Friday, October 29, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Every Oct. 31, children dress in a variety of popular costumes and go door-to-door collecting candy. Here's where that Halloween tradition, and several others, came from:
Haunted Houses are based on Victorian England's "Scare Manors," places where children who didn't mine enough coal were sent as punishment
Giving children candy at the door began when early American settlers realized it was a lot easier than talking to kids about the meaning of death
Much like people today, pre-Christian pagans would throw toilet parchment all over the tree outside their mean alchemy teacher's house.
Jack-o'-lanterns first debuted in 1981 as part of a marketing scheme to promote Monsanto's invention of the pumpkin
The song "Monster Mash" borrows its melody from a medieval Gregorian All Saints' Day chant entitled "I Worketh In The Abbey Into The Darkness One Night (O Monster Of Salvation)"
Bobbing for apples was originated at a Halloween party by a group of people who were patronizing an armless friend
In 1928, Nathaniel Darder of Worcester was the first guy to give out treats in a strategically loosened bathrobe
According to modern-day Wiccans, most of today's Halloween traditions are actually blah, blah, blah
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Religon has always been in my life. Strict lutheran family and church raised me. Yet, I never felt God loved me.
I found out that the relationship with God was not good at age 38. It was then that I started to learn that He loved me, forgave me, and wasnt punishing me for being a bad person. This new realization gave me new life, hope, a purpose and a future full of Christ.
My childhood memories are empty besides the severe punishments my siblings and I endured. At twelve I started to physically abuse myself; twelve, parents divorced, then Bulimia set in. At sixteen started looking for love and found it in my daughter. Disowned and alone I raised my daughters. Graduated from high school, college and a masters degree and began teaching, all the while still searching for a love my daughters could not give me. I found it, lost it, and with heartache found my true love; alcohol.
My daughter was raped by two men at age 15 together we tried to keep her alive visiting U of M mental ward four differnt times before she fell into drugs. Alcohol helped me through my hardest times in life. We were together for 12 years before my bottom hit, jobless, homeless, and alone depression had visited me my whole life but know it had taken over. I had found no reason to live, suicidal thoughts consumed me.
My last drink, I awoke in jail, shackled, naked and full of humility and shame. Arrested for my second DUI, felony assult on an officer that would lead me to have to fight for my teaching certificate. I hated myself.
God had provided me with the strength, courage and love, to withstand the pain and humiliation of recovery. His mercy, grace and love saved me. Six years later, I am a better parent and teacher, married, and full of peace. By working through the twelveth steps of AA, I found the real meaning of my life to help others that were in need, as God had provided people in my life and to share my story (testimony). I have been blessed to have the opportunity to do missionary work in Jamica, Brazil, New Orleans with Katerina, inner city Chicago, and local prisons and youth detention centers.
I know now that I can endure anything because I have my best friend with me all the time. The monsters in my life have been defeated by Christ himself.
If you ever need me to share my story to help others know they are not alone, please let me now. I cannot promise no tears.
I have been attending your church since the beginning of this summer, and I love the messages you give.
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in fact, this whole next year will be new for me because we'll be following the liturgical calendar from advent through ordinary time (after pentecost). we just thought it would be cool to put the spin from the winds on the liturgy - both to breathe new life into something, and to validate the traditions of those who've come before us.
i think it's gonna be cool
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Jackson City Council voted to save Halloween on Tuesday.
At its Sept. 28 meeting, council had passed a motion to encourage children to trick-or-treat from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, not Sunday, which is Halloween.
On Tuesday, Mayor Karen Dunigan said she had heard complaints from numerous citizens about the move so she asked council to go back to the traditional date.
“The city spoke up so it is what it is,” Dunigan said.
Motions to reconsider the previous date and set the new one both passed unanimously. Council is now encouraging children to trick-or-treat from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Dunigan said staff encouraged the move because Sunday night is a school night and also for safety reasons. She said the move was not done maliciously or with intent to anger people.
City Manager Warren Renando said he made the recommendation and a number of cities around Michigan are celebrating Halloween on Saturday. But Renando said he agreed with Dunigan and did not want her to take the criticism for his recommendation.
During citizen comments, two people thanked council for going back to the traditional date.
David Rogers said Halloween might be a minor holiday but it still means a lot to people. “It’s one of life’s little things,” Rogers said.
Mark Kostrzewa said the city has much more important issues to address than Halloween and he was glad the city is keeping the traditional date.
Numerous people criticized City Council for the move on the Citizen Patriot’s website and the Citizen Patriot’s Facebook page.
Dunigan said she still wished people had as much passion about major issues as they did about Halloween.
COMMENT: I do feel a slight tinge of sympathy for the mayor. Making unpopular decisions is hard, and invites a lot of criticism. Criticism hurts, and the mayor is 100% that we should focus our passion on things worthy of our devotion and ardor...but, c'mon, changing trick-or-treating times was a little out of their jurisdiction, don't you think?
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010
no one is allowed to trick-or-treat on sunday, just saturday, because this way 'it won't interfere with school.'
nevermind the fact that every other year halloween interferes with school (by falling on a monday, tuesday, etc) or that oct 31 simply IS the date for halloween (and has been for over 200 years in america).
this year, our local government decided to get involved and make a difference.
in other, unrelated, news valentine's day will be a tuesday morning in 2011, while christmas has been abbreviated to a lunch. thanksgiving, however, will be given an 11-day break from public school (because our children are so far ahead of the educational curve) and moved closer to the beginning of hunting season so the meat is still fresh.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010
god is good.
on a more personal level, i just want to give thanks to god for all that's been happening during the monsters series. i was so excited to write monsters, but then was forced to write it on the road on my ipad and was initially very disappointed with the manuscript. for starters, it was waaay too short. and it also didn't have any real world relevance. thanks to my editor, caleb seeling (samizdatcreative.com), the manuscripts were "rescued" and we adapted the project into more of a coffee table book that turned out really well.
i love the finished product, and have loved seeing so many people so positively impacted by god through the series.
but i'll still likely re-write it one day, fleshing it out a little more and adding all of the other unexplored bits about monsters that i had to neglect this time around.
i just thought it was worth mentioning that i feel happy and grateful and thankful to god for all he's doing in us, in our church, and in our world.
monsters is available on amazon.com here
Friday, October 22, 2010
I dont't think it's right, and I'm positive it's not the model Jesus established for us, but I understand where it comes from. It's a mix of godly passion and thoughtless immaturity. It's zeal, tainted by flesh.
