Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent Tree: Week 1

For those of you who want to try an Advent Tree at your house, here's what we're doing. After dinner each night Eliana reads the passage listed and I give the lesson. The kids take turns adding the leaves to our tree. Starting on the far left, and working clockwise, these are the images for the first week of advent:

Adam and Eve
Noah (ark)
Abraham (stars)
Isaac (ram)
Jacob (star of David)
Joseph (coat)

Since this is the first year we've tried this, we'll be working out the kinks along the way. The passages I've chosen are rather long, so you may want to give your own paraphrase or use your favorite children's Bible instead, depending on the ages of your children. Let me know if you're trying this at your house, or if you have another way to keep Jesus at the center of Christmas!

Day 1 - Eden (God's Perfect Garden) - Read Genesis 2:4-25 and Genesis 1:27-28.
Usually advent starts with the birth of Jesus, but the story actually begins at the beginning of time when God created a special place – a garden – and made it a home for the man and woman he created – Adam and Eve. He gave them each other to work as a team doing an important job, filling up the earth by having children and teaching them to obey God and take care of his creation. God himself was present there in the garden, and Adam and Eve were with him.
Where did Adam and Eve live? In the garden God made!
What was their job? To fill the earth and take care of it.

Day 2 - Adam and Eve (Fruit with Snake) - Read Genesis 3.
God’s perfect world was soon spoiled because Adam and Eve failed to trust him and follow his plan. After listening to the snake, they blamed each other and hid from God. They had to leave God’s perfect garden and accept the consequences of their choice – pain, conflict, and hard work. But God promised that someday one of their children would crush the snake’s head.
Why did Adam and Eve have to leave the garden? They disobeyed God.
What was God’s special promise to them? Someday the snake would be crushed.
What was the job they were supposed to do? Fill the earth and take care of it.
How will Adam and Eve do their job now? (this is a rhetorical question)

Day 3 - Noah (Ark and Rainbow) - Read Genesis 6:9-22 and Genesis 9:12-17
Adam and Eve’s children, and their grandchildren and great grandchildren had a very hard time obeying God. The earth was getting filled up, but not with people who obeyed God and took care of each other. It was full of wicked people! But Noah was different. He obeyed God. Would he be the one to kill the snake? God made a special promise, called a covenant, with Noah. It was the same agreement that God had made with Adam and Eve. He said he would never destroy the earth with the flood again, and he told Noah to have children and fill the earth and take care of creation.
Why did God choose Noah to build the ark? He obeyed God and listened to him.
What was Noah’s job after the flood? To fill the earth and take care of the world.

Day 4 - Abraham (stars) - Read Genesis 12:1-4a; 15:1-6; and 21:1-5
Many years later God spoke to a man named Abram and gave him special instructions. Abram obeyed God, even though it meant leaving his family far behind. God promised that Abram and his wife Sarai would have as many children and grandchildren and great grandchildren as the stars in the sky. He changed their names to Abraham and Sarah as a sign of his promise. Remember God’s instructions to Adam and Eve and then to Noah? They were supposed to fill the earth with children who would obey God. But it took a very long time before Abraham and Sarah had any children at all. Finally, when they had almost stopped hoping, God’s promise began to come true. Sarah gave birth to a baby named Isaac.
Why did Abraham and Sarah need a baby? So they could teach him to obey God.
What did God promise Abraham and Sarah? As many children as the stars in the sky.

Day 5 - Isaac (ram) - Read Genesis 22:1-18
When Isaac was a big boy, God asked Abraham to do a very hard thing. Isaac was the son God had promised him, but now God was asking Abraham to give him back to God forever. It must have been a very confusing and difficult time for Abraham, but he obeyed God right away and brought Isaac to the mountain God showed him. When they got there, though, God could see that Abraham trusted him, and he gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead. Isaac would be able to grow up after all, and have children and grandchildren and fill up the whole earth with people who would obey God and take care of the world.
What was the hard thing God asked Abraham to do? To sacrifice his son, Isaac.
How did Abraham respond? He obeyed right away, even though it was a very hard thing.
Is he the one who will crush the snake and fill the earth with people who will obey God and care for the earth?

