< link rel="DCTERMS.isreplacedby" href="krusekronicle.typepad.com" > Kruse Kronicle: June 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Gen 14:17-24 NRSV

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!"

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself." 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, 'I have made Abram rich.' 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me -- Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share."

Chedorlaomer one was of a group of Kings that raided Canaan. Among his partners was Amraphel, King of Shinar. They took Abraham’s Nephew Lot captive, along with all his relatives and servants. Abraham went in pursuit, defeated the raiders, and brought back Lot with all his people and possessions. Upon returning, the local kings turned out to greet him but there was one king of particular interest.

Melchizedek was the priest-king “of the most high God” from Salem, the region neighboring the area where the raid took place. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham acknowledged this priest-king’s authority by giving an offering. No one really knows much about Melchizedek except for what we are told in Hebrews 7. There are many intriguing aspects about Melchizedek but there is one issue in particular I want to emphasize here.

Melchizedek was outside the Christian Covenant and the Jewish Covenant, and yet he was considered a priest of the “most high God.” He was so important a priest, that Abraham, the father of the Jewish Covenant, paid homage to him. How many other Melchizedek’s were there at the time? How many followers were there? What was the nature of their priesthood and relationship to God?

The story of Scripture, as we soon will see, is God attempting to disillusion people so they may come into relationship with Him. As a Christian, I believe the normative way individuals come to God is by disciples of Jesus introducing others to Jesus. But clearly the Jews before Christ came to God based only on the promise that God would provide a way without ever knowing Jesus by name.

This passage (and later others) suggest that there were others who were in relationship with God outside the Jewish Covenant. As a Christian, I believe it is only by the grace of God, through the work of Jesus Christ, that anyone (all inclusive) comes into relationship with God. But I am doubtful that some who know God, know Jesus by name, or what Jesus has done for them. It was true in the Old Testament and there is no reason to believe it is otherwise today.

This issue of how God transforms us raises two potential dangers for me. The first is to believe that only those who know Jesus by name can be redeemed. Combined with this is the seductive idea that because I know Jesus, I have no illusions. Conversely, those that don’t know Jesus live totally in illusions.

The second danger is to believe that Jesus is irrelevant to human redemption and disillusionment. God preserved the Testaments for a reason. They allow us to know how to enter the story. We are to invite others to abandon human illusions and join in the story. As we share the story with others who haven’t heard, Gods light may shine through them to teach us about illusions we harbor. We need confidence in revelation combined with humility about possible illusions of our own we have yet to confront. God may have much work to do in us as we share the story with others.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Going West

Gen 11:31-12:7 NRSV

11:31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.

12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him

Many people are aware that Abraham was the father of the Jews. What many don’t know is where Abraham came from. The city of Ur was in Chaldea, in Shinar, now in the southern part of modern day Iraq. Ur was the major commercial and worship center of the time. The people of Ur worshiped the moon-god Sin.

The city of Haran was located in what is now southeast Turkey, just north of the Syrian border. The people of Haran also worshiped Sin, which may explain why Terah stopped there, since Haran was the only other city known to have worshiped this deity. It is implied that Terah and the clan were called by God to go to Canaan since it says that is where they were headed before Abraham was given instruction by God to continue the journey.

Three things. First, God called Abraham out of “the city” into the land of Canaan. Second, God didn’t call Abraham out of just any city. God called him out of a preeminent political and commercial city in Shinar in Abraham’s day. Third, God called Abraham from out of the east toward the west, possibly signifying a move of humanity toward fulfillment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005



(Words and Music by Terry Taylor, copyright 1983, Twitchen Vibes/Paragon Music Corp. ASCAP. Daniel Amos, "Doppelganger," Alarma Chronicles, Volume 2, Copyright 2000, Millenium Eight Records)

(Voice) (Echo)

We are the empty men
We are the masked men
Resting, together
Cavity, stuffed with straw
Figure, without shape
Shadow, without nuance
Impotent power, the empty men
Movement, without action
All who have gone with true vision
To death’s higher dwelling, may recall us here

Not as ‘damned, destructive ghost
But simply as the empty men
Simply as the masked men
This is the lost land
This is the desert land
Here the graven images are built
Here is the place they will attain

Entreaty of a lost soul’s desire
Beneath the glimmer of a dying sun
Can it be so in death’s second domain?
No longer asleep
Lonely At the moment of our greatest compassion
Arms that would embrace
Raised in supplication to toppled altars
Where have the eyes gone?
One finds no eyes here
In this empire of dying suns
In this vacant kingdom
The scattered realm of fallen empires
In this final assembly
We stumble together and are silent
Collected on the shores
Of the river disturbance, the barren men

And for one moment the eyes reappear
As the eternal Son moving broken stone

In this land … this land of death’s shadow
The dying wish of a an empty man
The hollow man


Ps 115:2-82 NRSV

Why should the nations say,"Where is their God?"
Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Magical City

I loved magicians when I was a kid. I remember watching Blackstone on television. Later David Copperfield came along. I remember seeing magicians at parties and events. It was always fun to watch. But then in high school I met a guy who did magic tricks. He showed me how a few tricks were done. I always knew that magic wasn’t real (at least that is my story and I am sticking to it), but there is something both eye opening and disappointing when the trick is exposed. The illusion no longer works. You can't go back to the illusion.

I learned from my magician friend that the key to being a good magician is to divert the audience’s attention from what you are really doing by attracting their attention elsewhere. It is also helpful if the audience wants to see an illusion. They want the illusions to work. That is why it is often helpful to build rapport with crowd so they will willingly follow where you are leading.

The city, symbolic of human culture, is the same. Diversion from reality must be achieved at all cost. The dilemma between being unable to enter God’s presence and the futility of living without God’s presence must not become known. Therefore, an illusion of orderliness and safety is created. Institutions, rituals, myths, and philosophies develop that reinforce the validity of the illusion. Work, no matter how degrading or inhumane, is the unquestioned duty demanded by the city for the order it brings.

It is not necessary the illusion be effective with everyone or with every person all the time. It is sufficient that the great majority buy the illusion most of the time. Ultimately, the city must keep the community in an "eternal present" for to suggest that there is an alternate reality in the future would call into the legitimacy of the city today. Whatever future change there will be, must defined as an extension and expansion of the city’s values. Therefore, talk of alternate futures, instilling hope in alternate futures, is deeply subversive. It could bring the illusion crumbling to the ground and release people from their numbing complicity in the illusion. Those that talk of alternate futures most be isolated as insane. If they can not be so isolated they must be defined as evil and repressed.

I have said that God’s plan is to redeem the city and make it his. This enterprise has at least three aspects to it. First, is the revelation that the door to God is not closed. The dilemma so fearfully being avoided is really no dilemma at all. There is a way home. Second, destruction of the illusion and exposure of those who perpetuate the illusion because of the privilege and power they receive from it. Third, freedom from the delusion in the hearts of individuals that keeps them fearful and rebellious, wanting to embrace the illusion.

God is on a mission. He begins in a place called Ur of the Chaldees.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." William Shakespeare--From Macbeth (V, v, 19)

Is this not the description of life apart from God? Life under these circumstances would be unbearable and unsustainable. The despair and futility would be too much. This leaves us in a dilemma. We could return to the truth or we can manufacture our own gods. Either way, there are insurmountable problems.

First, how can we possibly return to God? We have defiantly rejected God and there is no way for us to make amends. Even if we could find a way into God’s presence, we may find ourselves before a being so powerful that merely looking at his face destroys us.

