Sunday, June 28, 2009

texting while driving

This is not the most scientific study that I've ever seen. BUT, I don't think many people will dispute the results. There's no doubt that texting while driving hinders one's driving ability... that usually comes with not looking at the road.
The other studies referenced in the video give a few staggering numbers, like 66% of 18-24 texting or emailing while driving.

I text while driving.
Yesterday on a drive across Baton Rouge I had a text conversation with a friend whom I was following. We didn't hit anyone--though we did take a wrong turn at one point. I've never hit anyone or anything because I was texting. I generally don't even look at the phone while texting, just when I feel like there's been a typo. Yet, I know other 'good drivers' and 'good texters' who have hit cars because of phone use. It comes with not looking at the road.

Why am I saying all of this? There's a woman interviewed in the video whose 17 year old daughter died in a wreck apparently caused by texting. "I wouldn't want to see another person have to go through such a senseless death." Senseless is right.
It seems to make sense at the time. I need to communicate. If I don't text and drive I'd have to wait and communicate later. This is (seems to me) pressing. I'll do it now.
Maybe some people recognize the risks and decide that the convenience is worth it. They're convinced that things will turn out OK.
However that is obviously not always the case.

Christians have been taught by our Lord to "love your neighbor as yourself." Again in Paul, James, John: love your neighbor. Or as Paul says it again: "count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4) We do this because of the servanthood of Jesus.
If we follow this command we will not willfully endanger others for our own sake. We will not.

I exhort you, brothers and sisters, not to text and drive.

Our society treasures communication and speed. They are driving forces in American culture. Well, this is the sort of counter-culture Christians ought to model. Instead of buying our children Bible action figures in place of G.I.JOEs, we need to teach our children--and ourselves--to be followers of Jesus. That is real Christian counter-culture. And it means following His command to love--even and especially when that command forces us to re-prioritize and to place those things that we're taught to care about below the path of denying self and taking up the cross.

Texting and driving is already illegal in several states. Christians therein have absolutely no excuse for breaking those laws. But I'm calling on all of us. When the currents of society carry us toward evils, the Church must swim against the current. When we don't we are not the Church.

So I'm committing to not texting while driving.
That probably just sounds silly. 'Big commitment there, Nance...' No doubt it will seem less silly tomorrow when I'm on the road and I want to tell... someone... something. I bet it will actually be quite a temptation when the time comes. But Christ's call for us to love is more important than my convenience, or even my friend's, on the other side of the message.
We must love, against the culture, against the tug to there 'go and do likewise.'

Friday, June 26, 2009

answering their questions pt 1

I've been reflecting lately on the opportunities that I've had at LSU to discuss Jesus and faith and scripture with non-Christians. The really good, thorough, long discussions. The voices of unbelief in college were, looking back, much more vocal than I expected. They're also (some of them at least) very intelligent voices. Some of them have struggled long and hard with the issues. 
But I think a lot of these questions have good answers all the same. This is especially true of questions about history, science, and philosophy. 

The questions that come up along life's way--when tragedies strike or prayers go unanswered or however it happens--these, more often than not, shouldn't be answered, at least not with words. The best we can do to answer the voices of pain, loss, and confusion is to show them God through our love and to show them God by pointing to Jesus. 

Still, other questions I think can be answered well. So I've decided to echo and reflect here on a few of the questions and objections that I've heard over the years. Maybe you'll see something here that's always given you pause. Or maybe I can frighten someone with a question here, before somebody with very different intentions does out in the trenches. Hopefully we can come to some conclusions and see Truth incarnate Himself in the midst of these puzzles and doubts.

1. Did Jesus even really exist? 
Every now and then I'll stumble onto something about this online: 'yet more evidence that there was no historical person Jesus of Nazareth'; 'we see here another clear sign that the Jesus in the gospels is really just a character based on Odysseus' (no joke); or whatever else they're saying. 
This skepticism has trickled down--as you might expect--to the masses, particularly to those who already have doubts and frustrations. This is an easy out, after all: some 'scholar' said Jesus didn't exist, so I can now deride you and your beliefs as much as I like.

Honestly, this blows my mind. 
I'm more familiar with so-called 'conservative' Jesus-scholars (conservative here basically meaning "their Jesus actually looks a good bit like the Jesus in the gospels"), like N. T. Wright and Ben Witherington III, than I am with the 'liberal' scholars, like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Nevertheless, I'll proceed from here only with reference to Crossan and Borg, just to 'avoid a bias'... by speaking through a different bias that the skeptics are OK with.

Crossan and Borg have both written at length on the historical Jesus, and they are two of the most important authorities on this in the English-speaking world. They're associated with the 'Jesus Seminar' (Crossan helped found the group), a group a Jesus-scholars who boldly denounce the Resurrection and the empty tomb, the virgin birth, etc. 

And neither of these scholars would say that there was no such person as Jesus. 

