Fear Of Whales

Reading the Bible for Fun and Prophet

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How should one read the Bible? Should one study a little piece at a time? Should the whole thing be read cover to cover? If so, Where does one begin? Actually it’s a trick question. The Bible is not one thing, and for optimal enjoyment, you should not read it all the same way.

You need to consider the particular books of the Bible as individual documents with particular identities and not approach them each the same way. Some books There are best read and enjoyed in one sitting and become confusing when parsed apart into verses (Esther, Job, Revelation) are other books in the canon (like Proverbs) that become dreary and incomprehensible when read all in a lump. Most of the books are somewhere in between. Like Psalms, where one psalm has little to do with the next, but certainly needs to be read in it’s entirety as a psalm. The canon order puts all the historical together, and all the prophets together, and that makes reading them a slog. That means it’s generally not advisable to go in order for the same reason you wouldn’t eat all the beef in your monthly diet on the same day, and then all the vegetables on the next. You wanna mix it up.

Then there are the genre’s of the text. Is this text primarily for instruction, is it for inspiration, for encouragement, for reproof? Is it just an interesting character study or a funny story? Is it a dispassionate statement of historical fact or a stirring morality tale wrapped in allegory? The answer to those questions depends entirely to which part of the Bible you are talking about.

So where to start? That depends. And it matters. Where you start will lay your foundation and set your bias for your reading of the rest of scripture. If you start in Romans, you will be inclined to read the rest of the Bible through the lens of salvation by grace alone like me and the protestant reformers, and you won’t be able to get it completely out of your head when you open Isaiah. If you start with The Torah like many in the Messianic community suggest, you will understand Jesus as a Rabbi much better than you will understand Jesus as Lord the first time you study the Gospels. Wherever you start, it will become important to come back again and reread the text with new eyes, being open to the new things the spirit says to who you are as a reader that time.

If you are new to ancient Jewish texts, I recommend Mark. But I do so pretty arbitrarily (it’s nice and short, narrative). You can read it for as long or as short as you want, but remember that this is supposed to be fun and interesting. Stop when it’s not, and move on. Easy peasy

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April 20th, 2016 at 5:35 am

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“Don’t Think, Just Believe” -WHAT???

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Sometimes I encounter people who claim to approach the bible in a childlike manner, and invariably, that so should I! Just have blind faith and do what it instructs. Do not question God. But I just have a really hard time with that.

char_38694I mean, I disagree, but that’s besides the point. I don’t think it’s biblical, but most things aren’t. I have a hard time with it because I cannot even understand what those words are meant to imply, or how a person can think they think those words are true. Let me explain”

I understand theoretically how someone can approach the Bible in a trusting and blind sort of way. "I’m just going to blindly follow this" they would say as they begin to read the book.

But after you DO IT for a while it has to become less blind. What happens when the Bible makes allusions to Greek Mythology and expects you to be familiar with them? What about all the references to other books we don’t have like Paul’s "earlier letter" in First(!?) Corinthians or the "Annals of the Kings Of Judah" in First Kings? Did you read those? The Bible told you to.

And what about all the stuff that is not instruction? Or did you somehow manage to get through Psalms and Revelation without being the least bit curious why we needed that many words for God to say "Be good". If indeed, those books do a poor job of that, then what are they for? That requires thought.

Also, Leviticus is a thing. Do these people "blindly follow" Leviticus? If do do they also at the same time blindly follow the totally different organizational structure that it laid out in the Pastoral Epistles? How?

The Bible makes you think. It FORCES it. Trying to "Just believe" the Bible is like trying to "Just Believe" Shakespeare, or Mozart. It’s not just wrong, it’s incomprehensible.

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April 13th, 2016 at 10:15 pm

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Talk To People

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Almost three years ago I wrote an article here condemning the trend to “Raise Awareness” as an alternative to actually making a difference. I challenged my readers to think of things to do to make the world a better place other than fundraising, marketing, and shopping.

