Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Schreiber on the Holocaust

There are any number of interesting books on the Holocaust/Shoah—memoirs and diaries, detailed histories, biographies, etc. But Mordechai Schreiber’s volume, Explaining the Holocaust: How and Why It Happened, is a substantive examination of what led up to it, who was involved, and how we can reflect on the enormity of this evil. It is written with both style and grace.

What he offers is a well written, thoughtful, and important analysis of the Holocaust. He tells compelling stories—of the Nazi leaders, Jewish leaders, Righteous Gentiles, resistance movements, rescue missions, and failed leadership. One of the most jarring elements of his narrative is the complacency of foreign governments (the US, the UK, Canada, etc.) concerning the plight of European Jews.

He recounts some amazing stories about low-level foreign diplomats who made huge impacts in rescuing Jews from danger, including Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who issued visa for several thousand Jews. Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portugese consul general in Bordeaux, France, who issued more than 1,500 visas to Jews and personally helped refugees escape from France to Spain.

While being raised in Israel as a secular Jew, Schreiber eventually went to seminary and became a rabbi. He lost many family members in the death camps. His cousin, Mordechai Paldiel, who wrote  the foreword, was is the former director of the Righteous Gentiles section of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.

This important work will be available in just a couple of weeks. I heartily recommend it.

Jesus and the Animals in the Wilderness

Some research this week took me to Richard Bauckham’s Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology (Baylor University Press, 2011). I was surprised and delighted by Bauckham’s exploration of Mark 1:13: “He [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” I must admit that, though I am keenly interested in the Bible and our relationship with (other) animals, I had never really noticed the clause that “he was with the wild beasts.” But Bauckham makes much of it, judiciously and compellingly.

Bauckham notes that in Mark there are three non-human encounters for Jesus in the wilderness. The first encounter is one of enmity, with Satan. The third is one of unalloyed alliance and friendliness, with the angels. The second and in-between encounter, with the beasts, is one of neither unrelenting enmity nor straightforward friendliness, with the wild animals, who “are enemies of whom Jesus makes friends.”

Who are the “wild beasts”? Bauckham says that the Greek here refers to wild animals in distinction from domesticated animals, and usually to four-footed animals rather than birds, reptiles, and fish, though snakes can be included. It may also refer to beasts of prey, that is, animals dangerous to humans. From what we know of the zoology in the ancient Judean wilderness, Jesus may have encountered such animals as bears, leopards, wolves, cobras and desert vipers, scorpions, hyenas, jackals, desert foxes, wild boars, wild asses, and antelopes.

Bauckham finds in Mark’s story undertones of  the Jewish eschatological hopes for the healing and reconciliation of all creation, as for example in Isaiah 11:6–9, “The wolf shall live with the lamb . . . The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,’ and so forth. Jesus’ being “with the wild beasts” is rooted in the phrase einai meta tinos, “to be with someone,” and “frequently has the strongly positive sense of close association or friendship or agreement or assistance.” Thus “Mark 1:13 depicts Jesus enjoying the peaceable harmony with wild animals which had been God’s original intention for humanity but which is usually disrupted by the threat of violence.” What Jesus establishes, in his christological role and in early Mark’s context of the inauguration of the kingdom of God, is the representative “messianic peace with wild animals. . . . Jesus does not restore the paradisal state as such, but he sets the messianic precedent for it.”

In sum, “Mark’s image of Jesus with the animals provides a christological warrant for and a biblical symbol of the human possibility of living fraternally with other living creatures, a possibility given by God in creation and given back in messianic redemption. Like all aspects of Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom of God, its fullness will be realized only in the eschatological future, but it can be significantly anticipated in the present.”

How exciting.

