Thursday, September 27, 2012

Concussions, Drones and Muff Boots: The Hunger Games isn't so different.

Concussions in the NFL, Drones in Pakistan and Muff Boots: Why the Hunger Games world isn’t so different after all.

The popular fiction series, The Hunger Games, has quite an awful premise for teenage literature.  The Hunger Games are a reality TV show in which children must fight to the death.  These games arose, in this mythical land, when “districts” rebelled against the “capital.”  As punishment for their rebellion against the capital, each year the districts must offer one boy and one girl for the Hunger Games.  The children must kill each other; one child remains as victor, who brings honor to his/her district and receives personal fame and wealth.
The premise is so brutal that one might be tempted to dismiss the book as too violent for school age children.  I argue it is worth reading because ultimately, its world isn’t so different after all.

First, take the violence.  While we certainly abhor the notion of children killing other children, we accept an incredible level of violence in our culture.  From video games to television shows, most teenagers see murders on a daily basis; many murder someone else in their video game worlds.  Furthermore, our culture embraces incredibly violent sports.  The recent spate of concussions in the NFL shows that we accept incredible violence toward individuals for the entertainment of us all.  In fact, one could look rather cynically at the whole sports machine in our country:  thousands of youth, often from the poorest areas, hope in a shot of glory through sports.  Most don’t have the talent or are discarded by the injury machine.  Even those that do “make it” are often scarred physically for life.  Regardless, the show goes on for the wealthiest who can afford tickets in our stadiums or fancy cable packages. 
Second, take the abusive power of the capital.  The capital sends in “Peacekeepers” to various districts to quell rebellion; they legitimize their actions in the name of retaliation and future peace.  These are the very same motivations and we give for our drone planes in Pakistan.  These drone planes, much like Hunger Games’ hovercraft from the capital, instill fear and wreck lives.  I support our military’s work around the world generally, but the drone war is revolting.  Random families and school children have their house flown over by some US drone, unmanned but loaded with weapons.  It may be that the drones are necessary, but no one has offered the American people a justification for this kind of warfare.  In fact, most of us don’t even know this goes on, much like people in the Capital don’t know what goes on beyond their walls.  I furthermore think that much like the machines in the book, these drones only produce the next generation of people who grow up hating those in power.  Boots on the ground is more dangerous, but unlike a drone, an American soldier can actually make human contact and improve lives.

Lastly, a comment on the fashion.  The protagonist in the story, Katniss, comes from the coal mining district.  She finds the upscale fashion in the Capital absurd.  I’ve lived long enough to see a few trends come and go, but none seems as dumb to me as warm knee length boots in the summer.  I saw no benefit either aesthetically or functionally from these.  Okay, okay, maybe you liked the boots, but it doesn’t take too much to realize that fashions come and go.  Future generations (even my own children) will laugh at what we chose to wear.  I don’t want to belabor this point too heavily, but Katniss’ reaction to the manners and clothing of the Capital reminds us that, as the sage wrote, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”
So, yes, I do think Hunger Games is worth reading.  Not simply as bubble gum fiction, but as a commentary on American culture and power.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You really believe in the Bible?

Because we have yet another John 6 text with essentially the same words as before...I bring you an article from two German journalists who converted to Christianity while living in South Africa.  It speaks to Jesus as the true bread from heaven:
Note, if I were translating this professionally I would pay much more attention to the tenses of the verbs.  Germans do this a bit differently than English speakers.

"You really believe in the Bible?"
By Elke Naters and Sven Lager; translated by Google and Pastor Rob Myallis

Zwei Berliner Schriftsteller gehen nach Südafrika.Two writers from Berlin go to South Africa, not knowing exactly what they seek. Und dann finden sie Gott. And there they find God. Elke Naters und Sven Lager erzählen, wie sie zu Christen wurden. Elke Naters and Sven Leger tell how they became Christians. Eine moderne Erweckungsgeschichte. A modern revival story.
Neulich beteten wir für einen sterbenskranken Bauarbeiter, der kurz darauf aus dem Krankenhausbett aufstand, seinen Tropf in die Hand nahm, auf den Flur hinauslief und rief: »Ich bin geheilt!The other day we were praying for a terminally-ill construction worker.  Soon afterwards, he got up from the hospital bed, his medical drip bag in his hand, ran out into the hallway and said, "I'm cured! Ich bin geheilt!« I'm cured! "

