Archive for December, 2011

An Epic Saga of Bible Reading

Do you have any big plans for the new year?

I do.

I plan on getting chewed up and spit out by the Bible.

Again.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the Bible.  LOVE it.  This year, I have had some amazingly profitable Bible studies.  I read through the New Testament this summer and found it to be incredibly inspiring and enlightening.  I also studied Hosea in August, and really got caught up in the story of God’s passion for His people.  In the fall, when my family was going through a tumultuous time, I immersed myself in Philippians, and it kept me spiritually afloat (mixed metaphors, anyone?).  Right now, I’m going through a Beth Moore study on James with my best friend, and good ol’ James has been predictably hard-hitting and motivating.

But there is something about reading through the whole Bible that completely confuses and disorients me.  Recently, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary had a post on her experiences with reading through the Bible, and I was laughing out loud at her description of all the ickiness that goes on in the Old Testament.  I think it was just refreshing to hear someone else articulate the feeling.  Besides all the raping and slaughter and such, the Old Testament is also disorienting because it comes to us in 39 books, and I know precious little about their backgrounds.  By this time in my faith, I’m pretty familiar with the structure and background of the New Testament.  But the Old is a whole ‘nother story.  The books aren’t arranged chronologically, and sometimes even the content of the books isn’t arranged chronologically (see:  Jeremiah); they come in a variety of genres, each requiring its own set of interpretive tools; and often when you start a new book, you are thrown into a historical setting about which you have NO information.  It’s not uncommon to begin a book of prophecy and have no idea who is talking to whom, and at what time, and in what set of circumstances.  I do use several books on the Bible as I study, such as introductions and commentaries, but even then, it’s often hard to get my bearings and to put myself in such a foreign context.

So that’s some of the stuff that makes the Old Testament (and sometimes the New Testament) hard to understand.  But as Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  And I from the other quotes on the Bible I read by Twain while searching for the correct wording for that one, I think I partially mean it the way he does.  Yes, I understand Jesus’ plain words about loving our enemies, and that bothers me, because I know I must follow them.  But I also understand the story of Nadab and Abihu, and that bothers me because I can’t get how God would do that to them.  And I understand the story of Jehu, and that bothers me because I don’t know why God would use such a brutal murderer.  I understand the story of the Israelites taking over Canaan, and that bothers me because of all the genocide involved.  I understand David’s words about wanting someone to dash his enemies’ babies against the rocks, and that bothers me because I am generally against dashing infants.  And so forth.  

Now, believe me, I have sought and received several different answers to the questions that bother me, and have received much wise counsel from people much more educated and further along in their spirituality than I.  I have also spilled a considerable amount of ink and an even larger amount of pixels trying to sort out these issues myself.  And most importantly, I have prayed to God for guidance repeatedly while reading Scripture, and His Spirit has helped me in the process of discernment.  But the end result is generally the same:  by the time I limp through reading the whole Bible in a year, I am spiritually beat up, disheveled, and disoriented. I’ve only done it twice, though, and the second time was much better than the first time.  So I have even higher hopes for the third time.

Now, you may be thinking, Why do it, if it is so challenging to your faith?

I have asked myself the same thing, after each time I’ve finished.  The first time, I honestly thought I would never try to read the whole Bible again.  I finished it at the end of 2006, and I had read it in isolation, never getting to compare notes with other readers.  The sad part was that there was a year-long Sunday school class at church that was reading the same one year Bible that I was, and they met to discuss it each week.  But I was already scheduled to teach for most of the quarters of the year, and so I didn’t get to attend.  I would often pass that class on the way to the one I was teaching, and wish so badly that I could go in and just ask, “Okay, was anyone else completely weirded out by this week’s reading?”  But there was another part of me that thought I might get kicked out of church if I asked the questions that were rattling around in my head.

