Because of Jesus…

Some may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I wish I could blame it all on the workload of being a full-time seminarian mixed with a couple of part-time jobs, but the reality is all of that busy-ness actually makes me want to blog more. Of course, it doesn’t suddenly create the time to do so, but nevertheless the desire to blog isn’t the reason I haven’t blogged.

Honestly, my lack of blogging is due more to the fact that there are heavier things to blog about. For example, this summer I took American Church History with one Professor Randy Woodley and while we would read speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., a news story would break about how another black individual (or nine individuals at a Bible study) was killed at the hands of white men (usually police officers). Or when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized in every state, how quickly many Christians responded with messages of mourning and lament even though the founders of many of the conservative institutions fought for equality of all. In those situations, my words would not do much to improve any situation or to lessen the pain within these communities. All anyone who is not directly involved can do is draw attention to the voices who are directly involved.

And basically that’s what I have been doing: re-tweeting and sharing the voices who have been speaking against injustice in these arenas as well as others. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though my friends on Facebook or Twitter won’t pay any attention to what I share because they don’t believe racism exists or they believe a “biblical marriage” has a simple, straight-forward definition contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks. What does it take for these perspectives not to be changed entirely, but to be challenged a little and given the space to think or process for themselves? What is needed in order for the voices of the slain black men, women, and children at the hands of police to be heard? What is it going to take to value each other’s life equally?

I will not even begin to pretend to have the answers, but I have a few hopes. One hope is that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have a little more room to talk. Both Republicans and Democrats can be (and often are) seen as the enemy – as the group that is trying to ruin the country. Our political atmosphere has long been removed from the realm of equal dialogue and sharing of perspectives because it has become so fused with the need to beat one’s opponent that we’re reluctant to admit where we have agreements – or even worse, where our political parties are actually wrong. Removing the politics from the discussion enables for voices to be heard.

Which leads to my second hope: that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have room to listen. This is by far the most important aspect of removing the political labels because in either political party the people who are less likely to be heard are the underprivileged black, Latino/a, Native, LGBTQ, and female voices. So the opposite of these categories – the cisgender, heterosexual, white male – is primarily the one who desperately needs to listen. But the same challenge can extend to others who are not this category and yet retain some aspect of privilege. For example, I’m not white, but I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, so in conversations revolving around sexuality or how women are treated, I desperately need to shut my mouth and listen. It doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, but it does mean that I better spend more time listening than asking.

And this leads to my third hope: that we would sweat it out as we listen. Randy Woodley challenged the class with this idea in an (unpublished?) article he wrote, but the idea is basically that when it comes to “sitting at the conversation table,” we must remain seated as our privileges are exposed. And yes, we may even be guilty of abusing these privileges, in which case it is even more imperative that we remain seated and sweat it out. If we are seeking to be true allies and help those who are underprivileged, then we can’t say that we’ll listen and get up from the table after five minutes because we got too uncomfortable or we found the words directed at us to be offensive. Here’s the thing: if we are privileged, then we are not in the right to be “offended” when this privilege is called out. We’re merely experiencing what happens when our privileges are removed. So if you’re white and hearing about “white privilege” for the first time, remember that it is not racism to call out the dominant race for the systems their ancestors put in place that subordinate other races. Like John Metta talks about, race is a difficult topic because it is almost always centered around white feelings. We must sweat it out when our privileges are called out.

When all of the above is implemented, then comes one more hope: that the privileged do not suddenly become the leaders/experts in the issues of the underprivileged. An example comes from male feminists or white guys in the Black Lives Matter movement: they read a book by a feminist woman or hear a sermon from a black preacher about police brutality and think they ought to take up the leadership of those causes. This is not how systemic oppression changes. It is merely the reincarnation of the same systemic oppressions with new masks of equality. So when a man points out his own feminist leanings and proceeds to take over a conversation, that man then undermines his feminist values (because feminism seeks the equality of all specifically by focusing on the inequality of women). So yes, this means that I cannot take over the discussion about women’s equality; we must empower the underprivileged to have equal footing as the privileged.