Zur gleichen Zeit erhielten wir einen erbosten Brief von einer deutschen Familie, die eine Townshiptour gemacht hatte.At the same time, we received an angry letter from a German family who had made a tour of the poverty stricken townships in South Africa. Ob wir jemals ein Township betreten hätten, wie sonst könnten wir als Schriftsteller das Elend dort bunt und lebensfroh beschreiben. As journalists, we would have described the misery there, but colorfully and full of life. Ihre Empörung machte uns bewusst, was uns so selbstverständlich geworden war, dass wir es nicht mehr bemerkten: eine geradezu aggressive positive Lebenseinstellung. Her outrage made us realize something we had – something that had become so normal for us that we did not realize it: an almost aggressively positive attitude.
We, along with our children, have lived in South Africa for seven years.  It was our decision to see the light in the darkness of the world which brought us to faith. This belief has to do with the transforming power of love.

Eight years ago we lived in downtown Berlin. We were at a point in our life where there was a weariness spreading; it was difficult to grasp. Was it Seasonal Affective Disorder? Typical artistic anxeities? A mid-life Crisis?

We wondered whether this was all life had to offer:  to write books, have kids, go for a drink. A few frenzied nights, good movies and stimulating conversations. And so life passed us by - most of the time very pleasantly, without any particular pain, but also without any particular depth.

There had to be more than all this! Although we lived amid incomparable cultural wealth, art, music and literature offered no answers. We were thirsty and hungry, but no matter what we used to “stuff” ourselves, we were not satisfied.

Since we could not find anything deeper, we tried to go “wider.” We sought more sun, friendlier people, more cultural diversity and a more complete life. We thought about the Mediterranean; Vancouver; or even California. But to our surprise we ended up in South Africa. Our prejudices were immediately confirmed when we drove past the shacks in the townships, which dragged on endlessly. But it was damn beautiful this country.  The expanse!  The mountains next to the sea! The ice blue, ice-cold Atlantic! So much uninhabited, undeveloped nature touched the hearts of us, the city people.

On a warm January night, as we sat on a bench in the garden of Bougainvillea, the moon rose and then stood for a moment on the mountain ridge.  He then, as he pleased, rolled down and sank into the sea. A peace came over us. And we knew we wanted to live here.

\We went lobster fishing, surfed the wild Atlantic, climbed the mountains and got to know people, who reflected the natural generosity of their country. Their life stories were a couple of sizes larger than ours.

Take for example, the candy seller in our children’s elementary school.  He began as a teacher, then been a mercenary in the Congo, followed by time as a corn farmer, and later had his basket factory lost in a tropical cyclone. Now he sells medicinal herbs, African decorations and breeding parrots.  Or, take Wilson Salukazana.  He was a bank clerk during the apartheid era, is founder of a preschool, a whale whisperer, a mentor of many fatherless in the township, king of the clan Hlubi, fundraiser, and with his 70 years, yet a tour guide. Above all, a Christian.

It did not take long before we realized was how much the people here influenced by the Christian faith.  Nelson Mandela’s rejection of violence and his preaching forgiveness for the young democracy saved it from civil war. Without Desmond Tutu and the Truth Commission there never could have been the peace that enabled the victims to overcome the trauma of apartheid and continue living. Forgiveness has always been important in South African life. Unlike in our country.  It is hard to imagine that in Germany, a former Nazi would wash a former concentration camp prisoner's feet, like the former South Africa’s security minister, Adrian Vlok, had done for the churchman Chikane, whose poisoning he had commanded during the apartheid era. Or the mother of the young American Amy Biel, who was stoned to death in a township: the killers, not only forgave, but also helped them to a better life.

