Tuesday, September 30, 2008

great* presidential article

Race for president builds characters
Once again, we're treated to not just a campaign but a collision of myths.
By Todd Gitlin
September 28, 2008
This election campaign is about more than its issues, slogans, proposals, strategies, tactics, attacks or counterattacks. Like most presidential elections, it represents a collision of myths. Every four years, various versions of America wrestle with one another, and through this combat, the nation inspects itself, turns itself over and over, striving to choose not only how it wants to be led but what it wants to affirm, how it wants to be known -- really, what it wants to be.

Americans, of course, aren't always focused on these grand stakes; day to day, they see a more down-to-earth campaign -- the stump speeches, the barbs and one-liners, the attack ads. Pettiness consumes the attention of journalists and the prurient interest of the jaded. Sometimes the combat rises to the level of issues and policies. Sometimes it even approximates a rational contest as the candidates try to explain what they think is wrong and what they propose to do about it. Petty or substantive, all these are elements of the surface campaign, which may, in the end, determine who wins and loses but also obscures what is really at stake.

The true campaign is the deep campaign, the subsurface campaign, which concerns not just what the candidates say but who they are and what they represent -- what they symbolize.

In July, Barack Obama took some criticism for saying that "the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol." Some people thought that sounded a bit arrogant, but he was right. It was not a boast, it was a fact. People look at the candidates and project onto them something they value.

The candidates become, in a sense, walking archetypes. To warm to a candidate is to align not just with a person but with a myth, an ideal. Sometimes we say that people prefer the candidate they "feel more comfortable with" or the one they "would like to have a beer with," but to put it that way is to trivialize the deeper truth.

Part of what makes this year's race so volatile -- and so absorbing -- is the range of archetypes it has mobilized. Sen. John McCain is relatively familiar. He is the leathery man of the West, of exactly the sort who has entranced the Republican Party for almost half a century now. It is the role that Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush played before him.

McCain himself invokes Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider who, despite his New York origins, ranched in South Dakota and hunted throughout the West. Those who admire McCain tend to believe that it was men of this sort -- rugged individualists, plain-spoken, straight-talking, self-sufficient men at home in nature (not in our effete cities) -- who settled the West on their own. The myth discounts the immense role of the federal government in conquering the natives, seeing that the railroads were built, adjudicating disputes, arranging for water. No matter: Print the legend. In this image of the Old West, history belongs to the man who takes charge, the warrior in command who knows how to shoot and how to lead others to shoot as well.

To McCain's incarnation of this powerful archetype has been added the sidekick Sarah Palin. Palin mobilizes a powerful and unusual -- powerful partly because it is unusual -- supplementary combination of myths. She is Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter who foolhardy men underestimate at their peril even if she has a penchant for tall tales. But Palin is also Wonder Woman, the super-heroine whose exploits and attractions appeal to both sexes. And she is Aimee Semple McPherson, the onetime revivalist and moralist of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. In the imagination of her followers, Palin is some combination of Glamour, Outdoor Life, Playboy and DC Comics.

If the Republican ticket harmonizes with deep mythic currents, the Democrats this year are pioneering, and a bit scrambled, in their mythic significance. Obama is the quintessential outsider -- a "sojourner," the New York Times' David Brooks has called him. He hails from exotic Hawaii, alien Indonesia, elegant Harvard and down-and-dirty Chicago, all at the same time. To his devotees, he is part city-slicker, part man of the world; to his enemies, precisely this combination makes him suspect. Like the Lone Ranger, he rides into town to serve a community in need, but in a surprising twist, this Lone Ranger is closer to the color of Tonto.

Mythically, therefore, Obama is elusive, Protean, a shape-shifter who, when not beloved, arouses suspicion. Perhaps he is that object of envy and derision, a "celebrity," as the McCain campaign suggested, but he's also an egghead. He's the professor -- but one who can sink the shot from beyond the three-point circle. He too has a sidekick, but, if you judge by their resumes, it is as if Robin has chosen Batman. One thing is clear: He is not a man of the ranch. Personifying a welter of archetypes, he thrills some, confounds others and jams circuits. Some people ask, "Who is this guy?"

So that's the clash. McCain, the known quantity, the maverick turned lawman, fiery when called on to fight, an icon of the old known American story of standing tall, holding firm, protecting God's country against the stealthy foe. Obama is the new kid on the block, the immigrant's child, the recruit, fervent but still preternaturally calm, embodying some complicated future that we haven't yet mapped, let alone experienced. He is impure -- the walking, talking melting pot in person. In his person, the next America is still taking shape.

The warrior turned lawman confronts the community organizer turned law professor. The sheriff (who married the heiress) wrestles with the outsider who rode into town and made a place for himself. No wonder this race is thrilling and tense. America is struggling to fasten a name on its soul.

Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, is the author, most recently, of "The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals."


this sunday we chatted in fusion about the remarkable creator, god, who is above all.

we talked about possible theological implications of the theory of evolution - if it were even indisputably proven true.

among those, we spoke of the rhythm of original creation - ongoing creation - and new creation.

to illustrate, we'd planned to release thousands of butterflies into the auditorium...but we couldn't afford them.

so we only released 50 butterflies per fusion
...and they didn't fly
...or move
...or dazzle in any way

and, in the first fusion,
i could have sworn they were about to attack my face.

so - in the middle of my prayer to close the teaching - i called out:
i am terrified right now.

to much laughter.

and a little chagrin :)

stupid butterflies.