Some may not find any of this to be in accordance with Christian values, but the truth is that it has been my faith in Christ that has led me to all of these issues (and for what it’s worth, treating them only as “issues” is a privilege in and of itself). It was Jesus who led me to feminism and womanism. It was Jesus who led me to accept the marriages of the LGBTQ community as God ordained. It was the suffering and lynching of Jesus that led me to lament the suffering and lynches of the black community (yes, when a black child is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that is a lynching). It was Jesus who taught me that every person was made in the image of God. All that I have been challenged with is really expanding my definition of what God looks like.

Even with this brief outline of why these things matter to me, I am drained. Why? Because it is quite likely that as I have written these words, someone in the U.S. has been killed because they’re black, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, Native, Mexican, Muslim, a woman, or some combination of these. Or some prominent Christian leader has said another racist thing about people he does not understand or care that much about to begin with (*cough, cough* Franklin Graham *cough, cough*). With as much as I could write about these issues, change still seems incredibly far off. But that does not mean that I can not hope in God who has poured the Spirit into us through Jesus of Nazareth.

May we all find the courage to follow where the Spirit leads and end oppression.

God bless.


Discovering Nuances in the Greek: An Evaluation of Eph. 5:21-25…

As mentioned in my last post, Greek has been reviving my interest in the Biblical text. Learning all the different features of how the grammar works provides a whole new sense of understanding the text. And again during class on Monday, another passage came into a whole new light. But this time, it has left me carefully considering the kinds of study Bibles I spend my time reading.

Ephesians 5:22-24 is a controversial passage for it appears to be giving a complementarian view of marriage (where the husband is the head of the marriage while the wife submits to the husband). But this word “submit” is actually becomes a little more interesting when one takes a look at the Greek (with my literal translation after):

αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησίας ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

“the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ (is) head of the church, he savior of the body but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and so the wives to husbands in all.”

What’s odd about this passage? If one takes a look at the beginning of the passage, it appears that there is something missing, no? Here is how the ESV Bible has translated it:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Notice the difference? In my literal translation of the Greek, any form of the word “submit” only appears once, but yet, in the same amount of verses, the ESV has it listed three times. What is even more problematic is how the first usage of “submit” appears: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…” It is an imperative (a command). Yet if one looks in the Greek, one not only does not see the imperative form of “submit” (which would be ὑποτάγητε, for the second person, plural; Cf. James 4:7), but one does not see any form of “submit” anywhere, certainly not in v. 22. Where is it coming from then?

For our translation assignment last week, we were asked to translate Eph. 5:21-25 to get a full sense of what is going on here. Here is what the full passage looks like in Greek:

Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς…

“Submitting to one another in reverence of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ head of the church, he savior of the body, but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and thus the wives to husbands in all.

Husbands, love the wives, even as Christ loved the church and delivered of himself over on behalf of her…”

What is particularly significant about this passage is that the “submit” command that the ESV implements in v. 22 (which is nowhere in the Greek v. 22), comes from a participle and not an imperative (Ὑποτασσόμενοι). Instead of suggesting a command, Paul is reshaping (though not dramatically) what is known as the “household code.” This is proven true by the only imperative in or near this particular passage: ἀγαπᾶτε, which is a direct command to the ἄνδρες, the “husbands.” In a culture where men mostly married to produce heirs rather than for love, this is a huge statement and not quite as demeaning to women as the ESV (NIV and NASB as well) has it. What is even more deceptive on the part of these popular translations is that little subheader placed in between v. 21 and v. 22; “Wives and Husbands” for both ESV and NIV and “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” in the NASB.[1] With that direct (and theologically driven) break in the text, one would not at all see the discrepancy.

However, there are two translations I have recently picked up that actually give interesting renderings here – renderings that are much closer to the sense of the Greek. The first is the Common English Bible (CEB), which came out two years ago. Here is its rendering of the passage:

“… and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While it still inserts “wives should submit” (again, not quite present in the Greek), they have at least placed the header “Be filled with the Spirit” all the way back right before v. 15 and keep the entire passage as one paragraph (all the way to the end of the chapter). And when the Greek is considered, this is precisely the sense conveyed (note also the “For example”; this comes closer to presenting the “wives submitting to husbands” as an example of what reverence in Christ looks like, but still avoids the participial sense by inserting “should”).