Solche Geschichten übermenschlicher Liebe sind in Südafrika an der Tagesordnung.Such stories of human love in South Africa are daily occurances. Immer geht es um Vergebung, Nächstenliebe, Ermutigung, Gemeinschaft. It is always about forgiveness, compassion, encouragement and community. Hier hat der christliche Glaube noch eine soziale Kraft. Here the Christian faith still has a social force. Keine sprengende, sondern eine vereinende. Not an explosive, but a unifying one. Als unsere Kinder sich an die neue Sprache gewöhnt und eingelebt hatten, erkrankte in ihrer Schule der siebenjährige Zach an einem Gehirntumor. When our children had become accustomed to the new language and settled, a seven-year classmate named Zach became ill from a brain tumor. Die ganze Nachbarschaft half, kochte, fuhr seine Brüder in die Schule und sammelte Geld für die Mutter, damit sie möglichst viel Zeit bei ihm im Krankenhaus verbringen konnte. The whole neighborhood helped cook, his brothers went to school and raised money for the mother so she could spend as much time with him in the hospital. Zach ist jetzt zwölf. Zach is now twelve. Und Dutzende Freunde stehen der Familie immer noch bei mit allem, was sie haben. Dozens of family and friends are still in with everything they have. Das ist Jesus in Action. This is Jesus in action.
TDer Glaube der Südafrikaner ist radikaler als Punk oder RevolutionThe faith of South Africans is more radical than punk or Revolution

Unter Südafrikanern lernten wir einen Gott kennen, der in den Menschen lebt und nicht in einem Kirchengebäude.Among South Africans, we got to know a God who lives in the people and not in a church building. Einen persönlichen Gott, der Humor hat, der liebt und den Menschen Zuversicht gibt. A personal God who has humor, who loves and gives people confidence. Einen Glauben, der radikaler ist als Punk, Kommunismus, Feminismus und jede Revolution. A faith that is more radical than punk, communism, feminism, and every revolution. Der Krankheit, Rassen und Klassen überwindet. A faith that overcomes diseases, races and classes. Einen gerechten Gott, der es ablehnt, dass ein Prozent der Bevölkerung 50 Prozent des Profits einstreicht, und der jedem jederzeit ein neues Leben anbietet. A just God who refuses to one percent of the population to pocket 50 percent of the profits.  A God who at any time offers a new life.
Jesus gab sich gern mit Außenseitern ab und schien ständig mit seinen Jüngern Wein zu trinken.Jesus did not hesitate to be with outsiders.  He also seemed to drink wine constantly with his disciples. Vor 200 Jahren taten die deutschen Missionare in Südafrika etwas Ähnliches. 200 years ago, the German missionaries in South Africa did something similar. Sie brachten ehemaligen Sklaven Lesen, Schreiben, Musizieren und ein Handwerk bei. They taught former slaves reading, writing, music and handiwork skills. Sie führen heute noch basisdemokratische Kommunendörfer in allen Teilen des Landes. They still lead grass-roots communities in villages across the country. Auf uns wirken sie wie wahr gewordene Utopien – und das hat uns zu Christen werden lassen. To us they seem like utopia come true - and this has enabled us to become Christians.

Seither sehen wir die Kraft des Glaubens nicht nur in Südafrika.Since then, we see the power of faith not only in South Africa. Der Amerikaner Shane Claiborne zum Beispiel hat schon viele Jahre vor der Occupy-Bewegung 10.000 Dollar in Münzen und kleinen Scheinen auf die Wall Street gekippt, und einen Tumult verursacht, dass die Straße abgesperrt werden musste. The Americans, Shane Claiborne, for example, has spilled -- many years before the Occupy movement -- $ 10,000 in coins and small bills on Wall Street, and caused a commotion that the street had to be shut off. Radikale Großzügigkeit verschließt die Türen der Gier – so lautete seine christliche Botschaft. Radical Generosity closes the doors of greed - that was his Christian message.
In unserem deutschen Freundeskreis wären wir auf mehr Verständnis gestoßen, wenn wir Buddhisten, Veganer oder akoholabhängig geworden wären.Among our German friends, we would have been met with more understanding if we had been Buddhists, vegans, or alcoholics. »Ihr glaubt echt an die Bibel?« – »Ja, wir leben danach.« – »Also seid ihr Fundamentalisten? "You really believe in the Bible" - "Yes, we live it" -. "So you are fundamentalists? Wie Bush und die Leute, die vor Abtreibungskliniken stehen?« – »Nein, aber wir glauben, dass Jesus wiederauferstanden ist und in uns lebt.« »Ewiges Leben, Himmel und Hölle?« – »Genau. Like (George) Bush and the people who are closing abortion clinics? "-" No, but we believe that Jesus was resurrected and lives in us, "" eternal life, heaven and hell.? "-" Exactly. Und wir glauben an ein Leben vor dem Tod.« –»Oh...« Spätestens jetzt wird die zweite Flasche Pinotage entkorkt. And we believe in life before death. "-" Oh ... "  By now the second bottle is uncorked!

