Archive for January, 2010
My sister Deborah gave me and Corrie the most fun and ridiculous Christmas gift ever last month: a Snuggie™. I don’t know what it was–maybe the spiked egg nog–but when I opened up the present I just thought it was the most hilarious thing that I laughed as hard as I’ve ever laughed for about ten minutes straight.
Since then, Corrie and I have made sure to take pictures of ourselves doing fun things with the Snuggie™. If you don’t know what a Snuggie™ is, it’s basically a fleece blanket with sleeves–or, a poorly designed bathrobe worn backwards. Anyway, they look so weird (even though they are surprisingly warm and convenient). It’s the classic “As Seen On TV!” sort of gift that Aunt Ethel from KS sends you.
If you’re interested, here are some of the pictures…
Nine days after the 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, bodies are still being pulled from the rubble, people are sick, injured and dying, and gangs are roving the streets of Port-au-Prince.
In the wake of this tragedy, the American public was shocked by the tasteless comments of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson. Rush argued that the earthquake was an opportunity for President Obama to boost his credibility by sending aid to black people in Haiti. Robertson blamed the earthquake on Haiti’s legendary eighteenth-century pact with Satan.
Now, many in the media were quite rightly critical of these comments by Limbaugh and Robertson. On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart said of Rush, “You know, I think I know the cause of your heart trouble: you don’t have one.” Stewart was equally critical of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for her comments on Wednesday night. Maddow commented that bolstering USAID (the government agency tasked with providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance) is a major part of the Obama administration’s agenda, in contrast to “what Bush and Cheney did.” “Congratulations MSNBC viewers,” Stewart joked, “You’re on the right side… of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
The common factor in all these distasteful remarks is the exploitation of the tragic events–for a political agenda, or simply for attention-hogs like “Rev.” Pat. It struck me, however, that to some extent “The Daily Show” and others like it are profiting from this tragedy as well. Don’t get me wrong: I love Stewart, Colbert and their ilk; our society needs them. But they are first and foremost entertainers, and people saying stupid things about tragedy gives them fodder to produce their entertainment.
Furthermore, the endless news coverage of the tragedy has an exploitive feel to it. We know that it’s bad, terrible, horrible, urgent. But most Americans going about their daily lives can’t do much more than give some money to the relief effort and pray for the Haitian people. Seeing pictures of corpses, the injured, the rubble–we’re a voyeuristic nation of rubberneckers slowing down on the freeway to look at an horrific accident on the other side of the road (or the Gulf of Mexico).
Am I being hypercritical? Do we need to keep the Haitian tragedy in our field of vision so we don’t forget? Granted, but maybe we’ve gone a bit too far.
Enough for now–I’m going to go link to this post on Facebook so my blog gets lots of traffic.
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Teqoa`, which he saw concerning Israel during the time of Uzziah, king of Judah, and during the time of Jarob`am son of Jo’ash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
YHWH roars from Zion, and from Jerusalem his voice comes forth;
The pastures of the shepherds will dry up, and the top of Mount Carmel will wither.
Thus says YHWH:
For three transgressions of Damascus, because of four I will not relent:
Because they trampled down Gil`ad with iron sledges.
So I will send fire against the house of Haza’el, and it will consume the castles of Ben-Hadad;
I will smash the bar of Damascus and cut off its inhabitants from the Aven Valley, and the one who holds the staff of the house of `Eden;
and the people of Aram will go into exile to Qir—
Thus says YHWH:
For three transgressions of `Azzah, because of four I will not relent:
Because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them over to Edom.
So I will send fire against the walls of `Azzah, and it will consume her castles.
I will cut off the inhabitants from ‘Ashdod, and the one who holds the staff from ‘Ashqelon;
And I will return my hand upon `Eqron, and the remnant of the Philistines will perish—
says Lord YHWH.
Thus says YHWH:
For three transgressions of Zor, because of four I will not relent:
Because they delivered into exile a whole people to Edom, and did not remember the covenant with their brothers.
So I will send fire against the walls of Zor, and it will consume her castles.
Thus says YHWH:
For three transgressions of Edom, because of four I will not relent:
Because he pursued his brother with the sword and shattered his compassion;
And his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.
So I will send fire against Teman, and it will consume the castles of Bozrah.
Thus says YHWH:
For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon, because of four I will not relent:
Because they ripped open pregnant women at Gil`ad, so that they might enlarge their border.
So I will kindle a fire against the walls of Rabbah, and it will consume her castles
with a trumpet in the day of battle and a tempest in the day of storm.
And their king will go into exile, he and his princes together—
Technically, this cycle of condemnation continues through chapter 2. 2:1-3 concerns the sins of Moab; 2:4-5 condemns the transgressions of Judah; but the longest indictment is saved for Israel (2:6-16).
Tonight, I’m fascinated with chapter 1. After the superscription (1:1) and the opening statement of judgment (1:2), the prophet speaks five oracles against the nations. The nations are Assyria (Dameseq), Philistia, Tyre (Zor), Edom and Ammon. Each strophe (paragraph) follows a similar pattern: the statement of "three—no, four—transgressions," the charges, and the consequences.
Like a little baby, I love repetition. The repetition within this poem forms a structure that limits the poet’s options. For many years scholars thought that structure most often hinders creativity; recently, some have shown that self-imposed limits can heighten a poet’s creativity by forcing him to dig deeper for different sorts of expression. In this poem, as in others, the striking similarities naturally point the reader to the differences.
1) The first and second lines are almost the same in each strophe; however, the first, second and fifth strophes contain three lines of consequences, but the third and fourth contain only one line of consequence. The fourth strophe contains an extra line (C) of charges against Edom.
