Wednesday, December 15, 2010

embracing change

Though life is very happy for us here, all of us are excited about the changes ahead.  I have the "itch" to clean out closets and get rid of as much as possible so that we can more easily stage and sell our house in the spring.  Eliana is totally on board.  (And Danny wonders why we kept it all in the first place!)  Emma is usually a "saver," but she did us a favor by puking on her whole box of old coloring books last night, making it much easier to part with them.

Easton (age 2-1/2) is showing his own unique version of flexibility.  Yesterday he announced that he was poopy. 
I said, "Well, let's go in your room and I'll change you."
He said (enthusiastically), "Change me A LOT, Mom!"


I can hardly keep track of the cute things the kids say.  Tonight Easton told me, "Mom, my throat hurts.  Can you put some cream on it?"

And I overheard Emma (age 5) in the living room teaching Easton the difference between "opaque," "transparent," "fluid," and "viscuit" (that's viscous).  Her kindergarten teacher is obviously doing a great job!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Recently Danny offered to help me fill out financial aid forms for the various schools where I've applied.  I was so glad to be able to work on it together because, quite frankly, I would have no clue where to begin.  One school asked for detailed figures that would give them a picture of where we are at financially.  I took a deep breath and read Danny the list.  "First we need to know the total cash, checking, savings, and other liquid assets. Then we need investments, stocks, and IRA's."  I settled in for a long wait while he calculated all this information.  Less than 10 seconds elapsed before he had the answer.  Seriously.  See, it pays to be married to an accountant!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Handel would be so pleased...

Even more powerful than seeing Handel's Messiah performed live is our new all-time favorite video clip.

If you're not one of the 18 million people who have already watched it (or, more likely, the 6 million who have watched it over and over ...), the five minutes that you spend watching it may be the most inspiring of the whole season.

Perhaps like me, you didn't realize that Handel had retired from composing before he wrote the Messiah.  He felt his career was over.  He had nothing left to give.  But when Dublin commissioned him to write the Messiah, the Spirit of God took over, giving him the gift of music so breathtaking that we are still listening 279 years later.  Handel had a special concern for orphans, for those on the streets of his city who needed to know what Jesus had accomplished for them.  I think that's what grabs me each time I watch this video.  The message of the Messiah is not meant merely to echo within the walls of cathedrals.  Handel would have wanted it to echo up every street and down every alley ... or, uh food court.  Real life meets really good news.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

a tale of two performances

Eliana and I watched two holiday performances this month.

The first was the Nutcracker Ballet, which we attended with her 4th grade class.  It was the first time either of us had seen it.  One of her classmates danced as an angel and a soldier in the ballet.  While everyone did a good job, and some of the dancing was truly amazing, I left with a sort of hollow feeling about the overall storyline.  A girl who is rather ill-tempered gets lots of presents on Christmas, falls asleep, and dreams that her toys have come alive.  Did I miss something?

The second performance was Handel's Messiah, which we attended last night at a church across town.  The 2-1/2 hour free concert included not only a live orchestra flanked by hundreds of choir members, but also a dramatization of Handel's life as he wrote the oratorio.  Screens overhead displayed the words straight from Scripture that serve as the lyrics to Handel's masterful compositions.  Eliana and I were both mesmerized.

I have always loved Handel's Messiah and listen to it every year, but this was the first time either of us had heard it performed live from start to finish.  I had no idea that Handel wrote the oratorio as a commission by the city of Dublin to raise money for the care of orphans and widows.  That made the music richer than ever. Another surprise was hearing that Handel himself came to a real faith in Jesus as the Messiah while writing this music.  The passion that gripped him them was so evident as we listened.  Eliana and I left with hearts full of gratitude for God's gift to us in Jesus, and for such a deeply meaningful evening together. 

If you ask me, the Nutcracker doesn't hold a candle to the Messiah!

lasts and firsts

Yesterday was my last day of class on campus at Gordon-Conwell.  Wow.  It's been 4 1/2 great years of learning!  I still have one more course to take via Semlink (GCTS' distance learning), and I'll be writing my thesis in January.  Then I'm done with my MA in Biblical Studies!

Yesterday was also a first.  I handed in my final paper on Friday night at 9:30 pm.  Dr. Brown handed it back to me, graded, at 9:00 am the next morning.  That has got to be a new world record!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

blind spots

There are certain things we will simply never be able to see until someone brings them to our attention.  The global slave trade for one.  But there are other issues closer to home, like the barriers we erect for people with disabilities to function as full members of our communities.  And racial inequalities.  And other things.

When I showed up for the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society last month in Atlanta, I wondered if I had made a mistake.  It looked more like men's retreat than anything else!  One participant joked that he had arrived at "White Males R Us."  I can count on my fingers the number of African-American attendees I saw over the course of 3 days.  And there seemed to be fewer women than last year.  In a crowd of 2500, I would be surprised if there were 250 women.  As confident as I am, my instinct was to head back home.  But what was obvious to me was not so obvious to everyone.