And so it was that I put the Bible away with a sigh of relief the end of that year.  I decided to spend 2007 just reading the psalms, a book which, baby-head-bashing aside, is like chicken noodle soup for the questioning soul.  I took heart from David’s honesty, from his unwillingness to pretend that his faith was perfect or that he had all the right answers.  I appreciated his rawness, his seeking, his frustration and sadness, intermixed with his joy.  My faith rebounded, and I went on to study the Bible piece-meal for a few more years.

And then in 2010, I decided to try again.  Why?  Because I wanted to know God.  Reading the whole Bible had given me a jolting wake-up call that God was very different than I was.  I tend to unconsciously make God in my own image, which is a form of idolatry.  The best antidote to that self-delusion, I found, is the strong elixir of the whole Bible.  It provides a shock to my system that forces me to acknowledge how different God is from my conceptions of Him.  And since I want to know who God really is, and not just who I want Him to be, I confess that the battering of the whole Bible has become somewhat addictive to me.

Also, I believe that the Truth is strong.  I believe that it–no, that He–can handle our questions, our confusion, our honesty.  I have faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God.  And because of that, I know He is more than a match for the struggles of my limited intellect.  Armed with that faith, I began again in 2010.

My reading in 2010 was much better, for two reasons:  1) I took the time to process my thoughts through typing them out in an ongoing Bible blog, which helped immensely, and 2) I read through it with several different Christians (and one atheist!) who chimed in with their two cents.  Reading it this way proved to me that the Bible is meant to be read and interpreted in community.  I was still worn out by the time I crossed the finish line, but even then, I knew I was going to do it again in a year.

And now we are here:  2012.  Time to start again.  I’m going to use the same Bible I did in 2010:  The One Year Bible.  That way, I can refer to my blog to laugh at get insight from my old thoughts, as well as the thoughts of others.  It will also be interesting to see where my interpretations and responses have changed.  As I start, I want to formally invite anyone to join me who so desires.  And I also want to say this to anyone who needs to hear it:  I know it’s hard to read the Bible sometimes.  And I know it’s even harder to understand parts of it.  I know that while it is amazing and uplifting and life-changing and inspirational, it can also be confusing and disorienting.  I know that.  So if you ever read the Bible and come away feeling further from God instead of closer to Him, please know that there is someone who understands those feelings.  When I felt that way, I often wondered if I was the only one.  Maybe I was:).  But if you have ever felt like that, or ever feel that way in the future, please know that you are not alone.  And if you are ever confused or uncertain about something you read in the Bible, and you just want to talk to someone about it, I will talk to you.  I can almost guarantee you that I won’t have hard and fast answers for you, but I will jump in there with you and work through it.  One way to get my attention is to leave a comment on either this blog or the Bible blog.  Even when I am not actively referring to the Bible blog (as I will be in 2012), I still get email updates whenever someone leaves a comment.  I will go so far as to guarantee that if you leave a comment on the Bible blog about Scripture, I will respond to you.  As one who is extremely indebted to those who have responded to ME when I’ve been lost and confused, I would be remiss not to pass on that blessing (albeit with a lot less wisdom and insight).

So those are my Bible reading plans for 2012.  I also have bought or plan to buy a few books that I think will help with journey…in addition, of course, to the faithful references and commentaries that I have already accrued.

Wish me luck…and feel free to join me!

Have you ever read the whole Bible?  How did you take it?

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Chocolate Update and Confession

Greg and I recently decided to try to start buying fair trade chocolate, a conviction I blogged about here.  A couple nights ago, Greg asked me if I had read about Nestle partnering with the Fair Labor Association to investigate the use of child slavery in its supply chain.  He really didn’t have to ask:  if it wasn’t featured on the front page of Yahoo! news or my friends’ blogs, then the answer was no.  I hadn’t heard.

After his heads-up, I read several articles about the agreement, and while it seems like good news, it also seems from my “research” that these companies have a history of making promises without backing them up with action.  So we’ll see.

Besides some healthy skepticism, my impromptu investigation of Nestle’s claims led to a couple of different emotions in me:  it made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy about the populist power inherent in capitalism, while also arousing strangely competitive feelings against Great Britain.