Even after a few bottles of wine and serious conversation, n Nicht jeder unserer Freunde glaubt nach ein paar Flaschen Wein, was wir glauben, aber wir haben den Stein ins Rollen gebracht, die Kultur des Glaubensaustausches angeregt.not everyone of our friends believes what we believe.  But we have set the ball rolling and stimulated a culture of faith sharing. Die meisten wissen ja nicht, was es heißt, ein Christ zu sein. Most do not know what it means to be a Christian. Wir sind immer wieder überrascht, wie wenig wir selber lange Zeit wussten. We are always surprised at how little we knew ourselves for a long time. Wir sind zwar konfirmiert, einer von uns ist sogar in einem katholischen Internat zur Schule gegangen, doch das hatte unser Leben bis dahin nicht weiter beeinflusst. We may have been confirmed; one of us even attended a Catholic boarding school, but our lives had hitherto been unaffected. Erst Südafrika, wo wir eine andere Sprache sprechen und ein fremdes Land verstehen mussten, half uns, eine Offenheit zu entwickeln, für die wir sonst nicht bereit gewesen wären. It was our experience in South Africa, where we spoke a different language and lived a foreign country, which helped us to develop an openness for which we would otherwise not have been ready. Offenheit auch für einen Glauben, den wir längst als verstaubt abgelegt hatten. Openness to a belief that we had long set aside.
Anfangs war Südafrika nur Abenteuer, ein Vordringen in unbekannte Welten, das wir wie Anthropologen betrieben.South Africa was initially only adventure, a penetration into unknown worlds.  We operated as anthropologists. Und es war unheimlich und faszinierend zugleich, wenn wir in einem fremden Wohnzimmer saßen bei Menschen, die mit geschlossenen Augen Hände auflegten, in Zungen beteten oder unter Tränen erzählten, was Gott in ihrem Leben bewirkt hatte. And it was scary and fascinating at the same time, when we sat in the living room with a strange man, laying on the hands, eyes closed, praying in tongues or tearfully recounting what God had caused in their lives.
So verrückt das alles zunächst wirkte, die Menschen waren aufrichtig, und die Zeugnisse ihrer transformierten Leben waren die besten Geschichten, die wir je gehört hatten.As crazy as it all seemed at first, people were sincere, and the evidence of their transformed lives were the best stories we had ever heard. Wie die von Enrico. Like Enrico. Enrico war ein hochrangiger Gangster. Enrico was a high-ranking gangster. Seine Zähne sind aus Gold, er ist von Kopf bis Fuß tätowiert, sein Rang ist ihm in die Haut gestochen, seine Vergangenheit offensichtlich, jeder Gangster muss ihn respektieren. His teeth are made of gold, he is tattooed from head to toe, his rank is inscribed in the skin, a clear sign of his past; everyone must respect this gangster. Vor drei Jahren erschoss er beim Säubern seiner Waffe seinen besten Freund. Three years ago he shot and killed his best friend while cleaning his weapon. Als er begriff, dass Gott ihm vergab, was er sich selbst nicht vergeben konnte, änderte sich alles für ihn. When he realized that God forgave him, that which he could not forgive himself, everything changed for him. Er ließ sein Verbrecherleben hinter sich, verdient jetzt sein Geld mit Gelegenheitsjobs, sammelt und repariert Spielzeug für Kinder, schreibt Theaterstücke für Jugendliche. He left his criminal life behind him, now earns his living with odd jobs and repairs.  He also collects toys for children and writes plays for young people.
