Archive for July, 2010

It is not immediately clear, even for those with the most solid theology of creation, that this world deserves our allegiance.

If it is only a clearing in the woods where the most unaccountable and vicious violence can be visited with impunity upon the innocent, then we ought to turn our backs on it, shake its pathetic dust off our sandals, and long for another place. (more…)


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The biblical literature laments few losses so frequently as wasted opportunity. A leader emerges with something like a clean slate in his hand. Instead of noble lines, he scrawls the moral equivalent of excrement across the tablet.

It would have us develop an instinct for the same.

The Bible knows a thousands ways to spell such loss. It rues what might have been. (more…)

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One never knows the potency of love until one has been brought low.

I was reminded of this on Sunday as I sat by the bedside of a life-long friend who had for nine days walked a bumpy road of recovery from cardiac surgery. ‘Forgive me, I’m going to cry a lot today’, my friend warned at the outset. And he did. We did.

‘The body of Christ has been phenomenal … overwhelming.’ He groped and did not find all the words he required. As I entered his room, an attractive and bright-eyed African-American woman of substance had just departed his and his wife’s Caucasian company. ‘She’s our pastor’, my friend’s beloved explained. We luxuriate for a moment in the unspoken beauty of how human need and divine touch unite the broken and invigorate the shattered.

‘I’ve had heart surgery … and I’ve had heart surgery’, my friend told me. (more…)

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Lucas is an enigma.

A twenty-something business student in Indianapolis, Lucas grew up with my oldest son in Latin America. Yet he is here. I mean right here. In-the-house here.

By some generous act of Providence, the apartment Lucas shares with two colleges students and an undisclosed but not absurd number of acts, suffers an infestation of flees. I have never before been grateful for fleas, but I am so now.

Lucas has, over the years, hung out in somewhat irregular fashion in our house. When I use to hang out in this generic sense, I do not mean anything as defined as to spend the occasional evening, to come by to watch the Super Bowl, or to join us for dinner. Those connotations do attach themselves to the concept of to hang out. But they do not define Lucas. (more…)

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Surely this old house has seen its domestic drama. Its sturdy structure cannot eradicate the drama and pathos that cling to human beings and the dense clusters and knots we call ‘family’.

On May 31 of this annus horribilus my beloved departed this old house. I was abroad, through aware of the scenario that unfolded as my wife’s friends nudged their cars and their vans and their trucks into a driveway into which we had all nosed homeward on countless shared evenings.

No longer are mornings and evenings in this place a shared and common thing. She is gone and I am alone in this old house. (more…)

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They built this house, on what must have been Indianapolis’ far north side, in 1930. Peace in Europe was, fleetingly, twelve years old. Men who had clung to the trenches’ muddy, bloody edge were deciding whether to talk about that to their ten-year-old boys.

An economic shattering so profound that it can still be called the Great Depression was using up its second page on a nation’s hungry calendar. Improbably, the land just across 64th Street had been donated by John and Evaline Holliday fourteen years earlier to the State of Indiana on its one hundredth birthday. I reckon the proximity of Holliday Park contributes a third to the value of my home. (more…)

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Israel’s biblical historians are often taciturn in the face of behavior we might have expected them to condemn.

It is their way of respecting the reader. Not every moral, not every lesson need be spelled out. The listener is expected to arrive at his or her own conclusions based on instruction that is both prior and ongoing.

One of the sad features of both David’s and Solomon’s reigns is the unfortunate and even chaotic manner in which they lurch to their conclusion. We should probably suspect that Solomon’s amassing of both riches and retinue as a consequence of his fabled wisdom is not an entirely promising trend. The Queen of Sheba was impressed to the point of breathlessness. We should not be. (more…)

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The country of which I am a grateful citizen celebrated its bicentennial during my junior year of high school.

Among American Christians, it was common to hear a portion of the long prayer with which the ancient Israelite King dedicated the house that he had constructed for YHWH. Quoted according to the King James Bible in which more often than not it was remembered in that moment, it runs like this:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (1 Chronicles 7:14)

Though it did not strike me at the time as out of place when quoted by Americans of their nation, that awkwardness was to grow on me in later years as I learned the tools of historical research and realized how far Solomon’s dedicatory words ranged from my modern country’s 200th birthday. (more…)

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The justification of the unrighteous produces passivity only among those who have recklessly misunderstood the thing.

The more closely the apostle Paul’s argument approaches the unmerited favor of God to his rebellious children, the more energetic becomes his summons to align our understanding with that which God has pronounced to be true about us.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The rhetorical questions, the imperatival tone, and the use of the verb λογίζομαι (to consider or reckon) that abound in Paul’s letter to the Romans conspire to urge the believer to an almost athletic feat of mental recalibration.

To be declared just in the light of the redemption that Jesus has won for us on the cross, we see in Paul’s prolonged and intense discussion, does not automatically lead to a changed self-awareness nor to the righteous life that ought to ensue.

Rather, we are called to align our thinking and our conduct with the new reality of sinners-cum-righteous.

Perhaps in no other context is freedom at once so free and so demanding.

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Though we toss off phrases like ‘the sanctity of life’ as though we all knew what we mean by that, the biblical literature traces the shape of such things in more narrative form.

Biblical narrative tends to insist on a couple of foundational dynamics that modern life obscures with a vengeance. For one, the narratives suggest that no life is so small or marginalized that it becomes no candidate for YHWH’s extraordinary attention. So does a poor woman’s dilemma become the centerpiece of several chapters of Israel’s epic history while the Omride Dynasty under which she lived—a period of rule which we know from archaeology to have been among the most impressive that ancient Israel produced—is spared just a few words. (more…)

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