Archive for July, 2015

None of us is a viable candidate.

I recently heard a man with a track record for diligence and quiet composure dismissed as a candidate for promotion as ‘not a viable candidate’. His critic may or may not have been clear-eyed about his verdict, but the words have lingered in my soul.

It strikes me that, when evaluated as candidates for kudos in this world and the next, each of us could be summarily dismissed with that same condemning sentence: not a viable candidate. (more…)


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The Bible’s Old Testament hints subtly in the direction of incarnation. Just one example: there may be no straight line between the book called Isaiah’s depiction of YHWH speaking in the dialect a responsive servant—’Behold, here I am!’—and the New Testament’s delineation of the risen Christ who at one time ‘took the form of a servant’. But between these two points lies at the least a winding path.

The Hebrew Bible’s occasionally daring portrayals of YHWH as a humble figure can take the slow reader’s breath away. (more…)

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We may balk at the social stratification that the biblical wisdom anthology is prepared to accept, and even to endorse.

Understandably, we admire the social fluidity of a true meritocracy, even if it falls usually to voices from outside our own cultural perspective to point out how flawed we are in the execution.

Despite these caveats, surely we can appreciate the Proverbs’ appreciation for what is ‘appropriate’.

It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury, much less for a slave to rule over princes. (Proverbs 19:10 ESV)

When a fool comes into big money that allows him to live both lavishly and loudly, we are repelled by the sight. We hope he doesn’t move in next door. Something deeper than aesthetic preferences is in play. We sense not only that something is inconvenient in this picture, but also simply wrong with it. (more…)

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Having just finished rereading the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, it strikes me that the apostle Paul was supremely ‘confident in the gospel’ of Jesus Christ. His own words, in another place, say so.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:16–17 ESV)

It strikes me that there is not one way for a Christian to be ‘ashamed of the gospel’, but rather many. (more…)

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We often require no help in order to pave the path to our own ruin. This lamentable task plays to our strength. I can do it all by myself.

The fool is equally adept at locating a scapegoat for the disaster he has brought upon himself. Too often he fingers YHWH for the crime.

One’s own folly leads to ruin, yet the heart rages against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:3 NRSV)

A deep irony of our human condition lies in our tendency to seek our Maker only when things have gone badly. We turn to him in anger and blame after the fact, rather than with our trust and our hunger earlier on.

The wide gaze of biblical wisdom does not imagine that human folly is always the cause of disaster. Life is subject to multiple causes. Yet wisdom knows that we who are foolish often cause our own destruction. The truly foolish then compound their ruin by blaming God.

How different a response is given by repentance and the humility that creates a space for it. If there is ‘rage’ in repentance, it is the dying embers of self-condemnation, not the retrograde misattribution of our pain to YHWH’s doing.

Then—often, if not always—comes fresh air, new light, soft rain, rebirth.

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One of the Book of Proverbs‘ most quotable dicta has a meaning more debatable than readers in a quote-seeking mood might prefer.

The most traditional interpretation is captured by the English Standard Version.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 ESV)

Here the Hebrew להתרעע is understood to derive from רעע, to inflict harm. (more…)

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Él es mantequilla, runs an endearing Mexican expression. He’s soft as butter.

It’s a compliment, not a snarky reference to spineless niceness. Niceness has only a little to do with it, and occasionally nothing at all.

Mantequilla (‘butter’) is the gentle though principled capacity to yield, to discover the common cause, to negotiate both fruitfulness and warmth in a human relationship, to prefer the other over oneself. (more…)

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Biblical wisdom is loathe to divide the human person into ‘constituent parts’. The main thing about a man is his unity, about a women her cohesion. Precise distinctions between, say, mind, body, and spirit usually pave the first steps on a ditch dressed up like a path, which leads nowhere. (more…)

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When the Apostle Paul refers to followers of Jesus in the aggregate as ‘the body of Christ’, he is only scratching the surface. The New Testament audaciously identifies the new community with the risen Jesus himself.

Paul had a knack for riots. Creating them, one means. (more…)

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Why do cultures the world over produce exhortations to work hard?

Because hard work is, well, hard work.

It don’t come easy, as my elders used to remind me. The reward of it is seldom immediate, so it’s easy to cut corners and imagine that nothing’s been lost in the shortcut. To ‘take it easy’ sounds like great advice right up until it produces poverty or damage. (more…)

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