Friday, September 26, 2008

bitter truth

nt wright on stephen colbert

a prayer for new creation (genesis week 3)









free e-sword web app

e-sword is one of the better bible programs around (despite the terribly stupid title).

now it's available as a web app which can be used from any computer (mac or pc) using any browser (firefox, internet explorer, safari, etc.)

i suggest you download it and fill it full of the free resources (lexicons, bible dictionaries, bible encyclopedias, bible translations, etc.)

it's easy to use, easy to navigate, and free



oops - we forget this part

here is the original intro to the genesis series i'd written for our teaching atlas...but which we - somehow - forget to put in it (to this day, i still have no idea how that happened):

In my short life I've demonstrated a penchant for kicking the proverbial bee's nest.

It’s always played out in my life as a bit of the "contrarian" gene -
At least, that's what Ben Redmond calls it -
He claims my first response is to poke holes in everything I see or hear or read.

Sometimes I begin to get so bothered that I can't stop thinking about something,
Especially when things don't add up the way they should.

Like about tithing, for instance;
Or the popular notion that Christians are supposed to hate the world;
Or that the phrase "chasing after the wind" is supposed to be really meaningful (in its ironic meaninglessness).

Or this whole schtick about Genesis being a kind of historical recipe for how God made the world

For several years I’ve just ignored this itch I’ve had that there’s more going on there.
I’ve been content to think it about it later.
But then I couldn't stop thinking about it.
And I just kept studying and studying.
And, before long, I realized that it certainly wasn't a recipe.

Which sated my irritation for a while.
I had the satisfaction of knowing that there was more there than we're truly unearthed as of yet.

As time went on,
It began to bug me.

I mean,
It couldn't just be a poem, could it?
That would suck -
That would mean it was one of the most oft-misunderstood and ultimately powerless pieces of the biblical text.
Which - for the very reason alone that it is at the very beginning - just didn't sit well with me.

So I began to dig,
And dig.
And dig.

And then it popped.


Smashed me in the face.
Changed my life.
Changed my mind.
Changed my heart.

The love,
The wholeness,
The healing,
Rushed into me over and over again,
And I came into new life.

Because it has great meaning.
Because it has great power.
Power to change.
Power to see.
Power to bring about reconciliation.

And so...here we go again.

I do my best to approach this with humility -
But I feel myself crackling with enthusiasm -
And I don't want to diminish the latter for fear of subduing the former.

This Teaching Atlas represents two years of intense personal study. If – at age 31 – there is such a thing as a life’s work, then this is mine. I’m sharing it with you because it gets to the very core of who I believe God has called us to be and what we’re supposed to be doing while we’re here in this world.

I believe that Genesis 1 is the most important piece of the Bible. Without understanding it properly, we misunderstand Jesus’ Incarnation, the Arrival of the Holy Spirit, and the redemptive plans of God for this world.

It’s at the beginning of the Bible for a reason.

It’s the starting point – the piece of the story that sets up everything coming after it.
I hope you’ll get way more out of it – and everything else – after diving in with both feet.

And now, let us begin in the beginning…


got our first *spark to our presentation of theistic evolution this morning. it was pretty harmless, actually, but it reminds me just how precarious faith can be.

this anonymous comment-er was irked that we would suggest that genesis 1 was not meant to be read as an historical document, and was deeply troubled that we could entertain the idea(s) of evolution coupled with faith.

i get why that's problematic for some people. i really do.

and, when i say that i get it i'm not trying to be clever, or tongue-in-cheek, or sarcastic, or whatever.

in fact, i often think of my mom and dad and how difficult this kind of perspective is for them to accept because it is soooo different that what they grew up with.

i get it.

i get why this is hard.

but i also get that ALL our evidence suggests that genesis 1 was written well after the fact of original creation, and that ALL our scholars view it as limited by the understanding of a pre-scientific mind.

christians think that an academic reading of the bible is the complete opposite of a faith-based reading of the bible; the former is for atheists with bible-fetishes, the latter for "true" believers.

but i reject this kind of thinking entirely.

every christian HAS to be on a life-long quest to understand the bible better.


doing so gives us great humility in our perceptions of the text, because we know that - sooner or later - more information will come to light that will make our understanding more robust.

furthermore, whenever we read the bible, we must always do our best to interpret it correctly. this means asking the right questions in the right order: then, them, us.


when was it written? (it was written...then)

who was it written to? (it was written...to them)

what does it mean today? (it means...for us)

but, of course, most christians reverse this order...and then only ask the first question:
what do i think it means?

and that question - what do i think it means? - is a dangerous question. that question has led to most of the heresies of the last 2000 years, most of the division within evangelicalism in america, and most of the apostasy within churches in the declining "christian" west.

so, back to our anonymous comment-er, i get why our "take" on genesis is difficult.

but what i don't get is why christian people, by-and-large, feel that they are unquestionably right in their assumptions about scripture.

i don't get why more of us aren't more open to hearing biblically substantive, god-honoring, academically credible presentations of christian spirituality.

and what could be more important than accurately framing the story of god and this world?

what could be more important than correctly understanding the ambitions of god to heal the world that we have distorted with our sin? than understanding the sickness that jesus christ came to heal through his incarnation and salvific death on the cross?

that is the essence of christianity.

our starting point.

our beginning.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

when did we get the "image?"

i'm always on the lookout for ways to reconcile evolutionary biology and genesis. i've got my mind wrapped about a very satisfying solution, but i'm open to enhancements.

so i had this thought today, about the imago dei.

let's say that all of evolutionary biology is true...
- the earth is 16 billion years old
- yada yada yada
- modern man shows up in africa 100,000 years ago; the hobbits in indonesia 16,000 yrs ago
- then, 6,000 yrs. ago "ish" may have been the time when we "woke up" to the image of god

that may have been the time when god endowed us with self-awareness, the ability for kenotic love, and the desire to union and communion with him.

in this hypothesis, the late date of literary invention (cueniform, etc.) makes sense because we'd only been awake for a little while anyway.

