The Speckled Mind

Friday, July 04, 2008

Preposterous Theological Statements: Episode 1

As many of you know, I am working my way toward a Ph.D. in Biblical studies. This involves, amongst other things, a ton of quality time in the library. A lot of the things I read are very good, but the process of winnowing can also be frustrating when the percentage of chaff of is very high. As a tribute to the theological chaff, I am starting a new series on the Speckled Mind called, "Preposterous Theological Statements." This will, I hope, help all of you to share the journey with me and participate in mocking and ridiculing Biblical scholars who have truly missed the point.

Our subject today is James M. Robinson, professor emeritus of religion at Claremont Graduate school in California. Robinson, a member of the Jesus seminar and prominent 'Q' theologian wrote the following preposterous theological statement:

"[Q is] the most important Christian document we have."

The preposterous nature of this statement is pretty evident. For those who don't know, Q is the proposed source material shared by Matthew and Luke that is not found in Mark. Basically the math works like this: If Matthew = Luke and does not = Mark, that = Q.

The biggest absurdity of the statement is that WE DON'T HAVE Q. It is a hypothetical source reconstructed by Biblical scholars who could find nothing better to do with their time. IF it ever existed--and some scholars consider that a big IF--it is lost and gone forever (oh, my darling Clementine).

Second, to say that it would be more important for the Christian layperson and scholar alike if we could reconstruct it with any certainty (which we can't) is just plain silly. How does a document with bare statements aid us more than the narrative beauty of the existing gospels?

Third, a hypothetical source is clearly NOT a 'document.' To say it is would be like referring to Pegasus as a farm animal. Which gives me an idea...

Mr. James Robinson--in your honor I have to assert that, "Pegasus is the most important farm animal we have."

How do these people get degrees?

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Think I Love My Wife's Football Team

Ah, football season. You bring me so much anticipation of joy. And, as a career Vikings fan, you never fail to bring me bitter, bitter disappointment. Examples of the disappointment abound. There was the season that the Vikings started 6-0 and then missed the playoffs. Or the year that their sizzling offense was shut out 42-0 in the playoffs against a mediocre Giants team. And who could forget the debacle against the Falcons in the 1999 playoffs?

My commitment to the 'hometown' team has waxed and waned in the midst of these pratfalls. Some, my wife included, have applied the label, "bandwagon" to such tepid loyalty. And as a contrast, she has remained unwaveringly steadfast and faithful to her team through thick and thin. Like many other Packer fans, she will bleed green and gold until someone pries the myriad of Green Bay Superbowl wins from her cold, dead fingers. Even through the emotional roller coaster of Brett Favre's retirement, she remained steadfast. Granted, there was a period of mourning--3-4 months, if my memory serves me correctly. But she has ultimately moved to the 'acceptance' stage of grief and has prepared herself emotionally for the advent of the Aaron Rodgers era of Packer football.

But then a bomb was dropped yesterday. Perhaps I should let her speak for herself. This is an email that she sent to all of her Packer fan friends yesterday (edit: she sent this BEFORE Brett Favre's text message denying that he would return):

Subject Line: OMG

Hey friends,

Although it is completely hearsay, I have so many mixed feelings. ESPN speculated (let me repeat, speculated) about a denial from Green Bay and a Vikings team that would welcome Favre with open arms. Tim was giddy at that possibility! Although I can hardly blame him, I told him that might be really bad for our marriage.
What do you think? Are you excited, crying, unmoved, or just mad?


P.S. Is it just me, or is Brett Favre just like a stereotypical bad boyfriend? You love him, he breaks your heart, he leaves, then he calls saying he misses you.....hmmmm. I seriously don't know if I can take this all summer.

Now, granted, this email is dripping with sarcasm (and wit, I might add). But I think it illustrates rather well the differences in loyalty schemes between a Packer fan and a Viking fan. And, so does this (start listening at about the 2:45 mark).

So, what do you think, blog-reading faithful? Can our marriage survive Brett Favre in a Vikings uniform? I'd like to think it can. But, of course, I'm far more optimistic about the prospects of our marriage than I am about my football team.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eye, Eye, Eye!

Anyone else who has gone through an eye exam knows what a strange phenomenon it is.

