Thursday, December 27, 2012

our budding artist

Easton (age 4) has only two things on his mind these days: trains and drawing (usually both).

He's going through a drawing explosion, spending hours at a time carefully drawing, coloring, cutting, and sharing his artwork.

When he's not drawing, he's typically talking about the remote control train he's hoping to get for his birthday (in June!).
This is an angry crane cleaning up the mess made by a truck
who spilled logs all over the road. The truck is sad, as you
can see, and a sign has been posted saying "Keep Out!"

This one is a train with a coal car, a boxcar, and a caboose. The sun is
shining and the wind is blowing. As you can see, the boxcar is full of all
kinds of treasures: baby bottles, pacifiers, teddy bears, bows, train tracks,
and remote control trains. What more could anyone need?
Easton: Mom, for my 5-year-old birthday I want a remote control steam engine with battery-powered water squirters on an elevated track.
Mom: Wow, Easton. You've really thought a lot about that!
Easton: Mom, when you go to the store to get my remote control steam engine, make sure it's narrow gauge or G gauge.


Easton: Mom, is my birthday tomorrow?
Mom: No, buddy. It's still 6 months away.
Easton: Oh. Is that a long time?
Mom: Yep. It's like 180 days.
Easton: Wow. That's when I'm gonna get a remote control train. When I turn five!

This multi-media train scene features rubber stamping, pencil
and paint. Easton designed the whole thing himself—a steam
engine on an elevated track with supports, driving at night.
A close up of his creative masterpiece.
Here's Easton's rendition of "California," complete with a tower.
California must be a fun word to say. Easton often says,
 "Mom, I love you all the way to Lake Michigan, and to California,
and to Heaven and back!!!" Now that's a lot of love. I'll take it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

rethinking Santa

I've spent the past 11 years as a parent trying to ward off Santa Claus to keep him from spoiling Christmas.

We avoid Santa wrapping paper, Santa movies, Santa ornaments, Santa decorations, and (heaven forbid) Santa songs.

Instead we put up manger scenes, celebrate Advent, and play Handel's 'Messiah,' and we run interference with our kids, trying to un-teach them everything they're picking up from friends (and teachers!) at school about Santa.

Dutch St. Nicholas and Black Peter (public domain image)
But earlier this month I read an article by a Wheaton prof that got me thinking (yes, reading is generally what changes my mind about things. Are you really that surprised?). St. Nicholas started his career as a real person (not a cartoon or a guy dressed up at the mall). He was a Christian bishop in the 3rd/4th century who had a remarkable reputation. Dr. Michael Graves says this about him: "As time passed, his name and memory were associated with a whole host of good causes: he was said to be a defender of the weak, and especially children; he was a protector of the innocent, of sailors, and of travelers generally." Not only that, but he was a defender of orthodoxy at the council of Nicea!

So, while I'm not ready to bring my children to the mall and have them sit on the lap of a seasonal employee and ask for more stuff, maybe it's time I told them about the real St. Nick. In our violent and me-centered culture, we could all use more heroes. And, if gift-giving is inspired in part by this Christian bishop from so long ago, why not say so? Someone known for his generosity is a good role model to have.

My "conversion" came too late this year to start any new traditions with the kids, but next year we'll have to think about how we can emulate the generosity and kindness of a man who lived so long ago. St. Nicholas will take his place among all the other heroes of the faith, like St. Patrick, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and Amy Carmichael. I'm sorry it took me so long.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

why I'm not on Facebook

It's simple, really. I don't have time.

Doctoral study permeates every minute of my day that family doesn't (except for the few I eek out now and then to blog).

I want to be on Facebook. I love being in the loop. I love connecting with friends and family. I want to know what is happening in people's lives. Networking is what I was born to do.

But right now, I just can't.

A friend of mine has been on Facebook for some time and is now bowing out. Her reasons for leaving Facebook are worth sharing. And, to be honest, I'm glad to know at least one other person on the planet who's not on Facebook.

After graduation, I may join Facebook, at least for a while, just to reconnect with old friends. But for now, if you want to connect, this is the place. Thanks for coming to "hang out"!

Monday, December 17, 2012

cherishing my 7-year-old

This week I am hugging my kids a little closer.
Their innocence is a breath of fresh air in a world of heartbreaking stories.

Emma doesn't know what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. At least not yet.*

Her eyes are full of the same twinkle and her mouth has the same impish grin as she tries to trick us and tease us and startle us.

Her teacher (God Bless First Grade Teachers!!!) has had her hands full this week trying to teach probability to a kid who insists that "anything is possible with God!"

Teacher: If I put 7 green cubes in this empty bag, and I pull one out, what color will it be?
Emma: Anything is possible! God could change the color of a cube if he wanted to!

Emma tells me that she even crossed out the word "impossible" in the word bank and wrote, "Nothing is impossible with God!"


I'd love to bottle up that faith and save some for later. And figure out how to cultivate classroom manners in the meantime!

But mostly I'm just delighted to have her.


*After I wrote this post Emma came home from Sunday school wondering what happened in Connecticut. It was inevitable, I guess. We told her that 20 children had died. She asked how. I waited until we were alone and explained that a man with a gun had gone into their school and killed them and their teachers. She was sober, but wondered why kids weren't supposed to be talking about it. I explained that grown-ups didn't want kids to be scared to go to school. She said, "I'm not scared. Something like that is very unlikely to happen at [my school]." And she's right. I'm glad her sense of "probability" is better when it comes to real life situations than it is in math class!

Our school district provided a helpful link for how to talk kids about violence. I took its advice yesterday by only answering Emma's questions and not filling in more details. (This is a good rule-of-thumb for talking with kids about sex, too, by the way.) And if you, like me, want to know how to prevent school violence in the first place, check out this thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written article about what triggers mass shootings.

Meanwhile, hug your kids.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

when words fail

Some things defy explanation.
And yet ...
we seek it anyway.
Scouring the news.
Looking for answers.
Wanting to understand.

And hugging our kids close.

It shouldn't have happened.
Not in that neighborhood.
Not in that school.
Not to those kids.
But it did.

Young lives snuffed out
stripped of innocence
robbed of peace.

In a moment, heroes emerged.
All teachers give their lives for their students,
but yesterday,
some gave up their lives,
others risked theirs,
and the whole world stands in awe.

And we feel we must say something.

If the Bible offers us anything for times like this, it is an invitation to speak, to say how we feel.

This is no time for silence.