am i rambling too much?

maybe. our office air conditioning is broken and i'm a little delirious from the heat. seriously, i see eddie murphy staring at me from behind my mac.

outside the empire, chapter 3

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


someone asked me about my career the other day.

that's always foreign language to a pastor, i think.

i mean, i think about any writing/speaking/leading/teaching i do outside of ww as my "career." but, everything i do at the winds i think of as simply serving my calling, serving god, and serving my church.

i don't think of the church piece as my "career"...if i did, i think i'd fracture. i'd struggle with resentment more, with frustration more, etc...

but, thankfully, that's not how i think about it. mom and dad were super cool in this regard: a pastor is a servant of god, given to the people in a local church.

and i find great satisfaction in serving at westwinds.

as to my career? well, i'm finding a lot of satisfaction there too. god has been very gracious to carmel and i, and i want to live up to the honors he's given us.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

learning lots...

...we've covered some pretty major ground in fusion the last couple of weeks. it's the kind of stuff that typically would result in church catastrophe, fury, or - sadly - a split.

but it's gone wonderfully well, thanks to the open-minded and gracious people of westwinds.

they've been really cool, really eager to learn, and really eager to deepen their understanding of both the scriptures and the movement of the spirit in their lives.

thank god.

thanks, too, to our elders who've coached us on how best to prepare people for a series like this. bill, dave, tom, anil, jeff, and brad have been instrumental in educating jvo and i how best to vet some of these ideas and give folks plenty of opportunity for feedback loops and talkbacks.

kudos, guys - you're wisdom has allowed us to navigate some tricky waters in order to lead more people into fuller life development.

glad for you all.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

prayer: prophetic criticism (fusion, week 2, genesis)

God –

I have believed the fictions of this world
And paid for it.

I am like a locust,
A consumer,
A thing of greed, believing the myth of scarcity.

And I am unlike the elephant,
Forgetting everything truthful
about who made this world and what I am supposed to do in it.

Now I find that these fictions are disruptive
And they have ruined parts of my character.

So I would like to exchange my lies for your truth.

I want to live within your story
The true story of this world and all who live in it.

I want to accept your invitation to be a shadow.

I am not God,
But neither am I nothing – or a shadow of nothing.

I am here to conserve and conceive your creativity.

So I accept my dignity
And my responsibility
To imitate you in this world.

Help me to edit the story of this world.
Help me to re-write the world in love with you.


Vatican OK’s Evolution (article adapted)

During an announcement regarding an upcoming conference to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the culture minister for the Vatican, reiterated the Catholic Church’s acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, though don’t expect an apology. He explained that the ideas were “never condemned by the Catholic Church nor was his book ever banned.” He went on to emphasize the idea of “theistic evolution,” where evolution and God’s hand in creation were not mutually exclusive, and that “Most of this debate has been taking place without a strong Catholic theological presence, and the discussion has suffered accordingly.”

I’m not sure the exact papal document, but there was an encyclical published in the 1950’s that stated fairly explicitly that there’s nothing in study of evolution that necessarily presents a theological issue for the Church and that the only thing that the Church would condemn would be any claim that, because evolution takes place, that somehow means God had no hand in the creative process.

In other words, believe in evolution by natural forces all you want, but remember that those natural forces are necessary products of the universe as it exists, and that existence has God as a first cause.

The problem of god is beyond biology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

more from len on the imago dei (captured via twitter)

...Thinking about a Holy Humanism . .. Jesus heightens my humanity, not dims it...

...My thesis-Jesus came not to make us "more spiritual," or "more holy," but more human, original, real "human" God created before we messed up...

...The "original sin" is to want to be divine, holy, "like God." That was the serpent's snare then, and it still is today...

...God didn't make us "gods." We are duvets of dust into which God "breathed" the spirit and "birthed" a soul:...

...New Age sewage is "you are divine" & "you are gods" & "you are holy." God is God and I am not: wake-up call in the mirror every morning....

hilarious sermon series promo

we hate for our absurdity to be out-done, but kudos to mars hill in seattle for:


Thursday, September 18, 2008

unaccepted reconciliation

the church of england just issued a formal apology to darwin.

Andrew Darwin, a great-great grandson of the scientist, said: "Why bother? When an apology is made after 200 years, it's not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organization making the apology feel better."

thing is, andrew doesn't get it.

this is a solid move by the church to reconcile the gap between faith and science, much in the same way the catholic church did with galileo (notice, too, that the catholics were much more accepting of darwin et al than the anglicans...almost like they'd learned from their earlier mistakes).

this is a good apology. it models reconciliation. we reacted in fear then, and many of us are still reacting in fear now...the example of the church helps us move past our fears.

thinking about a translation project

it's true, much of what we talk about in fusion presses the edge of the intellectual envelope. it's one of the special qualities of the winds, and something i work very hard to preserve and advance through my own contributions.

but sometimes, i can't help but wonder what "normal" people are thinking...

i mean, for regular 9-to-5 folks, some of the stuff we talk about in fusion must just seem like gobble.d.gook.

which, of course, is why we try and personalize things with stories and illustrations etc.

but still, half the time i'm sure only about half our people are getting only about half of what we're saying 50% right.

which concerns me.

so i've begun to think about a translation project.

i wonder what it would look like to take the central spiritual message of westwinds and explain it completely in layman's terms.

i wonder what it would look like to translate the top shelf theology we frequently spin and re-parse it into the language of seinfeld, grey's anatomy, and heroes.

because my belief is so strong in the fact that spiritual understanding brings profound personal transformation, i wonder what it would be like to take one evening and start small...working our way towards something large.


that's a possibility i'm giving a lot of thought lately.

it's a kind of neo-evangelism, i think. not a crusade, but a conversation; not a revival meeting, but a rennovation and a repair; not self-help, but self-location...

anyway, more later...

outside the empire, chapter two

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

genesis feedback (name withheld)

Dave - I just wanted you to know how much that I appreciate you (again)! You have helped me to grow more spiritually in the last three years than I grew my entire life.

