Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

I am in a generous mood, and I have nothing inspiring to say too. So I thought we would do another giveaway.

This week's book giveaway is True to our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Fortress, 2007).

Here is the blurb.
This pioneering commentary sets biblical interpretation firmly in the context of African American experience and concern. Cutting-edge scholarship that is in tune with African American churches calls into question many of the canons of traditional biblical research and highlights the role of the Bible in African American history, accenting themes of ethnicity, class, slavery, and African heritage as these play a role in Christian scripture and the Christian odyssey of an emancipated people. Contributors include the volume editors, Thomas Hoyt, Ann Holmes Redding, Vincent Wimbush, and sixteen other notable scholars.
So put your name below and I will select a winner on Sunday. Remember, once announced the winner has five days to claim the prize.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of God and Cancer

James Kugel is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and a prolific author. He has had a distinguished career. But a few years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and the focus of his energy switched from writing and researching to fighting for his life. He won. And he has since written a book about his experience titled: In the Valley of the Shadow (Free Press, 2011). I have not yet read the book, but I understand that his scholarship and faith intersect in a unique way as he faces his own mortality.

Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with him talking about his experience of fighting cancer and writing the book.

I didn’t decide to write this book right after getting cancer. After I finished chemotherapy and the rest of my treatment, I was in this sort of “waiting mode” that most people who have had the disease will recognize. You can’t really just leave it all behind you, because you don’t know if it’s over yet. But with time, you start to settle a little less tentatively into your chair: I began working on other things, other books.

Still, I never really lost the reality of the state of mind I had in the weeks and months after getting the diagnosis — that sudden realization that the background music of everyday life is now just stopped, completely silent, and the very real feeling that goes with it, what I call “smallness” in the book. So that state of mind is really what the book is about, from start to finish.

It seemed to me so important to try to capture that feeling for readers and dig into it, because it has always seemed to me profoundly connected to being religious. (In fact, long before I got sick I wrote a little chapter about it in another book of mine, “On Being a Jew.”) So after about seven years, I thought I would try to think myself back into that state of mind and understand why it seems so real, and so important for what it means to be a religious Jew. Books about Judaism are often full of high ideas, but they sometimes spiral off into abstractions. I thought that if I kept coming back to cancer, it would help me stay honest and down to earth.

Interviewer: The book’s title omits the rest of the biblical expression, “the shadow of death.” Everyone knows the actuarial reality of cancer — why did you leave “death” out of the title?

I guess I liked the idea of stopping just short of quoting the whole phrase, because that’s what we do in our own lives. The simple fact is that we are all under the shadow of death, and we all know it. But you can’t live your life obsessing about death, so we tend to leave it out most of the time, without quite forgetting it entirely. We get as far as “in the valley of the shadow...” and then go on to something else.

Interviewer: People facing possible terminal illnesses often turn to God for solace, or turn away. You were already a man of faith, a biblical scholar. How did that faith help you face cancer?

I suppose people who are religious are somehow almost always conscious of living in God’s presence, so in that sense they don’t “turn to God” at all. In any case, that’s the way it seemed to me: just a continuation, kind of “this is what’s happening now.”

You can read the whole interview here.

When God is Missing

I have been meeting with a friend for lunch over the last few months. He is a young pastor who has had quite a few struggles both in the ministry and in his personal life. But the last year has been very difficult for him and his wife as they have tried to grapple with the tragedy of losing a child. They are hanging on, but they are also wondering where God is and if God even cares about them. He and I meet to talk. I mostly listen. I am not sure what to say to him. He asks some very good questions to which I think there are no easy answers, if any at all. At one point he was wondering where to go next. He wasn’t “moving forward with God,” but he wasn’t sure how to go on. It was at that point that I asked him “are you going to give up on God?’ He struggled for a moment and then answered, “I can’t.”

His response was not one of victorious faith in confidence that God will triumph over all. It was not even one that was tentatively mixed with hope. Rather, it was with recognition of the long road he had already walked with God and the distant relationship he has was experiencing now. When I shared today’s blog post he had this to say.

When depression and grief aren't speaking, I find a place where God and hope still exist. A place that holds promise of answered prayers, of a loving God, of eternal life. That place is difficult and at times impossible to see, and yet deep in my soul I know it is there. Regardless of how long or difficult the road has been I cannot believe God hasn't been there. I cannot give up on God because deep down I know he hasn't given up on me. Even when I am mad at God, I still long for God. So while he certainly does not feel close, that longing has to be enough for now.

