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Rollin in the OT

March 1, 2012

One of my many failings in life is questionable taste in music. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what I listen to; it’s just that I’m reasonably sure that I’m not the target market for most of these bands. I think that honor belongs to melancholy twenty year old women. Artists like Lenka, Florence and the Machine, and Ingrid Michaelson are big hits on my Pandora station, but there is one artist who stands apart in my twenty-year-old-girl-esque estimation. That singer, of course, is Adele.

If you don’t know who Adele is, where have you been? Do yourself a favor and youtube her live performance at the British music awards last year. I’d link to it, but I don’t want to end up on the Secret Service hit list.

So long story short: Adele was just a young British woman–a young and in LOVE British woman. Then one day, she was a young, in love, dumped British woman. But this wasn’t just any breakup. This was the breakup to end all break ups! Though the mystery man’s identity remains a closely held secret, Adele clearly became distraught emotionally from the experience.

She wrote an entire album based on her thoughts and feelings resulting from the breakup, and, while many songwriters opine about being young and in love, this was somehow different. Her music resonated with so many people that now Adele is one of the premier songstresses in the world. Both impactful vocally and emotionally, her music has garnered just about every award possible and I’m sure has brought her untold millions of dollars in royalties.

What is so remarkable about Adele’s career is that it took off as a result of this horrible life experience. One wonders whether or not she would trade her career if only she could have her relationship back. But it seems relatively safe to say that without the kickstart that her heartbreak gave her songwriting that she would not be as widely known as she is today. Undoubtedly, her talent sets her apart, but it wasn’t until these breakup songs started getting out that she became as famous as she now is. Songs like “Someone Like You” and “Rollin’ in the Deep” arose directly from her dark years and became her chart toppers. Such is the paradoxical life of artists.

So this got me thinking about other people throughout history who have suffered a similar fate as Adele and what their songs would be like if we could hear them today. Of course, because of the strange way that my mindmap works, I thought back to the Old Testament, especially to the story of Jacob and Rachel.

You might have heard this story yourself. If not, it can be found in Genesis 29. Basically, Jacob falls out with his brother as a result of his deceptively stealing the inheritance. He is forced to wander all around and finally meets up with some distant relatives. He falls in love with one of them, a girl named Rachel. He agrees with his kinsman Laban (who is Rachel’s father) that he will work for seven years in Laban’s employ as a bride-price for Rachel. When the seven years were up, it was time to receive his wages. Jacob must have been seriously excited.

Laban gathered everyone together for a wedding celebration. In that era, Jewish wedding celebrations featured gallons of wine and a whole day of partying.* At the end of the day, it was time for the happy couple to begin their honeymoon. The next morning, Jacob wakes up and realizes that it was not Rachel that he had married after all, but her older sister Leah! Pretty much all the Bible says about Leah is that she has weak eyes, and Hebraists will tell you that her name means “cow.” Don’t worry, I have no idea what “weak eyes” indicates either. It is probably safe to say that it is not a compliment.

*I guess it’s not too far removed from a few modern weddings that I’ve attended, although it must be noted that if the ceremony had been somewhat more temperate, perhaps the sad ending could have been avoided!

Jacob, unsurprisingly, is hacked off. He confronts Laban who basically says that Jacob needs to deal with it because this is how things are done in his country. Luckily for Jacob, Laban agrees to sell Rachel for seven more years of work. And we’re not talking about white collar work. No, Jacob is not brokering stocks or managing within the middle layers of Laban’s administration–he’s working as a shepherd. Then, as now, shepherding wasn’t really considered an honorable profession. Jacob is stuck working fourteen years to pay the bride-price for his One True Love, seven years of which he is living with the Biblical equivalent of Cinderella’s stepsister.* Clearly, Jacob is the Adele of the Old Testament.

*Exaggeration made for effect. I’m sure Leah had a brilliant personality.

Except for the fact that clearly Jacob is NOT the Adele of the Old Testament. Didn’t Jacob have a great wife who gave him a happy family? Yep, he did. Wasn’t that the whole point of wandering around in the desert? Yep. Well, that and avoiding getting killed. But mainly that. Didn’t Jacob himself deceive his father and brother? Yep, getting swindled himself is probably what he deserved. (Jacob’s name in Hebrew means something like ‘trickster’ or ‘deceiver,’ which may be nice info to keep to yourself if your nephew or someone bears that name today. Unless you don’t like them, in which case all bets are off.) No, Jacob seems to be doing just fine in this scenario.

It’s LEAH who is the real Adele here. Her dad basically sold her to some dusty nomad guy, but he was only able to do so by disguising her as her sister. She wasn’t even considered good enough to be chattel; she was like sub-chaff or overstock. It had to be humiliating to conceal herself because the man she was giving her life to would have rejected her if he had known her true identity. It’s sort of like how Clark Kent has problems with Lois Lane. He can fix it by telling her that he’s Superman, but he wants to be appreciated for himself. Leah had to pass herself off as SuperRachel. That has to be one complicated family reunion. And further, the only details the Bible gives about her are that she has Weak Eyes and that her name means Cow? Really? Not exactly a self-esteem booster.

That had to be enough. But it doesn’t stop there! Her husband works seven more years for her sister! What better way to celebrate seven happy years of marriage than by adding a sister wife to the equation? I’m sure Leah could think of several….