Oder James, den Gott schwer krank im Krankenhausbett aufsuchte, obwohl James nichts von ihm wissen wollte, und ihn auf einen Schlag heilte.Or James, seriously ill in hospital bed, whom God visited, even though James would not hear from him and healed him in one fell swoop. Seine Familie dachte, er sei verrückt geworden, als er plötzlich zu beten begann und nur noch von Gott sprach. His family thought he was crazy when he suddenly began to pray and just spoke from God. Bis dahin hatte nur seine Frau gebetet und an den Straßenecken gepredigt, und auch das nur, wenn sie betrunken war. Until then, only his wife had prayed and preached on street corners, and then, only if she was drunk. James hörte auf zu trinken, betrog seine Frau nicht mehr und brachte seine ganze Familie zum Glauben. James stopped drinking, cheating on his wife and brought his family to faith. Einschließlich seines unehelichen Sohns, der von Crystal Meth loskam. Including his illegitimate son, who is no longer addicted to crystal meth.
Das war, was uns als Schriftsteller faszinierte: die Menschen und ihre Dramen, die so wahr und wild waren.That was what fascinated us as writers: the people and their dramas that were so true and wild. So lasen wir auch die Bibel, als tiefbewegende Geschichte echter Menschen. So we read the Bible as a deeply moving story of real people. Das beste Buch aller Zeiten, wie schon Bertolt Brecht gesagt hat. The best book of all time, as Bertolt Brecht (a famous German author) said.
Initially, our faith was still a little blurry and it contained a lot of doubt and skepticism. Aber nach und nach entfaltete sich die Wahrheit in ihrer ganzen Schönheit. But gradually the truth unfolded in all its beauty. Das hört nie auf. It never stops. Die radikale Liebe Gottes, die Freiheit, die wir in ihm finden, und wie Jesus sich in jedem Menschen spiegelt – um das zu verstehen werden wir mehr als nur ein Menschenleben brauchen. The radical love of God, the freedom we find in him, and how Jesus is reflected in every human being - to understand this, we need more than just a human life. Dazu braucht man ein ewiges Leben, denn der Glaube sprengt unser weltliches Denken. This requires an eternal life, because faith goes beyond our worldly thinking.
In South Africa we have seen how faith binds the heart of different people. Das ist mehr als eine Religion, das ist real und lebensverändernd. This is more than a religion; it is real and life-changing. Zum ersten Mal fanden wir Freunde, die in keiner Weise waren wie wir. For the first time we found friends who were in no way similar to us. Die nicht die gleichen Bücher gelesen, die gleichen Filme gesehen, die gleiche Musik gehört hatten. They did not read the same books, had not seen the same movies, nor heard the same music; yet we are still close to them. Wie Patrick, unserem jungen Freund vom Stamm der Xhosa. Like Patrick, our young friend from the Xhosa tribe. Patrick hatte in der zehnten Klasse die Schule verlassen, mit dem Wildern von Abalonemuscheln für die Gangstersyndikate etwas Geld verdient und blieb nach einem Fahrradunfall querschnittsgelähmt. Patrick had dropped out in tenth grade and made money poaching various sea animals for the gangsters.  After a bike accident he became a paraplegic. Wir lernten uns im Krankenhaus kennen und beteten jede Woche zusammen, aber es ging bergab mit ihm. We met in the hospital and prayed together every week, but things did not go well with him. Die Bettwunden schlossen sich nicht, er hatte Aids und war depressiv. The bed wounds did not close; he had AIDS and was depressed. Er wurde immer dünner und immer schwächer und schlief den ganzen Tag mit einem Laken überm Kopf. He was getting thinner and weaker and slept the whole day with a sheet over my head. Die Ärzte und sogar seine Familie hatten ihn schon aufgegeben. The doctors and even his family had already given up on him.

