Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Peloponnesus & Bible Study

June 13, 2020

I start all my Biblical book studies with a section on isogogics – the study of things around or surrounding the text like who the author is, when it was written and by and to whom, and other information. When we can better understand these sorts of things we potentially gain better ears to hear what the author was saying and why. Not all studies include this sort of information but I find it very helpful.

One such example? Prior to starting preparations for this study on 1 Corinthians I didn’t realize there was an isthmus separating Greece into two main sections. I didn’t realize that Corinth’s location near this isthmus led to a very old and storied history of commercial vitality as the city had access not just to a western port leading towards Italy and Europe but an eastern port leading towards Turkey and the Orient. And because my geography knowledge is so sparse (I’m American), I didn’t know that the region where Corinth is situated separated by this isthmus from the rest of Greece is known as the Peloponnesus.

Just another reason I prefer to research and prepare my own Bible studies rather than rely on something someone else has prepared. I may never need to know some of these details, but I feel like they’re helpful in some small way to my larger appreciation not just of the Word of God as it impacts actual people and places, but the Creation of God as a whole.

Bible Study

June 12, 2020

After three months it’s time to start leading a new Bible study as our congregation continues the slow process of restarting our community after months of self-quarantining and self-isolation.

Someone asked me if it would be difficult to restart such a study in an age of Coronavirus and masks and social distancing and fear. But I’ve never not enjoyed studying Scripture. It’s perhaps the most personally fulfilling aspect of making the work of God my vocation. It is never unrewarding to go to the Word of God. To grapple with it, to dissect it for meaning, to understand it contextually and to see how contexts thousands of years old are as pertinent and necessary today as they were then.

For me, putting together a Bible study is not a simple process. Since I first started leading Bible studies in my early college years, I’ve never been content with off-the-shelf studies. Never content to follow along what somebody else created, to be guided by their questions and interpretations. I’ve always preferred to wrestle with the text personally and to access the thoughts and ideas of other men and women throughout history who also sought to understand and apply these same texts.

So for me, preparing a Bible study is a lengthy process that requires many resources and a process of learning the texts better myself, which should in turn assist not just the Bible study but preaching and counseling and applying the Word of God in all manner of unanticipated ways. As another portion of his Word becomes a greater portion of me, the effect is always good, always rewarding, always exhilarating.

I’m starting a book study of 1 Corinthians, a letter written by St. Paul to a congregation he started in the Greek city of Corinth. And for this study, I’ll be utilizing not just the English and to lesser extent Greek texts, but also the following resources to varying degrees:

  • The New International Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians by F.W. Grosheide, Eerdman’s 1980
  • Concordia Commentary: 1 Corinthians by Gregory J. Lockwood, CPH 2000
  • The New International Greek Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians by Anthony C. Thiselton, Eerdman’s 2000
  • Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 4 by John Lightfoot, Hendrickson Publishers 1853
  • Africa Bible Commentary edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo, Zondervan 2006
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans 1979

I’m looking forward to getting to know this letter much better. It has a lot to say about the life of faith both individually and communally, and I trust we’re going to have some interesting discussions along the way!

Staying Sane

April 1, 2020

As people deal with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, here are some interesting options for staying sane both individually and as a family.

Here’s a list of movies suitable for watching among multiple generations of adults.  I can vouch for The Two Popes as a worthwhile watch.  Our family has also (previously) watched The Hundred Foot Journey, and were not as thrilled with the overall quality of the movie despite a few good moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is one I only recently watched and found to be deserving of the accolades it has collected over the years.  Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great family classic.  Romancing the Stone isn’t nearly as good in the adventure category, and goes for some more sexual humor than Raiders does (although sequels to Raiders up the sexual innuendo substantially).  While it might sound boring, The King’s Speech is a phenomenal movie from an acting perspective.  As I remember, A Fish Called Wanda also has some sexual innuendo but also some stellar performances.  The Usual Suspects is one of my all time favorite films.

Perhaps you’d rather do some explorations in the real world?  Maybe a virtual trip to Disneyland would be a fun diversion?  Or if you’d rather wander farther afield, here is a collection of walks through various places in the world.

Comforting?

March 10, 2020

Hopefully it’s comforting to know – as you’re paying off your student loan fees decades after you graduated from college – that part of your debt likely made it possible for student athletes to receive scholarships so they wouldn’t have to graduate with student loan debt.