If you read on in the Old Testament, you’ll find that Rachel and Leah couldn’t really ever get along as co-wives. Which is an understatement, and a non-surprise, and a sentence fragment. Then they played this weird whose-handmaiden-can-give-my-husband-a-son-first game, which is sure to be a hit at your next baby shower. It did not end well for Leah, or really for Rachel when it comes right down to it.

So this got me thinking: if Leah wrote pensive, soulsy, British vocal-based rock there in the fifteenth century BC, what would it have sounded like? Maybe something like this:

“Laban and the Sheep,” by AdeLeah

There’s a fire starting in my heart

Reaching a fever pitch, it’s bringing me out the dark
Finally I can see you crystal clear
Go ‘head and sell me out and I’ll lay your tent bare
See how I leave with every piece of you
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do

The scars of your love remind me of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can’t help feeling
We could have had it all
(You’re gonna wish you never had met me)
Rolling in the deep
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)
You had my heart inside of your hand
(You’re gonna wish you never had met me)
And you played it, to the beat
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)

Baby, I have no story to be told
But I’ve heard one on you
And I’m gonna make your head burn
Think of me in the depths of your despair
Make a home down there
As mine sure won’t be shared

We could’ve had a sta-a-all, for Laban and the shee-ee-eep,

But you played it, played it, played it like a creep.

I was going to modify some of these lyrics to be funny, but I think that Adele actually captures Leah’s heart quite nicely, so I just appended my weak attempt at humor there on the end. Yep, safe to say that Leah had it worse than Jacob. Probably even worse than Adele. After all, Leah never even got a gold record.

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Pedagogy and Andragogy

February 21, 2012

As you may know, I am involved in advanced education. One of my assignments involved exploring the differences between andragogy and pedagogy–i.e., the differences between adult education and traditional, youth-focused education. I have been asked to share the findings in a public format, so my loyal hotdog theology readers can benefit. Feel free to comment and dialogue with respect to the study.

Education has been a discipline since perhaps the beginning of mankind, but it has only been recently that Christian education has made a resurgence in terms of research and scholarship. Though Christian education has been practiced since the time of Christ, studies in this century have helped to give a language and shared terminology to these concepts, many of them borrowed from the wider discipline of education. One such concept is the division between pedagogy and andragogy.

            The term pedagogy comes from the Greek root paidos, meaning child, and generally refers to the teaching of younger learners. Paul uses to this term in Galatians 3:23 when he speaks of the law as a schoolmaster. In the Greco-Roman world, a pedagogue, or paidagogos, was a tutor who was responsible for the moral and intellectual formation of a boy (Wilkerson, 2001). This linguistic framework is so entrenched that in modern times, pedagogy can refer to the field of teaching in general as well as its more specific use in emphasizing the education of younger learners.

            Pedagogical theory in Christian education can be traced as far back as the Church Fathers. Augustine and others emphasized memorization, repetition, and factual knowledge in their teaching. The importance of the catechism reflects this type of mindset (Wilkerson, 2001). The Moravians expanded this approach in the seventeenth century, replacing the catechism with an inductive type of memorization and agglomeration of factual knowledge. The underlying assumption remained that theory preceded practice (Wilkerson, 2001).

            Since that time, several different and fragmented approaches to pedagogy have arisen. Experiential or democratic pedagogy seeks to engage the student in a collaborative role in the learning process. Cultural pedagogies seek to use cultural referents as a way to underscore the learning gained. Critical or radical understandings, such as those promulgated by Marxist and neo-Marxist theories, undermine the assumptions deemed as majority focused or class-based (Wilkerson, 2001).

            Perhaps the widening acceptance of pedagogical theory resulted in the Sunday school movement, spearheaded by John Vincent and the Chautauqua adult educators. They emphasized that even a volunteer Christian educator, if he or she would immerse himself or herself in pedagogical theory, could have a fulfilling and effectual impact in education (Wilkerson, 2001). Such fusion of theory and content indeed has been transformational in American Christian education.

            In applying these theories to a higher education classroom, it is important to note the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy. In pedagogy (referring to younger, immature learners) issues of classroom control become prevalent. A power imbalance exists, with the majority of the authority lying with the instructor. In addition, the motivation for learning typically is derived from external sources, such as coercion from parents, rather than internal motivations. Pedagogical instruction, as in the days of Augustine, seeks to imbue factual knowledge above theory or practice, generally expecting that the application will naturally arise at such time as it is necessary. Classroom environments are controlled and typically fairly rigid (Melick, 2010).

            Supplementing pedagogical theory is andragogy. This term refers specifically to the education of adult learners in contrast with the narrower use of pedagogy. Malcolm Knowles, generally acknowledged as a pioneer in the field, describes andragogy as “simply another model of assumptions about adult learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model of assumptions, thereby providing two alternative models for testing out the assumptions as to their fit with particular situations” (Carlson, 2001).  Therefore, andragogy is not superior to pedagogy; it simply is a different model used in appropriate contexts.

            Andragogy introduces very different assumptions towards a learning base than pedagogy. Carlson has described some of the most important. The first is in the concept of the learner, with adult learners being self-directing and pedagogical learners typically guided. Andragogy also assumes a greater volume of life experience as a foundation. The readiness and motivation to learn is also usually different, with andragogical learners ready because of a need or a desire to perform more efficiently, stemming often from an internal motivation.  By contrast, most pedagogical learners are not ready to learn because of a misperception of their needs. This leads to most of the motivation being applied from external sources. Andragogical learners also differ in their approach to learning, being life-centered, task-centered, and problem-centered rather than the subject-centered approach typically found in pedagogically oriented learners (Carlson, 2001).