In fact, they both go so far as to affirm at least some of the gospel accounts of Jesus' healing people.
Borg will not go so far as to say how or why they occurred: "I do not need to know the explanatory mechanism in order to affirm that paranormal healings happen. And Jesus seems to have been uncommonly good at them." 
Crossan's take on the miracles of healing has been described as "some... Crossan takes to be definitely historical." Others--most, perhaps--he might call 'definitely unhistorical'. The point remains. Not only is Crossan (with Borg) affirming a historical person, but a historical 'wonder-worker', among other things.

Wright, Witherington, E. P. Sanders, and others also affirm Jesus, miracle-accounts, and much more. The fact is, their are very few serious Jesus scholars who doubt his having really lived and walked around 1st Century Palestine. Such individuals are to be found on the fringes of Jesus 'studies' and carry minimal authority on such issues. Theses guys may make the news, but that says very little. What is important to recognize is that they absolutely do not represent any kind of consensus in the world of historical Jesus studies.

One is always welcome to side with whatever explanation they like--and they'll do that. But the fact that the explanation is rejected by the vast majority of experts, themselves representing all points on the spectrum, and that it is rejected because it cannot withstand the briefest critical examination... this should make you think twice before following.

This answer may sound too short, too cut and dry. I can understand that. It sounds that way because there's not much room for debate on this issue. Even if some want to entirely discount the gospels as historical evidence--and few do--they still have to deal with Paul, pre-Pauline Christian traditions (for example, 1 Corinthians 15:1-7), Josephus*, and other early sources. It's pretty easy to see that there is good evidence for a historical Jesus of some kind. It's what we say from here--what anyone says from here--that will be the 'less certain' part.

* Josephus is a first century Jewish historian, who makes a brief reference to Jesus. I realize it's common to point to later Christian editorial work in Josephus; Borg, however, following John Meier, sees (at least some of) this as authentic. 

The image up top was user submitted on My[confined]space. And awesome.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

the future of the SBC

imonk has posted some reflections on the SBC national meeting that's been going on in Kentucky. If you're interested in the future of this denomination and what that's starting to look like right now, go check it out. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Screwtape on 'the historical Jesus'

Recently imonk posted some 'guidelines for interpreting the gospels'. One tip that I appreciated, though I doubt his audience is really the group that needs to hear it, was "The study of the historical Jesus is important." Nice. 
Chris Tilling said something similar a few weeks back: "Start to learn the habit of enjoying NT related books that are more informed about matters of exegesis, historical background, hermeneutical subtlety etc." I agree. I think these are important things, and for many they are totally unfamiliar. 
Obviously not every layperson is going to be able to force themselves into this kind of reading, for one reason or another, but for those who can I think they should. I'm in the middle of Wright's Christian Origins series right now myself, and I'm teaching a class for my church on the Jewish roots and context of 1st Century Christianity. 
This is important stuff.

And then Screwtape opens his mouth.

Lewis doesn't seem to have been wholly opposed to historical Jesus scholarship... just mostly. And it's understandable. Lewis was a good catholic Christian, faithful to the Tradition, and historical studies have often been conducted in a calculated opposition to that Tradition. He was also living in a time when various fads ruled Jesus-studies (maybe that's not over just yet), and when Bultmann was in the vanguard of the scholarship, arguing for a misguided separation of history and theology. Lewis knew better than that. 

As always, Screwtape is incisive. In letter 23, he makes four claims about 'historical Jesus' studies:
  • The conclusions are unhistorical and have their way with the texts. "The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new 'historical Jesus' therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life..." 
  • They distract from who Jesus is (i.e. the Word) and what He did by focusing on "some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated." 
  • They destroy the devotional life of prayer and the sacraments by substituting for the Christ worthy of all honor and praise an object that "cannot in fact be worshipped", "a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian." 
  • The reconstructions of a 'historical Jesus' replace the knowledge of a risen Jesus who has redeemed His people--the truly saving 'facts', if you will, about Christ.  
I certainly won't deny that any of these happen, and at times have happened frequently. 
So how should the student of the New Testament, the junior-historian in the congregation, the follower of Jesus respond to these observations? 

Of course, Christians have to be devoted to good scholarship. That's true in the study of the New Testament, in the biological sciences, and everywhere in between. After all, we're to put away all falsehoods, and this is just a part of that calling. And this means that we have to approach the experts with a critical eye, especially mindful of omissions and exaggerations, and evaluating their logic. Crossan and Borg have some great information, but what about their conclusions? What assumptions are they making at the start that need to be acknowledged?
These aren't always easy questions to answer, but it's critical that they're asked.

Unless you've decided to reject the Christ of the Creeds for another Jesus of historical reconstruction, then you must always cling to "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father... he was crucified under Pontius Pilate." Even if this is in the back of your mind for a time, as you try to understand this or that facet of 1st Century Messianic beliefs being enacted by this man from Nazareth, it must be held in mind. These studies are meant to inform our reading of the texts and our understanding of Jesus' activities; let them do that much, but be aware of when they try to do more, separating things which the Creeds holds together.