We all wrestle with the Spirit, trying to cooperate with God to subdue our fleshly impulses. We all fail in some regard. Thank God there's grace for that, and for us too.
But it is ironic when the occasion for the victory of flesh-over-spirit is either church-related or pertains to some aspect of doctrine or Christian living.
That's ok, though, because God's grace still extends to irony, and I'm praying that I, too, will become more gracious and more quickly overlook offenses.
I'm writing all of this as a reminder to myself, by the way, that I have been forgiven of much and am now required to be more forgiving.
I am happy and grateful and thankful to God that I don't get offended easily, but am ashamed at the things that catch me off guard and make me angry. Usually, if I can see something coming, I am well-prepared to handle any scenario with grace (I'm thinking of church conflicts, interpersonal squabbles, confrontation, miscommunication, etc). However, if something catches me by surprise - especially a certain quality of 'somethings' - then I immediately get super-lightning furious.
And I shouldn't.
It is evidence that I must continue to actively and aggressively welcome the Spirit to transform me with the utmost urgency.
Anyway - the thing that makes me so angry and so often catches me off-guard is a religious spirit. How did Jesus ever love Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea (a member of the Sanhedrin)?
More importantly, how can I learn to love them?
I think I've got the 'don't condone their hateful behavior' part figured out. I feel pretty good about 'challenging them on their self-righteousness.' But what Christ-in-me really wants is for me to genuinely love them in all truth, sincerity, and grace.
I must love the anonymous person who writes me a letter, delivers it at night, and calls me a hypocrite.
I must love the blog commentor who accuses me of being abberant and sinful because I capitalized "Jacob" but not "god" in a blog post.
I must love the seminary student who accuses me of being a heretic when I don't use either the King James bible or the ESV.
I must love the fundamentalist who says I serve Satan and am a false prophet because I like rock and roll, smoke a pipe, and wear jeans to church.
I must love the kid who thinks I'm not biblically grounded because I only read 4 verses of scripture one sunday, or because I read those verses in the middle of my sermon instead of at the beginning.
This feels like it's getting ridiculous.
Apparently, I'm not allowed to continue hating anybody.
Actually, let's not abbreviate...the person telling me I must abandon the path of scorn and derision is Jesus.
There will never be an end to "those people," though I do hope that the folks who are now among that group will mature beyond it, just as I hope that the ones who replace them will grow beyond it more quickly.
There can, however, be an end to my surprise. There can be an end to my anger.
I would love to see that version of myself, and choose to be thankful and glad every time I see evidence of Christ-in-me growing stronger, even if what occassions that evidence is the reckless accusation of others.
After 6 months or so of no critical emails, I received 2 this week. I was able to quickly dismiss them as emotiomal and unfounded, but the experience reminds me of how much God still needs to do inside me to deliver me from my flesh.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
that's good. there are over 2000 verses in the bible about our responsibility to the poor, and if we're serious about loving jesus then we must become increasingly committed to the outcast, the disenfranchised, and the indigent in our communities.
but the "weird" part of this trend is that, for many dudes out there, it has become "cool" to love the poor.
"cool" should never be our motivation for love.
in this case, cool is dumb.
specifically, i think it's fraudulent to love the poor when our love is motivated not by obedience but by a developing trend among young, hip, chic pastors with clever book-titles.
again, don't get me wrong - loving the poor and serving the poor is supremely important - but i can't shake the feeling that loving and serving the poor in these cases is really more about loving and serving ourselves and our image in the perception of others.
let me explain...
i have two good friends who minister together (sorry, dudes, if you recognize yourselves in this accounting, but this is nothing different than what i've challenged you about privately) who 'love the poor' but who consistently mock people who shop at Walmart, have inflatables in their yard, or who wear clothes purchased second-hand.
that's weird. how can we claim to love the poor but disdain the working poor? how can we glorify ministry to the indigent, but disregard the plight of the working man, the blue-collar larborer, the single-mom living on social assistance, or the burned-out football coach?
how poor do people have to be before it becomes cool to love them?
here's a solution: love everybody.
love those who are like you
love those who are not like you
love those who shop at places you would never shop
who buy things you would never buy
love those who worship in ways that make you cringe
love those who worship something you think is evil
love those whose sexual mores and preferences are contradictory to your own
the hard rock cafe said it best: love all, serve all
but jesus said it first: love your neighbor as yourself
this is hard, however, because it requires us to acknowledge that some of the people who don't like we actually don't love...and once we acknowledge that there are people we don't (or even can't) love, we're confronted with our own Phariseeism.
well, get over it.
don't love someone because it's hip
don't love someone because they're poor
just love people
ask god to help you love them more
practice showing love, even when you think it's hard
that's the way of jesus
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It also means I've been working fairly short in-office hours (leaving every day as soon as Jake finishes school), then working at home after he goes to sleep. Mostly, these days, my work is focused on church leadership stuff: new elders and nominess, staff searches, plans for the upcoming youth center and new campus, etc.
Which is a switch, because usually I'm much more focused on writing and speaking.