But then came Sipokasi, an old school friend of Patrick, and proposed to baptize him. Overnight Patrick was better. The doctors were baffled because the change was obvious.  It was as if someone had switched on a light in him. His depression disappeared; after a few weeks he was discharged from the hospital. His mother was beside herself with joy. She believed that someone previously using a witch doctor had put a curse on her family.  The curse of envy and jealousy is common among the Xhosa, and a lot of money set is aside to counter spells and curses.

So-called sangomas offer their powerful magical assistance in all areas: illness, debt, marital conflict, erection problems, unrequited love - for everything there is a Muti, a spell and potions. Prostitutes pay a considerable sum each month in order to be protected against pregnancy and AIDS, to no avail.

Rose, a modern young Xhosa woman, was intended by her clan to become a sangoma. The world of magic, which we Germans preserve in the tales of the Brothers Grimm, is for real.  Water spirits, witches and demons.  About a year after she had become Christian, the real struggle began for her. Whenever she started to pray out loud, unpleasant things came out of her mouth, insults, curses, weird stuff. Such attacks occurred very suddenly, and she often had to run out of church. The church family was praying but undaunted. And God helped Rose with his love: the fear subsided, the attacks ceased, and they never came back.

With friends like Patrick and Rose, we learned that the Christian faith in Africa is not only a way of life or a philosophy. For Patrick, the Holy Spirit broke the power of evil spirits over his family. He believes in a real God who protected him: a personal God of wonders, who is superior to all other spiritual powers that could harm people.

The Europeans know the word church, but no community

The story of Jesus, that God died on the cross for our sins and his resurrection is victory over death, this enlightens each African; while the Western Europeans understand the supernatural only as symbolic…but then really not at all.

We have learned in Africa that the gospel brings together different people in a family.  The strength of faith is in Ubuntu, the Xhosa name for the unconditional community cohesion. The Europeans know that is the word for church. Except that they have lost the radical early Christian meaning of the word.

Faith has made us stronger as a family and has deepened our love for each other. It’s almost like we’re suddenly seeing our lives in three dimensions instead of just an outline. And we cannot imagine how other people do without Jesus marry; how they cope with puberty in their children; how they endure financial crises, anxieties, desires, fears, death, how they deal with one’s own aging.

We have also realized while in Africa that not everything must be understood. What we know is that God gives us the task to make this world a better place. It is simple. With humor, joy, and with our art.  With sincere love for each other. From person to person - but using a power that is divine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

John 6:35,41-51

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2015.
Summary:  What else can one say:  Jesus is the bread of life.  Three words, actually verbs, pop out this week for me.  All three (καταβαινω, πιστευω and εχω) where likely memorized in the first weeks of Greek 101.  John employs them powerfully here to make three points:  Jesus came down to earth; Jesus came down to earth that we might believe; Jesus came down to earth that we might belive and thus have life.  Here.  Now.  Also, this week I include a quote of the Small Catechism to solve a thorny issue...

Key words:
καταβαινω ("descend" or "go down"; it appears seven times in chapter 6: 16, 33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58 in various forms). The use of this word throughout John and especially John 6 reminds us that John is an incarnational Gospel (as are all the Gospels!).   While John 6 pushes this in a new direction, the idea of God moving toward earth, coming down, has occured already in John:  The Spirit descends at Baptism (1:33); Jesus refers to Jacob's dream where angels descended at "Bethel," foreshadowing Jesus; Jesus also "goes down" to heal an official's son (4:47) and lastly, Jesus simply said he descended from heaven (3:13).
One could simply be reminded that Jesus in John's Gospel is not an eagle like philosopher above it all; Jesus is not some gnostic or docetic savior; rather he is a flesh and blood, incarnate Son of God.  Yet I think it worth pressing the point further.  John 6 is all about the Eucharist; and the Eucharist is the summation of all things.  In this case, the Eucharist is the summation of all other downward movements by God.  It includes the Spirit empowering, it includes heaven's gates opening; it includes healing of mortals.  In Jesus, Bethel (house of God) becomes Bethlehem (house of bread).  Jesus is full divine yet fully flesh (σαρξ)

σαρξ ("flesh"; just about every verse in section 6:51-63)  Jesus says two puzzling things:  First, that σαρξ is useless; but that on the otherhand, we must eat of his σαρξ.  I do not think John's Gospel is anti-flesh; yet it wisely points out the limits of flesh.  So why does Communion help?  As Jesus says,"It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."  Jesus words make his flesh, the Communion, have life and Spirit!  To put it another way, courtesy of Luther:
"It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying."

πιστευω ("believe"; the word appears 85 times in John's Gospel).  This might just be the most important word in John's Gospel.  Worth noting is that faith only appears as a verb:  It is always an action.  In otherwords, "Faith" doesn't exist in John's Gospel, but believing does.  It is not by intellectual assent that we live, but fully trusting in God.  Sadly, it often takes us to get to that moment where all hope has been lost that we actually begin to trust...

Grammar:  Present tense and εχω
I have written this many times on my blog.  But here is the deal.  The present tense means something is happening right now and on-going.  Jesus says, "the one who believes is having eternal life."  It does NOT read "the one who believes will have eternal life."  It simply says, "the one who believe HAS eternal life."  Eternal life begins here and now in a relationship based on believing in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mark 16:1-8 (Easter)

Here are links for Greek commentary on all four Gospel
Matthew 28:1-10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 24:1-12
John 20:1-18
Summary:  This familiar text offers many directions for preaching.  One unique feature of Mark's Gospel is the name of Jesus, given by the Angel, "Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified."  As the grammar note explains, the word crucified here indicates not simply a past action but a present state:  "Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, but in a cosmic sense is still in the state of being crucified."  This is a witty way for Mark to get at the point:  The risen Christ still has holes in his hands.