I suppose this is where some of us end up in our walk with and search for God. We get to a point at which there does not seem to be any point to go further. In fact, there may be nothing driving us to go further. But we also know we can’t simply give up. It’s not that we are afraid of giving up. Images of hell and judgment are not what keep us in check. Instead, it is the moments and times when the only way we can explain something that has happened to us as “God.” And often, those times are few and far between. But they were real enough that we cannot simply give up. And so we wait.

I think about the life of Mother Teresa. She reached a place early in her life and ministry when she no longer sensed God, when God no longer spoke to her. Her letters to her spiritual mentor reveal that she was tormented by the absence of God in her life. And yet, she did not give up on God. She couldn’t. Instead, she persisted and waited for God to show up. I don’t know if God ever did show up for her again. But I don’t think that she lost hope that God would return.

And yet, Mother Teresa also learned to love the darkness she was in. She had concluded that it was her way of experiencing the darkness that Jesus felt when he was on earth. It was her way with identifying with him, as he had done with her. She said “deep in my heart there is a longing for God that breaks through the darkness.” She found that God was more real to her when working and meeting with people and that in those situations God’s love became more real (p. 211).

Perhaps that is the way it should be. That our longing for and waiting for God pushes us closer together and we learn to wait in the darkness knowing that we can’t give up on God. Like a couple in a long marriage that is not working the way it should, we recognize that quitting is not an option, even though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The couple stays in the marriage not because they are guaranteed that things will get better, but because they can’t give up. They have experienced too much together over the years and so they struggle, even though God seems to be missing and all they have left is hope.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Translation for the 21st Century

Ashland Theological Seminary invites you to a presentation entitled Translation for the
21st Century on Thursday, October 27th at 7:00 p.m. The focus of the event is the recently released Common English Bible.

The evening will include a review of the CEB by

Sheila McGinn, Ph.D

Paul Kim, Ph.D.

Wray Bryant, Ph.D.

Responding to the reviewers and recounting their experiences as CEB translators will be members of the Biblical Studies department at Ashland Seminary.

Editor - The Apocrypha
Translator - Revelation

Translator - Ruth

John Byron, Ph.D.
Translator - Judith

The event will be held in the Smetzer Auditorium inside the Gerber Academic Building on the Ashland Theological Seminary campus. The evening will include a formal presentation and a discussion of the Common English Bible with faculty panel who contributed to this
translation. The seminary’s Bible Museum will be open following the event. Light
refreshments will also be provided. The event is free and is open to the public.

Want a Personal Jesus? There's an App for that.

Ah, as if we have not already done enough to domesticate and cheapen the significance of Jesus, now you can have your own personal Jesus on your Iphone. The animated Jesus recites more than 200 Bible quotes, can be placed in five different environments, and can appear as one of four different races. Forget Buddy Jesus, this it the ultimate in designer Jesus! Here is what the website personal has to say.

This new app will take you back to the values and wisdom that founded our world by giving you a speaking animated Jesus who delivers more than 200 quotes from the Bible directly into your iPhone or iPad. And because you will find it too precious to keep, you can share it with your friends through social networks. You can have it on alarm setting, as a reminder to start your day with a beautiful thought, or you can shake it for 'random mode', which will surprise you with different quotes. But the main innovation of Personal Jesus lies within its unique global approach that welcomes all by offering the Gospel of Christ in four different Jesus races: white, black, Asian and Celtic.

Here is a video advert too.

As usual, I will not say more. You can decide as to the good or bad of this new App.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Moses and the Egyptians: hearing the other side of Bible stories

Every now and again I read a story in the Bible about how the Israelites conquered such and such a people and destroyed everything. I wonder sometimes about the other side, the people who were wiped out by a group of people who claimed they were doing God's will. I think about the children, innocent and clueless as to what was happening and seemingly suffering because of something their parents did or did not do.

As modern readers of the Bible it is important that we try to hear both sides of the story, even in the Bible. We need to be careful that we don't use the Bible in ways that brings harm to others. This means that while I understand that the Bible has a theological message, we don't necessarily want to encourage things like genocide as happens in Joshua. Just because it is in the Bible doesn't mean it is something we want to replicate. It is good to pause when reading and interpreting and to think about about the situation of the "other side."

The below video does this. It is an imaginary interview with an Israelite and an Egyptian speaking for their people about the plagues against Egypt that lead up to the exodus. The creators have done a good job of portraying what Egyptians might have thought about the situation as well as emphasizing the challenges faced by Israel.

I wonder what it would be like to hear from someone in one of the cities destroyed by Joshua. From someone who had never done anything other than be born in the wrong city at the wrong time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Paul Tillman! He is this week's giveaway winner! Paul is the winner of Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus. Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing this week's giveaway prize.

Paul, please send your details to me at and I will send the book out this week. Remember, you have five days to claim your prize or it goes back on the shelf.