Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Skin Map

I recently finished reading "The Skin Map" by Stephen R. Lawhead. I have been reading his material for a few years. I began with "The Song of Albion" series. I found that refreshing. I have long considered anything Celtic worth my time. I followed that with "The Pendragon Cycle." This was an excellent take on the Arthurian theme. It gave grounding to an otherwise overdone tale. Of course, that made it necessary to read "Avalon: The Return of King Arthur." (Just to finish the story). "Patrick" and "Byzantium" followed. Both were worth reading. I especially found "Patrick" stimulating. (Remember the Celtic thing?) His "King Raven Trilogy" was also a fresh look at the Robin Hood legend. I especially enjoyed "Tuck." So, when my daughter lent me "The Skin Map" I was excited to see where Lawhead would take me this time.
The idea was quite intriguing. People who could travel between parallel worlds by interacting with "Ley" lines. These are apparently associated with what is called "telluric energy" that are lines of electric current that travel through the Earth's crust. Some have speculated in fiction that these currents can allow one to travel to other dimensions, worlds, etc. It makes for a great story. I was also interested in the way that the so-called "skin map" came to be. One of the characters, Arthur Flinders-Petrie, a seasoned ley traveler, learned how to map the various parallel worlds using the leylines. In order to keep his discoveries from falling into the hands of evil people, he had it tatooed on his body. Apparently, after his death the skin was removed and preserved. Voila, the Skin Map. The story followed the travels of others who were searching for the map, or for missing persons, or for true love. All the while trying to stay one step ahead of the master villain, Lord Archelaeus Burleigh, Earl of Sutherland. Even the name sounds nasty. All in all, a good basis for a fantasy novel.
However, this book missed the mark by a fair amount. While the idea of travel throughout the time-space continuum has received a fair amount of attention, this book promised something new. It was not. Many of the possible story lines were not resolved with satisfaction. Flinders-Petrie, in an attempt to save his young wife's life vowed to take her to "the Well of Souls." The what? This was not developed at all. The reader was simply left hanging. OK, I understand the concept of building tension, but there needs to be some resolution.
Perhaps the author was trying to keep to many storylines in play. However, what interaction there was seemed to be contrived and unnatural. The ending, rather than giving the reader either satisfaction at the resolution of these storylines, or at least providing a good cliff-hanger that would make one want to read the next installment, simply fizzled out like a firecracker dud.
I expected more from an author of Lawhead's ability. Maybe he needed to meet a deadline. I don't know. What I do know, however, I cannot recommend this book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 1976...a very good year

On that day I had the good fortune to wed my wife. The journey has not been easy. However, with perseverance and God's grace we have survived. We have added two more to the human family directly and one indirectly, (that would be our grandson!).
Anyway...Happy Anniversary to my wife!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Giving thanx for a Friend

During my first year at seminary I found that I had a nagging need for someone to talk to. You see, up until then I got along with no one. No one to share my thoughts with. No one to share the feelings that had developed into a maelstrom of emotions that nearly destroyed me. Yes, I was, and am, married. But, there are only so many things that one can discuss with a mate. My prayer became, "God, show me someone I can talk to." Well, the first year of seminary came and went with no result. The second, my year of languages, also rushed by with solitude. However, in the third year I found that the need for a peer to speak with became a priority. I was in a class on spiritual disciplines, (thank you ATS and Jodi!), when the Holy Spirit began to insist that I find a brother with whom I could share. Again, I prayed. This time a name came up. It was a person I had known for over thirty years. I asked God to find someone else. But, God usually gets God's way. I phoned this person. He was not really keen on the idea, but agreed to meet for coffee. We talked and decided that maybe we could continue getting together for 6 months or so...just to see how things developed. Now, 2 and a half years later, we still get together for coffee. The time spent with him has been a blessing, indeed. I am able to share my life; and he can share his. Ours is not necessarily a pastoral relationship, although, some of that takes place. Ours is not a relationship with like partners. He is 14 years my senior and an engineer. I am a "sensitive musician." But, we do have a good relationship. I guess the reason I'm writing this is to extol the virtue of having a friend. For those of us who find that difficult, I encourage us all to go on a "friend-quest." Dig, scratch, grab a magnifying glass, whatever is necessary to find someone to be a friend to. God has fashioned humans in such a way that comradeship is a necessity. Like breathing and eating, we cannot flourish without it. Yeah, we can survive. But, there is so much more than simply surviving for us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

One more thing with N. T. Wright

Wright stated throughout this book that the resurrection of Jesus was not merely an event that opened the way for people to go to heaven. In fact, he was adamant that heaven is not the final destination for any humans; the final resurrection is. His take on the resurrection of Jesus is that it inaugurated the kingdom of God in this present age. Not that it is complete, but that it has started. Part of our responsibility, then, is to work toward advancing the reign of God. This leads him to the conclusion that "we must envisage a world in which the present enhanced, taken up into God's larger purposes...but certainly not abandoned." God said that the creation is very good. Corrupted; yes. But, still very good. If this is true then our spirituality works out in the every day lives of those who follow Christ. It's not just to get people saved, whatever that actually means. According to Wright, it would be a holistic approach to revealing God's redemption of, not just humankind, but the entire creation. As a worshiping people, Wright sees us as "the people who feast at Jesus' table [being] the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine;...those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them [being] the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed." These people are then in a position to speak of Jesus, to encourage others to join with them in worshiping Yahweh, and to follow Christ. Our mission is not to swell our numbers with souls waiting to abandon ship, but to make disciples to change the world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Let me tell you....

