Archive for March, 2014
Author: RC Sproul
Publisher: Reformation Trust Publishing
Date: December 12, 2011
Pages: (e-pub version): 434
[The FCC has made it perfectly clear that if I do not abide by their rules, then someone may end up in trouble one way or another. So I am advised to tell you that I received this copy of Mark (e-book) for free from Ligonier Ministries in exchange for my unbiased review. I was in no way instructed to write a favorable review, just a fair one. There you go.]
I haven't read through a commentary for fun for a long time. Back when I was preaching full-time, I devoured commentaries the way some folks devour the daily paper. Thus it took me a little longer to get through this book than I had originally intended.
I read through this commentary at the same time I have been working my way back into a daily habit of Scripture reading. So in the course of reading this commentary, I read the Psalms twice and Proverbs once. They were a nice complement to one another and I found that hearing the voice of the Psalmists echoed in Mark was a wonderful addition to my daily reading regimen.
This commentary was a good read for me as I work my way slowly back into theological reading. It was not a terribly complicated book to read. It was not overly-scholarly. Sproul focused on a more-or-less verse by verse commentary while offering the occasional theological excursus when he felt it necessary–most memorable was the excursus on Jesus' temptation in Gethsamane. It is not difficult to discern Sproul's theological bent towards Reformed theology in the commentary and this, at times, made the book terribly frustrating to read.
These things noted, this is actually my main gripe with the book. There was a time when the verse by verse commentary was especially useful, but I'm not inclined to think that way any longer. In my opinion, the verse by verse format in this commentary caused Sproul to miss what I think is the main point of Mark's Gospel as literature, as gospel, precisely because he had already committed himself to a theological perspective that guided his exegesis: Mark is writing to make a point, a point that Sproul believes is, in one way or another, to 'prove' the divinity of Jesus. So there are times when Jesus is referred to as the 'Son of God' (notably Mark 1:1 & 15:39 which form a rather nice 'sandwich' to the book as a whole), but it is important to ask what this might mean. What does 'son of God' mean in the Bible and how does that inform our understanding of Mark's theological point?
Surely Jesus is the God of Israel in the sense of being somehow divine–whatever that might mean–and there are times when I think Sproul did an absolutely masterful job of connecting the text with the Hebrew Scriptures in order to show the reader how Mark makes this clear (I'm think in particular of the walking on water episode in Mark 6:45-52 & the scene where Jesus enters Jerusalem in Mark 11:1-11). So I'm not disputing that for a minute; however, I do not think that is necessarily the point that Mark is trying to make in the Gospel as a whole. [Sproul wrote, "Remember, Mark has been at pains to demonstrate to Gentiles that Jesus is the divine Son of God" (214). I just do not think that Mark is at pains about this at all as much as he is at pains to do something different.]
It seems to me that Mark's point is made clearly in 1:1 & 15:39: Jesus is the Son of God. The question is, however, one of how we understand that phrase. In the Hebrew Scriptures, 'son of God' is a phrase that is given to the King of Israel (see especially Psalm 2). So what Mark does is this: he tells us in verse 1 that Jesus is Messiah (the anointed one, the King), the Son of God. Then he goes about showing us all throughout his Gospel what that means, how people do not get it (even his own family 3:20-34), how they misunderstand it, how they try to misappropriate his power, and what being King really means–what it means for God's power to be unleashed on earth (see Mark 3:23-29). Jesus in turn, goes into hiding, tells demons to be quiet, tells people not to say anything about his power, and is crucified after refusing to defend himself against charges brought against him. Yet it is here, after he dies death on a cross, that one person says something about Jesus that he is not rebuked for: "Surely this man was the Son of God."
The one place where we are truly allowed to hear a confession of who Jesus is, is while he is on the cross. It is there he was enthroned. And there he does not tell the centurion to keep quiet. It is this point which I wish Dr Sproul had made more clear to his readers because I think this is Mark's point: Here is our King! Here is our God! Here is the one who came to bring us back to life! He is the One! He is Jesus! (that's a David Crowder Band lyric). Sproul touches on this periodically, but in no way sustains this throughout his commentary which is unfortunate. (Note the heavy iron in chapter 15 verses 2, 9, 12, 17-20, 26, 32, 43.)
I have a couple other complaints which are minor by comparison with what preceded. First, I dislike that there were any footnotes or end notes of any kind. Sproul frequently says things like 'a commentator' or 'an author' or 'I once heard a speaker' and fails to give us any point of reference. This is bothersome. I get that the book is not a commentary for scholars, but there are some who read it who would like more information about who is it that he is interacting with on various pages.
Second, he tells too many stories about himself. I'll leave it at that. I make this complaint in nearly every book I review because if I have learned anything about being in ministry it is this: don't make yourself look good and nearly every story Sproul tells in this book makes himself look good. Third, there's way too much Reformed Theology. Mark certainly didn't write his commentary to explain the finer points of Drs Calvin and Luther and seeing such theological perspectives in Mark seems far more imposed than exposed.
Finally, I wish he had spent less time taking us to the other Gospels to make a point. Mark is sufficient in an of itself and sometimes, frankly, Mark's point is obscured when we bring in material from other Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John). It's not that such a practice is wrong or evil, it's just that Mark has plenty to say on his own and he says it well on his own. Tying Mark together as one piece of literature, written to it's own audience, for its own sake seems to me a far better way to understand the book than trying create a bigger picture by bringing in other facts that Mark left out of his work. Maybe he left them out for a reason.
What I enjoyed most about this book was that Sproul makes some rather brilliant observations about the text that are easily overlooked if one is not careful. I will note just a few that I found especially wonderful.