Maybe there should be an arrangement whereby this is tracked better,  so that athletes that graduate – or don’t graduate but leave college early to sign on with professional teams – pay back their scholarship monies, and appropriate amounts can be refunded to each student who attended during that athlete’s time at the school.  Or perhaps it could just be applied to outstanding student loan debt on a per student basis?

Otherwise, non-athlete students are paying for athletes to attend school for free in hopes of receiving high salaries as professional athletes.  Which sure doesn’t seem very fair to me!

 

 

Perspective

February 1, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in China is now a public health crisis in the United States.  I’m going to assume that what this essentially means is people traveling to and from China will now be subject to mandatory testing, evaluation, and/or quarantine to ensure they are not infected with the virus.  I can’t believe how much of my news feed seems dedicated to the terror of this new viral outbreak, and I can only imagine how much fear is being created by non-stop news reports in other media.

Some perspective.  There have been six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US so far.  Or more technically, six cases traced in some way to the current outbreak in China, which is where the virus was first identified as a new form of coronavirus.  There is a family of coronaviruses we already know about.  This is just a new one.

Six cases in the US and no deaths so far.

In China there are believed to be 11,000 cases of this particular coronavirus with a total of 200 deaths attributed to it.   In fact, by and large, this coronavirus is not a lethal one except in cases of complications.  But numbers cause people to panic.  One in 55 cases of the coronavirus in China have resulted in fatalities.

By point of comparison, the Centers for Disease Control released statistics on the influenza rates in the US.  Interesting details:

  • They estimate 19 million flu cases in the US alone during the 2019-2020 flu season so far
  • There have been 180,000 hospitalizations for flu-related issues in the US thus far this season
  • There have been 10,000 deaths associated with the flu  in the US thus far this season

The relationship of the flu virus to fatalities seems like a tricky one to me.  For instance, this news story highlighted the tragic and unexpected eath of a 34-year old woman from the flu.  However it also notes she had an undiagnosed pre-existing condition that contributed to the flu virus being fatal for her.  No mention of what that condition was, but it sounds to me like it wasn’t just “the flu” that killed her.

I wonder how many of the coronavirus fatalities were due not exclusively to the virus itself but to complicating factors that aren’t included or noted in the statistics?

To break down the numbers:

  • Roughly 1 in 17 people in the US get the flu – far more prevalent than the coronavirus thus far
  • Of those who do get the flu, only one in 10,000 dies from it (or  from complications associated with it, as noted above)

The CDC itself admits this flu season is pretty typical both in terms of the number of flu infections (both diagnosed and estimated) as well as the number of deaths resulting from it.  They claim there is no reliable data yet to determine whether the flu shot has been efficacious this season, but they claim the flu shot is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications.   I’m not sure how they can make such a blanket statement, but there you go.  They also note that the major flu strains identified so far this season are all susceptible to FDA-approved antivirals.  Which means if you get the flu, it’s likely you will be greatly helped by an antiviral prescription.

There is no vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus or any of  it’s previously identified relatives.  Overwhelmingly if you get it, you’ll get flu-like symptoms that will go away with no long-term residual effects.  No more than an ordinary cold or flu, at least.

Try not to panic.  Especially if you aren’t traveling to China or spending time with sick people who have.  Turn the TV off and go outside for a breath of fresh air.  It will do you more good than digesting hours of panicked updates on the coronavirus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need and Demand

January 15, 2020

This is an inspiring article talking about changes in the way restaurants handle excess food.  Instead of just throwing it away, there are a variety of organizations created to help them repurpose it without excess cost (man hours, etc.) to themselves.

But I found the most interesting – and least explored – aspect of the article occurred in the first two paragraphs.  A baker wanting to donate excess bread to a homeless woman’s shelter or even directly to homeless people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row discovered nobody wanted it.  Which to my mind says that hunger may not be the major issue for some of these people.

I’m all for repurposing food and helping to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.  And I believe there are hungry people who need it.   But what if that’s not the case?  At least not on the scale we imagine it to be?  In a patchwork of city, state, and national programs to assist in providing money for food, and in addition to countless non-profits and churches that also seek to help the hungry, is the nature of the problem changing?  Is hunger less of an issue for some people – like the homeless – than we imagine it to be?  Does this indicate a change in the homeless culture itself?

A local school district is facing financial challenges (of course).  One of the proposed solutions is to scale back the free breakfasts the schools offer to any student who wants one, to just those students who are verified as needing it.  I’m sure the breakfasts were made available to every student in order to eliminate the stigma of a breakfast only available to the verifiably destitute.  When I was growing up it was a stigma to not be fed at school, because the school lunches cost money and my family could only afford to send me with a packed  lunch.  Now the situation seems to be reversed?

