Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Break Reading - Thus Far

I’ve had a great start to my break from the semester’s routine to get in some leisure and “other” kind of reading.

I wish I had more time to commit to comments – but only started this blog to “capture” thoughts – and have never intended to give full reviews.  I have to remind myself of that as I sometimes want to do in-depth reviews and then realize – at this stage in my life – I barely have time to do the reading – let alone provide space for significant commentary.  And, what is more – this is intended more for archival record/tracking – and quick review for myself.  Someday I’ll have more time to write more commentaries/review.  And, this is more about my “leisure” and “enjoyable” reading.  Though it does connect with who I am and how I think – it is not my “professional” review – just “readings and reflections.”

I enjoyed reading Blue Gold:  The Fight To Stop the Corporate Theft of Water.   I am not convinced with some of the general affirmations in the text (mainly because they were unsupported as presented) that we are running out of water.  Perhaps I have a greater trust in the largeness and scope of the “water cycle” that I was taught as a child.  BUT!  I was intrigued and alarmed by reading about the corporate levels of waste that take place with water – in irrigation and agriculture settings.  And, I never took the time to reflect on who “owns” the water that gets piped to my house.  I did not realize many places have “corporate” water that is not “owned”  - and I really never thought about my water being “owned” anyway.  May sound silly – of course I pay for it to get piped to my home – but I always thought about paying for the service, not the water itself!  In my short (!) lifetime – and really in just the past 15 years – we have gone from a culture that drinks water from the tap – to spending exponentially more $$$ on bottled water, etc.  Interesting.  And, made me miss the pure(r) taste of water I remember from my childhood days in Oregon.

$20 Per Gallon:  How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.  I liked the text for a variety of reasons.  For one, ever since reading The World Without Us a few years ago, I have enjoyed the idea of a “thought experiment” for imagining/predicting the future.  Using reasonable suggestions from current knowledge – we can make reasonable predictions about the future. I liked that the book was optimistic about how our lives can get better once “peak oil” changes everything.  I valued the ideas that were gleaned and do agree that it is inevitable that our use of oil will become more tumultuous, expensive, and limited.  It is a limited resource.  No matter how well we dig/find/explore for it – there is a limit.  The best thing about this book is that presents options to think about how we’ll live in more sensible ways – and I hope for a more sensible future!  I do think the book’s optimism is framed in line with the fact that the book posits a more or less gradual shift toward rising oil prices.  I tend to think it will be more tumultuous – with surprises of new discoveries to help us with alternate energy – and with fomenting political unrest that will cause for more discontinuous and troubling issues as well.  (BTW – the book caused me to recall the hopes of President Jimmy Carter for America – that have never been realized. Sad.  A great snippet from 1979 – July – The Crisis of Confidence.)  I liked the optimism of the book – compared with the more “apocalyptic” kind of texts I’ve read – which make me reasonable fearful though not afraid.  Books that have tended toward making me afraid – and I think they are overzealous – include those by James Howard Kunstler – including The World Made by Hand, The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency.  I love the title of the second, the long emergency, because I do tend to think we are in an emergency in our world –we use too much, we do not think about the future, we kill too much – and it’s a “long” haul if we don’t change our ways.  Admittedly, humans have been killing humans for millennia – and we’ve been both exploiting and resourcing the worlds resources, too – so perhaps we’re not doomed . . . unless we are in the long emergency.  Reminded me that I enjoyed reading The City of Ember texts with my girls quite a few years back.

I don’t recommend Frozen:  My Journey Into the World of Cyronics, Deception and Death – but it made for an interesting “audio read” as we crossed Texas.  (And Texas is a long enough drive to read an entire book in audio – easily!)  The thing I found most intriguing about the book was/is the “belief” systems that the persons have – a fully Modern belief – that science will advance to the point of being able to resuscitate people to new-life.  Intriguing.  The book, I would note, has quite a few unfavorable and questionable reviews that I have discovered after my “read” of the book.  So, not sure how accurate or fair it is as a text – but it was intriguing.  Colourful and odd beliefs, experiences, and stories.