Second, any god we chose to create is a fiction. It is an illusion. To the degree we wholeheartedly buy into the illusion we are deluded. To the degree we disengage from illusion we come to Shakespeare’s realization that life “…is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Humanity is truly between Scylla and Charybdis, a rock and a hard place. Woody Allen once said, "More than any time in history, mankind now faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." So what shall we do?

We will build Babel. We will delude ourselves by building a powerful illusion that will divert our attention from the rock and the hard place.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tale of Two Cities

The first eleven chapters in Genesis tell us about two important cities. Enoch was built by Cain and Babel by Nimrod. Both were cities built as shelters by cursed people who had been wandering the earth. Cities throughout most places and times have been places not only of shelter but of power and worship. They have been the pinnacle of human existence. The cities provide order amidst chaos and meaning amidst futility. Cities have also been the ultimate expression of rebellion and defiance toward God.

Names of cities often tell us much as we have seen with Enoch and Babel. The city itself becomes a symbol. One of the first widely regarded sociological studies was Elementary Forms of Religious Life written by Emile Durkheim in 1912. Durkheim described how ancient cultures identified something in nature as symbolic of their values. For example, a lion might stand for strength, or an eagle for freedom. Images of these symbols were carved in stone and wood. These symbols, or totems, become objects of worship. Some cultures created super human entities (ex. Greeks and Romans) that represented their values and worshiped them. In reality, what each culture was ultimately worshiping was themselves, their order and their safety. As the Apostle Paul wrote about humanity, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:22-23 NRSV)

There was a tribe that lived in land of Cannan before Abraham’s arrival. The object they chose was as their idol was Venus, the evening star. The appearance of the evening star symbolized completeness and fulfillment because it signified the end of a day. They called Venus “Shalem.”

Eventually a city emerged from this culture. Egyptian texts dating from about 1850 BCE reference the city as “Urushalim,” or “city of completeness and fulfillment.” Sometime around 1000 BCE, when King David set up his throne in this city, the name changed to Jerushalim. The first syllable from the name “Jehovah” was apparently taken and added to the front of the name, thereby making it “Jehovah’s city of completeness and fulfillment.” The symbolism is astonishing.

How does God describe human habitation when the Earth is made new? The New Jesrusalem! God takes that which humanity created in defiance of God, adds his name to it, and redeems it. God loves the city. God reveals that he intends to redeem the most formidable tool of rebellious humanity and make it his dwelling.

However, we presently live in the midst of two cities. We all live in both Urushalim (or Babel) and in New Jerusalem. The story of Scripture is about a predatory humanity struggling for autonomy doing battle with a passionate, loving God who will not give up on bringing humanity into loving relationship. Scripture is tale of two cities.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Worship as Higher Politics

Saw the following editorial today and liked it.

Worship as Higher Politics


As I was thinking about this blog entry, a quote came to mind that I simultaneously read on Tim Keel’s blog. Spooky. From the Princess Bride, "Let me e'splain...no, there iz too much: let me...sum up."

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago that envisioned Scripture as a six act play. (Missing Pages) Here is a recap of how that play might look:

* Act One is the creation.
* Act Two is human rebellion against God.
* Act Three is God’s creation of a holy people through Abraham as his witness in the world.
* Act Four is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
* Act Five, Scene One, is the
* Acts of the Early Church.Act Five, Scene Two is being written right now.
* Act Six is not written but we have enough notes.

Act One

God Created the heavens and earth (i.e., “All that is.”) God created humanity. He intended for Adam and Eve to expand and fill the earth. (That is, Adam and Eve were to have lots kids; not physically expand themselves to fill the earth … but I suspect you figured that out.) He intended for them to be in communion with Him and co-creators with him.

Act Two

The Serpent cast an illusion that God was cruel. This led Adam and Eve into a delusion that they were deprived. Adam and Eve sheepishly deflect blame and are sent east of Eden. going east symbolized regression into chaos he intended for them to be in communion with Him and co-creators with him..

Adam and Eve’s oldest son Cain has only a token regard for God. He did not bring his first fruits to God as a sacrifice. Moreover, having taken the role of farmer, he may have been more interested in settling down than filling the earth. Cain becomes jealous of Abel’s acceptance by God. Cain kills Abel. Cain has no remorse when confronted. God exiles him to the east, to the land of Nod, the “land of wandering.” Cain starts a family and builds a city in a vain effort to give purpose to his absurd existence. Soon violence escalates and the earth is not filled.

Humanity degenerates to a point where Noah’s family is considered to be the only righteous family left. God destroys rebellious humanity in a flood. Once again, he gives the instructions to multiply and fill the earth.

Noah’s youngest son Ham, does something dishonorable to Noah and his descendants are cursed for it. One of these descendants was Nimrod, a mighty predatory warrior, who went east and was responsible for the city civilizations on the plains of Shinar. Just like Cain, these cursed descendants, attempt to build illusory civilizations that will give purpose to their existence apart from God. They even scheme to build a temple up to the heavens and dethrone God. God confuses and scatters them. Now, rather than being united in one illusion, they splinter into factions and develop their own illusions. We noted the word “church” comes from the Greek ecclesia which means the gathered. Babel was a church (gathering) against God. God broke the Church up into many smaller churches spread across the known world.

Genesis 10 tells us of seventy nations when Genesis 10 was written. Seventy signified a large complete number. The “earth” is now filled but humanity has rebelled against God. God disrupted the plan for unified opposition but rebellion is still the hallmark of the countless tribes and nations. God has spread people across the earth but they are not in relationship with Him. God has been framed as a tyrant that should be dethroned and marginalized.

How will God expose the illusions and free people from their delusions?

Act Three - Coming Soon

Index on the Illusion posts so far.

Soon Forgotten
Rolling to My Death in Kansas… Or Not
Will the Real Illusion Please Stand Up?
The First Illusion
And God Created the Serpent
Grand Illusion
Cain's Choice
Cain's Journey Into Darkness
Cain's New World
Cain's Cancer and Radical Therapy
Starting Over
Cain Returns
Church of Babel

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Church of Babel

Our English word “Church” comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which means “the gathered.” Genesis 11:1-9 tells about another ecclesia, or gathering. The church of Babel.

Gen 11:1-9 NRSV

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. (*Most new translations say “as they migrated eastward.” NRSV has a note that says this is an alternate understanding.)

The cursed and rebellious descendants of Ham had moved eastward. Again, the move east symbolized a regression toward chaos. They came to the plains of Shinar to build their cities. These cities become the home to some of the most formidable empires ever known including Assyria and Babylon.

4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

The mission God gave to Adam and Eve, and again to Noah, was to multiply and fill the earth. Cain rebelled and was cursed to settle in the east in Nod, “the land of being unsettled.” Cain’s answer to his dilemma was to start a family and build a city. The city would give illusory meaning to his life. It would give shelter to him and his posterity from the absurdity of their existence.

The rebellious descendants of Ham built cities in the east, just as Cain had. They gathered to create an illusory meaning for their existence, just as Cain had. However, their vision was now bolder. These people were led by powerful hunter-warrior kings. Not only did they build cities, but they envisioned conquering all other peoples and gathering them under there domain. The envisioned conquering the very heavens themselves.

The phrase “..let us make a name for ourselves” carries the idea of achieving renown. But that is not the central issue. To name someone or something in ancient culture was a way demonstrating authority over that someone or something. The effort here was to name themselves. They would be their own authority. They would build a tower to the heavens and bring God down. God had expelled Cain, and God had expelled them, making them wanderers on the earth. Now they would gather, dethrone God, and expel God from creation. Yahweh could then be relegated to myth and legend while they enjoyed their delusions and illusions in peace. A more virulent strain of the Cain virus was back.

5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech."

