Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Commandments and Presidential Speeches

I'll interupt my hermeneutics sequence with some thoughts on current events.

First, I suspect that the Supreme Court ruling on the Ten Commandments was correct in terms of the Constitution. I was quite happy that they did not prohibit the Ten Commandments per se, only the 10 commandments when they further a specifically Christian agenda. They thus did not take a "separation of church and state" position of the sort the ACLU advocates, but a "Congress shall not establish a religion..." position that I believe is the application of the spirit of the Constitution to today.

Now did they make the right decision in terms of truth? That's a different question I think. Is it the Christian's duty to go beyond the Constitution and further a specifically Christian agenda in America? I'm not sure. God allows the world to disobey Him. He currently only insists on obedience from the church. We might debate this question, but in terms of the current Constitution, I think the SC made an appropriate decision.

As far as the President's speech tonight, I believe he is correct that it is our duty at this point to stick with Iraq until the government is able to take over in a stable way or until things are so bad that we may as well leave. I agree with him that bringing them to that point may still be a long way off, contrary to Cheney the snake. By the way, Rumsfeld is hilarious. What a stupid thing to say politically--12 years! Even if it's true, how stupid can you be! By the way, that's why my wife loves Rumsfeld: he just can't help but say what he's thinking.

I would also agree that we are currently fighting terrorism in Iraq, that it is the focal point of terrorists in the world at the moment. I would continue to disagree vehemently, however, as you know, that it was that way when we went in. While I continue to agree that the overthrow of Hussein was a good goal, I am not at all sure that the semi-theocratic leaning government is ultimately better for the world than Hussein's secular one. I also question whether many of the current "terrorists" in Iraq would even be into terrorism if we had not invaded.

Was it worth invading? Not yet. Maybe it will be one day. But as I look at a middle east more polarized and more fundamentalized than before, as I look at 2000 troops dead, as I look at the billions we are and will spend on it while secretaries and teachers are fired here in Marion because of lack of money for education, as I look at the families of countless National Gaurd troops who haven't seen them for months... No, it's not worth it yet. Maybe it will be one day.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Some New Webpage Items

I've put a few new features on the main website www.kenschenck.com.

I've put the blogs from Israel on it. They're unedited, and I'm only gradually putting picture links on them. The links are only done from the first day and it will be a lot of work before it's finished. I'll probably edit the comments a bit over time, since I tend to be more unguarded on my blog than I want to be on the website (e.g., with politics and stuff).

I've added a book review section and my walk through passion week. I hope to gradually add photos to the passion week item.

Blessings...
Ken

Friday, June 24, 2005

Clint Ussher

I had assumed that by today Clint Ussher would be on a plane home from Italy, but as of last night it wasn't at all certain that he would. I heard he might even fly back to Australia until things got sorted out.

By far the worst moment on the entire trip to Israel was in Milan when suddenly they wouldn't let Clint on the flight to Chicago because his green card was expired. Who'd have thought the Italians would be attentive enough to notice (after all, the Israelis never noticed)? Clint has been through any number of international airports since it expired without a problem. The worst we thought would happen would be that he would have to pay a fine in Chicago. In hindsight, he could have taken care of it even while we were in Israel and been ready to return.

For those of you who don't know Clint, he's Australian, a graduate of IWU, and married to Jamie formerly Jackson. He's a pastor in Indianapolis.

Charlie Alcock argued with the lady at the counter in Milan but by the time we all found out he wasn't boarding, she had already called the American consulate. From that point on his return was dead.

I hope Clint's on his way home as we speak. But I hope you'll mention him and Jamie in prayer when God brings it to your mind.

Are you out there, Clint?

Book Review: The Barbarian Way (McManus)

I've been working on several books this last month. Charlie Alcock lent me his copy of Erwin McManus' The Barbarian Way on the plane on the way back from Israel, so it will be the first of several book reviews I hope to put on my web page this summer.

The Barbarian Way is McManus' call to Christians away from the "domestication" of so much Christianity and to a life in which we act in total commitment to God's will and command, resisting the urge to be settled and respectable. He calls us to be "mushroom eaters" who are willing to risk being poisoned rather than people who watch the innovative so we can follow when we know it's safe.

As I tried to capture McManus' point, I decided that he was Tozer with a Romantic twist. Let me explain.

First of all, there's nothing new about calling Christians to a life of complete submission to God. Indeed, that's the very heart of my own Wesleyan tradition. "Would you be willing to go as a missionary to Africa if God called you?" Tozer used the example of Abraham to push the fact that we must be willing to sacrifice any and everything for God. If God asks you to sacrifice Isaac, you must be willing.

Again, this is hardly a new or provocative idea. I found myself wondering what Christians McManus is around, when this is such a basic principle of Christianity. He must be around a lot of rich and nominal Christians, I thought to myself. Is it because he ministers in urban California?

The most distinctive aspect of McManus' version of this message, however, is the "Romantic" twist. By Romantic I don't mean "lovey-dovey" as in modern parlance but I refer to the Zeitgeist of the late 1700's and early 1800's. The ideal Romantic artist was edgy and a loner. This person stayed to themselves and lived on the fine line between genius and insanity.

God's will in McManus' book is this irrational and whimsical thing that is highly individualistic and spontaneous. He treats God's will as most typically bizarre and absurd. It is mysterious and Kierkegaardian, something we cannot hope to understand.

Is this true? Sometimes. This brings me to my evaluation of the book. Christian leaders have a tendency to picture "genuine" spirituality in their own image. I know a pastor who is a contemplative thinker who spends countless hours in prayer and study in preparation for his sermons. This is truly his strength. But he has a tendency to think all pastors should be just like him.

McManus is the same. There are of course times when God seems to behave irrationally and require strange things of us. But God is not like this all the time. God can think too. I dare say we're on very dangerous ground if we dismiss countless Christians out there who see God as a God of truth and not just a God of roller coasters.

Similarly, McManus has a predictable edge of hostility to about 1500 years of church history when creed and liturgy reigned supreme. While I don't think he is all wrong to see the dangers of empty ritualism, I have a picture in my mind of a Roman Catholic woman who lingered in the burial chamber of Jesus weeping profusely and repeatedly kissing the burial spot. Such incredible passion she showed for what Jesus did for her! Yet I guarantee you that McManus would consider her way of worshipping on a Sunday morning "domesticated."

In short, McManus creates a false alternative in his contrast between the "barbarian way" and the "domesticated way." The same God that called John the Baptist to eat locusts and wild honey also inspired 1 Timothy with its structured roles of "elder" and "deacon" and its "deposit of sound teaching." We need both. We would be incredibly deprived without some Erwin McManuses out there. But the church would burn out if we didn't have some "oldies, but goodies" too.

It is no surprise that McManus finds it hard to arrive at any real understanding of the church using this model. He feebly tries to speak of "clans" of barbarians, but admits that the image doesn't work very well. His picture of the barbarian is the picture of a loner. His biblical interpretations are, as usual, mirror readings of his own cultural and personality "dictionary." For example, while the New Testament sees individuals as members of groups, he sees groups as collections of individuals.

And I have to wonder if McManus' book doesn't reflect to some extent how distant God's will has seemed to become to some in our generation. The distance is reflected in the mysteriousness of God's will. But McManus clearly does believe that God speaks.

From what I understand, this book is appealing to those who are just now emerging in the church. If it inspires you to innovate for God, go for it. It probably is exactly the kind of motivational message that inspires youth.

My appeal is to remember that this is only one side to the coin. You as an individual may do great things for God the barbarian way. But passion is like a flash that burns bright and then burns out. You need some of the rest of us too to help you recoup until the next flash.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Israel Trip Conclusion: Sermon Starter

I now sit at home. Here's a final entry relating to the spiritual significance of the trip to me.

