Friday, November 24, 2017

Practicing Biblical Hebrew the Fun Way

I'm excited to introduce you to a new set of resources from GlossaHouse publishers: The Illustrated Hebrew Bible and The Illustrated Greek Bible.

Each volume includes the unabridged Hebrew or Greek text of Scripture embedded in lively illustrations by Keith Neely. At the bottom of each page is a fresh English translation that follows the word order of the original text as closely as possible so that readers can easily locate a gloss for unfamiliar words.

To date, the published volumes include Genesis, Exodus, Mark, and a single volume that includes the Hebrew short stories of Ruth, Jonah, and Esther.

I'm personally invested in this project, having spent dozens of hours preparing the Exodus volume. It was a tangible way for me to commemorate 6 years working on the Decalogue (a.k.a. Ten Commandments). I believe my GlossaHouse English translation is the first to reflect the natural reading of the Hebrew in Exodus 20:7 that recognizes its metaphorical underpinnings: "You shall not bear the name of YHWH, your God, in vain." For the 200-page justification of this translation, you can pre-order my published dissertation. But in the meantime you can get your hands on this beautiful volume with my English translation for yourself.

These volumes would make fantastic Christmas gifts for the Language nerds in your life. They would also work well for . . .

  • Hebrew or Greek Reading Courses - Professors could require or encourage students to buy these editions to more rapidly increase fluency. Visual cues make reading more natural.
  • Hebrew or Greek Exegesis Courses - Students can opt to use these instead of BHS for class because they include the entire Hebrew or Greek text of Scripture.
  • Individuals wanting to retain biblical languages or increase reading fluency - A page or more a day would be a great way to keep up your languages!
  • Homeschool families - Children studying biblical languages at home will love these books!
  • Jewish families raising their children to read and speak Hebrew and know the Hebrew Bible.
Other volumes currently in production include Judges, Samuel, Job, John, and 1,2,3 John, plus Latin versions of Genesis and Mark. All the copies at the GlossaHouse booth at SBL sold out by the second day, so you'll want to order your copies before they disappear!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Christmas in October

It's mid October, but in a certain corner of Bend, Oregon, it's already Christmas. The whole neighborhood has put up Christmas lights. You may see carolers drop by. The mail carrier has delivered handfuls of Christmas cards. God is totally on board. He even sent snow this weekend.

Did you get the memo?

Chris is dying. Dying soon. And he wanted one last Christmas with his wife and children.

This morning he upped his pain meds in order to make it through the day. He doesn't want to miss the turkey, ham and cornbread stuffing or the sweet potato casserole. So as the train makes loops around the early Christmas tree and the cooks are busy in the kitchen, Chris soaks it all in.

Image may contain: people sitting, living room, table, christmas tree and indoor
Eat, drink, and be merry, he thinks. For tomorrow . . . 
tomorrow he stops treatment.

After more than a decade of chronic, debilitating migraines, doctors discovered that Chris had an (unrelated) inoperable brain tumor.

While the rest of us gasped at the news and fought back tears, Chris celebrated! His pain would soon be over. He would soon see his Savior! His joy welled up to overflowing.

It has continued to overflow in the 6 or so months since he announced on Facebook that he was dying. Social media has its down sides, but this is not one of them. A whole community has gathered around as Chris has faced death wide open, inviting everyone to walk this journey with him. We've watched in amazement as Chris has reached out to encourage every one of us - extending words of blessing, wisdom, and grace. His humor and transparency and his deep care for Sarah and the children have been unwavering.

Since doctors are no longer worried about Chris developing a drug addiction, they've given him whatever he's needed to kill the pain. So ironically, since he found out he was dying, he's been able to live a much fuller and richer life -- church services, his kids' sporting events, Facebook, even Disneyland! But in the past month it became clear he wouldn't make it until Christmas.

So Christmas came early in Bend.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorThis morning I worshiped at an Anglican church. Gazing at a stained glass window of Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Child, I thought about Chris and Sarah's early Christmas. At Christmas the Word became flesh.


Flesh that is subject to pain and disease, migraines, and even brain tumors. As Chris feels his own flesh wasting away, how appropriate to celebrate the moment when God took on human weakness.  Yes, Chris' body will return to the dust, but because Jesus conquered death, he can count on a resurrection body. We do not anticipate a disembodied bliss. Jesus ushered in the new creation, in which we can experience the fullness of life that God intended forever, in our resurrected bodies.