Verse 5 belittles the Babel project by noting that the Lord “came down to see the city and the tower,” suggesting the tower was not so great. But the project was exceedingly dangerous. The people had become completely united in there deluded effort to dethrone God and establish an illusion of autonomy. Scripture does not say that they were given different languages. It does say that they could no longer understand one another. It is unclear exactly how this happened but whatever the case, they splintered apart into confusion and the project ended.

8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

God accomplished his plan of spreading people across the earth (at least the known earth to the author of Genesis 11.) There were seventy people groups listed in the table of nations and, as noted in the previous post, this represented a large perfect number. But there was a virulent Cain virus among the nations. The Akkadian Babilu was the name given to the city by its builders and it meant “Gate of God.” In a Hebrew word play, the name became Babel which means “confusion.” God broke up the unified gathering of humanity against him and it became the project of countless factions to create their own illusions of purpose and existence. In place of one gathering, many gatherings sprang up. Instead of one church, many denominations emerged.

Make no mistake about the creation of "the city," and by extension civilizations. It was, and is, a religious project.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Presbyterian Church (USA), GAC Mission Work Plan

I presently serve on the General Assembly Council (GAC) of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Part of my responsibilities are serving on the Mission Work Plan task force for the GAC.

The GAC is the board of directors for the denomination. An oversimplified way to describe things is that General Assembly sets policy and the GAC oversees the implementaion of the policy. The GAC came up with their first ever Mission Work Plan to set objectives and priorities for 2005-2006. It had problems but was a giant leap from nothing to something. We are working on the plan for 2007-2008.

I am in Louisville next Wednesday for our second meeting as we prepare for the new one. I would be interested in your assessment of the Mission Work Plan, 2005-2006. What do you think? I had no part in its creation so you won't hurt my feelings if you have critical remarks.

A Wake-Up Call to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA, has just published A Wake-Up Call to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). For all you Presbyterians out there (or even if not PCUSA) what do you think? Has he nailed it?

Cain Returns

Genesis 10 follows the story of Noah and the flood. It possibly one the most "scintillating" chapters in the Bible, complete with Hittites, Hamathites, Girgashites, and Mosquitobites (Okay. I made up the last one.) Actually, when reading the Bible through, I always considered chapter 10 to be one of those canonical speed bumps on the way to the good stuff. As turns out, there is a lot more in this little passage than I realized.

Chapter 10 is called the “Table of Nations.” It gives an account of the origins of each of the peoples known to the Israelites at the time Genesis was authored. Each origin is traced back one of Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Ham and Shem. There are a total of seventy different people groups listed. This is significant because the numbers seven and ten signified completeness. Seven multiplied by ten signified a large complete number. The number seven is used in a variety of ways in this passage.

In addition to the genealogy, there is a very important side note:

Gen 10:8-12

8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

The literal meaning of the name Nimrod is “We shall rebel.” Nimrod was a descendant of Ham through Cush. At the end of Chapter 9 we learn that Ham’s brothers Shem and Japheth were blessed. Ham’s youngest son Cannan was cursed and no blessing is given to Hams other sons. The curse was, in effect, a curse upon Ham’s entire line. Cannan was mentioned in symbolic connection between Ham and Cannan as youngest sons. Nimrod is among the cursed.

When verse 9 talks about “mighty hunter” it is not talking about his deer hunting abilities. It means the Nimrod was a predatory conqueror. The phrase “before the Lord” is a superlative to emphasize that so great was Nimrod’s prowess that it could not escape the Lord’s attention.

Where the rest of the genealogy is given in terms of people groups that were established, Nimrod’s accomplishment is given in terms of the great cities he built on the plains of Shinar (modern day Iraq.) These cities were not simply places of economic commerce. These cities were more like mystical temples. For instance, the name Babili, Babylonian for Babel, means “Gate of God.” It was referred to also as the “seat of life.”

Cain was cursed, went into the east to the land of Nod (wandering) and settled. (Moving east symbolized regression since the sun rose in the east and set in the west.) He started a family and a city to initiate his life apart from God. He sought to create an illusion that would reinforce his delusion of autonomy and power. Likewise Nimrod was cursed and migrated east to the plains of Shinar. He was the impetus behind the creation of the first great cities with their cultic life. He too, was about creating illusions to reinforce his delusions but with even greater audacity. The Spirit of Cain was back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Got My Goat

My wife had foot surgery a month ago and we are in the middle of a major kitchen remodel. This, combined with a busy work schedule meant she had not yet seen Star Wars III. So we played hooky this afternoon and went to see it.

When we got home, we discovered we had a visitor in the backyard. Our neighbors trapped him there.

Goat 1

The goat decided he was tired of looking at us, so he moseyed over to the opening under our back porch and decided to take breather.

Goat 2

Animal control showed up about thirty minutes later and gently persuaded the little fella to go for a ride. (I couldn’t help but think how his demeanor reminded me of my demeanor going to presbytery meetings.)

Goat 3

With a little coaxing, the goat got on board at it was off to the shelter while they hunt for his owners.

Goat 4

Not sure what any of this has to do with anything. Maybe there is metaphorical message from God. Any thoughts? Anyway, it was a fun adventure. (Except maybe for the goat.)

Starting Over

Gen 8:20-9:17

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

22 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease."

1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person's blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it."

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

So here we are. Back where we started in verse 1, “Be fruitful multiply and fill the earth.” Then repeated again in v. 7 “…be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.” God renews his original call for humanity to fill the earth. God states his provision for humanity again, although this time he includes the consumption of meat. The animals will fear humanity and humans will rule over them.

The prohibition against eating blood symbolizes the divine mystery of life. Eating blood would show disrespect for life. Furthermore, God makes clear that there is to be a reckoning for any one who takes another's life. It will be a life for a life. This has the double impact of emphasizing God’s value of life but it also stands against the destructive sevenfold vengeance. (i.e., Life for life versus seven lives for life.)

God also makes a covenant with Noah that he will never again destroy humanity, “as long as the earth endures.” God intends to abide with humanity. The rainbow was not created at the time of the flood, but God declares it to be a symbol of his abiding faithfulness and love. Stars in the shape of a bow in the sky were a sign of war and of the god’s hostility in antiquity. But a bow facing away from the earth would have been considered a sign of reconciliation. God wants to disillusion humanity from the delusion that he is against them.

Recapping, God eliminated the evil folks from the earth, destroying their cities and cultures of defiance along with them. God promised to destroy humnanity again. He reinstituted his plan for filling the earth with people he could lavish his love upon. He sent humanity out to fulfill this mission. He shortened the human life span to reduce the time in which evil people would have to perfect evil. He educated Noah and humanity about the value he places on human life and effectively placed limits on killing.

Sounds good! What could go wrong!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Emergent Presbyterians Sighting

While visiting Rodger Sellers Blog I learned of two emergent Presbyterian congregations, both in the Pittsburgh area: The Open Door and The Hot Metal Bridge. There was an article about them in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in March.

Know of any others out there? It would be great for us to become aware of each other.

Cain's Cancer and Radical Therapy

The Genesis narrative is sketchy from the time of Cain up to Noah. What information is given is bizarre by our standards. Things like the “sons of God” married the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-2 are written. Then there is a reference to the Nephilim, who “were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown,” according to verse 4. I am convinced that there is a SciFi Channel movie in this mix somewhere. No one really knows what these verses are about but in the midst of these X-Files like passages are some important pieces to the narrative we have been following.