The Psalms are full of laments.
The Prophets rail against wickedness.
Job faced unspeakable tragedy, too.
He wrestled with undeserved pain in a world gone wrong.
As Gerhard von Rad put it,

  •  "Job saw himself confronted by a theological abyss in which everything that faith was able to say about God was lost" (Old Testament Theology, 1:412).
  •  "In the tremendous tension of his struggle the picture which he has of God threatens to be torn in pieces before his eyes" (1:415). 

And so Job speaks, and speaks, and speaks some more.
He voices his complaints and begs for answers.

Two years ago, at the SBL annual conference in Atlanta, Julia O'Brien spoke to us about the jarring poety of the prophets. She reminded us that "ultimately all of our language about God will fail." But, she insisted, in the face of horror we are invited "not to silence speech but to heap it up, since none of it is adequate in itself."* Just as we can never succeed in wrapping our minds our minds around God, so we can never wrap our minds around evil.

And so we talk and we listen, heaping up speech...
... troubled by a world in which a deranged young adult can so easily access semi-automatic weapons
... amazed by a kindergarten teacher who can read calmly during a massacre
... a principal whose first instinct is to dive into a spray of bullets to save her students
... a janitor who has the presence of mind to dash through the building to alert teachers
... a team of first responders and medical personnel who can sort through the carnage
... and a tearful dad who can face a sea of reporters with courage and extend grace to the family of the one who murdered his precious daughter.

And we wait.
And we pray.
Because that's all we can do.

*quoting an unpublished version of O'Briens paper, entitled "A 'Darke' Theology?" In the first quotation O'Brien is quoting an unpublished paper by Andrew Mein on Ezekiel.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

the story God is writing

Ten years ago today, Danny, Eliana, and I boarded a plane bound for the Philippines, officially moving from "appointee" to "field" status with SIM, an interdenominational church-planting mission. We moved from green and temperate Oregon to the hot and sticky concrete jungle of metro Manila, where we studied Tagalog and learned how to live away from our families and our own culture. The adjustment was difficult, but we came to love mangoes and jeepneys, open markets and the smiling vendors who worked there. New faces became part of our story, and we theirs, as our lives were knit together.

We had no idea that our sojourn in the Philippines would only last 2–1/2 years before SIM would recommend that we relocate to Charlotte, NC, so that Danny could serve in a more strategic role at SIM's international headquarters. He's filled an administrative position for Sports Friends (a ministry of SIM) ever since—tracking funds so that young people around the world can experience the love of Christ through a godly mentor. Charlotte, too, was far from home and family, and some of the cultural differences took us by surprise. We learned to like sweet tea and "barbeque," our neighbors' drawl and our neighbors, period. New chapters in our story included Gordon-Conwell, Good Shepherd UMC, public schools for our kids, and enriching fellowship with other SIM missionaries.

Our next move took us to the Midwest, where winters are cold and days are short, but people are equally friendly. After 18 months in Wheaton we feel right at home. Family is still far away, but we're finding community just the same. Thanks to Skype and email Danny can communicate with teammates in Ethiopia and Thailand, Nigeria and Peru from his attic office. Thanks to this blog, I can keep in touch with a wide circle of friends while I study in the library in preparation for teaching ministry. Our story has become one of anticipation, wondering what doors God will open when my schooling is over and we are free to move again.

Looking back on 10 years of ministry with SIM, our hearts are full of gratitude. We've lived in 10 different homes over these past 10 years, attended 7 different churches and 16 different schools. We've been in 11 countries and 31 states. In each of these places God has blessed us with more friends than we can possibly count whose stories have intersected with our own.

This year for Christmas we're going on a pilgrimage of sorts to see some of those dear friends. We'll get to stop in Charlotte to reconnect with neighbors, friends, and our church family—a special bonus after 18 months away. Our ultimate destination, though, is SIM's retirement community in Florida, where we'll spend Christmas with Phil and Julie Parshall.

Phil and Julie were there 10 years ago at the airport in Manila when our plan landed, waiting in the humid night air for a first glimpse of the eager young family from Oregon who had come to join their work. Their friendly welcome meant so much to us after some 30 hours of travel with a toddler in tow. The Christmas we spent together just a couple of weeks later was the first of many more shared holidays, though none of us knew it at the time. Who could have foreseen that when we left the Philippines Phil and Julie's retirement would soon follow, and they would end up choosing an apartment in Charlotte just over a mile away from us?

We had nearly 6 more happy years together in Charlotte as God continued to interweave our stories. Shortly after we left Charlotte Phil and Julie moved to Florida. This Christmas will be the 6th or 7th we have spent with them. The Parshalls (and so many others) have been part of God's provision for us in these 10 years away from home. As Jesus reassured his disciples,

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." Matthew 19:29 NRSV

We don't know what the next 10 years will hold, or who else will walk onto the pages of our story and stay for a while. No one does. But the Author knows what he's doing, and if we let him hold the pen it will turn out beautifully in the end.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

anticipation—the beauty of advent

We opened presents with my parents the day after Thanksgiving. The beautiful thing about gift-giving so early is that it has freed us to anticipate the greatest gift of all—Jesus, our Messiah. Each night after dinner we're putting the next leaf on our Advent Tree (for a free complete set of advent devotions, click on the link to the right that says "Advent Tree Devotions"). The kids love when it's their turn to put a leaf on the tree or read the Scripture passage of the day. In a busy season, any chance to slow down and reflect is something to be cherished.

I adapted these devotions from a book that started with creation and led up to Jesus' resurrection. It's a wider set of Bible stories than most Advent plans include, and that's what I love about it. Jesus' birth is unintelligible without an understanding of the Old Testament. He was the answer to long centuries of anticipation of God's decisive work to redeem his people from sin. Just as we wouldn't give our kids the answers to their homework without letting them first wrestle through the questions, so we should show them why the world needed Jesus before we celebrate his coming.

If you don't have plans for Advent and want to try these, it's not too late! You can make an Advent Tree with a big sheet of paper or posterboard, and add leaves of green construction paper each day. Let your kids draw the pictures on each leaf, or write a key word from the story instead. Or have them draw the pictures on paper circles to hang on your Christmas tree. Make it a family project. And if you do, I'd love to hear how it goes!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: Gospel Coalition interview with Daniel Block

The Gospel Coalition recently interviewed Dr. Block regarding some of the controversial statements he makes in his recently-released NIV Application Commentary on Deuteronomy. For the full text of the interview, click here.