Some words that also offer some interesting avenues into the text: 
αλειφω ("anoint"; here as ηλειφον; 16.1)  Earlier in Mark, Jesus' disciples anointed people with oil in order to heal them (6:13).

αρωματα ("spices"; literally "aromata"; 16.1)  Footnote of NET Bible is interesting here.  Because Jews' didn't practice embalming...spices were used not to preserve the body, but as an act of love, and to mask the growing stench of a corpse. 
μνημειον ("tomb" or "monument"; 16.2)  This word comes from the Greek for memory (think: mneumonic device).  The tombs are a place of memory, interesting in itself but even more so because
θυρα ("gate" or "door"; 16.3)  The word for entrance means also door.  So the "entrance of the tomb" is literally, "the door to memories."  
γαρ ("for" or "however"; 16:8)  My father once preached a great sermon on this word.  Here is the deal.  This word is a conjunction.  It should not, no cannot end a sentence.  But here it does.  So what is up?  My dad's sermon was that the Gospel message continues on in our lives.
εκστατις τρομος εκθαμβεω

A brief commentary on the Perfect tense:
The perfect tense indicates a previous action that still describes the current state.  Hence:
αποκεκυλισται ("rolled"; 4) and περιβεβλημενον ("dressed"; 5).  In both cases, the previous action of rolling and dressing still are in force.  Thus, we read with total surprise:
εσταυρομενον ("crucified"; 6).  This word is also in the perfect, meaning an action happened in the past that still describes the state of affairs.  The angel declares that even though he is risen, Jesus is still in the state of being crucified.  You are seeking the crucified one; he is risen.  Jesus is alive but he still has the wounds in his hands.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Luther: The Gospel is a Story

Just a great quote from Luther: 
"Thus the gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said and suffered...There you have it.  The gospel is a story about Christ, God's and David's son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord."
Luther, "A Brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels."  LW 35 117-118

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mark 8:27-38 (Study of tenses)

Over time I've worked on three posts related to this passage.
- First, a smattering of Greek tid-bits that will one day become a more coherent post
- Second, an investigation into the brilliance of Mark's Greek tenses
- Third, a Tour de Force (if I do say so myself) on Mark's Greek to highlight the nature our confession

This is the second.
Summary:  Mark offers us a Greek 101 clinic in the power of verb conjugation.  He changes tense, voice and mood to portray key concepts.  Alas, because he writes in Greek (as opposed to English) he needs no helper verbs or adverbs, but rather can show mood/tense/voice through endings, which to us are very complicated.  Too often we throw in the towel when it comes to parsing verbs, but come along for the ride in these passages and discover Mark's point, adroitly conjugated:  We must always confess Christ; suffering will happen, no matter: Jesus is Lord.

Key concepts relating to verbs:
The tense of the verb in Greek not only indicates when the action occured (past, present and future) but also the nature of the action (on-going or discrete event).  English also offers this distinction:  "I was running" implies something slightly different than "I ran."  In English, we normally need a helper verb/adverb to convey both the timing and nature of the event; Greek simply adds letters before or after the verb, much the dismay of the student. 

The present tense in Greek suggests an on-going nature of the action.  The aorist tense suggests a one-time event.  Grammar books sweat over these distinctions because in everyday usage, it is sloppier than this.  That caveat aside, a good example of this distinction is found in verse 34:  If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny (aorist) themselves, take up (aorist) their cross and follow (present) me.  The idea being that following Jesus is an on-going event, whereas taking up the cross was a discrete event. 

Theological disclaimer:  These verbs might make us move into decision theology; I don't think the point is that we only get one cross to bear in our lives or that we only have to make one choice to follow Christ.  The point here, which needs interpretation, is that Jesus points toward an event of denial, an event of taking up a cross and then an on-going activity of following him.

The imperfect tense connotes on-going action in the past.  In verse 27 and 29 Jesus asks his disciples "Who do you say that I am?"  The verb ask is in the imperfect tense, suggesting that Jesus asked this question multiple times, almost like he was walking around and in their faces.  They respond (aorist):  "Elijah...etc"  However, when Peter confesses "You are the Christ" the tense is present, suggesting that Peter said this more than once and that this confession will be on-going.