Day 6 - Jacob (Star of David) - Read Genesis 28:10-19
Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob had trouble with his brother, Esau, and with his father, Isaac, and he had to run away from home. One night on his journey, he had a dream. In his dream, God told him that he would have so many children they would be like the dust of the earth. Remember God’s promise to Abraham about the stars? This was just like that promise. It was God’s way of telling Jacob that his promise to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, would still come true, and it would happen in Jacob’s family. Jacob got married and became the father of twelve sons. Would one of them kill the snake? Would they have many children and fill up the whole earth with people who obeyed God and took care of creation? We’ll have to wait and see!

Day 7 - Joseph (special coat / sheaves of grain) - Read Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-18, 23-28; 39:2-6; and 45:4-11
Jacob had 12 sons, but one of them was Jacob’s favorite. His name was Joseph. He showed everyone how much he loved Joseph by giving him a very special coat to wear that was better than all his brothers’. They were not happy, and they stole his coat and sold Joseph to be a slave in Egypt. But Joseph kept trusting God and obeying him, even when he was in Egypt, and soon Pharaoh put in him charge of the whole nation. Joseph made sure there was enough food for everyone, even his brothers who had been so mean to him. Because Joseph did what pleased God, he was able to save the lives of his family and they became a great nation with thousands of people! It was the beginning of God’s promises coming true.
Why was Joseph put in charge of Egypt? Because he trusted God and obeyed him, even when it was hard.
How did God use Joseph to care for his people? Joseph made a plan to save food so everyone would have enough.

starting a new family tradition: our advent tree

For years I have wanted to figure out a meaningful way to celebrate Advent as a family. Last Christmas a dear friend gave me a book about how to make a "Jesse Tree." I knew right away that it was just the thing for us, but as usual, I wanted to customize it to express a more robust biblical theology. The book came with a paper tree and leaves to cut out, but I wanted a more durable version. I had no idea when I'd find time to make it, but I was poking around my mom's sewing room last Christmas and discovered she had all the supplies I needed.

Impulsively, I dove into the project and embroidered all the leaves with images from key Bible stories. Mom pitched in to help, using her superior sewing skills to sew my free-hand tree onto a backdrop, finish the edges and make loops to hang it, and finish the edges of all the leaves (Thanks, Mom!). On our drive up to the mountains and back I sewed on all the snaps (I didn't want to use velcro, because I was afraid the felt would get all fuzzy). I haven't planned out exactly which scriptures to read yet for each day, and what to say to the kids, but I have the first week ready so I can keep ahead of the game.

In hopes of inspiring some of you to attempt a similar type of project, I'm posting pictures of our Advent Tree. You could make one from paper, wood, quilted cotton, cardboard, or whatever material you enjoy working with. If your kids are particularly artistic (Denise!) then you could let them draw their own leaves and add them to the tree. Or you could order the book that gave me the idea in the first place. (There are other kits and ideas available on Amazon. Just type in 'Jesse Tree' and you'll see lots of options!) I'll post my devotionals one week's worth at a time so that you can try them out at your house.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

why thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and how without it we're doomed

The clearest family traditions we have are connected with Thanksgiving. It started before I was even born. Legend has it that Grandma's stove wasn't working one year, so the family went out for a big buffet breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. That breakfast-in-a-pinch went over so well that it became a fixture in my extended family. We'd eat out, go to church together, and then hurry home to cook turkey dinner.

Since our marriage 13 years ago, Danny and I have not been part of a church that offered a Thanksgiving Day service (a real pity ... that was my favorite service of the year as a child!). So we have our own 'service' of sorts. We eat out, read Psalm 100 and Deuteronomy 8, and make a list of all the things for which we are thankful, focusing on the past year. The list goes in our scrapbook, and the scriptures are impressed upon our hearts. This year, since we are far from family, we took advantage of a free community thanksgiving dinner at the church we've been attending, Parkview Community Church. I'm guessing if we could poll my cousins, that a good number of them ate out this morning, too. Traditions have a powerful hold on us!

