Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Death Penalty--Iran, China, and the US

A recent Times article sees Iran's institution and use of the death penalty as a serious gaffe in their justice system. I can see why...29 hangings in one day despite a 2002 moratorium against the punishment. The charges: Rape, murder, and drug trafficking.

If 29 is a small number consider that last year Iran put 317 criminals to death coming in second to China's 470. The US only executed 42 in 2007. Keep in mind populations, and per capita Iran is leading the way in legal slayings:

  1. Iran: 317 executions, 70,495,782 citizens--1/222,384 are executed.
  2. China: 470 executions, 1,325,208,000 citizens--1/2,819,591 are executed.
  3. US: 42 executions, 304,721,000 citizens--1/7,255,261 are executed.
So you are 324 times more likely to die at the hand of the state in Iran than in the US, not that you are involved in such criminalizing behavior. But the homicide rate in Iran 2.93 (per 100,000) as opposed to 5.7 in the US. So, the US homicide rate is almost double Iran's despite the extremely more harsh penalty (remember, 324 times more harsh).

I don't know where I am going with this...it's just interesting.

John 2...Carl's Blogged Bible Study, Credibility, Inclusivity

Like I said in my last post, any chapter in John really takes time and space to digest, which I don't have time for this week, but hopefully will in the days to come. It's kind of like attempting to play a full game of Risk in 20 minutes....doable (maybe) but sloppy.

The first recorded miracle, while occurring in isolation (of the synoptic gospels it is only mentioned in John), cannot be interpreted in isolation. Backtrack to the John 1 for a second...Jesus had just called his disciples. Only Jesus knew the crazy ride they were in for, yet they hardly knew him (in fact in 1:48 Nathaniel, after being called, asked Jesus how he knew him).

As I mentioned last time, John is all about verifying that Jesus is truly the Messiah; John's concern is Jesus' credibility (cf. Jn 20:31). While eventually Jesus would perform signs and wonders for men, women, Jews, Gentiles, Roman soldiers, etc. it was necessary to start with his core group; his disciples; his best friends; the guys who would die in his name (except John, the author of this gospel...ironic, huh). So before Jesus demonstrated his power to anyone else (except his mother...she obviously knew what Jesus was capable of--legends exist in which Jesus performs miracles as a child) Jesus performs a miracle for his disciples only. Coincidence or strategic? I'd say strategic. Gaining trust and loyalty of his inner (fickle) circle was part of the plan.

Jesus' "cleansing of the temple" is radical in John. Unlike Mark (who places the event closer to Jesus' death) John places it as the launch of Jesus public ministry. This freaks out a lot of believers as they perceive it as an error, but keep in mind that Jews of the first century did not think with a linear western mindset. Theirs was a topical mindset--importance trumps chronology.

Anyway, most folks perceive this story as a stern warning for misusing the temple; that is, Jesus was really ticked off at the money changing going on (Roman currency wasn't allowed...it had to be exchanged at a high rate for temple currency in order to pay the temple tax or buy sacrificial animals). I am sure Jesus was angered by this, after all he quotes Jer. 7:11 in referring to the temple as a den of Lions.

But while Jesus loved his Father's house, he loved people more. In this passage Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7, "My house will be called a house of prayer for ALL nations." These thiefs, under priestly permission, had set up shop in one area of the temple..The COURT OF THE GENTILES. In doing so they left little to no room for worship of those not under the Abrahamic covenant. This house Jesus had walked in on wasn't a house of prayer for ALL nations, just for the Jews. I think this ticked Jesus off more than the bake sale in the atrium. We know from all the synoptics, especially Luke, that Jesus went out of his way for the marginalized, the Samaritans, the Gentiles.

So sure, according the prophecy in Ps. 69:9, zeal for this all inclusive house consumed him. Then as Jesus fulfills the prophets, he himself prophesies his own death, which will be remembered as a sign by his disciples at the right time.

***I hate proofreading...but I hate errors too...if you see any, let me know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

John 1:1...Carl's Blogged Bible Study, Baptism

Carl put together this Blogged Bible study on the book of John.

John has always been my favorite gospel--in fact my Thesis paper for my MA focused on an obscure word found only in this gospel. John is so strange, yet so familiar to the Chrisitian. If Paul is the theologian of the New Testament, then John is the philosopher (Irenaeus and church tradition attribute authorship to John, the beloved disciple...he is often confused with the baptizer or John of Patmos). John's gospel, ever popular with the gnostics, is so different from the other synoptics, but so compatible...in fact, it may be considered the key for interpreting the rest.

So far Carl, Joe, Darla, Michelle, and Deborah all have posted on the first chapter of this metaphysical look at Christianity with different styles and perspectives. I enjoyed them all...I'd say Joe thinks much the way I do.

Usually I love to tear apart a text and try to get into the mind of the author. The problem I face is trying to do this with a chapter that is 51 verses long. I could and should write a 50 pg. paper on this! So instead, I'll just focus on a tiny portion.

The first chapter can be broken down as follows:
I. Prologue (1:1-18)
II. Beginning of Jesus' ministry (1;19-51)
A. Testimony of John the Baptist (1:19-34)
B. Call of the first disciples (1:35-51)

The prologue, should be thought of as the thesis statement for the gospel, and all interpretation of such should revolve around it: The eternal Godhead of the Word who was involved in the creative process was made flesh to give life and light to those who are born of His Spirit; contrast with his adversary, Belial, Satan, made manifest as the counter work of His fellow Jews who reject his teachings and Messiahship. John logically attributes credibility to "Jesus."

And after the prologue, how does he do this? How does John first physically introduce the Son of God to his readers? He does so through the rite of Baptism!

