April 28, 2003


WHEREAS it is grading season, and my judgment is probably impaired either by overexposure to hastily written essays or by inhaling too much red ink;

whereas sloppy writing in both collegiate and Internet circles is, at its heart, disrespect;

whereas needling, scolding, ridiculing, ignoring, and penalizing such writing have been unable to stem the tide; and

whereas drastic times call for drastic measures;

I hereby resolve no longer to acknowledge, let alone respond to, poorly written e-mails from students. (This means messages with no capitalization, missing punctuation, flagrant misspellings, malformed sentences, and the like.)

Or, if charity demands it, I will reply to garbled written messages as I reply to garbled spoken messages: "What?"

Furthermore, I hope to spread the same meme around the blogosphere, in the hope that it will encourage properly written posts, comments, fan mail, and especially hate mail.

Furthermore, I resolve next fall to propose to the faculty that we consider such a policy schoolwide.

"Don't feed the sloth!"

9:36 AM

April 27, 2003

Lots of grading goin' on. Next week is finals week. The blog will be characteristically quiet while I dig out from the end of this semester.

Still, I have time for a few plugs.

Wednesday night, on my way to a delightful few hours getting acquainted with Andy Crouch of Regeneration Quarterly, I caught the end of an NPR interview with saxophonist Kirk Whalum, discussing his "Gospel According to Jazz" CD's of spirituals and hymns done in a jazz idiom. The best record store in the world, Poo-Bah Records here in Pasadena, had both volumes. I am playing one as I write.

Niiice. I need an extra dose of saxophonic Spirit at this time in the semester. I'm sure my students could use one too.

He is risen!! Happy Lord's Day!

1:56 PM

April 23, 2003

Please pray for Camassia, and for her friend's family and community.

8:27 PM

I have been enjoying Jeff Jarvis' blog lately. (Jarvis is a liberal mugged by 9/11.) Today, this post caught my eye:

I'm surprised and saddened that we have not seen an outpouring of charity from the people of the U.S. to the people of Iraq -- and I'm especially shocked that I have not seen this from the churches that opposed the war.


There's no excuse. We should be reaching out to help build a successful society – a tolerant society that accepts its various flavors of Islam (not just the biggest) as well as outsiders; a robust economy that shares the wealth of oil broadly and uses it to build a stronger base of expertise and value; a learned culture that builds on the land's tremendous history and creates a future based on free sharing of information and opinions.

But instead, when I go to Google News and search for "Iraq" and "charity," what I get are links about British MP George Galloway allegedly using a charity to take money from Saddam Hussein; an indictment for using a charity to send money to Saddam; heads of charities protesting war; and problems with getting charity to Iraq. And I see this disturbing note: "U.S.-based relief agencies are mobilizing to feed and heal Iraq, but so far they are straining to illustrate the need to potential donors and reach those who are suffering. The chaos of war – followed by rampant looting and lawlessness – is partly to blame, they say, and many who might give are only beginning to focus on the plight of Iraqis. There has been no huge refugee crisis to galvanize donors, the agencies point out. Delay in sending relief could hamper the American campaign to demonstrate good will toward Iraq and quickly relieve widespread suffering."

I was all ready to get on my hobby-horse and complain that liberal churches' fixations with opposing the war and conservative churches' fixations with supporting the war were both distracting us from the responses that should be instinctual (mission, relief, evangelism, and the rest of the practices to which Christians are called); that no Church worthy of the name lets either America or the UN becomes its proxy; that Constantinianism has taught churches to put the state before themselves; and yada yada yada. You know, the usual. But then I thought of how rarely Christians in my circles use the word 'charity', and how rarely news media actually cover the practices of evangelical Christians in the first place. Perhaps Jarvis should not have based so much reasoning on a simple news.google.com search. And indeed, when you google 'Iraq relief Christian', a whole different picture appears. This article, from before the fall of Baghdad, is representative:

Christian aid agencies are mobilizing food and aid supplies to the Middle East at the beginning of the U.S.-led war against Iraq and dictator Saddam Hussein. World Vision, Baptist World Aid, World Relief and World Concern are among the many agencies that are providing aid and setting up refugee camps for the expected influx of displaced persons.

“Experience from the first Gulf War taught us the critical need for preparedness, planning and collaboration among partner agencies,” a spokesperson for the consortium of relief agencies said. “This is all the more critical in Iraq due to the possible size of the humanitarian need, the lack of experience on anyone’s part in dealing with chemical and biological weapons, and the modest humanitarian capacity inside Iraq and in neighboring nations.”

Of course, our venerated news media will always find dark linings in the silver clouds, and so they highlight the possibility of fundraising quagmires because of the absence of compelling images of refugees. Likewise, PR departments of relief agencies will always worry publicly about the need to raise more money than they do. (Nevertheless, the releases at World Vision, the relief agency with which I am most familiar, are more upbeat.) It seems these agencies have been planning for months to help Iraqis survive and begin to rebuild, trying to work around the contingencies of war, and learning from past experiences how to do this well.

