Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best of the Blogroll 2018

I'd like to ring out the old year by highlighting what I saw as the best posts of the year at the blogs that I read regularly.
  • CADRE Comments - Joe Hinman does some of his classic solid apologetic work -- reviewing and reality-checking current anti-Christian polemics -- in Early Church Mythers, told you they were coming
  • Conciliar Post - This blog had outstanding posts by more than one author.
    Matthew Bryan re-opens the discussion on how to understand the atonement without re-engaging the old flame-war in Christus Victor Clarified.
    Timon Cline has edifying reflections on The Enduring Relevance of Reinhold Niehbuhr.
  • Dr Platypus - Dr. Pursiful has maintained his blog presence this year by keeping us apprised of the on-line Biblical Studies Carnivals.
  • Euangelion - Another site with multiple authors.
    Michael Bird looks at some ways in which abortion benefits men at the expense of women in What If I Told You that Abortion was a Patriarchal Con-Job on Women?
    And Gene Veith considers how the #MeToo movement may have unintentionally awakened people to the moral/ethical issues involved in sex in Warnings Against the "Re-Moralization" of Sex
  • Forward Progress - Michael Kelley offers encouraging thoughts in While We're Busy Sleeping, Jesus is Busy Praying.
  • Glory To God For All Things - Father Stephen meditates on how to move out of the current endless cycle of self-righteous blaming and deflection, how to repent, resolve, and restore in The Sins of a Nation.
  • Jesus Creed - Scot McKnight is a prolific author and it seems almost a shame to choose only one entry; doubly so when I choose one re-posted from Reuters, and simply for its ability to console after a rough Christmas. Yet for this I am grateful for his post Christmas in the Vatican.
  • Leithart - Earlier this month, Peter Leithart posted news that I was surprised and excited to see: a professional academically-credentialed scholar has covered some of the same lines of inquiry as my long-running series comparing the gospels in Can We Trust the Gospels? (a review of a book by the same name by Peter J Williams).
  • Meta's Blog - Joe Hinman is a versatile thinker with wide-ranging interests. I'd recommend How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong on his solo blog.
  • The Pocket Scroll - MJH (who posts under initials to avoid reprisals against Christians in the academic world) considers variations in ancient canon law as an insight into Law and Mercy.
  • Sun and Shield - Martin LaBar faithfully and regularly posts edifying content from The Art of Divine Contentment.
  • Undivided Looking - Aron Wall takes a refreshingly non-polemical tour of archaeology and the Bible in Some comments on Biblical History.
  • Weedon's Blog - I was not able to decide between two posts from the good chaplain this year, and so am mentioning both:
    He ponders the study of prayer and the practice of prayer in Toward a Lutheran Theology of Prayer.
    He also considers being doers of the word in his Homily on James 1.

Old Friends
My gratitude for all who post material that is edifying, uplifting, thoughtful, and wise, and for posts where all are treated with Christian kindness and respect!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Therese of Lisieux - Meditation on Love

This meditation has touched me ever since I first read it, and I want to share it as a worthy meditation for Advent. After much searching for her place in the church, whether she would be a martyr or a missionary or how best to apply her gifts, after many earnest thoughts and grand meditations of great service that were within her desire but probably not within her reach, she meditated:
"... I continued my reading, and this sentence gave me relief:
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. [I Cor 12:31]
And the Apostle explains how the most perfect gifts are nothing without Love, and that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. Finally, I had found rest.  
Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all of them
Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members [I Cor 12:12], it was not missing the most necessary, the most noble of all: I understood that the Church had a heart and that this heart was burning with Love. I understood that Love alone can cause the members of the Church to act. If Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that Love contains all he Vocations, that Love is all, that it embraces all times and all places; in a word, that it is Everlasting! 
Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out "Oh, Jesus, my Love, I have finally found my vocation: my vocation is Love!   
Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and that place, my God, You have given me. In the Heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love. 
 (Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, from chapter 9)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sisyphus, Groundhog Day, and Solomon

A brief break from the current series, probably posting something more edifying than data analysis for the rest of Advent. 