If you're surprised to hear that Block does not see Moses as a "lawgiver" and that he thinks those who see Jesus as a "new Moses" have a "low Christology," then be sure to check out the interview!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

full home ... full heart

After 6 days straight of academic conferences, it was a delight to come home to family. My parents were able to join us, and the kids had a whole week off of school. Never has a week gone by so fast, but we enjoyed every minute of it. Together we soaked in the food, games, late night conversations, Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower), Cosley Zoo's Festival of Lights, downtown Wheaton, a campus tour, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas back-to-back has its challenges (like having everything ready on time), but now the rest of the season will be easy, right?

The highlight of the week was gathering around the table with my "brother" Austin and his wife Heather. Austin is a fellow Blockhead (i.e. one of Dr. Block's doctoral students), and he and Heather have become like family to us. It was fun to celebrate God's goodness together! We ate and played 'pin-the-feather-on-the-turkey.' We read all of Deuteronomy 8 together, but our theme verse was verse 10–
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you."
He has, indeed, blessed us in so many ways. We are profoundly grateful!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

full head ... full heart

Last week I succumbed to the wonderful sort of malady that strikes all who attend ETS, IBR, and SBL—mental gluttony. Falling each year on the week before Thanksgiving, ETS, IBR, and SBL are remarkably similar to that American holiday characterized by

  • sitting too much, 
  • eating too much, 
  • gaining weight, 
  • and feeling profoundly grateful. 
The primary difference between ETS/IBR/SBL and Thanksgiving is that, in the case of the former, the consumption is mental, not physical (the prices of food at most conference centers and hotels ensure that I do not overeat). The smorgasbord of papers presented on just about any topic defy description. Still, my weight gain is measured in pages, not pounds—the deep discounts offered by every major publisher are simply too much to resist. (This year's prize acquisition was HALOT for only $99!)

At ETS I attended 14 paper presentations, 5 meetings, and the annual banquet.
At IBR I attended 8 paper presentations or responses to papers.
At SBL I attended 22 paper presentations and 3 meetings.

As with previous conferences, this year was simply packed with conversations with former classmates and professors as well as publishers and scholars I know from my research and TA work for Dr. Block. These conferences bring out the most outgoing side of me. I talked personally or asked questions of 17 of the 44 presenters or moderators for sessions I attended, and stopped to meet many others whose work I had read in the past year. I could give a much longer list, but highlights included conversations with Bruce Wells, Herbert Huffmon, Andrea Weiss, Sandra Richter, Terrence Fretheim, Miles Van Pelt, Peter Vogt, William Eerdmans and John Oswalt. It's amazing to rub shoulders (literally, since some of the sessions are very crowded) with great scholars whose work has helped me immensely.

The other big highlight was having my Dad along for the day on Monday to see my world. He was a great sport, attending paper after paper on Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty and its affinity with Deuteronomy 28, and listening to conversations that must have seemed quite pedantic (such as debates over the ending of one word in Psalm 24:4). I inherited my love for learning and my knack for networking from him, though, so I think he had fun seeing "himself" in this world—so different from the world of kitchen remodeling he regularly inhabits. He's looking forward to using some of his new words (like 'prosopological exegesis') on my brother when they get to the job site Monday morning. Sorry, John. I really am.

And so on Monday evening we headed home, loaded down with new books, my head full of new insights and new stories, tremendously grateful for the gift of learning and the gift of friends. ETS, IBR, and SBL did more than fill my head. They filled my heart as well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

more lingo to know

By the time you see this I'll be well into my marathon week at ETS, IBR, and SBL. So what are they? All three are professional societies for people who hold a doctorate in Biblical Studies or a related discipline.

ETS stands for Evangelical Theological Society. It is the most narrow group of the three (theologically). Members must believe in the Trinity and in the inerrancy of the Bible. This year ETS is meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Wednesday to Friday of this week. About 2000 scholars usually attend.

IBR stands for the Institute of Biblical Research. It is an affiliate of the larger SBL. Members of IBR affirm orthodox Christianity, but in a broader sense than ETS. Wheaton has historically had a strong connection with IBR. Many of the officers and members are Wheaton professors. IBR and SBL are being held in downtown Chicago this year (from Friday afternoon to Tuesday noon).

SBL stands for the Society of Biblical Literature. It is the largest group, and its meetings are held concurrently with AAR (American Academy of Religion). SBL members might be Jews, Christians, and even Muslims or atheists who study and teach the Bible in any academic setting (Universities, Community Colleges, etc). Theologically this is a very diverse group. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend SBL and AAR.

I am a student member of all three organizations, and I'm so thankful for a way to reconnect with colleagues, further my education, and stay on top of my field—all in one convenient week each year! This is my fourth year attending, and—from an academic point-of-view—the most important week of the year. Those presenting papers include biblical scholars from around the world whose work has been so helpful to me. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet them in person, ask them questions, and learn from them.

Perhaps the thought of leaving home to go listen to scholars read academic papers from morning to night for 6 straight days doesn't excite you. That makes you normal and me weird. I love it. (Though I admit that by day 6 I have a hard time assimilating much of anything!). These conferences are the best possible opportunity for hearing cutting-edge research in biblical studies, networking with other scholars and with publishers, fellowshipping with like-minded friends, and buying lots of books at deep discounts. It's like a reunion, a series of intensive courses, a research trip, and a shopping spree all rolled into one! This year is extra special, though, because it will be a date with my Dad, too.

My parents are coming to Wheaton for Thanksgiving, and they are arriving early enough so that Dad can join me at SBL on Monday. He'll get to see my world and meet scholars and friends who have influenced me. It takes a brave man to agree to sit through papers on Hebrew linguistics, metaphor theory, ancient Near Eastern Covenants and archaeology. Thanks, Dad!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PhD lingo to know

Friday I attended the dissertation defense of one of my colleagues. While I was there my advisor told me I'll be doing my supervised pedagogical experience this spring while I TA for 'Old Testament Theology' and finish my remaining coursework. This means in 6 months I will (Lord willing) be ABD, and cleared to write my final chapter(s)! Next fall I'll do nothing but Precept and finalize my dissertation. I'm hoping to turn in my defense draft in the early Spring of 2014, after which I'll have 45 days to finish my Comprehensive Reading and study the work of my external reader while I await my defense. Feeling lost yet?? For the benefit of family and friends who care about this crazy journey we're on but have no idea what I'm talking about, let me break it down:

Dr. Daniel Block, my doctoral advisor
Advisor/Supervisor/Doktorvater/Mentor: This is the professor who directly supervises my work while I'm at Wheaton (i.e. Dr. Daniel Block). He helps me plan my coursework, reads my papers, and is responsible to ensure that my dissertation is defensible in the end. At Wheaton our supervisor is also our first reader.

Coursework: These are the classes we're required to take (I'll take my final 8 credits in the spring).