I will never, never, never eat fish (or "seafood") the same way again – in the best way – after reading Four Fish:  The Future of the Last Wild Fish  The book was so good.  It combines stories, biography, technology, science, knowledge of aquaculture in so many ways – from global and oceanic issues, to microbial issues in fish – to ethics and profound issues of stewardship and sustainability.  I could too easily write too much about this book – so I will trust any interested person to do their own research on the text and what it has to offer elsewhere on the internet – or by reading it yourself!  The book was great.  I have literally spent many, many extra minutes in the grocery store LOOKING at fish and realizing that “seafood” is way, way, way too generic a term to describe the vast diversity and complexity of fish in their cycles of life to describe “seafood.”  Wow!  I am not sure I will ever eat fish/seafood again – and not remember this book.  Great!

I’ve been reading John Maxwell stuff since the early 1990’s and I still think he’s on top of his game.  Additinoally – his books are “easy reads” as they provide simple summaries of ideas – then fleshed out with perhaps too much In the way of story/examples.  In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently – Maxwell sets out key ways to insure I can better connect with people.   The book in summary - 1. Connecting Increases Your Influence in Every Situation  2. Connecting Is All About Others 3. Connecting Goes Beyond Words 4. Connecting Always Requires Energy 5. Connecting Is More Skill Than Natural Talent 6. Connectors Connect on Common Ground 7. Connectors Do the Difficult Work of Keeping It Simple 8. Connectors Create an Experience Everyone Enjoys 9. Connectors Inspire People 10. Connectors Live What They Communicate.  One thing I like about Maxell is how “obvious” he is.  Which reminds me of this great text of simple “proverbs” about what is obvious – that I still enjoy re-reading on occasion.  Obvious:  All You Need to Know In Business. Period.  I love the opening chapter’s opening sentence.  Work is a verb.  That’s simple, but people need to remember it!

I enjoyed Picking Cotton:  Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption.   Another great audio read as I drove back and forth to the beaches in Texas!  The story is simple and straightforward.  And can be summarized in this simple way.  Jennifer gets raped.  She identifies RonaldCotton.  Ronald gets wrongfully convicted and then exonerated 11 years later – the 23rd person to be exonerated using DNA.  They meet later in life and become friends.  That’s it!  Now, along the way there are details (of course!) – and Ronald proves a generous man!  The story gives perspective on issues of justice an injustice, fair and unfair trials, the post-life of a female after rape, and the life of an inmate before, during, and after conviction and incarceration and exoneration.  A good story.  Not complex.  Nothing unexpected.

Picking Cotton made it enjoyable to read many of the excerpts found in Last Words of the Executed by Robert Elder.  The book contains hundreds and hundreds of quotes from the “last words” of persons who were executed – followed by a paragraph or two description of the “facts” involved in the case.  One man was executed after two trials claiming his innocence.  Four years later the person he supposedly killed, showed up in town expressing that he had no ill feeling to the man who was executed – and he certainly did not kill him!  The book’s author notes that he has no agenda with the collected quotes – which appear in chronological order.  But he notes that the sense of the quotes change as executions used to be public (town square!) events, then became private – and have only recently again become pseudo-public – at least by means of media – and, btw, more political too.  Many attest their innocence, many attest to having been changed, some admit their fault and plead mercy or seek forgiveness. 

I plan to finish Hold Tight by Harlan Coben before I depart for Israel, Palestine and Jordan in a few days.  I have got so many OTHER things to do in the next few days – too – too – too – too – too many other things.  Enjoyable fiction.  A bit unrealistic in several ways – but enjoyable all the same.