When Jesus Walked the Earth: The Model Practicum

I often tell my New Testament Survey classes that John gives us Jesus as he relates to us, while the first three gospels give us as much of Jesus as he related to them, the lost sheep of Israel. John tells us what we need to know about Jesus, but Matthew tells us that Jesus ministry while he was on earth was not focused on everyone.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on non-Jews while he was on earth, that he did not primarily minister to Gentiles while he was on earth. Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on all Israel while he was on earth, that he ministered primarily to the lost sheep of Israel. But Matthew reveals that Jesus' earthly minstry focused on the peasant population of Galilee while he was on earth.

Jesus did not primarily minister to the wealthy, although there were a few. Jesus did not primarily minister to Samaritans or the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jesus did not primarily even minister to those in Nazareth. Jesus ministry focused mostly on a few villages on the north side of the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin.

I can see the Headline now: the day God came to Chorazin. Where? I bet a lot of people even in Jerusalem had never even heard of the place. These were villages of 300-1000 in backwater Galilee--nowhere, in other words. The idea that God focused His ministry here is almost unfathomable, from a strategic planning perspective. What was He thinking?

As I have reflected on these things, I have become attracted to the idea that in his three years of ministry, Jesus was showing us one way that we are to do ministry. College and seminary minstry students often have to do something called a "practicum." They take what they've learned in the classroom and they go do it. The places they do them are more varied than they are. I did some in local churches; I did one in a nursing home. Some do them in conjunction with hospitals or prisons.

After my trip to Israel, I have increasingly come to think of Jesus' earthly ministry as a brief example of how ministry is done, a model practicum that we can follow.

What did Jesus do for his practicum?

1. He started with where he was. And where he was wasn't anywhere special.
2. But every individual is special to God. And Jesus' ministered to the "nobodys" of Galilee as if they were the most important people in the history of the world.
3. Jesus ministered to their needs on every level.

He dealt with their physical needs by healing them.

He dealt with their spiritual needs by freeing them from demonic oppression and giving them an eternal hope.

He dealt with their economic needs when they were oppressed by the taxation of Herod Antipas, the one who beheaded John the Baptist. In the time of Jesus, this Herod only had control of Galilee and Perea--not prosperous places to raise money for his massive building projects in Sepphoris and Tiberias.

These were farming villages who usually just produced enough for them to survive--they didn't usually even produce enough extra to trade for other things. They mostly did it all themselves for themselves. Times must have been tough when this ruler not only notices them, but tries to squeeze everything he can get from them.

Jesus' earthly ministry in Galilee shows us what ministry should look like. The place and the people change: Marion, Lapel, Plevna, New York City. But the ministry is always to real people and real situations, and everyone counts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Final Day

And now today to end things. I may reflect on a deeper level after I get back, but here's today.

We started at St. Stephen's gate also called the Lion's Gate on the East side not far from the Eastern Gate. We entered to visit the Pool of Bethesda and the Fortress Antonio where Pilate would have sentenced Jesus.

This is all in the Muslim Quarter. The ordinary person here is eager to sell to you, but it also seems to be parking for the Temple Mount and one person in a car with a smile on his face made his finger like a gun while they drove by. I felt a little tense today since Sharon and Abbas are meeting today.

The Pool of Bethesda was a real serendipity as I had no expectations of it at all. Yet you could clearly see a first century cistern and several grottos where people could have bathed. Also there was a Crusader church to the parents of Mary (Anna in particular). Wilbur said it was the only Crusader church in the city Saladin did not destroy when he came in the 1500's I think.

Then down to the church where traditionally Jesus was sentenced and Barabas freed. This is the first station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Then down to the church where traditionally Jesus was given his cross. This is the second station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Then Wilbur took us to the church of Notre Dame which has archaeological remains underneath it, including a large cistern from the time of Hadrian. Now we were talking, as far as I'm concerned. Here was Roman pavement from the time of Hadrian and thus likely from the time of Pilate. Here was a Roman road with striations from carts. I am quite comfortable with saying that this was the true beginning of the Via Dolorosa, thankfully off the beaten path of the throngs carrying crosses from station to station.

At this point our group retraced our steps back out St. Stephen's gate. But I went back later to finish the Via Dolorosa and this seems the appropriate place to continue that part of my day.

When I went later I went by myself so I didn't have a really good sense of where I was going and I did not find the Israeli soldiers, who were stationed at strategic points, particularly helpful.

First I passed the Ecce Homo arch, which is now universally agreed to come from Hadrian's time. It was not there in Jesus' day. A man claiming to be Armenian tried to become my tour guide at station 3, the first time Jesus stumbled. I somehow missed station 4, as the shops began and I became a little concerned about where I was and where I was going.

Basically, from the Damascus Gate into the Muslim quarter is one long continuous corridor with continuous booth-like shops all along it. But there are crossroads and sidepaths in the part I was in that make it a little labyrinthine. I found station 5, where Simon takes the cross, and someone helpfully told me to take a right.

I found 6, where Veronica wipes sweat from Jesus' face, so I knew I was on the right path. This path then dead ended at station 7. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the path that comes from the Damascus Gate. If I had turned right, I would have come out in the direction of my hotel. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, however, was to the left and with the barest nod from an Israeli solidier, I was on my way again.

I missed stations 8-10, but I was soon back in the Holy Sepulchre, which I have already described. I revisited Golgotha, the Armenian part of the church on the lower level, and the tomb. There weren't as many groups around so it was quite nice. With a little assistance I traced my way back and I was out.

Back to earlier in the morning.

We went from St. Stephen's Gate down to the old city of David on the south side of the now walled city from Saladin's time. We saw a wall from the pre-Davidic time of Jebusite occupation as well as ruins of houses from David's time.

We went through the Warren Shaft, which is where the Jebusites got their water. It is a shaft that ends with a cistern that goes down to the Gihon Spring. Joab climbed up this shaft when David was taking the city.

Then we went through Hezekiah's tunnel, knee deep in water. We had only one flashlight between about twenty of us, so it could have been real dark if my camera didn't have a pre-flash light I could use. It was a lot of fun, although shock therapy for the clostraphobic. This ended at the pool of Siloam.

Then the trip was over.

Some of us then went to lunch with Wilbur. Our normal fare has been shawarimas and falafels. Then six of us walked around the top of Saladin's wall from the Jaffa gate on the west to the Dung Gate on the South. We had to walk around to start as the other parts aren't open as starting places. After we found out we couldn't start at the Damascus Gate on the north side, we walked west to the New Gate, also on the north side of the old city. We went in there. I was a little nervous, not having a map. But it turned out to be the Christian quarter and there was basically only one way to go.

We finally started the Wall at the Jaffa Gate on the West and walked south till the corner, where we turned east. We passed first the area of the upper room, then the area of Peter's denial at Anna's house as we passed Zion's Gate. These sites are outside the current wall that dates from the 1500's and the time of Saladin, but the wall we were on was not there at that point in Jesus' day.

The city started with the Jebusite city south of the current Temple Mount. The city of David was in the same place. David then purchased the land of the current Temple Mount from Amunah the Hittite after the plague punishment for numbering the children of Israel. Solomon built the first temple there. Hezekiah then expanded the city to the west of David's city and Herod the Great expanded it even further to the north and built a palace where the current Jaffa Gate is. In other words, Saladin's western, eastern, and perhaps northern walls are where the walls were at the time of Jesus, but the southern wall wasn't there at all. It extended down into the Kidron valley to the Valley of Hinnom, I think (Gehenna).

Anyway, we finally we arrived along the wall at the Dung Gate within sight of the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Axsa Mosque, etc..

At this point Charlie and son Nathaniel, Greg Mervine and son Trent, and Clint took a taxi back. I continued walking east passed the steps by which Jesus would have entered the temple mount. I turned to the north and saw Absalom's grave until I reached St. Stephen's gate and the Via Dolorosa as I've mentioned.

That's it. Whew. The trip is over.