Two things have freed me up for more of the leadership piece: first, I've been leaving my imac at home and only working on my ipad, which is frustrating, and forces me to abbreviate all computer-related work (sorry if any emails you've received have been abupt or terse :); second, Jvo is writing the next ww series ("King Me"), a short 3-week-er that will fill the gap between Monsters and Advent. I'll be doing some of the teaching for King Me, but he did all the writing (which my wife especially appreciated, given that 'writing weeks' are pretty tough on the allied home front).
Of all the stuff I've been focusing on, I think the most rewarding part has been searching for staff. The search has got me thinking about the future, setting my intention on the good things God is doing and the good things he will continue to do with and through and around us.
Anyway - that's me, now.
Only 1 day of dude week left, and then back to vegetables.
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Saturday, October 16, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Halloween now is different than Halloween then
Halloween, in our contemporary context, is really only about two important things: kids and candy.
For most children there is no religious significance involved in either the day itself or in such elements as pumpkins or costumes. It’s true that such things as jack-o’-lanterns, bonfires and black cats, which are part of the Halloween tradition, have roots in pre-Christian activities. But when children go trick-or-treating or visit haunted houses, they are not thinking about participating in any religious festivities at all. They are just trying to have fun.
All of this isn’t to say, of course, that there are no occult overtones to modern-day celebrations of Halloween. It does have some contemporary significance to wiccans and druids, and those elements, which could be considered anti-Christian, should most certainly be avoided.
According to the Bible, the world of the occult is real and energized by demonic powers that must be recognized and resisted by Christians because our beliefs and practices bear consequences in this world and in the next. However, there is a clear difference between the real occult practices of shamanism, magic, and divination and the contemporary practice of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and bobbing for apples. Since the door of the occult world must be entered through human interest and initiative, general Halloween practices most people participate in do not draw them into occult activities.
Despite the historical roots of Halloween, all it takes for us to dissociate the Halloween we have now from Halloween then is a doorbell and a digital camera.
It’s hard to believe that the systematic collection of candy in a given neighborhood by "Spider-Man" and his "Rugrat" friends constitutes the promotion of an occult worldview or demonic racketeering.
Even the recognized Christian authority on cults and the occult, Walter Martin, said: If Big Bird comes to my door, he's definitely going to get a treat.
I’m not saying all of this in order to engage in some theological hairsplitting, I’m simply trying to help us all make logical and moral distinctions. Obviously if anything about Halloween feels weird or bad or violates your convictions somehow, then don’t get involved. But most Christians believe they can Halloween as a purely secular day of , and that seems pretty consistent with our beliefs about other forms of ‘mindless entertainment’ like movies, video games, Facebook, and sports. They have no redeeming cosmic features – they’re just fun.
But condemning trick-or-treating outright on the basis that Halloween has pagan origins is a little inconsistent with many of our other moral choices. Halloween has dark roots, true, but so do Christmas (and it’s association with Saturnalia), Astronomy (now regarded as a credible science, but was originally a cultic system unto itself), and any kind of covenant (in the ancient world it was not only the Israelites who made covenants, nor was it likely that they were the first).
We cannot evaluate something solely in terms of its origin, without giving appropriate consideration to how it has changed or evolved in contemporary practice.
While the Bible expressly forbids a believer's involvement in certain pagan and/or occult practices (see Deuteronomy 18.9-13), Halloween for the vast majority of American families has nothing to do with the practice of, or belief in, occultism. Rather, this celebration gives children an opportunity to dress up in funny, spooky, and outrageous costumes and accumulate candy by the pillowcase.
The Apostle Paul deals with these kinds of issues when he addresses meat offered to pagan idols. Is it wrong for the Christian, who doesn't believe in the false gods to whom the meat was offered, to eat meat offered to idols?
Here's Paul's advice:
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall
1 Corinthians 8:4-13
If Paul were alive today, he might write something like:
Don't worry about the ancient association of these holidays with paganism since we know there are no gods of sun and death, and that the dead don't roam the earth. You're not appeasing Samhain when you go "trick-or-treating" or sacrificing to the gods by carving a jack-o-lantern. But if your family or friends have reservations about these things, don't encourage them to do something they feel is "sinful."
Again, my aim in writing this is not to convince everyone that they should dress up like Dracula on October 31. I only want to gently remind us that there is nothing to be afraid of, and no reason to be angry, on Halloween.
Engage at your leisure.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The Origins of Halloween
Halloween’s roots come from the ancient Celts, a tribe living about 2,000 years ago in the areas that are now Ireland, Great Britain and northern France.The Celts were a fierce, warlike, terrifying people, many of whom would string human heads together and tie them on their bridles. Halloween was their main holiday, called Samhain. It was a festival that honored the Celtic lord of death. The celebration marked the beginning of the season of cold, darkness, and decay.
On the night before the November 1 new year, Celts believed that Samhain and the dead would roam the earth causing all kinds of trouble. So the Celtic priests, the Druids, would demand that all light be extinguished on Halloween night and sacrifices be made to prevent trouble.
The restless spirits' "tricks" could be avoided only if appropriately "treated." And so originated the present-day Halloween practice of children dressing up like spirits and arriving at the front door chanting (or demanding), "Trick or treat!"
The Druids built a huge New Year’s bonfire of oak branches on which they burned animals, crops, and even human beings.
During the celebration people wore costumes made of animal heads and skins. They told fortunes by examining the remains of the sacrifices. After this ritual, villagers would carry the fire, thought to be sacred, back to their homes in carved out vegetable shells – the origin of our Jack-o-Lanterns.
Regional Halloween customs developed among various groups of Celts. In Ireland, for example, people begged for food in a parade that honored Muck Olla, their sun god. The leader of the parade wore a white robe and the head of an animal. In England, families sat by the fire and told stories while they ate treats such as apples and nuts.