Oh – on a final note, I picked up and plan to take with me to read/review while in the “Holy Land” - Where Jesus Walked: A Spiritual Journey Through the Holy Land.  It looks to be a nice mix of site specific information with credible scholarly data and compilation, alongside thoughtful spiritual reflections for the specific sites as well – believable reading – belief-able!  =)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Reclaiming the Mission » “Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives”

I read this blog (see below) about how youth groups destroy children's lives - and was reminded of the fact that I have had my students read John Westerhoff's Will Our Children Have Faith for more than a decade in the classroom. I think Jamie articulates similar issues of concern in his great text, James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

I learned the language many years ago from Westerhoff - and it permeates much of what I teach - we have to think about forming persons lives - not just "teaching" them something. In this way, the work of the Christian body (not just the church or teachers or pastors) - but the work of the Christian community in all of its activities is about enculturation!

I think there are many aspects of Christian tradition that "get this" better (or worse) than others. In that regard, I would note that it seems to me the classic Radical Reformation (Anabaptist)traditions (think Amish or Bruderhof) have discerned well (though not without their own pitfalls, I am sure) that life is lived together in the fullness of all activities in forming Christian persons - not just in the "Sunday School Class."

I know, as a matter of fact, when I think about what it means for me personally to be a person of faith today, I do not think back to my "youth pastor" or "ski trips" or going to the Oregon coast (okay, so I remember them!). I think about the Oldaker's - an elderly couple in my home church who, despite their age and unique life situations, spent more than 30 years caring for their disabled grandchild. I think of the Oleson and Olson families - with whom we spent time and from whom I learned about Christian leadership. I think about my persons who I can not name - family names - and even a pastor - who made decisions that were morally problematic, but, from whom, never-the-less, I learned how to live. I think about one woman, whose name is lost to me, but I remember she would artistically paint her morphine-pain-bottles - as she lay dying of cancer. Oh, and I remember the teachers in my classes from my childhood - and my pastors - but I am not sure I recall many (if any) of their lessons. Instead - I remember their lives and remember that through innumerable experiences in various settings I was "taught" about faith - but it was much more - oh, so much more than a classroom!

And their lives - models of enculturated faith - shaped my life - and so I try to model life and faith for others.

Every single day I pray with my family, "Lord, help us to be people who are faithful and honest, kind and true, gracious and generous, people who embody and reflect the life of God's Kingdom." And that part about embodying - taking it in - and reflecting - demonstrating it out - in real ways - is so important if we are going to model a generational faith that lead a LEGACY - when we Lead Each Generation by Affirming Children adn Youth. Otherwise, it seems the said demise of Judges 2:9-10 will be our reality.

The post that spurred my thoughts here - is here: Reclaiming the Mission » “Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives”

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Not so much reading - only some reflection - but a day in my life

I was up before 7:00 a.m.

By 10:00 a.m. I had used my 12 ton jack to lift a porch and shore it up with 4x4's I'd cut and prepared.

By Noon I had used my 60' cable to clear the roots out of the sewer line on a house.

I came home to a wonderful wife.  I cleaned up and we spent the day together - just to be together.  She shopped.  I sat in chairs and watched people and ate food.

We went to an early dinner together.

I bought enough Ice Cream to bring home to make me happy for weeks.

We toyed with the idea of watching movies or reading in the evening - and we did a bit of both.

She went off to sleep before me.  I stayed up to watch a documentary on the Appalachian Trail.

I determined in 1997 that wanted to hike the AT (or sections of it) in 2007.  I had estimated that by then I'd be done with my dissertation and well along enough in life to hike it with the "kids" who had been in my Children's Ministry in 1997 - who would by 2007 be "old enough" to hike it with me.  I have yet to hike the AT - but I stay in touch with the "kids" of Colorado and someday, we may yet do it.  I hope so.  I was delighted that in the National Geographic documentary I viewed - a 70 year old man was completing his "through hike" (the entire 2000+ mile journey) - and he happened to be using the exact same Osprey backpack I own.  Ah!  At least by the time I'm 70 I'll be able to do it!  Somewhere around 1999 or 2000 I read Bill Bryson's experience of hiking portions of the AT, which still amuses and inspires me.