Pedagogical Experience: "Pedagogy" means "teaching." (I'll be co-teaching a course on Deuteronomy with Dr. Block and my colleague, Austin—a.k.a. 'brother Blockhead').

Precepting: This is similar to pedagogical experience. The doctoral student works under a professor in a required Freshman class called "Gospel, Church, and Culture," leading weekly discussion groups and grading assignments. In exchange for this work, the student receives a fellowship.

Fellowship/Stipend: A scholarship given to students above and beyond the full tuition scholarship that compensates for hours spent as a TA, research assistant, or preceptor. So far I've worked as Dr. Block's assistant each semester, but in the fall I expect to be Precepting.

TA (Teaching Assistant): Usually involves grading and record-keeping for a course taught by a professor

Research Assistant: Similar to TA work, but not connected to a particular class. The professor assigns editing or research projects, or other administrative work.

ABD ("All But Dissertation"): At most schools this means a student has completed coursework and comprehensive reading, and is cleared to write a dissertation proposal. Wheaton has a concurrent model, so we are taking classes, reading from the Comprehensive reading list, and writing our dissertation all at once. Here we are ABD when our coursework is complete. By that time we are well into our reading and have started our dissertation.

Comprehensive Reading ("Comps"): A list of books we are required to read before we graduate. Wheaton's Old Testament list contains 35 books we must read and review carefully, 91 books we must read partially, 46 books we should be familiar with, and 46 reference works we should know how to use. We must also skim 10 years' worth of the major journals in our field. Yep, it's a lot, but it helps to broaden our knowledge of the field beyond our dissertation topic. Call me crazy, but I'm loving this part.

Dissertation: This is the major (300-page) research paper doctoral students must write to prove their scholarly capabilities (I'm nearing the 1/3 mark on mine!).

Dissertation Topic: This is what I'm writing about (in my case, the Name Command of the Decalogue).

Dissertation Proposal: A 10-page paper showing why a dissertation needs to be written 

Proposal Defense: An oral presentation to the faculty inviting their critique of my topic, after which the student is cleared to begin writing (mine was April 11, 2012)

Danny and the kids surprised me
when I turned in my first chapter.
They all dressed up and escorted me
home for an amazing 3-course dinner!
Chapter: When I talk about writing a "chapter," I'm referring to a chapter of my dissertation. I've written one, and I'm working on my second (of 4).

Defense Draft: This is the "final" copy of my dissertation that I'll turn in 45 before my oral defense. I'll turn in 4 copies: one for my supervisor, one for my second reader, one for my external examiner, and one for the PhD seminar room so that other students and faculty can read it before my defense.

First Reader: At Wheaton our supervisor performs this role, reading each chapter as we write it and then the whole dissertation when we're through. They help us make sure it's ready to defend.

Second Reader: This is another faculty member from Wheaton College who reads and critiques the dissertation. Usually they read at least parts of the dissertation as it is written and then the whole thing at the end (mine is Dr. Karen Jobes).

External Reader/Examiner: This is a professor from another institution, an expert on the dissertation topic whose identity is kept a secret until the defense draft is turned in. They travel to Wheaton for the oral defense and critique anything and everything.

Dissertation Defense/ Oral Defense: The student and his or her work goes "on trial" before the second and external readers, and a defense chair (another Wheaton professor), while the rest of the PhD students and faculty observe. The work is either failed (rarely) or passed, with or without required revisions. This is the culmination of years' worth of work, and a highly stressful and uncomfortable experience. Not for the faint of heart!

Technical Reader: After any required revisions are made, the dissertation is then given to the technical reader, who goes over it with a fine-toothed comb to find any errors of spelling, grammar, or style before the dissertation is bound and printed for the library and the student is cleared to graduate.

After I complete all these steps, students can call me "Dr. Imes." It's an intense journey, and a blessed one. I'm so grateful to those who provided funds for my scholarship and stipend so that I can be here, and I'm thrilled to have a partner like Danny who is committed to seeing me through this program. Even the kids are cheering me on. What a great blessing that is!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ravi Zacharias: study as worship

Ravi Zacharias recently spoke at Wheaton College on "The Cause, The Cost, and The Commitment." He cast a stirring vision of what God can do through one individual who is willing to count the cost and become a world-changer. He urged us to be men and women of prayer. He urged us to get close enough to people that we can see their pain and own it. And he reminded us that though a vision starts with one, it is carried out by many. He told us the story of his own daughter, Naomi, who attended Wheaton and while here developed a burden for women and children around the world who are caught up against their will in sex trafficking. That burden has shaped her life and ministry ever since.

"This is your worship. This is your service."
But Dr. Zacharias insisted that our lives are not "on hold" while we're in school. I love what he said about these years of preparation:

"Your preparation these years is not just your preparation. It is your service to God as one being prepared. Always see it in those terms. It is the expression of your worship in how you are preparing for what it is that God is calling you to do."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: the power of language

"Languages are ways of 'naming' the world. We cannot enter much at all into another culture unless we learn its language, its ways of naming things and activities. One reason many of today's Americans find it hard to understand and related to other cultures and nations is that we insist everyone speak English and we fail to learn other languages. It is extremely difficult to learn another language—and it is incredibly rewarding as our eyes are opened to other people and cultures with their distinctive sensibilities and sensitivities. Learning to speak someone's name with respect is the beginning of communication and relationship. Learning languages is a fruition of this same attitude, a practice of this essential principle."

-David Gill, Doing Right: Practicing Ethical Principles, 138 (emphasis mine)

This is one reason we've encouraged Eliana (age 11) to learn Spanish. She spends 40 minutes in the morning before school, three days a week, using Rosetta Stone. She's been doing it for 3 years already. I think it's paying off. Some of her very best friends at school, six years in a row, have been girls from other cultures (Cuba, India, Ethiopia, Hawaii, Italy, Indonesia, the Philippines). When they do something she doesn't understand, she doesn't get mad at them. She comes to me and asks, "Mom, is there something I should know about ______ culture that would make her do ______?"

Music to my ears.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

John Piper on interracial marriage

John Piper and I don't always see eye to eye. But I, like many others, have learned a lot from him, and I'm grateful for his ministry. His has, time after time, pointed the church to the vision of God's Glory.

Today I simply want to share a link to a wonderful chapel message he gave at Wheaton on October 3rd on interracial marriage. Piper was honest about his own racism while he was an undergraduate student at Wheaton, and during his growing-up years in the 50s and 60s. But his story includes several key moments where that racism was challenged. Now he insists that the Bible does not condemn interracial marriage, and neither should we. In his words:

"Our oneness in Christ is profound and transforms racial barriers into blessings."