Though andragogy has been practiced throughout history, probably at least as far back as Plato, it has only been described as a specific subset of the larger educational discipline recently. Thinkers such as Alexander Kapp, Eduard Lindeman, Malcolm Knowles, John Dewey have incorporated these differing assumptions throughout their careers. Others, such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Cyril Houle also have had an influence in shaping modern andragogical paradigms (Carlson, 2001).

            Melick and Melick have applied the difference in these educational approaches to theological education. They see the majority of teaching that occurs at the Christian education level as using pedagogical method and outcomes, such as the continued emphasis on repetition and memorization without the extra, andragogically motivated steps of application of that theory. As such, Christian education would benefit from an understanding of what outcomes are desired and a related choice of learning strategy and assumption (Melick and Melick, 2010).

            Melick and Melick also catalogue some of the pitfalls faced in Christian preaching and in higher education. Through various motivations, such as the desire to keep a power imbalance between the pastor and congregation, often a theological educator will treat the learners with undue inferiority, leading to a misapplication of teaching technique and an unsatisfactory amount knowledge transfer (Melick and Melick, 2010).

            In keeping with sound andragogical practice, the discussion must move from theory to practice. The below are several possible applications of andragogical theories to Christian education, particularly in a classroom context. Though these are not exhaustive examples, nor are they able to be applied universally, such a listing should give a flavor of the distinction between pedagogical and andragogical methods.

 

 

  • Emphasize the internal orientation of the learner by permitting food and drink in the classroom (Melick and Melick, 2010)
  • Consider allowing students to share in the teaching, utilizing collaborative instructional methods
  • Infuse the educational experience with technology, especially that which students can reduplicate in their own applications of the teaching.
  • Use an interactive message board or class blog to encourage interaction and continued stimulation outside of the classroom hours
  • Show respect for your adult learners by addressing them appropriately and promptly responding to communication
  • Ensure that, as an educator, the desired learning outcomes are always in view and select a tactic based on that shared goal
  • Remember that memorization and other rote devices can only give a platform from which to provide application—memory and regurgitation should usually not be seen as a sufficient outcome
  • Consider empowering students to be in charge of their own learning by relaxing attendance policies
  • Remember that adult learners are hoping to soon apply their learning. Always connect the lesson with how it will be used in life or in the workplace
  • Andragogical learners should be treated as adults. This shared learning means that teachers can expect higher quality work, that deadlines will be met, and that professional standards will be adhered to.
  • Discern when pedagogical techniques can be applied and utilize them! Pedagogy is not inferior; it simply seeks a different context
  • Understand that pedagogy can refer to the field of teaching as well as to the teaching of immature learners
  • Provide opportunities for your students to practice their learning; for example, in a preaching class, give opportunities to preach, whether inside or outside of the classroom
  • Approach methods of classroom control differently. Though the educator remains in charge, adult learners are typically more naturally deferring. An instructor can engender hard feelings by overstepping the boundaries of discipline with no need to do so
  • Remember that theological education is EDUCATION! Be creative in your methods—the best content delivered with outdated or un-engaging methods will not have its full potential met
  • Receive feedback from your students with humility. As motivated learners, they will have some tips and reactions that you may not be aware of. Take advantage of this to improve your delivery and classroom skills rather than assuming an air of superiority
  • Act with professionalism at all times and adhere to the same guidelines you give to students.

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Carlson, Gregory C. “Andragogy,” pages 45-46 in Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

Melick, Richard and Shera Melick. Teaching that Transforms: Facilitating Life Change through Adult Bible Teaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2010.

 

Wilkerson, Barbara. “Pedagogy,” page 528 in Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

The Christian Kit

February 17, 2012

If we here at hotdog theology are serious about anything (and we’re not usually serious), then we are serious about discipleship. We are particularly serious about the kind of discipleship that allows Christians to identify one another at first glance. Yes, that’s right: I am serious about discipleship as entrance into the Christian subculture.

You may be aware that in a bygone era, the Christian church was under persecution. In order to avoid scrutiny from the authorities, Christians would draw a fish symbol outside of their house in order to alert other Christians that a gathering was taking place inside. That fish persists today.

But can you imagine being that Christian who didn’t get the memo about the fish? You’d be wandering around and around, looking for the cross, or the hymnal, or the pipe organ, or whatever, not even noticing the Christian symbolism dangling in front of your face. Well, we no longer use fish to make some Christians feel excluded; there are other items in play. I think that all Christians should be given these in the form of a care package; an upgrade kit if you will. Let’s take a look at what would be inside this dense dose of dicipleship:

Clearly the first thing you’d need is a really cool Bible. That hardcover Adventure Bible you got in eighth grade confirmation class probably isn’t doing it for you anymore. You definitely need a chic, slimline leatherbound edition. Not that you’ll ever read it; that’s what your iPhone 4S with the YouVersion is for. Hello….you can’t tweet from a leatherbound Bible! If you’re an extra Pharisee, you might spring for the parallel Amplified/KJV, but, if you’re like most and can’t read at a very high level, go for the Message.

It’s also important that your feet be shod not only with the preparation of the gospel of peace, but also with Chacos. Chacos basically are the preparation of the gospel of peace, so get with the program. The fact they’ll stay on when your canoe capsizes during your youth group float trip is an extra bonus.

