand their take: why should anti-abortion tax payer money go toward funding abortions? Heck! I ask the same thing about war funding: why should anti-war, anti-occupation, anti-imperial military machine tax payer money go towards paying for the military? And there will be a lot of hoot and cry over this for the next month or so as the debate grows.

But I will continue to say to my Christian friends, conservative and liberal and none-of-the-above alike: where is your focus? As disciples of the Lord Jesus, citizens and promoters of the Kingdom of God, we cannot get stuck in the mindset that to help this world we have to place our hope and faith in the kingdoms of this world. If this Senate bill had been voted down, 60-39 the opposite direction, would you be praising God that now nothing has been accomplished?

Or are you even now thinking, “How can my church bring true health care reform to our community? How can we attack the problems here in our community so no woman feels the need to have an abortion? How can we support those who cannot afford a health insurance plan? Who can we talk to to get donated supplies? Where can we go to establish a church-run clinic?” Maybe you remember that whether abortion is legal or not, funded by tax money or not, women will still have abortions if they feel it’s necessary (or just because they want to). That’s not an issue that will be fixed with the Senate passing or not passing a bill. Maybe you remember that the poor and homeless in our communities are for the most part caste that way because we the people have not cared about them (and it’s we the people who voted in the reps and senators that we wanted to take care of it all for us).

Jesus told us to take care of the sick, poor, widowed, not to let the kingdoms of the world handle it. Be the change, folks. Live the peace of our master.

Help get in the way: support Christian Peacemaker Teams

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has a powerful slogan: Getting in the way. And their central question is just as profound: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”

The goals of CPT are actually very simple:

Enlisting the whole church in an organized, nonviolent alternative to war, today CPT places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world at the invitation of local peace and human rights workers. CPT embraces the vision of unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in bold attempts to transform lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of God’s truth and love.

CPT LogoYet as formidably Christian as the organization is, as active around the world for the sake of peace driven by love and compassion—grounded in the Lord Jesus—CPT receives very little support from the greater Christian community. CPT members are willing to get in the way, to get their hands dirty and fight on behalf of the oppressed and persecuted.

Please consider learning more about Christian Peacemaker Teams. Go to their website: cpt.org. Read over their mission statement. Subscribe to their free quarterly newsletter and read about what CPT is suffering through on behalf of the weak, persecuted, downtrodden, mute, oppressed, poor, outcasts. Watch for the regular news breaks, and keep an eye on what is going on in Palestine.

Then consider how you might be able to help. Maybe you can train and join CPT somehow. Maybe you can provide some financial support. Maybe you can educate your congregation and together support these workers. Pray. Ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and understand.

A Christian America: The Mayflower Compact

One argument given in support of the USA being a Christian Nation is that the pilgrims, coming to the new world to establish a new colony, sought to install some sort of Christian government over the land. The intent was to have a Christian nation.

Here’s the text of the 1620 Mayflower Compact as we have received it from William Bradford:

In ye name of God Amen.  We whose names are vnderwriten, the loyall subjects of our dread soueraigne Lord King James by ye grace of God, of great Britaine, franc, & Ireland king, defender of ye faith, &c

Haueing vndertaken, for ye glorie of God, and aduancemente of ye christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, couenant, & combine our selues togeather into a ciuill body politick; for ye our better ordering, & preseruation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof, to enacte, constitute, and frame shuch just & equall lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & conuenient for ye generall good of ye colonie: vnto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we haue herevnder subscribed our names at Cap Codd ye 11 of Nouember, in ye year of ye raigne of our soueraigne Lord king James of England, france, & Ireland ye eighteenth and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom 1620

Where in that text would one find mention of establishing a Christian nation?

Should we expect pastors to translate?

Rich Rhodes at Better Bibles Blog has submitted some excellent questions, the genesis being, “Why do we make pastors translate?” Whether a pastor, translator, or neither but still submitted to the leadership of elders in a community, have a look at Rich’s post and think of your response.

We all play a role in the body. We have different strengths, gifts, talents. But relying on the work of others? That’s typically more difficult to deal with. Those called to be the pastors (I call them elders, but I’m referring here to those more popularly understood as the teachers/preachers on Sunday mornings) should pastor. They should not be expected to or asked to handle Greek and Hebrew translation. Nor should they be overly concerned with exegesis. Rich mentioned a situation with a passage where to

figure that out I had to do a lot of fairly sophisticated exegesis, of a kind that linguists and Greek professors do, but is well out of the range of your average pastor.