And so in the mix of powerful emotions on this early Christmas Day, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. This is not the grief of despair, but a grief laced with resurrection anticipation.

Thank you, Chris. In your dying you have showed us how to live.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Blueberries and Trust

We bought our house in Oregon sight unseen back in 2014. Crazy, I know. Except that we had family members kind enough to comb the area, take loads of pictures, talk to neighbors, and smell each room. They helped us make an excellent choice. And we had a good God who had prepared the way.

When our moving truck arrived I was delighted to discover three blueberry bushes in the front yard, planted years earlier, laden with ripening fruit. Within a couple of weeks, I was picking 3 cups of blueberries each morning, then 4, then 7. I counted over a hundred cups of berries that summer -- enough for a whole winter's worth of smoothies.

No thorns, no sweat, no planting or tending. Berries just ready for us to eat.

As I picked in the early morning light, the words of Deuteronomy 6 often floated through my mind:
10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
We were not the first to experience God's good provision. Israel's bounty came with a warning -- "don't forget who provided all this!" So here I am remembering. To me the blueberries were a tangible (and tastable!) daily refresher on God's goodness. I didn't even know I wanted blueberries, but here they were, and I was grateful.

This summer we're eating blueberries like crazy. We can't take them over the border with us to Canada, so we're relishing juicy handfuls and sharing them with friends. And as if God wanted to end this story with an exclamation mark, he provided a garden-watering job for Ana this month that has been mouth-watering for the rest of us -- a garden brimming with raspberries and blackberries that would rot if we didn't eat them. And so we have. Handfuls of the most delicious berries we've ever eaten.

Our God is so good. And we can trust him to go before us and prepare the way. He provided berries in Oregon City. He'll provide abundantly in Three Hills, too. God is like that.

Before we moved to Oregon, the kids would often ask, "Will our new house have a ____?" or "Can we buy a house with _____?" In my thoughtful moments, I answered, "We'll see what God provides!" As it turned out, he granted room to flourish and recover from the intensity of PhD studies, another amazing set of neighbors, and berries. Lots and lots of berries. The same God who provided blueberries arranged for my Canadian citizenship 40 years before anyone knew I would need it. That's impressive.

The LORD promises neither a rose garden nor a blueberry bush, but he does promise to be with us always. Ultimately, that's all we need.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trust Without Borders

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. 
Let me walk upon the water wherever you would call me. 
(Hillsong, "Oceans")

If your church is like ours, you've sung this song innumerable times. Did you mean it? How did God answer your prayer?

He has answered ours in a very surprising way.

In March we announced to our financial supporters that we were taking a step of faith by resigning from SIM, the mission we've served with since 2002. After 15 wonderful years of ministry with SIM, we felt God moving us into full-time teaching ministry. We hoped that a full-time job would materialize for me, but even if it didn't, we knew what we were called to do: Danny would focus on keeping our household running smoothly so that I could devote my energy to teaching. Lots of people step out in faith to become missionaries; our step of faith meant no longer raising financial support. Danny moved down to part-time with SIM while we explored possibilities.

We knew what we wanted -- to stay planted in Oregon and keep teaching (preferably with a full-time salary), to keep investing in these students and these relationships. But when no doors opened in Oregon for a full-time job, we began checking job postings in other locations. We knew this year could be a roller-coaster. Most schools post academic jobs around the beginning of the fall semester to begin the following academic year. That makes for a long season of uncertainty about what's next. How much energy would we spend imagining life in different locations, waiting for an interview?

But God had a surprise in store.

The Maxwell Center, Prairie's Main Administration Bldg
At the tail end of May, when hope in Oregon had dried up and we were buckling in for the long roller-coaster ahead, a job was posted at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta. Their need was urgent. They wanted to have an Old Testament professor in place by July 1st. Gulp.

They say that if you're the least bit open to taking a job, you should apply for it. I remembered having a good impression of Prairie when I was in high school, looking for a college. It's a small school well off the beaten trail with a long history of sending missionaries all over the world. Crazy as it sounded, I applied.

I figured there was little chance of an American being hired. Canadians would be given priority. But applying was a matter of due diligence. The up side was that there would be no long roller coaster with this one.