I then watched the movie 180 South.  I had never "met" Yvon Chouinard nor Douglas Thompkins - and I had forgotten to read this text, which I have yet to read - Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I read the author's other text, Guns, Germs, Steel - a few years back. The Film 180 South was inspirational and motivational - providing images along the way in the Film - and the lives of the persons listed here.

I was reminded of the themes of Deep Ecology which come up in the Biblical Theology and Global Stewardship class that I teach - and went back for a quick review of this text, which I consider important relating ideas of Deep Ecology and Christian themes, though I am not convinced it renders correctly all issues.

And, as I wrap up this review on this great day and note these "Old Testament" concerns - I'm reminded that I received an email today - from a former student.  I encouraged her to seek a fellowship in D.C. many months ago - working with Bread for the World.   She wrote, and I quote:  "I received this e-mail from Bread today about some of the pieces of legislation I lobbied for this summer. I was so overjoyed I cried. I wanted to share the good news with you and once again thank you for sharing the Hunger Justice Leaders opportunity with me. My experience in DC changed my life, the way I think about how citizens can speak to people in places of power, and my framework for what it means to be a social justice advocate. Thank you so much."

What a great day I have had.  What a great day to work and enjoy and sit and think and remember what is important.

Monday, November 29, 2010

End of Thanksgiving Weekend - Wikileaks

Thanksgiving Weekend has come to a close.

I had a great break - and a productive break. Thousands of leaves raked from the yard. Several great National Geographic Documentaries watched (including subjects on Alexander the Great, Lewis & Clark, Auschwitz, and Yellowstone.) A great book read, that I had actually checked out for my daughter - Be The Change - and (!) I made progress through two commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers - and a third one underway as well.

I had an odd, odd, odd dream about a book I read several months ago - Eccentric Existence. I have no idea where the dream even came from as I have had no conscious thought of the book in months! Dreams - so odd. The dream focused on the idea that it should be "ex-centric existence" as we were to move ourselves out of the center - theologically. Where did that come from? So odd, these dreams we have.

But . . . I am prompted to write a few words tonight more about the recent spate of news coming out in the form of the "wikileaks." These leaks are troubling - it seems to me - at so many levels. I think much of what gets "exposed" will not be terribly secret - as much as it will "expose" our own anxieties and fears - at the national level.

I work with a great bunch of colleagues who I love. Recently though, I came walking upon them and heard my name used specifically - and the conversation changed immediately as I came into view. I have no idea what they were discussing. They were smiling - and I trust them - and I know they trust me - so I do not believe it was anything ruinous or malicious. And, perhaps they weren't really talking about me - but I was just a "single member" of some larger issue. The point is this, while I trust my colleagues and have no idea what they were saying, it still bothered me that I came upon them talking about me . . . and I don't know what they were saying. I have told myself that it is not a big issue - because I really do not believe it is - no doubt we all get talked about by numerous persons every-single day. No doubt my students - every single day say things they like, and loathe about me. No doubt parish persons communicate on numerous days in a given week things they think I have done well - or poorly. And, I am sure there is reason to speak poorly of things I do poorly - or say unfairly and so forth. I am far from perfect. (Just ask my wife or kids who endure my everyday failings!) But, knowing that we are being talked about - and that it is not all favorable, shapes how we think about ourselves and how we think about ourselves in relationship to and with others.

And, I fear the wikileaks will only cause many persons - and many national leaders - to be more suspicious and suspect of one another - and more guarded and unkind one with another.

We live in a world that needs to see and discern more peace and harmony and open-ness and love - not less of it.

We live in a world that needs to discern the absence of power struggles and the advent of peacemaking.

May it be the case - as we enter the season of Advent that we wait expectantly - and live faithfully - into the reality of what it means to be humbled one-to-another.