I’m curious about why the shelter said no to the bread, and why the homeless themselves weren’t interested.  I’m sure the shelter can only use so much bread on a daily basis, but again, if people are dealing with hunger at the levels often touted in our media, it’s hard to imagine them passing up free food.

Unless they’ve discovered a better option.  In which case, we should be paying attention to that shift to make sure that unused food gets to those who actually need it.

Cheap Peace

January 14, 2020

A great little read here on a critic of how the mindfulness movement has been co-opted by corporate interests.  I find it interesting how mindfulness is always introduced as an alternative.  But an alternative for what?  I’m sure drugs and other chemical therapies are here meant, but I’d also argue prayer and Christian faith being displaced as other means for dealing with difficult things in life.

This article also helps highlight a confusion many  Christians (and non-Christians) likely have – which is that meditation and mindfulness are essentially Christian ideals and practices as well.  I maintain they aren’t.  There are similarities  of course, but the practice of meditation and mindfulness comes from Buddhism, which has a very different understanding of the individual in the context of larger reality than Christianity.

Christians pray.  Meditation in the Christian faith is not understood (historically) as an emptying of the self but rather as focused on some specific thing – Scripture, for instance.  And of course Buddhism centers around a non-personal ultimate power or force as opposed to Christianity’s very, very personal Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Mindfulness and meditation is not neutral, as the article makes clear.  In order to try and present it as such it was necessary to try and blur, obscure, or remove these connections, but at that point it begins to become something very different, something which can be manipulated by large interests.

The article points to mindfulness’ entry into therapeutic treatment at the end of the 70’s and early 80’s, but it entered our cultural awareness almost 20 years earlier through the missionary work of celebrities and artists like the Beatles.  It took time to erase or hide those explicit, religious, Eastern connections for adoption by doctors and therapists and educators, but that was always the goal.

The reality is that what we believe about ourselves and reality matters.  After 30+ years of therapeutic mindfulness, studies as a whole continue to show us ever more increasingly woefully unable to deal with reality.  Moments of silence in schools are not a sense of one’s place in the cosmos as the creation of a loving God with not just a past and a present but a very long and bright future.

As a therapy, mindfulness seems to be failing.  And until our culture is able to see this and accept it and look further back for a reason why things are so different today than they were 70 years ago, we aren’t going to start healing.  If we are indeed creatures – creations rather than accidents of chance – we need a proper grounding in a relationship with our Creator, and nothing short of this can provide the healing our culture is so desperately crying out for.

Audiophora

January 6, 2020

What sort of new challenges for the new year?  That’s the question I try to ask myself.  What can I contribute to my own growth as well as reaching others with the Gospel in some respect?  For a long time I’ve resisted the trend of jumping online in terms of uploading worship services or sermons to YouTube or other social media.  I’ve long maintained that for an Internet audience, content needs to be created specifically for such an audience.  What I preach on Sunday morning is to my congregation.  It won’t necessarily translate universally (nor should it, I argue).

But it’s also obvious that online resources are a logical thing to do.  What I lack is both technical assistance towards this end or partners in any other sense of the word.  I’d like to do something with people, but that’s not necessarily something I can dictate.

So I’m putting together a light-weight recording studio upstairs at church, and will begin doing short audio recordings suitable for an online audience.  As I’ve considered this, I’ve come up with an idea to go along with it – audiophora.org.  I’ve registered the domain name but haven’t started setting up the site yet, so don’t bother trying to find it  :-)

The idea is that it would be an indexed collection of short (3-minutes or less is what I have in mind) audio files.  Some of it would be definitional in nature  – theological terms and concepts with concise definitions.  Each entry would in turn be cross-indexed with other terms, verses, etc. that come up as part of that definition.  So if I do an entry on salvation, say, then it would be cross referenced to other concepts brought up in the definition of salvation but not themselves defined there (like savior, sin, etc.).

All of this should be searchable as well as hyperlinked, so people can either find something precise or follow the rabbit-hole of hyperlinks as long as their heart desires.

Perhaps there will be full-scale studies here as well, but also broken down into bite size pieces.  Maybe one verse at a time, with a larger file entry for an entire chapter as well, or even an entire book.  I’m open to suggestions, and it would be fun to collaborate with other folks who would like to contribute, either in terms of words, concepts, etc. they would like defined, or who might even want to contribute their own audio  explanations of certain things.

Ah, but that name, tho – audiophora.com.