The next couple of weeks were a flurry of research. When I emerged less than 2 weeks later as the top candidate for the position, we felt the weight of the decision. We wanted to go in with our eyes wide open. This would be a major transition for the entire family -- not something to be taken lightly.

We scrambled to talk with mentors, read about the school, and explore the area online. I made a long list of questions and concerns. Danny started working on a budget. And we prayed. If we said 'yes,' we would be crossing an international border, with a complicated and expensive immigration process ahead.

Danny and Carmen, Alberta Bound
In late June, Danny and I flew up to Calgary where we were greeted by a friendly colleague and a vibrant landscape of rolling green prairie with a stunning sunset. During the 75-minute drive to Three Hills, we started in on our long list of questions. We had a number of concerns about the job, and we had asked friends to pray for confirmation and clarity. Over the next 48 hours, we were surprised as our concerns melted away one by one. We loved the little town of Three Hills. The houses were nicer. The schools were stronger. The area was more beautiful. The salary was higher than we thought. My course load was less than we thought. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the faculty, staff, and students on campus. In the end, we wanted the job.

Imagine my surprise to discover that God had been making arrangements for this job since birth.

Scenic View not far from Three Hills
On our final morning there, I received a text from my Dad that still floors me whenever I think of it. He was born in Canada, which I knew, but none of us had ever wondered what this meant for me and my brother. I assumed that he became a US citizen when he married my mom and that his Canadian citizenship was a thing of the past by the time I was born. But it wasn't. He waited until I was four years old to become a US Citizen. Chances are high that he is still a dual citizen, though he didn't realize it then. And the clincher: it's almost certain that my brother and I are dual citizens. We were born outside Canada to a Canadian citizen. That's all it takes. In fact, my children are likely dual citizens as well, since they were born to a dual citizen prior to 2009 (when the laws about the second generation changed).

Carmen with Mark (President) and Elaine (CFO) Maxwell
This will make the process of immigrating to Canada far less complicated and expensive. We simply need to pay a fee to have our records checked and a certificate issued that proves our citizenship.

When my official job offer came, there was another surprise -- a part-time job for Danny that fits his skill set beautifully.

So we said "yes"!  

We're in the throes of packing, selling our house, writing syllabi for fall classes, ordering passports for the kids, and saying our goodbyes.

Parable Place, where Carmen's Torah class will meet
Our God is full of surprises. We didn't expect to cross an international border again, but we're eager to see what God has in store for us in Canada. As I said in my sample lecture at Prairie, God has lessons to teach us that can only be learned in a state of dislocation. No doubt we'll have challenges ahead. But we're confident that the same God who has called us out upon the waters will be right there with us.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Why We Need Latin Americans to Help Us Understand the Bible

I'm beginning to see the Bible with new eyes.

It began with a syllabus. Increased ethnic diversity at both of the universities where I teach has made me more conscious of how "white" and Western my assigned readings have been. With the help of my beautifully diverse Facebook community, I've made the effort to discover books written by Africans, Asians, and Latinos. Armed with a list of friend-approved favorites, I ordered copies of a half dozen or more.

I want to tell you about two favorites. Both are from Latin America. Both are slim, inexpensive, and accessible. Both are rocking my world.

Justo Gonzalez is known for his work as a church historian. But in Santa Biblia, he offers us a glimpse of what it's like to read the Bible through Hispanic eyes. Some of you may object: "We should be reading the Bible for what it says, not for what we bring to it. Our ethnicity doesn't change what the text means."

Agreed. But our social location can prevent us from seeing what is there. We make assumptions about the situations the Scriptures address because we see the world from a particular vantage point—say, white, middle-class, suburban American—unaware of the authors' context and concerns. We have blinders on.

Old Testament Israelites and New Testament Christians have far more in common with the average Latino, African, or Asian than they do with wealthy Americans. That's one reason the perspective of these communities is so valuable. They are a bridge.

Gonzalez is not engaged in a special hermeneutic, as far as I can tell. He is simply reading the Scriptures with his community and noticing what it says. But because of his life experience, he notices things I miss. In some cases, his observations simply add insight. In other cases, he turns my interpretation on its head.