In the first session I attended I met a nice, white, balding man who teaches at a seminary not far from here.  At the end of our conversation he said, "Well, maybe I'll see you around."  I replied cheerfully, "I'll be pretty easy to spot!"  He looked confused.  "What do you mean?"  I quickly explained, "Well, I am a woman."  He frowned at that and insisted, "There are lot of women at ETS!"  I simply raised my eyebrows, surprised, and said nothing.  I watched as he turned in his chair and scanned the entire room.  His eyes changed as the realization washed over his face.  "Oh!  I see what you mean!"

Until we can put ourselves in someone else's shoes and see things through their eyes, we will never notice the ways we are complicitly contributing to their exclusion.  And as long as disparities of race or gender exist, we have not entered fully into the new creation realities made possible at the cross:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

May our friendships, our communities, our churches, and even our theological societies move towards a greater reflection of God's design for redeemed humanity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

27 million reasons

I was startled yesterday to learn that there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history.

27 million of them

And we can sit back and be glad that we were born free and that slavery was abolished from our nation a long time ago... or we can decide that we are not willing for any human being to be exploited on our watch.  We have 27 million reasons to take action.

I'm grateful to be part of a church that is willing to do something about it.  Our services for the entire month of December are devoted to the issue of the global slave trade.  And two of our offerings, including Christmas Eve, will be given entirely to the International Justice Mission.

That's cool, but it's not enough.  IJM has freed 1000 slaves so far.  But 200 people a day, many of them children, are captured and forced into slavery.  The sex industry is one of the largest forced labor industries in the world.  A growing demand for younger women has meant that girls as young as 8 are forced to work as prostitutes.

I'm not ok with that.  Are you?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

of apple trees and other miracles

Easton has undergone a language explosion in the past month.  In a two-week span of time he literally went from caveman grunts to full sentences.  His comprehension has always been good, but his entire vocabulary was under 40 words, many of which were names.  He lacked a lot of the basics, like "ball," "truck," "please" and even "Easton."  About 3 weeks ago he started picking up new words every 10 minutes or so.  Literally.  Very quickly he was stringing them into sentences, complete with prepositional phrases, proper verb tense, and good enunciation.  Amazing.  We've had the sheer delight of hearing what is going on in his little mind and heart. 

His favorite prepositional phrase is "at the beach," and he says it in a low and serious voice. Lots of things in his world happen "at the beach": "I like pumpkin pie at the beach!" We did go to the beach in October, but I assure you there was no pumpkin pie. I'm not sure how the association got made, but I suspect it was simply the delight of making the sentence even longer.

Yesterday we stepped into church, where beautiful Christmas trees were decorated with red and silver balls.  "Mom, look!" Easton exclaimed. "An apple tree!"  He was mesmerized.  And yes, it did look an awful lot like the apple trees in his favorite book (never mind that it was a different species of tree).

This afternoon we were baking Christmas cookies and he kept asking in his adorable little voice: "Mom, can I please have a little, tiny bit of dough to eat?"  It was very, very hard to say no, but when I did he would ask, with an irresistible sparkle in his eyes, "Mom, can I have it a little later?"  I must say that such a precious miracle as this called for a bit more cookie dough than usual.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

how does a poem mean?

The intellectual highlight of my time at ETS/SBL in Atlanta was the Sunday morning session on the Theology of Hebrew Poetry.  An outstanding line-up of scholars presented papers and responses on the topic of how Hebrew poetry conveys theology. It's common, I think, to assume that we have to rely on the prosaic sections of Scripture for our theology (the Old Testament law, for example, or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, or Paul's letter to the Romans).  This group of scholars explored the ways in which poetry makes a distinctive contribution to theology.

John Goldingay, of Fuller Theological Seminary, suggested that poetic metaphors make it possible to say things that are difficult to express otherwise.  He said, "Poetry makes it possible to describe the indescribable." At the same time, the genius of poetry is that it obscures things.  It makes people think and yield before they fully understand. Difficulties in the text are sometimes deliberate, requiring readers to wrestle with the message.

Andrea Weiss, from Hebrew-Union College, also talked about metaphors.  She focused on cases where mixed metaphors are used to describe God (for example, see Isa 42:13-14, where God is like a warrior and a woman in labor).  She concluded that no one metaphor alone can capture what needs to be communicated about God.  When metaphors are mixed, it sparks our attention and invites our consideration, delight, and surprise.

Julia O'Brien, from Lancaster Theological Seminary, gave the most thought-provoking address. She spoke about the poetry of the Old Testament prophets. The style itself is violent, disruptive and jarring, seeking to shock the reader into new insights about our inscrutable God. Poetry obscures reality, yet translators and commentators try to smooth out and soften it, making the text more coherent. O'Brien urged us to stop trying to tame the Bible, and to enter the fray and experience it the way it was written.  She says that the prophets, by jarring us from our complacency, show us the absolute power of Yahweh.