"Few things - I think - are more beautiful than when a Christian couple across racial lines, overcomes every racial prejudice, every ethnic slur, every gospel-contradicting fear, and then display in a marriage the covenant-keeping commitment and love of Christ for his church. That's what marriage is for."

"Marriage is mainly displaying to the world the covenant keeping love of God between Christ and this church and this church and Christ (Ephesians 5). Dream that dream, and it will profoundly affect whom you marry."

"Christians are people who move towards justice, who move towards beauty. They don't move towards security at every point."

"Don't underestimate the challenges of marriage. . . .When it comes to interracial marriage, celebrate the beauty of it."

In the end, Piper called interracial marriage "good for the church, good for the world, and good for the glory of God."

Amen to that!

Friday, October 26, 2012

on the place of intuition in biblical studies

John Barton's Reading the Old Testament is beautifully honest, carefully worded, and lucidly written. I wish I had read it years ago. His aim is to show that no one method in biblical studies can trump all the rest. Like an experienced tour guide, he leads students beyond the first impressions of youthful naiveté to forgotten hallways and shadowy basements of biblical criticism, showing tunnels that lead from one edifice to another as well as places where the foundations have cracked or shifted over time. Barton’s analysis is sometimes surprising and often uncomfortable, but his overall thesis is persuasive.

Barton has the courage to say what scarcely sounds "academic" enough to make it in the scholarly world: Bible reading is intuitive. Some intuitions, of course, are better shaped to handle the biblical text than others. A "perceptive reader" has what it takes.

"The primary thesis [of this book] is that much harm has been done in biblical studies by insisting that there is, somewhere, a 'correct' method which, if only we could find it, would unlock the mysteries of the text. . . . Instead, I propose that we should see each of our 'methods' as a codification of intuitions about the text which may occur to intelligent readers" (5).

So, in essence, that's what we spend a lifetime doing—shaping our intuitions so they can guide us more reliably in our reading of sacred Scripture. I will never get tired of doing it. What rich rewards await the patient and perceptive reader!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: identifying spiritual handicaps

"We have replaced
repentance with blessing,
discipleship with joy,
servanthood with power,
vulnerability with predictability,
and seeking with success.
Our spiritual handicap is that we are empty
when we think we are full."

-Charles Ringma, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen, reflection 94

Friday, October 19, 2012

my basket of questions

By the time you read this I will have had my last PhD seminar meeting on Old Testament Ethics with Dr. Block, in which we faced one of the toughest issues in the whole Bible: God's command for Israel to exterminate the Canaanites. It's a dark part of biblical history, and one that is very difficult to reconcile with the LOVE of God and His desire for His people to bless all nations. One of the books we read in preparation for class is Christopher J. H. Wright's the God i Don't Understand: reflections on Tough Questions of faith. Wright's blend of authenticity and faith is truly refreshing. Look at how he starts one of his chapters:

"In chapter 4 we looked at some common approaches to the problem of the conquest of Canaan, but we found that none of them is really satisfactory. What are we to say then? Is there any 'solution'?"

"I have wrestled with this problem for many years as a teacher of the Old Testament, and I am coming to the view that no such 'solution' will be forthcoming. There is something about this part of our Bible that I have to include in my basket of things I don't understand about God and his ways." (page 86, emphasis mine)

Wright goes on to offer three helpful frameworks for understanding the slaughter of the Canaanites. His explanation is the best I've read on the subject. But he offers more than answers. He models a life of faith in scholarship—a life of faith seeking understanding. Wright is committed to the God of the Bible and to the truth of the Bible, but he doesn't insist on having everything wrapped up in tidy little boxes. God is not tidy like that. He is awe-some and mighty, and he doesn't fit in anybody's box.

And so, instead of a box, Wright has a basket. In his basket are all the things he wants to ask God about someday. These things have the potential to derail his faith. They have done so for many others. But Wright refuses to let gaps in his understanding prevent him from surrendering to the God whose ways are beyond ours. This does not make his Christianity into a blind leap, though. Yes, there are gaps, but Wright chooses to stake his faith on what he does know about God—His unbounded love for us, His victory over sin and death, and the hope of His coming to make all things right again

I have a basket, too—a place for questions I can't wait to ask Jesus in person someday. The more I study, the more my basket fills up. Where did Satan come from? How are we supposed to read Genesis 1? Why didn't the Old Testament outlaw slavery? What did Paul really mean in 1 Timothy 2:12? What's the deal with head coverings? Who wrote the Pentateuch . . . and when? Why is the Song of Songs in the Bible? Is Job a true story or an epic poem? Is Jonah a true story or a parable? How extensive was the flood? Can a true believer reject the faith? If God can bring healing, why doesn't he? What about those who die without hearing about Jesus? I carry these questions and many more in my basket. But none of these questions changes the fact that I've been transformed by the love of God, poured out through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, on my behalf. I've learned to live without certainty in some areas because God's grace is sure.

How about you? Is your faith stalled by questions you cannot answer? I think Wright wants us to go forward with what we know of God, and hold our questions in a basket. These questions are important, and they should not simply be abandoned, but some of them may turn out to be unanswerable on this side of eternity. Our finite minds can only grasp so much. It would be a pity to insist on complete knowledge, when we aren't wired to be able to handle it all anyway.

So we bring our questions along for the ride. Perhaps the answers will become clear over time, and perhaps not, but either way we will not miss out on the adventure of faith.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Tips: So you wanna learn Aramaic?

Daniel 3:17–18
"If our God to whom we pay reverence exists, he is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and he will deliver us from your hand, O king. And if not, let it be known to you, O King, that to your gods we will not pay reverence and we will not pay homage to the golden image that you have set up."
                           -Daniel 3:17–18 (my translation)

I have always loved these verses. I love the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed Nego in the face of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Even under a tremendous amount of social and political pressure, and at the risk of their very lives, they refuse to bow to the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar has erected. They are not certain that God will deliver them. But they are certain that he can. And that is enough for them. Their fear of Him outstrips their fear of any human king and his pagan gods.

Though I've known this story for most of my life, this evening I read it for the first time . . . in Aramaic. Did you know that about 10 chapters of the Old Testament were first written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew? I've wanted to learn Aramaic for several years now, and thanks to some great resources, I'm studying it on my own this semester.