Maybe I'll reflect a little on the more important significance of the trip for me later. But from a shallow perspective, here are the top three non-significant things from the trip:

1. Climbing up Masada
2. Swimming in the Dead Sea
3. Walking through Hezekiah's tunnel

Thank you Wilbur Williams! And thank God for all the great opportunities He has given to me!

Filling in the Blanks

Before I recap today, Tuesday, our final day here, I thought I would fill in the gaps.

I left off I think in terms of continuity with Qumran on Friday. It was truly great for me to be there since I have delivered a paper on the Dead Sea Scrolls and twice taught a course on the intertestament. Let me say how incredibly helpful it is for me to remember things when I can picture it. I now know where at least some of the caves are in relation to Qumran (and can now dismiss out of hand the fanciful theories that suggest the scrolls might have nothing to do with the site).

I've seen the graves running north and south now, to the east of the site. I've seen the miqvaoth (baptismal pools), the tower, the so called "scriptorium" (bad choice of words for extraneous meaning imported in) and the refractory. These are great things. I had a novelistic picture of it (yes, I did once start a novel with Judas starting in the Qumran community) that was quite wrong.

Then we swam in the Dead Sea, which was great. I wish we could have swam all the way across to Jordan. I already mentioned that Ian Swyers, Clint Ussher and I climbed up Masada. That was a highpoint for sure.

Then we made our way to a hotel in Arad.

The Sabbath was soon approaching at the hotel there, and Jewish women could be seen scurrying to the elevator. The elevators here on the Sabbath run on their own so that no one has to push a button and thus "light a fire." They won't turn on coffee pots on Saturday or do any of these mundane things. Wilbur told a story of how he actually had to turn on the oven for a hotel back in 58 I think it was, with a rabbi standing guard over the kitchen to make sure no Jew did.

I'm too tired to pontificate, but I think some of the legalistic practices of my own Wesleyan background approach such silliness.

I'll just mention the problem Jews have with having meat and dairy products together. It goes back to a verse that appears in three different places in the Pentateuch about boiling the kid in its mother's milk. So they won't serve meat (the kid, I presume) with any milk. Of course discoveries at Ugarit show, as usual, that this is in part a reaction to Canaanite practice and thus that the Jews are making a big hullaballo about a verse that has nothing to do with them or having butter with supper.

I'm too tired to pontificate, but Wesleyan buns and not letting guys have goatees measure about the same on the "I don't have a clue what the words of the Bible were really about" scale.

On Saturday morning we went to Arad, Israel's defense from the southeast, and Beer Sheva, Israel's defense from the southwest. This was in Rehoboam's time.

Very interesting to me in Arad was the fact that Rehoboam had set up a three part temple in the fortress. I think Hezekiah may have dismantled it in his attempt to make Jerusalem the only legitimate place to worship Yahweh.

Then we stopped at Lachish for a few. Then we came up to the Valley of Elah where the Philistines and the Israelites met and traditionally David killed Goliath. Then we came to Bethlehem.

It was crowded with Palestinian police all around. We went into the church where Palestinians just a couple years ago walled themselves up and where there were bullet holes (I didn't personally see any). The church is Greek Orthodox again and the traditional site is in a cave under the church. There is as usual a place to touch or kiss, and a place to the side where the baby Jesus traditionally was laid.

You come up to a Fransiscan church right next to it. As usual it's hard for me to know what to make of it, since I have no confidence that any of these spots are the right spots.

Then we came here, I discovered wireless in the rooms, and the blanks are filled.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Balancing Things Out with Faint Praise

I will say that I think Bush has grown up a bit while he's been in office. I completely approve of what Condoleeza Rice did here over the weekend in pushing for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

But most nations in this part of the world do not view her or Bush as having moral authority. The Iraq war has castrated them. They must be received because America has power, and for this reason they must be heard as well. But the climate of a good nation with the moral high ground, the friend you want to do favors for--this is not the aura we bring to this part of the world.

We have become like any other powerful nation to the world. We are a force with which they must deal. But we come without any aura of moral integrity in their eyes. They will view any pontification on what is "moral" as hypocrisy.

I believe that the difficulty Bush is having with his appointments and things like Social Security are revealing examples that deep down on a subconscious level, even those who voted for Bush do not really trust his judgment.

He's a good guy, but a eunuch in my estimation. May the points of my ignorance not sway you and feel free to post dissenting positions.

I end with another story of the craziness here. This morning's paper tells of a college woman who tried to blow herself up at a Beersheba hospital. She came from Gaza. She wanted to blow up 40-50 people, primarily children. Remember we were just at Beersheba on Saturday.

The average Palestinian on the street doesn't agree with any of that stuff, I don't think. But those talking about Israelis loosening check points and stuff like that or taking down this offensive wall--the crazies leave them no room for argument. The Israelis are doing what they need to do to be safe and it has worked.

I'll try to steer back away from politics next entry. We're off...

Israelis and Palestinians

As I write an Islamic chant is blaring outside my window. I imagine a few years ago I might have found that pretty innocuous. But after the two intifadas of Hamas and friends and after 9-11, I find it irritating, almost offensive.

Mind you, I'm willing to give any individual of any race or religion an opportunity to prove themselves profitable members of the human race. And Christ bids me to love them, to grieve for them. But I'll admit that my trip here to Israel has generally increased my irritation with the ignorance that is so prevalent in all three of the "great" monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I'm sure this applies to non-monotheistic religions as well, but that will have to wait some future trip to India or somewhere.

I feel like I have a better sense of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis after being here. Frankly I feel sympathy to both sides. Before WW1, this territory was under Turkish control. Since they aligned with the Germans, it came under British management after WW1. I'm fuzzy on some of the details, but in 1948 the United Nations had a two state solution that Israel accepted but the Palestinians and their friends (Egypt, Jordan, Syria) rejected.

When Israel came into the land, some Arabs stayed and became incorporated into Israel, these are the Arabs of Nazareth, Cana, etc... Others fled on the advice of Egypt and Jordan.

For the next almost 30 years, the West Bank was a part of the country of Jordan (a backwards B with its center point in Jerusalem. The coast and Galilee were under Israeli control.

Then in the 6 day war of 1967, Israel took Jerusalem and a lot of other West Bank territory. Jordan abandoned any claim to the area west of the Jordan River. Since then, Israel has been expanding and expanding.

Now we have the current situation. The Israeli settlements are slowly but surely taking over the land. Palestinian territory has bascially been reduced to individual cities, with the Israelis for all intents and purposes controlling everything around them.

If I were Israel, I would stall peace negotiations as long as possible. The more time passes, the more the land becomes Israel's. Forget Gaza--it's off on its own anyway. Let it become the center for the Palestinian state. As for the West Bank, it is isolated from the other territory and has no where to go.

But I understand the Palestinian side as well. Who told this foreign group called the Israelis that they could move in and take over? Wouldn't you want to have all the space you had before? Lacking the power to fight directly, they turned to terrorism. Some don't like the analogy, but there is some similarity to the Native Americans. The Palestinians were faced with a more advanced invader of the land they used to roam. Power wins. I am not justifying terrorist actions. I just think I understand what's going on. It's the oldest story in the book, a variation on the take over of space from a less powerful group by a more powerful group.

But reality is reality. They will never have it all back, and they have rejected some very generous offers in the process. Frankly, the best thing for them would be to swallow their pride and become incorporated as citizens of Israel like the citizens of Nazareth and Cana. Then they could enjoy prosperity like the rest of Israel. But of course this is not a possible solution either.

Complicating matters is the expansion of Islam among the Arab peoples here. In earlier days, many of these Arabs were Christians. Even today, there are far more Christian Palestinians than Christian Jews. But the support of American Christians for secular Israel along with Bush's actions in Iraq have only pushed Arabs away from Christianity and toward Islam.