Regarding the first emotion, look, I know capitalism has its problems.  That said, there is something uniquely empowering in the ability to affect the decisions of a corporate juggernaut with the use of (a whole lotta people’s) measly little dollars.  It reminds me of the thrill that my kids got at the Science Center the other day when they used a lever and pulley system to lift up a car.  As Jack Sparrow would say, it’s just “a matter of leverage.”  Yes, fair trade chocolate has a long way to go, but just look at how far fair trade coffee has come!  When my hippie husband broached the idea of buying fair trade coffee a few years ago, I couldn’t find it anywhere, and on the rare occasions that I could physically locate the mythical bag, it was outrageously priced.  Now, you can buy fair trade coffee at Wal-mart and Target, and it’s honestly not that much more expensive than regular coffee!  We can do this, guys!  Power to the people!

Secondly, though, must Britain always beat us to the punch on the slavery issue?  I keep thinking about William Wilberforce, whom I conveniently picture as Ioan Gruffudd, and not this guy:

File:William Wilberforce.jpg

Gruffudd’s movie reminded me that Britain voted to abolish slavery in 1833, while the U.S. lagged some thirty years behind (and wasn’t there a war involved or something?  I forget).

And their annoying moral superiority still goes on today, people!

Did you know that Nestle already sells a fair trade Kit Kat bar in Britain?  And it’s not like Kit Kats are some little rinky-dink candy over there:  they are the best-selling chocolate bar in the UK!  And Cadbury also has a fair trade line of chocolate that they sell in Britain.

But do they sell the fair trade Kit Kats in the U.S.?  And for that matter, does Cadbury sell fair trade chocolate in the States?  No, and no.

Why?

I confess that I haven’t fully investigated the disparity, but I can only imagine it’s because they know we don’t care.  We. don’t. care.  Because if we did, we wouldn’t buy them, and then they’d have to sell us something we would buy.  It’s quite simple, when you think about it.  And so now, I’m feeling competitive.  We’re America, dang it!  We are proud of our morality, our Christian heritage…unlike those pagan Europeans!  (Sarcasm.)  Did Bradford call England the “city on a hill”?  No, he called America that.

So…why are we still behind?  

Well….probably because we (read: me) are not so awesome at sticking to buying fair trade chocolate.  Oh, we can do the chocolate chips and the cocoa mix, and we don’t really buy chocolate bars anyway…but we (okay, I!) have two downfalls.  One is M&M’s.  I don’t buy them for myself (for real–I really don’t buy candy just for the heck of it), but I did “need” them for my gingerbread house party and for SANTA bingo with the Y.E.S. kids’ Christmas party.  In retrospect, I could have probably used some substitutes, but I was in a hurry and not thinking creatively.  Really, there’s no excuse, but I’m not as concerned about the errant M&M’s because they were for unique circumstances.  What really bothers me is the brownie mix.

In my house, we always have three or four boxes of brownie mix.  Because of the nature of Greg’s job, we usually have people over to eat about once a week, and brownies are a really quick, easy dessert to throw together.  Plus, they often go on sale, buy-one-get-one free, and there are tons of coupons.  Cheap, simple, delicious.  There’s just one problem.  It recently occurred to me (like, today, when I was unloading my four boxes of Ghiradelli brownies from Publix) that brownie mixes have chocolate in them.  And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the chocolate is probably not fair trade.

*Exhale*

Now, that will require a lifestyle change.  (Seriously, we love brownies that much!)

I often have to reorient my gaze to the big picture (CHILD SLAVERY!), and remind myself that I really am committed to being more responsible with my measly dollars.  But now, you gotta help me out.  It would be so great if I had some good, quick, easy, cheap, non-chocolate-laden dessert ideas to replace my brownies.  I need the kind of thing that most guests would like and that I could throw together easily when we are having people over.  In fact, that’s going to be my ending question:

Do you know any desserts that fit my criteria?  This is important, people (and I’m only sort of joking)!

I will leave you with this for inspiration (I couldn’t find any clips like I wanted, so I had to go with the preview.  And full disclosure:  I may have a penchant for cheesiness):

“If there is a bad taste in your mouth, you spit it out.”