If you've studied Hebrew, then adding Aramaic is no big deal. You, too, can learn Aramaic from the comfort of your own home. Here are some helpful tools:

1. Miles Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Aramaic. It's the only book you need. It contains a complete grammar of the language, a full lexicon of all the Aramaic words occurring in the Bible, and the complete biblical Aramaic text double-spaced so you can practice translating it. Amazon has it for only $33. (And no, I'm not getting paid to tell you this.) The grammar is divided into 22 lessons, so at one lesson a day, you can finish "learning" the language in less than a month. Then you can work your way through the biblical text in another month, translating about 10 verses each day (268 verses in all). You don't need more than this, but here are a few more things that I've found helpful:

2. Aramaic flash cards on BibleWorks. With the flash card feature you can isolate just the Aramaic words and practice them. Once you mark a word as "learned" it won't ask you again. You can sort words alphabetically or by number of occurrences, so that you can just work on the most common words.

3. Listen to the Aramaic biblical text being read online or download it for free. Follow along to train yourself to read well.

4. Check out the treasure trove of resources for learning Aramaic here, on a website designed by a friend of mine.

Now I can read the whole Bible in its original languages. Hurrah!

Friday, October 12, 2012

why "tell me the story"?

If you sit down and read documents from the ancient Near East (I realize very few of you have actually done this . . . but stay with me), it doesn't take long to notice the difference between the vast majority of ancient writing and the Bible:

The Bible is full of stories. Lifelike stories. Stories about real people, warts and all, who muddle about trying to listen to God and obey him. But most of all, stories about God's great acts in history.

Why tell all these stories?

Not for entertainment. Not as "royal records" (the documents that served that function in ancient Israel have been lost). No, what we have to understand about the ancient world is how historical narratives functioned. You see, the one place we have this type of "historical narrative" in other ancient Near Eastern cultures is in treaties. In a covenant between two parties, "the past was recounted for the specific purpose of instilling a sense of gratitude as the foundation and ground for future obedience" (from George Mendenhall's article on "Covenant" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary). If a king asks someone to swear loyalty to him, he first recounts all the generous things he has done to benefit the other party.

The stories of God's great acts in history are told for a reason.

They show us who HE is, and why He deserves Israel's highest praise and deepest devotion. This is why the Ten Commandments begin with a statement that changes everything: "I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of Egypt." That story-in-a-nutshell stands as a potent reminder that God asks nothing of his people without first giving them everything. His "laws" do not enslave. If he had meant for Israel to be slaves he would have left them in Egypt. Instead he set them free. And in their freedom he painted a portrait of what life-in-freedom-with-Yahweh looks like—a life free from enslavement to other gods and their every whim, a life free from worry about whose they are (they belong to Him and bear His name!), a life free from worry about possessions (they rest in His provision), free from disrespect, free from worry about premature death, the lure of a neighbor's advances, a ruined reputation, or the loss of what is rightfully theirs. (See Lochman's book for a beautiful exposition along these lines.)

But wait. The Ten Commandments are not designed to protect our own freedoms. If we read them carefully, we see they are designed to protect the rights and freedoms of our neighbors. As Daniel Block has often said, they function like the 'Bill of Rights' except that they are the 'Bill of Someone Else's Rights.'

Because of what God has done to set us free, we are to live in such a way that others can be free. Again and again, the stories remind us that freedom is a gift, a fragile gift, and that we best protect it by living life God's way. That's why we need someone to tell us the stories.

And that's why the stories are told.

The author of Hebrews, whoever it was, gets that. He (or she!) spends a great deal of time recounting the Old Testament stories as a reminder of what God has done, and what that means for believers in Jesus. Just as God set the Israelites free from Egyptian bondage, so he has set us free from bondage to fear and death. That freedom ought to transform everything, because that's what stories do. They tell us how it is. And who we are.

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. ... Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience." (Hebrews 2:14–15; 4:11 NET)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: on going to earth when we die

From Christopher H. J. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God:

"The consistent biblical hope, from Genesis to Revelation is that God should do something with the earth so that we can once again dwell upon it in 'rest', in sabbath peace, with him. The Bible speaks predominantly of the need for God to come here, not of the wish for us to go somewhere else. This earth is to be the place of God's judgment, and also the place of God's saving power" (154).

Are you going to heaven earth when you die?

Friday, October 5, 2012

when life gives you trouble

Joseph Blenkinsopp (A History of Prophecy in Israel) thinks "the book of Micah presents the reader with a degree of difficulty disproportionate to its length" (91).

Some lives are like that, too. More than their fair share of trouble. One thing after another.

If that's you, I pray that this week you'll sense the presence of God with you in the midst of life's mess. He does not always arrange things so that life is comfortable and trouble-free. Larry Crabb would say it's because God has bigger things in mind for us than comfort. He wants us to learn to depend on him moment by moment. 

That's the nice thing about difficulty (if there is a nice thing)—it reminds us that we are not invincible, and that we can't make it on our own. As we recognize our own limitations, his power rushes into the void and we have the great gift of knowing him more. It isn't quite that simple in real life. Sometimes we cannot feel his presence and we have to go on trusting him, longing for him, in the darkness. But even that longing is a gift, because it means we are facing the right direction.

If you're facing disproportionate difficulties today, sink your soul into the presence of God. He is all you need.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: tell me who I am

Joel Green, in his book, Practicing Theological Interpretation, says this:

"if this letter [James] is to serve as Scripture for us, then we will allow it to tell us who we are" (18).

What would happen if we let the Bible tell us who we are?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

did your Sunday School teacher get it right?

Emerging adults have a special talent for critique. At 35, I'm probably not a "young adult" any more, but I well remember those heady days in college where I measured everything against my new-found knowledge of the Bible. Pity the chapel speaker who dared to use Scripture in a less-than-exegetically-sound manner! I even wrote a paper once cataloging the misuses of Scripture I had heard in our very own chapel.

I was not alone in my negative attitude. It seems such moods are contagious. (This is why the use of words like "boring" and "pathetic" incur maximum penalties at our house.) It got so bad that my best friend and I had to make a pact not to sit together in chapel because we simply couldn't control our negativity when we were together.

Wheaton is apparently not exempt from this deadly disease. One professor notes that it's all too easy to elicit a critique from students, but much more difficult to coax them to come up with a constructive alternative to the ideas they've so quickly dismantled. He calls for a return to childlike faith, suggesting that the title of this post is the wrong question to be asking. His online article is well-worth the read.