So here are my political indictments of American Christianity. First, as Christians we should have been supporting the Christians of the Middle East--whether Jewish or Arab--rather than political entities like the pagan Israel of today. It is not the Israel of promise for it has not accepted Christ.

The orthodox Jews here are not Christian and are not appropriate objects of our support. They are just as divisive as the fundamentalist Muslims. They do not believe the messiah has come and have views that we as Christians (and scholars) consider patently false. The ridiculousness of orthodox Jewish practices will have to wait for another entry. They'll work for pay on the Sabbath but won't flip a switch on a coffee pot. They'll serve butter for breakfast but not for supper, only margarine--all on the basis of a ridiculous interpretation of a statement in the Pentateuch.

Meanwhile, we abandon the Syrian Christians, the Iraqi Christians, the Palestinian Christians. Bethlehem used to be a heavily Christian Arab town, but Saudi Arabi is pouring money into it to make it Muslim. No one visits the tomb of Lazarus even though it is a Christian site with a Russian Orthodox church next door. But on the other side is a brand spanking mosque renovation going on. I am not anti-Israel--there's no question about where I feel safest and most at home. But it is not Christian and must behave morally like any nation.

My second indictment is one I can do nothing about, the milk is spilt. But I stand by my earlier indictments of the war in Iraq. Toppling Hussein was a good goal, as was the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East.

But the recent British documents that have surfaced are nothing more than what I said back during the election. Ho hum, who is suprised by any of these things? It's exactly what I said and I'm stupid nobody from Marion, Indiana.

Bush and his cabinet had a plan for the Middle East--not a bad plan in theory. But they took a leap into Iraq to get the plan started without sufficient cause and without real understanding or foresight. Doesn't everyone want democracy--we're Americans, everyone loves us. They jumped the gun because of a two-dimensional view of the world--one I dare say dominates dreamy eyed but oh so shallow conservative American Christianity. They closed their eyes and jumped with visions of hot dogs and apple pie in their heads. Bush had never been a trip like this one to have any real sense of how people think outside America. The whole thing was an enterprise in giving power to people who only know their own way of thinking.

Now consider that after 9-11 we had the sympathy of the whole world, even the lip service of the Arab nations. There was nothing wrong with going into Afghanistan given their direct connections to bin Laden. But with Iraq we managed to polarize the entire Arab world against us in a way it had not been before, even among our long term allies like Egypt and Turkey. Because of Bush, fundamentalist Islam has advanced in places where we could have made strides for Christ if we hadn't been sleeping.

And now, the prize for singlehandedly doing the most to promote fundamentalist Islam around the world goes to.... envelope please.... George W. Bush, yes, for advancing the idea that Islam is the religion of Arabs, while Christianity is the religion of the West.

I know most American Christians thought that all the Arabs were Muslims anyway. Guess what? We were ignorant to think that. But don't worry. They are now.

Monday in Jerusalem

Now the day is over, at least the touring day.

We first went to the church of Gallicantu, the rooster crowing church. A jail like underbelly makes us wonder if this was the house of Annas that John says Jesus went to on Thursday evening. The dungeon-like atmosphere of the one part, with a hole in the top that gives you a picture of them lowering Jesus down by rope, brought powerful emotions.

The signs around the place indicate, however, that that particular hole as well as the dungeon like aspect of the place probably date to the Byzantine era, if I understand things correctly. It seems more likely to me, therefore, that Jesus would have been chained to the walls in the adjoining rooms. Of course it is not certain that this was Annas' house, although it fits the part of what we're looking for.

Outside, however, is a walkway that Jesus probably was brought up the night of his betrayal. Wilbur suggested it was the most certain site of all the sites in Jerusalem relating to Jesus.

We then went to a museum where they had a model city of Jerusalem. That was helpful in locating everything in relation to everything else.

We went to the Qumran museum. This was particularly enjoyable to me, although I didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked.

Then we went to the Jerusalem museum. Wilbur was like a cannon, boom, boom, boom, he moved from one thing to another with lightning speed. He'd been on this dig, then that one. Particularly memorable to me was his explanation of the Assyrian relief of the seige of Lachish. He was animated, a scholar comparable to any. This is a Wilbur to see. If you want to know what a scholar looks like, watch him when he goes into this mode. He becomes like a machine gun: tat a tat tat, tat a tat tat.

Particularly memorable to me there were some things I knew about but actually had in front of me: the Gezer calendar, Caiphas' ossuary, photos of Egyptian steles that mention Israel in the 12th century, mention of David in the ninth...

We had lunch, went to Bethany (Palestinian city), crawled into Lazarus' tomb--quite a crawl at one point.

We came back and went to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. To get there we entered the Damascus Gate and walked through a narrow passage of Arab shops, like a flea market. The church itself has chapels of Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. There are probably more but those are the ones we saw (that is, those of us who ran off after we'd seen the main sites, Charlie Alcock and son, the Bignells, and Clint Ussher).

What we saw of the traditional site of Golgotha was again a rock surrounded by holy drappings. We could reach in and touch the rock. I remember the History Channel expressing some doubts about this rock I think, but it's hard to remember from a TV program. I'll want to see it again now that I've been there.

I had imagined the church to be divided into three parts, but it really is a Greek Orthodox base with several side chapels. As far as I could tell, the only Roman Catholic chapel was next to Golgotha, which was upstairs.

Then we went to the traditional site of the burial, which the surrounding rock apparently taken away. There was also a tomb attributed to Joseph of Arimathea nearby.

But I seem to remember Jerome Murphy-O'connor suggesting a site further beneath. The Armenian chapel was downstairs from the other places, and it seems to me that he suggested a place down there as the most likely. We didn't find it in our quest, but there was a barred door I wondered about down there. I'll need to see the segment again.

We ended at the Garden Tomb, where we had communion. I think everyone in the group agrees that the feel of it is closest to what the original tomb would have been like. Nevertheless, few if any scholars think it was the original site.

That concludes today. I'll have to go back and fill in Friday and Saturday later.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

To the Museum

Fifteen minutes till departure, I thought I would summarize Friday.

Friday we left Galilee for the south, travelling along the Jordan River to a large extent in West Bank territory, as I've mentioned. Our first main stop of the day was at Jericho, almost to the Dead Sea. This is a Palestinian controlled city. My initial impressions were that this was a tourism starved city, although it does have a rather large new casino.

Jericho is not a big tourist stop unless you're an Old Testament or Hebrew Bible professor, I suspect. We took a picture of an old sycamore tree (think Zacchaeus), and someone phoned ahead to warn the shops at our next stop. The beginning of approaching ware salesmen commenced, often difficult for Americans when things are being shoved in their faces by adults and children for the sympathy vote.

High on the hill is the "traditional site" of Jesus' wilderness temptation, a Greek Orthodox controlled place with cable cars to boot.

Then we arrived to camel rides and overpriced shopping, but there was also some very nice fruit.

The archaeological site of Jericho itself was irritating, almost a waste of time if it weren't for sentimental reasons. Here were some of the notorious failures of early archaeology. The science was infantile at the time, and Garstang blew through massive layers of stuff, disgarding everything as he went until he could find the Jericho of Joshua's day. When he thought he had finally found it, we now know he was at about 7000 BC. He had removed the Joshua time layer way above it in the process. So the tel as it now stands is about twenty feet lower than it was a hundred years ago.

Kathleen Kenyon continued the dig in the 50's I think and did much to improve the way archeology is done. The current majority view is that there was no city there at the time of Joshua, but you couldn't prove or disprove it because cursed Garstang threw away the evidence a century ago (maybe a little less). !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, I'll continue with Qumran later. Got to go.

Picturing Jesus' Ministry

I thought I would make a quick post on some of my initial impressions of Galilee. After our first night in Tel Aviv last Tuesday, we left for Galilee on Wednesday. We went up through Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, the Jezreel Valley, and eventually to a lovely kibbutz on the south of Galilee at a place called Maagan. There we swam in the Sea of Galilee (Clint Ussher, Ian Swyers, and Danielle Evans swam way out to a buoy in a "Hey, I could actually die doing this" kind of way). We noticed a sign forbidding swimming in the sea at our location after we all got out.