If you’re a girl, and sometimes even if you’re a guy, you need–NEED I say!–a worship scarf. You know the one I mean. It’s that plaid or stripey scarf worn in all types of climate that says “I’m either on the worship team or want to be.” In fact, rumor has it that the scarf is more necessary than musical skill for inclusion in the stage party. Making your own or buying on Etsy is preferred. Just don’t do Target. That kind of stuff can get you kicked off the team before you know it.

If you’re a guy, don’t forget that at some point in your walk with Christ, you need to develop a soul patch, especially if you’re in to reaching the youth. No chin hair as such is required; just keep developing that flavor saver. Oh, and since we’re Christians, we won’t make you feel bad by telling you it looks terrible. That would be mean.

For the committed Christian dating couple, there’s only once choice. That choice is McDonald’s. It’s probably all you can afford. But the other choice is James Avery. You have to make sure you get a sterling silver cross ring to show that you love both Jesus and your boyfriend. Or you can choose to get amazing matching Hebrew rings. That’s what I did. There’s no better way to say “I love you, but you won’t be able to read it.”

Consider also a Christian tatoo. The days of the dove, fish, and cross are done, but the era of the Hebrew or Greek scripture is just dawning. Just make sure you do your homework. I know someone who intended to get “Moriah” printed in Hebrew on a T-Shirt but the printer ended up inverting the consonants. Their shirts instead read “Horem.” I didn’t have the heart to tell them to their face. Just make sure you don’t put “horem” on your face. Fact check, fact check, fact check.

You’ll especially want to make sure that your iTunes are up to date. You wouldn’t want to get caught dead listening to something from more than three years ago if you can help it. Stock up with Jesus Culture and the new Gungor. Move David Crowder to the archives (sorry, buddy. But I did some research and it confirmed that even though I still like you, you’re starting to be seen as a bit dated. Nobody was more surprised than me.) Mix in some Passion or something fancy from Australia that nobody’s ever heard of. It’s the right thing to do.

Oh–and one more thing. Every Christian kit needs to include an irrationally passionate opinion on Mark Driscoll. It doesn’t even matter if you’re for him or agianst him; just make sure that you’re not lukewarm. Revelation 3:16, amirite?

Oh–and one more one more thing. Make sure that you’re not a Republican. That’s so passe–so parental. The Christian left is where it’s at. Make sure you focus on Jesus’ help for the needy and the poor as often as possible; just try not to actually involve yourself with anyone less fortunate than you.

I’m pretty sure that if you do these things, you’ll blend in nicely into our Christian society. 1 John says that we will know we are Christians by our love, but that’s hard work. So slip into your Christian culture; it’s much more comfortable.

 

On Friendship

February 8, 2012

So I am lucky in many ways. One of those ways is that I have many great friends. A lot of people know a lot of people (just look at their Facebook friend counts…..1,000 friends! Launch the confetti! Start the parade!, etc. etc.) but I think few people really have the blessing that truly good friendships bring. My best friend is my wife. I was going to type “of course my best friend is my wife,” but, unfortunately, that’s not a matter of course any more. 

There is one of my friends, however, that pays me a subsidy to call him my best friend. He’s been riding my coat tails since seventh grade when he transferred into my school. Since then, we’ve been groomsmen in each others weddings, college roommates, on missions trips together, served at churches together, etc. etc. etc. He began life as an engineering major and now serves as a middle school pastor. Sometimes he even reads my blog.

But the other day, he made me mad. Like, super mad. As we often do, we played a bit of phone tag. He won, and I answered the phone. As I often do, I came right out of the gate with some hard-hitting, no-nonsense questions. I unspooled a doozy right off the bat. And just what do you think he did? Met it head on, with the respect it deserved? Thought for a moment, digesting the verbal and non-verbal cues, meditating on a thoughtful response? Asked a few clarifying questions, and opened a dialogue? 

Nope.

He ignored me. Now, let’s give him credit. He did come with something powerful of his own. He said, “Hey, man.” 

“Hey, nondescript person of male gender.”

“Modest greeting, average human.”

“I’ll control this conversation, thankyouverymuch.”

“Grunt, caveman being.” 

He might as well have just thrown the phone down for all the respect he showed me. I mean, my question was much more insightful, at a much higher level. I inquired about the transcendance of God, or maybe about the cosmology of the universe, or maybe about the nature of the godhead itself. What question could squeeze this all in during the first few seconds of a phone conversation? This one:

“What’s up?”

And just like that, I was summarily dismissed. And I was hot. And I told him so: “You ignored my question? What’s the deal?” I demanded. 

“That’s not a real question,” he returned. “It doesn’t really ask anything.” 

Hmm. Got me there.

Why do you think it is that we, especially in America (let’s not forget the global readership of hotdog theology!) spend so much time in fake speech that doesn’t really mean anything? Did you know that many in Europe, especially Scandinavia, think that Americans are fake and shallow for just these reasons? I mean, we ask each other “How are you” every day, but we don’t really care. Why are you asking then? And we know they don’t care, because they often don’t even answer the questions (see above). We think of Scandinavians as cold, but they just don’t give fake attention. They’re actually quite welcoming once you get into their circles of trust.

This isn’t really how the Scripture teaches us to treat each other. In fact, I think it’s much the opposite. Scarily the opposite, really. The amount of attention that we are supposed to give to other people is often uncomfortable. Look at the parable of the Good Samaritan as a test case. The example given by the caregiving, loving outcast of a Samaritan in that parable calls us to give an unpopular amount of time and attention to others in need, whether or not we were close friends beforehand. 