To drive this all home:  We are always asked and must always confess Jesus as Lord.

English has two voices, passive and active.  Passive means you got it done to you; active means you do it.  Greek has a third, middle, but this is rarely used and more just makes everything complicated because it was used by Homer.  By the time of Jesus, generally the middle voice is less common. 

Anyway, in vs. 31 Jesus discusses his suffering, arrest and death and the entire thing is in the passive voice, meaning he is not the agent, but the one having the action done to him. 

This helps shed light on picking up our cross.  Jesus does not find his cross, but rather it comes to him.  In life, to quote, however vagely, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we don't need to find our cross, we simply follow Jesus and it comes to us.

The verb rise (αναστημι) is active, suggesting that Jesus has the power, even over death, to raise himself!  The cross will come, but resurrection is on the wings...

English and Greek have a bunch of moods for verbs.  They can be infinitives, indicatives, imperatives, participles...and subjunctives.  Subjunctive in Greek means different stuff than in English, but the basic idea of subjunctive would be "hypothetical."  In vs. 35 and 38 Jesus uses the words ος εαν to mean whoever and in vs. 35 uses ει to mean "if." 

While I want to reassert my caution about simply saying subjunctive = hypothetical, Jesus makes it clear that following him is not necessarily automatic.  There is something unsure and uncertain about our willingness to follow.  Jesus does not say we have no hope of following him; nor does he say all will follow him.  Obviously choice and faith are a tricky matter.  We can debate how to put these together; we cannot debate that Jesus uses the subjunctive and in this case, this means following Jesus is an uncertain reality.  (And yes, I did phrase that ambiguously).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mark 1:40-45

This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently February of 2015.
Summary:  Last week was all about the power of Jesus.  I think this story actually shows the gentleness of Jesus.  What will it take to heal this man?  Power?  Certainly.  But also a compassionate touch.

Word pairs:
δυναμαι and καθαριζω (1:40)  The first word here means "able" and can be translated simply, "can."  It is worth noting its root is the same as "dynamite" and the word has the connotation of power:  "If you wish, you have the power to cleanse me."  The second word comes into English as "catharize."  We use this word in Christian contexts with sin:  "He catharizes us from sin" (Lutheran confessional rite and 1 John 1).  Here it is used with cleansing of his disease.  While the cleansing of disease is an interesting topic in itself, I'd like us to consider the connection between power and "deep cleaning."  We buy powerful chemicals with "deep cleaning" abilities to get our floor clean.  We have powerful machines and medicines that cleanse our heart valves.  Are these gifts from God?  Furthermore, what kind of power does it take to cleanse our hearts from their sins?  This very issue will come up in chapter 2, the next story, when Jesus is asked on what authority he declares sins forgiven.

σπλαγνιζομαι and απτω (1:41)  The word for "compassion" (σπλαγνιζομαι) is a great one in the New Testament.  In Greek this word comes from intestines, the idea being that when Jesus sees the man he is filled with compassion.  His reaction is to touch (απτω) the person.  This is not a violent siezing, but a touching.  Sometimes what is needed when confronting the sin in the world is not simply a thunder bolt, but a touch compassionate touch.

μαρτυριον and κηρυσσω (1:44/45)  Our leper becomes the first witness (μαρτυριον; think martyr) and proclaimer (κηρυσσω).  This is not simply ironic because he had been on the outside of society, but Jesus asked him not to do so. 
Point one, not for a sermon, but my eternal axe against Lutheran Orthodoxy:  Taken alone, we might think that for Mark proclamation is simply a declaration of what God has done.  However, the disciples proclaim for the purpose of repentance (6.12); Jesus initial proclamation contains the command to repent (1.14).  Furthermore, Jesus says that wherever (14.19) the Gospel is proclaimed, people will recall the anointing of Jesus.  In short, we cannot simply say that proclamation involves only the "Gospel" in the sense of Jesus activities for us.  It involves also an ethical imperative on the listener and the broader story and context of the Gospel. 
Point two, for a sermon:  To tell others about Jesus requires nothing less than experiencing Jesus' compassion. This person prayed, had their prayers answered and then told the world.  What stops us?