At the end of Chapter 4, we learn that Adam and Eve have another son named Seth, who in turn had a son named Enosh. It says that in his day people began to “call upon the name of the Lord.” What exactly would this mean? Some scholars suggest that up to this time it had been God who always initiated the conversation. This passage indicated that humanity had now matured to a point that they were capable of initiating contact conversation with God. Whatever the case, something about the nature of the relationship changed and apparently for the better among Seths descendants

The flip side of this story is increasing violence. This catchy little ditty by Lamech is in Chapter 4:

"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold."

Gen 4:23-24 NRSV

There appears to be an escalating level of violence and destruction. Not only are the people not “filling the earth” as God commanded but they are murdering each other with such cavalier indifference that it would make Al Qaeda blush. It seems certain that this unchecked violence would eventually kill off or engulf the godliest folks. Genesis 6:11 says about Noah’s time, “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Apparently Noah and his family, descendants of Seth, were the only godly people left. Righteous humanity was at the verge of extinction.

Another key verse is 6:3 where it is recorded that God will limit the life span of people to 120 years. The centuries long life spans apparently had the effect of allowing those who were evil to get really good at being evil. Shorten their days and you limit the damage they can do and how evil they can become. The point is that the impending flood was not so much the act of a wrathful God as it was radical intervention to prevent his precious creation from self-destructive extinction. God had not given up on his plan for humanity.

Two side notes. I know some of the thoughts reading this right now. “People living hundreds of years? Global flood? Come on!” Okay. But let us rewind 100 years to describe any of a number of our present quantum physics discoveries and see how many of those would have generated the same response. The evidence for how people might have lived for centuries is not conclusive but it is scientifically plausible. Check out the work of Hugh Ross for some interesting reflection. As to the flood, the Bible says it covered the “earth.” Only Moderns would read back into the passage the idea of a globe covered in water. For the ancients, the idea of earth simply connoted “the place where humanity lives.” If the Bible is true about humanity refusing to spread, they would still be concentrated in the area of Mesopotamia. The entire region is believed to have completely flooded more than once in past eons.

I am an old earth creationist. If you want to learn more about such a perspective I highly recommend the Reasons to Believe website and Hugh Ross’s book The Genesis Question. My concern here is not to get bogged down in debate about the accurate historicity of these events. I am reviewing these events as elements of a story being told in Scripture to point us to God’s character and plan. And the story is about to take a familiar turn.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Father’s Day Disillusioning

I have been writing about illusion and becoming disillusioned so we can see the truth. I recently came across astounding evidence about an issue fathers find perplexing: What is the true nature of Barney the Dinosaur? We know that sometimes Satan comes as an angel of light. Might he have incarnated as cute purple dinosaur?

Pastor Mike McClung of Maryville, Tennessee, has deciphered hidden code that gives conclusive evidence on this matter:

1. Start with the given:

2. Change all the U’s to V’s (as proper Latin would):

3. Extract all the Roman Numerals:

4. Convert these to Arabic Numbers:

5. Add them up:

Yep! Just what we always suspected.

Happy Father’s Day!

Source for the Dino code: Holy Hilarity. ISBN: 1578562813 pp. 15-16.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Cain's New World

Gen 4:16-18

16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch.

In addition to exile from Gods presence, verse 16 tells us about two very important facets of Cain’s new circumstances. First, we are told that Cain “settled in the land of Nod.” This is an oxymoron. Nod literally means “place of wandering.” How does one settle in the land of wandering? It can’t be done but this is Cain’s new mission

Second, Genesis also locates Cain’s new home as east of Eden. When you and I look at a map, how do we commonly orient ourselves? We find a legend that tells us which way is north. Not so with ancient people. For the Jews, and many other ancient cultures, everything was oriented toward the east. The east was the where the sun rose. It was the place of beginning. The sun set in the west. The west was the place of completion and fulfillment. To be sent eastward (just as Adam and Eve were from the garden) symbolized regression. It was descent in to chaos.

So Cain left the presence of God to settle in a land where he could not be settled and he descended into chaos. The tiller who planted himself, and would not embrace God’s mission to fill the earth, was cursed by loosing his ability to be a tiller and by being forced to wander. Cain was stripped of both his relationship with God and his illusion. So what was Cain’s response? Time for a new illusion.

Verse 17 says that Cain, had a son, built a city, and named both of them Enoch. The name “Enoch” means “initiate.” Cain was confronted with his own mortality and the meaninglessness of his existence. One way to achieve a kind of immortality was to create a lineage that we would carry on his name and values. So part of Cain’s plan was to “initiate” a life apart from God, was to start a family. Is it possible that his idolatry of questing for immortality is part of what led to the debasement of women in ancient culture? Rather than living as the fully complimentary beings God created in his image, did women become a means to the idolatry of immortality through family? Was this the flower of the curse “your desire shall be for your husband and she rule over you?”

But Cain also built a city. The word in Hebrew literally means a “fortified encampment.” The contrast to God’s plan can not be more striking. God created the earth with the intent that it be filled with humankind. They would be a race of beings in a loving relationship with God and participating in creation as overseers and co-creators with God. Instead we have humanity holed up in a city, out of relationship with God, and hiding behind defenses to protect a pathetic and deluded existence. The city in ancient times was the center of culture and Genesis is telling us that not only did Cain personally sin but he manufactured an illusion (human culture) that would perpetuate his delusions and hide him from the absurdity that had become his life. Humanity went from glorious co-regents of creation to defiant, pathetic and deluded fools.

Welcome to Cain’s "brave" new world. Welcome to human existence.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Cain's Journey Into Darkness

Gen 4:8-16

8 Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" 10 And the LORD said, "What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." 13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me." 15 Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.

God left Cain with an option to repent or risk being consumed by his sinful delusions. Cain will not listen. Abel must surely have been an ever present reminder to Cain of God’s displeasure with him. So Cain set to work creating his own reality. He would eliminate Abel and be left to pursue his delusion in peace.

Murder is always horrible but some types of murder are more disturbing than others. In our day, the murder that seems to create the greatest shock and revulsion is spousal murder. It is the ultimate violation of what should be the ultimately intimacy. Not so for ancient culture

Households in Greco-Roman culture were ruled by the Father. Marriage was mostly a contractual arrangement to provide offspring to perpetuate the Father’s lineage. The primary relationship of true caring and equality was between siblings. Even married women gave their ultimate allegiance to their brothers' households. The most horrifying stories in Roman culture were of siblings at odds with each other. We have our O. J. and Nicole Simpsons or Scott and Lacey Petersons. The Romans had epic tragedy’s about brothers like Romulus and Remus. The same would have been true for the ancients. Not only did Cain commit the first murder, but he murdered his brother, violating the most intimate of all relationships.

Unlike the sheepish admittance of his parent’s when they sinned, Cain become bold in his delusion. He believed he could even trick God with his lies and illusions. When God called him on it, did Cain repent? No. By implication, Cain’s fear of being killed suggests that his conscience knew the just penalty for what he had done: Death. Remember that murder had never happened before. Did this awareness drive him to repentance? No. Instead Cain complained about the severity of his punishment.

What did Cain find unbearable? Was it that he would be apart from God? No. Is it that he had killed his brother? No. God had told Cain to be about “filling the earth” but Cain instead put down roots. Cain created an illusion of control and comfort in defiance of God. God told Cain that his punishment for killing Abel was to be uprooted from his illusion and made a wanderer on the face of the earth. What is unbearable for Cain is that he has lost the safety and control of his illusions. It was not that he had lost God!

God places a mark on Cain to protect Cain, but do we see any remorse from Cain? Do we see any thanks for Gods protection? None. Cain’s sinful delusions have utterly blinded him to reality.