The second translation is the Inclusive Bible, which is an explicitly egalitarian Bible:

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body – the church – as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything. Love one another as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for it…” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While they have steered slightly away from a literal translation of the Greek, it is crucial to note the language used in place of husbands being the heads of wives: “because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body.” Does this not convey the sense of Gal. 3:28 precisely: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (CEB, emphasis mine)? Of course, it is worth noting that Ephesians is a “partially disputed” letter of Paul (term Dr. Gupta introduced to us last night in our NT class); this means that it is possible that Paul did not actually write Ephesians. While I am on the fence about that, the Greek (at least to me, a novice) in this passage does not drift too far from Paul’s profound statement in Gal. 3:28.

As my Greek class plunges on through controversial passages of Paul’s letters, it is becoming overwhelmingly clearer and clearer that there is a massive amount of patriarchal language that must be unraveled – not necessarily patriarchal language from Paul himself, per se, but certainly from the more modern translations. The ESV and NASB footnotes pertaining this passage were terribly geared toward a patriarchal lens of the text, which, in my view, is exceedingly dangerous as it enables all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power and goes directly against Jesus’ teaching of not lording one’s power over another (cf. Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27).

So, yes, studying Greek this year (although it may kill me), has proven to be one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

God bless.

[1] I cannot give the NRSV a full pass either, but the Catholic Edition I have at least places the header “The Christian Household” above v. 21.

Ὁ βασιλεύς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; “The King of the Jews”…

There comes a point in studying Greek where one begins to wonder the purpose of it all. What does it matter that the verb Paul uses here is in the imperative mood rather than the indicative? Why do I need to know the difference between the active and passive voices? Jesus didn’t speak in Greek, so why should I?! These are all questions that come to mind late at night when the my mind can no longer handle participles, subjunctives, accusative nouns, and so on and so forth. But yesterday’s in-class quiz provided a moment where, even though I was (and still am) extremely fatigued, I saw exactly why studying Greek is crucial.

John 19:21-22 was the short passage we were asked to parse and translate. Being two-thirds of the way through the second semester of Greek, almost everyone in the class is at a point where we can begin translating as we read. But writing out the parses of every word helps us not to mistranslate by reading into the text a meaning that is not inherent to the text (a process called “eisegesis”). As I began writing out the English words, I started remembering the particular passage we were translating. Resisting the urge to put down the English words I had committed to memory, I kept going until I had a full translation. From the outset, nothing was really noticeably different. But when we were asked to make an observation of textual features, several things stood out.

But first, here’s the Greek with my own translation:

ἔλεγον οὖν τῷ Πιλάτῳ οἱ ἀρκιερεῖς τῶν Ἰουδαίων μὴ γράφε ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἀλλ᾽ὅτι ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν βασιλεύς εἰμι τῶν Ἰουδαίων. ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Πιλᾶτος ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα.

“Then the rulers of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews,” but that “That[1] one said, I am a king of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘Whatever I have written, I have written.’”

Several observations are as follows:

  1. ἔλεγον (lit. “they were saying”) begins the sentence rather than follow its subject (“The rulers of the Jews”). Not only does this place an emphasis on the conversation between the rulers of the Jews and Pilate, but it speaks to the frequency with which these rulers were speaking to Pilate about this issue (calling Jesus “The King of the Jews”). With this word being in the imperfect tense (“were saying”), it is suggesting two things: 1. It is on-going and 2. It is in the foreground, “in your face” as we might say. In the English translations, we picture this scene as happening once and only once, but the Greek indicates it was a repeated action from the Jews – to pester Pilate about what he had written on the sign above Jesus. But a second observation works with this one.
  2. μὴ γράφε (lit. “do not write”) is one among several styles of prohibitions. Whenever there is μὴ plus a present imperative (which is what γράφε is), there is a sense that it is a prohibition against an action currently in progress or a continuous action.[2] In either case, there is a sense of interruption – that the Jews were interrupting Pilate in his continuous action of having the sign made up or stopping it after it had started. This is all setting the stage for what Pilate winds up saying.
  3. ὁ βασιλεὺς (lit. “the king”) is in the nominative case, which means it is the main subject of “the King of the Jews.” What is significant is that it is coming from Pilate, a Roman governor. Rather than letting Jesus hang from the cross like any other criminal, Pilate goes out of the way to make an example of Jesus – “Here is the king of the Jewish people, hanging on one of our Roman crosses.” Pilate is inflicting a deep sense of humiliation and shame – not unlike the exilic experiences of old. But notice the difference between this and observation #5 below.
  4. ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν (lit. “that one said”), as noted in the footnotes, gets translated as “this man” or “this one,” but neither translation speaks to the degree of insult this word carries. For one thing, it removes Jesus’ name. For another, it distances the Jewish leadership from Jesus in essence saying “That one there is not one of us.” Here the Jewish leadership was seeking to qualify the statement in order to preserve some sense of Jewish integrity. Combining this with rest of what the Jews had told (not asked) Pilate to write, one gains a fuller sense of the insult against Jesus.
  5. βασιλεύς εἰμι τῶν Ἰουδαίων (lit. “a king am I of the Jews”) – not “the King,” but “a king.” Nothing about what the Jewish leaders told Pilate to write says that they saw him as their king. It almost seems as if they were attempting to make Jesus out to be a lunatic – as if he had made a ridiculous claim about himself. What is most important from this text, though, is that Jesus never made such a claim. In fact, when questioned by Pilate in the Synoptics, Jesus replies, “You say so.”[3]
  6. ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα (lit. “whatever I have written, I have written.”) – What is interesting about Pilate’s response is that he uses the perfect tense (“I have”). In this tense, there is a sense of finality to the action, but with on-going effect. Pilate definitively named Jesus the Jewish King, so that all Jews would be humiliated by Jesus’ death on the cross.

What I find most interesting when all of these pieces are put together is the presence of a political opportunity for Pilate and a nationalist move by the Jewish leadership. Pilate seeks to obtain favor from Rome, so he declares Jesus “The King the Jews,” even though in his conversation with Jesus (as noted above), Jesus did not confirm Pilate’s question. With this sign for Jesus hanging above him as he hung on the cross, Jews passing by would be humiliated – their king has received the worst punishment Rome could deliver. One can see why the Jews were persistent about changing what Pilate had written.

Learning Greek and Hebrew have been difficult enterprises, no doubt. Yet such a discipline has allowed me to see that the Biblical text is so much more astonishing in its original languages. Literary allusions, puns (yes, even puns!), and connotations all become clearer, which gives a stronger sense of the various contextual environments, as shown above. So even as the semester reaches its peak with all its papers and projects coming due, I have a vivid reminder as to why all of it matters.

God bless.

[1] Both the ESV and NRSV translate ἐκεῖνος (which literally means “that” or “that one”) as “this man.” My focus here is to go as literal as possible because what is missed in English translations is how this was actually an insult against Jesus.

[2] William D. Mounce gives an explanation about the difference in his Basics of Biblical Greek, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 314-317. Cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 485, 714-17.

[3] Cf. Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-38a.

Politics: To Play or Not To Play…

If you have seen a few of my tweets or a couple Facebook statuses here and there, you would know that House of Cards has disrupted my focus. The devious Francis J. Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) puts the artist in “con artist”; craftily manipulating whomever he needs in order to exercise higher levels of power. If one were to stand in his way, Francis would then proceed to utterly obliterate their career in a heartbeat. Or he would utterly obliterate their heartbeat.

Those who have seen the first couple of seasons know just how true this is.

Yet there was an interesting moment during “Chapter 22” (Season 2, Episode 9), where a particular person who causes problems for both Francis and his wife, Claire. His name is Adam Galloway and is a world-famous photographer who was approached by rivals of Underwood seeking to ruin their political careers. Galloway complied and released a couple of photos of Claire that would raise questions within the public about her marriage with Francis. Even though what Galloway says regarding the photos is actually true – that the photos reveal exactly what they appear to reveal; an affair between him and Claire – Claire asks him to humiliate his own public standing so that the Underwood name is cleared. Galloway responds with, “I am not a part of this world.”