I very much like how Sproul drew from the Old Testament to make points about such passages in Mark, such as the parable of the sower (Mark 4). I think his point about compassion when Jesus exercised demons from a man named Legion is brilliant, "…Jesus was not displaying a lack of compassion; he was exercising proper compassion. He was willing to sacrifice two thousand pigs, as valuable as they were, to rescue the demon-possessed man" (105). Well, of course! Folks often accuse Christians of being anything but compassionate–probably because we too often align ourselves politically with those who wish to exploit and terrorize the poor, but here Jesus gives us a fine example of compassion and forces us to ask the question of ourselves: just what are we willing to sacrifice in order to save one life? (Which was a nice question asked in the film Schindler's List.) And of course Jesus did what no one else could do or wanted to do: he saved the man!
I have already mentioned the brilliant points he makes when Jesus walks on the water and 'is about to pass them by' being an echo of the story of Moses who was hidden in the rocks when God passed by and the story of Jesus entering the temple being an echo of the Ezekiel story where the Spirit of God left the temple by stages. He also makes observations about the text that I find brilliant. For example, a young man runs up to Jesus with an important question (10:17-31) and Sproul notes how, at the end of the story, the man slowly walks away. Finally, his interpretation of the Bartimaeus story (10:35-52) and its juxtaposition with the request of James and John to sit right and left of Jesus is spot on (274).
Another valuable aspect of this commentary is the historical background Sproul provides for his readers at various points in the text. This historical background is necessary and vital for understanding such things as the Triumphal Entry, Gehenna, and the character of Pharisees and Saducees and Scribes among others. I am especially fond of the point that he made on page 310: "First, the Pharisees stressed the sovereignty of God. They were the Augustinians and Calvinists of their day." It made me smile, just a bit, when Dr Sproul, almost certainly inadvertently, announced that the Calvinists of our day were the Pharisees of Jesus' day. Who would have guessed. 🙂
Still, it took until page 423 for Sproul to rightly direct our attention to the point Mark had been making all along and even then it is made from a portion of Mark that is disputed as original to the text. Nevertheless, I agree with Sproul
Second, we see the session of Jesus. His reign in power at the right hand of the Father….This ministry flows out of his ascension and coronation. He is reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords, governing every event in this world, so that there are no maverick molecules (423).
There's nothing in this book that is so dangerous it will cause anyone to wobble in faith and, on the contrary, I think if an unbeliever reads it they might be persuaded to have faith in Jesus. Believers alike will be edified, as I was, and probably be even hungrier for more of the Scripture after reading it.
It's not a weighty book, but that is no insult. It is a book helpful for getting people involved in the Scripture and giving them a rudimentary understanding of what was happening. It is excellent devotional reading and perhaps for sermon preparation as much of the time it reads like short sermons that were written and preached, and that's fine too. I'm glad there were times at the end of chapters when Sproul challenged my faith and, in light of what Scripture said, forced me to come to grips with aspects of my life that were in contradiction to the Word of God.
We had every intention of attending worship this morning. It's all a part of this thing we are trying, a thing we like to call 'getting unstuck from stupid.'
I had arranged earlier in the week to drive to our home church which is located about hour and a half from where we currently live. My parents and my bother (and his family) all worship there and so it is always great to be with them on a Sunday. Alas, we woke up late. For some reason my wife forgot to do something to the alarm clock and we woke 45 minutes late with not nearly enough time to get cleaned up, dressed, and in the car to make it on time to the 10:30 service. It had also snowed last night which made the roads between here and there a bit sketchy. Strike one.
Resigned to a day of slumber, I went into the bath and began to shave my head. Little did I know that Renee was downstairs on her laptop searching for a church nearby. We have been searching for a local church for over a year now, but we wanted something within our tradition and have been unable to find something that had all we were looking for–weekly communion, contemporary worship, solid, biblical preaching, and a membership more suited to our age. We're not picky. Renee found two.
She called the first church and found it was what we were looking for. It was relatively close. The problem was this: they were closed today because their preacher was sick. Strike two.
We were nearly giving up when she decided to go ahead and call the second church which was about the same distance away as the first but in the opposition direction. They had all we were looking for. They were open. And we had plenty of time to arrive for their second service.
When we arrived we were greeted by a large gathering…some folks were arriving for second service, some were leaving from first service. Turns out, their preacher was stuck out of state due to the weather so the youth minister would be preaching today. There was also a large contingent from another church worshiping with them as well: a large group of christian motorcycle enthusiasts, a couple of which had actually ridden their bikes to church.
We picked what we thought would be a 'safe' spot in which to sit–off to the left side of the auditorium, near the middle, close to the window aisle. Within minutes we were disabused of the notion we had chosen a safe spot as between 50-60 bikers, clad in leather and chaps, began taking up the chairs around us. Then, shock of all shocks, they began making small talk with us. Then, one of them touched my bald head with his hand and said that I 'fit right in' with their group. Then they invited us to their worship services.
I believe we got a hit. And that's enough.
Every now and then I get inspired to walk. Walking is fun when the walk is long and slow and perhaps accompanied by some music. Other times there are birds to listen to or streams to walk through. One time I was walking down a long country road near my house and some cows, thankfully on the other side of a fence, were eyeing me up and making some rather aggressive cow sounds as they sauntered in my direction. On the way back past the cows I made sure I was in a slow jog–on the other side of the road.
I figure I started walking around the age of one. If I'm accurate, then I have been standing and walking for about 42 and a half years. That's a long time to be walking and I can recall more than one occasion when my feet or ankles or legs in general betrayed me and I fell flat on my face or my behind. Falling is a lot less graceful than walking, but walking requires a lot less grace than falling. We can walk all day and find ourselves oblivious to our needs. Frankly, maybe, we are only aware of our deep need for grace when we fall. That said, we have to fall in order to see the need which means that we necessarily have to forget, for a mere moment, how to walk.