2) Each of the consequences includes castles/strongholds being torn down. However, the first and fourth strophes name the city in the genitive (Ben-Hadad, Bozrah).
3) In the first four "consequence" lines, the poet uses שלח ("to send") with "fire"; only in the fifth strophe does he use יצת ("to kindle").
4) The first strophe uses "house"; three use "walls," and one specifies the city of Teman.
On its face, this poem seems like a sort of vengeful, xenophobic rant against all these neighboring countries. However, this notion is undercut by two factors. First, the poet comes down the hardest on his own people in the next chapter. It would be sort of like Chapelle finishing off his routine with a bunch of black-dude jokes. Second, the poet condemns actions, not people per se. These nations committed atrocities or treachery against their neighbors, and they deserve what they get.
I just got word that my Acrostics paper has been accepted for the Hebrew Poetry section of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Mid-Atlantic regional meeting (March 11-12, New Brunswick, NJ). Be sure to check it out if you’re planning to attend the conference! I’ll post more details in the weeks to come.
I’ve been off the radar for a few days. Corrie and I were in San Diego between Christmas and New Year’s, and on the way back I caught a nasty cold that I’m still trying to shake. I was on my back most of Sunday and Monday, and fortunately I’m off of work today.
A week away was nice because it gave me the chance to catch up on some reading. I finished off four books and several articles on the plane and in our down time. It’s a strange feeling when you travel three time zones to the west, because you wake up at 5am and feel refreshed and ready to go, but everyone else is still asleep–so you just read. But I digest…
One of the books I finished was The Shack. I’d been meaning to read it and comment on it for quite some time, but school and other priorities kept bumping it down the list. Honestly, it was difficult to come at it with a pink slate, given everything that’s been said and written about the book in the last couple of years. But I was determined to read it both critically and empathetically.
For those of you who don’t know the premise of the book… Mack’s life has been dominated by "The Great Sadness," a spiritual and emotional darkness, ever since his youngest daughter was abducted and (presumably) killed. He is invited to spend a weekend with God at the shack where his daughter was tortured. The book is largely composed of dialogues between Mack and the members of the Trinity.
Let me offer some remarks to preface my comments on the book. The sharpest criticism of The Shack centers around its portrayal of the Trinity. Now, I am not a theologian (nor the son of a theologian), but I’ve taken my share of theology classes in college and seminary. I know the trinitarian and incarnational heresies and their history in their early church. Anyone who studies the history of these doctrines knows that the process was one of trial and error. For example, someone would say in the interest of protecting Jesus’ deity, "Well, Jesus was fully God, but he only seemed to be a human being." Then someone would say, "Eh, no, that doesn’t work–Jesus had to be the true son of Adam in order to redeem Adam’s race." Thus, docetism (from dokeō, "I seem") falls by the wayside. Similarly, in the interest of protecting God’s unity, some argued that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different phases or modes of God’s existence. This, however, does not account for the occasions in Scripture in which the members of the Trinity interact–down goes modalism (Sabellianism).
The point is, the process was more negative than positive: the church had to define the outer limits of orthodoxy, but it could not come up with appropriate orthodox analogies for the Trinity. Therefore, any artistic portrayal of the Trinity is bound to fall short and err in some way. We shouldn’t be too hard on Paul Young for what I thought was an admirable attempt to challenge the popular conception of God in our culture.
First, I thought that, overall, the God of The Shack corresponded to and illumined the triune God of the Bible. Some take issue with the portrayal of the Father as a grandmotherly black woman, and with the Holy Spirit as a wispy, ethereal Asian woman. But Young is careful to state the orthodox position that God is not gendered. Papa (the Father) says, "Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning" (p. 93). Elsewhere, Papa appears as a man: "This morning you’re going to need a father" (p. 219). This seems no different from the biblical portrayals of God as a great father, a mother bird, a warrior, a mountain–all are ways of speaking about the unspeakable.
But while his portrayals of the Father and Spirit are metaphorical, Young is careful to distinguish Jesus as a human being. He writes a hilarious scene in chapter seven (pp. 104-05) in which Jesus drops a bowl of batter on the floor, and Papa and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) light-heartedly tease him for being a clumsy human. Mack experiences Jesus as a fellow human being, and as God.
The Persons of Young’s Trinity express love and admiration for each other that is consistent with biblical teaching. Indeed, I found them to be a narrative expression of Jonathan Edwards’ teaching on the eternal joy and mutual satisfaction within the Trinity. At times I felt like St. Gregory, who famously said, "No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One." Young’s book felt just right–just when I felt the Persons were too distinct, he reminded me of their unity, and just when when I felt the unity was overemphasized, he reminded me of the Trinity.
Beyond the trinitarian theology of The Shack, the book is a profound theodicy. Chapter 11, "Here Come Da Judge," is particularly moving in this regard. Like the protagonist of the great Old Testament theodicy, Job, Mack presumes to judge God for the death of his child. Once Mack is confronted with God’s love and the lengths to which He went to save His children, Mack begins to trust God again–even more deeply than before.
The theology of The Shack is not perfect–there are statements that I felt fell too far into emphasizing God’s unity or plurality. I have heard that Paul Young is a universalist. I do not know if this is true, but some statements could possibly be construed as universalistic. As someone who has received a very blessed and constructive seminary education, I find seminary-bashing (there is a little) trite and tiresome.
Overall, though, I think this book is worth reading. It left me with a greater sense of God’s mystery and transcendence, but also with a deeper understanding of his loving presence. I recommend it as an artistic aid to faith and understanding, not as a replacement for biblical teaching or theological reflection.