But Cain’s delusion is not over yet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Cain's Choice

Genesis 4:1-7

1 Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the LORD." 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

What was it that made God so displeased with Cain? The most common explanation is that Abel gave his first firstlings while Cain brought an offering of fruit and grain, not necessarily first fruits. Therefore, God was displeased with the offering. Clearly this is a possibility, although it is not obvious from the text. But there may be another way of seeing this passage.

The only clear distinction we find between Cain and Abel is, “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.” So why would this have any significance? Shepherds are nomadic and tillers are settled. What is the one mission God had given to humanity?

God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." Gen 1:28 NRSV

Based on their lifestyles, which of these two brothers was more likely to move about the earth and expand the inhabited area? Is it possible that God was displeased with Cain because Cain’s offering was symbolic of Cain’s refusal to “fill the earth?” Instead, Cain chose to put down roots (literally) and remain planted where he was. “If you do well…” God asks. Do well at what? Following the mission God gave to fill the earth.

Cain created an illusion of control, comfort and self-reliance. He came to rely upon his own efforts to control his environment and not upon God’s provisional care as he lived out God’s mission. God disillusioned Cain. Cain was left to confront his delusion of human autonomy and selfishness. Was it Cain’s failure to offer legitimate sacrifice or was it the very nature of the work Cain was doing? Either way, Cain was confronted with a choice. Cain could turnaround from his delusion and enter authentic relationship with God, or Cain could redouble his efforts to manufacture illusions that gave him comfort in his delusion.

But this is not just the stuff of Old Testament stories. It is the very existence of the Church today. Several millennia after Cain and Abel, God stepped into the world in a personal way. He told his followers to go to their home towns, to Judea, to Samaria and to the utter most parts of the earth, and fill the earth with his disciples.

Instead we have decided to set down roots and plant crops that leave us comfortable and in control. We will not make the sacrifice God expects of us. Instead of expanding out into our communities and the world, we have become angry and resist anything that threatens our comforting illusions. We protect our delusions at all costs.

But God is disillusioning us to see his authenticity. As the institutions that have gave our delusions illusionary support crumble around us, like Cain, we have a choice. And if you listen closely, in congregations all across the land you will hear these words reverberate:

"Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Grand Illusion

I was slow getting around to dinner last night but eventually I heated up something in the microwave. Then I clicked on the tube to watch something while I ate. With a couple of clicks, I stumbled upon the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet starring Leslie Nielson. Great movie! I think it was Nielson’s second film. It was cutting edge for its day and still is quite entertaining (Although I keep half expecting Lt. Frank Drebin to inadvertently lean on a ray gun and blow up the planet or something.)

An evil invisible monster from Id is confronted in the movie. We only get a good look at him when he is caught in some kind of electrical current. The special effects are almost hokey by today’s standards. Certainly not Star Wars or Lord of the Rings caliber. Still, I’ll bet they were “swell” in their day.

What I remember as a kid were the IMAX adventures. I still go to see them today. Sitting in front of that enormous screen, you are right their in the cockpit of the fighter plane, or in the drivers seat of the race car, or flying the spaceship to the moon. If you pull your eyes away from the picture long enough and look at others in the audience, you can see people lean hard one direction to get the right body English as the car rounds the turn, or push back in their seats as the rocket thrusts into space. The illusion is so big that it is overpowering. It is hard to watch and not enter in to it.

But there is one thing I have noticed about IMAX productions. I have never seen one advertised about lawn mowing, or sitting in rush our traffic, or doing laundry. It makes sense of course. We do that stuff everyday. Why would we want to go watch an illusion of that happening? We want illusions that touch our passions and dreams. Illusions that intoxicate. Illusions that remove us from our present reality and deliver us to some magical place.

So it occurs to me, that apart from the good technical effects, an illusion most have at least two qualities. It must be big, …really big, …in your face can’t look away big. And the illusion must touch some core desire so deeply that we will delude ourselves from looking at the authentic.

The serpent in the Garden apparently understood this. He painted a grand illusion. God is a selfish ogre who begrudges you your rightful place as a god, “knowing good and evil.” Just think. We could become like gods. And a delusion is born, fueled by the intoxicating idea of autonomy and power. It is the Satanic delusion.

Illusion calls us to delusion. Delusion requires illusions that reinforce our absurdities as authentic. We become pathetic fools. As Dick Keyes has noted, the great irony is that in seeking to become God we have become less than human. This is our present existence. Life under a grand illusion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

While Presbyterians Were Sleeping

I will return to my illusion ramblings tomorrow but I want to revisit an earlier post.

I had an article published last week in the Presbyterian Outlook called Respiratory Failure in PCUSA. I have received several atta-boys from a diverse group of folks. I got one today that I thought was particularly interesting. The sender included a quote from a Roman Catholic that sparked some discussion. Here is a paragraph from his post.

“It reminded me of a comment from a Roman Catholic priest during their recent interregnum. Asked about whether a new pope would allow for more lay involvement in the church, he responded along these lines: ‘Why do they want to get all tied up in the church? They're the ones who are supposed to be taking the gospel out to the world in their communities and careers. The clergy are the ones who work in the church. If the laity get focused on the church as well, who's taking the love of Christ to the world?”

So here I sit in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A core piece of our DNA is the priesthood of believers, the idea that the body of Christ is the priest to the world. Each of us supposedly has a call. I even hear Priesthood of Believers bandied about now and then. It is probably one of the most important contributions our tradition has to offer the broader Church as we move into a post-modern era. Are we the Priesthood of Believers?

What I see is status distinction of clergy versus laity. I do not see apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers who equip fellow ministers for the work of ministry. I see insular survivalist communities looking for someone to care for them. I see super-centers offering religiosity products and services under the close supervision of “professional” Christians. I see us sending people to seminary to go into the ministry while the rest of us do …. what? … sit back and consume the work of credentialed Christians? I do not see people going through their daily lives with a sense of call and purpose. I do see some Presbyterian leaders publicly express their pleasure that we are not as gauche as those “Purpose Driven” Southern Baptist simpletons. All the while the Presbyterians in the pews buy the books in droves out of hunger for call and purpose.

Add to this the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II, the most hierarchical, clergy/laity oriented manifestation of the Body on the planet, and you get, “They're the ones [laity] who are supposed to be taking the gospel out to the world in their communities and careers. The clergy are the ones who work in the church. If the laity get focused on the church as well, who's taking the love of Christ to the world?”

We need another Reformation! If for no other reason than to catch up to the Roman Catholic Church on the Preisthood of Believers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

And God Created the Serpent

The first two chapters of Genesis paint a picture of a loving God creating human beings who he could lavish his love upon. The only prohibition is that they may not eat from the fruit of one tree in the garden. No one really knows what the significance of the tree is except that it is the only tree they could not eat from.

Enter the serpent. “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” The illusion is cast. He has painted a false picture in Eve’s mind that she had not previously seen. She rejects that picture but even so, the question has become about what God has denied, rather than what God has given. Eve seems to embellish God’s instruction, by saying that God told them they were not even to touch it. Is this the first delusion?

The serpent now sets up a delusion. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Having successfully cast the illusion of God’s stinginess, he know traps Eve in a delusion. "God was lying to her. God was merely trying to trick her into not taking what is rightfully hers." So now, based on this delusion about God’s character, Eve sins. Adam goes right along with her. Their eyes are opened and they come to see that they are the ones deluded not God. Their response? Hide.

God calls Adam out on the question of the fruit from the tree. Adam tries to delude God into believing that it was Eve’s fault: "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Adam was helpless to resist? God turns to Eve and she blames the serpent: "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." What was so tricky about not eating a piece of fruit? Author Os Guinness has suggested that there was yet on more inquiry. God asked the serpent if what Eve said was true. To which the serpent replied, “Yes I did. And you created me!” The blame comes full circle back to God.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The First Illusion

Illusion - something that deceives the senses or mind, for example, by appearing to exist when it does not or appearing to be one thing when it is in fact another.