"One or Two?"

"Is this better, or this."

"Just look straight ahead." (as we shine a blinding light into your eyeball)

"Take off your glasses and try to read the bottom line for me."

And I'm thinking--if I could read the bottom line without my glasses, I probably wouldn't be here in the first place.

But, I needed new contacts, and an eye exam is apparently a prerequisite to getting them. One of the things that always bugs me is that machine that shoots little air bullets into your eyeballs. How is that helpful? And, it would have been really nice if the "technician"--and I use that term in the loosest way possible--would have warned me that it was coming. It scared the hell out of me.

Oh well. At least it wasn't as stressful as my last eye exam.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's A Month Between Friends?

As promised, German is finished and I am officially back in the saddle. Unfortunately, the horse is blind and shaped like the letter "U". Oh well, you get what you pay for, I guess. Coincidentally, today's blog is also brought to you by the letter "U". Weird...

I digress...

There really is no better way to get back into the blogging groove than with one of my patented Bits and Pieces episodes. So, for better or worse, here's what I've done/learned in the past month:

1. One of the greatest epidemics facing America today is mumbling. Mumblers can be found just about anywhere, and you can certainly find them at Ebenezer's. A word to the wise--if you insist on mumbling while placing your order, and I respond by asking you to repeat what you just said, IT MEANS I WANT YOU TO ANNUNCIATE THE SECOND TIME YOU SPEAK. Mumbling a second time will only result in me asking what you just said a second time. We could repeat this little game ad nauseum--I really do have all day--or you could put in a little effort and stop placing your order like a primate. Just a suggestion...

-and I'm just getting warmed up!-

2. The German language is crazy. And not the good kind of crazy either. Oh, German, why must your words have 32 letters? Who came up with verbs that have separable prefixes? Why must you place the verb at the very end of the sentence? And, for that matter, why must you write sentences so long they would make Charles Dickens blush?

3. 2008 has been a good hear for music so far. Death Cab for Cutie, Tapes 'n' Tapes, Sigur Ros and Coldplay all have spectacular new albums, and those are just the big names. A host of other, more obscure bands have made my ears very happy this year--amongst them are: Amber Rubarth, Liam Finn, Headlights and Ghost in the Water.

4. Jess and I like visitors. A lot. Have you come to visit us in DC yet? If not, you are running out of time! ACT NOW!! THIS OFFER CAN'T LAST FOREVER!

5. The best movie I've seen in a long time: Lars and the Real Girl. If you haven't seen it yet, put it to the top of your Netflix queue. You won't be sorry. Hopefully I'll get to post something more extensive about this excellent film in the near future.

6. Movie to skip: Prince Caspian. The film version of the C.S. Lewis's excellent book is flaccid from start to finish. It boggles my mind why the director would have departed so much from the book and created motifs that are alien to Lewis's original story telling.

7. I had the privilege of attending Tim Russert's wake last week; Jess and I met his son and wife while we were there. So incredibly sad... He was one of the good guys in a world filled with blathering pundits. NBC won't be the same without him--he was the best in the business and an irreplaceable voice of reason amid the white noise.

8. Has anyone else noticed that the Twins are only 1 1/2 games out of first place? They're far exceeding my expectations for the year. I can't wait until they open the new stadium in 2010.

9. Speaking of sports, I'm happy for Kevin Garnett. It was good to see him get the monkey off his back; though he was well compensated while in the Twin Cities, dealing with Kevin McHale on a daily basis is its own special kind of hell. Congrats, Big Ticket.

10. (HT: Jessica Banti) Be sure to read this excellent and scathing op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman of the NY Times about the insanity of the Bush administration's current energy policy.

11. I confess that I have been regularly listening to NPR's "This American Life" lately. I'm officially an elitist. God have mercy on me...

12. Two of my favorite people came together in one place last week. Click here to see N.T. Wright's appearance on the Colbert Report.

Well, I best be getting to bed. I'm sure there's more to be said, but it will have to wait another day.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Rumors of My Blog's Resurrection Were Greatly Exaggerated


I blink, and another two weeks have gone by. This time though, faithful readers, I have a decent excuse. Right now I'm taking a German reading class at Catholic University. The goal is to teach students how to read complicated German theological texts. AND you only get five weeks to learn how.