Then on Thursday we sailed on the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to the boat museum, then to the Beatitudes, Feeding of the 5000, and Feed my sheep sites. Finally we came to Capernaum to the site where Peter and Jesus may actually have lived. I enjoyed the ride on the sea very much and the Capernaum site was very meaningful to me, although I was a bit out of it from jet lag and there was the monstrous spider church over it and things were much too hurried for me there. I would have rather meditated there than at some of the other churches.

Then we went to Cana where two of our company began their wedding on videotape. They'll finish it in about 8 weeks. I don't know how many times Wilbur emphasized that they weren't married yet. It was a "you can't have sex" reminder he made about ten times. Cana was our first primarily Arab city.

Nazareth followed and I, being paranoid, was a little uneasy walking through the markets to the church of Joseph and another big church the Roman Catholic church has built. These are located over caves where Jesus may have lived and Joseph may have had a "carpentry" or stone work shop.

Finally, we came back to the Jordan River where I baptized, rededicated, and helped rededicate several people. That was a neat experience.

None of that, however, is what I started out to write. I started to write my impressions of Jesus ministry in the light of these forays.

The first thing that struck me is that the Sea of Galilee isn't as big as I had pictured it. In fact the distances in general are nothing like I pictured them. Perhaps in terms of how the distances seemed to them they were similar. We Americans travel so much and so far that the distances of the ancients seem puny. Yet in Jesus' day I'm sure these "small" distances to me were much bigger.

The Sea of Galilee is only 13 miles across. You can actually see the other side and the Golan Heights from the southernmost tip of it (and of course you can bomb the other side as well, as has been done in the past). I had pictured something much more along the lines of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

Also my reading indicates that the villages would have been very small. Nazareth might have had 500 people and Capernaum 1000. You can still get a little feel for Capernaum because it is a ruin but Nazareth is hopeless. I hardly gained any feel for Jesus from going there personally.

The plain at the edge of the Sea of Galilee yields to the rather high hills of Upper Galilee. Unless you found a good path, travelling from Nazareth to Cana some five or six miles north would be a chore. Jesus stayed away from the large Greek cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias.

In my devotional Thursday night I remarked on how insignificant a place Jesus came to. What a small group of people he ministered to in a backwater part of Antipas' peculiarly divided domain. It was like he gave us a little snippet of what ministering is all about. Before he died for the world, he ministered to a little group of peasant villagers trying to survive the building programs and thus taxation of Herod Antipas. They farmed enough to live on, but he demanded much more. These were the poor to whom Jesus spoke good news.

Well, I think I'll go to bed now. It's the museum tomorrow (this time for real)...

It was on a Sunday in Jerusalem

It's heading toward the end of Sunday here, our third holy day in a row. Friday we went through the West Bank along the Jordan river on the Muslim holy day (the Palestinians there didn't seem too bothered--I've only heard prayer chants here in Jerusalem even though Nazareth, Cana, Bethlehem are all Arab cities).

Saturday was Shavat, and I'll reserve a special entry for my venting on the stupidity of fundamentalisms in all three faiths--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Just a few simple lessons on hermeneutics explode a ridiculous way of life for the orthodox Jews here.

Then today is the Christian Sabbath. The juxtaposition of faiths in these ways gives us pause. Do I look as silly to them as they do to me? Maybe I don't, but I bet the ones kissing the rock in the church where Jesus was allegedly tempted do. By the way, I actually almost kissed it myself, so I don't mean any of my comments personally.

I'm going to try to catch up while also keeping up with these new days a bit. Today was a great day--immensely helpful in getting a perspective on things. I'll list our pilgrimage today:

1. Mount of Olives--panoramic view of the Temple Mount

2. Church of Tears (whatever it's really called), where Jesus is said to have weeped for Jerusalem. It's right across from the Eastern Gate and quite a good place to do that.

3. Garden of Gethsemane, including cave where they may have hid out from authorities.

All the above are in primarily Palestinian occupied areas and are on the east side of the temple mount. Below the Mount of Olives are cemetaries and the Kidron Valley.

4. We went to the traditional site of the upper room, next to the Church of the Assumption of Mary.

5. We went through the Zion Gate and looked at a road Hadrian made through the city when he conquered and rebuilt it as Aelia Capitolina in 135 after the Bar Kochba revolt.

6. We shopped in the Jewish quarter.

7. We ate in the Jewish quarter.

8. We visited the wailing wall, men on the left, women on the right. Men can only go down with a cap of some kind. Some of the men went into a chamber with the psycho-orthodox praying like crazy and saw a vaulted ceiling I think Herod had built.

I felt bad and angry for the women of our group. I'll save my finger pointing at Christians who divide life between men and women for another blog. Prepare to be compared to the silly Orthodox Jews still waiting for the Messiah and the fundamentalist Muslims here. You're not much better, just as ignorant and displeasing to God.

9. We went to the temple mount. We had to surrender all our "holy items": prayer shalls, mezuzoth, etc... so the Muslims wouldn't be angry to find foreign holy things on their mount. At least that's the way I understood it.

10. We went to the spot Wilbur believes the temple had stood. He thinks the ark of the covenant is buried underneath. The Muslims stopped a dig he was on once. They refuse to believe that any temple ever stood there before the Dome of the Rock. Of course no one who knows anything about anything could make such a claim of utter stupidity. I'll save it for the other entry. I'll just say that you hold the mirror up to many Christians and say, we're not really much smarter with the way we sometimes manipulate evidence and truth. I'm sure this is true of me as well.

11. We went back to get our holy items.

12. We went out the Dung Gate (what does that make us?) and rode the bus to the burial site of Sanhedrin members. We were all very tired by now.

13. But it continues, we drove out north to the traditional burial site of Samuel, which is next to Gibeon where Joshua is said to have conquered some Canaanites and Gibeah, of Saul fame, and of course, Solomon sacrificed a bunch of animals at the Samuel site as well to dedicate the temple.

Did I mention that this was north of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. One of the benefits of going with Wilbur is all these incursions into the West Bank (no pun intended). I asked Wilbur to point out where Ramallah was in relation to the Samuel site (we were way up on top of the building, surveying the kingdoms of the world). It was just over the hill a bit, a little more than five miles according to my map.

Well, that's enough for now. I need a nap...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

My Modernist, Protestant Biases Come Out

Fifteen minutes till departure on Father's Day for the Jerusalem museum. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the presence of Fransiscan and Greek Orthodox churches here.

First of all, copious, copious kudos to the Fransiscans and Greek Orthodox who bought up the land where holy sites are so many years ago. They have preserved them when they might otherwise have been destroyed. For this I am eternally grateful.

Now for venting. Given the mindset of these groups, they just have to built these churches on the sites. I suppose the reasoning is once a holy site always a holy site; once a church always a church. The result is that modernist Protestants like me, who want to see and get the feel for what it was really like, have to struggle to look around all the "stuff" the Catholics have piled on.

Of course I don't mind half of it. The church of the Beatitudes or where the 5000 were fed or where Jesus told John to feed his sheep are unlikely the real spots, despite good attempts by the early Christians to identify prominent rocks. Hey look, there's a good rock, let's build a church here. So I don't mind those. They give concreteness to important memories and have been some of the best places for meditation.

On the other hand, the Fransiscans just had to build this monstrous, spider like looking church on top of the site where Peter and Jesus may have lived. I want to see the real deal, not have to peer from afar under this big metal thing to see the site. It was better before they venerated the site, from pre 1990 pictures.

Frankly, hurray for the Old Testament sites and the Roman ruins. The church has left them alone so you can picture what things were really like without the monstrosities. Of course, they're not the sites I'm really interested in.