What is so important about thanksgiving? Why are we doomed without it?

The answer is found where most of the Bible's most important theology can be found: Deuteronomy. (Yes, Dr. Block is rubbing off on me!)

"When you eat and are full, praise Yahweh, your God, for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you don't forget Yahweh, your God, by failing to keep His command - the ordinances and statutes - I am giving you today. When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your heards and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn't become proud and you forget Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. . . .You may say to yourself, 'My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,' but remember that Yahweh your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today. If you ever forget Yahweh your God and go after other gods to worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will perish. Like the nations Yahweh is about to destroy before you, you will perish if you do not obey Yahweh, your God."  Deuteronomy 8:10-20, selections

It is so tempting to think that we deserve whatever wealth, intelligence, beauty, popularity, and success we enjoy. That's the most dangerous lie we can believe. Whatever we have, and whoever we become is sheer gift. There is no room in God's kingdom for a 'self-made man' (or woman!).

I'm grateful for all of you who spend precious moments of your day to read my blog and encourage me on this journey. You are among the many blessings God has given me.

So eat until you're satisfied. And then ... remember. Remember where these good gifts came from, thank the Giver, and then live like you mean it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

home again, home again, jiggity jig

I've just returned home after six action-packed days in San Francisco. I attended the back-to-back annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. I heard at least 30 papers presented, presented one myself, and had conversations with at least 55 people (those are the ones I could remember off-hand).

Exhausting? Yes.
Exhilerating? You bet.

The highlights:
  • Rooming with 4 other wonderful women, and hanging out with many others. If you read my most recent post, you know that women are a minority in these circles. I was blessed to have fellowship with many godly women who are cheerfully and faithfully engaged in the study and teaching of God's Word. The demographics did not seem any better this year in terms of gender (though there was a noticeable increase in other ethnicities represented), but I was never lonely.
  • Catching up with old friends. ETS and SBL are a virtual reunion for those in this field, so I ran into friends and professors from all 3 Christian institutions where I've studied: Multnomah, Gordon-Conwell, and Wheaton. What a treat!
  • Networking. Last year I was in the thick of applying to doctoral programs, so I had meetings with five potential supervisors, two potential employers, and other contacts from various schools. This year I was delightfully free to engage in conversation with friends who are in the exploratory stage and connect them with those I knew at various schools. My enthusiasm for Dr. Block as a supervisor persuaded at least 4 of my friends to meet with him and discuss the possibility of studying with him in the future.
  • Shadowing Dr. Block. I had the privilege of tagging along with Dr. Block to a meeting with one of his publishers and being part of the discussion about cover styles, editing, and future projects. Not only that, I witnessed him in action as he gave papers and participated in panel discussions, fielding all sorts of questions. He is a wonderful model of careful scholarship and respectful interaction with people all across the spectrum of approaches to Scripture.
  • Scholarly discussion. In most sessions there is time for questions after papers are presented. After attending a paper by a doctoral student from the University of Chicago, I approached him to ask him more about his work. Four of us stood around and talked about the metaphorical uses of a particular Hebrew word and the implications for the theology of the Hebrew Bible. It was as natural as talking about our favorite flavors of ice cream! The other student expressed strong interest in my dissertation work and wants to keep in touch so we can continue the conversation.
On the last day a friend and I took a quick trip down to the bay via cable car to see the Bay Bridge, eat crab chowder, buy souveniers for our kids, and sample some Ghiradelli chocolate. So, yes, I'm a geek, but I did take at least a few hours out to play!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

on being a woman in a man's world

I've always wondered how it feels to be Louisa May Alcott in a whole deck of male authors.  Like it or not, I'm getting a taste of it myself.

Perhaps you're not aware that the field of Biblical Studies and Theology is male-dominated.  It is.  Things are changing, but the demographics are a long way from being gender balanced.  That's nice for someone like me (i.e. a female) when it comes to applying to schools or applying for jobs.  There is a genuine desire to invite women to the table, but for various reasons we are still a minority.