But I think there’s a passage that makes me even more uncomfortable. Romans 16:16 and 2 Corinthians 13:12 each come at the end of their respective epistle, but, even more than that, serve as a sort of final encouragement from the apostle Paul to those congregations.* As far as we know, this was the last written correspondence from Paul to these churches, so the summations within them take on extra importance. And what does Paul tell them to do? “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

I have to tell you, I’m a little uncomfortable with that. It just doesn’t seem sanitary.

*I am indebted to the inimitable Pastor (name changed to protect him although he certainly could never be confused as innocent) who used 2 Corinthains 13 as his farewell passage when he transitioned from our congregation to another when I was growing up. He taught me a lot of stuff, and this was one of those things. (I know, that is some high praise right there)

But just look at how that encouragement transcends the fake talk that pervades our lobbies, narthexes, and multi-purpose facilities these days. Despite the fact that it is no longer part of our culture to greet with kisses (as it was in Paul’s time), we still fall short of his standard. How often do you find yourself talking to someone who is sort of listening but really is scanning the crowd for someone more important/famous/popular to associate with? Or, worse, how often is that person you? How often do you find yourself mentally checking out of the conversation as you find it boring? Then why did you even start it in the first place?

Paul taught us to embrace one another fully, as one body. This is a far cry from surface interactions that pass for community these days. I challenge you to think about that as you interact with people today. Are you really there, present, and engaging with them? Do you care about them as you ask them questions? Are you just using them for their popularity or for what they can do for you? Or are you treating them as better than yourself, like you should? Are you surrounding yourself with real friends, who can speak real things into your life, including rebuke and tough encouragement when you need it, or are you more comfortable with thin, shallow, Facebook friendships who improve your perceived image?

I know which type of friendship matters more. It’s the same one that costs more.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

PS: I wasn’t really mad at my friend in the example above.

On Core Principles

January 31, 2012

Some old European guy once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living at all.” (Hint: It wasn’t Sarkozy). Since my life is mainly guided by old guys no longer walking this world, I have decided to take this advice to heart and examine my life. What I have found is that my life is better when guided by a few core principles.

 

Here he is, examing his life.

While not the only one or even the most important one, perhaps my favorite Core Principle (TM) is the principle of Always Amuse Yourself.* I live this concept out daily by coming up with jokes that I think are funny. If someone else laughs, it’s a bonus, not the intention. Such a posture on humor allows me to sling the jokes out there and take the hits with the misses. If even I enjoy the misses, then they aren’t really misses at all, are they?

*This is the kind of stuff that you won’t get in Covey or Maxwell. Boom, roasted.

Let me be clear, this Core Principle (TM) could easily be confused the the Deceptive Principle (TM) of Delayed Adolescence. I’m sure you’ve heard about this cultural trend in which (especially) young men seek to delay the responsibilities of adulthood. Their decisions are largely shaped by accruing the highest possible disposable income (to be used on entertainment) and the most possible leisure time. Traditional responsibilities of home and family are put off until much later than they were earlier in this century. The principle of Always Amuse Yourself is not intended to allow this type of behavior; it should only shape one’s sense of joy throughout one’s day.

What could be more joyful than a fortune cookie? And wait, it fits below as well!

Let me give some examples of what I am talking about. You may have read my earlier post That’s What Jesus Said, in which I discuss the gleeful misappropriation of Scripture and the comedy and joy that it brings my life. We even ran a contest, won by the inimitable Constant Reader Kyle. As his prize, he has won this blogpost shoutout and a cookie, to be delivered on Wednesday evening. Congratulations, Kyle. While the post was largely (although not totally) in jest, once upon a time I applied the principle in real life. What’s more, it is recorded for all posterity on the Internet.

As a side note, does anyone else ever think about what could happen if our Internet does become self-aware like Skynet or something like that? Firstly, the banks would forget that I had money in them since there really is no money any more, just numbers floating around in Cyberspace. I pay for stuff not with precious metals or bartering goats like I used to; I just swipe a card and pretend like that has value. Skynet will surely show us the error of our ways. Second, Skynet would forget that I still have student debt outstanding. You know, maybe the whole self-aware thing isn’t so bad after all?


So there I was, asked to preach one Sunday. At our church, Doxa Church Tulsa, we preach through books of the Bible in an expository fashion, so my text was fixed for me. The passage dealt with new creation and with humanity’s true home being elsewhere.* To me, this sounded crazily like Avatar. So, in keeping with Core Principle (TM) Always Amuse Yourself, I constructed a large and perhaps overly-detailed sermon illustration revolving around some of my favorite science fiction shows, as well as one that was terrible (Terra Nova). I enjoyed this illustration immensely.

*Two eternity points if readers can locate the passage. Hint: it’s in an undisputed Pauline epistle.

However, there was just one problem–nobody else had a clue what I was talking about. I think that maybe only two people in the congregation had heard of Terra Nova, and I’m sure less than 20% had viewed the greatest science fiction series of all time, Battlestar Galactica. Compounding the issue, I didn’t even use the names of the shows! I thought it would be funnier to run a contest for the church seeing if they could identify the references. Like most of my competitions, this one had a low user participation. In my quest to amuse myself, I missed connecting the church to the real truth of Paul’s letter–that we truly belong elsewhere, in a world far greater than this one, and that it is our job to help bring that world about. Instead I showed them that the Scriptures as interpreted by me are inscrutable and inconceivable. Oops.