Here's an example from his first chapter, focusing on marginality. Gonzalez takes us to Luke 4, where Jesus gives his inaugural sermon in Nazareth, quoting Isaiah 61. At first, Jesus' listeners are pleased (v. 21–22). Gonzalez notes,
"But Jesus suddenly changed his tune—or at least, it would seem so from the point of view of his audience. Until then he had said that they were at the very center of things. The Scripture was being fulfilled right there, 'in your hearing.' Now he tells him to expect no special privileges. He is not about to do in his hometown the things he did at Capernaum." (Gonzalez, 43)
Jesus brings up two Old Testament examples, Elijah and Elisha. Both prophets went to those at the margins, to non-Israelites—a Phoenician and a Syrian, in fact—to work their miracles. The mood in the room radically shifts. Gonzalez explains,
"This was no longer a message about how they were at the very center of things, seeing the Scripture fulfilled before their eyes. This was rather a warning that they should expect no privileges, for God often works at the margins rather than the center. No wonder they tried to hurl him off a cliff!" (Gonzalez, 43)
Imagine if Jesus appeared in your church this Sunday, announcing that God's kingdom had arrived, and that he was here to make all things as they should be. Great, right? But what if he told you his first plan of action was to welcome exponentially more Syrian and Lebanese refugees, to help them set up shop in your neighborhood, and to live among them? How would you feel then?

We tend to read Scripture as though it is God's good news to us. But in the case of Luke 4, the good news indicts those who prefer to keep all the kingdom benefits for themselves. I never noticed this until Gonzalez showed me.

In her book, The Scandalous Message of James, Elsa Tamez brings a similar perspective, but instead of offering examples from various places in Scripture, she works her way carefully through the book of James.

James is a practical book, addressing matters of wealth and poverty, among other things. Tamez explains how a Latin American reading of the book is different:
"For James the oppressors are the rich (plousioi). He does not hesitate to point them out as such. His antipathy toward them and his sympathy with the poor is undeniable. Interestingly enough, many of the commentaries on James dedicate long pages to the rich, thus consciously or unconsciously attempting to relativize this contrasting picture that James paints." 
"This great concentration on the rich is to be expected: on the one hand, many biblical commentaries from Europe and the United States are written in situations where there are many rich people in the churches. How does one tell these members that according to James there is no room for them in the church? We should note that many of the points made in these commentaries are accurate enough; what is striking is simply the angle of the perspective and the special concern for the rich. A Latin American reading of the epistle, on the other hand, fixes its gaze on the oppressed and dedicates long pages to them, their sufferings, complaints, oppression, hope, and praxis." (Tamez, 21, emphasis added)
By now it should be obvious why these books will not just be important for students of color, but for all of us in the classroom. Reading outside our tradition overcomes myopia.

I've heard it said (I don't remember where) that the Bible is intended to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. Reading the Bible with people from other cultural and socio-economic backgrounds reinvigorates the Bible's message and sharpens its critique of our own complacency.

This won't be easy, but our brothers and sisters from Latin America stand ready to help. Together we can learn more, love more, and become more. Are we willing to listen?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Under Our Noses

We were in the mood to explore. Up for something new. Felt like we needed to get "out." But where?

Falls in Downtown Oregon City
(Photo: C Imes)
Then I had an idea. I doubted it would be anything dramatic, but there was a waterfall nearby that we'd only passed by and never seen up close.

We've lived in our small, historic town on the Willamette River nearly three years now. This waterfall was right smack dab in the downtown area. We pass it multiple times each week. It's about time.

I tried to make it a secret adventure but our resident teenager and pre-teen insisted on knowing where we were going. I told them. Their response: "Seriously?" They opted out, so Danny, Easton and I piled in the car. (This post is my "I told you so!")

Oregon City 7th Street Elevator
(photo: C Imes)
Hardly more than five minutes from home, we parked and walked a half block to the top of the stone stairs. Our unique community has an elevator that doubles as a public street linking upper downtown to lower downtown. But it was closed for the evening, so we took the stairs. And that's where I wanted to be anyway, because I had never climbed them. I didn't realize that the waterfall went right beneath them. What a pretty spot! Leafy green trees created a tunnel of shade for our descent.

Taking the Stairs in Oregon City
(photo: C Imes)
In the mood to meander, we headed past shops and restaurants and across the highway to the edge of the Willamette River to see what could be seen. We've driven by that spot hundreds of times in three years. Other than a few fishing boats and kayaks, we had never noticed anything worth writing home about. But we were in for such a surprise!