Another figure whom I worship and study on a daily basis has said a very similar claim in a very similar situation: “My kingdom is not from this world.”[1] While the political atmosphere within Jesus’ time was vastly different than what the modern atmosphere is now, it still operated in terms of power. Considering the tension between the Jewish leadership and the Roman government, Jesus was a trouble-maker on all fronts. He disrupted the religious system, which of course caused a problem for Pontius Pilate. As all four Gospels depict, the crowd was creating quite an uproar about crucifying Jesus – even suggesting to Pilate that he would be against the Emperor if he didn’t grant them their wish. The religious leaders wanted to exercise power over their own people; Pilate did not want his throne of power to be removed.

There is, then, a political connotation to Jesus’ words; he is quite literally saying that he does not play the same political games to attain or exercise power in this world. And yet, Jesus is saying something so much more; that the power he truly has was given to him and no one of earth can remove it from him.[2] Even if Jesus would want to have played the political game, he was well aware that the power given to him from God was greater than any on earth.

No, it is not a new thing to say that Jesus subverted the systems of power in his own day, nor is it a new thing to say that we should follow his lead. All that came to mind when watching House of Cards was that we are entering a new election year. The peak of this political season is still a year and a half out, but the campaigns have already begun. This means that those who play the game are already devising strategies to use the most people‘s votes to attain the various levels of power they seek. So now – yes, even now – is a critical time for the reminder of Jesus:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[3]

My hope with the upcoming political turmoil that our nation is about to endure is that I would not value people by whom they vote for, but because they are people. One of the biggest challenges to the church today is having a balanced relationship with modern political atmospheres – knowing when to challenge or reject political opinions and when to listen for whatever wisdom that might be gleaned from them. This is not to say that our favorite politicians either replace the teaching of Christ or never have anything of value to say at all. Rather, it is to say we must exercise wisdom when listening to them – to make sure that all their promises and plans operate under the commandment of neighborly love.

It is my hope and my challenge. Our political atmosphere does a great job of pitting those who care about how the country is run against each other – categorizing them into one camp or another with no concept of “both/and” thinking. Our world operates by polarized views, “us vs. them” rhetoric, and fusions of God with patriotism – that to vote for their particular political candidate is almost to vote for a representative of God.[4] If we are to follow Jesus at his word, then we are not to play the political games our country demands of us.

May we all seek to love our neighbor as ourselves – even if they are on the other “side” of the political spectrum.

God bless.

[1] John 18:36, NRSV. A more explicit resemblance comes from John 8:23; “You are of this world, I am not of this world.”

[2] Cf. John 5:36; 6:37, 39; 10:28-29; 12:49; etc.

[3] Mark 10:42-45.

[4] Roger Olson points out that “Deism quietly filtered into the fabric of North American religious and political life, and the God of Deism and natural religion became the ‘God’ of civil religion in the United States (‘In God We Trust’),” The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 532.

Spring Break Refreshment…

Spring Break, for many graduate students, is not much of a break. Even though the weekly assignments are somewhat put on hold or reduced to a moderate amount, there are still the semester papers, projects, and countless hours of course reading to catch up on. With this in mind, I took a quick trip to Eugene yesterday with my girlfriend – both for a mini-vacation and to show her where I spent seven years of my life.

We first parked on Agate St. just outside of Hayward Field. From there we walked up 15th, past the turf fields, through the dorm halls (passing my own Morton Hall of the Earl complex along the way) toward the EMU (now being rebuilt). After taking a quick stop inside the EMU, we walked down 13th, paused a bit in front of Fenton, and then wandered over to Deady, so she could see the first building built on the University of Oregon’s campus. We continued on to McKenzie, then crossed the street to the Duck Store. She was amazed by the enormity of a school bookstore and I was amazed by the renovations they had made (I used to work for the company and it did not look like that the last time I was there). We then stopped in Café Roma for a coffee with my former pastor, Tony. After a quick photo at the Starbucks next door (where I had met Jenna’s sister, Sierra, who introduced me to Jenna), we hung out at the Knight Library.

There is a song from the U of O’s acappella group, On the Rocks, called “Call Me a Duck” (a remake off of Maino’s “All the Above”). In that song, which is all about being a student at the university without a football focus, there is a portion of a line that goes “Picture you studying Greek…” At the time I first heard the song, I did not think much of it. But when I sat down at a window seat in the top floor of the Knight Library to do a little Greek homework, it was the first thing I could think of.