However, Jarvis' observation is not actually the non-story it might appear to be. He is onto something significant – in fact, several things:

Jarvis quotes a Killing the Buddha story on the much greater level of Christian participation in post-WWII Japan. Why the difference? It isn't Constantinianism, which if anything was stronger back then. Any satisfying account of American Christian reluctance to do such a thing again certainly has to take into account Muslims' longstanding rejection of Christian evangelism, and the greater danger such efforts pose for missionaries. Yet even more important in my opinion is the fact that in the sixties, mainline denominations suffered a massive loss in confidence that either the Christian faith or Western culture (these are different, remember?) has anything this important to offer another culture. The prospect of massive mainline missionary efforts to teach a different way of life as a more promising future for Iraq is hard for me to imagine. I don't think America's liberal Christians are unsympathetic for Iraqis or unwilling to help them; it is just that America's liberal Christians are too terrified of committing 'imperialism' actually to do anything that might be invasive. The first story here is that mainline churches have ceased to offer anything substantive beyond their own cultural boundaries. Today they live not by the Great Commission or the White Man's Burden, by the United Federation of Planets' Prime Directive.

So it is mainly evangelicals who seem to be going over there to make some changes. That is the second story here, but you won't read much about their efforts in the papers (except perhaps when people object to high-profile efforts). More is happening that does not make headlines, and does not want to. This is particularly true of the missionary efforts that go beyond short-term relief.

Jarvis undoubtedly thinks many evangelicals' efforts are too evangelistic. I don't. He might also think they interfere with American policy interests. I would agree, but don't think this should hold them back. The most precious gift we Christians have to offer is the Good News. It is saving us; we want to offer its benefits to those who need it too. The food and medicine and shelter are indispensable signs of that Good News (which should always be offered with no strings attached). But the signified is greater than the signs. Sure, we can signify the kingdom in productive or counterproductive ways. We can do it in ways that comfort or ways that irritate. But whether to do it at all is not a question Jesus' disciples should be entertaining.

Still, at its heart, Jarvis' post is right. The third story is that even allowing for differences in vocabulary, journalistic tone, publicity, and missiology, Christians really are doing far too little. Jesus offers a whole lot more, to all the world, and we are supposed to be his representatives. A Church that does not reply instinctively to meet the long-term as well as the short-term need, not only of all Iraqis but especially of more than a million Iraqi brothers and sisters, has forgotten what it really is (James 1:22-24). Are we doers of the Word, or hearers only?

6:01 PM

April 18, 2003

An exchange with Camassia over the Calvinist doctrine of substitutionary atonement got me thinking of my own history of interpreting the cross.

Many liberals had abandoned the theory by the end of the nineteenth century, prompting fundamentalists to make it one of their five fundamentals. Since then it has been a fixture in evangelicalism. However, critiques keep coming. One of the more persuasive ones comes from a Duke friend of mine, Mark Baker. Another (less persuasive to my mind) is J. Denny Weaver's The Nonviolent Atonement. Black and womanist theologies have their own criticisms (and I have my own praise and reservations about them). Western liberal distaste for violence means any positive theological appreciation of any violence whatsoever will be met with suspicion in our culture.

I myself see Jesus' self-sacrifice more as "representative," i.e. on behalf of (particularly the lost sheep of) Israel, than "substitutionary," i.e. instead of them. That is a nuanced distinction, but I believe it is an important one. My congressman is my representative. He is one of us. Likewise, that the redeemed are in Christ means that he is always profoundly with us. He has taken our side, and since he has also taken God's side, his solidarity with all heals the breach between us.

Alas, developing that theme more fully is something that will take me a chapter in the Christology I am writing.

In the meantime, I offer just this distant memory from my childhood.

One year when I was in grade school, the Easter movie was Franco Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth. I haven't seen the film since (though I would love to). Having been raised little more than nominally Christian, and knowing little of the story itself, I watched some of the ending without a whole lot of comprehension. However, at the crucifixion scene, as the rain poured down upon Jesus' body, I found myself in tears. I knew nothing of substitutionary theory or any of the others, but the image had taught me this: the people who put Jesus on that cross were rejecting him, and yet he was there out of love. And it was God's love. For them. For me too.

And a few scenes later, Jesus was back, and things between him and his followers were good again. Better than ever.

That's not a very deep interpretation, but I think it was the first stirring of faith for me.

3:57 PM

I left off blogging Exodus at chapter 29, which describes the process of consecrating the Aaronic priests and initiates their sacrificial careers. Good Friday is an appropriate day to resume. The whole chapter is a chain of sacrifice. Each act creates the possibility of the next. The initiating sacrifices enable continuing sacrifices. Through them God comes to his people in love, holiness, and companionship, and his people come to him.