I've been walking for 42.5 years, how can I possibly forget how to walk? Yet we do.
Walking is a beautiful thing. I like watching animals walk because–I don't know if you have ever noticed–animals rarely fall. The are about as steady as it comes–maybe because they walk on four legs–and they often walk in places where human beings can scarcely imagine. Maybe humans are inclined to such disaster precisely because we are in need of so much grace. Maybe we should feel badly for people who are rock-steady on their feet, who never fall, who never need grace.
Maybe the proclivity to fall is God's or evolution's built-in measure to constantly, or at least occasionally, remind us that we need help, that we need grace.
I had a conversation the other day with a very important person in my life. I was concerned about walking. My point to this person went something like this: 'What does it say about me and my work if I ask for help?' The response was pure genius and I suspected that the Lord had opened this person's mouth and spoke directly to my heart. It went like this: 'What does it say about you if you do not [ask for help]?'
Last night I learned a very important lesson. I learned that it is OK to need help walking. Better, I learned that didn't even know I had fallen. I learned that even something that comes to us so naturally, so fluently, so beautifully can, sometimes, require just a little extra help.
I have had a lot on my mind this weekend. I got some scary news on Friday afternoon right before I was ready to leave work. I kind of thought that perhaps having a weekend away would take my mind off of things. It didn't.
Now I'm back home, after spending the last 48 hours or so with my family–seeing nieces and nephews and sons and parents and in-laws and siblings; going for drives around the countryside with my brother; seeing a lot of things I hadn't seen for quite a long time, and attending worship at our home church–nearly the entire family present. It was good times and it was happiness.
Now I'm back home, and here I am thinking about tomorrow again. It's like I picked up right where I left off on Saturday afternoon. I'm doing some writing. I'm listening to some music. I hear the rustle of my wife and sons in the background. I'm doing a little work in preparation for tomorrow's start of extended school days.
Now I'm back home again, back to the earthy place I dwell on a day to day basis. Truth is, however, that this weekend taught me some things about life. I happen to live in a small, rural, one street community–I call it a drive-through community. But it's not my home. I think I may have discovered where my home is this weekend: it's a little girl named Faith; it's my eldest son who lives with my in-laws; it's my parents; it's my brothers; it's my nephews; it's my home church. It's in Youngstown; it's in East Liverpool; it's in Beaver Creek State Park. My home is wherever I am with the people I love and who love me.
Now I'm back to the house where I live my life. The printer is whizzing back and forth dropping ink blots in the shape of letters on the white paper. The washing machine is buzzing in the background. The dryer is also spinning–I know this because I hear the consistent click-clack of a button hitting the sides of the tumbler. I hear cars and trucks rumbling past the front of my house. I'm paying attention to everything just enough so that I don't have to pay attention to anything in particular.
Yet none of this is enough to distract my troubled mind. Home or away, in a house or in a home, my mind has traveled far this weekend yet no matter how far it has traveled it has landed on the same sun every single time. The music cannot be loud enough, the laughter cannot be boistrous enough. My wings were strong enough to carry me away, but my my mind and heart were distracted enough to render my sense of direction moot and mute. So I always ended up right…back…here.
For what? Truth is, it's tough to decide where my heart is. Is it here? Is it there? Sometimes I just wish I was at home.
I've been having a lot of thoughts lately about a great many things. Some things too lofty for me to think of (like God's great grace) and other things maybe a bit too mundane (like the bother of having my oil changed in my car.) It's all rather fascinating the amount of energy that goes into either one. Like when I read the other day that Tim Keller said something like, "God's grace means it's OK that we're not all OK." Or something like that. Or like today when I was sitting at Valvoline and I asked the attendant how much the oil change would cost and I blacked out after the first 3 minutes of her speech. Seriously, all I wanted was an oil change.
I took a slow drive today from my home to the home of another. I took it slow and enjoyed the music, the conversation, and the view. It's still quite brown and dreary all around, but I sense that there is a springtime about to break loose on us all. It's like my niece who is learning to make sounds with her lips, tongue, and throat. She babbles and coos and makes a raspberry sound with her lips. What will happen is that we will not really notice her learning to speak until she actually speaks and we will be like, "Where did that come from?"
So it will be with springtime…slowly the trees will begin to break forth in green…slowly the grass will turn from yellow/brown to green…slowly the temperature will turn from miserable to 'the furnace isn't running anymore' and we will be like "Where did that come from?" All I can hope for is that I can slow down enough to notice the gradual changes that take place on the earth. I have gone through massive, monumental changes in the last 4 years, but as I sit here now all I can think about is how quickly those four years went by and how little I remember of the gradual changes I underwent that have culminated in the person I am now.
None of us just happen. We are at any moment the culmination of all the years, months, days, minutes and seconds that we have traveled through. We are a collection of thoughts–heavenly and mundane–and ideas and ambitions–some of which failed and others of which have succeeded. Whatever the case, here we are. We are hopeful and dreamy and worshipful and angry and sad and happy and bent of revenge and seeking forgiveness all at once, every day and every night. It never stops; it never relents.
I am constantly nagged by the thought that God pays attention to all of this. For some reason he is interested in who we are–not merely because he made us, but worse, I suspect, because he really does love us. "What is man that you are mindful of him?" the Psalmist asked.
Father, I had my oil changed today. My heart's next.
Author: Mark Hall
Other: Casting Crowns
[In order to comply with certain rules and regulations enacted and enforced by the FCC, it is important that I remind you that I have received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review here at my blog.]
I go into every book with a certain sense of enthusiasm because to my mind there is nothing more exciting than cracking open a new book and browsing through the publisher's page and the table of contents and maybe the index. And so it was when I received Thrive in the mail. I immediately cracked it open, fingered the pages, and began plotting my course.