Scripture Together

I’m currently working on a book by Shannon Nicole Smythe called Women in Ministry: Questions and Answers in the Exploration of a Calling. It’s an important book, I think, because the issue is one still dogging evangelicals. Smythe approaches it in a helpful way. Rob Wall, in the foreword, writes:

Dr. Smythe offers readers a careful selection of sacred texts because she has a bone to pick; that is, the dialogue between selected biblical passages and her core belief in the triune God guides her to where theological goods are mined that most likely will help her readers engage in their process of discernment. But they are also selected with a full awareness that a primary reason why people disagree over this topic concerns how to read the very passages she has selected to study. While the reasons for these disagreements are complex, often involving social worlds as much as linguistic analysis, the practices for doing so are properly communal. This is a book that encourages interested people to read, study, and discuss Scripture together. Worshiping God and studying Scripture together cultivates those characteristics that enable earnest Christians to resist the tendency of allowing disagreements between them to harden into non-negotiable positions that occasion harsh and hurtful accusations of others on the other side of the divide. This provides a context for both understanding and reconciliation.

Wall’s foreword has some great reflections on theological interpretation. In addition to calling attention to the book itself, highlighting Wall’s words is the purpose of my post today. Here are some longer excerpts I found especially good given my own ongoing interests in theological interpretation:

A theological interpretation of Scripture does not bring a particular modern “criticism” to the biblical text but, rather, a range of theological interests as ancient as the church. Strong students not only recognize that Scripture bears authoritative witness to God’s saving work in history, they expect that a faithful reading of Scripture targets the loving relationship between God and God’s people. That is, if Scripture is approached as a revelatory text, then any Spirit-directed application by its faithful readers should result in a more mature understanding of God’s word whose effective yield is a more satisfying life with God.

The practical problem of such a task, of course, is the abundant surplus, not scarcity, of theological resources at the church’s disposal in its Scriptures. In fact, one could say that the Bible, from beginning to end, is about the relationship between God and God’s people: what does it truly mean to be God’s people and do as they ought? In part, this is because the Bible is the church’s holy Scripture, shaped and sized from beginning to end in the company of the holy Spirit to size and shape a holy church that is also one, catholic, and apostolic. Toward this end, every Scripture is God-breathed to inform, form, and reform God’s people into a covenant-keeping community, a light to the nations.

This book is deeply grounded in the church’s confession that its Scripture—every bit of it—is God’s inspired and inspiring word. Any attentive engagement with what Scripture says, especially if it demands our repentance, as I think this book does, not only recognizes the holiness of the biblical texts that are studied—even those well-known “texts of terror” such as 1 Timothy 2:9–15—but their proper reading and application within the economy of grace. That is, Scripture is the sanctified auxiliary of the holy Spirit who teaches us God’s word and draws us into loving communion with God and with all our neighbors. The practice of studying biblical passages together commends the belief that Scripture’s authority cannot subsist apart from an engaged community of readers who carefully and prayerfully wait upon the Spirit to disclose God’s truth to them.

Horsley on Magic & Miracle

Last year I mentioned in a blog that I was editing Richard Horsley’s newest volume titled Jesus and Magic: Freeing the Gospel Stories from Modern Misconceptions. The two problems Dick addresses are the scholarly (and nonscholarly) use of the terms “miracles” and “magic” with regard to Jesus’s healings and exorcisms. He demonstrates how the use of these terms and the understandings behind them has led scholars to numerous false conclusions and blind alleys.

He demonstrates that use of magic (and Jesus as “magician”) goes back to the appearance of the Greek magical papyri in the nineteenth centtury—documents that date from the second to the fifth century CE. While they are written in Greek, they are from Egypt and include rituals, incantations, spells, etc. Horsley shows that nothing that Jesus says or does comports with what is found in these documents, but that scholars were keen on making connections. One telling point that Dick makes is that if Jesus’ contemporaries had thought he was doing this sort of magic, he would have been quickly accused of it and executed for it. But what Jesus did was in line with other ancient healers and exorcists.

Related to this discussion is Horsley’s debunking the use of the term “miracle” for Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. He points out that scholars typically don’t even bother to define what they mean by miracle, and that in general it is influenced by eighteenth and nineteenth century notions.

This is a “don’t miss” book.