It’s a tough challenge to rise to. It seems there are two levels of involvement. Either I become Rambo and save the child soldiers myself with my homemade bow and arrow, or I just “like” Rambo on Facebook. We are not presented with a lot of “middle” level challenge options to participate in the healing of the world. But here’s one:

Talk to people.

Break down the walls of separation that insulate you and your life from the lives of people who are different.

Service-Suggestions-Visit-Senior-Citizens-2012-10-08Go to the place where we hide the old people (Retirement Home) and talk to them. Listen to their stories from recent history, learn from them about their lives and how they wish they had lived differently. Comfort them in their loneliness and fear of death. Sometimes just listen to them ramble even if you can’t understand. Be there.

Go to the place where we hide the sick and dying (Hospital). Talk to the people there. Volunteer to walk with the chaplain and help the chaplain with anything they need done. Many chaplains make “rounds” to all the patients, but really wish they had time to spend with the one or two in crisis who really need attention. Volunteer to cover the rounds. While you are there think about your own mortality. Affirm what the patients say about their feelings.

Go to the place where we hide the poor (Shelter) Talk to people. Bring some food or something if that helps your guilt, but don’t let it excuse it. Feel your guilt. Know that everything you have was given my God and the roles could easily have been reversed. Learn from them about their exciting stories of survival in the jungle that you call a comfortable home. Treat them as people for what will probably be the first time. Ask them where their friends who are not in the shelter sleep and then go there, because only a select group go to the shelter.

Go to the place where they hide people of color (Ghetto) Talk to the people there. Realize they are mostly Christians. Seek their instruction in the ways of Jesus. Their context as a culture is different from yours and sees different things. Their context as a people who are not in power resembles the people of the bible more closely than your own people.

When you talk to all those people (and any others you can think of). As they express felt needs, apart from the need to be heard which I promise you they feel. Then and only then should you begin to up the challenge level as you craft service projects to begin to meet those expressed needs.

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April 6th, 2016 at 10:09 pm

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Suddenly, She Bears!

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One of the worst stories of the bible is found in II Kings 2:23-24 I want to do some work on interpreting it in a positive way. it goes like this

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Many of the passages of the bible that seem violent or unjust put us in defensive-mode exegetically. We start looking for outs. “Maybe it’s a metaphor!” we say. Or perhaps the opposite “Maybe the point is simply to know it happened”. The same questions are asked with Joshua’s conquest, or with Jacob’s two wives. Etc.

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b0177442c0236970dI suspect many ancient readers would take this story at face value, believing this to have actually happened historically, and believing it to be justified on both God’s and Elisha’s part because the kids were evil and deserved it. The sort of skepticism about whether or not stories really happened exactly as described is a later development.

Therefore, while assuming it happened, believing it happened would not have been of special importance to them. The book of Kings repeatedly tells you that if you are looking for complete historical records you should look elsewhere! So the question becomes "What would it mean to ancient readers that this story took place?"

It would mean God is mighty, that Elisha is empowered through Gods and all of God’s prophets by extension are so empowered. It would mean that God and God’s prophets do not abide being mocked.

Throughout Kings, there is a tension between Kings and Prophets. Who has the real power? This passage says Prophets do. Kings may control armies and political structures, but those things are useless against a person who does not need agriculture to eat, because they are fed by ravens, who can fight using obedient wild beasts, for whom the earth itself is subservient.

Kings therefore, had better listen to prophets, or they will see their empires split and their armies fall.

But now that the historic prophets and kings have fallen away, What does that mean to us? How does it impact out lives of faith?

I think the passage still speaks to alternative forms of power. In the age of Eric Snowden and Chelsea Manning, bloggers and street artists can bring politicians to their knees. Police might brutalize young people of color, but young people of color equipped with video cameras and a firm moral backbone can fight back and win. The prophets of our age will not be mocked. They possess the sway of the crowds and the voice of the truth and against them no political or institutional power can stand!

The false ones will fall of course. God is not with them. But if you find yourself on the wrong side of a true prophet. If you find yourself mocking a person speaking truth to power saying "bald and powerless young idiot, give up" well then you had better watch out. You better look behind you. They have more power than you know.

…or something like that.