You may have noticed this in my recent Blockhead lunch photo. Our Associate Dean did. When I was getting a cup of coffee he approached me with a knowing smile. "I couldn't help but notice that you are the only woman at that table," he said. Indeed. He expressed how glad he was to have me as part of the program. I'm glad to be here, too, but I do feel out of place sometimes.
  • There are 27 people in the room for Dr. Block's Exegesis of Deuteronomy class.  Six of us are women.  (As long as we're counting noses, I might mention that only 2 of the students are Asian and only 1 brave soul is African-American!)
  • Seven new students were admitted to Wheaton's PhD program this year.  Two of us are women. Last year, though a woman was offered admission to the program, only men ended up coming.
  • Of the 30+ doctoral students in the program right now, six are women. In spite of Wheaton's best efforts to diversify the program, there simply aren't enough women or international applicants to balance things out. (Last year only 12 of the 82 applicants were women and even fewer were from other cultures.)
  • In the Isaiah seminar I'm taking this semester with Dr. Schultz, I'm the only woman.
  • None of Wheaton's faculty supervisors for PhD students are women.
  • At last year's annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, women made up about 10% of the crowd of 2500. Probably half of those women were there as spouses of scholars, not scholars themselves.
Why? I can see several reasons.
  • Conservative interpretation of certain Bible passages has determined that certain roles in the church (such as teaching adult men) be restricted to men. Since the teaching jobs that require a doctorate usually have mixed groups of students, there has been little reason for a conservative woman to get a doctorate.
  • Women are naturally preoccupied with bearing and raising children, making graduate work especially challenging. Few husbands are as willing as Danny is to share household tasks so equally and make it possible for their wives to study. It goes against the grain to do so.
  • In spite of the relative equality that women now enjoy in society at large, deep-seated cultural perceptions of what is "feminine" push women away from academia. I suspect this is stronger inside the church than outside.
What's the big deal?  Why do we need more women in this field?
  • Women need role models.  We need to see women who are using their intellectual gifts in service of the church and the academy.  Gifted young women need to know that they can use their minds for God's glory as well as their hands and heart.  Children's ministry is a high calling, but it's not the only way women can contribute to the body of Christ.  Neither is cooking for potlucks!
  • Humans naturally have blind spots.  Generations of white men have set the agenda for biblical studies, and as a result things have sometimes become lopsided.  These men have made very valuable contributions to biblical scholarship, but their work can be strengthened though conversations with others who bring different perspectives to the table.
I'm excited. It feels like I'm in the right place at the right time. A hundred years ago it would have been impossible. Even ten years ago it would have been a much lonelier journey. Today I am invited, welcomed, valued, and embraced. And I am not alone. Other women have gone before me, and others walk beside me (even if only a few). I'm delighted to have Dr. Karen Jobes as my second reader for my dissertation. Not only is she a great scholar, but she's walked this road as a woman and has so much to offer.

A special treat awaits me this week. Last spring I started asking around to see if other women might want to room together at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. The group just grew and grew! One room turned into three. Now fourteen other women from all across the country will be joining me in San Francisco for these meetings. What a joy it will be to share the experience together!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

remembering Robert

Cancer is an awful thing. It sucks the life out of a person and leaves nothing but pain behind . . . or does it?

Uncle Robert was told about 6 months ago that he would be the next victim of this deadly disease. He had only weeks to live without treatment. Chemo would hold the inevitable at bay for a precious handful of months. Those extra months gave us a chance to see him and to say 'goodbye for now.' It also gave him a chance to read, think, pray, and ask a lot of deep questions.

During our visit in July he had a lot on his mind. He wondered how long America could continue to be viable as a nation with such crippling debt. He wondered what the difference was between our spirits and our souls and what would happen to both of them. He was wrestling with the meaning of some difficult passages of scripture. At the end of our visit, he said he had a lot of other questions he would have loved to ask us if we had had more time together.

Theology becomes a lot more urgent when death is staring you in the face.