The Romans conquered the Celts in A.D. 43 and ruled what is now Great Britain for about 400 years. During this period, two Roman autumn festivals were combined with the Celtic festival of Samhain. One of them, called Feraila, was held in late October to honor the dead. The other festival honored Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Apples became associated with Halloween because of this festival.
In the eighth century Pope Gregory II moved the church festival honoring martyrs of ‘All Saints’ to November 1 as a Christian alternative to the Celtic New Year celebrations. ‘All Hallow's Eve,’ or ‘Halloween,’ means the ‘evening of holy persons’ and was a time of spiritual preparation for All Saints Day.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The first question concerns Paul's use of male pronouns (he, him, his) when describing the role of an elder. The question was: if elders could be either male or female, why does Paul always use male pronouns to describe the role of the office?
NT Wright, in his commentary on Timothy, did a great job of answering this very question. I have reprinted his answer here:
Paul refers to the bishop throughout as a man. My reading of the rest of the New Testament inclines me to think that this is more because that’s how Greek grammar normally refers to both genders together, and because in the very early days of the church the leaders of most communities were probably men. I don’t see it as debarring women from this particular ministry and vocation.
So to the main point, and the main challenge, of this passage: what must this person be like? What are the special standards which they must uphold? In the light of what we said earlier, we should note that this isn’t only of interest to those who are called to be office-holders (or those who want to check up on them); the reason they must keep to these standards is because this is what God longs to see all his children be like. The leaders must, as it were, be on the leading edge of that new humanity which the church is supposed to be. Because we’re all ‘on the way’, rather than having ‘made it’ into the complete new humanity God desires, it’s important that there are role models, especially that leaders should play that sort of part.
When it comes to specifics, Paul begins with the bishop’s marital status: he must only have one wife. I don’t think this means that the bishop should not have been married more than once (and have lost his wife through death or divorce and then married again). Polygamy was common in Paul’s world, as it is in some parts of the world to this day. (The Old Testament, after all, has plenty of families like that, including some of the central figures in the story of God and Israel.) But Paul has grasped, following the words of Jesus in Mark 10 and elsewhere, that God’s long-term plan, intended from the very beginning, was for faithful, lifelong partnerships of one man and one woman. That is what church leaders should model.
Nor do I think this means that the bishop must be married, in other words, that single people are ruled out. Different churches have different norms at this point. What is being ruled out is a person in a position of leadership who has two or more wives. This is all the more interesting because it implies that there were some, perhaps many, people in the early Christian churches who did have two or more wives--just as there are some converts in churches in Africa, for example, who have come from a background where polygamy is normal. Debates rage today about whether such people should be told to choose one wife only and dismiss the others, or whether, as the present passage seems to me to imply, they should be accepted as members of the church as they are, but should not be put in a position of leadership where they would then be regarded as role models.
I realize this is tricky because it seems to set up two different standards—a special level of holiness for the ‘clergy’, and a lower one for everybody else. That can be disastrous. Any ‘ordinary Christian’ who thinks they can leave the practice of real holiness to the ‘professionals’ is heading for disaster. But I return to the point I made at the beginning. Of course God wants all his people to embody the life of the new creation which has begun in Jesus and is available through the power of the spirit. He longs that every single one of us should follow after that holiness as energetically as we can. But as every pastor and teacher knows, different people made progress at different rates. In any real community, as opposed to theoretical ones that people hold in their heads while reading texts, there are anomalies and puzzles, times when you have to accept that at the moment a particular situation is not ideal, but it’s where we are. The point, though, shines out all the more clearly: those in leadership positions should not exhibit that kind of anomaly. Their lives must embody and represent the message they are called upon to proclaim.
The rest of the instruction follow the same pattern. We might want to highlight, as the previous passage did, the ways in which normal expectations of male behavior are challenged by the command of the gospel. ‘Gentleness’ wasn’t regarded as much of a male virtue in the ancient world, and it still isn’t in many places. That’s important when it comes to managing one’s own household, and also to managing God’s church. It’s not too difficult to manage a community by bullying and bossing everyone around, and losing your temper and threatening violence when people step out of line. But if you do that you will not only cause human disasters; you will hold up a rotten picture to the world and the church of what the gospel of Jesus is like.
The last two notes are particularly important. Pride is such an easy trap to fall into that the church must take care not to expose people to its dangers too soon. And, once again, the leader must be well thought of in the community beyond the church. Obviously at a time of persecution the entire church may be vilified by outsiders. But in relatively calm periods people around will watch this strange little group who don’t behave the way everyone else does. They want to know if they are good neighbors, good citizens, good friends. That isn’t the whole Christian duty towards outsiders, of course. The responsibility to preach the gospel remains central. But people are much more likely to listen to what we say if they like what they see of who we are. And if that’s true for ordinary church members, how much more for leaders. Especially bishops.
The second question concerned Jesus' choice of apostles. The question was: if Jesus intended for women to serve in equal authority as men, why did he only select male apostles?
CS Cowles did a wonderful job of answering this very question in his book "A Woman's Place." I have reprinted his answer here:
The answer is apparent in what we now know about the limitations women faced in the first-century world. There was little chance that female apostles could have spearheaded the Great Commission, given the narrow social conventions of that day.
For one thing, having been denied an education and access to the Hebrew Scriptures, it would have crippled their effort to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of God to unbelieving Jews. Furthermore, they would have been barred from preaching Christ in synagogues and would undoubtedly have been unable to gain a hearing in any public forum, especially from men. They would also have been unable to travel freely. Therefore, the predominance of male leaders in the disciple community had nothing to do with an eternally fixed divine decree but represented God’s gracious accommodation of himself of the social structures and conventions of the world into which the gospel originally came.