I agree completely.

Kingdom Voices: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Happy Christmas eve, everyone!  My family has a busy day planned that I hope glorifies God and shares His love for others.  But first, in honor of the day, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Advent devotional.

Of all of the words of the Bible, perhaps none captivate me more than Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  That parable ignites a wide range of emotions in me, from fear to wonder to excitement to passion to desire to meet God in the people around me.  There is something utterly profound in Christ’s statement that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (25:40).  Truly, it is hard to plumb the depths of those words, and to fully understand their implications.  I think, however, that Bonhoeffer does a pretty good job here of briefly exploring the import of the amazing picture that Jesus paints in that parable:

“One day at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right:  ‘Come, you blessed…I was hungry and you fed me…’ (Matt. 25:34).  To the astonished question of when and where, he answered:  ‘What you did to the least of these, you have done to me…’ (Matt. 25:40).  With that we are faced with the shocking reality:  Jesus stands at the door and knocks in complete reality.  He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing.  He confronts you in every person that you meet.  Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people.  He walks on earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, and makes his demands.  That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message.  Christ stands at the door.  He lives in the form of the person in our midst.  Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”

The idea of being able to meet Christ in each person among the masses of humanity around us, and to serve Him directly through loving our neighbor never ceases to enthrall me.

What passage of Scripture most excites and motivates you?

*Quote taken from:  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  “The Coming of Jesus in our Midst.”  Watch for the Light:  Readings for Advent and Christmas.  Farmington, PA:  Plough Publishing House, 2001.

Good Instincts

So often, the natural desires that come from deep down inside me are…well…bad.  They are selfish, they are petty, they are grasping, they are selfish, they are impatient, they are worldly, and they are desperately selfish.  Did I mention that they can be selfish?  The Bible talks about the flesh being in opposition to the Spirit, and I can relate so completely.  Really, I have learned to trust none of my knee-jerk reactions to situations because generally, they are the wrong things to do.

And then I became a mother, and lo and behold, I found a good instinct!  I love my babies so incredibly much…and even more than that, having those babies opened up a whole other level of love and compassion for all children.  I have blogged about these feelings in the past on our family blog, and I may even reprint that post here some day, but the gist of it was that when I had kids, I suddenly felt a profound love, not just for my own children, but for all the children of the world who did not have a loving caregiver.  On a deep, guttural, soul-hurting level, I mourned the abuse that was undoubtedly happening all around me in this world.  The feeling was so overwhelming that I wasn’t even sure what to do about it…or if there was anything I even could do.  It even briefly put me at odds with God, but eventually, He brought me through it, and showed me some productive steps I could take to advocate for hurting children.

It has been awhile since I’ve thought about that rawness of emotion, that deep hurt for hurting kids that I felt shortly after having my own, but yesterday, I saw a reprint of the following blog post on Rage Against the Minivan.  She was sharing these thoughts from another blogger, and the words reverberated in my soul and reminded me of that tumultuous time in my spiritual life.  What I love is the way this blogger has used that passion to do something constructive.  This is her second year to use her blog to help an orphaned child (you can read about the first year here).  I love her words, and I love the way she enables us each to participate in the beautiful act of looking out for an orphan in his distress.  Even if you don’t contribute $5 toward his fund (which I highly recommend), it is worth the read:

life rearranged

Hello my sweet friends.

I’d like for you to meet Xander.

The squishiest, sweetest, most delicious little face you ever did see.

Xander lives in an orphanage in Eastern Europe with no Mommy and no Daddy.

Those almond eyes, a sign of Down Syndrome…and likely much needed medical care.

Once when Henry was a bitty baby, I found myself in his nursery in the wee hours of the morning consoling his whimpering and kissing his feverish little forehead.  I remember thinking: of all the people in the entire world, I’m the only one who can make him feel even remotely happy.  All he wants is his mama.  No one else will do.

And suddenly, out of the blue, in the glow of a new mom’s overwhelming love for her first baby, I was crushed at the thought of the orphan crisis.