So, needless to say, the class is going at breakneck speed. After just four days of this stuff, we've learned more than a normal German class would learn in its first month and a half. Ich spreche gut Deutsche. Yeah, you heard me.

As a relief from all of the German, Jess and I went to the Nationals vs. Brewers game on Friday night with some friends. We left a bit late, so we were walking through the gates just as the national anthem was being played. The friend suggested that we stop and wait 'til the anthem was finished before proceeding to our seats. So we stood there and waited, and a million thoughts were running through my head:

"I wonder who's playing the anthem?"

"Is that Kenny G?!?!!"

"Why on earth would they have a soprano sax for a Saturday night game?"

"Geez--is he ever gonna breathe?"

"I never learned to circular breathe, but it would have been sweet."

"I guess it's not Kenny G, cause this guy is African American."

"I wonder if that instrument will ever shake the image of Kenny G..."

Before I knew it the anthem finished, and I was shaken from my daydreaming by a rather large man. He tapped me on the shoulder and said:

"Excuse me--are you an American?"

Surprised and confused by the question, I stammered, "Um..yes."

"Then you really should take your hat off during the national anthem."

The dude walked away, leaving me wondering--did that really just happen? I had totally just gotten shot down as a Commie.

All that to say, I want anyone who reads this blog to beware: with my German studying and my Communist hat wearing habits, the Government may consider you an accessory to whatever it is that I'm doing. Mr. McCarthy would like to ask you a few questions.

You just can't be too careful about your friends these days...

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Lapse Dance

The fact that I kept my blog in the grave for two months after I wrote on The Resurrection is an irony that I assure you has not been lost on me. And, though it has become incredibly cliche to give reasons for not blogging--as if the whole world were depending upon fresh wit from this corner of the internets--I'm afraid I must offer a few.

The primary of these is I just haven't felt like it. I could say that I've been busy, and that would be true. But I haven't been TOO busy. I've probably just been lazy. I think this blogging thing has to happen in seasons, and I was ready to let my blog lie in the tomb for a bit. Fear not, it's Sunday (well, actually, it's Thursday. But we're speaking in metaphors here...and if there's one thing I know about metaphors, its that they're SOOO much more profound when you type twenty five extra words to explain them). So, yeah. Seasons.

I'd like to be back. I've got a lot to say, and some of it might even be the three of you who had the patience to wait around for another post. There's some politics, some funny work related happenings, some theology, some sports, some music and some movies. Just more of the beautifully broad range of thought that you've come to expect from this renaissance man and his renaissance blog.

Speaking of that--I still like the name of my blog after 3+ years. That really surprises me. I thought that whole, "I'm pensive, eloquent and misunderstood" thing would have gotten old by now.

Who knew?


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Surprised By Hope Part 7: Resurrection

Well, friends, I'm afraid I'm going to have to end this series. Not because there's nothing more to say. Rather, these posts are pretty labor intensive, and I'm not sure I'm going to have the time to continue them any longer. To those that have accompanied me on the journey--both those who commented and those who did not--I owe you my deepest thanks. I wish there were more time to deeply explore some of the issues that have arisen in the past few weeks. Perhaps there will be at some point.

Part 7 seemed to be the perfect one on which to end this series (for those of you who are into Jewish numerology at least...). Also, it seemed right to post on this particular topic on Resurrection Sunday. Today, Christians everywhere rejoice in the fact that the tomb is empty, and that we worship the risen and exalted messiah, Jesus.

In terms of apologetics for the truth of the resurrection I will give only a few brief comments--here I am drawing heavily upon Wright's work. My hunch is that few readers of this blog doubt the historicity of this event, but these things are still worth mentioning. First, those that would doubt the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ must explain the historical (and sociological) curiosity of the early Christian movement. If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, why would his disciples have continued to proclaim him as the messiah? A crucified Jewish would-be messiah in the first century was a FAILED messiah. This point cannot be made too strongly, and there are plenty of historical examples to support it. The followers of that would-be messiah had two options: a) disband and forget the hope of liberation that the 'messiah' seemed to offer, or b) elect a new messianic candidate from within who would continue the cause of liberation. Curiously, the first Christians did neither of these things, instead proclaiming that Jesus had BODILY risen from the dead. Wright and others argue vehemently that such a proclamation is historically inconceivable unless Jesus actually did rise.