In Greek myth, Sisyphus was the fellow condemned by the pagan gods to spend eternity moving a boulder up a hill -- only to watch it roll down again, so that he must start over at a job that he knew was pointless. A lot of us can relate to that feeling of endlessly working at a futile task, of that despair or even bitterness.

In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character found himself trapped endlessly repeating the same pointless and silly day. After many failed attempts to break the cycle, the main character found the real escape by accident as he persisted in trying to make the most of the day he had. He was slower to despise other people, slower to hate himself and his job. He became less judgmental, less cynical and therefore less arrogant. By the end, he made a genuine human connection and found his day worthwhile.

Solomon -- reputed to be the author of the book of Ecclesiastes -- wrote his frustration that any gains made in his lifetime were likely to be undone in future generations. Solomon reasoned that if God exists, then there is vindication for the long hours -- and long years -- of doing the right thing when nobody knew or cared (or faulted us for it). There is a right recognition of all our efforts, and that they have not ultimately been lost.

As we look outside of our endless cycle of days for some sign that it matters, I find myself glad to see Christmas on the horizon: a sign that human life matters to God. It's a sign that God keeps his promises. A sign that we are not stuck in an endless loop waiting for a crash. The manger, like the empty tomb, points to a hope that God is faithful, and because of that life has meaning.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Gospel of the Savior: Setting Expectations on the Authors' Terms

This continues a review of actual contents of various documents that are referred to as gospels, here considering the Gospel of the Savior. Of the documents we are considering that are outside the Bible, the Gospel of the Savior is second only to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas in the amount of material that consists of saying attributed to Jesus. Let's begin as usual by surveying the actual material. Because the Gospel of the Savior contains different sections containing different types of material, I'll skip around somewhat to present examples of different types of material:
  • The kingdom of heaven at your right hand. Blessed is he who will eat with me in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Since I have healed those of the world, I must also go down to Hades on account of the others who are bound there.
  • And you will all flee and fall away because of me. 
  • On the mountain. We became as spiritual bodies. Our eyes opened wide in every direction. The whole place was revealed before us. We saw the heavens, and they opened up one after another. The guardians of the gates were alarmed. The angels were afraid and fled this way and that, thinking that they would all be destroyed. 
  • Then again the Son threw himself down at his Father’s feet, saying “O my father … to die with joy and pour out my blood for the human race.
  • “I am the king.” – “Amen!”
    “I am the son of the king.” – “Amen!”
    “I am the spring of water …” – “Amen!”
  • A little while, O cross, and what is lacking will become complete, and what is stunted will become full. A little while, O cross, and what has fallen will rise.

We begin with the basic question, "What type of material was the author collecting?" The document has a central figure who is referred to as the savior, though without reference to the savior's name in the text available to me. Although unnamed, there is no serious doubt that the savior in question is Jesus. While the savior speaks most of the lines, we do hear briefly from other people such as Andrew and John. There is some material that is familiar from the Biblical gospels such as the prayer that the cup should pass. There is also material that is not familiar from the Biblical gospels, such as an account of a vision of the savior reaching the seventh heaven and the throne of God, a liturgical responsive prayer glorifying the savior, and the savior addressing the cross. Thematically, most of the material deals with topics relating to the last supper, the prayer to let the cup pass, the arrest, and the approach to the cross. The approach to these topics is sometimes through the saviors' comments, sometimes prayerful and reflective, sometimes through a vision.

Parts of the liturgical responsive prayer contained here could be used in a Christian service today without seeming out of place. It also contains theological sayings that mainstream Christians would find orthodox (e.g. "Because I am divine and yet I became human"), while others are not quite what someone familiar with the Biblical gospels would expect (e.g. "to die with joy" in the middle of the "let this cup pass" prayer). While the document is fragmentary, based on what we have it seems to contain a meditative re-imagining of the time from the Last Supper to the arrest, as the savior prepares to face the cross.