First, sacrifices are brought forward (29:1-3). Then the men are washed (4). Aaron is re-clothed (5-6) and anointed (7). Finally Aaron's sons follow (8). The gospels go to some length to describe the baptism of Jesus and his disciples according to this pattern.

After the ordination comes the sin offering for the priests, with blood at the altar and the flesh burned outside the camp (10-14). Here the writer to the Hebrews thinks of Good Friday, whose blood truly avails (Heb. 10:4) because it is God who offers himself (Heb. 2:16-17) outside the gate of the city (Heb. 13:11-13).

After the sin offering comes the offering of one ram by fire – not for sin, but simply for YHWH's pleasure (15-18). Paul describes the Philippian Church's gifts to him as such a fragrant offering (Phil. 4:18), and the writer of Ephesians thinks here of the Church for whom Christ gave himself, "a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus' offering for our sin allows us to offer for his pleasure.

The other ram becomes the ordination offering. It, along with the bread, is a "wave offering" or "peace offering," which like the other is a pleasing odor to YHWH (19-28). The holy priests consume this, with no remainder and no provision for outsiders (31-34). So communion or Eucharist feeds the holy Church's royal priesthood with the bread of Christ's flesh. (And no, communion is not for outsiders, except in the sense that it invites all outsiders to become insiders.)

After a sabbath of offerings (35-36), the priests and the altar are holy, so that all who touch the altar become holy too (37). So Christ the mercy seat (Rom. 3:25) makes us who touch him holy (cf. Luke 8:43-48). So also Christ is greater than the ones he sanctifies (Matt. 23:19).

This ceremony inaugurates a perpetual daily sacrifice, morning and evening, throughout the generations (38-42). So the sacrifice continues today – not of blood for sin of course, since Christ's self-sacrifice serves once for all (Heb. 7:27), but of the living Church for the glory of God, holy and acceptable by his mercies (Rom. 12:1).

Thus YHWH will make his priesthood holy and dwell among the people of Israel. That is what it means that YHWH their deliverer is their God (43-46).

And that is what it means that Jesus is our Lord.

9:06 AM

April 17, 2003

Nice Victor Davis Hanson piece on the Armed Forces' synthesis of youth culture and military culture (via Instapundit):

The general critique of the 1990s was that we had raised a generation with peroxide hair and tongue rings, general illiterates who lounged at malls, occasionally muttering "like" and "you know" in Sean Penn or Valley Girl cadences. But somehow the military has married the familiarity and dynamism of crass popular culture to 19th-century notions of heroism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and audacity.

The result is that the energy of our soldiers arises from the ranks rather than is imposed from above. What, after all, is the world to make of Marines shooting their way into Baathist houses with Ray-Bans, or shaggy special forces who look like they are strolling in Greenwich Village with M-16s, or tankers with music blaring and logos like "Bad Moon Rising?" The troops look sometimes like cynical American teenagers but they fight and die like Leathernecks on Okinawa.

I see the same thing in evangelical youth culture: Some of my students with piercings, tattoos, and post-grunge hair are also amazing disciples. They have renarrated these subcultural traits into the story of the universal Church of Jesus Christ.

Hey, if it is in God's power to redeem my Brooks Brothers neckties, those frilly-bell-sleeve blouses I suddenly see everywhere are no problem. All things are possible.

(Except tongue-piercing. That's just dumb.)

1:50 PM

Maundy Thursday sermon to self:

"No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one" (Ps. 14:2-3 in Rom. 3:11-12).

"He was despised and rejected by people; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. ... All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all. ... he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53:3-4, 6, 12).

"'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34).

"We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, that without God he might taste death for every one" (Heb. 2:9; note the textual variant).

"There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem" (Mark 15:40-41).

As they looked on, thinking who knows what, surely dreading the dark future this terrible event portended, he was their representative. He was making things right that had gone wrong, bearing even their unbelief, becoming alone with them, God without God, dying their death in order that they could rise to his resurrection, bringing them close to his loving Father and making them an eternal home for his Holy Spirit.

As Triduum begins, I will be looking on from afar, still not knowing quite what to think of it all but glad that not even my distance from the cross can separate me – let alone the rest of God's good creation – from the love of Christ.

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Rom. 8:21).
Hey! That's what I need this year: patience. This Passover I want to open the door and go outside – and not even to run to freedom beyond Egypt, but only to see if YHWH is really out there doing the awful work that makes it possible. Before the children of God are delivered, they must be revealed; and even that is hard to wait for.

Yet the time before the revealing is an age of divine patience more profound than my own. It is a time for God's enemies (and by that I do not just mean Judas the traitor, but Peter the triumphalist) to turn back and be reconciled, and for God's friends to extend them the reconciliation they need. Since I am both of these, I have a lot to do between now and then.