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March 30th, 2016 at 8:51 pm

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In Defense of Street Evangelism

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LOVEwalk-1Five years ago I got off a plane for an orientation with a Christian College Ministry I took a job with, and learned the training was going to entail going out and talking to strangers about the gospel. It was a very uncomfortable realization.

Street preaching, and street evangelism have become such a presence in our minds that the mere thought of it seems to cause anger to bubble up from deep within us. We have all seen bad preachers yelling at people, or disaffected church members made to stand on corners with impersonal tracts. For many Christians, that is the image conjured by the word “evangelism” and they conclude therefore that they do not like evangelism!

And that’s the funny thing. Most of us hate it. But many of us feel conflicted, because at some level we thing we are supposed to like it. Like it’s this good thing “evangelism” that we know we are all called to do. But we hate it and we want it to go away.

And we are right to hate the things we have seen. Being mean, hateful, judgmental, or yelling at people in public is bad behavior. This should be obvious and non-controversial. Street preaching does not get a free pass. You are not morally allowed to engage in bad behavior because you call it “street preaching”

Street preaching however also does not deserve unilateral condemnation. Just because some people have behaved badly and called it street preaching, does not mean that anything which could be considered preaching on a street is bad behavior.

I have come to think that loving, interesting, engaging, street preaching can be a great way for people who have never had the experience of talking about their faith to others to practice. The street is a low consequence environment with lots of people, so approaching one of them, swallowing your own sense of awkwardness and saying something like “Would you have time to talk about God with me?” even to hear a lot of “no” can make it much easier when that situation comes up with your friends and associates.

I don’t think a lot of people have authentic conversions as a result of street preaching, even good street preaching. I do not think the numbers reported by the ministries are accurate. (What kind of follow-up is really being done?) But I do think there is a place for it. Evangelism after all, is not all about conversions.

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March 23rd, 2016 at 7:04 pm

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Small Groups and Gender Segregation

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I wrote last week about a difficulty I have finding bible studies that study the Bible in a sea of group meetings that study other things they feel are more interesting or more important. I want to follow up on that with a related idea.

seinWhat is up with all the separated men’s groups and women’s groups?

What exactly are we afraid of happening with unmarried people in a room together?

It made a certain amount of sense to separate the girls and boys when I was 9 and girls were yucky, or when I was 14 and girls my age were adults already. But I am seeing nary a coed study group at many churches straight through to death.

If there is a mixed group it’s for married couples. Still, men go to the Men’s Breakfast, women go to their Beth Moore class. Why?!?

Well I’ll tell you why actually. It’s because of this same stupid trend of fearing and avoiding the Bible and talking about something else instead. Men’s groups end up talking about Lust and Porn the whole time. Women’s groups probably end up talking about Submission and “Biblical Womanhood” and such crap. Married groups talk about how to have a good Christian marriage. And that is the practical extent of our Christian education.Mens-Bible-Study

There is no way that in an authentic inductive study of the book of Judges you need to get vulnerable about your masturbation habits. That simply will never ever come up. And if an emergent issue does arrive, you know how to pull someone aside.

There are 66 books in scripture. 1 Corinthians 6 is one chapter. If you need to split for that week. Or the 1 Timothy 2 week or the Ephesians 5. Fine. I’d submit that there is much to be gained even in those chapters from having both voices, but I’ll grant that sometimes people need to feel extra safe. Still, I see no reason for that to be the topic every week. EVER. It shouldn’t even be one week every year.

Let’s quit pretending like the central issues of Christian discipleship are gender specific.

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March 16th, 2016 at 4:01 am

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Anybody Know of a Bible Study Where we Actually Study the Bible?

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I can’t find one. I have been looking. They are frighteningly hard to find. (I started a couple)

Still, it’s a trend I want to talk about. I see more and more churches holding "Bible studies" where nobody brings their Bibles because the Bible is not opened, but instead, one verse, or theme from the Bible is pulled and expounded upon by a modern author, and the text of that author is studied with discussion questions on a separate sheet of paper. Another option is to study the sermon from the previous Sunday.