It’s a combination of audio and adiaphora.  Audio because, well, duh, they’re sound recordings.  Adiaphora is a philosophical and theological term which has come to mean something that isn’t either explictly commanded or forbidden.  So what color carpet should a church have?  That’s adiaphora – there’s wiggle room to make decisions.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t good things to consider, but it means the  answer isn’t a forgone conclusion via Scripture.

I’ll start setting things up in the next week or so and then do some trial recordings.  I’ll be eager for feedback and input if you’re so inclined.

Leading and Serving

October 31, 2019

The last six months have been interesting for our Sunday evening open house.  Two of our core  members moved away last April to pursue further studies across country.  Another of our early regulars will be leaving at the end of the year.  We’ve wondered how these departures would impact who showed up.

We’ve noticed a marked uptick in attendance by friends of our children.  We now regularly have a teen-aged Russian guy coming by to game with our kids (and enjoy taunting us with his predilection for eating everything with ranch dressing).  Others have been coming as well, but he’s our regular.  And with him, on an increasingly regular basis, comes his mother, a recently naturalized Russian.  She has become closer friends with my wife over the last year or more.

Two weeks ago we got into a religious discussion.  We invited her to join a new Bible study I am leading at my congregation.  But with her busy schedule between work and school, she hasn’t had time.  But she’s clearly interested.  So we started talking about how to get the ‘big picture’ of Scripture.  Then she asked for help for a scholarship program in her graduate work.  We talked about the difference between how the world (and business schools) talk about leadership and how Jesus and the Bible talk about leadership.  We talked about the difficulty of maintaining humility in a world that essentially values pride as a necessary qualification for leadership.

I shared with her Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45, and showed her how Jesus made this teaching tangible in John 13:1-17.   And I talked about God as the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership and commitment to others in John 3:16.  We talked about the challenges and limitations of applying these truths in a business setting as a CEO or CFO or COO.  There, service to other is defined in terms of shareholders and perhaps clients/customers.  Commitment and service to others is often seen as a means to another end, like profitability, or employee retention/attraction.  We talked about how hard it is as broken, sinful people, to stay focused on serving others when the point of an MBA program is essentially the promise of skills necessary to make one successful in business leadership, and many people desire those skills and positions not for serving others but for pride, greed, etc.

All of this discussion with someone who is not Christian, but recognizes a universal need to have  some greater, deeper calling outside of yourself.

Christians should have a lot to say on this topic of servanthood and leadership but we all too easily are like James and John, confusing the standards and benefits of the world for the standards of the kingdom of heaven.  We can shake our heads and laugh condescendingly in at these two chuckleheads in Mark 10, but we share their assumptions, even though we have Jesus’ teaching and example in hindsight where they didn’t!

We talk about servant leadership, but we really mean doing things the way we want, presuming others are best served with our ideas until we quit bothering to listen.  We talk about serving but we often times mean ruling, dictating, demanding, forcing if necessary.  In the interest of higher ideals, to be certain, but reliant very heavily on the tools of the worldly leadership trade.  Tools that authorities have always kept on hand to ensure things run the way they want them to.

We don’t talk about servant leadership the way Jesus demonstrated it.  We don’t mean leadership that washes filthy feet.  We don’t talk about leadership that allows itself to be maligned.  We don’t mean leadership that suffers being called a liar and a thief.  We don’t mean leadership that leads by patience, day in and day out, year after year.  We don’t mean leadership willing to die for others rather than seek personal  protection or glory.  We hold these things lightly.  We see them as signs of weakness.

Just like the Jews did.  Just like the Romans did as they mocked Jesus with a fake royal robe and crown before leading him away to die.  What leader would suffer such a fate?  Isn’t it the mark of a true leader to avoid such shame, such failure?.  A leader who does things these ways, the way the kingdom of heaven does them, is no leader in our world today.  We don’t trust it if we see it.  We don’t respect it if we encounter it.

Challenging realities to face for someone who aspires to leadership, whether in the corporate world on in the church, which all too often prefers to borrow corporate principles rather than stick to Biblical ones.  Because it isn’t easy.  It isn’t perfect.  None of us have the perfect wisdom and insight of Jesus, and so have to make do the best we can with what we have.

I look forward to future conversations, and marvel how God the Holy Spirit continues to foster these possibilities.

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

Here’s a fascinating image gallery of anti-Christian propaganda posters produced during the time of the Soviet Union.  Hopefully it isn’t lost that some of the same caricatures of religion as backwards compared to the progressive movement of the State are being utilized today.

In our own country.