Thank you for tackling this subject. As the evidence of old earth kept coming up in many ways over the years I had no way to reconcile Biblical Creation with science so I had to throw out (or misinterpret) the scientific evidence.

The last couple years this battle between the Biblical Creation account and science has really come to a head for me. The scientific evidence kept piling up until it couldn’t be denied. But the Bible story is so different. So how was I supposed to reconcile the Bible and science? They seemed so opposite! I have really struggled with it, loosing sleep, questioning the authenticity of the Bible and consequently questioning the very existence of God. (Somehow I couldn’t quite throw God out.) This science vs. Biblical creation has sure tested and shook my faith because I couldn’t reconcile the two. I didn’t know what to do with it.

So I thank God for you. You have given me the resources to come to terms with this issue. Now I can make sense of it. I don’t fully understand it all, I still have some important questions that need to eventually be answered but I know that in time those will be understood too. God is like that.

Thanks again. You have steadied and refounded my faith.

I have read ahead in your teaching atlas and I know you have some tough things still to address. I’ll be praying for you. It’s got to be tough for you. But keep going. We need to know these things. Thank you for being authentic and culturally relevant and addressing tough issues.

genesis reading list


God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution. John F. Haught

Original Blessing. Matthew Fox

Envisioning the Word: The Use of Visual Images in Preaching. Richard A. Jensen

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. Steven Bouma-Prediger

Three Treatises on the Divine Images. St. John of Damascus

A Community Called Atonement. Scot McKnight

The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. J. Richard Middleton

Interpretation: Genesis. Walter Brueggemann

The Divine Image: Envisioning the Invisible God. Ian A. McFarland

In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. Henri Blocher

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality. Rob Bell

Understanding Genesis: The World of the Bible in the Light of History. Nahum M. Sarna

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Francis Collins

Human Destiny. Lecomte du Nouy

an alternate reading

Because it’s difficult to know for sure when genesis 1 was written, there are 1 or 2 other possibilities about what it may have meant to its original audience. Most of our scholars date it somewhere between 500-700 BC (very loosely with D or P), but some date it even later.

Some scholars think that it may have been written after King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Hebrew people to leave captivity and return to Jerusalem. He freed them. He gave them his peace to rebuild their city.

Now, it’s a small minority of scholars that date genesis 1 so late…c. 450-500 BC. But, if they’re right, then genesis 1 would have a different meaning than the one we’re chasing down in fusion.

We’re suggesting that genesis 1 was written as a critique of the Babylonian creation story – the enuma elish. We’re suggesting that genesis was written in defiance of Babylon, essentially turning the evil poem on its head and calling the Babylonian authorities and their power into question. We’re suggesting that genesis 1 was written in defiance of Babylon, with a prophetic reminder that the God of Creation will ultimately cause the fall of Babylon (which does indeed happen through Cyrus).

But, if genesis 1 was written after Babylon was destroyed and Cyrus took over, then we may have to interpret it as a different kind of re-writing of the enuma elish. Instead of a defiant correction, genesis 1 would have been written as a “see-we told you so.” If genesis 1 was written on the way back to Jerusalem, then the story of the original creation of the world would have rhymed nicely with the re-creation of God’s holy city on the earth.

Original creation mirroring new creation.

Cool, right?

Well, it’s an academic long shot at this point…but a cool rabbit trail nonetheless, and not completely without merit anyway. Why not? Well, even if genesis 1 was written while still in Babylon – which we think it was – then the return to Jerusalem a few years later still serves as a ‘prophecy-fulfilled’ in the sense that YHWH has ultimately vindicated his people.

Lost? Confused?

Don’t stress. If things get too complicated here, just simplify: God is a Creator. He made the world new, and He is still making things new within the world today.

inspiration of scripture

whenever we talk about the bible critically (by which i mean: academically, in context of its original languages/manuscripts, or in reference to the original [as best as we can determine] date/date/place/issue writing of each piece of the bible) it makes people nervous.

yup. talking critically about the bible makes people nervous.

it makes us nervous because it forces us to deal with the fact that the bible is not, strictly speaking, an answer book (though, of course, many of us find great comfort in the answers revealed to us through the bible).

the bible itself poses many questions. questions like: who wrote this? where did this come from? why did they say that like that? who thinks this was? etc.

for those of us who grew up in a christian household these questions often seem irreverent, iconoclastic, and un-christian.

but they are actually the most god-honoring questions we could be asking about the bible. they force us to wrestle with the context in which the bible was written, and we can never have confidence in our interpretation without knowing that context.

context is king.

but the context is not always obvious or clear, as in the case of genesis 1.

and sometimes there is great debate among scholars as to when/how/why something was written, as in the case of genesis 1.

the typical evangelical response to this kind of debate is to run, screaming and in terror, and cling to the safest version of the context we can find; which, typically, means we ignore the real conversation about scripture and hold fast to the version of the truth we learned as a child.

now, there is nothing wrong with child-like faith. but child-like faith refers to innocence, not fear. child-like faith refers to a willingness to believe and trust and find peace in god; not to a panic and an anxiety that there may be more to learn than what we already know...or that what we already know may need to be enhance by those who know more.

i do not consider myself a biblical scholar. i am simply a pastor. but my job is to learn from scholars and transmit what i've learned into the normal, every-day life of regular people.

sometimes this means challenging what we all learned in sunday school.