Thanks to the seeds of liberation planted by Jesus and cultivated by Paul (as we shall see in the next chapter), women are increasingly enjoying the mature fruit of emancipation from gender discrimination and now enjoy an acceptance and freedom of movement never before known. Women are today as well educated as men. They have access to the best in biblical and theological training. They not only are accepted on an equal par with men in most public forums but are acknowledged leaders in all segments of the human enterprise as well. There is, therefore, no loner any justification for binding women under ancient cultural constraints that no longer apply. To do so is sheer prejudice and sexism.
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Location:Robinson Rd,Jackson,United States
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
I used to love trick-or-treating as a little kid. Every year, my best friend Geoff Wright and I would walk around for hours in our suburban neighborhood collecting candy and getting into trouble. We’d eat ourselves into a coma and laugh and run around.
It was awesome.
Since I lived in the same house from first grade until my senior year of high school, Geoff and I became very familiar with all the homes in our area. We knew which ones gave lots of candy (so cool), which ones gave money (lazy, but still cool), and which ones gave out apples (lame, uncool, and oddly industrious).
But there were always a few homes, which on Halloween were completely dark. They looked abandoned, foreboding, and uninviting. I always just thought these homes were for sale or that the owners were out somewhere celebrating. But one night I clearly remember a middle-aged couple peeking out from behind their curtains, telling us Don’t even think about it as we crossed over their lawn.
I asked Geoff: What’s their problem?
He told me: They’re Christians.
This was a strange concept for me. I was a Christian, albeit a young one (just 7 or 8 years old at the time, old enough to understand “Christian” but too young to understand there was more than one kind). Furthermore, my dad was a pastor, and if there was something Christians didn’t do I felt pretty confident that he would tell me.
Well, I’m a Christian, I told Geoff.
Yeah, he said, but you don’t turn off your lights.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that, concerning Halloween, there are two kinds of Christians: lights on people and lights off people.
Christian people who leave the lights on engage Halloween (I’m intentionally avoiding the term ‘celebrate’ here). They may still have reservations about some of the pagan roots of Halloween, or about all the horror movies or spooky stuff in the news, but they love their community and celebrate life and enjoy getting to see little kids in costumes pander for sweets.
Christian people who turn their lights off distance themselves from Halloween completely. They tend to think of the event as a kind of soft glorification of demons and witches (or, sometimes, a very strong glorification) and believe that they should keep themselves completely free from any involvement whatsoever on a moral, ethical, and scriptural basis.
Many Christians have concerns about Halloween – about its origins with pagan and occult practices, about the scary movies that always seem to be released around October, and about the general atmosphere of fear and terror associated with the event – and in many cases those fears are entirely justified. Like anything, Halloween is a complex issue with numerous aspects to it which require discernment. Some Christians want to abolish the event altogether, while others consider it all right for their children to go trick-or-treating, so long as they don’t wear a scary costume.
Addressing common questions about this scary holiday may alleviate some of the concerns that surround it.
Please allow me to be completely candid: I like Halloween. I know that many good and godly people have strong feelings against Halloween, believing it to be satanically inspired and rooted in pagan idolatrous practices. I’m not one of those people. I don’t mean to suggest, by taking a contrary opinion, that those who believe differently than I do are foolish somehow or uneducated, but in my opinion the “evil” many people often associate with Halloween has been greatly exaggerated.
But all the fear associated with Halloween often results in three problematic behaviors:
we speak hatefully,
we argue relentlessly,
we fantasize apocalyptically.
Allow me to explain what I mean, and why I believe it is so destructive.
First, when good Christian people allow themselves to become alarmed about Halloween they tend to act as if everyone who isn’t likewise alarmed is either willfully ignorant of the demonic activity surrounding Halloween or they are complicit with it somehow. Because they are so certain that Halloween is spiritually evil, they only permit themselves these two intellectual options, forcing them to regard everyone with contrary beliefs as either or imbeciles, worthy in either case of aggressive behavior and scorn.
Since I am both a pastor and Halloween enjoyer, I am often criticized and lambasted by otherwise charitable people who think that I must never have learned about the pagan roots of the evening. And so they grab me and try to shake some sense into me. However, once they discover that I’ve already heard these historical truths, they then get concerned that I am working secretly for the same powers they are opposing. One woman said to me, albeit several years ago in a different place, “You have chosen to align yourself with Satan.”
to repeat what I said then“No, I wholeheartedly have not.”
For my part, I have resolved to love and serve Jesus with all my heart including – and perhaps especially – on October 31st, a day I intentionally bring the light of Christ into a dark world and shine brightly.
This, then, is the often-unexplored intellectual option for Christians once confronted with the dark roots of Halloween: to not be worried.
I know Halloween has a dark past (I’ll cover that later in this paper). I know there are still some who choose to cultivate that darkness in a variety of ways. I know, also, that I have neither a share nor a desire to celebrate that darkness. That darkness cannot harm me. That darkness does not control me. I am called, equipped, and appointed by God to shine light into that darkness. The best way I know to do this is by being there myself, and bringing love and laughter and happiness and holiness with me.
I am an uncontaminated participant.
Second, and this of course relates to the first (as they all must inevitably), our fear compels us to argue relentlessly about our differences of opinion on biblical grey matters.
The Bible does not speak about Halloween, and anything we may choose to interpret from the Bible in light of Halloween is conjecture at best. It is a “grey” area, meaning a question of individual conscience – like personal consumption of alcohol or musical preference. Halloween is, to put it simply, an issue upon which we must often ‘agree to disagree.’
But we usually don’t. We either love Halloween and are resentful of those who demonize it, or we think Halloween is demonic and are indignant with those who seek to explain it away. Both sides tend to gird up their intellectual loins and drop the gloves for every fight that can be fought on the issue.
This should not be the case. You can never change anyone’s mind about anything by arguing. Also the very act of arguing is itself likely to cause both sides to “absolutize” their opinions and make enemies of those with differing perspectives.