This is all closely related to worship, the devotional life. Historical claims can be the death knells of worship for some. For others they might place an idol on the throne: any Christ other than He whom the Church has always proclaimed, dead, risen, and coming again. We must remember that Jesus has taught us to pray, and that Jesus--the Word who made all things--has called the bread and wine His body and blood. Perhaps one movement here ought to be the assimilation of historical study into the worshipping life of the Church. I'm not talking about holding seminars on 'St. Paul and the First Century Cynic Revival' in place of worship; I'm talking about recognized the role of historical study in our reading of the texts. I'm talking about understanding all that we do as worship, including critical thinking and engaging with Biblical scholarship. While this scholarship can be a treacherous road for the Church to walk, it may be best travelled under the stewardship of that Body transmitting the Creeds, administering the sacraments, whose Head is Christ. 

Finally, do not let these studies become your text. The Bible is not scripture because it met various historical and literary criteria. The Bible is our scripture because the Spirit led the Church to the use of these texts and ultimately their canonization; because they were inspired in their compositions, and they can tell us about the Risen Jesus whose life, death, resurrection, and continuing life in the Church can reveal God to us. Again, let these studies inform your reading of scripture, not replace it. 

These responses may sound simplistic, but they may be no less true. 
And frankly, the 'dangers of scholarship', while they need to be acknowledged, also need to be gotten over. Especially in my tradition, what is needed is not more skepticism of the scholars; we have more than enough of that. What we need is critical reading and critical thinking. We need to learn about the texts, to understand the reading of the texts, and ask hard questions (without offering stock, worthless answers). Blissful ignorance is not a good way to survive the attacks of critics. Instead, we must be able to meet the questions and confusions out there in such a way that the unbelieving world is edified. Regardless of your biases, critical, historical, Biblical scholarship is a big part of this task.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

makeup = EVIL

Or does it?

I was recently reading Augustine's On Christian Doctrine, and at one point while offering examples of Christian writers using different rhetorical styles, he quotes (at length) some really interesting passages from St. Ambrose and St. Cyprian on women's use of makeup. 

Now--disclaimer--I'm not saying that I agree with the Fathers on this topic. Honestly I don't have an opinion; this isn't an issue I've really considered.
But I like this because it's provocative in the best way: it provokes us to think about those things that we never supposed needed any second thoughts. The things that we do mechanically. Anything that we are that comfortable with and yet have never really considered simply must be evaluated. We need to stop and remember to ask questions like Why am I doing this? What are my motives and my aims? Am I loving God through this? My neighbor? What does this communicate about my beliefs about myself--or about my God? 

Let's look at St. Cyprian.
I think that the saint is a little over-the-top at times (on purpose--which is precisely why Augustine quotes them). You'll see what I mean. But don't let that keep you from thinking about his words.

This is from his treatise De Habitu Virginum ('On the Dress of Virgins'):
If an artist had depicted the face and form of a man and indicated the quality of his body with colors rivaling those of the original, and when the likeness was complete and finished another set his hand to it, as if being more skillful he would reshape the picture already made, this would be seen as a grave injury to the first artist and a reason for just indignation. Do you think that you can with impunity commit such a rash and wrongful act offensive to God the artist? Even though you may not be shameless concerning men nor defiled in mind by alluring rouges, you make yourself worse than an adulteress by corrupting and defiling those things which are God's. What you think ornaments you, what you think makes you more beautiful, is an attack on the divine work, a corruption of the truth... Are sincerity and truth [a reference to 1 Cor. 5:7-8] preserved when those things which are sincere are polluted and truth is changed into falsehood by adulterating colors and the tricks of cosmetics?

I think this is a fascinating--even if not convincing--argument. 
What strikes me about it, other than the way Cyprian uses the artist imagery (which is awesome), is how clearly the saint's worldview shines through a practical consideration like this:
  • God is the creator, the artist, who made us.
  • We are, just in the way we exist (made by God), somehow true and good--presumably because we reflect the image of God. 
  • Any distortion of truth, any falsehood is a sin and an affront to God.
  • Sin is to be taken seriously and to be confronted.
How many considerations are behind our activities, our habits? 
What am I saying about God and man when I send money on a movie ticket, maybe a movie rated R for violence? 
What beliefs are evident when I'm willing to buy the homeless man some food, but I don't care to spend any time with him?  
What is said when I don't speak at all, if I don't think to tell my parents that I love them?

I think that these kinds of considerations--really no more than a mindfulness of how our actions portray our beliefs--are crucial for following Jesus. 
How can you love the Lord with all that you are if you are not even considering how your life depicts him? After all, as Paul told the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 3:1-3), the people of God are "a letter from Christ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
Faith, in one sense, is an activity--it is a thing intimately intertwined with works. It is a taking up of the cross. With that being the case, we would do well to imitate the saints before us in how they 'girded up the loins of their minds,' how they earnestly pursued, in all areas of life--even the most mundane--a holiness that would reflect the faith which they received.