Much of the time, I do not want my elders to talk about “the Greek.” I mean no disrespect when I say it’s hard to remember a time when the pastor was right. “The Greek says…” and I end up shaking my head and giving a little sigh.

But I should not be expecting them to make that journey. I do not want them to go back and study Greek. I want the Greek and Hebrew to be handled by those gifted and called by the Lord to do so. They are the ones that should be handling the translation work, and they are the ones that should take that work very, very seriously. They need to hand off translations to the pastors so the pastors can communicate to and guide the people.

As Rich wrote

Yet the kind of translations that are out there hang pastors like Paul out to dry. They often know that there’s a problem, but they don’t have the tools to deal with it. That’s why they consult different translations, hoping that somehow the “real” meaning will emerge as some kind of compromise among them.

No, it’s a problem of wrong priorities in Bible translation. If our translations require our pastors to do the exegesis that the translator should have done, who is God going to hold responsible for the lack of understanding of His Word and the lack of growth among His people?

Hint: It won’t be the pastors.

But that’s just my quick look at it. This is an issue I’ve pondered for a while and have more thoughts. However, I would love to see yours.

Ben Witherington on the War President’s Peace Prize

I have resisted writing anything extensive about US President Obama’s acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize. And, after this article by Ben Witherington III, I do not believe I need to. In “The War President’s Peace Prize—The Influence of the Niebuhr’s,” Dr. Witherington took a look at the speech and assessed the content, “the substance of the speech itself.”

Feel free to read through the article. I was firmly gripped by these words toward the end (which are the reason I don’t have to concern myself with writing a post on this topic myself):

But I must confess to being doubtful even when we talk about a justifiable struggle that it ever becomes a just war. For what the President has admitted in this speech is that war is not merely hell, it is one of the ultimate expressions of human sin on earth, one of the greatest expressions of a violation of love of neighbor and even love of enemy imaginable.

Even if a convincing case could be made for a war of necessity, say WWII, it still involved so much killing of non-combatants, so much taking of innocent life, that as a Christian I have to insist that the most appropriate and necessary response to the conclusion of a war is not a victory parade, but a service of repentance for sin on a grand and grotesque scale. The sacrifices of the soldiers should be recognized, their safe return should be prayed for and thanked God for, but not without recognizing that we have asked them to go and do something that inevitably involves commiting sin on a grand scale! And such actions do indeed require repentance.

There are no clear cut winners in a war—its just that some lose less than others, some lose less permanently than others. As one of my favorite poets once said “any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore do not seek to know for whom the bell, the death knell tolls—it tolls for thee.”

Please take some time to read Dr. Witherington’s post. It may look long at first, but that’s only because he included the entire transcript of Pres. Obama’s speech. And please swing back over here and leave a comment. I would love to get your take on both Obama’s speech and Witherington’s response.

Homeschool and History with Trial and Triumph: Intro

We homeschool. We like to call our little homeschool “Schleitheim Academy.” Our goal is to train up a bunch of little Anabaptists to follow in their parent’s footsteps.

One of the texts our kids go through is Richard Hannula’s Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History. Being a student of Church History (my BA in History centered on Church History, and focused on martyrdom), I was excited about the prospects of going through Trial and Triumph with our kids. I got even more excited when I saw the very first chapter/story was about Polycarp. Can you beat that?

Trial and Triumph sought to tell us about the history of the Church over the centuries by picking some major names and personalities in various eras, and told their stories. Hannula put together summaries of the lives and events surrounding people like Polycarp, Athanasius, Charlemagne, Francis of Assisi, John Huss, Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards, David Livingstone, and many others.

I read a little ahead in order to preview the stories and talk with my wife about whether or not we should go through that story with our kids. We don’t want to simply have the book, read the stories aloud with the kids, and move on to the next project. And we as parents want to be integrally involved in what our kids are learning. And we will not let garbage come through. I have seen some very good stories (e.g. Polycarp) and some very bad stories (e.g. Constantine, Athanasius). We’ll be reading the stories we consider “good” and be able to discuss the story as it is. We will not be reading with the kids the stories we consider “bad.” Not because we don’t want them exposed to that part of Church History yet. (Ha! I’ve had quite a few discussions with our kids about the dark side of Church History.) The stories are “bad” because they are wrong. The history displayed is not accurate, and would do more harm than good. If we were to read the story, we’d spend so much time talking about the corrections.