How, if my life were different…if one of millions of things weren’t exactly the same as they are now…

I was devastated at the thought of a feverish and sick child whimpering in a crib alone.

No mama to stay up and whisper sweet nothings and coo in his ear.

No daddy to chase him around the house and throw him high into the air for no reason but to elicit squeals of delight.

No cherry flavored Tylenol and cool washcloths for his head.

In that moment, in the middle of the night, sitting in a gliding rocker, in a perfectly decorated nursery, I sobbed.

And truth be told, I’ve never really stopped sobbing over it, you know?

Something happened that night, or really the moment I became a mother, that made me look at the entire world differently.

The world is a much smaller place the moment you have children. 

I think we all break in some way for the orphan crisis…but we have no idea where to start or what to do.

After all, little Xander is only one of 143 million orphans.

Read that number again.  Roll it around in your brain.

Horrific.

And let’s not forget all of the other issues of our broken world. The cancer, the poverty, the dirty water, the child trafficking, the abuse, the wars, the AIDS pandemic, the….name it.

I’m tempted to shut down in an overwhelmed panic.

Because the truth is, we can’t save the world.

We can give and give and advocate and try, and it still won’t be enough.

Right?

But you know what?

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

It doesn’t mean it’s a good reason to sit back and do nothing.

We must try.

We must do our part.

We must.

Do not buy into the lie that your portion does not matter.

Do not allow yourself to believe that you cannot make a difference.

Do not give yourself permission to throw up your hands in frustration and then cover your eyes with them.

Because today my friends, we will do something.

It may not be much, but we will do our part because it’s the right thing to do.

Because God calls us to do it.

After all, last Christmas, $5 at a time, we made a difference for Cliff and raised almost $9,500…Cliff who is now Joshua and has a mama, a daddy, three brothers and a whole host of grandmas and aunts and uncles.

I know your heart breaks for orphans.  I know it does.  And I know that it may not be possible for you to adopt.  But a family out there would love to. And you can help.

Together we will combine our portions for Xander’s adoption fund.  So that when a family steps forward to adopt him, a gift of funding will be awaiting them.

International adoption is expensive.  And is hands down the biggest deterrant to would be adoptive families.

Not desire.  Not extra bedrooms.  Not politics.

Just stupid, awful money.

So let’s bless a family today.  Let’s bless Xander.

Let’s make this Christmas be about more than wrapping paper and twinkling lights.

Consider making a tax deductible donation to Xander’s adoption fund through Reece’s Rainbow.

I know life is expensive and times are tough.  I know.

But ask yourself this: Can you afford not to?

Reading Jeannett’s words, my heart not only went out to Xander and all the orphans, but my mind started mulling over the good instincts that God gives us, those times when doing the right thing is actually natural.  For me, it is caring for orphans because I’m a mom, and moms take care of kids.  For you, it might be something different.  But I think it’s worth it to identify those instincts and to thank God for them, because I believe they are part of being made in His image.  As we are trapped in bodies that are so often dogged by sin and selfishness, those beautiful instincts are good and perfect gifts that come down to us from the Father of the heavenly lights.  I’m sure that, like everything else, they can be manipulated, and we can use them wrongly.  Like everything else, they must be guided by God’s Spirit.  But in the midst of all of our bad instincts, it’s nice to have a few good ones, you know?

What are your good instincts?  Were you born with them, or did they develop over time?

Birds

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Luke 18:16

I carry around a list in my head of all the things I need to do in a day.  Before I had kids, this mental list dictated my day.  It kept me focused on all the tasks I needed to complete, and I would methodically move from one to the next until they were done.  I call this practice, “sticking with the plan,” and Greg occasionally makes fun of me for it whenever it veers into neuroses.

My children, on the other hand, could not care less about “sticking with the plan.”