and, remember, what we learned in sunday school isn't bad. far from it - children can't make sense of the complexity of adult life or thought, far less can they be expected to make sense of biblical textual criticism. but what we learned in sunday school is only the finger food preceding the main course. it is nutritionally insufficient.

you can't grow up eating cheese sticks and veggies with dip.

anyway - back to criticism.

we feel scared when we talk about the bible critically because we think it undermines the inspiration of the holy spirit.

but it doesn't.

i am a staunch believer in the fact that all scripture is breathed by god. everything in our bibles has been inspired by the spirit. we have the bible god wants us to have. we have it in many (slightly) different shapes and forms, with some (negligable) differences in (small) portions of the text.

but it's the bible god gave us and wants us to use.

and the more we use it, the more we learn from it, the more we let it edit our lives, the more we come to understand just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

the bible is like a pond, safe enough for children to play in, but deep enough for adults to dive.

our learned and academic study of the bible is the diving bit...the bit that makes us all nervous at first.

but rest assured - whether or not a piece of the bible was written in 550 BC or 1400 BC, it was still inspired by the spirit. god was still at work motivating the author to think, to perceive, and to record.

how is this possible?

well, maybe you've never really thought about it...but do so now. when we talk about the inspiration of the holy spirit we don't mean that people were possessed by god (as if the biblical writers were divinely possessed, much like william blakey told us about demon possession). they didn't lose control in a trance and have god take them over, making them write what he wanted to write.

it was much simpler, and much holier.

god directed the authors of the bible to write things down. god may have done this by giving them an idea to write it down; or through the encouragement of their friends; or through some outside circumstances that made them think they ought to write it down so no one would forget what happened.

then they wrote. they wrote with their own words, in their own literary voice, and largely they wrote about their own first-hand experiences or observations.

in the case of the prophets who foretold the future, they likely received a clear mental picture of how things would turn out. they then put that mental picture into their own words, which their scribes/assistants wrote down later.

in the case of the prophets who spoke against the evils of the present world, they likely reacted in their spirits against the grossness and injustice of this world and god's spirit inspired them to criticize it.

my point is that - to interpret the bible well - we have to know who wrote which part and why and when.

and learning that helps us understand better. it doesn't limit the inspiration of god, it demonstrates the marvelous nuance(s) of god's spirit. it demonstrates how god works.

it shows us what god is like.

in the case of genesis 1, i see no "danger" in learning that it was a priest in 550 BC who wrote it verses moses writing it in 1400 BC.


neither do i see a problem in noting the similarities between genesis 1 and the enuma elish.


the simple fear here is that, somehow, genesis 1 is a copy of the enuma elish - which makes some afraid that god is a kind of plagarist, like the great illegal-mp3-downloader in the sky.

but the language of genesis 1 is different enough from the enuma elish to tell us 2 important things:
1. the author knew he was referencing the enuma elish
2. the author deliberately changed A LOT of things about the enuma elish

and why would he have changed the enuma elish? just to make it "christian?" or "jewish?"
no. the only reason a jewish author would have referenced the enuma elish was to criticize it.

to tell the world it was wrong.

so, does it compromise the inspiration of scripture for a priest to have used the enuma elish?


in fact, it's quite consistent with the prophetic critique(s) we see throughout the first testament, where the prophets of old say: the world is not right, god is not happy with it, and god will make it right soon.

what could be more inspired than that?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

nottheend.info (series site)

just an fyi that our current series has its own website - nottheend.info.

on the site you can download a FREE pdf of the teaching atlas, as well as see all our series videos, the q & a, and read the FAQs, etc...

check it out by clicking here

imago dei from len sweet

Hi Len - I need a good way to respond re: the imago dei concerning the
mentally ill.

I've read everything I can find on the imago dei, but all answers leave room
for the more mentally ill to somehow be defined as NOT imago dei.

For example, if we define it as self-awareness...then some of the mentally
ill wouldn't qualify

If we define it as relationship with god...then some of the mentally ill -
who are relationally incapable in the minds of psychiatrists and therapists
- are left out.

Got any quick thoughts?



Very early in life I learned a compass setting that has helped me navigate
through many thickets of thought. Here it is: you legislate for the norm,
you allow for the exception.

In other words, much of our conversations about any "problematique" ends up
trying to cover every conceivable example. Whereas I begin with the
assumption that there will always be some "exceptions" that will not fit
into any known category, and that you begin with that premise and not spend
all your time trying to explain or explore those "exceptions." An
"exception" is, by definition, an "exception." And there are certain
"exceptional" people and examples that deserve exploration in their own
right, not trying to fit them into some category.

God put us here "to tend and till the garden," or in my translation, "to
conserve and conceive" God's creativity. The key to "imago Dei" is the
connection between relationship and creation/imagination. To be created "in
the image of God" means we are creations of God's imaginings, we are the
imagination of God, and we are to respect and revere each other as similarly
conceived divine imaginings.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Aronofsky On His "Noah's Ark"

In an extensive interview with /Film, Darren Aronofsky has talked quite a bit about his long-gestating Noah's Ark feature film.

Aronofsky and his "The Fountain" co-writer Ari Handel say that "we have an amazing screenplay. It's a great script and it's HUGE. And we're starting to feel out talent. And then we'll probably try and set it up."

The non-traditional English language will be a grand biblical epic as, after all, it deals with "the end of the world and it's the second most famous ship after the Titanic. So I'm not sure why any studio won't want to make it. I think it's really timely because it's about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what's going on on this planet. So I think it's got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He's a really interesting character. Hopefully they'll let me make it."