Instead, I figure we can back fill. We can present our own summary history. That should fill in the gaps for our kids as they continue to go through the book; some later stories make reference to prior ones. For instance, the story of Constantine  is very, very poor. But instead of skipping the person and era of Constantine altogether (which would be a shame as he is a major figure in Church and world history), we’ll supplement the story with what we would consider a more accurate portrayal of the history, of the man; to be fair to the history of the era. We Christians should proclaim and teach truth. We need to be honest about our history, the good and the bad. Hannula painted a rosey, romantic picture of Constantine. While I will get to the details in a future post, that was far from true. I would much rather discuss the real Constantine, and the real fourth century.

On this blog I will be reviewing each story (maybe each of them). I figure there are other families going through this book and maybe getting another perspective could be helpful. The reviews will be short, nothing entirely in depth (time will not allow it). But for the problem areas, I will do my best to supply a comparable alternative. If I cannot simply write out the alternative here, I’ll at least link to sites/articles/books that will help out.

Sound like a plan? They do not go through a story a day. So this series will not be one right after another. Might be two weeks in between.

Reading To Share in the Body

A surprise gift frtoshareinthebody-125om my brother, Craig Hovey’s To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church arrived in the mail a couple days ago. This book has been on my wish list since a few months before it was published (which was sometime in 2008). I have been pouring through it, am about a third of the way completed (which is quick for me, and includes time for meditation and examination) and already rank this as the best book I’ve read since Tripp York’s The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom.

While I will obviously have to save any sort of review for after I’m done with the text, I did want to share some of the amazing quotes I’ve encountered so far.

They [Christ and the Church] are distinguishable but not separable. To identify with Christ in his death and resurrection is to identify with the church. But this also makes sense only if the church is a martyr-church. What does this mean? It means that the church is characterized by the life of the resurrection insofar as it undergoes the pain of the cross. (pg. 27)

As we consider how this growth takes place, it is worth noting that one cannot baptize oneself. Entering the church involves subjection to the way of life the church has preserved for disciples. It cannot be made on the basis of a separate assertion or the invention of a better way. To do so would only leave individuals to be their own churches, deprived of the gifts of God made present in the gifts that are the other members of Christ’s body. So baptism is a reminder that we cannot partake of the gifts God gives the church apart from being a part of it. (pg. 29)

But the connection between the threat [that seeks to extinguish the Church] and preservation [of the Church] is never resolved by an overwhelming power. God does not meet the risk of of extinction by extinguishing the risk. Instead, God promises to enact countervailing acts of creation out of nothing. God’s intervention is not characterized by eliminating the church’s enemies, prevailing over the factors that imperil its peace. Its peace does not depend on the defeat of its enemies in any normal sense. This is what is celebrated in baptism. it is the fulfillment of God’s promise in which the church celebrates both the constant newness of its ranks and the deliberate way that God is saving the world.

… In baptism, a human individual is transferred from the world to the church. The world registers a loss in loyalty; the church registers an advance in loyalty….

… The world attempts to regain its lost members, to secure its former loyalties, and to establish its earlier power. In this way, baptism is an overtly political act. Like the burning of draft cards, baptism declares a switched identity, a refusal to be one thing and a determination to be something else. (pg. 32-3)

The church is not first against the world but for the world. When it encounters hostility in a world that refuses to hear the gospel, the church must have a clear conscience before God that it has not courted that hostility. (pg. 37)

Meaning the Church cannot be guilty of acting in violence, promoting violence, supporting violence.

And here is a profound set of questions that we need to engage:

Does the world ignore the church out of goodwill? Or has the church often given the world too little to reject, too little witness, too few challenges, a too small God and a harmless Jesus? (pg. 39)

However, the church of faith is granted no separate mitigation of the risk it is asked to take, nor is it given assurances that its following will achieve anything. (pg. 45)

[In reference to Mark 8:34 "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."] In fact, if it were any other political movement, we would be tempted to call it a call to arms. It is not a call to arms, but only because arms are precluded from playing a role in the revolution of the crosses. But it is no less a revolution for being nonviolent. (pg. 47)

Craig Hovey is spot on.