Small-Group-Bible-Study-NottinghamThe obvious motivation of this behavior is that we, as a people, like the idea of the Bible, but we don’t like the Bible itself. We think it’s un-fun un-interesting, and we think the work of these modern authors and preachers is comparatively interesting. We certainly do not trust people to interpret the Bible for themselves. Protestant Reformation be damned, if there is an interpretive question asked with out the pastor present you can be sure it will be deeply leading and “Socratic”

I want to be clear as I call it out that I’m not trying to shame those who think that way. If you think the Bible is more boring than John Piper or Rachel Held Evans or whoever that’s fine. I don’t think people who believe that are bad Christians, but I do disagree entirely.

I have had incredible experiences as a direct result of the biblical text that far surpass anything offered by the greatest writers of our time, or any time previous. My learning by attempting to practice and imitate the content of Luke and Acts , of studying Hosea in it’s original Hebrew, of walking around the ruins of the seven churches of Revelation and hearing the message of Christ through John as applied to my own temptations… They lead me to believe that there is more available.

As a result, even when I do reach a part of scripture that doesn’t light my fire (Leviticus, Chronicles, Titus) I tend to adopt a searching posture. I want to ask “What am I missing?” and “where are the problem who love this book” and “What do they love about it?” I want to read it in community and learn from other perspectives.

To that end I do have one bone to pick with the Christian Book Club or Sermon Pep Squad meetings. Could we at least call them what they are? I’m really sick of trying to answer this groaning in my heart but accidently ending up in a place I don’t belong that never intended to answer this longing.

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March 9th, 2016 at 6:11 pm

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An End of the Fear of Whales

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I hate that so many of my posts are meta-posts. It was less than 6 months ago I was reflecting on where we had come from and updating my website with this as a regular feature. Yet here we are again, and what I feel pressed to write about is my own writing.

Screw it, says I I’m pretty much the only person who reads this thing anyway right? RIGHT? I’m not doing this for ad revenue. I’m doing this to process my emotions. And right now my emotions are questioning the future of this venue.

”Fear of Whales” was started by a college kid who was discerning his place in the world with a call into ministry despite serious concerns and misgivings about that career. It was a way for me to reflect upon my life as a person who didn’t want to be called, but was going to try to go anyway. “Fear of Whales” was about my path to ministry, and the ideas I had on the way there.

I have a counter on my phone. 82 more days until I graduate from Seminary. It could easily be another year after that before I am an officially ordained minister, but still. The end is in sight. The path doesn’t fork anymore from here. I could turn back… but that’s not likely. Something in me that I’ve previously needed to process is just about settled.

There’s another piece of it too. The times in the past ten years where I have written the most were always the loneliest and slowest times of my life. When I had a youth group, or a thriving campus ministry, or a cigars and theology pubnight I always wrote less because I was sharing my new insights with them instead of casting them into the ether(net). That’s true again. I’m preaching every week and posting those videos online. People are listening to what I have to say. I’m saying more than I often care to.

I dunno blogfans. I’m not shuttering this thing yet. I still have 82 more days to fear whales. After that maybe I’ll start a different blog about being a young pastor (as if that hasn’t been done before) maybe I’ll be writing church bulletins and that plus sermon will leave me with nothing to say. Maybe something new will break in me and I’ll keep needing the reflection space for the forseeable future.

Regardless I’ll be as interested as you to see how it turns out. Probably much more interested

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March 2nd, 2016 at 1:33 am

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Canon and Myth (Or “Why Phantom Menace Doesn’t Count”)

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From an early age I have been attracted to the iconic stories of our culture. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Hercules and the 12 Olympians, Fairy Tales and Legends.

Disappointingly, I was not able to find an authoritative copy of most of those stories. I saw adaptation after adaptation in movies and comics and retellings, but there was no way for me to read “Hercules” the original story, nor really to read the definitive story of King Arthur. All the stories contradicted each other, and all of the versions I found to read were written hundreds of years after the stories were first told. I hated this about them, and it wasn’t until later that I came to realize this was not a flaw, but a great feature of mythology.