This book is a fairly easy read and there is nothing terribly wrong with anything Mark Hall writes in the book. It was kind of nice to read some of the backstories for certain songs that Hall has written and performed with his band Casting Crowns.
The problem I have with this book is the same problem I have with any other book of this stripe: it's the same as every other book of this stripe. Let me be frank: I spent 15 years in local church ministry. I was faithful to God. I preached a faithful, biblical, sound doctrine. I prayed with and for my congregation. I reached out to the community we lived in with the Gospel and in good-neighborness Yet, and I say this with a mixture of sadness and disappointment, yet, I never tasted anything remotely close to the success that I read about in books like this.
I am sorry to say that these books are all over the place, a dime a dozen. If you are a megachurch preacher or pastor or rock and roll star, it is so easy to tell your story. It is so easy to be a cheerleader for the church and tell about all the good stuff that has happened in your life. But the truth of life is this: christianity doesn't have to be all the bells and whistles and 'jump-off' points in order to be genuine, effective, or full. I seriously think we need less of this rah-rah christianity and much more of the serious deep reflection on Scripture that we simply do not get from these mass produced books written by super-successful, spot-light Christians.
I have nothing against them. I'm genuinely happy for them. But just because they have had some modicum of success doesn't mean that their path is necessarily full of wisdom or that their path is the path everyone should or can follow. Truth is, Christians do not always wear smiles, and that is not a sin.
It is so easy for people to believe that success is so simple and that it is the desire of God for every Christian. So many of the books of this character follow the same basic pattern: a young christian is excited about Jesus, gets discouraged by an old-fashioned church, falls away from the church, has an epiphany, starts a church or youth group with two people, grows a church to a million, and then writes a book about the wisdom they have learned through all these experiences.
Just once I'd like to read a story by an author who simply does not get success in the end. That is, at the end of the day the story doesn't have a happy ending, they are still struggling, still suffering, still questioning, with the Psalmists, "how long O Lord, how long?"–and I'd like to read it from someone who still believes in Jesus and has faith in him. I don't want to read it from someone who has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Sadly, I guess, the stories of less-than-triumphant Christianity are just not the kind that sell books.
It's just a tired story. Here's my main complaint: I sense a lack of humility in this book. I think it comes out in anecdotes like one found page 29 when he tells us of replacing a member of Casting Crowns with a new guitarist. Hall comments, "He had no idea I was watching everything he did." I can't quite place why this statement bothers me, but it rankled me for some reason. And there were others.
Finally, one final complaint, Hall uses the phrase 'love-on' quite a lot in the book. It's really annoying. It could just be me, but I just thought it was unhappily overused.
That's enough complaints. There were some aspects of the book that I found to be most helpful, and typically they came in the form of sentences that I found to be especially insightful.
First, I think it is especially insightful when he wrote, "God looked at David and saw something else. He saw the genealogy of Jesus" (31). It kind of makes me think that I wonder what God looks at me and sees. Then again, I think about some of the scoundrels in Jesus' genealogy and I wonder again about something different.
Second, he wrote, "If you think you did something to start your relationship with God, it's only logical to think you could do something to end it" (43). While on the one hand this smacks of an aspect of Reformed theology that I do not subscribe to, on the other hand it startles me anew with the refreshing whisper of God's grace. I did sense at times a reliance upon God's grace and this is one of the more redeeming aspects of the book.
I didn't enjoy this book, but neither did I hate it. I think this book is probably best suited for a high school-college aged students. I'm not sure this is a book that many readers will find sufficiently deep enough to satisfy their thirst even though its subtitle is 'Digging Deep, Reaching Out.' Like I said at the outset, there is nothing wrong with anything Hall said, it's just that I have heard it a thousand times before.
Yet, maybe I need to continue hearing the same message. Maybe all of us need to hear the same message over and over again that Jesus is the friend of sinners.
There I was: at work, not so much enjoying my day. The day didn't start off too well. It didn't continue too well either. There is so much to do and so many distractions. People coming in and taking students off for therapy, phones ringing, school psychologist stopping in and handing me a stack of papers that I have to complete on one of my students. There's always so many things going on in the room at any given moment.
It's not so much mayhem, but neither is it much less. I kind of like it that way. I always have at least an idea of what we are doing in the room, but to the uninitiated it probably appears like a three-ring circus inside a whirlwind trapped in a teapot.
So there I was, working, wondering–trying to imagine how it is that I can either repair some broken relationships among my colleagues or make them worse or just leave well enough alone. I'm really good at making matters worse, but I've been working hard to make things better. I take my work very seriously, but I confess that most of the time working in special-education feels much like an being naked-and-afraid on a deserted island. That being said, I get lonely at times for adult companionship at work–perhaps many other teachers feel the same way, but I'm willing to bet that it is just a wee bit worse for male teachers working in special education.
I confess to the sin of second period self-pity.
I was working with a student, a little girl to be exact, and I was feeling a bit salty about some things. Then, while watching her work, a thought occured to me that significantly brightened and changed my day: she was working; working hard. I had given her a paper to complete which contained about 40 math problems. They started out very simple and became increasingly more difficult as the paper went along. Out of the 40 or so problems, she managed to get exactly one, the first one, correct. After that it was all a complete guessing game–no math, no calcuations, no counting, just writing numbers on the lines.
I watched her write every one of those numbers; you know why? Because she was writing those numbers to please me. She was working about as hard as a person who had no idea what they were doing could. She was not for a minute going to return a paper to me that didn't have a number on every provided blank answer space. She was writing with the intensity of a professional athlete. If we gave grades based on effort, determination and intensity, she would have passed with flying colors.