Click Here to check out the full interview.

every politician needs to be lampooned well

Sunday, September 14, 2008

the "one" question i'd ask god about genesis

my friend kevin schantz asked me today (in the Q & A following fusion) what my "one" question would be if i got to ask god anything about genesis 1 & 2.

i told him: am i doing ok?

knowing that genesis 1-2 is about our role as image-bearers (shadows) of god, i'd want to know whether or not i'm doing a good job shadowing him. am i living up to the dignity and responsibility of my calling in the imago dei? am i cooperating with the spirit? am i living in service to jesus and his mission to remake the world?

that'd be my question.

that's what i really and truly care about in this life.

prophetic criticism (zulu style)

i had some zulu friends in college. they grew up as mk's in africa, then came to the great white north to play rugby. anyway, they told us that when the zulu were scared, at night in the jungle, of spirits they would chant against the forces of the dark. this chant became our team chant for my junior and senior years (leading us to a regional championship, no less) and we referenced it today in fusion.

away, away, away
wickedness and sin
pride and jealousy
all injustice
every evil deed
every heresy
all corruption
all corruption
all corruption
away, away, away

beginnings of the doumentary hypothesis (from wikipedia)

Mosaic authorship

Prior to the 17th century both Jews and Christians accepted the traditional view that Moses had written down the Torah under the direct inspiration—even dictation—of God. A few rabbis and philosophers asked how Moses could have described his own death, or given a list of the kings of Edom before those kings ever lived, but none doubted the truth of the tradition, for the purpose of scholarship "was to underline the antiquity and authority of the teaching in the Pentateuch, not to demonstrate who wrote the books."[4]

[edit] The beginnings of the documentary hypothesis

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes, in chapter 33 of Leviathan, marshaled a battery of evidence that the Pentateuch could not all be by Moses, noting passages such as Deut 34:6 ("no man knoweth of his sepulchre to this day," implying an author living long after Moses' death); Gen 12:6 ("and the Canaanite was then in the land," implying an author living in a time when the Canaanite was no longer in the land); and Num 21:14 (referring to a previous book of Moses' deeds), and concluded that none of these could be by Moses. Others, including Isaac de la Peyrère, Baruch Spinoza, Richard Simon, and John Hampden came to the same conclusion, but their works were condemned, several of them were imprisoned and forced to recant, and an attempt was made on Spinoza's life.[5]

In 1753 Jean Astruc printed (anonymously) Conjectures sur les memoires originaux, dont il parait que Moses s'est servi pour composer le livre de la Genèse ("Conjectures on the original accounts of which it appears Moses availed himself in composing the Book of Genesis"). Astruc's motive was to refute Hobbes and Spinoza - "the sickness of the last century," as he called their work. To do this, he applied to Genesis the tools of literary analysis which scholars were already using with Classical texts such as the Iliad to sift variant traditions and arrive at the most authentic text. He began by identifying two markers which seemed to identify consistent variations, the use of "Elohim" or "YHWH" (Yahweh) as the name for God, and the appearance of duplicated stories, or doublets, such as the two accounts of the creation in the first and second chapters of Genesis and the two accounts of Sarah and a foreign king (Gen.12 and Gen.20). He then ruled columns and assigned verses to these, the "Elohim" verses in one column, the "YHWH" verses in another, and the members of the doublets in their own columns beside these. The four parallel columns thus constructed contained two long narratives and two short ones. Astruc suggested that these were the original documents used by Moses, and that Genesis as written by Moses had looked just like this, four parallel accounts meant to be read separately. According to Astruc, a later editor had combined the four columns into a single narrative, creating the confusions and repetitions noted by Hobbes and Spinoza.[6]

The tools adapted by Astruc for biblical source criticism were vastly developed by subsequent scholars, most of them German. From 1780 onwards Johann Gottfried Eichhorn extended Astruc's analysis beyond Genesis to the entire Pentateuch, and by 1823 he had concluded that Moses had had no part in writing any of it. In 1805 Wilhelm de Wette concluded that Deuteronomy represented a third independent source. About 1822 Friedrich Bleek identified Joshua as a continuation of the Pentateuch via Deuteronomy, while others identified signs of the Deuteronomist in Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In 1853 Hermann Hupfeld suggested that the Elohist was really two sources and should be split, thus isolating the Priestly source; Hupfeld also emphasized the importance of the Redactor, or final editor, in producing the Torah from the four sources. Not all the Pentateuch was traced to one or other of the four sources: numerous smaller sections were identified, such as the Holiness Code contained in Leviticus 17 to 26.[7]

Scholars also attempted to identify the sequence and dates of the four sources, and to propose who might have produced them, and why. De Wette had concluded in 1805 that none of the Pentateuch was composed before the time of David; Since Spinoza, D was connected with the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Josiah in 621 BC; beyond this, scholars argued variously for composition in the order PEJD, or EJDP, or JEDP: the subject was far from settled.[8]

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas. It will call "anti-evolutionary fervour" an "indictment" on the Church".

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin's views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church's director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin's theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo's astronomy in the 17th century.

"The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends."

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still "a litmus test of faithfulness" for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

The comments are included on a Church of England website promoting the views of Charles Darwin to be launched on Monday.

ever pray to check yourself?