Sunday school teachers may be more savvy than we remember, and (I might add) the penetrating messages of chapel speakers are all too easily deflected from transforming us when we insist on a certain (narrow) mode of delivery or method of interpretation. As I enter into my 11th year of higher education, the day draws ever closer when I'll stand on the other side of the podium. It's daunting to think about facing a room full of precocious young adults, many of whom will be able to see a loophole in everything I say. (Why was it again I wanted to do this with my life?) On the other hand, the privilege of walking beside them as they discover new ways of thinking outweighs the risk of being thought wrong or — worse still — "boring." I've seen with my own two eyes that excitement about Scripture is also contagious. Hopefully I can model not just careful critique but also humility and a deep love of the Word.

Because in the end, our Sunday School teachers gave freely of their time and themselves. They did their very best to take the profound riches of Scripture and make them understandable to kids who need things to be concrete and fun, and who have a very hard time sitting still. That, my friends, is no small task. And until we're willing to try it ourselves, we have no right to criticize.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

hot off the press

Just a few moments ago, I left my study carrel and took a momentous walk across the campus to the Billy Graham Center, where I ascended 5 stories and hand-delivered my first complete dissertation chapter to Dr. Block.
In 63 pages I explore the entire history of interpretation of Exod 20:7 and Deut 5:11, categorizing, listening, and finally critiquing each view. It's been a fun chapter to research and write, but I'm glad it's over (for now).

[Big Satisfied Sigh]

Dr. Block returned the favor by handing me my very own copy of Jacob Milgrom's commentary on the final chapters of Ezekiel. It's so hot-off-the-press that even Amazon doesn't have it yet!

It was a tremendous privilege to be part of bringing this book to press. This volume represents the last 5 years of Milgrom's scholarly work before his untimely death in 2010.

Dr. Milgrom, eminent Jewish scholar known for his work on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series, was asked to write the final volume on Ezekiel for the same series, completing the work begun by Moshe Greenberg. Of all the commentaries available to him, Professor Milgrom found Daniel Block's Ezekiel commentary in the NICOT series to be most helpful. Block became his prime conversation partner. Since the evolving "conversation" no longer fit the parameters for the Anchor Bible series, Milgrom asked Block if they could pursue co-publication of the volume. Shortly thereafter Milgrom died, leaving the work to Dr. Block to finish. After a year of wrestling with fonts and footnotes, indices and italics, transliteration and bibliography, the book is finished. And isn't it beautiful! Wipf & Stock did a tremendous job with the cover and proved themselves once again to be the fastest and friendliest publisher on the planet.

To Dr. Block, and to the Milgrom family, with whom I've had an indirect connection all these months, Congratulations! Thanks to all of you for your persistence in publishing Dr. Milgrom's work. Students of Scripture will reap the benefits for many years to come.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

a woman called "blessed"

Somewhere in Colorado a very dear woman is watching the sun set on her special day.

To the one who began as my mother and became my friend . . .

Happy Birthday! 

On this your 60th birthday, I am thankful 60 times over for you.

60. THANKS for a happy childhood
59. filled with books
58. and games
57. and camping trips
56. and family work days
55. snow ice cream and green pizza
54. and long hours to play outside.
53. THANKS for sewing me dresses
52. and teaching me to sew.
51. Thanks for doing my hair hundreds of times
50. for cutting it
49. for teaching me how
48. and for lending your talents for special hair-dos ... like for my wedding and high school plays.
47. Thanks for cleaning the house
46. and not just physically,
45. for feeding my body
44. and also my soul,
43. for teaching me how to cook
42. and teaching me to pray
41. and for praying. A lot.
40. Thanks for cheering me on
39. and for telling me I was wrong
38. for letting me go (overseas at 14 years old!)
37. and for coming to see me (overseas some 14 years later!).
36. Thanks for your financial support
35. and for hosting open houses.
34. Thanks for modeling frugality
33. and resourcefulness
32. for being content and making do.
31. Thanks for making sure I had piano lessons
30. and a Christian education.
29. And thanks for being there when I got home.
28. Thanks for making birthdays special,
27. for being a friend to my friends,
26. for back rubs
25. and phone calls
24. for memories saved from childhood.
23. Thanks for your creativity,
22. for crafts with me
21. and teaching me art
20. and scrapbooking.
19. Thanks for eating healthy
18. for giving cheerfully
17. and selflessly
16. for working hard and giving me chores.
15. Thanks for the example of your faith in God
14. and faithfulness to Dad.
13. Thanks for bearing me for 9 months
12. bringing me into the world
11. for knowing me
10. and loving me warts and all.
  9. Thanks for loving my husband
  8. and making our wedding such a special day.
  7. Thanks for loving our kids
  6. and for supporting us as parents.
  5. Thanks for your encouragement in hard times
  4. and your example in suffering.
  3. Thanks for being available
  2. and for listening.
  1. Thanks for being my friend.

Thanks for being the kind of Mom who makes it easy to make a list this long.
What a gift you are to me!
I love you, Mom!

Monday, September 17, 2012

who IS here?

Some time ago I asked the question Who's Not Here? It's time to rephrase the question.

SIM, the mission agency we joined 10 years ago now, has been working in Africa for more than a century, and has since expanded into South America and Asia through mergers with other mission agencies. The original founders of SIM wanted to break ground in new territory, so they headed to the interior of Africa, then know as "the Soudan," to reach the unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since no agency was willing to send them to such a remote location, they started their own and called it "Soudan Interior Mission." Beginning in what is now known as Nigeria, these three brave men attempted to go where no (white) man had gone before. Only one of them survived the first expedition, but dozens and then hundreds of missionaries answered the call and have been following in their footsteps ever since. Today nearly 2000 SIM missionaries are serving around the world.

SIM has accomplished amazing things in its history, but nothing is more exciting (to me!) than what is happening right now. For the first time in SIM's history, we will be led by an African. Who better to help us think strategically about reaching non-Westerners than a non-Westerner? Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko has been unanimously nominated to take over as International Director of SIM next summer. He is well-educated, with years of experience in mission work and mission leadership, and he is Nigerian. But most importantly, he is a humble man of God.

We had the blessing of an hour of fellowship with Joshua last week in our home. When we asked him his "agenda" or "goal" for SIM, we were struck by his desire to listen. His wisdom and experience will serve our mission well, but he is no bulldozer. Joshua exudes humility and gratitude.

His appointment to this role is evidence of a deep transformation in the way SIM missionaries think about missions. It's not US and THEM, but WE. We're moving from PATRON to PARTNER, and from SUPERIOR to SERVANT. No doubt parochial attitudes persist in all of us, but we're watching with joy as Howie Brant's vision for SIM to send missionaries "from anywhere to anywhere" is becoming a reality. We now have Latinos serving in India, Ethiopians in Sudan, Filipinos in Mongolia . . . and Nigerians in the USA. Glory!

