From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:
My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?
He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….
When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .
I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .
I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .
I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .
I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .
I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .
I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .
I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .
Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:
The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency of at least the early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.’ Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’
It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; and it certainly seems to be the reason that he thought and taught that no man could be good: ‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.’ The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves. We are reminded of Socrates’ great insight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born; the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.
(The Human Condition, pp 74-75)
Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had…
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Opening up Power vs. Force by 1990s self-help psychiatrist-guru David R. Hawkins, I must confess I should’ve done some background on what I was getting into. Dr. Hawkins worked with Linus Pauling on the Nobel-prize winning Orthomolecular Psychiatry. And then he left clinical psychiatry to travel and speak about his pursuit of “pure consciousness”–his theory on the accessibility of the great Truth of life. Power vs. Force is his blueprint–an “anatomy of consciousness,” he calls it–the map of the hidden motivators of human behavior.
There’s lots of kooky stuff in here. For one, Hawkins’ fundamental “database of consciousness” is based in…
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Like spaghetti and meatballs, comfort and rest go well together; unlike spaghetti and meatballs, however, comfort and rest can’t often be served on a nice dinner plate. More fleeting and mysterious in nature, comfort and rest resist definition and therefore law. (For more details on the Sabbath/Law fiasco, see Mark 2.) Even in contemporary churches, Sabbath (and therefore rest) remains touchy. Given that rest is good (Gen 2, Mark 6) and that comfort lends to rest, it’s worth prying deeper into the nature of comfort.
We’re all familiar with discomfort: We often define ourselves by the amount of discomfort…
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Published last month over at Commonweal.
Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
(Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.
This list can be found in Issue 3 of the magazine. It comes from the inimitable Rev. Matt Schneider.
I’m picky about children’s books. There’s a lot of pablum out there, but once in a while my wife and I will find a surprisingly good book for our daughters. The standouts usually have an intangible quality to them, often corresponding with paradoxical acts of mercy between one character and another (and the positive effects). This is an incomplete list of some favorite books that you might consider picking up for your child, niece, godson, grandchild, or maybe even for yourself.
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1. The Net’s been a little sparse this week due, I assume, to people traveling and days off work and such, so here’s a brief week-ender with a few good links. First off, at The Atlantic, Emma Green wonders why 2014’s most religious movies were some of its worst, citing Noah (which was pretty good in our books); Exodus, which seems pretty over-the-top/plain bad; as well as Left Behind, God’s Not Dead, and Heaven Is for Real, all of which we’d probably have theological (not to mention critical) reservations about. Anyway, she diagnoses a few interesting problems of the God-movie genre in our day:
Despite their varying…
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Maybe its just me, but after the final Candlelight Christmas service is finished, the last relative has gone home, and all of the gifts have been unwrapped, there I find myself staring the New Year right in her shiny, best-intentioned face. I’m the Ebenezer Scrooge of New Years. I loathe the pressure to make a resolution. Phrases like “goals for the year” or “Paleo Diet” make me feel short of breath.
Its not that I don’t get on the New Year’s bandwagon with everyone else. As I write, we have three healthy cookbooks on their way to my house. I plan on reorganizing my 7-month-old daughter’s nursery…
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Some years of theology publications are better than others, and to be honest the crop has not been so plentiful this year. But the books that have come out are pretty fantastic, and well worth a read.
The Second Letter to the Corinthians by Mark Seifrid. This is not your normal commentary! Rather than retreading ad nauseum all of usual topics commentaries cover like authorship, dating, provenance, Greek parsings etc., Seifrid’s main purpose is to explicate Paul’s theological logic throughout the book. The Paul that emerges is one of real theological breadth and profound commitment to the grace of God in…
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Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.
1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…
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