Much of “the plan” even revolves around them these days:  fixing their breakfasts, packing their lunches, playing with them, helping with homework, etc.  And yet, there are also those pesky other things that must be done:  quiet time, laundry, mopping, cooking, emailing, budgeting, errand-running, and so forth.  My kids are not always on board with that other list.  And frankly, that’s not always a bad thing.  In fact, their indifference has managed to get me to do something that all of my husband’s loving jabs could not:  cultivate the discipline to break from the plan when needed.

My children have taught me that sometimes a tea party is more important than a mopped floor, and that curling up with two babies and a pile of books can and should be the first priority of many days.  They have taught me that most of my tasks are really not that important at all, and certainly not too important to be interrupted several times to take care other others.

And they have taught me to watch birds.

A couple of days ago, I was walking from the family room to the bedrooms, probably carrying a pile of items to be distributed to rooms along the way, when I caught sight of Luke sitting on the living room floor, gazing out the window.  He was situated between the glass and the sheer white curtain, just a gauzy outline of a five year old.  Out of amused curiosity, I stopped and asked him what he was doing.

“Oh, just looking at the birds.  Do you want to come watch?”

It was a question whose answer held a strangely moral dimension for me that day.  My mental list had been very prominent in my thinking, and I had been zipping through it, check-check-checking things off.  And yet, suddenly, watching birds seemed like more than a suggestion; it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Yes, buddy.  I’d love to.”

And so I settled in behind the curtain, cross-legged against the glass, and watched the crows fly from tree to tree.  I watched a blue jay chatter on a branch, and smaller birds zip in between “the cord lines,” as Luke calls the telephone wires.  We laughed together at each unexpected flight and each avian interaction, wondering aloud what the birds were saying to each other.  I totally forgot what it was that I was supposed to be doing, and can’t remember even now, because I knew somehow that I was doing something that mattered so much more.

I was looking at the birds of the air and realizing that they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet my heavenly Father feeds them.  Are Luke and Anna and Greg and I…are we all…not much more valuable than they? 

Sitting there, I was thankful to a God who not only took care of birds, but who gave this overly-driven mama a kindergartner who was delighted by them.  I remembered fondly how, even at less than a year old, he would be fixated by the smallest outline of a winged creature flying through the sky.  We would laugh at the way he would ignore all of the large, bright toys we were waving in his face to point and grunt excitedly at the pinprick of a bird so far overhead that we adults had missed it.

Back at the window, we remained contentedly gazing at the birds for well past the normal attention span of a five year old.  It was a cold, gray and gloomy day.  The sun was gone, it was too wet to play outside, and in my mind, the coloring of the day could best be described as “dismal.”  After sitting and watching the birds for a good, long while, Luke and I decided to play with his Toy Story characters, which really excited him.  Still, he could barely stand to wrench himself away from the window, sighing, “It’s just such a beautiful day.”

And I looked out the window again…and realized that it was.

Sometimes it’s so easy to see why the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

 

 

How do your children–or any children–draw you closer to God?

Call for Books (Mind-blowers only, please!)

Last year, right after Christmas, I had an amazing reading experience.  My husband had gotten me When Helping Hurts, which is kind of a “game changer” of a book, in that it makes you rethink everything you do to help the poor.  I absolutely consumed it at my parents’ house in a matter of hours, and it simply blew my mind.  It was such an amazing experience to have my whole way of looking at a subject be completely transformed.  Then, when we were at Greg’s parents’ house, his mom loaned me the book, Same Kind of Different as Me, which kind of served as a powerful illustration of several of the principles in When Helping Hurts.  Plus, it was a deeply moving book all on its own.  I loved that experience of reading two powerful books in such a short span of time, and I will forever remember that week or two fondly, as a time of great spiritual growth.

Because of those memories, I am eager to repeat that experience.  I am looking for some good, world-rocking books to read in the lull between Christmas and the craziness that will be my 2012.  Here are some books that I think might fit the bill, and I’m interested in any other suggestions:

1.  The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

A trusted friend said that this one was a “MUST. READ.” and then actually sounded smart when he used the material from it in a discussion (Just messing with you, Sean, if you are reading:)).  So naturally, I’m dying to read it.  Plus, I learned from the Amazon reviews that Richard Foster (RICHARD FOSTER!) called this book “the book I’ve been searching for all my life.”  Wow!  Richard Foster.  I was sold at “MUST. READ.” but that just elevated my level of need for this book to DEFCON 1.