I close with the church of the nativity, although I hear the Holy Sepulchre will win the prize for competing churches. You know, Greek Orthodox squeezed next to Roman Catholic. Add the Armenians at the Sepulchre and we're ready to lose all site of reality.

Hurray for the imagination; laments for reality.

Ken Schenck, reporting from Jerusalem

A Blog Before Supper

This hotel has wireless, so I thought I would share a few quick thoughts on Israel.

I tend to be paranoid (which doesn’t necessary mean that people aren’t out to get me), so I’ve been a little tense these last couple of days. Yesterday we went through the West Bank quite a bit: Jericho and down along the Jordan river. We swam in the Dead Sea and stayed in Bedouin country in the south (Arad). Then today we lunched, shopped and toured in Bethlehem, which is Palestinian controlled.

I feel like the situation here politically has come into even better focus, and I’ll share sometime. I know it’s not spiritual, but the main thing I was thinking in the Church of the Nativity was, “Just think, there were Palestinians holed up in here in a standoff with the Israelis just two years ago.” “Just think, there are bullet holes in the side of this church.”

It was just bizzare as we road down along the Jordan River. I kept thinking as we went. Just think, Janin is just a few miles to the west of us. The Israelis mowed down houses there a couple years ago. Okay, just think, Nablus (Shechem) is just a few miles to the west of us now. That's where they mowed down a bunch of stuff. Or just think, now we're passing Ramallah where Arafat was holed up for so long.

It was just bizarre. The walk from here to there is no big deal--it's just space. But the significance of the space from here to there is unbelievable and sometimes deadly.

Well time for supper. More later…

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Off to Israel

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I'm off to Israel with a Wilbur Williams group. I might do a diary here if I'm able to get online reasonably, but I'm not really expecting to do so much.

I'm excited about going to see these sights. I'm trying to get myself prepared to look for things so I don't kick myself when I get back. Prayers for my family left behind. I wish they could be with me (aside from worries about the safety situation--I'm not really too worried).

I'm torn about what to focus my writing energies on. I might put a smattering of samples here from the following possible projects:

1. Finally getting my dissertation on Hebrews in a form I'm willing to submit for publishing. Don't hold your breath. I have this as a goal every year. Also, I wouldn't want to bore with scholarly discussions. But I might put something here.

2. Similar thoughts on my afterlife sabbatical research.

3. I have a proposal in with WJK that I think is waiting for a few more samples from me to be considered. I might start a book review section on my website.

4. The running of the manuscripts. Is it worth trying to cram in a book for July 15. The proposed topic is "What Faith Will You Integrate?" In a climate where everyone is talking about integrating faith with learning, how do we help a PhD in psychology integrate his or her discipline with something more than a Sunday School level faith?

5. A small book, something like "Discerning the Will of God: Learning How to Draw on the Bible, the Church, and the Spirit." My goal would be to create something that could be used in an Inductive Bible Study class to teach some basics about how to bring good Bible study and the wisdom of the ages to bear on finding God's will for today. If my fellow professors at IWU wanted to use it, I would self-publish it. I have in mind about a 50-60 page mini-book.

6. Then I thought I might start a new novel (#18). Why not?

Any votes?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Rest of the Sermon 5

The light at the end of the tunnel for me with regard to this story is to realize how foreign human sacrifice--or any animal sacrifice--is from my world. Indeed, even by the time the Old Testament books were reaching their current form, human sacrifice was becoming a horrible thing of the past.

But in Abraham's world--and perhaps at whatever time this story is approaching the form in which we now see it--child sacrifice was a known category.

The Greeks knew legends about Agamemmon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia at the behest of a god to ensure Greek victory against Troy.

We remember that Jephthah offered to sacrifice the first living thing that came out of his house when he returned from battle if God would give him success. It turned out to be his daughter and Jephthah followed through with his vow.

Solomon and other wicked kings horribly allowed the sacrifice of children in the valleys outside Jerusalem.

In one of the most startling OT stories (2 Kings 3), the king of Moab sacrifices his son to the God Molech on top of the wall of Moab to keep Israel away. And the horrible thing is that it works. Israel withdraws!

It is in a context such as this that we realize that offering his firstborn son is not an unusual thought for Abraham. The remarkable thing is that God does not actually require it! If Tozer emphasized the obedience part of my title "obedience...," the original meaning of Genesis 22 emphasizes the "...not sacrifice" part. God does not want or require human sacrifice.

Abraham of course had no Bible, not even the Law. He did not have Deuteronomy 12:31 that tells Israel not to be like the horrid Canaanites who burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. In the world of Genesis, this story is the narrative proclamation that God does not require human sacrifice, a proclamation of His "nature" in this regard.

Ironically, the very point of this story is that God is not a God who requires human sacrifice. It is an amazingly optimistic story that tells of God's graciousness, not his arbitrary whimsy!

I ended the sermon with the echoes of this story in the story of Jesus. The words at the baptism, "This is my son whom I love" and the words of John about Jesus as God's only son, allude to the fact that God sacrificed his Son for us. Genesis 22 begins the same way, "Take your only begotten son whom you love..."

I ended with words from 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:7-8, and finally, John 3:16.

The Sermon 4

The sermon's over, but I thought I'd just give you the gist as it ended up.

1. Introduction: my usual fare on the Bible as a sacrament of revelation. This sermon was the first of its kind for me. Rather than swim around a topic or the original meaning of a passage, I swam through various spiritual interpretations of a passage. No one would know it, but it was a fair illustration of where I am at currently hermeneutically.

Basically, I see the task of appropriation and proclamation as a word for today and a specific audience. To find and proclaim that word best, we must sit at the table of revelation with the committee of witnesses. As preacher, I am the one appointed to bring the decisions of the council to the congregation/audience.

Sitting at the table are several committee members. The ones who I usually let speak first are the original meanings of the passages of the Bible. They speak to each other, discuss and debate. The words of Jesus have special weight in that discussion, and the New Testament has authority over the Old. Also sitting at that table is orthodox Christian theology, which itself is a subcommittee of the church, which sits there as well. They help me prioritize the biblical discussion. In some respects they have veto power over the appropriation of individual biblical passages, stop signs that keep those voices from leaving the committee.

The church has many voices as well, recognized spiritual thinkers like Augustine, Kierkegaard, Tozer, etc... There are also voices there like Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Keith Drury, Max Lucado.

My task as the speaker for the committee is a daunting one. I am required to bring Spirit filled, faith filled thinking to bear on their discussion, the discussion of the ages. I must pray and humbly wait on the Spirit to illumine me. I want to be in conversation with as much of the church as I can and in continuity with the faith of the ages. Then with a prayer that God's word will be heard in my words, I dare to speak.

2. I focused on the biblical words, "obedience, not sacrifice."

This first led me to the story of Saul and Samuel, as in my first entry.

3. Then I turned to the Abraham passage, which I was most interested in today.

First Tozer gave witness to a spiritual understanding of the passage, as in my second blog. His part of the phrase was obedience...

4. Then I explored the difficulty of the Abraham passage, how it leads us to wonder whether God requires something immoral here.

I read James 1:13-18, which says God doesn't tempt people with evil. Telling someone to murder seems an aweful lot like telling someone to do evil.

5. I talked a little about 2 Samuel 24, where God tells David to number Israel in a sting operation, then sends a plague on Israel for doing it.

But I went on to show that 1 Chronicles 21 says that it was actually Satan that told David to do this. I did my usual thing on the lights of revelation coming on between Samuel and Chronicles with regard to the Satan. I mentioned Job and how from Job's perspective, he never finds out that in fact he was just a pawn in a wager between God and the Satan.