A mix of two of my favorite things: BSG and board games

As a result, I have constructed a new Core Principle (TM): the principle of Always Run Your Sermon Illustrations By Your Wife Before You Preach Them In a Sermon, Especially if the Sermon is Going to be Recorded. I’m working on making the title snappier.

You see, that’s the thing about life–it’s not about ourselves at all. I believe that there is a multiplicative property in sharing things with others. While you could amuse yourself and thereby benefit one person, if you amuse a group of a hundred, you have multiplied your humor exponentially. This goes even more so for things of eternal value, things like teaching or encouragement. You could encourage one person, or you can encourage ten. You can converse about topics of interest to you, or you can think about what the group you are having dinner with would actually enjoy talking about and join their stream. You can push for the restaurant that you’d like to eat at (Chipotle, of course), or you can concede to the will of the masses and subvert your own desires for the good of others (unless they want to eat at Chili’s, in which case you need to stand firm).

These are admittedly somewhat small and trivial examples, but that’s the thing about the sacrificial life. A life of service is not made up of one or two large and heroic examples of selflessness, but a string of small, daily choices valuing others above the self. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (another of the old Euro guys) once said that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” For some, this death by sacrifice will be sudden, but for most of us, our daily choices to take up our cross and follow Jesus will characterize us in such a way that one day, we will look back and see that as we gave ourselves away, Jesus replaced that old self with a new creation; a new heart of flesh to replace our heart of stone.

When seen that way, there’s really no choice at all. Would you rather hang on to your selfishness for keeps or give yourself away and keep what Christ has for you? As Jim Eliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”*

Just like Avatar.

As always, thanks for reading.


*Jim Eliot is an American, which ruins the string of European references, although Jesus and Paul were both Middle Eastern, so I guess I had blown it even earlier.

On Backseats

January 24, 2012

There are some things in life that I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how Kim Kardashian figured out how to monetize being famous just for being famous. Perhaps I need to get some tips on how to monetize being unfamous. Not infamous, mind you, just unfamous, thank you very much. I also don’t understand why people talk about how college sports are being played at a higher level than their professional counterparts. That’s patently ridiculous. It’s fine to like them better, but to say that they are played better is just laughable. I don’t understand why someone would eat a healthfood cookie. If you want healthy food, go ahead and eat some. If you want a cookie, eat a tasty and delicious one, not a birdseed and organic spelt flour concoction. I don’t understand why Sweet Home Alabama isn’t America’s number one reality show. I know there’s a movie and a song by the same name, but the show on CMT is amazazing. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

There’s also some things that matter that I don’t understand. For one, why do people decide they want to be Christians if they don’t want to do anything resembling a life of discipleship? I know several people who call themselves committed Christians who don’t ever read their Bible, pray, go to church, or even allow their understanding of their faith to impact their actions at all. In short, they do whatever they want, whenever they want, and somehow they think that’s an OK way to live their life.

Let me draw a distinction here–I know WHY people do that stuff, but I sure don’t know why they think it’s OK. I guess it goes back to how we derive what a Christian life is all about. There are many people running around out there who base their doctrine on “what I think.” Someone in this camp might, for example, talk about how they think that Jesus would do something because they think that he was generally just loving. If you ask them why they think that, they respond with something along the lines of “because that’s what I think he was all about.” Thinking about Jesus has been reduced to a mental exercise in which people decide what they want Jesus to be and then ascribe those things to Him.

In the old days (I hesitate to call them the good old days), people looked for clues as to Jesus’ personality in the Biblical text.* Nowadays, most whippersnappers don’t place any value on examining the text and, if they do end up perusing it, they interpret it so widely off the mark so as to render it meaningless. I don’t really know why this trend is occurring, but it certainly is happening in spades. People who think that there is one meaning located within the Bible are firmly in the minority.

*”Biblical text” is a fancy name for “the Bible.”


One of my staunchest critics steadfast supporters took issue with my quick and dirty definition of “reader-response criticism” in an earlier blog post. Well: ta-da! The time has come to revisit the issue and hopefully help people feel better about the information that I am giving to the masses. NB: The following sort of became long and drawn out, but if you slog through it I guarantee you will learn something and it will be worth it in the end. If not, triple your money back.

In reader-response criticism, the person who reads the Bible becomes a part of an interpretive unit alongside the author and the text. In other words, there’s a chain: the author writes the text –> the text is read by the reader. In traditional ways of looking at the Bible, it’s the reader’s job to find out what the author is really trying to say, and he or she does this by looking at the words on the page, the history surrounding the issue, other related Biblical passages, perhaps study tools and commentaries–all in the hope of recovering the original message. In this view, the reader is mostly a passive consumer of the text. He or she doesn’t bring any meaning to it; they seek to uncover what is already there.

Reader-response looks at the Bible place the role of the reader in somewhat higher esteem. That’s why readers get the title role! This way of thinking argues that the reader comes to the text with pre-understandings and background beliefs that shape how the reader understands the text. The author can’t do anything about it….the text is fixed. As the reader peruses and studies the Scripture, he or she projects some of his or her own understanding back on to the text. They ask questions of the text, but then realize that the text is asking questions back at them. There is a give-and-take dialogue between the text as written and the reader. This is the so-called “New Hermeneutic” or the “Hermeneutical Spiral” referred to by Grant Osborne. The text and reader go around and around, eventually drifting towards a fixed center of meaning.