The Heresy of Hell

I am currently preparing a snazzy new, annotated edition of Rev. Thomas Allin’s 1885 classic, Universalism Asserted. Anyway, I just wanted to float one of Allin’s objections to hell past your discerning gaze and see what you think of it.

Allin is very concerned with being true to the catholic faith of orthodox Christianity and perhaps his chief concern with hell is that it is, in his view, incompatible with orthodoxy!

At first blush that claim seems absurd, given that most orthodox Christians since the sixth century at least have affirmed eternal hell! So a little clarification is in order. Allin does not mean that those who affirm hell are unorthodox. Rather, his point is that eternal hell is a cuckoo in the nest that is a live threat to the rest of the chicks.

Perhaps an illustration: if hell continues to all eternity then sinners continue in their resistance to God for all eternity, sin continues forever, evil continues forever. As such, we end up with an everlasting cosmic dualism in which good and evil are co-eternal. Even if God can imprison sin in an eternal chamber in some corner of creation, he has not undone and defeated it, but merely contained it. But such an idea threatens to undermine some central Christian convictions about God and evil.

Allin also argues that a hell from which there is no ultimate restoration—whether that be eternal torment or annihilation—would undermine the doctrine of God (his love, his justice, his goodness, his omnipotence), the victory of Christ, the power of the atonement, and so on and so forth.

Of course, those who believe in hell also affirm God’s love and justice, omnipotence, the atonement, divine victory, etc. But, Allin’s point is that when they do so they either have to add in qualifications that serve to undermine the very beliefs that they affirm or they have to simply ignore the contradictions in their belief set and talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.

Given the oft-heard, though incorrect, assertion that universalism is heretical, what is interesting is that the heart of Allin’s case, though he does not put it in these words, is that in order to maintain a consistent and healthy Christian orthodoxy one ought to jettison belief in eternal hell. Hell, in other words, is bad for orthodoxy.

Who said Anglicans were wishy-washy!

What to Do When You’re Committed Soviets, Raising a Christian?

FX TV’s The Americans has an ingenious premise. Elizabeth and Phil Jennings are two Soviet spies embedded in the Virginia suburbs during the Reagan years. Much of the show is standard spy shenanigans: there are kidnappings, surveillance missions, and many lethal confrontations. That part is done well and provides suspense. But the difference for the program is the depiction of what it’s like to hide in plain sight in the suburbs. Thus the Jennings dine with neighbors, become close “friends” with the FBI agent who lives across the street,  run a travel agency, and go about raising their two children.

It’s the subplot about the children that interests me here. Phil and Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old daughter Paige is invited by some peers to a church youth group. She loves the companionship, and soon she’s reading the Bible clandestinely. Of course, the kids don’t know that their parents are Soviet spies. They think they’re just part of an ordinary American family. It’s not said that the Jennings have raised their children as atheists, but somehow Paige senses that her parents won’t be happy with her newfound religious enthusiasm. There’s a great scene where Elizabeth catches Paige huddled up with a Bible in her bedroom.

Soon Elizabeth is raging to Phil about how Paige is being brainwashed. You can hear Marx shouting about the opiate of the masses as a subtext. Here the viewer’s placement in 2015 and the show’s setting in the 1970s contributes to a nice irony. As we (the viewers) know, the Soviet eschatology petered out. Who looks the most brainwashed now?

Paige insists that the church gives her meaning, and something bigger to live for. The church she’s attending is a socially activist Protestant congregation. Paige participates with the church in a protest at a nuclear manufacturing plant. It’s not long before she wants to be baptized.

It’s a dilemma for the two committed crypto-Soviets. What to do when you’re raising a daughter who’s a Christian? The Jennings complain to one another, but eventually roll with their daughter’s desire to be baptized. After all, they may be spies, but they want to be good parents. They even invite the pastor over for dinner.

The subplot about Paige’s Christianity  is still unfolding on the show. We’ll see how it turns out.