By the way, this theology in my opinion debunks the all too common idea that Job is the earliest book of the OT written. I think the idea is usually that the story of Job must predate Israel since there's no awareness of Israel in it. In some cases, this is the same kind of premodern thinking that would unthinkingly assume the gospels were written first because Jesus came before Paul. Or there are those who put true on quizzes that say 1 Corinthians was written by Paul from Corinth to us.

This is the pre-modern inability to distinguish between the content of these texts and these texts as events in history. The gospels may be about Jesus but they are some of the later books of the New Testament written and in some cases represent the later theology of the New Testament. Similarly, regardless of when Job might have lived, the book need not be written at that point.

All the evidence points to the idea of the Satan coming into Israelite thought after the Babylonian captivity. Samuel doesn't have him, Chronicles in the Persian period does. My sense is thus that Job in its current form must date to the Persian period.

6. I have suspected for some time that if Genesis had been written in the Persian period, it too would identify Satan rather than God as the one who gave Abraham these instructions. I was thus delighted one day to find that in fact this is exactly how the book of Jubiliees tells the story, a possibly Essene writing that dates to about 150 BC.

While in a sermon I didn't feel comfortable saying it with any strength or assertion, I suspect that what we see in Samuel/Chronicles also applies here. Taking the fullness of the OT into account, we should probably more precisely see the Satan as the instigator of the sacrifice rather than God directly. God is of course the Ultimate Sovereign whose permissive will is involved in everything that happens in the world, both good and evil.

However, the Satan is the instigator of temptation in the later OT, and the NT in James confirms that God does not tempt anyone directly with evil.

7. At this point in the sermon I talked about Kierkegaard and the mystery of God, my third entry above. I read Romans 11:33-36.

8. Finally, I gave what I think is a more accurate original meaning for the passage. Since this entry seems long, I'll post a different entry to tell you what I think it is.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Abraham, Obedience, and Kierkegaard 3

For Tozer, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac showed the level of his obedience. He is in the James category--James uses the Abraham story to show that a person is considered right with God by the things they do and not simply because of what they say they believe (James 2:20-24).

By contrast, Soren Kierkegaard predictably saw Abraham as an example of faith in the preposterous and absurd. As for Paul, Abraham was the consumate example of faith (cf. Romans 4; Galatians 3).

For Kierkegaard, the thing that God commanded of Abraham was absurd. After all, God himself had given him Isaac as a miracle in his old age. And now God was taking him away! Who among us would not doubt? Am I sure that it was God talking to me? Maybe God isn't really serious.

Yet Abraham believed unwaveringly. Without a moment's doubt he got up early, proceeded at a measured pace to Mt. Moriah, and proceeded to sacrifice.

To me, Kierkegaard's Abraham is a reminder that I can't put God in a box. There is something just a little fearsome about Him, and my puny mind can't hope to understand His ways.

There are some Christian philosophers who think they can tell you about God's nature, how He must behave because of who He is. I say with Kierkegaard that we can talk about who God is because of who He chooses to be. I don't think for one moment that I have God all figured out or that I can assure you how He's going to act on any given occasion.

Are you going through a time of great suffering? As we speak there is a funeral going on at College Wesleyan--that's why we're here in the PAC. I won't pretend to tell you why God allows the innocent to suffer or why we sometimes endure the things we do. I don't know why God allows tsunamis or 9-11's.

But I believe that God is good and loving, and I believe that God is in control. And perhaps He'll let me in on the details when we get to heaven.

Footnote: Fear and Trembling is the work where Kierkegaard discusses Abraham. Of course I also think Kierkegaard goes too far with his idea of blind faith. I don't think God is a trickster, and you'll eventually see where I come out in terms of the original meaning of the Abraham story.

Obedience, Not Sacrifice 2

A. W. Tozer found in the story of Abraham and Isaac a mirror of the soul's struggle to let go of worldly possessions and to become poor in spirit.

Tozer made sense of the story by supposing that Abraham had a problem. Isaac had become the idol of his heart. When the significance of Isaac had become so great to him that his very soul was in peril, God set before him the choice. Sacrifice the thing most important to you on earth and make Me your all.

When Abraham gave Isaac to God, Abraham truly became poor in spirit, someone who possessed nothing of earth. He became "a man wholly surrendered, a man utterly obedient."

There's an old hymn I remember from my childhood that may very well allude to this same story. One line asks, "Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?" Tozer saw in this story a very Wesleyan idea, the idea that we must all come to a point in our lives where we give everything to God. God will sooner or later bring this same test to us that Abraham experienced. At some point God will bring this choice: "just one and an alternative." Will we give everything to God or not?

All these spiritual points are true. We must give the whole of our lives to God. How could we truly call Jesus "Lord" if we were still ruling some part of our life?

And in a sense, we have much more to give to God today than most people in most times and places. That is not simply to say that we possess more, although on average we certainly do. But we have more time and more potential, not to mention a greater awareness of ourselves.

Although I work all the time, I enjoy my work. In some ways I feel like every day is a Sabbath rest for me. I think back to one summer I did construction when I want to picture what the daily lives of people in Abraham's day must have been like. I would lay down during every break that summer before going home, eating supper and collapsing. Although business brings its own temptations, I feel like the relatively leisurely pace of our lives today gives ample time for our hearts to wander. "Idle hands are the Devil's business."

Then again, we are so self-focused today as well. I do psychotherapy on my children all the time, trying to give them the requisite hug time each day so that they turn out to be well balanced individuals. So many of us spend so much time looking into ourselves, doing therapy. I imagine it was easier to give yourself entirely to God when you were so busy you rarely had time to think about anything but eating and protecting your own.

But of course as true as all these things might be, Genesis says nothing about Abraham struggling in this way. To us, God just tells Abraham seemingly out of the blue to sacrifice Isaac. Tozer saw spiritual truths in the text the way we all do as God made the text come alive to him.

The truth we learn from Tozer with regard to obedience is that God requires total obedience, not one shred of our lives must be out of His governance.

Footnote: Tozer gives us some great pre-modern interpretation in his chapter "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing" in The Pursuit of God. I delighted to read of Abraham's agony the night before sacrificing his son, as Tozer put himself in Abraham's shoes and felt what he would have felt if he were Abraham. I'm sure Abraham felt agony, but I suspect it was vastly different from the way Tozer or we would agonize. After all, child sacrifice was the rule of the day, and lots of people sacrificed their firstborn sons back then.

Similarly, he makes this great comment about how no one perhaps struggled as much as Abraham did until the Garden of Gethsemane. Again, the flow of the canon is history to Tozer, and since he finds no similar struggle in the rest of the Old Testament, he is inclined to think there never was one.

Next he has this great sentence where he says, "As is frequently true, this New Testament principle [first Beatitude] of spiritual life finds its best illustration in the Old Testament" (24). This is classic! The Old Testament is not read in context, but as a typological backdrop to the New Testament understood as a compendium of timeless principles. Great stuff and I hope you know I'm not dismissing the spiritual truths so many see by reading the Bible this way. It's just textbook pre-modern lack of awareness of how to read the words for their original meaning.

Finally, he reads Abraham through Hebrews, as Abraham trusts God for the resurrection of Isaac. This is also great pre-modern conflation. The New Testament, like Tozer, reads the Old Testament spiritually as well and out of context. It is unlikely in the extreme that the historical Abraham trusted God for resurrection, as we have no evidence of belief in resurrection until some 1300 years after Abraham (and that's actually highly debatable even then). I'm not at all discounting what Hebrews says, for the New Testament consistently reads the Old Testament spiritually. The points that the New Testament makes are true--as are Tozer's, I think. But they're made by way of a spiritual meaning rather than a strictly contextual one.

The sermon part is at the top, but I couldn't resist a teachable moment at the bottom.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sermon Starters: Obedience, Not Sacrifice 1

Well, I'm preaching at employee chapel Wednesday, so I thought I would flesh out some of my thoughts tonight and tomorrow. Yes, I already have the general flow of the sermon in mind so I have been working on it.