My friend Shawn, a college student I used to pastor, was a great example of how to avoid arguing over grey issues. He and I had different opinions on a number of biblical issues and I always wanted to argue about them, while Shawn never did (despite being incredibly astute and very well read). We disagreed about predestination, tongues and interpretation, the eschaton, alcohol, human sexuality, and a host of other issues. Yet, Shawn somehow understood that our varying perspectives on these matters didn’t have to make us enemies, and that he didn’t have to attend another church.
I always admired that about him and have used him as an example of how to discover and share our convictions respectfully. Too many of us do the opposite, but our churches need more Shawns.
Third, we tend to fantasize apocalyptically when we’re afraid of what Halloween might mean. Now, I don’t want to make fun of or lampoon this phenomenon, but I have frequently noticed that when Halloween, and its increasing popularity and holiday market share, is brought up, it is used as justification for the belief that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, that everything is worse than it used to be, that the world is no longer safe, that Christians are no longer welcome in it, and that we’re just a short step from the Great Tribulation during which we will be so heavily persecuted for our faith that we will likely either be imprisoned or killed.
None of that is true. What is true is that the world has always had, and will always have (until God’s great eschatological clean up), good people with some evil mixed inside of them. Which is to say all of us. And it’s also true that the world has great goodness in it now, though there is much evil around us, and evil makes for better news so they show it more frequently on Fox and CNN.
However, we cannot let the evil in the world dictate
when we keep ourlights on.
We need to stop hating others.
We need to stop bickering.
We need to stop forecasting gloom and doom.
Here then, is what I’m really hoping to achieve with this little paper:
I don’t want you to be afraid.
I don’t want you to be angry.
This paper explores pagan roots, its contemporary manifestations, and gives suggestions for how to think though the issue of whether or not to Halloween and to what degree. Believe what you will about Halloween, but whatever you do, decide first that you don’t have to be afraid of Halloween, nor do you have to be angry about it.
Decide that – no matter what – you’re going to keep your lights on.
Perfect love casts out all fear.
1 John 4.18
Monday, October 11, 2010
YOU’RE TWISTING THESE PASSAGES
A couple of years ago I heard a famous pastor make a sarcastic remark about the issue of women in leadership. This pastor is a fundamentalist conservative who denies women the office of elder within his church and seems to enjoy the controversy that surrounds this (and many other) decisions.
In response to someone defending the full inclusion of women at the highest levels of church leadership, he said: the Bible clearly states women cannot lead; yet, somehow you’ve found a magical fancy way to try and make it say anything but that.
That’s a common (albeit thoughtless) criticism and I’d like to respond to it here precisely because it is so  common and  thoughtless.
This critique holds no water for three reasons:
1. The texts of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 do not, in actual fact, plainly state that women cannot be elders, pastors, apostles, etc. particularly when we read the entire letters of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy (though the surrounding sections will usually suffice), rather than just these 3 or 4 verses, we find that Paul is saying some revolutionary things, among them:
· women should learn
· women should be permitted to be involved in public ministry
· women should be permitted to lead gatherings and congregations
However, there are some stipulations: women must be modest and must conduct themselves in orderly ways. Additionally, women are warned not to try and exert dominance over men (as was the case in the Artemis cult) nor should they be permitted to chit chat all the way through church services to their friends or interrupt the service with pestering questions.
2. Our “fancy talk” is not clever rhetoric designed to escape the clear meaning of Scripture. Any fanciness is what scholars refer to as hermeneutical exegesis – it is the way we correctly interpret Scripture according to the basic rules of authorship, intent, content, recipients, structure, and (most importantly) context.
If I’m correct, the real accusation behind “fancy talk” is not our willingness to talk deeply about Scripture but a suspicion that we are trying to get around the unpopular bits of Scripture in order to appeal somehow to our contemporary audience. In this argument, I think our opponents believe we are catering to the popular vote and afraid to fully stand behind the teaching of our Bible.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. There are counter-cultural (and woefully unpopular) teachings within the Scriptures – like abstinence, loving your enemies, and moderation in all things (just to name a few). We at Westwinds have no problem preaching counter-to-the-culture when the biblical text requires we do so; however, in this case no such requirement has been made.
3. Our engagement with the males-are-in-charge interpretation of this text is (again) not due to our cowardess in the face of cultural opposition but grounded in a deep-seeded belief that Paul’s letters should be properly understood through careful study, scrutiny, cross-reference, and care. We are not trying to get it to say anything other than what it says…we are simply trying to figure out what Paul meant his original audience to hear, and what his original audience understood Paul to mean in their setting.
In sum, I think it safe to say that any supposed prohibitions against women in leadership and ministry are easily overcome by proper biblical exegesis and the overwhelming precedent of biblical and historical examples.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
THE HIERARCHICHAL ARGUMENT
One of the common arguments against the full inclusion of women at the highest levels of church leadership concerns the order of creation, or “hierarchical argument” as it’s sometimes called. In this piece, I present and dissect the argument, hopefully moving our Church ball down the theological field a little further.
There are three main scriptures in which the hierarchical argument is rooted. I’ll cite each, explain briefly the corresponding arguments, and then undo some of the confusion.
note: this paper only deals with the hierarchical argument and not ANY of the other aspects pertaining to women in leadership (such as women teaching, women’s silence in church, authority, or female disciples of Jesus).
The LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman’ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Now, the hierarchical argument against women in the highest positions of church leadership relies upon this scripture. In this view, men are elevated above women because the man was created first, and the women second. Furthermore, God created Adam from the earth but Eve was created by removing a piece from Adam, thereby making Eve only a portion/derivative of God’s first person. Most scholars are careful to notice that Eve’s derivation doesn’t mean she’s worth less than Adam, just that her position in God’s hierarchy is subordinate to that of her husband.