So this Triduum, may God grant me patience, along with the wits to know what to do with it.

11:50 AM

April 16, 2003

I take it back.

Lenten self-mortification, thy name is Disneyland.

Crowded, expensive, horribly long lines, lots and lots of walking, a horrendous line/reservation system that works against parents of small children ... I had more fun doing my taxes. Really.

Though when you're watching the kids riding a ride for the first time, and excited afterwards, and zonked in the car on the trip home, well, that makes up for – some of it.

10:24 PM

April 15, 2003

Lenten self-mortification, thy name is Tax Returns.

4:31 PM

April 9, 2003

Charles Johnson is enjoying his day, and well he should:

This moment is IN OUR NAME.

Those who sought to keep the Iraqi people in their living hell, who stood in the way of their liberation, and insisted that the US and Britain and Australia and our many other partners had no right to take action to defend both the Iraqis and ourselves: This was NOT IN YOUR NAME.

I am enjoying my day, too, seeing Baghdad blinking in the light of freedom after thirty years of horrifying fascism. But Johnson is right: He has a share in the ownership of this victory, and I do not.

Not because I have opposed this war (for I have not). Not because I ever carried one of those "Not In Our Name" signs, which read to me like the motto for Pontius Pilate brand hand-soap. Only because I gave up my share when I followed Jesus Christ on his own way of reconciliation. That kind of glory is no longer mine to have.

We in the Church have our own mission, our own special operations, our own equipment, and our own opponents. We fight principalities and powers, not flesh and blood; with weapons of the Spirit, not weapons of this world; for an eternal victory already won, not temporal ones.

God's civil authorities have their own missions, and they may wield weapons of their own (but only justly!). They do not stand idly by while we fight our spiritual warfare (Rom. 13). We may remind them prophetically of their duties and of God's judgment, but we do not press them into the service to which only we are called. For the Church to mandate state pacifism is, in my opinion, the opposite error to compelling a crusade. Both are Constantinian mistakes that confuse the old creation and the new.

When something good happens in another theater, we have every right to rejoice – even it it catches us by surprise or even comes in unwanted ways. Romans 12-13 shows that that even if the Church does have a monopoly on salvation, it has no monopoly on goodness. We should give thanks, glorify God, be happy for the newly liberated, celebrate with those who put their lives on the line for it, mourn all the dead, and remember that it isn't over.

We should, however, refuse the temptation to take credit that doesn't belong to us (though I think Christian witness deserves at least some credit for helping form cultures that prize restraint in the way its authorities use force). And we should resist the temptation to be jealous of those having their day in the sun. They earned their wages.

Conversely, only we disciples are assigned the mission of inviting the world's communities into the peace of Christ. Yet while only we 'own' it, Jesus commands us to share it with anyone who will join us, no matter how late they enlist, and distribute our wages equally. Moreover, we invite all to rejoice when that peace is accepted, even if it was not done in their name.

After all, the truly important name belongs to Someone else.

2:22 PM

Suddenly Babylon has fallen and is shattered;
Howl over her!
Get balm for her wounds:
Perhaps she can be healed (Jer. 51:8).
(Warning: Ignore the context.)

11:05 AM

April 5, 2003

Sorry it's been quiet. I'm doing some grading, and various things are coming up.

Today I received an e-mail asking, among other things, about my freakish unusual name. I decided to convert my response into an FAQ.

Actually, it turned into a Top Ten List.

Shabbat shalom.

3:44 PM

April 2, 2003

On the infinitesimal chance that one of my readers is the student I overheard recently telling a journalist that seeing Bowling for Columbine had changed her stance on the war in Iraq – I recommend she click on this.

8:26 AM

April 1, 2003

Regarding my claims that Christians should practice nonviolence, a reader and former student asks,

Does non-violence mean just that, no violence of any kind? Or does it imply only lethal violence? I wonder if fleeing involves some kind of violence as you struggle against the person(s) who hold you back. Or if Jesus throwing out the money changers implies that forcefully removing someone is in-line with the gospel. The question arises out of the hypothetical situation of what you do if you encounter someone being beaten. Do you wrestle the person free, and take the risk of lethally wounding them?
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify that. In my own work I have been treating "nonviolence" implicitly not to exclude actions such as Jesus' in the Temple, pushing someone away, wrestling to avoid a fight or an assault, and so on. (I don't really see how wrestling an unarmed attacker away would really raise a reasonable risk of lethally wounding, but then again I am not the Mensch that some of you all are.)

I would rather not just say that nonviolence is anything not raising a reasonable risk of death, because many forms of torture would then qualify. The question is contextual and occasional. There are undoubtedly more refined delineations of nonviolence from people who have thought about these things systematically, and I would defer to them. I assume their definitions would center on Jesus' own example and commands.

12:24 AM


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