There are a multiplicity of fine points debated by these critics, mainly having to do with the ability to recover the author’s central meaning. Some are very pessimistic, kindof like Eeyore, while others hold out more optimism, sort of like a cheerleader on Red Bull. Osborne is in this later camp. He actually refers to a “trialogue” rather than a dialogue, speaking of an interrelationship between what the author meant to say (authoral intent), what he did say (the text) and the reader’s understanding (shaped by preunderstanding and background beliefs). Reader-response Eeyores, like Stanley Fish, don’t think that you can recover meaning in the text at all. This is the type of thinking that I was pejorative towards earlier. As this discussion hopefully makes clear, Fish’s style of reader-response isn’t the only thing on the menu.

So, even though you’re a loyal Hotdog Theologue, well-versed in The Issues beyond those vexing a mere layperson, you have probably never heard of reader-response criticism.* Why do I bring it up? And why do I title it “On Backseats?” Well, I bring it up because pretty much every Christian I know makes reader-response their only way of looking at the Bible. You are probably guilty as well. When you read your Bible devotionally, as I know you do every day early in the morning before the sun comes up, do you look for a special message for your day? Maybe you pray that God would speak to you through your reading, or maybe you hope to find special guidance for your situation in life. All of these are totally fine and legitimate uses of the Bible, but they cross into reader-response: you, the reader, are hoping to find a meaning that meets with your pre-understanding. I dare say that the original authors did not have you in mind when they wrote the Bible down on paper for the first time. Sorry to burst your bubble.

*Unless you’re that guy I referred to earlier. You know who you are. Or maybe you’re a classmate reading this over my shoulder. Hmm.

You might be aware of a guy that I like to call Rob Bell. I like to call him that because that’s his name. Bell is a famous pastor and author (I guess he is more accurately a former pastor) who has gained rampant popularity by compelling reader-responsive interpretations of the Bible. Let’s look at a test case from his writings. In Velvet Elvis, Bell talks about the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose will be loosed in heaven. Bell looks at some Rabbinic sources and sees that they talk about binding and loosing as “interpreting Scripture.” Bell then extrapolates this idea onto Jesus’ words and finds that Jesus is saying that we can re-interpret Scripture and that heaven will sign off on the transaction.* This is all very reader-response, and very enticing. It’s great to say that God agrees with every interpretive choice that we make, but, to quote Seth Myers, REALLY? REALLY? We can make the Bible say whatever we want and Jesus is cool with that? REALLY?


*To be fair, Bell doesn’t say that Jesus is cool with making the text say anything, only that binding and loosing is a continuous process undertaken by faith communities. He also doesn’t, however, place any limits on that interpretation. So maybe he opens the door more than he walks through it, but I have to generally disagree with the conclusions. He also bases his conclusions on 7th century Jewish Rabbis and reads their thoughts back on to Jesus as if he shared them, even though there is no evidence of this. So take Bell with a grain of salt, and take me with two or three.
But that’s the stance taken by so many people who deny that what the Bible says is fixed or that what it says is binding for Christians today. They act like whatever they do is co-signed off by God himself, because well-you-know-what God is love and that’s really all that matters. This is the downside of reader-centric interpretation: the Bible becomes a mere mirror of one’s own self. Like my boy Augustine said, “If we believe only what we like about the Gospel, it is not the Gospel that we believe, but ourselves.”

Now hold the phone for just one hot second. Am I saying that the Bible has only one interpretation, one application, for everyone in every time in every place? Of course not. As someone influenced by Pentecostal thought, I can’t deny that God uses the Bible to speak to people differently all the time. I think that the Holy Spirit is just as present in the reading of Scripture as he was during the writing of it. Reader-response isn’t bad; it’s just that it has ran off the rails in popular Christianity.

So how has it run off the rails? Well, it’s just exactly how I described it above. People pretty much think it’s OK to do pretty much anything they want. The Bible can’t really tell them otherwise; they just interpret what the Bible says in light of what they think and call it good. Assuming, of course, that they read it at all. And that’s why I called this looooong post On Backseats. Why, oh, why would any Christian think it’s OK to crawl in the backseat of a car with someone and do what people do in backseats? I have honestly no idea. But to hear my sources tell it, almost everyone aged 19-22, whether or not they are in a committed dating relationship, is doing these things. Relevant magazine recently published an article arguing that upwards of 80% of Christians are having extra-marital sex of some kind. 80%? 80% of people don’t do ANYTHING! 80% of dentists can’t agree to recommend an anti-cavity toothpaste, but 80% of Christians think that something blatantly anti-Scriptural, blantantly anti-church-teaching, something obviously wrong is OK to do? And not only do they think it, they DO it? And that’s what I don’t understand. Why don’t kids these days believe that the Bible has anything to teach them? Why don’t they act like it doesn’t have any authority in itself?

I have no idea. Perhaps someone can tell me in the comments below.

On a 21st Century Spiritual Breakthrough!

January 15, 2012

Have I shared with you my new spiritual breakthrough? Are you, like so many Christians out there, discouraged by your inability to keep pace with your expected level of spiritual discipline? Is it hard for you to keep to your daily regimen of 5am prayer and Bible reading? I know that I am. To combat these deficiencies, I have developed a brand-spanking-new, yet-to-be-patented spiritual discipline that I am finding is both easy to keep and satisfying. Would you like for me to share it with you?

Of course you would. Everyone is always in the market for the quick-fix diet pill of spirituality. One needs only look at the self-help/religion section of any bookstore to see how much ink (virtual and otherwise) has been spilled over this topic. Who would have thought that some out-of-the way blog on the fringes of the internet would hold the key?