A second and very convincing argument for the truth of the resurrection accounts in the gospels is that women were the first witnesses of the event. In Part 6, I mentioned briefly the second class status afforded women in Jewish society. They were not allowed to testify in court--their recounting of events would have been worthless for legal purposes. Such a situation begs the question: If the evangelists were trying to author a convincing fiction and pass it off as history, why in the world would they have written women as the leading actresses of their accounts? It would have convinced no one. The only explanation for the gospel accounts reading as they do is that they are historically accurate.

So, having established the facticity of the gospel accounts, what can we say about how the disciples understood the event itself? What did it mean within the larger schema of Jewish eschatology? Here the road is a bit bumpier, and I will again recommend reading Surprised By Hope for yourself if you want to get a clearer picture. For our purposes, an all-too-brief summary will have to suffice.

First, most Jews expected a resurrection to occur (save the Sadducees); everyone knew that Yahweh would one day resurrect all people for judgment in anticipation of/preparation for the new heavens and new earth. Let me be clear, all expectation in this regard had an end of the world referent. For Jesus' disciples to claim that their Lord had been raised from the dead in the middle of history would have been a novel invention indeed (were it not true). So what did it mean? For Paul, the answer is clear.

It meant that death had been defeated; it meant that Yahweh's new creation had already been inaugurated in the person of Jesus.

Jesus was, in this sense, the "truly human one." He was the lone example of what human life in God's perfect new creation would look like. He was the person in whom the future was caught up in the present. Notice that there is nothing that can be 'spiritualized' about Jesus' resurrection. It was not another way of referring to life after death in another place. Nor was it an interesting description of an intense private spirituality. Rather it was the prototype for life after life after death on earth (this is Wright's way of putting the matter, and I think it's spectacular).

So what should we make of the fact that God's new creation has been set loose in the person of Jesus Christ? I suggest the most appropriate response is to find out how we can get in on the action. After all, if there are two types of creation going on all around us--one that is subject to death and decay and another that bears the beauty of the risen Christ--it would seem logical to shoot for the latter. It is, therefore, our privilege and pleasure to be "in Christ" in this way--that we reflect the agenda of God's certain and conclusive future redemption for the entire cosmos in the present.

Or, as Paul puts it, "If anyone is in Christ [there is] a New Creation!! Everything old has passed away; behold! everything has become new."


So what does all of this mean in terms of practical action? How does a belief in the present power of new creation affect the things that are said and done on an every day basis? I'd be lying if I said I had ready made answers to these questions. What I can do is offer some thoughts I've had about being a Christian in this generation--especially since reading this book. Much of this might not strike you as novel, but it is what it is....

I've thought long and hard about the ways in which being "in Christ" should make me different from any other person walking down the DC streets. What should set me apart? What would cause people to recognize the surprising and beautiful existence of new creation in the middle of history when it was on display in my life? What would cause people to be persuaded that a commitment to Christ is anything more than a personal spiritual add-on to the existing status quo?

First, I think my generation has stopped asking the question "is it right?" and replaced it with, "does it work?" It is the generation of the postmodern pragmatist, concerned more with the agenda of human advancement and advantage than the characteristics of new creation. Therefore, I need to remember that "Does it work" always serves the cause of the powerful (they define what 'works' and what doesn't) and to take up the cause of those who are casualties of that agenda. My operating paradigm for action must be rooted in "is it right?".

Second, I need to learn to be loving. I need to resist the tendency to redefine love in terms of what I consider to be possible--to remake love in my own image, if you will. I need to give up my self perceived need to be right as a matter of course, realizing that "the right" are not listed amongst the blessed in Jesus economy.

Like I said, nothing particularly new. These are just a couple of things I've been kicking around and trying to put into practice since reading this book. Feel free to add your own to the list of 'what new creation looks like in the 21st century.'

To all: Happy Resurrection Day. HE IS RISEN!

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