Schleitheim Confession: On the Ban

We have been united as follows concerning the ban. The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves over to the Lord, to walk after [Him] in His commandments; those who have been baptized into the one body of Christ, and let themselves be called brothers or sisters, and still somehow slip and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken. The same [shall] be warned twice privately and the third time be publicly admonished before the entire congregation according to the command of Christ. But this shall be done according to the ordering of the Spirit of God before the breaking of bread so that we may all in one spirit and in one love break and eat from one bread and drink from one cup.

nt-intro-pageWe probably know “the ban” better by the term excommunication. The first point that needs to be made in understanding this article is that non-believers are not involved. The ban was specifically established for “those who have given themselves over to the Lord.” The expectations, standards, and accountability for those within the community of disciples are higher than for those who have not given themselves over to the rule of the Lord. This ban can never be administered by the sword, i.e. torture and execution.

Next, notice the timeline. After the person is “warned twice privately and the third time publicly.” This was such an important aspect of church discipline that the entire congregation was supposed to be led by the Spirit of God. This was done specifically to model the direction of Jesus:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. (Mat. 18:15-17)

One might think that was fairly straight forward. But, if we understand Jesus as anything but hypocritical, then we need to take seriously what he meant by treating the sinful brother or sister “like a Gentile or a tax collector.” Though they were the ones looked down upon in the community, was it not Jesus himself who was ridiculed and challenged for gathering, dialoguing, and eating with the Gentiles and tax collectors? Wasn’t one of his precious twelve a former tax collector?

The ban is not a casting out of an individual from the community, a complete shunning of the sinful, unrepentant party. The ban is a recognition of a severed relationship between a brother or sister and the rest of the community, and an understanding that there needs to be a reconciliation. A community of disciples, coming together and showing that person the love they would show any outsider, taking every step possible to bring about a restoration, is what Church Discipline should look like. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our elders, churches can and should trust in the discipline set up by Jesus himself.

Schleitheim Confession: On Baptism

Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope. For this you have the reasons and the testimony of the writings and the practice of the apostles. We wish simply yet resolutely and with assurance to hold to the same.

jesus-baptismBaptism is quite the event. To the Anabaptist, baptism is watershed event for the believer; or at least should be. It is the moment when someone publicly confesses their faith in Jesus the Messiah, and proclaims their commitment to follow him and his teachings. They accept their status in the world as condemned, guilty, and marked for death. Hence the statement “is excluded all infant baptism.” There truly has never been a formidable, Scripturally consistent reason to baptize infants.

Baptism is no mere tradition. Sure, all we see is someone getting wet. But that is why the manner of baptism is irrelevant. Whether dunked or sprinkled, poured or touched, the act is significant. The act goes beyond a little party or celebration for someone joining some sort of fraternity. Baptism is stepping onto the path. The act denies the world and proclaims Christ. Baptism identifies the Christian with the Kingdom of God, setting themselves in a position at opposition to the kingdoms of this world.

Trying to fix college football

No surprise here but I am a die-hard Florida Gators fan. Have been since 1988, so that’s 21 years (and I’m 30 now). This season, the Gators have been ranked #1 since pre-season. They have been undefeated for the longest in a season since Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerfell, and the 1996 National Championship year. But because of the abject silliness known as the BCS, top flight college football cannot have a clear cut national champion.

So, I’m like all the other (sensible) folks who want a change for the game. We want to have the best possible system in place to declare a champion, and to allow that champion to be decided on the field, without all the politics and greed getting in the way.

Here’s my idea. Give it a go. If you think it’s ridiculous, than you are probably sane. Any radical change is going to be “ridiculous.” But, my concern is “the best possible system in place to declare a champion.”

My Proposal

    1. Using the last recognized poll standings, set the teams in order.
    2. Eliminate conference schedules and bowl games.
    3. Break the teams into tiers of 13 teams each, based on the rankings.
    4. Eliminate the rankings and polls.
    5. The top 13 teams will be playing in the top-flight, top-tier. They are the best of the best supposedly. So the groups will be 1-13, 14-26, and so on.
    6. They will play each other in a twelve game season. Each school will play 6 at home and 6 away. A win gets 2 points, and a loss 0. So a record of 10-2 garners 20 points for the year.
    7. The top school at the end of the year is the National Champion. No playoff necessary. The table doesn’t lie.
    8. If there is a draw/tie in points at the top, head to head victory wins out. If there are multiple teams locked in a draw (think last year’s Big 12 tragedy) then point differential gives the edge. Most points scored is not good enough; just ask the record setting offense of Oklahoma last year when they met Florida in the title game. Defense is equally vital.
    9. The bottom 5 schools (those with the lowest total points) will be demoted (relegated) into the group below (e.g. from 1-13 into 14-26). The top 5 schools from the lower group will be promoted to the top-tier.
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