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There is a fruitful agony, a suffering that bears life rather than merely pushing open the door to death. Jesus’ agony was of this kind, in spades we might say in retrospect and from the angle of hope’s full flowering.

Yet the moment left its early evidences as well.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). (Mark 15:20–22 ESV)

As many have noted, Mark’s narrative mentions two names that don’t much illuminate the crisis of the moment: Alexander and Rufus.

The story as it’s told reads well as an indicator that Alexander and Rufus were members of the community of Jesus’ followers in which Mark and Peter, his apparent source, nourished the memory.

Simon of Cyrene was just a passerby, forced by uniformed Romans with little concern for local courtesies to carry their murder weapon when their victim became too exhausted to carry the tool of his own death. There was absolutely nothing premeditated about it. If the Romans had not grabbed Simon, they would have press-ganged someone else. He just happened to be ‘coming in from the country’ when the little drama of Jesus’ execution was taking place.

Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it would appear.

Yet the little mention that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two men whom Mark’s readers in his community of followers of Jesus were expected to recognize, suggest that there was more in play than bad luck. Something happened to Simon by the time he had dragged the lumber of Jesus’ murdering to Golgotha. If it did not happen in the moment, then perhaps shortly thereafter.

That something was passed on to Simon’s children, whose names became household names among the daughters and sons of this new faith, names that could be mentioned familiarly with no special elaboration.

As Jesus stumbled his final steps to Golgotha, faith’s seed was already finding fertile soil in the heart of a bad-luck farmer who had showed up at the wrong time.

As my wife likes to abbreviate such complexities, ‘That’s how God works.’

Things are seldom as they appear.

 

 

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What have we heard?

ICETE Triennial Listening Team report

2 November 2018

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Ps. 24.1 ESV)

This is the note that has been sounded, at least as the psalmist might well have expressed it were he listening in, during these days together in Panama.

While that note has rung, in plenary addresses and workshops and mealtime conversations and walks along this ocean that YHWH has created for his enjoyment and for ours, a group of your friends has been listening in as well.

I think I’d better explain … Continue Reading »

By way of his ambitious Living as the People of God (1983), Christopher Wright attempted61B2R7pA2mL._SY346_
to address the paucity of serious reflection on Old Testament ethics by providing ‘a comprehensive framework within which Old Testament ethics can be organized and understood.’ The intervening two decades between the book’s original publication and the 2004 updating of that work as Old Testament Ethics for the People of God had witnessed a florescence of writing on the topic. While the reawakening of popular and scholarly interest in Old Testament ethics is to be welcomed, no part of it lessens the value of Wright’s enduring ‘comprehensive framework’.

Wright has inherited from his mentor, the late John R.W. Stott, the knack for wrestling complexity into clarity without lurching into simplistic reductions. Already in the book’s introduction, we see evidence of this in Wright’s ‘ethical triangle’: 

God, Israel and the land—these were the three pillars of Israel’s worldview, the primary factors of their theology and ethics. We may conceptualize these as a triangle of relationships, each of which affected and interacted with both the others. So we can take each ‘corner’ of this triangle in turn and examine Old Testament ethical teaching from the theological angle (God), the social angle (Israel), and the economic angle (the land).

Wright apologizes, even if not fervently, for the absence of the individual that some readers will note in this schema. Yet in this reader’s estimation, that missing individual will show his or her face often enough in the pages that follow, particularly when one is poised at the ‘social angle’ corner of Wright’s admittedly artificial but nonetheless instructive triangle. Continue Reading »

41TErMtvHSLHow does a book like this even happen?

Sue Hubbell loves her Ozarks and the people who live there, loves her bees, and by all appearances has a thing going with words and the art of stringing them together. It seems that beekeepers now join flyfishers as unlikely creators of great writing.

Who knew?

Hubbell weaves her tales of bees and sweet countryside around the four seasons of her craft. This makes for four long chapters, perhaps the only defect in an otherwise enchanting read. Along the way we learn a fair piece about keeping bees (much of it in the ‘let them be bees’ category). We also taste and feel the Missouri seasons and warm to the spirit of a woman who has learned to live so well in her adopted countryside.

The result is a book worth reading at least twice. Then, after a rest, perhaps a third time.

Somehow the book’s simple title perfectly frames the easy lilt of its prose. Nothing is difficult here. Just beautiful.

In a season when a determined minority of parents are happy to say that the mass-51uoveg1vTL._AC_UL640_QL65_education emperor has no clothes, it is good to have this little manual from Dorothy Sayers’ pen to provide a well-grounded model of what a real emperor just might look like, fully clothed.

A portion of this 1947 broadside (for in spite of its exquisitely respectful prose, this is precisely what it was) by a British classicist and novelist is that Sayers sounds as though she is writing in early 21st-century America. Via an argument that fast-forwards with magnificent ease, she dares to suggest that Western culture has in a sense gone mad and is employing the mechanics of education to assure that its children remain just as loony as their parents. In other words, Lost Tools is a polemic against those who are responsible for the misplacement of the darned things and/or committed to their non-discovery.

Sayers thinks that education was once done well in the West, and that its hammer, saw, and chisel are recoverable with a bit of effort.  Continue Reading »

51cgEgMuAnL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_It is a fortunate and powerful thing moment when a thinker trained for policy analysis finds his voice as a story-teller. That Ian Toll has lent that voice to narrating events in ‘the other war’ is a profound boon.

The persistent thread around which Toll weaves his story of the early war in the Pacific is the Alfred Thayer Bahan doctrine of concentration and battle wagons. The weaving is a subtle art in Toll’s hands, because the astonishingly brief moment between Pearl Harbor and Midway both debunked Bahan’s confidence in the battleship and proved that even Japan’s naval might was fallible when deployed without due concentration.

The author has delved deep into the minds of both Japanese and American warriors, from deck-swabbers and lowly engineers to admirals and their quirks. The result is a profoundly respectful telling, one that never allows the reader to forget that both strategy and humanity were as fully in play as it is possible to imagine. Continue Reading »

Kate Fox’s 2008 (updated and revised, 2014) exercise in English national self-flagellation 51M4+GxPOkL._AC_UL872_QL65_is what we used to call a ‘sprawling’ work.

But that might be to suggest that a single gripping plot line traceable through the book’s 228 pages envelopes an unusually vast cast of characters or detours remarkably into literary tributaries, like one of those fat Russian novels that nonetheless retains its power to draw the reader through, page after page.

That is not the case here.

But hold on, don’t get your knickers in a twist. I mean this review to shed a positive light on a thoroughly enjoyable book of which I have already clocked two front-to-back readings.

In truth ‘sprawling’ might be a bit of (learned) English understatement of a deficiency when ‘unedited’ would express the thing with more candor. Continue Reading »