I doubt I have to expound to anyone reading this post that John, while writing in Greek, was a Jew and wrote with typical Hebraic style. He was well versed in the law. He drew upon this knowledge to legitimize Jesus as being the spoken of by the prophets, and John the Baptist was crucial in fulfilling this prophecy (i.e. 1:23).

You know all this. But what hit me, is that the act of Baptism was so necessary! According to John, Jesus did not begin his ministry (which was to take away the sins of the world--1:29, and to baptize WITH the Holy Spirit--1:34). John the Baptist testified to the author that at the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended and stayed with Jesus, unlike all the prophets before him who only experienced momentary rendezvous (1:32).

I say all this as I rethink baptism. It seems to me we trivialize this rite, dare I say, sacrament, in the church today. We think of it as cliche public statement of our belief to those in our congregations. I have heard pastor after pastor tell his congregation that baptism ceremonies will be taking place at some set aside date in the future and any congregant who feels led to participate may. How contrary to John's portrayal of the event!

Leave John with me for a moment and go to:
Mark 16:16:- "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved." (hardly sounds optional)
Acts 8:34-39- The Eunuch was immediately baptized.
Acts 9:18- Immediately after the scales fell off Paul's eyes, as he saw Jesus for who he was, he was baptized.

Every example of salvation in the early church was immediately accompanied by baptism as per Jesus' example here in the first chapter of John.

I don't know exactly where to go with this except to say I hope we all take this story far more serious than we currently do!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Theological Journeys

When I was a kid, maybe 8 years old, I was watching a movie at my grandma's apartment. I recall a character from the movie--an elderly man, not a regular gambler by any means--at a casino playing roulette. He started with a small sum and within a half an hour his luck had grown his cache to a sum of tens of thousands of dollars. A crowd had gathered in the meanwhile, cheering him on. He took his winnings, around $70K and bet it all on one number and lost to the dismay of the crowd and me, the juvenile viewer. To the crowd, fearfully waiting for a reaction, the old man calmly states, "Things Change."

Man that hit me. How earth shattering of a revelation to learn that nothing is static! It is scary to change, to move, to correct a misunderstanding, etc.

I thought of this movie after reconnecting and talking to a good friend, Leighton, from college recently whom I had not spoke with in over six years. For those of you who don't know, I went to an Assemblies of God (pentecostal) bible college, and then to seminary. My studies focused on theology and biblical languages. Leighton, the rest of my friends, and myself all entered the school not questioning a tidbit of AG doctrine. But things change, and so has Leighton, in a good way.

It is interesting to see where our theological journeys have led us. My friend Josh in CA is now Baptist. My friend Mike in Indianapolis is now Methodist. Leighton, in Chicago, while not claiming denominational allegiance, is very Reformed in his theology. All these guys have traveled a good deal in their theological journeys. I equally respect those who remain convinced of their beliefs, so long as they are objectively informed.

Change for the sake of change when it comes to any metaphysical musing is silly. But I admire the journeys of those that occur as a result of conviction, love, and learning. N.T. Wright, a intellectual hero of mine, is no different from my friends.

Have you traveled far from your first suppositions on God? Where did you start and where are you at today?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Family Men

Being a husband and father is by far the most rewarding experience afforded to man while on this earth, in my opinion. The Church, recognizing the beauty and importance of marriage a liturgical rite--a sacrament; that is, in effect, a method for imparting grace on the individual.

Similarly the act of child bearing and rearing is a lofty miracle. For theists, like myself, we see ourselves privilege to work alongside God in the act of creation.

I do not necessarily consider myself qualified for either role: husband or father. It is my opinion that nobody in and of themselves actually possesses or attains to worthy credentials. God and community supplement where the individual is lacking.

This joyous responsibility is also veraciously daunting and often strips one of self confidence, particularly in the role of protector. Protecting my family is one of the most fulfilling tasks. As I was perusing through the pictures on our digital camera today I came across the picture below. I was engulfed in emotion as I recalled what took place in the photo. Our youngest daughter, Gabs, held an unlit Morning Glory Sparkler in her hand. As soon as the sparks started shooting out, she realized the harmful potential grasped in her ruddy little fingers, burst into tears, and threw the sparkler on the grass. Only when she was tucked in my arms would did she stop crying and try to participate.

But every up has its down. The possibility for failure and the latent repercussions are extremely daunting and scary. I am always second guessing myself, asking, "am I doing an adequate job at protecting my family?"

As many readers may or may not know, in just five days I will be jobless. With no future employment solidified, and this being the only source of income for my family, it is easy to feel as if I am negligent in the role of protector. It is in moments like these that it is so necessary to stumble across the picture above!

Now, I know we will get through this difficult time. I just hope that in months to come I will look back and realize that it was easier than it felt at the time, and that my family felt as little discomfort as possible.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I Heart Craigslist

Not a day goes by that I don't scan the pages of Craigslist (particularly the 'free' section) hoping to spot a deal. A few days ago I saw a posting that simply stated "Toboggan 8 ft Lund with Pad." After I hastily replied, the owner said I could pick it up on Monday.

So today I drove by the house. There it was, a beautiful 8ft toboggan in mint condition, sitting on the owner's porch waiting for me.

The toboggan, is actually a Lund toboggan, and is out of production. It s hand crafted with all original parts, down to the last screw. A brand new 8ft toboggan with pad goes for around $300. This toboggan, is worth far more, seeing as it is a rare find. Initially, I wanted the free toboggan to turn it and make a few bucks, but now, after seeing it learning of it's history, I will be unable to part with it.

The Toboggan

I'm already enjoying it.