Luke 11.9-13 (NIV)

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives;
he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

OK - these verses are specifically related to the promise of the holy spirit; however, beyond this specific intent, they also reveal something to us about the character and nature of God.

namely, if you're asking God for something of himself you can - at the very least - be assured you won't get something the exact opposite of what you're asking for.

so, in my former life, there was always this concern that people who prayed to speak in tongues might accidently get demon possessed. beyond the fact that this is ridiculous on ten other levels, we can have absolute certainty that if someone if praying for more of God (a.k.a. asking their father for bread), even if they don't get more of Him they certainly won't get something the opposite of Him (a.k.a. a stone).

if you ask God for more of God, you'll either get it or you won't; but you'll never be in danger of being accidently demon possessed (as if, somehow, satan intercepted your prayer and answered it himself).

anyway...the reason i'm saying all of this is simply to demonstrate a simple principle: you can trust the answers you get from God, specifically those that concern Him.

in my case, i've had many occassions to get before God and ask: am i doing the right thing?

i've asked: am i deceived? am i foolish? am i off-track? am i arrogant? am i stubborn?

sometimes, god answers a resounding YES to these questions. sometimes not.

my deepest desire is to please God, and i pray desperately to do so in every aspect of my life.

so, as we prepare to break new theological ground in our genesis series, i've repeatedly asked God over the last few weeks: am i doing the right thing? is this too risky? have i somehow been deceived?

and i feel so strong and confident that He takes pleasure in what we're doing, in where we're headed, and in our growth along the way.


because, in the end, God will seem bigger to us, receive more glory from us, and the work of His Spirit will seem more obvious to us.

cool, right? i hope so. my highest ambitions are for Him and His pleasure, for us and for Him to grow in us.


great day yesterday

our morning disaster with jake at his soccer game was soon overcome by a fantastic family day at home.

days like that feel like early christmas presents...and daddy loves christmas.

Friday, September 12, 2008

mythos prayer (week 1, genesis)

God –

I admit I’ve not always been interested in you
Or in your story
Or in your plans and tendencies for me.

I have too little imagination to rightly understand
All that you’ve done
And all that you’re prepared to do
To teach me what it means to be human.

But I want to change.

I want to live differently now.

I want to embrace your authority,
Choosing to obey you and to live with your protection.

I choose to serve you,
Living in your Presence – a worshipper.

I acknowledge that I am Yours –
Your (wo)man,
And that I have been made to love and to live
As Your shadow in this world.

Help me to do that better.


outside the empire, chapter one: mythos

timeline for genesis authorship

genesis series bumper

Thursday, September 11, 2008

emergent spirituality

i've been asked to teach a master's course on emergent spirituality. it's for the leadership in spiritual formation course at spring arbor university, and i think it'll be a lot of fun.

but it does raise some interesting questions for me...like why i tend to understand christian spirituality so differently from many of my peers (even "emergent" ones), and why i understand spiritual formation so differently as well.

i fully embrace the ancient/future ideology so common to people from my tribe...but, if i'm honest, it seems like most of us are more enamored with the ancient than with the futuristic.

this is ok.

i'd rather we loved the ancient than loved the nearly recent. the nearly recent, after all, has kind-of kidded-down discipleship, maligned art and beauty, and altogether abolished the necessity of a rule of life.

so, yeah - ancient is good.

but so is future...and there are very few voices on what future-spirituality looks like. in the past, i've experimented a lot with web portals (like prayground, for example, or vurch) and their worth in this regard.

they're worth a lot...but they're not the whole deal.

instead, i've come to focus my understanding along a few spirtual bearings. i'll likely share them later, but this post is really just about their prologue in my thoughts.

potty mouth

it surprises people, sometimes, to hear me use words like "crappy" or "sucks" when i preach.

some think it's because i'm trying to be relevant or authentic or something, but that's not really why.

in fact, i always regret using those (and all the many, many other) words. my mind races to twin moments of repentance and humiliation...not unlike most of my trips to public beaches.

truth be told i just have sooooo much racing through my head in those moments that it's like a traffic jam. if i focus my attention on saying things nicely, i get stuck in traffic and cannot complete my thoughts.

which sometimes leads me to greater frustration
and has almost caused complete breakdown a number of times
which probably would have manifested itself as tourrets-galore.

a.k.a. resume-building time.

so, yeah - it's a growth area for me.

lately, though, as i've been struggling with this weird tension and pressure my normal speech has deteriorated too.

which makes me sad. i'd like to think i'm beyond silly sins...guess i'm really not.

i told my class tonight that this is an issue for me. it is. it always has been. but i want to win over it. i want to move past it. it just feels like i'm going to have to continue hammering this out bit by bit, hopefully winning more than i'm losing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


wow...more craziness this week. not with life, just with me.

i find this weird. i'm a fairly level person...but i've been irritable and short-tempered these past few days. it may have something to do with mema's hospitalization, or randy's pins-and-needles health reports, or jake's first week of school, or the launch of satellites and the beginning of my sau teaching semester, or the upcoming series...but if i'm honest, it doesn't feel like any of these.

it feels like spiritual attack.

i feel like there are lots of things trying to distract me right now.
i feel like there's a lot of little day-bombs waiting to go off, almost hoping i'll flip out over them.

i feel like the most important thing i can do right now is stay prayed up,
and ask for grace
and humility
and focus all my efforts on staying sweet.

scientists recreate the big bang

cheer up! it's not the end of the world (video promo)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

curious about how i prep sermons?

that old fateful feeling

i'm having it again...that feeling of irritation. it sneaks up on me sometimes and i have to catch it quick before my whole day starts feeling hurried and bothersome and annoying.

i need the perception to identify it early, and then the wisdom to make some changes.

otherwise i'll need another five weeks of vacation pretty quickly.

i'm convinced, though, that work-related stress is symptomatic of the fall in the garden of eden. god cursed man with work and sweat and pain...in an office, that looks a little differently than in a field, but the results are the same.

i love my job. i'm thankful for it. the stresses and pressures that enter into it are largely of my own making.

god, give me the grace to stop, breathe, and work well with you and everyone else.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

marathon video, 2007

worried about my friend randy

i haven't blogged much about randy...it just seems a bit too personal. some stuff, you just want to work through on your own.

but he's gotten worse lately, and he's not blogging about it, and he's been on my mind a lot.

people sometimes ask me if there's any hope for him. i guess that's a fair question. it feels to some like there's no hope, but they need permission to feel that way so they ask me what i think.