Delusion – a false or mistaken belief or idea about something. psychology - a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.

Gen 2:15-17

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Gen 3:1-14

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." 11 He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 12 The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Will the Real Illusion Please Stand Up?

A while back, I gave my friend Dave a copy of one of my favorite books. It is called, “The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis,” by Hugh Ross. Last week we had lunch at our weekly hang out, Rumi’s, a Sufi themed Mid-Eastern cuisine Restaurant.

Dave told me how much he enjoyed the book. What struck him the most was the utter expansiveness of God in both time and space. He had not really reflected before on just how enormous God is and how seemingly insignificant we are. I grinned really big. That was precisely the impact it had on me years ago.

When you think about the billions of years matter has existed and about a universe that is ever expanding, human beings are a notch below “next to nothing” and only slightly higher than nothing. The rumor is that this God of the universe stepped in to our space and time continuum, become one of us, and allowed himself to be treated like scum, just to be in relationship with us. That is insane! But that is the gospel. If the rumor is true it means that we are far from insignificant. Because the God of all creation values us we are of inestimable worth. This would be the most amazing story ever told!

So I ask you, is it true that we are of immense value to a powerful and passionate God? If so, do we feel like we are among the most significant beings in the known universe? Do we see ourselves and others as being of inestimable value? I don’t think we do. Sure, as a race, we occasionally talk a good line about being masters of our destinies. We elevate ourselves to heights of glory. But ever present is our personal mortality and even our potential mortality as a species. The final words of the last song from Pink Floyd’s “Final Cut” album, a song about the last thoughts of man just as he is being annihilated by a nuclear explosion at the end of the world, are “Finally, I understand the feelings of the few. Ashes and diamonds. Foe and friend. We were all equal in the end.” Still, most of us, most of the time, cannot bring ourselves to live with the logical implications of what this means.

So which is the illusion? If a cold heartless universe is the truth, then why does every human culture ever known seem to hold out the hope of some enduring future or purpose? If the story of a passionate and powerful God is true, then why does so little of our existence seem to connect with such a reality? One is an illusion and one is authentic. We need to be disillusioned.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Portico

While at the Nashville Emergent Convention last month, I ran in to many great folks, including at least forty Presbyterians. Among them was Rodger Sellers who heads up a New Church Development in Charlotte, NC, called The Portico. What is unique is that it is an emerging/emergent church (I love spiral stairs to a door image at their homepage). I know that emergent Presbyterian sounds like an oxymoron (not unlike Kansas City Royals baseball) but I met Rodger and heard about it first hand. I call it “Emergyterian.” (Seems somehow better than Presbygent.) Can the Second Coming be far behind?

Furthermore, if you want to learn what a really cool guy I am, you need to visit his Blog RPS. After reading it, I have decided I would really like to meet myself some day. Fact is, some of us talk about the emerging church and others of us write about it. Rodger and The Portico are doing it! Lets pray for the Portico community and look forward to what they will have to teach us about being the Church in this century.

Finally, Rodger is heading up a project to start an emerging Presbyterian (grammar checker keeps telling me I can’t place these two words together) website called AlwaysBeingReformed.org. It is not fully operational yet but I have it listed under my links so you can keep checking on the progress.

Okay, I lied. The final finally. Are there any other Reformed/Presbyterian emergent communities out there? It would be great to get connected so we can all learn from each other.

Rolling to My Death in Kansas… Or Not

Yesterday I asked if Bill Shakespeare was right. Is life “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” How do you know?

Not long ago, I came to a stop at a red light at 31st Street and Southwest Trafficway in Kansas City, MO, just three blocks from my house. Going east like I was, the intersection is at the crest of a half mile long hill called Signal Hill. (I already know what many are thinking. Yes, Kansas City has hills. The city itself was built on what was originally a 100 ft. bluff overlooking the Missouri River. You see, several million years ago there were certain geological events… but I digress.)

While waiting at the light and tapping fingers to some innocuous CD, I immediately sensed something was wrong. My car was slowly rolling backwards. My foot went down harder on the brake but there was no response. My foot was now practically pushing the brake pedal through the floor board. I began to have visions of steering an ever accelerating car backwards down a hill into Kansas. (The state line is at the bottom of the hill.) My eyes shifted to my right as I reached to grab the emergency brake. As my eye caught the scene out the side window I became really confused.

The sign post out the right side of my car was either perfectly still or sliding down the hill with me. I was inclined to reject that second possibility as it has been my experience that sign posts are usually quite stationary. My head whipped back to the left when suddenly all became clear. I wasn’t moving at all! The SUV beside me was inching slowly forward into the intersection. My eyes deceived me. They told me the SUV was standing still and I was rolling backwards. Good thing the double-take exposed the illusion. I would have looked pretty silly bailing out of a stationary car at one of Kansas City’s busiest intersections.

But back to Bill’s question. Are we living the purposeless driven life and brother Warren is just an illusion? There is an old philosophy question that asks, “If I have a dream about being a butterfly, how do I know that at this moment I am not a butterfly dreaming I am a man?” Or maybe Rick Warren is really a butterfly dreaming he is a pastor? If so, how did he manage to type the book with little butterfly feet? (Now my head hurts.) All I know is, I don’t want roll backward down a hill to certain death in Kansas. Nor do I want to live a life that is an illusion.

Speaking of illusions, try clicking on this thing below:

Illusion Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Soon Forgotten

Weekend canoe trips were a part of my childhood growing up in Kansas City. Whether with family, friends or youth groups, I frequently made the trek to the Ozark region of southwest Missouri which is filled with ideal canoeing rivers. Establishments renting canoes, gear, and offering portage services dot the area.

One place I remember patronizing for canoeing supplies was a little general store along Highway 181 in Dora, Missouri. Dora’s total population was at most a few dozen souls. It was near the White River, a tame but scenic river, which made it a great place for amateurs like me. I have fond memories of canoe trips there but I never really thought much about Dora itself. A few years ago, that changed.

About ten years ago, I became intrigued with family origins. My father’s side of the family was known to me but my mother’s roots were more mysterious. My maternal grandmother died more than a decade before I was born and my grandfather died just shy of my fifth birthday. My mother didn’t know much about her parent’s lives so I begin to do a little digging at the library. Using census records I was able to establish my grandfather’s whereabouts in 1910 at the age of three. He lived at Dora, Ozark County, Missouri!

Further, research established that my great-great-grandfather had moved the family to the area of Dora in the early 1880s. My great-grandfather was a child when they moved to Dora and he lived there until moving on in search of work about 1915. My grandfather was born and spent the first eight years of his life there. A variety of records show numerous cousins, second cousins, and other relatives living all around the town of Dora. Less than two miles west of the general store where we rented the canoes are the gravestones of two great-great-grandfathers, a great-great-grandmother and other relatives. All the time we had been going canoeing at this out-of-the-way location, I had been walking in the footsteps of my ancestors and I didn’t know it.

MAP Posted by Hello

Stories like these stir a mixture of emotions. For me, there was an increased sense of being rooted in the past. It is intriguing to imagine what my ancestors lives might have been like as I walk where they walked. But stories like these also suggest something quite disturbing. They remind me of something most of us would rather not reflect on.

One day we will die and, before long, even our blood relations will have no memory of us. Yes, there will be photos, recordings, and various other remnants from our lives. But the substance of our personhood, which can only be appreciated by authentic human relationships, will be no more. Someday some descendant may walk where we walked and speculate about our existence but it will be just speculation. Within very few generations it is entirely possible no one will remember our existence. It is possible that our entire culture will have died out and us along with it. Looking at the longer view of millennia, it is conceivable that the whole human race could disappear.