An Alarming Development—Serial Em Dashes

My headline for this post is a bit tongue in cheek. Developments in grammar and punctuation may not really rise to the level of “alarming.” This despite the convictions of one typesetter I knew long ago, who assumed grammar came straight from heaven and on occasion wept at grammatical violations. But in any event, I’ve noticed lately in three different manuscripts under edit an innovation worth comment, if not necessarily alarm. I’m calling it the serial em dash.

The serial em dash occurs when a writer uses three or more em dashes in a single sentence. Here’s an example of my own construction: “One church we studied—St. Barnabas Episcopal—based its politics in the act of the eucharist, while another—First Baptist of Richmond—centered its politics more on the sermon and its contents.” And here’s a second example: “The chancellor—he had been awake half the night—came downstairs—in an angry mood.”

In more than thirty years of publishing, I’m only now seeing the serial em dash employed, and recently I’ve seen it used by at least three writers. I’m not sure why it’s developing—perhaps it’s only sloppiness and unawareness with writing and punctuation conventions.

In any event, no more than two em dashes in a sentence is the convention. Especially in my second example above, it’s clear that the use of the serial em dash makes the sentence confusing. It causes the reader to stumble over which clauses exactly go together, and it could be cured simply by removing the last em dash (the one before “in an angry mood”).

Parentheses may also be substituted for the em dashes in cases when two or more objects of the sentence are in reference. So my first example might more conventionally read: “One church we studied (St. Barnabas Episcopal) based its politics in the act of the eucharist, while another (First Baptists of Richmond) centered its politics more on the sermon and its contents.”

Em dashes suggest in the reader’s mind and scanning a  significant slowing down or pause. Parentheses connote less of a pause. So using em dashes where parentheses might better work can make the reading more clunky. And, as we’ve seen, em dashes misused can confuse rather than clarify a sentence.

All considered, a word to authors: if you’re tempted (for whatever reason or lack of reason) to use three or more em dashes in a sentence, don’t. There are other and better tools to hand. Let’s bury the serial em dash before it takes on even more currency.


Inhabit 2015: Faithful Practice in the New Commons

I made a reservation yesterday for a hotel room in downtown Seattle for Inhabit 2015—a conference co-sponsored by the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and The Parish Collective dedicated to exploring “Faithful Practice in the New Commons.” Erin and I have wanted to attend Inhabit since it first started five years ago, but the stars never seemed to align. I’m currently working on some developmental editing with an author active in the Inhabit movement, and so I’m delighted finally to be able to get up to Seattle and learn more about efforts to re-orient Christian communities towards local neighborhood development and empowerment. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the website about the conference:

Each year hundreds of practitioners, pastors, social entrepreneurs, church planters, community leaders, environmentalists, denominational executives, publishers, professors, urban planners, and artists from all over the globe come together to connect, collaborate and celebrate the good work being done in thousands of neighbourhoods and parishes. They share a common vision for seeing the transformation of the church through their participation in their neighborhood. They are educated yet grounded in practice, committed to interdisciplinary work, and invested in the flourishing of the Kingdom of God.

As we anticipate Inhabit in its 5th year, we’ll convene a diverse cross-section of pioneering leaders who come to meet new friends, learn from one another, and are sent back reinvigorated to join in God’s dream of reconciliation and renewal for the very particular place they call home. With a dynamic mix of participatory environments, insights from seasoned leaders, and rich storytelling, the Inhabit Conference is a uniquely creative event year after year.

Shoot me an email if you’re planning on being at Inhabit 2015! I’d love to hear about the work you’re doing that has led you to Seattle.

Underwhelmed, Excited, Satisfied

This post has three parts. The first is about the music offerings of 2015 so far. The second is about the start of the 20th season of MLS. And the third is about a running app. In other words, if you came here looking for a book announcement, or a theological reflection, or commentary on a current event, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’d like to get some new music recommendation, or you are a fan of soccer in America, or if you’re a runner and want the lowdown on a helpful app, then you’ve come to the right place. Links abound!