Enough jibber-jabber. Let’s get down to business. This new spiritual discipline is……Fasting from Fasting. Ingenious! As I’m sure you’re aware, fasting is when you give up something, classically food but also other things like TV, Facebook, or other necessities, in order to reinvest the time or resources usually spent in consumption into spiritually beneficial activities such as prayer or charitable giving. Fasting from Fasting, then, is staving off the temptation to spend time and energy in this spiritual activity to reduce worry and undue stress, which then leads to a happy and fattened life.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Is this a joke?” I leave the answer up to you. (Hint: Yes). But before you make a final decision, let’s look at some of the things that I’ve replaced fasting with in my life and see if they add up to a spiritual advance.

1. Hazelnut Lattes. I love hazelnut lattes. At the University where I work, we have a coffee shop. Luckily for me, I have a small coffee stipend affixed to my ID card as one of my many, many perks.* I know all the staff in that place by name and they are all very kind to me. It’s kindof like what Cheers would be, except not at all.

*Did you know that “perk” is short for “perquisite?” Yes, that GRE study really has paid off in spades!

I remember reading somewhere that the leading flavor in coffees among ladies is hazelnut. I think that this must be right, as I’m the only non-female that I know who prefers the flavor. In fact, people trying to brownnose me will sometimes order hazelnut, only to report that it is nasty. Man-favored flavors are caramel and vanilla, if the statistics are to be believed. One of my esteemed colleagues, who happens to be female, prefers caramel. She informs me that it is due to her higher than normal levels of testosterone. I choose not to believe this, as the logical corrollary would indicate that I have a higher than normal estrogen level.

Christmas season has most conclusively demonstrated this problem. Not only did my wife inform me that my sweater, which I had only that day received as a present and which was purchased one size larger than normal, was too small and I needed to take it back. Also, I found that I was wishing every Christmas present contained a Starbucks card.* Perhaps these two events are related.

*Giftcards are a funny thing. As the great cultural commentator Jerry Seinfeld put it, you take cash, which is good anywhere, and convert it into a substance that can be used only at one location. (paraphrase mine.) Usually this giftcard process downgrades the cash, but for some reason, buying a Starbucks card upgrades your money into something better and more exciting. Perhaps Starbucks has borrowed the Colonel’s addictive chemical that makes you crave his chicken fortnightly and applied it to their beverages.

2. Dr. Pepper. One of my friends lives near Austin, and whenever she returns from a trip home, I can always trust that she has an ample supply of Dublin Dr. Pepper in her trunk. Since she’s a brownnoser, she’ll usually share a few with me. For the uninitiated Neanderthals among my readership, Dublin Dr. Pepper is Dr. Pepper made the original way, with cane sugar rather than the high fructose corn syrup one normally sees pumped into sodas these days. It’s delightfully delicious. However, the bottling company responsible for this heavenly confection has decided to permanently fast from production. it is a sad, albeit spiritually motivating, day for us all.

3. Cool Ranch Doritos. I really don’t understand why anyone would prefer Nacho Cheese Doritos to the perfection in taste that is crammed onto every chip inside of a beautiful blue bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Whenever I am looking for a spiritual boost, nothing is finer than a crunch or three of these fine chips. Probably only fasting itself is better for someone’s spiritual growth. Well, that or a steak. Or ribs. Hmm. Could be time to upgrade that sweater again….

OK–so obviously the foregoing was a joke. Hopefully a humorous one, but you never know. The truth of the matter is that spiritual growth is hard to come by and that there is no quick fix. It’s not something that you hang back and passively acquire. It’s a slog; growth is best won through hardship and those same hardships seem to be something we are innately programmed to avoid. Filling the hardship hole with lattes actually works in reverse.

I would be remiss to not point out that feasting is a credible spiritual activity. However, it is totally different to what I’ve described above. In fact, there are a great many disciplines not described above. Allow me to point you towards some resources that might be helpful in your search:

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Authored by a German minister who lived during World War II and who was imprisoned and executed for working against the Nazi regime, this tome is not for the faint of heart. It’s certainly not for someone looking for a surface treatment of discipleship issues. No, Bonhoeffer confronts the reader with the hard realities that grace costs something and that following Jesus is hard. Anyone willing to work through the pages will come through the other side a changed person.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg. Coming from a successful church in Chicago as a teaching pastor, Ortberg now is a senior pastor in California. Famed for his practical teaching and writings, Ortberg briefly carried the mantle as my favorite Christian author. This book is his best. Tracing the classical spiritual disciplines but offering anecdotes and practical steps, Ortberg helps his readers internalize the truths of these disciplines and move them from abstract ideas to things that you can do on a daily basis.

Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairytale, by Frederick Buechner. Buechner is ordained by the Presbyterian denomination just to write. They know what they are talking about! Buechner takes ideas inherent in our understanding and applies them to understanding the Kingdom of God: the tragedy of human reality, the comedy of redemption, the the fairy tale that God isn’t finished working with us yet. I highly recommend this quick read. See also his Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who.

So I want to hear from you…..what do you do when you’re fasting from fasting? And what are some of your favorite resources on spiritual disciplines?

And I really do want to hear from you this time. Often people read and don’t leave a comment! Gasp! Do you know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel like I am wandering in the blogosphere talking to myself. So help a self-conscious brother out and rate, comment and share. I even got the conversation started for you….

As always, thanks for reading. Unless you didn’t comment. Then nevermind.

J/K and all that.