After a semester of translating Hebrew poetry, I can say that O'Brien is right. The poetry of the Old Testament is jarring.  Short, choppy lines with hardly any connecting words, bizarre metaphors and rapid changes of subject are the norm.  I have always loved the prophets for their boldness and willingness to say what is unpopular because the Spirit of Yahweh burns within them.  Perhaps we do a disservice to the readers of Scripture when we try to tame the text so it can be clearly understood.  We are meant to wrestle with its message, bitter though it may be, so that we can know the will of God.  He is serious about sin and not interested in mincing words.  God is love, but he is also holy, and we cannot have one without the other. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

a divine appointment

Last year at ETS I experienced a rapid succession of divine appointments for 3 days straight.  This year felt different because I did a lot of leg work ahead of time to set up appointments with 10 different scholars.  That pretty much filled my schedule, but I prayed that God would orchestrate any other run-ins that I ought to have while I was there.  One of my most treasured divine appointments was with Edsar.

My roommates and I had headed to the mall next door to grab a quick lunch between conference papers.  The food court was packed, and there was simply no way to find 3 seats together that were not directly beside other people eating.  So the 3 of us sat side-by-side across the table from a young man who was eating Chick-fil-A for lunch.  He smiled and noticed our name tags.

"Are you all here for the theology thing going on at the Hilton?"

"Yes, we are."

"Can you tell me what it is?  I mean, like who comes to it?  Is it something for Christians?"

This started a lengthy conversation about theology.  Edsar had a few questions about the Bible that he had been saving up for just such an occasion.  He wanted to know how we got the books in the Bible that we have, and if anything might have been left out.  He was curious how the decisions were made.  Brittany, my conference roommate from Wheaton, did a great job explaining the process of canonization.  Then, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, she asked Edsar a question:

"May I ask what prompted you to start thinking about these issues?"

It was the perfect question.  We had both assumed that his questions stemmed from bestselling books like The DaVinci Code or some prime time fixation with the "Lost Gospels."  They had not.  Edsar opened up to us, sharing that he had grown up in the church but had recently come to terms with the fact that he is gay.  He knows what the Bible says about homosexual behavior, and he still believes it should be our authority, but he is wrestling deeply with the questions about God.

"How could a loving God create me like this, and then condemn me for it?"

It was a moment drenched in grace.  We all felt it.  Brittany and I affirmed him as a man created in God's image, and that his question is both deeply personal and very important.  We expressed that all of us are affected by our "fallenness" in different ways.  Some are tempted in areas of anger, some by heterosexual lust, some by gluttony. Homosexual behavior is no worse than other areas of sin.  People feel strong desires to do many things that are contrary to God's will.  Desire is not an indication of the rightness of a behavior. 

I told him that we had wrestled in similar ways as women who loved the Bible and felt a strong pull to teach it.  The Bible clearly states that women should not teach, and I have often asked, "God, why would you give me such a strong desire to teach the Bible if I'm not allowed to do it?"  It's a question that cuts to the core of our gender, our identity, and our search to find our place in the grand scheme of things.

Because he was an intelligent guy who would not be put off by an academic book, I recommended one that has been helpful to me: Slaves, Women and Homosexuals by William Webb.  Webb looks at all three issues (slavery, women's roles, and homosexuality) as they are presented in Scripture and concludes that we must follow the trajectory of Scripture beyond what the Bible actually says.  Because the Bible was written to particular people in a particular cultural setting, we cannot assume that the specific prohibitions are timeless or that behavior found in the Bible should always be emulated. This could be a problematic approach in other areas, but with these three issues Webb's conclusions are sound. 
  • The Bible does not condemn slavery outright, but it was right for us to outlaw it. 
  • The Bible says explicitly that women shouldn't teach, but we are right to affirm women as teachers, even of men.  (If you want to know why you'll have to read the book.  This is a post about homosexuality, not slavery or women!)
  • Homosexuality, though, is unilaterally condemned in Scripture.  There is no 'movement' or 'trajectory' that would allow for a change in position on this issue.  About the time that Paul wrote the books of Romans, homosexuality was being exalted as the epitome of love,  yet he is clear that it is contrary to God's will (see Romans 1).
I hope that we communicated this in as loving and gentle way as possible.  We encouraged him that this is his own journey, and that he would have to wrestle with the issues for himself.  Each of us is on a journey to become more like Jesus, and the process of becoming more like him can be painful.  Brittany urged him to bring his questions right to God and seek out his answers.  We told him we'd be praying for him.  And we did, on our way back to the hotel.  We just couldn't go another step without praying for that dear brother who was willing to give us a glimpse into his soul.  It was a great reminder that the study of theology has a huge bearing on everyday life.  May each of us have many more divine appointments such as this one.