Part One: Music of 2015

So far I’ve been underwhelmed by the music coming out in this two-month-old year. Nothing has stood out. To be fair, I listen almost exclusively to Spotify, so I’m not able to hear everything. For instance, I’ve yet to hear the new Bjork album. From what’s available to me, and from what I’ve taken the time to listen to, I’ve not yet been wowed. I had high hopes with the new releases of some old favorites: Father John Misty, Iron and Wine, Jose Gonzalez, Joshua Radin, The Lone Bellow, Of Montreal, Dan Deacon, Belle & Sebastian, and the Punch Brothers, to name a few. They’ve not disappointed me, necessarily, but none of them have hit me quite like they did the first time I heard them however many years ago. I’ve come across some artists new to me that might grow on me as the year goes on: The Amazing, Champs, Fryars, Ibeyi, Sea Change, Jape, and Rhiannon Giddens come most readily to mind. And I’ve hope some of the singles being put out in anticipation of later albums will lead to a better music year: see especially Alabama Shakes, Florence + The Machine, and Passion Pit.

Part Two: MLS

The MLS owners and players worked out a new CBA yesterday, so the 2015 will not be derailed by a work stoppage. This means the 20th season begins tomorrow night. My boys and I have created our fantasy teams, we’ve got tickets for a Timbers game in April, and the league has a new television deal that will allow us to see a few more games.  The recent influx of USMNT players to the league makes it all the more exciting.

Part Three: Wahoo running app

I’ve been running fairly regularly for the last 5 years or more. In that time I’ve used two different sport watches and numerous running apps on my iPhone. I’m as addicted to the data as I am the running! The problem is that my data has gotten scattered across several platforms. I like certain things about one platform and certain other things in other platforms. I have running data on Garmin Connect, RunKeeper, Runtastic, and Runcoach. I’ve been able to consolidate much of that data to some extent. There are still several missing activities on some platforms and still many other duplicates, but I’ve got a good history on several sites. I still can’t decide which one I like the most, so I’ve decided to keep adding activities to all of them and more. Recording runs on several platforms means having several apps open at once while I run, or it means having to manually enter my runs on a half dozen sites after I’ve completed my run. I was going the manual entry route for a while. It got old quick. Then I found a running app that recorded my runs and also allowed me to upload the run to several other running apps: Wahoo Fitness. It is the most versatile running app I’ve ever used. After each run I upload my run to my accounts on Garmin Connect (which automatically connects to Runcoach), Runkeeper, Strava, Nike+, and MapMyRun. I can also put the GPX or TCX file into a folder on Dropbox for uploading to Runtastic. There are other fitness sites Wahoo can upload to, but I’m trying to discipline(?) myself and stick to these seven. While I can’t seem to make up my mind about one platform for recording my running data, I am quite satisfied with the Wahoo app for giving me the option of not having to decide. In addition to compatibility with other sites, Wahoo is capable of linking up with various devices like heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, bluetooth scales, bike computers, and a host of other gadgets for purchase. I’ve yet to buy any of those compatible gizmos. The thing I like best about Wahoo is its simplest feature: the screen! The workout screen has big, easily readable numbers. Reading your distance or pace or time on an iPhone strapped to your forearm, your head bobbing up and down, and sweat getting into your eyes that don’t have glasses on them or contacts in them is not easy. Wahoo’s designers seem to understand this. Highly recommended for runners who are as indecisive and visually impaired as I am.

Chapters of the Heart–Again

Some time back I wrote about a volume I edited written by Jewish women, Chapters of the Heart. Here is what I said then:

One of the most surprising books I have edited in a long time is Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives, edited by Sue Levi Elwell and Nancy Fuchs Kreimer. I found myself pulled in by each of the twenty essays. They reflect on events or relationships that have affected them deeply and then reflect on its relation to their experience of Judaism and Jewish texts. Many readers may pass it by because of the subtitle, but that would be their loss. But if you have an aging mother, a sibling, a child, a spouse, you will find deep reflection here. It should be out in July.

I wanted to bring this up again today because they were selected as a finalist for The National Jewish Book Award. The editors and contributors have been energetic advocates for their book, holding readings and signings around the country. My congratulations go out to all the contributors to this fine volume.

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