Before I launch into uncharted waters, I would like to reflect a bit on the last 5 years of my life. Some things just take longer for those of us who are a bit slow.
I felt a calling 30 some years ago to go to seminary. At 18 yrs. of age and with a job that paid real dollars, I skipped undergrad, (I had been accepted at Malone College in Canton Ohio), and went straight into the marketplace. Fast forward 30 years. I entered seminary at Ashland Theological Seminary in 2006 as a "special student." We are the ones without an undergrad degree, but have some kind of life experience that makes up for it.
Anyway, ATS was good to me. I will be forever indebted to the administration that allowed a bugger like me into a Master of Divinity program.
Beside the obvious, I need to thank several of the faculty for opening my eyes to
God in ways that I could never have experienced apart from the school.
Dr. Paul Overland, who is perhaps the most sensitive professors of Old Testament and Hebrew. Thanx also to "Eli."
Dr. Wyndy Corbin-Reushling who taught me that it's ok for Christians to think. I cried for hours when that hit home.
Dr. John Byron, well just cuz.
Dr. L. Daniel Hawk who taught me that the party line is not necessarily correct.
Dr. William Myer...If Dr. Corbin-Reushling taught me it was ok to think, Dr. Myer taught me to think outside of my white, middle-class comfort zone. I am forever indebted to him for this.
Dr. David DeSilva who taught me how to love the dark underside of socio-rhetorical criticism.
Dr. Dawn Morton who had faith in me as a budding Christian educator.
Dr. JoAnn Ford Watson...what can I say're the best!
Dr. Walter Kime who had faith in me.
Dr. J. Robert Douglass who I had before he was Dr. You inspired me to consider my gifting as a musician and leader of worship. (If you need a guitarist, let me know.)
Dr. Marvin a fellow Clevelander, (or close enough, I'm from Avon Lake), God's blessings on you in your future. And, thank you for showing me how to preach God's word to God's people.
Dr. William Payne, what can I say but thank you for rekindling the fire of missions and evangelism. You're a good man, sir.
Rev. Ramone Billingsley for your encouragement and support.
Lori Lower, without whom I don't think I could have gotten through any of this.
Dr. Ken Walther whose common sense approach and passion for teaching was refreshing.
All the other staff and faculty whose love of God and passion for preparing God's people made this journey transformational for me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

the gospel?

I came to follow Jesus as a teenager in the early 1970s. We were all evangelicals then. Some of us actually became "charismaniacs." Anyway, we defined the gospel that needed to be preached to all nation pretty much in line with Billy Graham and others like him. We used the 4 Spiritual Flaws as a guide to help people realize their abject sinfulness before a righteous and indignant God. This was, I suppose, to help them realize their guilt and fall on the mercy of the Court for justification and release.
What if our message was not exactly correct? I want to quote a fairly lengthy portion of Wright's book:
"The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind'), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God id God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else."
The gospel is God wins! Revelation is all about God wins! And, we are participants in God's victory. The Kingdom, or reign, of God is all about...yeah, you guessed it...God wins!
We don't need to pull on people's heart-strings to manipulate some emotional reaction. God wins!
And, I think this is the important part, God is glad. God is not some wrathful curmudgeon just looking for the opportunity to squash humanity. He is a loving, benevolent Person, (but not human), that loves that which has been created through and because of God's great love. Sound redundant? It is! God loved the cosmos, (re. all of creation), and as a result of God's love, Jesus came and lived, died, and was raised from death so that God's love could be realized by all of us. Pretty heady stuff!
Anyway, this is going to lead me to discuss some things I have heard recently from the pulpit of the church that I have been attending.
One question to ponder until then:
Does Jesus stand between humanity and wrath of God?

Saturday, June 11, 2011 save or to save

There has been a great deal published about what salvation means to evangelical Christians. Does it mean eternal life after death? What part of a person is thus "saved"? Does it mean "rescue" and can therefore apply to the present life?
As I wrote earlier, I want to spend some time with N. T. Wright's book, "Surprised by Hope." In it he stated that Jesus' resurrection was not simply evidence of a posthumous life in heaven, nor just the hope of being resurrected like Jesus in a new earth yet to be revealed. There is another hope, and "intermediate hope...that comes forward from God's ultimate future into God's urgent present." This ministry of the present toward those who are hurting and crushed by the cares and traumas of the present is not something that one must "tack on to the gospel as an afterthought." It is what Jesus was doing. Luke 4:18-19 has become one of my favorite scriptures. It reveals the heart of God as it relates to people's lives...right here; right now. It's no "pie in the sky" look at life. It is the reality of bring the reign of God to bear in God's good creation. As Wright put it, the people "saw him, (Jesus), saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation...that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future." For Jesus, salvation involved rescue from death into resurrected life, to be sure. But, it also involved rescuing those who were perishing in this present world, also.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's been a long road

I have finally finished seminary. The seminary president said so at commencement. I'm pretty sure he would not be telling fairy tales about such things. Do I fell prepared? Perhaps more than I did 5 years ago, but not entirely. The more I learned, the more I realized I do not know. I guess that's what scholarship is all about. There is always something more to learn, to know, to embody. I hope to be able to spend time with this blog now that my official studies are complete. I do intend to continue my education through audited classes, personal study, seminars, etc. But, I am now a Master of Divinity, whatever that is. I don't feel like a master of anything at the moment. However, God has proven faithful and I'm sure that God's will shall prevail.
I am currently reading, (again), N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope." If you haven't read it, please consider it for your summer reading list. I will touch on parts of it here over the next week or so.
Until next time, Shalom.