we all probably feel like that sometimes.

but i've come to think that hope is a choice.

i have great hope for randy to fully recover from his cancer.

great hope.

and my hope is bolstered by prayer.
desperate prayer, sure, but i'm praying that he will completely recover.

i don't want to hope that everything will be ok for him and his family.
everything is already not ok.

i've chosen, instead, to place my hope in the most miraculous and unlikely outcome.

i hope he gets 100% better.

to me, it feels like the only thing worth believing for.

of course he may not completely recover. i'm not ok with that, and i'm making no effort to find peace now for what may sadden and disappoint us all later. all my thoughts and prayers and energies before god on this matter sum up to one simple request:

please heal my friend.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

politics and religion

jokingly i told my friend the other day that - as a dual citizen - i jealously reserve my right to criticize the governments of two countries equally.

he replied: you should. you're a pastor. you're job is to critique. after all, whenever you mix politics and religion, all you're left with is politics.

he's right.

election time is terribly distasteful to me. i find myself constantly embarrassed by political christians, put off by political commercials, and barraged by requests for my political opinion.

let's be clear - in the current, two-party, political system of the united states we are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. that's not to say that neither side has anything good to say; or that either side is completely free of its share of closet-skeletons...

i'm simply stating the obvious: christ-followers cannot abdicate their intellectual, political, and moral responsibility by picking the "christian" candidate.

we must listen.

we must think.

we must vote.

we must decide.

and - most importantly - even if everything (or nothing) changes, we have to remember that we find our identity first in christ, then in our country. we live as strangers and exiles in this world...come what may, our ultimate hope doesn't lie with a presidential candidate.

it is our responsibility to pick a president.

it is our hope to trust in god that he will teach us how to support that president when he's right, challange him when he's wrong, and criticize him when he's outside the bounds of scripture.

why i should never do counseling...

sometimes, when i decline to accept a counseling appointment, people make the mistake(s) of thinking that i'm either [A]too busy, or [B] too self-important to do such "low" work.

people who know me, however, know that - while i am very busy - i'm really not too busy to talk to people...nor am i particularly enamored with my own significance.

no, the real reason that i don't do much counseling (and try, actually, to do none) is because i'm afraid of doing any damage to the counsel-ee.

this isn't to say that i'm so spectacularly unskilled as to harm someone through bad advice...just that i'm not a natural counselor. i'm wired very differently; and, my wiring in most cases provides the exact WRONG kind of interaction with hurting people.

let me further explain...

when someone comes in with a problem or an issue, i typically see a solution quickly. i can't help myself from offering my opinion. the force of my personality and the force of my opinion begin to get larger in the room. usually, by this point, my inner a-hole-o-meter is sounding huge alarms and i know it's time to end the session.


if that person doesn't follow my counsel, and - as a result - stays "stuck" in the same situation they are forced to live with the knowledge that they have 'rebelled' or 'cheated' or whatever...

this makes them very, very shy around me...

which wouldn't be so bad except that the only place they typically see me is at church

so they get shy around church
and, often, project the feelings and perceptions they have about me onto God
from whom they then begin to feel an even greater distance

and so they quit church
quit jesus
and stay miserable

because i counseled them.

sound a little over the top?

i wish it were. in 13 years of professional ministry i've seen this particular pattern repeat itself many, many times.

some of you might think that a good solution would be for me to become a better counselor. truth be told, i am a much better counselor than i was...but i just don't have it in me to get involved this deeply into the personal lives of strangers. God has given me the wisdom to understand that i'm not made for counseling in that way, and that i actually do people a disservice when i function out of my gifting.

honestly, whenever i get together with someone i get so attached to them so quickly that i can't help but care deeply about how things will turn out for them. but that kind of care is often invasive and uncomfortable because we don't really know each other. it feels smother-y and weird for them.


if you've ever wondered why i try and avoid counseling appointments, now you know.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

world press is crap

...just finished reading an article entitled "Christians and Hindus clash in Kandhamal"

which, taken alone, gives you the impression that there's some kind of war going on between 2 religious groups.

however, if you read on you'll discover that 15,000 christians have been placed in concentration camps, 30 have been murdered in the street, and a teen girl has been burned alive by hindus because of her christian beliefs.

that hardly seems like a conflict.

that seems like genocide.

anyway, i'm not one to go on and on about the persecution of right wing christians in america. more often than not, it feels to me like we imagine that stuff to be more potent (and/or more present) than it really is.

but this?!!

this is crazy.
this is wrong.
you cannot treat other people this way.
you cannot burn them to death because of their religion.

western civilization has so completely maligned christians because of things like the crusades, the violence in ireland, apartheid, and the inquisition that we - meaning, the western world - have become blind to violence against christians.

this is stupid.

we must get involved.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

first day of school for the dude

yup...he all grown up.

he was a rockstar today. got a little badge. played outside. looked tired, but eerily intelligent and futuristic.

so i took him to the corner store and bought him 2 bottles of coke and a bag of skittles.

it takes a solid nutritional grounding to grow a world ruler,
and skittles.

i love that little boy.

geeked about the fall

things are feeling really good right now at the winds.

we've got 25 new satellites starting this sunday,
great new series beginning the following week,
plans in the works for 2 potential new campuses,
book deals for jvo and i,
and great energy around the office.

things should always feel so good.

ha ha ha

on sunday i referred to my life as being banal (you know, hum drum, moderate...almost boringly ordinary)

but jay misheard me and thought i said my life was vainal.

now, jay typically teases me about the words i use...cause they're often rare gems like banal.

being unfamiliar with "vainal" he looked up its meaning online and discovered it referred to menstrual discharge.

oh, the shame.

suffice to say, my life is NOT vainal.

it's just plain normal.

thank you.