Top floor, far left corner from the stairs.
Taken after finished transcribing Col. 3:9-11, a passage about renewal.

It was a poetic moment that encapsulated the journey from the University of Oregon up to George Fox Evangelical Seminary, where I am now two years into a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree. At a point in the semester (and even in the degree pursuit altogether) when exhaustion is beginning to hit me, it was a refreshing reminder that there was a point when I did not imagine seminary. And as I am now beginning to plan what to write for my Master’s thesis as well as studying for the GRE to move on to a PhD program in a year and a half, it is a nice motto of what I hope to study and teach after I have left George Fox.

No, it is not as if Greek is my primary area of interest, but it certainly is a part of it. It certainly is a fascinating language all its own. It certainly has opened up my understanding of the Biblical text. And I certainly would not be studying it had I not gone to the U of O. As I plan for the upcoming academic year and prepare myself for what may (hopefully) follow, remembering where I have come from and all of the transformative processes I have gone through will be what drives me forward.

Even in seminary, God can seem a little distant. When that happens, one’s future looks a little blurry and confusing. But every now and then, God – on God’s own timing – sends little reminders that God is still there, refreshing you and your passions like rain to an Oregonian.

All that God wants in those moments is for us to simply soak it in.

God bless.

Half-way Done…

During last semester, I was required to do my candidacy assessment for George Fox Seminary – where a team of professors come together, review my work, read my reflection of how life is going for me in seminary, and determine whether or not it is spiritually healthy for me to continue. I think every student goes through this assessment, so it is basically part of the routine. When I wrote the reflection essay, though, I became aware of something: I miss church.

It may be a shock for some to imagine how a seminarian could go through the majority of their classes without being “plugged in,” as the Christianese phrase goes. But that has been me; I have not been a part of a church community since I left Eugene. There are a number of reasons as to why I have not joined with any community, but a major one is that I no longer feel comfortable in the evangelical, “Reformed” settings. Why? Because in many of these environments, to extend critical thought on a particular matter – especially a theological matter that has long been tightly held (e.g. inerrancy) – would bring about shame, as if I were heretical for even asking the questions.

Seminary has changed me, but while I see all these changes as great, many in some of my former environments would not. Instead, they would likely give me the “You are walking dangerously close to that slippery slope” type of stuff and encourage me to read another book by a white, heterosexual male pastor with an “authoritative” perspective – as if I were going to simply agree with everything this person wrote because he’s a pastor and, well, a “he.” And it is not at all too farfetched to imagine these types of statements being made to me, either; after all, many have already said these things to me (especially about inerrancy).

My seminary education has given me wonderful lenses through which to view not only Scripture, but church traditions, customs, and spiritual practices as well. I have been introduced to feminism, womanism, and indigenous spiritual practices – all of which have shaped how I approach modern issues like yoga pants, Ferguson, and the “anomaly” of the gay Christian. Being taught lenses that challenge my previous understanding of how the world works in an environment that provides the space for me to think alone and formulate my own ideas has changed the way I think completely. I simply have a hard time – based upon previous experiences – imagining my own acceptance into the evangelical church setting.

And yet, I know that seminary will not last forever. The beginning of this semester marks my halfway point; this time next year will be my final semester in seminary. The reality of this is beginning, already, to settle in. My hope is to be somewhere pursuing a PhD, but who knows what kind of environment that will be like? Assuming the best, that I get into a great and fully-funded program, will it be conducive to a healthier faith? Will I be challenged in constructive ways rather than warned against the dangers of the “slippery slope”? I know for a fact that it will be a difficult task; PhDs are nothing to scoff at. But will the environment be conducive to a healthier, stronger walk with God? Will the challenges and difficulties be worth it?

Thus the need for a community outside of school.

No, I am not asking people for church recommendations. I am in no hurry right now to find a place. Instead, I want to go about this carefully so that I can find a community who loves God and their neighbors without judgment, shame, or the need to operate “as has always been done.” I need a community that seeks God, but also diversity within the congregation as well as the leadership. I need a community where we are asked to help our neighbor with what they need rather than telling our neighbors what they need to believe. No, I will not need for this community to be full of Master’s and PhD students. But I will need this community to accept me for all of me.