The title is misleading, because I'm not preaching on 1 Samuel 15:22, where Saul gets tired of waiting on Samuel to arrive for the pre-battle sacrifice. Like a child (or adult) impatient to get the "prayer out of the way," he offers the sacrifice and gets on with it.

Of course, in good sitcom fashion, Samuel arrives just as Saul's given up waiting. A cruel irony! Or perhaps the failure of a test on God's part. Samuel sets things straight for Saul--obedience is more important than the sacrifice.

But that's not the text I'm preaching on, even if this story in the end may have similar overtones to where I'm headed.

No, my text is Genesis 22--the binding of Isaac, the Aqedah!

What a troublesome story this is to so many! I remember learning about it as a child, but I don't remember that it bothered me in particular. Thought and reality have always been heartily separated for me, so it never seemed that strange to me, the way it no doubt would if I were to experience it. That's why I like philosophy. That's why I don't find some humor offensive while others do. Things just aren't very concrete to me, I'm afraid.

But this story has troubled countless Jews and Christians through the ages. How can this be the God that we serve? What's going on here.

Let the journey begin. The stops on our trip include Tozer, Kierkegaard, the book of Jubilees, and finally, Genesis 22.

Sermon Starters: Mind of Christ

A couple of passages immediately came to mind when I thought of the mind of Christ. The first was the Sermon on the Mount. The second was the Philippian hymn of Philippians 2.

As I try to think of what three points might be (I'm old school), here's what I come up with. Sorry it doesn't rhyme or begin with the same letter or form an acronym.

1. The mind of Christ is a servant's mind.
2. The mind of Christ is a suffering mind.
3. The mind of Christ is a perfect mind.

1. For the servant's mind section, I might talk about Philippians 2--having the mind that is willing to stoop down and play the role of a servant. Here Jesus was God and he not only became human, he stooped to the lowest death of the low. What status do you have that you're not willing to give up? BUZZ. Sorry, doesn't measure up. If Christ can be a servant, you have no excuse. I might bring in the foot washing story too.

2. For the suffering mind, I might bring in 2 Corinthians 4 where Paul basically compares his sufferings for the gospel as something like "carrying around the body of Jesus," suffering like Jesus suffered for the gospel. I might bring in Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus is an example for us to run the race of life with patience, despising the shame. You might bring in Jesus' turn the other cheek stuff from Matthew 5, doing good to those who persecute you, Romans 12 and not rendering evil for evil.

3. For the perfect mind, I might bring in Matthew 5:48 and mention that biblical perfection here is about going the whole way rather than half way. It's not just loving your neighbors, but your enemies as well. It's not just about not committing adultery; it's about not plotting adultery.

I might also bring in Philippians 3 and what Paul says is the mature (same word: perfect) attitude is. It's working together to reach the Day of Salvation and the resurrection. It's not falling from the point we've reached and pushing forward to new points in our striving toward the resurrection.

You might also bring in James 3 and the perfect person as someone who can control their tongue, although that's a little tangential.

You could of course make a whole series out of this and make this entry three different sermons.

Just some thoughts...

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sermon Starters: Transformed Mind

I told a friend I would blog just a little on what texts I might preach from in relation to having a transformed mind and having the mind of Christ.

With regard to having a transformed mind, I would preach from Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore, I encourage you brothers to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your appropriate worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you can demonstrate the will of God--the good and pleasing and complete will of God."

After just finishing teaching an online course for Asbury on Romans, my head is echoing with the richness of this verse. Here are just some thoughts that somewhat might piece together in some way into a sermon:

1. The "therefore" makes it clear that this verse is the logical conclusion of the teaching that Paul has been presenting in the preceding chapters. In particular...

2. ...presenting your bodies as living sacrifices relates directly to things Paul has said in Romans 6 and 8 about not letting sin reign in your mortal bodies (6:12, I believe), about being a slave to righteousness (chapter 6) and about the hope we have as we await the resurrection and the redemption of our bodies (see 8:11). Our obligation in the meantime (8:12) is not to let our flesh rule.

3. The word for worship (latreia) has connotations of sacrificial systems. In other words, this is our priestly duty--to offer ourselves as the sacrifice to God.

4. When Paul says not to be conformed to the world, therefore, it also has all these connotations as well.

5. But more particularly, Paul spells out what transformed thinking is in the chapters that follow. It involves not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. It involves not repaying evil with evil. It involves respectable behavior toward those in authority over us.

6. Most of all, it involves love, which Paul spells out in Romans 13 as the essence of God's righteous requirement. Love is the ultimate transformed mind.

7. Romans 14-15 continue to play out this transformed mind by showing that Christianity is not about me exercising my freedom or getting my rights. Rather, it's about building up others.

This is truly rich stuff, and you could easily pull out a whole sermon series from it.

More on how you might follow the transformed mind up with the mind of Christ later.

Friday, June 03, 2005

New Schenck Web Site

Partially under a grant from the Wesleyan Society for the Subversion of Reformed Theology (WSSRT for short), I have opened a web site with some of my stuff in more accessible form.

www.kenschenck.com

I haven't tidied it to my satisfaction, but you'll find a lot of stuff from my blog as well as a few other additions. If there's something missing, feel free to holler. The link to my campus courses web site wasn't working last time I checked.

I will continue to use this blog as the entry way to what I'm thinking. It helps me write, allows for feedback fairly quickly, and lets me vent on a level that doesn't merit publishing elsewhere :>). Things that I want to tidy up from here and that I'm writing in other contexts will then go to the other site.

Blessings...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Richard Nixon: A Tale of Stupidity

Perhaps I am no smarter, but just listening to some of the tapes of conversations in the Nixon White House makes me think that Nixon must have been one of the most stupid smart people of recent history.

I don't remember Watergate. I don't know whether it's because I was too busy flying spaceships around the back yard or that my family just didn't talk about it. My family was pro-Nixon, so to this day I'm not sure what they did with it then. I'm sure today they would side with Liddy, Buchanan, and Colson.

I've not done my homework. I hope maybe I can form some informed opinions on the subject in the next few weeks.

But I was especially struck by an interview with Kissinger on Hardball last night. If you listen to some of the recordings of things Nixon said, they were atrocious. One in particular stood out to me--a hateful remark about Felt being a Jew. Wasn't Kissinger Jewish, I thought when I first heard the tape.

So I was glad that Chris Matthews brought Kissinger on to discuss those comments and the whole Deep Throat situation.

Kissinger said that Nixon said a lot of things that you just knew didn't mean anything. And many of them were said when a particular person was in the room--I forget the name. Kissinger said that Nixon was always saying things like "Let's break into the x," but no one with any sense would actually follow through with it.

I doubt it is the case, but a comic scene unfolds in my mind--one not too far from a Saturday Night Live skit Dan Ackroyd did in the 70's. Some idiot hears Nixon doing his usual think about "Let's break into the Watergate building..." and actually does it. Then Nixon finds himself in this situation of having instigated something he never really planned to do. The SNL skit had Ackroyd joking around with the mike, knowing he's being recorded. Everyone's laughing as they say "Hey, I have an idea. Hee, hee, hee. Let's break into the Watergate building, hee, hee, hee."

I'm sure that Nixon must have been extremely intelligent and competent on one level. But he was really stupid on another. Even the best case scenario sees him as someone who acted disgracefully when he was around certain people--said shameful things and expressed shameful words and sentiments.

I don't know a lot about the particulars of it all. But I think he was unworthy of the presidency. His "outing" led to a important climate of critical thinking at least by many toward public officials. I know there is still a lot of hero worship that goes on by both sides.

But a lot of us now have a healthy suspicion about just about anyone's motives when it comes to power and money. We won't just take a politician's word for it.

P.S. As a side note, I actually think the current Bush is one of the most honest presidents we've had in a long time (probably since Carter). It's his ideology that I fear.

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