There are some problems with this argument. First, I’m not sure the “order of creation” means everything we think it does about hierarchy, value, or authority. Just because Adam was made first doesn’t mean that Adam has more authority than Eve…at least, the scripture certainly doesn’t indicate that here. Furthermore, if earlier creation was proof of greater authority that would mean that all people are subordinate to every tree, plant, animal, star, and even the earth itself…something that Genesis 1.28 (fill the earth and subdue it) seems to directly contradict.
Additionally, we should probably note that the substance man and woman are made from are irrelevant in their value and position. Man is made from dirt (2.7), but woman from man (2.21-22), yet both are called “one flesh” (2.24). This “one flesh” means there can be no “first flesh” or “lesser flesh”…they’re one…they’re the same.
Finally, it’s important to notice that when God makes Adam a help-meet the Hebrew word (ezer) means something very different than it might at first appear. We typically think of a helpmeet as being a June Cleaver-type personality (apron on, in the kitchen, with muffins fresh from the oven), but that word (ezer) most commonly refers to God Himself…which certainly means that the helper is AT LEAST AS POWERFUL as the person receiving the help. Translators were careful to make this plain when the Bible was first put into Greek (in the LXX, Septuagint, version of Scripture), making sure to translate this passage as a “helper suitable unto himself” rather than just as a helpmeet.
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man…In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman, and everything comes from God.
1 CORINTHIANS 11.8, 11-12
Here St. Paul apparently goes along with the hierarchical argument (in fact, for most scholars, Paul is the first biblical writer to actually make it), saying in verse 3 that the head of every woman is the man. However, we must notice the inclusion of verses 11 + 12 in this same passage which seem to reverse this argument almost completely: for as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman and everything comes from God. In other words, Paul is saying that Adam may have preceded Eve but – ever since – every woman has been necessarily preceding each man. Furthermore, Paul points out that this chicken-before-egg argument misses the point of authority completely because all authority ultimately comes from God anyway.
This is probably a good time to point out that – even though God often seems to pay special attention to things like hierarchy and birth order in the Old Testament – God frequently bypasses these hierarchical patterns. God instead of Esau, for example, used Jacob, even though Jacob was the second-born. Moses, too, was preferred over Aaron (his older brother). David, youngest son of Jesse, was elevated above his father, his family, his country, and even his existing King to serve as God’s chosen representative for Israel. This pattern calls to mind Jesus’ words in Mark 9.35: if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.
To the woman God said, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.
This passage of Scripture describes the curse God lays upon Eve for her disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Of key importance is that her desire will be for her husband and he will rule over (her).
However, this ruling-over should certainly be read as part of the curse resulting from sin, not from God’s original intention for His creation. Furthermore, this ruling-relationship is not something that the woman will desire – she will desire her husband, but in exchange will only receive his rule – it is something that the man will aggressively take from his wife. Still further, we should be very careful about attributing God’s blessing to the man’s actions as part of this curse. God is speaking prophetically, not prescriptively here: the man will rule-over, but not because God wants him too…God’s desire for mutuality has already been made clear in the earlier parts of Genesis. This ruling-over is a distortion of God’s creation, not an addendum to it. God has no desire for the man to rule-over – at least, the text certainly doesn’t say God wants that to happen, only that it will as a result of the sin committed.
As to whether or not this consequence should (or even does) endure, we might wonder about the role of Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus came to restore God’s original creation.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Jesus came to undo the effects of Sin and the Curse upon the world. He came to reverse the work of the Fall and we have been buried with him through baptism and raised now into the life designed for us by God (Romans 6.4). The Curse, then, is not binding for lovers and followers of Jesus – he has freed us from that Curse forever.
There is more than can be said both in favor and dissent concerning the hierarchical argument. This brief summary covers the main points, with more to follow if further discussion based upon the biblical text is required.
Please thoughtfully and respectfully continue to review the issue. It is of some importance to our church.
In this final section of the paper I want to deal briefly with some common objections to our (new) stance on women in ministry. One of the objections is commonly called “The Hierarchical Argument” and seems, at first, to be a good one. Many reputable people still hold to this view and there is initially some good biblical support for it.
Another objection is, honestly, a straw man argument. I would not include this second argument (or a response to it) except that it raises its ugly and poorly thought-through head in conversations both academic and pastoral. The basic objection is that we are twisting Scripture, though it is usually presented much more emotionally than cognitively.
I will try and deal with each of these objections in turn, respectively and graciously, as well as some others.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
THE LIMITING PASSAGES: 1 TIMOTHY 2
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
1 TIMOTHY 2.11-15
One of the things that is so bafflingly ignored in this passage is the opening clause: a woman should learn. Paul’s focus in this passage is not on what women cannot do, but what they can do. He is not concerned with silence in general, but with silence in order to facilitate learning.
The verse reads literally: I do not permit a woman dominance of a man. Although commonly translated as a permanent injunction, it does not read that way in Greek. In the original languages, the text is written in the present active indicative case: I am not presently permitting a woman to teach.
Paul expects women to learn in quietness and full submission to those who know, and only then does he say that they are not to teach or exercise authority. Learning women are to be quiet. Paul never says that women are always to be learners and never to be teachers, nor does he say that they are forever to remain silent, for that would clearly contradict many of the practices Paul sanctioned and authored personally.
What Paul is talking about here is a temporary silence – a silence that facilitates learning – so that those who do not yet understand will not yet presume to teach. Remember, Paul is writing in a social and historical setting in which many women were straining under the bonds of the dominant male hegemony. Consequently, cults like the Dionysius and Artemis cults encouraged sexually provocative and extravagant dress, bold and often impassioned teaching, and outright hatred (and ritual castration) of men was growing like wildfire in the Empire. Caesar Augustus was even forced to pass laws to limit the freedoms of these New Roman Women (as there are now called by historians), which only further fueled the flames of their oppression and reaction.