2.  The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight

Having read through the entire Bible a grand total of two times, I now consider myself an expert in being confused by it.  As a result of my forays into the entirety of Scripture, I have become increasingly concerned with the problem of hermeneutics.  I even have an ongoing blog post in my head called, “In Search of a Consistent Hermeneutic,” which, if I ever actually type it, promises to be incredible scandalous incredibly scandalous?  Anyway, before I try to hammer that all out into my keyboard, I’d like to hear some different takes on hermeneutical approaches to Scripture.  Apparently, McKnight does a good job of highlighting the inconsistencies of our traditional interpretive models, and I would actually like to hear someone admit that who is a believing Christian and not the atheist who kept commenting on my Bible blog last year.  Unlike my atheist pal, I’m hoping he has some constructive solutions.  So…yeah.  Really want to read this.  (Also, I can’t turn around these days without hearing something about Scot McKnight, and I had never heard of him before, like, two weeks ago.  So now I’m wanting to know what the big deal is.)

3.  Half the Church, by Carolyn Custis James

Speaking of incredibly scandalous, I’ve been recommended this book several times through the blogging world, and I have decided that I’m interested enough to read it.  It seems to be all about women’s roles in the church, which is a pretty contentious subject these days (and probably all days, really).  Like most of these books, I don’t anticipate agreeing with everything in it, but I’m eager to hear her argument. (The lone exception to my skepticism is Willard’s book.  I fully expect to be blown away by it).

4.  The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith

Did I mention that I’m interested in hermeneutics?  Because I am!  This book has gotten rave reviews from several bloggers I read.  Also, “the most helpful favorable review” on Amazon mentioned that this book addresses the  “interpretive quagmire that exists in the Protestant world,” and that totally sold me.  Anyhow, I just wanted to check this one out.  Full disclosure:  I’m not sure that I know what “biblicism” is, which might be a problem.  And like I said before, I seriously doubt that I will agree with everything (or even most) of what is in this book.  Like I alluded to with The Blue Parakeet, though, I’m kind of in the market for a new hermeneutical model b/c the makeshift one I’ve been using keeps confusing the heck out of me.

5.  Unclean, by Richard Beck

This book intrigued me, both because it is by a fellow coC’er, and because the amazon reviews used phrases like, “paradigm-shifting.”  Ooooh…I do love a good paradigm shift!  (Also, in hindsight, I might be a little too swayed by the verbal stylings of the Amazon reviewers.)  Anyway, from what I remember from reading about the book, it’s all very psychological and talks about the concept of “disgust” in the church.  I don’t know, it’s definitely not something I sought out, but I have found myself bizarrely intrigued by it.

So now that I’ve gathered the books that I’m wanting to read in one place, feel free to go buy them for me add to the list.  Over the years, I have created my own maxim:  “To love is to give something to read.”  (Doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it?)  I will now alter that phrase to say, “To like is to give reading suggestions.”  (Hmmm…still not really flowing.)  Anyway, I’d love to hear any recommendations for any great books.  Not just any books, now!  I’m looking for some big, fat, juicy, thought-provoking, “paradigm-shifting” mind blowers!  No pressure…but yeah, I want some good ones:).

So…do you have anything for me?

(Also, have you read any of these?  What do you think about them?)

The Dreaded Syllabus

I’m supposed to be working on my syllabus for the courses I’m teaching next semester.  I have to meet with the head of the department tomorrow to go over what I have written.

Instead, I’ve been eating oreo balls at an alarming rate, vacuuming the house, and making shrinky dinks with Anna, interspersed with moments of opening up Microsoft Word, staring worriedly at my half-written syllabus, and biting my fingernails.

It is not my most productive strategy, but I can’t help it.  Syllabi absolutely terrify me.