Shakespeare wrote:

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." William Shakespeare--From Macbeth (V, v, 19)

Was he right?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Modernism's Christian Twins

Enlightenment thinking came to dominate the Church during 19th Century. One of its legacies was Higher Criticism. Bible scholars placed themselves above and outside of scripture. What did not conform to their rationalistic scientific assumptions was discarded. By the mid-Twentieth Century, scripture had largely been stripped of its authority and mystery.

Meanwhile, “defender of Scripture” fundamentalists arose in response. In retrospect, their reaction was a peculiar one. Rather than undercutting the assumptions of the Modernists, they embraced them! The fundamentalist project become one of showing how the Bible is entirely rational and has no vagaries. Scripture and faith became an air-tight, thoroughly rational, system. (Or so they thought.) All of this with a message that has as its cornerstone things like the trinity, “fully-human, fully God,” “born of a virgin,” and “lose your life to save it.” Just like the Modernists, the Fundamentalists unwittingly gutted the Word of mystery and reduced its authority to a system that stood or fell based on rational coherence.

Higher Criticism and Fundamentalism were twin children of the Modernist-Enlightenment era. Science and rational exploration began as projects to bring us closer to the mind of God. But science become that which would ultimately answer every human question and be the final arbitrator of disputes, even in matters of spirituality. I call this “omni-science.” Omni-science has collapsed and has all but taken liberal Christianity with it. Curiously, because Fundamentalist scholars so over identified with rationalistic models, the more conservative church now finds itself substantially discredited as well.

There has been a rediscovery of scripture as narrative over the last quarter century. With it has come a renewed appreciation for its mystery and authority. We are now returning to seeking the One behind the scripture. I believe that scripture was divinely inspired. Scripture as a mere collection of interesting human documents requires more faith than I can muster. But neither is scripture a systematic theology text or an instruction manual. It is divinely inspired and preserved testimony (testaments) about the living God, and its central purpose is to draw us into authentic relationship with the One about whom the documents give testimony.

An Unworkable Theology

I came across the following article last week. It has emerged in various places on the web but I think the original publication is in First Things. It is written by Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divin­ity School at Yale. I particularly like his discussion about how some use the idea of "prophetic witness" to subvert policies that they disagree with. I will have more to say about this topic down the road.

An Unworkable Theology


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Ultimate Family History

I have raised the idea of Scripture as an incomplete music score and as an incomplete book or play. I have said that God invites us to participate with him in completing the missing parts. I find these to be useful analogies but they are incongruous with the reality of Scripture in a very important way.

The incomplete score or book has a clearly laid out progression that can be easily recognized. By contrast, Scripture is a hodge-podge of legal documents, poems, histories, letters and intellectual writings written by forty authors over a 2,000 year period. The bible does not read like a story with a missing episode. It reads like a bunch of documents in search of a story. So how about the following ide?

I have a great-great-grandfather who lived from 1837-1932, named William Cotton Holmes. I have diaries he wrote in 1858, 1862, and a few from later years. I have census records for his household for each census year from 1850-1930. I have land deeds and a death certificate. I have a letter he wrote to my grandfather about his life. I have letters and diaries of other family members that make mention of him and what he was up to. I have histories of Plymouth, MA, where he grew up. I have his pension and military service records from the Civil War. I have family pictures. You get the idea.

W. C. Holmes died a quarter century before I was born. I had no personal contact with him and no one of these sources alone can tell me who he was and what he was about. However, by examining the documentary footprints he left, and understanding the context he lived in, I can get tremendous insight into his character and the flow of his life story. I have learned enough to know that this is one guy I would like to meet.

I see Scripture in a similar way with one important qualification. Scripture is the divinely preserved footprints of God in history. By looking at the testimony (testaments) we can develop a story line about what God has done in the past, just like I have about my ancestor. We can construct a timeline and get of sense of what God was about and where God was headed. But it is the qualification of this analogy that is the best news of all. The one who left all that testimony isn’t dead! He is still among us advancing the timeline.

Scripture begins with God creating all that is. God then created humankind to begin a family he could lavish his love upon. The Bible is the primary documentary evidence for the story. It also gives evidence about how the story will continue to unfold. The family history is still being written but what is most amazing is that the Bible draws us beyond the documents into the person who stands behind them.

What difference would it make if we understood Scripture in this way?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Respiratory Failure in PC(USA)

I wrote an article that was just recently published on-line. It is called "Respiratory Failure in PC(USA)." You can read it at:

Missing Pages

One of the funniest episodes of the old TV series MASH was when the characters were passing around a mystery novel during a particularly boring lull in the war. Unfortunately, to their dismay, they discovered that the last page was missing from the novel. The last page told who did it. They spend the whole episode trying to figure out who the murderer is while trying to find someone Stateside who can complete the story.

In my last post, I suggested that Scripture could be seen as an incomplete musical score. Leonard Sweet has suggested that the Bible is really something like an incomplete book or six act play. However, unlike the MASH episode it is not the end we are missing but the middle. The ending is certain.

Act One is the creation.
Act Two is human rebellion against God.
Act Three is God’s creation of a holy people through Abraham as his witness in the world.
Act Four is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Act Five, Scene One, is the Acts of the Early Church.
Act Five, Scene Two is being written right now.
Act Six is not written but we have enough notes.

The author of the story invites us into co-authorship. As we come fully into relationship with the author we are able to think his thoughts after him. To the degree we come to have the mind of author, we contribute to the final plot of the story. To the degree that we don’t have the mind of the author, we merely write superfluous subplots of no lasting significance.

I love the idea that God invites each one of us to participate with him in the unfolding story he is writing in history. But there is yet one more metaphor I want to share.

(BTW, Brian McLaren uses some of this kind of thinking in his “The Story We find Ourselves In.” He list seven episodes “Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conversation, Christ, Church, and Consummation. It is the second of his New Kind of Christian trilogy which I have really enjoyed.)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Divine Composition

Eastern University officials decided it was time to shuffle office space in the early 1990’s. The picturesque campus had originally been a mansion on the Mainline in St. David’s, PA, near Philadelphia. Increases in enrollment had meant expanding services and new construction.

As staff sorted through materials to see what should be moved from one building to the other, an amazing thing happened. A packet was found in the administration building’s safe. Inside was a musical score that appeared to be quite old. To the astonishment of the staff, they found it was signed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Scholars and experts examined the find and conclusively determined that it was authentic. Apparently, a wealthy benefactor had willed the treasure to the University in the early 1950s and its existence was forgotten.

The University music department learned the piece and gave its first public performance, generations after the composer’s death. The piece was then auctioned by Sotheby’s, raising a considerable sum for furthering education at the University. The find has benefited countless people in a myriad of ways.

When I reflect on this story, I have often wondered what would have happened if the music score had been incomplete. What if most of it had been composed and there was an ending, but there was a section left unwritten? What then?

I suspect a team of experts and scholars would have been consulted. People who knew Mozart’s mind, his style of composing, and the context in which the piece was conceived, would have brought their knowledge to completing the composition. Every effort would have been made to have it conform to Mozart’s style and nuance. Only then would a completed work be possible for all to enjoy.

Scripture is just such a work of art. We have the beginning, we know the end, but it is not complete. The difference here, of course, is that the Composer is not dead. The Composer invites us into the music to join Him in the work of art He is creating. He wants us to so fully know Him and what He is about that our contribution perfectly harmonizes with the melody He is writing. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a creation?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Pastor's Faith Crisis

Below is a church newsletter article published by my pastor in March. He is Doug Burford and is the pastor at Ward Parkway Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO. Thought I would share it here as well. Enjoy.