I shied away from Robin Hood and dug into Tolkien at first, thinking he had some internal consistency. But I soon learned that almost all modern High fantasy was Tolkien-Based, and it was far from consistent. Plus once the movies were made, and were undeniably awesome, a lot of the “canon” began to be debated.

2904704-bat-family skin pacSuperheroes did the same thing. I began to realize that there were innumerable Batmans with innumerable variations on the same backstory. Some with a Robin, some where Robin had died, some who never had a Robin. and fans were cobbling together a coherent story out of just the best of those plotlines. What’s more, so were the comics themselves as new authors happily ignored bad storylines while building on great ones.

This is how mythology works. someone tells a great story, then someone else tells a followup, then someone retells the first story in a different way, and on and on and we keep what’s good and we forget what sucks. How do we decide what really happened to Arthur? Whatever story everybody liked the best.

That’s why Star Wars fans care what happened in The Clone Wars animated series, but try to avoid and subvert what happened in The Clone Wars movie. Because the movie was stupid. And ignoring and rewriting things that are stupid is a time honored tradition of mythological storytelling. That’s why the X-Men universe recently made a sequel that acknowledges what happened in X-Men 1&2 but goes back in time to prevent X-Men 3 and Wolverine Origins from affecting the timeline. That’s why Deadpool has a mouth now.

In many ways the Biblical canon works the same way. Sometimes people outside the faith like to imagine it was a shady meeting somewhere when we censored a bunch of stuff.  In reality both the New Testament and the Old Testament were selected by the scribes listening to the fans. We kept the stuff that continued to ring true, we ignored or got rid of the other stuff.

A lot of us still do that with the Bible. If we are honest we probably spend more time reading impactful contemporary writers than we read the biblical text, and then it is only our favorite books. I’ll leave whether that’s right or not as an exercise for the reader, for Now I just wanted to introduce this idea.

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February 18th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

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Ideas and Their (mis)Uses

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villageThere is a critique often leveled at my seminary, which I find often has a lot to do with why I disagree with the community opinion about a given idea. That is to condemn the idea, on the basis of it’s historical use.

In other words, for many of us, if an evil person in the past has used an idea to accomplish something bad, then it’s a bad idea, or it is at least very suspect. I find this critique ridiculous.

Examples:

  • Plain reading of the scriptures has been used to justify slavery
  • Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, has encouraged women to suffer under abusive spouses as a “sacrifice”
  • International Mission has been a vehicle of cultural destruction and colonialism

And it’s used on the right as well as the left.

  • Evolution was used by Hitler to justify ethnic cleansing
  • Columbine Shooters played violent videogames

Because it is used so commonly and explicitly here where I live, it has helped me become aware of how often this sort of thinking is used generally. How often have you heard a religion condemned on the basis of religious fanatics? Or seen a political idea made into an “-ism” with the implicit understanding that the -ism is bad because of how it was used before. How often have you seen any idea anyone held compared to Hitler? (Vegitariansm? For shame!)

Almost never is it considered whether the idea itself necessarily leads to these conditions, or if the idea is being misused. It is just condemned and (usually) rejected wholesale.

This whole thing falls apart as soon as you begin to pull examples from uncontroversial issues instead of emotional ones.freeparking-200x150

  • Knives have been historically used to stab people. Don’t have them in your house
  • Many musicians have turned to addictive drugs, keep your kids away!
  • Stargazing has been the inspiration for the Zodiac and Astrology. It’s both Unscientific, and Satanic

So clearly the position is not reasonable or consistent.

Let me not demonize the people who express this sort of thinking however. I suspect that while what they say may not be rational in the strictest sense, (or even true) it may yet be valid. Suppose what they actually mean to say is “I have felt hurt, either personally or empathetically, by people who hold this idea, and as such I dislike it on an emotional level”

Well that’s a fair thing to say!

I daresay if I met someone who had been stabbed over and over again, and I learned he kept no knives in his house I would respect his decision. I would just hope he doesn’t come to my house and judge me for my knives.

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February 8th, 2016 at 10:09 pm

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