While we're counting noses, I have to say I was delighted this week with the first meeting of the Global Theological Education Discussion Group at Wheaton. I'm part of the leadership team for this informal group this year, where we invite knowledgeable speakers to help us think more deeply about the task of theological education around the world. In the past most of the attendees have been (white!) PhD students, but yesterday we had 6 new (non-PhD) faces around the table, and only one of them was white. Students from Indonesia, India, Korea, and Brazil enriched our conversation as we considered the place of spiritual warfare in a theological curriculum. Wheaton is making a concerted effort towards greater diversity, and it shows.

Globalization is something of a fad right now, but I must say it's one of the best fads I have ever seen. Long may it live, and transform the way we think, talk, and live.

After all, this is a small world, and we're in this together.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

friendships—ancient and modern

After a very intense first year of doctoral study, it feels like we're coming out of a tunnel and into the sunlight. We're ready for friendships, ready to invest in conversations, ready to show hospitality, and so glad to be out of "survival" mode. It's good timing. Eliana is in middle school, now. With Emma in 2nd grade, Easton in preschool, and me at Wheaton, we have 4 different school schedules to keep track of and lots of potential connections with other families.

In the week preceding the start of school, I was asked to read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The title is more intimidating than the book itself. It was surprisingly easy to read. He has two whole chapters on the nature of true friendship and the factors that must be in place in order for friendships to thrive. I found his words strikingly relevant to our context. Most of what he says about friendship is still true today.

For example, he says,
  • "Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue" (page 196 in the edition pictured)
  • "those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends" (196)
  • "a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not" (197)

Meanwhile, Eliana and I were working through another book together: The Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle Schoola practical and helpful publication by American Girl. When we came to the chapter on friendship, I almost laughed. Their advice sounded exactly like Aristotle. Who would have thought?

Check this out:
"Another question that arises is whether friendships should or should not be broken off when the other party does not remain the same" (Aristotle, 225)

"It's pretty clear by now that you'll be be going through a lot of changes in middle school—both physical and emotional. And the same will go for your friends, too. Since friendships are often based on having the same likes and activities, you may find your relationships strengthening or souring ..." (Smart Girl's Guide, 66)

So take your pick on what to read—Aristotle or American Girl. But do yourself a favor and find a friend.

Friendships are such an important part of life. It can feel like life is too busy for friends, but a friendless life is not sustainable. And that's why I'm delighted that Eliana has had such a great time getting to know a new friend. She and her best friend Gwyn have connected with another new student. Caasi is from the Philippines, and her dad is a new PhD student at Wheaton. Since we lived in the Philippines for 2 1/2 years when Eliana was little, it's been really fun for all of us to have a new connection with a Filipino family.

"In the end, your middle school friends will likely be a blend of old and new friends" (Smart Girl's Guide, 63). So, go out and make a new friend today!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

deep in conversation

I've had very little time to blog for the past month, because I've been busy listening in on ancient conversations. What a joy it's been to dig around in the library and unearth treasures old and new! After two months of a rather intense schedule of research and writing, I've produced a draft of my first full-length dissertation chapter. Though I'm still waiting to fill a few holes (once books arrive from other libraries) and edit the final project, it feels so good to have the bulk of the work done.

Here's a glimpse of what it takes to write a dissertation chapter (now that I know!):

Step One: Listen to Lots of Voices (and take good notes)

Step Two: Get Organized

Step Three: Choose Conversation Partners

Step Four: Write and Write until the Conversation is Finished

Step Five: Revise and Submit

Ironically, when I attended Curriculum Night at Eliana's Middle School this past week, her Music teacher was describing the five steps of the Creative Process. I frantically wrote them down, delighted to find that I had intuitively been following these steps in order to write this chapter: Input, Finding Potential, Reorganization, Production, and Evaluation. First, I had input from hundreds of sources. In my case I switched steps two and three because I had to organize my sources into categories before I could choose conversation partners (i.e. 'find potential') to represent each point of view. I'm happy to report that I found LOTS of potential this summer, tucked away in obscure places like the Shepherd of Hermas, the writings of St. Bonaventure, and the Pesikta Rabbati. It was fun to discover friends all across history! The writing process sent me back to the stacks many times in search of clarification of various points of view. But I'm now nearing the end of the process, and I have 60 pages written, and lots of new friends. What a privilege to join the conversation!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's a . . . book!

Name: NIVAC Deuteronomy
Delivered: August 21, 2012
Height: 9.1 inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Length: 880 pages
Proud Parent: Daniel Block

It's true, Daniel Block's NIV Application Commentary on Deuteronomy has hit the shelves. Remember the sneak preview I gave you back in February?

The gestation period for this one was more than 10 years.  All of us who have had the privilege of studying Deuteronomy with Dr. Block are delighted to see a safe delivery. Now all of you can share our joy. Congratulations, Dr. Block!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

table talk: listening in on ancient conversations

Clement of Alexandria
I've spent most of today with Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, though I did run into Tertullian unexpectedly in the library stacks. Yesterday it was Augustine, Origen, Ambrose, Gregory of Nazianzus, Hilary of Poitiers, and — my new buddy — Clement of Alexandria. I got lost in the stacks more than once trying to find all of them, and some are still hiding even today. Monday I listened in on medieval Jewish rabbis as they argued about the proper interpretation of what I'm calling the "name command" (Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11). I feel like an aural archaeologist, listening in on ancient sermons, reading ancient correspondence, digging through pages of books long-forgotten to find treasure.

Part of writing a dissertation is learning to listen. Before I start speaking I need to hear what others have to say. And they've been saying things for a long time. Things I, and all of us, need to hear. None of them wrote in English, so I'm navigating other languages (Greek, Latin, French, German) and a variety of translations, thankful for those who have labored before me. None of them shared my cultural context, so I'm also trying to understand what was important to each of them—what made them say it that way, thankful for friends who have more experience than I do in this strange, old world. By listening I've learned new words like apophaticism (don't ask me to explain that one), found new places in the library (the 270s) and online (, and discovered that I could spend the rest of my life listening and never get anything written.

After another day of digging it will be time to take stock of what I've learned and make a big decision: who will I invite to be part of my first chapter? Who best articulates the various ways God's people (Jewish and Christian) have understood the name command across the ages? There won't be room at the table for everyone, so I'll need to draw up an elite guest list and decide how to moderate this discussion. I'm sure all the church fathers are on pins and needles waiting to find out if they made the cut. Meanwhile, the library workers will all give a deep sigh of relief that Carmen is done digging, for now.