The Pastor's Faith Crisis... read on

Relax. The pastor is not doubting his faith.

I know Who I know and I wouldn’t trade Him for the emptiness of the world. But therein lies the problem. The institutional Church has, in many ways, traded Him for the emptiness of the world. Paul’s charge is still accurate: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. . . ” (Romans 1:25)

Since Constantine, the Church has “done church” in a way that has increasingly displaced God. Insidiously, created things have taken center stage. We may not bow down to them, but we “worship” them with our time, energy, concentration and gifts. They can become our “gods.”

Ever since the Church changed from a persecuted, fleeing band, which went about sharing their faith, loving one another and sharing their possessions with those in need, the Church has become increasingly weighed down with a myriad of peripherals. The more those peripherals become central, the fewer resources are left over for the things the Church did at first.

Thus, going out into the world has been replaced by Christians coming into a building; spontaneous heartfelt prayer has been replaced by liturgies written by “professionals.” Spirit-led songs have been replaced by “good music” sometimes produced by unbelievers. Being in the world but not of the world has been replaced by being of the world while being secluded from it. We have distracted ourselves with “services,” process, debates, bulletins, monthly newsletters (like this one), buildings, décor, office machines, minutes, reports, budgets, congregational or denominational sub-issues, etc. ... all of which the Church could do without and probably be stronger for it. Without them, there would be nothing to focus on but Christ who binds us together . . . His Word, His Spirit, one another and those not yet a part of Christ’s body.

No wonder I’ve been frustrated for 15 years of ministry, here and elsewhere.

Too much of what has demanded my time as a pastor has not resulted in lives changed by Jesus Christ. The Truth has been exchanged for a lie; created things have been worshiped while Christ has to ask for time when we’re done with our business.

Realistically, we can’t get rid of the peripherals, but we can name them such and displace them as priorities. They’re not evil, in themselves, but they can become ends in themselves, rather than means to an end. We must constantly reign in all things and subject them to Christ as central to all we do. Thankfully, the session is praying more . . . our primary responsibility as elders. I look for more such changes.

I don’t know all the solutions to the above observations. Like I said, I’m in a crisis. But, I’m working on it. Pray for me. Pray with me. Pray with and for the session.

What do I hope will result? The following:

† Prayer. The kind where everyone comes together and prays without script. The kind where the Holy Spirit leads.

† Worship. Worship that focuses completely on God rather than on bulletins, atmosphere, grammar or decorum. Worship is not something we do on Sunday morning in a “sanctuary.” Worship is a posture of life. Worship is every day in every way. Sunday morning is just a reminder, an equipping, a recharging of our spiritual batteries for worship.

† Discipleship. No apprentice ever learned a trade by meeting once a week and standing in place. An apprentice walks with, shadows, watches and learns from a mentor he or she is with almost constantly. That is the model Jesus left us as He poured His life into His disciples. He rejected the religiosity of His day because it had become dead and ineffective. Our small groups and unfolding discipleship efforts seek to regain what the Church has lost in disciple-making and replaced with religiosity. Making disciples is the charge Christ gave to the Church.

† Relationships. Ekklesia means “gathering.” Yet, Sunday morning worship does everything possible to keep us apart, separated and isolated from one another during “worship.” The transforming power of Christ rarely is evident in worship. Why? Because God does the work of transformation in relationships — with Himself and with people. God uses genuine human interaction in which He is the Center through His Word and Spirit. As people share with one another what they are hearing from the Lord through Word and Spirit, genuine Christian community and growth is experienced. The Church of today needs to find a way to allow for that during our ekklesias. Small groups are one way. Wednesday evenings can be another way, though work remains to be done. Maybe even Sunday mornings can be reclaimed as gatherings in which God is present with His people in interactive ways.

The above need to be central because Christ is central and these are means by which He works. The above must replace the rubric imposed on the Church, by which Christ often does His best work after we’re done with “worship.”

Friday, June 03, 2005

Church at the Speed of Life

There has been a convenience store advertisement on the radio in our area that talks about service at the speed of life. One of the most profound developments in the past century, as suggested in my last post, is the increasing rate and magnitude of change. How does the church keep moving at the speed of life?

Erwin Manus in "An Unstoppable Force," uses a scientific formula as his way of helping us understand how we keep momentum at the speed of life:

momentum = mass * velocity

Mass is the people and velocity is the vision, within the church. Get a whole bunch of folks together with no real vision and you get motionless mass. Get one or a few folks with vision that does not permeate the mass and you get velocity with little mass. Either way, no momentum.

A congregation turned inward, and away from surrounding culture, becomes inert mass. Most people in churches now realize that change is inevitable. Some choose not to change because they would rather die with the old ways. These congregations will die from no velocity.

However, those churches that chose to change often experience another problem. HOW to be relevant to the culture? As soon as an understanding of the culture is grasped and programming begins, it is already out of date. The plan keeps changing so quickly that vision never really takes root. The culture ends up setting the agenda for the church. Most people become discouraged or confused. The idea to connect with culture is there, but the mass is not infused with common vision, people drift away, and the congregation dies from insufficient mass.

Mcmanus argues that the critical error is in focusing on the culture. The church can't keep up. Instead of turning inward OR outward we should be looking upward to God. The mission of every church should be nuture people in ever deepening relationship with Jesus and his earthly body. We are drawn inward into community and empowered outward into service by the power of the Spirit.

This is not an admonition against examining our inward and outward life as the body of Christ. It is an admonition against obsession with either aspect to the exclusion of developing ever maturing disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

One Life and the Information Revolution

There was a large metal box placed on the table at the front of the room. A scientist from the local college, teamed with representatives from IBM, stood up front and fielded questions. At one point, to everyone’s enjoyment, the box began to sing “Daisy, Daisy, give me you answer true…” This was the future: A computer! Okay, this may not be impressive to you, but to a junior high school student attending the event at Mid-America Nazarene College (now University) in Olathe, Kansas, circa 1973, it was pretty cool!

A short decade later, I learned to do computer programs on key punched cards in college and at graduate school. When it came time to do my graduate thesis at Kansas State University in 1983, I got a major break. I got permission to write my thesis on the department’s first ever desk top computer. I got a key to the office and privileges to use the machine after hours on weekdays and on weekends.

Fast forward a few more years to 1991, to a prestigious Manhattan, New York, hotel for an Investment Banking meeting. A professor from Cornell University was giving a demonstration to a standing room only crowd about something called the “Internet.” She insisted all her displays of Unix code on the projection screen were about to revolutionize the world! Not likely.

At the time, I was working for an investment banking firm in Kansas City starting an information retrieval business. The business plan was to provide consolidated and standardized information products on companies, industries and individuals to high-end clients. These folks had no time to sift through masses of duplicated and wildly formatted data from places like Dialog, Dow Jones News Retrieval, Lexus/Nexus, Investext and Newsnet. We would standardize and productize the information for them. Then, about 1993, something came along called “Mosaic,” the first web browser. The rest is history.

Today I woke up and checked news from across the planet. I scanned my e-mail. There were posts from relatives, reminders of meetings, several posts from a discussion group including people from South Africa and Australia, and spam offers to improve my credit standing and my sex life. Then I sat down to type this blog that can be read by millions of people all over the planet with a few keystrokes and clicks.

Many of us have similar stories. I Hope I didn’t bore you with mine. Looking backward is not my primary concern here. Humanity is on a trajectory into the future. What next? What does all this mean for “being and doing church” in the future? Some thoughts to follow.