Many of these New Roman Women had apparently found their way into Paul’s churches in Ephesus and Corinth, and Paul was forced to sift their newfound freedoms from their base hatred and excess (hence the sections of 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians that deal explicitly with how women should dress, etc.).
The main thrust of Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy is that learning should precede teaching. The women in these churches did not yet know enough to teach, and so Paul instructed them to learn. Women, who had always been gifted by God to speak for God and to lead God’s people, were doing just those things in Paul’s churches. But women who had not yet learned biblical theology or who had not yet learned how to live a Christian life were not to become teachers until they had learned orthodox theology. Paul was cautioning women from assuming roles for which they were neither trained nor equipped at the time. Once they had been fully instructed, they would then be qualified and competent to exercise the authority of one who teaches sound doctrine.
In short, Paul is saying that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching, and leadership God has given them.
On to the second issue in this passage…
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
1 TIMOTHY 2.13-15
In every other instance of Paul’s writing he speaks about the Fall as being Adam’s fault (cf. Romans 5.12, for example). Curiously, he does not do so here. The reason he does this is because some of the New Roman Women were clearly pushing that – since sin entered through Adam – women were free from Sin because of their gender and should wrest authority away from men within the church because they were naturally better suited to lead.
Paul knows this is nonsense, and quickly dispels that false teaching by reminding his audience that Eve sinned also.
Some have used this passage to craft the Hierarchical Argument – an argument that states God has designed a hierarchy of authority and responsibility in which women finds themselves subordinate to men on the basis of gender. I have dealt with that argument elsewhere in this paper.
Remember that Paul’s basic point is to insist that women, too, must be allowed to learn and study as Christians, and not be kept in unlettered, uneducated boredom and drudgery. Well, the story of Adam and Eve makes the point well: look what happened when Eve was deceived. Women need to learn just as much as men do. Adam, after all, sinned quite deliberately: he knew what he was doing, and that it was wrong, and went ahead and did it anyway.
Friday, October 08, 2010
THE LIMITING PASSAGES: 1 CORINTHIANS 14
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 CORINTHIANS 14.33b-35
Knowing what we do about all that women actually did within the New Testament, it seems surprising and strange for Paul to say women should “remain silent in the churches.” After all, Paul gives instruction about what women are supposed to wear while prophesying (cf. 1 Corinthians 11), and certainly he cannot mean for them to prophesy silently. Prophesying – at the very least – means saying something in public. How can Paul acknowledge women praying and prophesying in Chapter 11 without one word of prohibition or condemnation and then command them to keep silent in Chapter 12?
Thankfully, Paul himself clarifies what he means in verse 35: if they want to inquire about something… Paul’s “silencing,” then, specifically relates to asking questions.
Why would Paul restrict questions during church? I think the obvious answer is – in this case – the most accurate: they had too many questions.
Since women in the ancient world weren’t educated in the same ways as men, and since religious education was especially segregated, women simply didn’t know as much as their husbands. Paul, elsewhere, takes steps to redress this (as did Jesus), but since he’s speaking here about practical concerns during church services these instructions are simply that husbands and wives should take time after church to talk through all that has happened and all that was discussed.
Paul’s silencing of women here was only a (very) temporary silencing. Once the women with questions had been caught up to speed, then they would have been able to ask questions in the gatherings later on. He obviously has no interest in silencing women in Corinth, but only in making sure that those who pray or prophesy will do so in a manner that won’t detract or distract from Christ.
In other words,
Paul has no problem with their theology,
just with their behavior.
The problem is that women – so long denied any participation whatsoever in religious worship – were taking their newfound freedom in Christ too far. These (New Roman) women were warmly welcomed and encouraged to participate fully in the services (cf. 1 Corinthians 14.5), and they saw no reason to be shackled by the oppressive conventions of a non-Christian (Greek) culture. Therefore, when they came to church they took off their hats and veils, both of which were despised symbols of their inferior status.
For them, it was like casting off chains;
for the church it was (unfortunately) the cultural equivalent of all the ladies showing up in bikinis for worship.
By flaunting their freedom from social decorum,
these women had become an embarrassment in the church and a scandal outside it.
One quick note on language: there many Greek words that can be translated “speak.”
Five denote a special kind of speaking
(like preaching or giving instruction).
25 others simply mean things like “teach” or “talk.”
Paul uses none of these.
In other words, Paul does not here forbid women to speak publicly or teaching or prophesy or pray or give testimony.
Instead, Paul uses a Greek word which means “chatter” (laleo).
Paul is merely prohibiting noisy, idle conversations during worship services which – in this case – was mostly being done by a group of uneducated women who were impatient to figure out what was happening during church.
When Paul tells them to be “in submission as the Law says” he is referring to a voluntary submission (indicated by use of the verb hypoitassomai) to the law of social convention and common courtesy (not, as it must first appear, to the Law of Moses which has no such injunction in it).
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that there is a convenient oversight that often occurs among those who take this passage at face value and limit the role of women within the church.
Even in strict, fundamentalist churches, women still play a public role. They are still allowed to teach Sunday school, evening classes, run prayer meeting and Bible studies, conduct marital counseling and organize special events.
In other words, even in the strictest sense it seems impossible to follow Paul’s teaching in the literal sense.
There are now two obvious problems with the argument for taking this passage literally:
 no one does, not all the way;
 no one could, not all the way.
Since it’s impossible to take this passage literally, we must try and determine to what degree the text supports the situational issue Paul is addressing. That’s what we’ve done here.
There are many curious women in the congregation who are eager to learn (for the first time)
and won’t stop asking their husbands questions,
or calling out their questions to the teacher,
or chattering with their friends
about what is going on.
All of that is quite disruptive.
Paul wants them to be quiet during church, and then ask for clarification from their husbands later (assuming, as would be safe in that society, that the husbands had had better access to better education for a longer period of time and were thus more likely to know what had been taught).