It was at that moment that I realized that nothing else about my job matters except that little girl (who represented all the students I work with and for each day.)
At school, it's only about my students. Her smile melted me. I have much to learn.
Author: Stephen M. Miller
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Date: April 8, 2014
[In accordance with certain rules created by the FCC, I am required to inform you that I received a complimentary e-book copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review.]
It took me less time to read this book than it did to figure out how to move it from Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop over to my Nook. And, frankly, it was more of a chore to do the latter than it was to do the former. I read this book in a roughly 3 hours and that is mostly because I was also using a new tool to make notes in the e-book (.pdf) version of the book I had received.
I want to be fair, and I will, but frankly…this is a strange book. I'm not sure if that is because it is still being edited (at the bottom of my e-book [.pdf] are the words 'unpublished manuscript'] which may indicate I merely received a rough draft and not a finished copy) or other reasons for which I will not bother to speculate. Here are a few of my complaints about this book.
First, it is absolutely scatterbrained. Simply put: there is a randomness to the ordering of the questions the author has decided to 'report' on and it simply makes no sense to do so in the way he did it. The reader is bounced back and forth between the Old and New Testament on nearly every other page. In my opinion, the book would have better served its readers if the author had merely started at the beginning of the Bible–Genesis–and wrapped it up at the end of the Bible–the Revelation. Or he had offered some grouping of the questions. Maybe a little background on who or why the questions were asked (as he notes they were collected from Christians and not Christians).
There was no balance to the book. Some questions received many pages of writing, others scarcely a paragraph or two. The pace was frantic and hurried.
Second, there were times in the book when the humor was a bit sophomoric. On page 90, for example, there is a bit of humor about a Jewish person. I'm not even Jewish and I found the humor offensive and racist. On page 48 there is a reference to 'Jewish male plumbing' which is also a bit immature. Perhaps it is in the author's personality to make such jokes, but I found them a little out of place in a book such as this.
Third, some of the questions are a bit banal. I wonder what the criteria was for choosing which questions were going to be addressed and which were not. Did the author and editors set up a room with whiteboards and dry erase markers and sketch out a thousand questions and whittle them down to a mere 100? Or was the author given carte-blanche approval to address what he wanted? Or did he address more than 100 questions and an editor whittled it down to an acceptable 100? I'm not sure how it was done, but some of the one-hundred 'tough' questions addressed were simply banal and do not require journalistic efforts to answer.
Take, for example, question 39: Psalm 44:23 says, 'Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Does God catch Zzz's?" I find it hard to believe that this is a tougher question than, say, 'How can Jesus make claims to be the only way to God"? Seriously, I could think of a hundred other questions that would be far better suited to ask and answer than many of the ones asked and answered in this book. Furthermore, it seems a bit odd to me the pick-and-choose method that seems to be employed in selecting which Old Testament laws were going to be picked apart in the book. In other words, I'm not sure there was a method to the madness except perhaps: we will choose parts of the Bible that are certain to 'punch a button.'
Fourth, no references. There are plenty of references in the book to bible 'scholars,' 'experts,' 'historians,' and 'commentators,' but none of their names actually show up in the book or in an index or in end notes (I think there was one or two times). I get that this is a popular level book intended to sell to a very immature audience, but failing to include, at minimum, a 'for further reading' or 'for deeper digging' page of references seems, to me, somewhat anathema. I cannot excuse this failure in a book that will most certainly be used by some as a reference point in debates.
I'm not sure what books he read in preparation for writing this book, but I'm not sure he has read enough. Continual use of phrases such as 'most scholars…' and 'most experts agree…' are too volatile to be taken seriously without reference points. We learn in early logic classes–seriously, we teach children in elementary school who take standardized tests to avoid multiple-choice answers that use words like 'most' and 'all,' and 'many'–that very few things are 'all' or 'most' and that it is best to shy away from them unless our proof is irrefutable. That said, I wish he would have at least included a few of the works he consulted and researched before writing these things because the scholars and experts I have read frequently disagree with the ones he seems to have consulted.
We can laugh about such things if we choose–and it might well be true that the author was trying to diffuse some of the more petulant attacks the Bible must endure from 'scholars' and 'experts' by showing that the two sides doesn't necessarily mean something is incorrect or a bald-faced lie. This could be the very reason why he began the book with the question, "What on earth do Christians mean when they say the Bible is 'inspired by God?'" (15; and probably the longest chapter in the book.) Maybe by addressing this question first, the author helps us understand his own point of view–a point of view we are rarely privy to, except the time when he points out that he and his daughter are, in fact, Good Samaritans (question 85).
It could be that the author is as orthodox as the Calvin or Wesley–whatever that means. He does claim to belong to a church with a well known preacher. He claims to be a Christian and yet the books comes off as a storyline from the X-Files, and when it's all said and done you are either Mulder or Scully, a mere christian who takes things on faith or an 'expert' who must have more proof to validate the Bible's stories.
There were some moments when I found the book to be highly enlightening. For example, making the connection between some young men being consumed by bears and passages in Leviticus 26 was very interesting and helpful (164). Another valid point came when he discussed issues surrounding being a citizen of God's kingdom and obsessing about our own (85). There were a couple of others too that I found insightful and for that I appreciated the book immensely.
There were also times when I was frustrated. For example, making a point about Jesus' resurrection and concluding with wondering 'if a spiritual body leaves footprints' is another cringe worthy moment in the book. I'm not sure if it is humor or if it is just terrible theology. And, finally, there was the obligatory (negative) reference to George W. Bush which many christian authors seem to sneak into their books nowadays (37). It's probably time to let it go.