I'll always remember Uncle Robert for this. The questions we have and push to the back of our minds refuse to be quiet when Cancer is in the room. They clamour for our attention . . . and for the attention of all those who love us. Robert's legacy remains to be seen. Only time will tell what permanent mark he has made on all of us. But part of it will be his strong and steady response to the doctor on hearing his prognosis: "In our family, we believe that the life after this one is even better than this." His expression of faith at that moment is still having a ripple affect on the rest of us.

Thanks, Robert, for reminding us all that what we believe really does matter, even on this side of death.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

FAQ re:PhD @ Wheaton

Wondering what this is all about? Here are some questions that others have asked about what we're doing here in Wheaton. If you have more questions of this sort, feel free to ask!

What program are you in at Wheaton?

I'm working on a PhD in Biblical Theology with a concentration in Old Testament.

How long is your program?

It's a 3-year, full-time program. Many students take 4 or 5 years to complete it.

What classes are you taking?

I still have to pinch myself some days to see if this is real. I get to study with some of the world's best Evangelical scholars! This fall I am taking:

Intro to Doctoral Research - with Daniel Block

Biblical Theology - with Kevin Vanhoozer

Isaiah - with Richard Schultz

Guided Research (background reading for my dissertation) - with Daniel Block

What sort of work are you doing for Dr. Block?

I'm working as a TA for his Exegesis of Deuteronomy class. I get to sit in on the class and learn from him, grade students' translations and diagrams of the passages we're studying, and keep records. He has also had me edit some of his writing. So far I've edited his ETS and SBL papers for next month and the bibliography for a commentary on Ezekiel by Jacob Milgrom, who died before he could complete his manuscript. Dr. Block took over the project at the request of his family. All together I work for him about 10 hours/week, in exchange for a stipend funded by a generous donor to the college.

Do you have a dissertation topic yet?

Yes! At Wheaton a dissertation proposal is part of the application to the program. I've been chewing on my topic for about 20 months already. I'll be exploring the interpretation of the second command of the Decalogue (otherwise known as the 'Ten Commandments'): "You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain." A more literal translation is "You shall not bear the name of Yahweh, your God, falsely." I'll be discovering whether the command should be interpreted more broadly than it typically has. Most people in the history of interpretation have understood it as a command not to swear, misuse, or mispronounce God's personal name. However, there is a possibility that this command connects with the wider biblical theme of 'bearing the name of the LORD,' that is, representing him well. If that is the case, the command would be warning God's people not to claim allegiance to him while living in a way that is inconsistent with his character. I am very eager to dive into this project because it is such a crucial one for believers to grasp.

What are you working on these days?

I'm more than halfway done with the 6,000 pages I need to read this semester (it's ok, you can gasp here), and I've turned my attention to the 3 papers that need to be written.

(1) A paper I'll be presenting in San Francisco later this month at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings: "Psalm 24:4 and the Decalogue: A Mutually Illuminating Relationship?" Psalm 24:4 has a very similar statement to the second command of the Decalogue. The Psalmist describes the righteous person who may approach Yahweh (in Yahweh's own words) as one "who does not bear my soul falsely." I'm exploring whether this is the same figure of speech as the one used in the Decalogue, and if so, what the implications are for our understanding of both passages.

(2) A paper on the use of the word segullah ("treasured possession") in Deuteronomy. This is an extension of my MA thesis on the 'Peter's Use of the Old Testament in 1 Peter 2:9-10.' Dr. Block and I are hoping that I can use this paper as an additional chapter for my MA thesis and then have it published.

(3) A paper on the interpretation of Isa 63:19. This is a key text for the biblical theme that I mentioned above on 'bearing the name of the LORD.' If you compare the NIV and the NAS on this passage, you'll see that the translators understood it in completely different ways. I'm going to dig into this issue and decide how I think it should be translated.

Are you overwhelmed?

Yes, some days more than others. The first month of the semester was really rough. I dealt with stress and anxiety continually, and felt like someone was squeezing the life out of me. After prayer and some really helpful conversations with colleagues, family, and friends, I'm happy to say that things have really turned around. Most days I'm filled with joy that I get to do what I love. Writing these papers by the deadline is going to require a class B miracle, though, so I do appreciate your prayers for divine guidance and anointing for the task!