They always have.  I remember when I was in college and would be so excited about starting a class (yes, I’m a nerd).  On the first day, students would file in, and a cheerful teacher would do something moderately fun to break the ice, and everything would seem so nice and welcoming…and then, it would happen.  The professor would hand out THE SYLLABUS.  Pages and pages of rules and guidelines and…oh…a list of everything you were expected to do for the whole semester.  Every single time, I would look at the list of papers I was expected to write and completely freak out.  Every. single. time.

It didn’t help that syllabi are totally free of grace.  They are the most graceless documents outside of mortgage agreements and insurance policies.  Syllabi are all about penalties and loss of letter grades and unexcused absences and rules for paper spacing.  There’s no, “Just do your best,” or “You can handle this” inferred in a syllabus.  Instead, I tended to interpret the following message: “This class is obviously too demanding for you and probably completely over your head, and you would do best to go on and drop it.  Stop wasting my time.”  And I would agree with the syllabus’ unspoken words.  I would think, “There is no way I can write all these papers and read all these books and do all these journals and take all these tests and learn all of that stuff!”   I kid you not, in at least 50% of my classes at college, I spent the first day seriously pondering walking out and dropping the class because I thought it was just too hard.  (You are probably reading all this and thinking, “And they want you to come back and teach??”  Ha!  I know.  I am just as surprised as you are!)

Here’s the thing, though.  I never dropped a class.  Never.  And I never failed one.  In fact, I always did pretty well.  I always found out that I could write all those papers, and I could read all those books, and I could do all those journals, and I could take all of those tests and learn all of that stuff.  It’s just that when you see it all at once like that, when you see up front what’s expected of you, it tends to be overwhelming.

I thank God in heaven that He did not give me the syllabus for my life.

I haven’t even had that bad of a life.  I’ve had a pretty great one, actually, but if I saw a syllabus-like list of all the demands that would be made of me, even in the midst of the blessings, it would be overwhelming.  If I had seen all at once that I would have a miscarriage, my brother would die, and my husband would lose his job all in the span of a relatively few years, well, I can guarantee you that I would have been on the floor rocking back and forth in a fetal position.  And even when you don’t consider the traumatic stuff, if I saw on a sheet of paper how many loads of laundry I was going to have to do and how many diapers I was going to have to change and how many times I was going to have to vomit in my life…well, no thank you.  I would take one look at the list of demands on that paper and say, “There is no way I can do this!”

Thinking about the syllabus for a life, I realized the grace that God showers on us by making us live out our days one moment at a time. He probably knows that giving us the whole picture would lead to a panic attack that would make my inward, first-day-of-class freak outs seem mild by comparison.  Instead, He unspools our lives for us, one beautiful/difficult/joyous/tragic minute followed by another.  And He experiences those moments alongside us, carrying us through the hard ones, rejoicing with us over the happy ones.

One of the great ironies of my life is that I tend to spurn this moment-by-moment existence, yearning instead for the big picture.  In those times of waiting, of uncertainty, of confusion, I beg and plead with God to please, please just show me what’s around the bend.  I pray to Him to relieve me of this time-bound existence, of this insufferable ignorance of the future.  I ask Him to please not make me walk this path in darkness, with only the light to see the very next step.

But then I think about the syllabus, and I realize that instead of complaining, I should be thanking God for the mercy of minutes, of hours and days.  I should be thanking Him for meting our life out to us in little spoonfuls of time, letting us savor each second of our existence before it fades into our future.  I should be thankful to Him for hiding from us what’s around the bend, to spare us from dread of the tragic and over-anticipation of the happy.

One day, when God’s kingdom comes fully, we shall be free from the constraints of time.  Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that time is a gift, and ignorance of the future a blessing.  They are both given to us by a God who knows what we can handle and who wants to be there each step of the way to tell us that yes, with Him, we can do this thing.

And now, I have a syllabus to write…

(Just kidding!  I finished it before I finished this post.  I do have some sense of priorities!)

What about you?  Do you think having a syllabus for life would be helpful, or would you freak out like me?

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