I judge a book's value based upon whether or not I will read it again in the future. I have read The Count of Monte Cristo at least 15 times. I don't envision this book becoming a regular reference tool in my library. I'm sure the author is a nice guy with a super sense of humor, but this book just didn't work for me. He wrote in the introduction that he wants 'truth;' not cliches, not safety, not one-sided sermons. Yet reading this book left me thinking that he hasn't taken any side at all (which he admits to in the introduction). He is, indeed, Switzerland. Too bad.
He left me more frustrated than hungry.
Or maybe I just took him and the book too seriously.
It certainly doesn't look like much: the earth coming off a long winter bender, hungover, strungout. Yet I felt compelled to spend some serious time out in it today and enjoy the warmth of the sort-of Spring sun caressing my wintered skin. I watched as this creek (pronounced: 'crick') strolled on by at a leisurely pace.
I took some time to listen to the world for a few minutes. All I hear all week long is the sound of children talking or screaming or humming or grunting or singing. I'm not complaining: it's what I do, and I'm glad to do so. Today was a different kind of day. I just sat with my wife beside this smoothly flowing stream in the warm sun and read my book.
I heard crisp grass speaking
beneath my feet and weight.
And tired trees creaking.
I listened as the birds singing
Tried to find harmony with
With the earth that was spinning.
It was a rather magical–a tired old tree in and of itself–afternoon. Trees creaking. Water flowing. Wind was blowing. Birds were singing. I swear the sun was humming while blades of grass were drumming. Scattered leaves sounded like so many clapping hands in this all too March afternoon.
A rush of wind brushed past my face. A gush of air and a warm day in March and sky so fair. how could anyone not enjoy a day like today?
While the stream flows by without a sound
Even in dead wood there is beauty to be found.
I got to thinking about things as I walked through the squishy grass that had recently been swallowed by the stream. I got to thinking about how one describes the rustle of grass as it's touched by the breeze? It also made me think about learning: why we teach students things like the seasons, the tilt of the earth, weather and the sun. Why do we spend time walking around in the mud on cool March days and traipsing through fields and jumping across streams?
I think it's so we can sing its praise when we feel it upon our skin. I did jump a stream today. I stepped on a part of the grass that wasn't quite as solid as I thought and had to make a leap before I was up to my knees in muddy water. When I did, I was already off balance and I fell, muddying the knees of my jeans in the process. But oh that mud felt so nice.
So I thought about the warmth of the sun. The caress of the breeze. The chill of the mud. The silent strolling of the crick. The creak of the trees. The silent glide of a hawk high above. I thought of all of it converging in that one spot at that one moment. And all I could do was give Praise to God.
So many things have changed in the few years I have been privileged to walk this earth. I just heard a guy on television ask, 'Guys, what is the number one problem in the world today?' Since the commercial was advertising KFC, I'm not sure the answer was any more meaningful than the question. One of the best things to have changed is the television control. It's long since been remote and features a mute button.
Now I'm watching a commercial for Midas car parts store featuring a talking golden hand. Now an athlete. Before that it was Pinnochio in a Geico commercial. Now Dairy Queen. There's always someone on television trying to make me laugh or make me hungry or make me thirsty. Mostly all of it just aggravates me.
You know it's a sad day for writing when the best you have to offer is a commentary on the commercials being played during the breaks of an NBA game on TNT. The Lakers, by the way, are the worst team in the league this year but they still get more airtime than other teams that actually have winning records. I like watching the NBA but I'd like a little more diversity in the broadcast schedule. I haven't seen the Atlanta Hawks once this year. Nor have I seen the Sacramento Kings, the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards, and a couple of others. The Association has an agenda I guess and the assumption they make is that people would rather watch a lousy Lakers team starring Pau Gasol than to watch an exciting Wizards game starring John Wall of the Cavaliers featuring Kyrie Irving.
The viewing habits of people must be exciting for those who make the broadcasting schedule. I mean that must be some amazing statistical data to interpret.
The NBA wants us to believe they care. This time they want us to know they care about the killing of African Rhinoceros' and Elephants. It's important that the NBA is so globally minded.
I'm using my 500 words to talk about television and how mind-numbingly banal it is. I mean seriously, with as much revenue as the NBA generates on a yearly basis, it is safe to say they could invest a small percentage of that money and buy Africa and evict all the killers of Rhinos and Elephants and Hefalumps and Woozles.
Seriously, rich athletes amaze me because they go out of their way to find these causes and to heighten our awareness of these causes so that we won't sit around wondering at the injustice of grown men making millions of dollars per year throwing, catching, shooting, hitting or slapping a ball made from cow hide or pigskin. Athletes are the new politicians: distract my eyes with charity so I won't see your hands stealing cookies.
I wonder how much money the Association donates each year to end the illegal ivory trade in Africa? Or to stop a genocide? Or to end the slave trade?
I don't hear much about subtlety any more. I'm not sure why. People seem to think that the best way to go about things in this day and age is to be straightforward, open, and honest. I guess what is important is that people clearly understand what we are trying to say when we are saying it. It is important that I share my feelings and that I am honest when speaking with others about whatever it is that might be or not be bothering me.
So we don't do that thing any longer where we only subtly talk about life and life things. I think we can be subtle and honest at the same time. It makes conversation a little more challenging but it also makes it a little more interesting. It is fun searching for ways to say what's on your heart without really betraying what's on your heart. It is fun to watch people misinterpret what you are saying while they are trying to figure out what you are really saying. Of course said misinterpretation can be a hard thing to live down
And people always get it wrong. And the reason they get it wrong is because they have scarcely taken the time to ask you one question about who you are or what you mean. They would be quite content with themselves to guess (wrongly) what you are saying than to simply humble themselves and ask you what you are saying. People are so easily self-satisfied–all masters of hermeneutics and interpretation.