Our Surprise Visitor: A Sea Lion! (photo: C Imes)
We stared at the water, foam still swirling from the Willamette Falls. Danny noticed the river seemed almost alive in places. Then suddenly the surface broke—two sea lions! We're more than an hour drive from the coast. How can this be? But it was.

I-205 Bridge over the Willamette
(photo: C Imes)

We watched the sea lions for quite some time, following one fellow as he lazed his way down the river, poking his head up for air now and then. (It turns out the local fishermen are deeply concerned. There are at least 30 sea lions this year, and they're eating too many salmon!)

West Linn-Oregon City Bridge
(photo: C Imes)
By the time we headed back to the stairs and up to the car, I was all the more convinced: You never know what you'll discover if you slow down. Linger longer. Park and walk. Take it all in.

There's a whole lot of life happening right under our noses.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Life After Heaven

I've written about heaven before, saying that we typically get it wrong, that it's not what you think. So what am I to make of a man who claims to have been there and back again? How credible do I find his story?

Paul Pastor, writer and fellow alum of Multnomah University, saw my blog post on heaven and asked me to read this story and blog about it, too. At first, Paul was also a skeptic. But Steven Musick had a story to tell and needed help telling it. After Paul met Steven and heard his story, he was convinced that something was different about this heaven-and-back experience. Together they wrote this book. 

Life After Heaven: How My Time in Heaven Can Transform Your Life on Earth is an amazing story, but there's nothing flashy or sensational about the way Musick tells it. Instead, he invites us to see how God has made a difference in his day-to-day life by giving him a glimpse of what comes next. He relates his difficult childhood, early successes, and the unexpected illness that sent him on ahead.

"This Place must be heaven," he writes of what happened when he died. "This Place—heaven—is physical, real. In fact, it's more physical and real than the world I have known. It's not an ethereal, disembodied state, as some people might think. Senses, all my senses, are brilliant and deep. There is weight. There is movement. My body feels an overwhelming sense of freedom. It is wonderful. Totally free." (40)

After a brush with death and 5 weeks in a coma, Jesus sends him back and Musick wakes up.

He is crushed. After experiencing heaven, Steven's longing to be with Jesus again is almost debilitating at first. As he explains, "Heaven is all you want once you've tasted it" (155). He faces an incredibly painful recovery and over a decade of limited activity because his lungs were deeply scarred by his illness.

I don't want to spoil Musick's story by telling you what happens next, but through it he discovers that God is at work in profound ways right here on earth. Musick begins to realize that heaven is not as far away as we might think, and that we can experience it here and now if we're sensitive to what God is doing. He tells one story after another of "bubbles," moments when the kingdom of God shows up on earth, enveloping, exhilarating, fragile, and momentary.

Steven is honest about his doubts, his unanswered prayers, and his awkward moments. He takes no credit for his frequent encounters with kingdom of God. He offers no formula for guaranteeing divine presence. But he wants to awaken our sense of anticipation: "There's more that we should be experiencing in the here and now. Our expectations are far too low. Heaven is much closer than we think." (176)

It's been 40 years since Musick visited heaven. Why tell his story now? He wants it to make a difference in our lives the way it has in his. 

"Do we all need to have a near-death experience to overcome the fear of giving God the totality of our lives, time, and resources? To give him our fears of loss? of suffering? of death?" (166) Musick hopes not. He aims to fill us with anticipation about what awaits us after death so that we're unafraid to embrace the fullness of life here. 

Life After Heaven won't hit the bestseller lists. It's not sensational enough. The story is not exactly gripping. But Musick doesn't want it to be. It reads like a conversation over breakfast, a gentle nudge to look deeper, to long for more, and to be available to participate in the kingdom of heaven here and now. 

That's what I like best about this book. It unveils the intersection between heaven and earth and gives us a taste of the vibrancy and healing of the presence of Jesus that we can begin to experience right now. Call it what you will—heaven, the kingdom of God, eternity, the new creation—we have a lot in store for us! 

When Jesus travels around Palestine preaching, he isn't telling people the good news about what awaits them after death. He doesn't preach "heaven." He claims that the kingdom of God is near. He offers glimpses of that kingdom by healing people, casting out demons, telling stories, rebuking wickedness. His victories over the kingdom of darkness are tangible, earthy, working their way into the nitty gritties of life—bleeding, disease, conflict, ambition, death. He doesn't primarily show people how to die well, he shows them how to live well.

And that's exactly Musick's message. If you're curious, read his story for yourself!