Saturday, October 29, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Friday Book Giveaway!
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.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Of God and Cancer
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
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