So we arrive at the denouement (that is, the conclusion). I'm not really sure I have a conclusion. If I have one, to be sure, I might end up not being quite as subtle as I am trying to be tonight. I suppose what I would rather happen is for people to sit around and wonder, stress, imagine, and guess what it is that I am talking about in this post. If, in fact, I'm talking about anything.
Some people find it so easy to understand others. Some people find it so easy to draw conclusions about others' motives. Some people find it so easy to say what they want to say without the slightest hint of subtlety and then in their self-confidence smile at their own genius. But if I may speak frankly, I think there is a lot less risk in speaking so openly, without subtlety. I think it takes a great deal more risk to say something subtly and risk misinterpretation than it does to be frank and open and never give anyone even a shadow of a doubt.
I prefer to leave people wondering because leaving people to guess what I'm thinking is about the best way I have to undermine their astounding arrogance and their utterly despicable condescension. But what do I know?
The worst kind of people, though, are those who try to be subtle but whose subtlety is easily unmasked. It's called false-humility. It's a terrible trait.
Today was a long day at school, hence the title of this post. It was a long day of teaching that began as most of my days do: waking up from a night of restlessness and nightmares. The day ended with me sitting here at my laptop writing about what a long day it was at school.
I made some new friends tonight and spent some time with other friends while playing a small part in our school's 'spring' literacy night. I was privileged to stand behind a table and scoop hot nacho cheese into plastic bowls–a slight improvement over bus duty; at least no one cursed at me tonight.
Previous to that experience, I tutored a student for two hours. We spent the entire time struggling together through the Brigance Diagnostic Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills. It's startlingly good fun and if you've never administered such an inventory before, well I highly suggest that you get busy doing so.
In fact, I enjoyed Brigance so much today, that I pretty much did nothing else but Brigance with my students today.
That was my day.
I cannot merely assess a days' worth based upon whether or not I actually accomplished anything though. I mean, I'm sure I accomplished something, somehow, and in some way, for someone. I don't feel like I did, but I'm sure that somewhere along the way I was able to positively impact at least the chair I sat on most of the day. Although, since I left an impression, I probably had a negative impact on the chair; I'm just saying.
Being a teacher is demanding work at times.
Do you know what the best part of my long day was? It was not administering the Brigance. It was not serving nachos–as fun as that was. It was not my daily foray into the swarm of cars and buses I fought through in bus duty. It wasn't hearing from the high school principal that one of my own children was about to be suspended.
The best part was being around the people I am privileged to work with every day. I was able to spend time with my principal, fellow teachers, parents, children, custodians, and others. It was nice to hear the stories of their day, touch base with their lives, make a connection that might not have been there in the past, and in general just get to know them on a personal basis. It was fun to see them 'outside the classroom' during our evening Literacy Night (with a fiesta theme.)
What I have found is that teachers are humans. We have our flaws. We make our share of mistakes. We have some faulty idealistic dreams that are incompatible with the real world. Yet, what I saw tonight at Literacy Night was a wild pack of teachers, who had been teaching all day, giving more of their time to encourage literacy among our community.
And we would it all over again. And we will.
It probably sounds somehow wrong, but I am one of those sort of teachers who actually enjoys bus duty at school. I love it so much that I do it twice per day: once in the morning when all the little children are arriving at school full of joy and happiness and songs (0nly to later have it all sucked away by the Schoolmaster and Ohio Academic Assessments) and again in the afternoon when all the tired children are being hoarded into giant yellow super-marines–gone are the smiles, gone are the songs, and the skipping-hand-holding energetic future ballerinas.
The contrast is remarkable from morning to afternoon. It is amazing what 7 hours in school will do to a child's personality. And, interestingly enough, it could not be more different for teachers who arrive in the morning hunched over from all the bags of stuff being carried in, slurping coffee, and walking about as slow as a human can without actually falling over from lack of motion and are all smiles and joyful and full of energy come 3 o'clock.
Bus duty today was fantastic. In the morning, I saw no little commotion on one of the last arriving buses. Then I saw children begin to file out of the bus, mouths covered, noses pinched, and groaning of a rank smell on the bus. I assumed it was a bus, what could be wrong? Then I discovered that a small child had hurled, puked, vomited or maybe all three in the aisle. "It smells like rotten eggs," reported one little boy. "Oh, that is gross," observed an astute little girl to her friend. A few minutes later I was in the office when a small boy walked in literally, yes, literally, covered in puke, calm as the day is long. I was impressed.
Later on in the afternoon, I was back on duty standing at my designated spot where me and my masters degree, hand in hand, direct 15 buses onto the highway every afternoon. After the buses are safely on their way to the left and right and center, I hang around to usher out the three rivers of cars that arrive at a small confluence in the school parking lot that smashes perpendicular into the highway in front of the building where passing traffic carefully avoids reading the sign emblazoned with the words 'School Zone Speed Limit: 20 MPH'.
Today, as I lifted lever on the last remaining foodgate and the pent up power of the last river of traffic began pouring into the confluence, I heard a parent shout out the window of his truck in my direction, "Screw you!" I guess he had to wait too long in the line to pick up his child and that the best way for him to express his angst at having to wait his turn.
In the morning, a kid vomits on the bus; in the afternoon an adult pukes on me.
Such is the life of a teacher on bus duty.
I read an article today that had something to do with Jerry Seinfeld. I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld to the extent that I still laugh out-loud when watching the reruns in syndication. The article had something to do with something called the 'Seinfeld Strategy.'
I haven't the slightest idea if there is any truth to this being something Jerry Seinfeld actually did/does, but it sounded worthwhile so I thought I would give it a whirl. The gist is that success is somewhat dependent upon consistency of practice. So, in Seinfeld's world, he would make the effort to write every day. The author of the article writes:
Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.