For those reading, what, if anything, has your community done to create an environment more conducive to the critical thinker/skeptic types? For those like me, what have you done to find and/or build a like-minded community? Has that gone well for you or are there serious setbacks that you are discovering?

Thank you for reading and God bless!

A (Sort of) Review of Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So…

In 2008, I had difficulty with the Bible. Okay, it wasn’t really difficulty with the Bible, per se; more so with outside pressure about the Bible. That is, I attended a church whose pastor didn’t affirm inerrancy – the belief that the Bible is perfect – and received confrontation after confrontation regarding why I chose to keep going there. “There are too many red flags,” a friend told me. “If I were you, I’d leave,” another pastor of another church advised.

Yet what no one stopped to consider – not even myself – was whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy was a healthy way of viewing Scripture. At the time, only my pastors from that church were the ones to suggest that it wasn’t. It didn’t stop the confrontational conversations, which carried the aura of my salvation being on the line, but it did help quite a bit as I waded through for myself. Ultimately I kept going because my pastors proved to be more critically engaged with the Biblical text than those who advised me to leave. Questions were explored, not shunned.

With all of that said, I now turn to Peter Enns’ latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. As the title suggests, it targets the whole concept of defending the text as perfect, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. This is the kind of book I wish I had back in ’08 because it would have assured me that 1. My salvation is not at stake when it comes to reading Scripture as an imperfect text and 2. We begin to understand the authors of the text when we remove that presupposition (or an “essential belief” as that other pastor described it) of a perfect text.

Of course, removing such a prominent belief in a good majority of Christianity (at least from the Protestant side of things) might mean chaos for someone. It might mean they begin to question the existence of God altogether. Such chaos is evidenced by that pesky “slippery slope” one must walk down before unbelief or doubt. And yet, as Enns highlights, such a slope is not a problem. In fact, faith oftentimes seems like nothing but slippery slope after slippery slope, which makes one wonder whether or not the peaceful, level plateau where everything is certain and coffee is cheap is nothing but legend.

Here is a passage from Enns’ book that speaks of such chaos:

An unsettled faith is a maturing faith. Christians often get the signal from others that if they doubt or struggle in some way with the Bible, their faith is weak. They are told that their goal should be to ease the stress somehow by praying more, going to church twice on Sunday (and Wednesday if need be), or generally just stop being so rebelliously stubborn and asking so many questions.

But one thing we see in the Bible is how often people’s trust in God was shaken – and not because they were weak, but because life happens. Whether we read books like Job and Ecclesiastes (as we’ve seen) or the dozens of psalms that cry out to God for some reason or another, life does not move along smoothly.

You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process.

Not that we should go looking for it – it will find us soon enough – but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky.

Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him[1] more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be.

Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.[2]

My walk with God has been this unsettled path – sometimes of whether or not God exists, other times of whether or not homosexuality is a sin (or other topics). But such an unsettled-ness has compelled me to listen more, trust more, and step out in an act of faith more. Sure, there were a lot more questions once I chose to go the route of my own pastors at that church, but such questions compelled me, more than ever before, to seek God. These questions forced me to uproot my own foundations to see what was there and upon doing so I realized that those foundations were full of sand and not bedrock. And, strangely enough, the more questions I asked, the fewer answers I received, but the stronger my faith became.

It is almost like asking more questions is kind of the point.

All in all, this is a great book that I wish I had had back when this issue was much more prominent in my life. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering seminary as a potential path because it is a great introduction to the way that seminary beckons one to rethink the Biblical text. And of course I recommend this book to anyone who believes in God, but isn’t sure about the Bible. One other thing I noticed about following my pastors was that my interest in the Bible increased exponentially. There was so much I was missing (and still am, in some ways).

If you’d like to read more stuff from Enns, here’s his blog: Only one word of caution: he is a Yankee fan…

God bless.

[1] Enns has a footnote wherein he discusses the gendered pronouns: “I do not believe that the God of the universe is male or female, but, following the biblical convention, I will use male pronouns when speaking of God. We will be looking at a lot of passages from the Bible, and adjusting the language at each point could get distracting and become the unintended focus. I realize – and respect – that not all would agree with me in this decision, but I just want to be clear about what I am doing and why.”

[2] Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, 238-239, boldface is mine.