He also adds a simple caveat: the daily task has to be "meaningful enough to make a difference and simple enough that you can get it done." I think this is a solid plan.
My plan, therefore, is to make it my daily goal to blog 500 words. I have no particular agenda, but I'm thinking that I might blog about my Bible reading for the day or about something in education that happens to be irritating me at the moment. I'm sure of this: there will be no lack for things to blog.
For example, today I'm particularly irritated by the amount of tests that I have to administer to my students in order for them to be qualified as students. It's almost like the state and federal government doesn't trust teachers to teach so they mandate all sorts of tests just to make certain we are doing something in the classroom. I spent some time tonight reading through the 2nd grade Diagnostic Assessment manual which was enough to make me want to take a sick day.
Where do people come up with all this stuff? Add on top of 2nd Grade Diagnostic Assessments the ten Alternate Assessments I have to administer and Brigance Comprehensive Assessments I have to administer before I can write IEPs and it's easy to see why my students are stressed out and why I am ready to shave the skin from my scalp (I have no hair to pull out).
Fact is, teaching ought to be exciting and thrilling and a daily adventure. Learning ought to be worse: a delightful and amazing journey into the unknown, where darkness is illuminated, ignorance replaced with wisdom, and grace heaved into our hearts in massive doses. We get to live on this earth for a very short period of time if we are lucky enough to live at all. We get to spend some of those years in formal educational settings. Why, oh why, would we want to steal all the joy that should be there and replace it with anxiety and stress?
Title: I Still Believe
Author: Jeremy Camp with David Thomas
Pages: 213 (plus photo spread)
[In order to comply with certain FCC guidelines, I am required to inform you that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my review on my blog.]
I went to Bible College in the fall of 1991. I had just married my wife in June of the same year. By the time December of that year rolled around, we knew she had Hodgkin's Disease–a cancer of the lymphatic system. By January of 1992, we were fully engaged in the first round of a six-month regimen of chemotherapy. This would be followed up with six consecutive, five-day a week radiation treatments. This is how we spent the first year of our marriage.
I Still Believe is a memoir written by popular Christian musician and songwriter Jeremy Camp. I was on the early bandwagon for Jeremy and still own and listen to his first three records. I have always enjoyed his music, his guitar playing, and the tone and depth of his vocals. After reading this book, I think I can now say that I also appreciate the lyrics to his songs as well. It's not that I didn't enjoy them before, but I think like most, I listened to the lyrics, often sang along, but rarely gave thought to what they might mean or what the background might be. Frankly, I am a big fan of musicians sharing the background to songs they write. It makes the songs more meaningful.
That said, this was a difficult book to read. I'm sure it was a difficult book to write. It made me think about my own walk with my wife: after her cancer at the age of 20-21 we have enjoyed nearly 23 years of marriage. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that her cancer could manifest itself again at any time. We are not so much in control as we like to think. And the struggle is summed up nicely in Camp's song and title: I Still Believe. But will we? We suffer and struggle a lot in this journey and it is terribly easy to fall back and forget that we are like so much gold in the fires of purification. We often blame God, accuse God, yell at God, shake our fist at God–and sometimes we just flat out ignore him. I think God is big and strong and can handle it and waits for us to come to our senses, but he waits. He is that Father who is waiting on his son and sees him off in the distance and runs to him.
And I think this is what troubles me the most: he waits. Sure there are sermons (or poetry) about God the great hound nipping at our heals. The Psalms tell us over and over again to 'wait on the Lord' and it is just that that bugs me. We are told to wait; he is waiting; someone has to make the first move. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Someone has to take charge. What we are supposed to learn, I think, is that God is in charge and all we can do is weep, wait, fall face down on the floor in prayer. Maybe we are to be like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego: God can rescue us, oh king, but even if he doesn't we want you to know that we will not bow down to your statue of gold.
When I was in homiletics class at Bible College, one of the first an most enduring lessons I learned about preaching was this: don't talk about yourself in sermons. If you do, we were told, you make yourself out to be a hero of sorts and that's not always happiness. That is, it makes the person speaking seem to be less than humble. To this day, I can say that I may have spoken about my wife's cancer (and a subsequent bout with hemolytic anemia 2 years later) only a handful of times–which is an arrogant thing to say. That's what made the memoir, the memoir of someone who hasn't had trouble succeeding, very difficult to read. There is a tremendous depth of honesty and candor in the writing, but it comes off as heroic; a lot. Camp probably doesn't intend it to be so, but it does nonetheless. This was the least redeeming aspect of the book.
It's a difficult path. You want to tell your story. You want to honor Jesus. But there's always the struggle of painting yourself too highly. It may not be intentional, but it is inevitable.
Yet it is a good story to read. I read the revised and expanded edition so I have no idea what was changed or altered from the previous (2011) version. I'm not sure this book is worthy of a second read, although some may think it is. I also think this book is written for younger people–maybe college age or high school. It's not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or anything, but he's probably not trying to either. He is sharing his testimony before the Lord in the hopes that one person might hear and be saved. I'm fine with that.
He deals with weighty issues: I too would have been devastated if my wife had died during that first year of our marriage. Jeremy Camp gives us a wonderful picture of what the depths of sorrow and devastation are like–and perhaps how to respond to such devastation. And in this regard, we can come alongside Jeremy and sit in the ashes with him for a while. It is good to be sorrowful together, to carry one another's burdens, and to weep together in the Lord. But he also gives us a picture of what it means to trust and wait on the Lord–to Stay 'right there in the light.' I might find him a bit too heroic at times, but I cannot say he is not faithful. I might not read the book again, but I'll keep listening to his music. There, in his songs, is where his testimony is.