In the spirit of this humility - I wrote a letter to a long-ago-high-school friend earlier tonight. His choices in life have differed from my own. I have been FB friends with him for quite a few years - but believe it might be the case that - many years ago - given choices he made - I may have said something unkind, unfavorable or unfair to or about him. I do not believe I did - but I wanted to be sure. So I sent him a personal message tonight - confessing my failures in communication and owning responsibility for the fact that I need to love better and speak only words of grace and charity in all ways.

To any who might read this - let me encourage you - with me - to let this season of Advent - and the Wikileaks be reason to cause and reflect in your own words - in your writings - in your emails - in your conversation - would you be willing for your private words to be held up to public scrutiny?

God grant us - and our world - Peace.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What we celebrate at Thanksgiving

We should celebrate when we have reason to give thanks.

But, we should also be-wary that what we celebrate as "good" in our life may be the result of something disproportionately bad in the life of another.

A few years ago I visited Plymouth Rock with my wife. I was surprised - at first - to see a statue commemorating the genocide of Native American Indians, as the result of English persons coming to colonize this New England (now America.)

I remembered the stories today and found this link from the news this week - here.

Some of the persons that I work and live with might be troubled by my remembrance of the Wampanoag today. I am not troubled by that. We need to remember them. I think too many persons too quickly pass over and forget stories of violence. To fail to remember the stories is to fail to remember the history of violence that has been part of who "we" are as Americans - and who we are as humans.

When we fail to remember the violence of our past, we are more prone to repeat it.

One of the most compelling issues of the Christian conviction is found in the claim of the Christian Gospel. That God. Being Human. Submitted Godself as Humanself, to death. To become Victor over Violence by becoming Victim to Violence.

There is powerful implications to God's Holiness characterized in these ways in the Hebrew Scripture, most prevalent in the 11th Chapter of the book of Hosea.

My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man-- the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.

At Thanksgiving - I celebrate many, many, many reasons to "give thanks" in my personal, family, friendship, professional life!

But, I humbly remember that my life's joy - when it has come at the cost of other persons lives, honor, dignity - is not "fair" - just, equitable or Christian.

So, at this Thanksgiving - I give thanks, but I mourn, too - with others - for the failures of human persons to extend goodness and charity, kindness and benevolence to others.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lecture on Adult Learners and Use of Technology

I think the link at the bottom of this - which redirects to a lecture (1hour 2 minutes) -  has implications for how we (1) teach adult learners and how we (2) think about the future of education and technology.

I don't know how to "scale" this to you as a ten out of ten on lecture - as I find that different persons learn different things - but I found the information credible, amazing, interesting, and "futuristic."  

Presented by:  Dr. Mark David Milliron serves as the Deputy Director for Postsecondary Improvement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading efforts to increase student success in the US postsecondary education sector. He is an award-winning leader, author, speaker, and consultant well known for exploring leadership development, future trends, learning strategies, and the human side of technology change. Mark works with universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, corporations, associations, and government agencies across the country and around the world. In addition, he serves on numerous other corporate, nonprofit, and education boards and advisory groups.

It's from the most recent WCET Connect Conference -

HERE's the LINK:

If the link doesn't work go to:

About half way down, under View the General Session Presentations, click on the WCET Media Site webpage.   Listen to the Keynote Presentation by Mark Millron.  I think you will enjoy it.

I get to study and "sabbath" with former students, now dear friends!

Oklahoma clergy group awarded grant from Columbia Theological Seminary

Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BETHANY, Okla. (November 16, 2010) - Southern Nazarene University faculty member Marty Alan Michelson, Ph.D. was selected by the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) as part of a six-member clergy group from Oklahoma to receive the Lilly Endowment, Inc. funded S3 (Sabbath, Study, Service) Project grant. Along with Michelson, the other Oklahoma group members include Eli Pagel, Jeremy Graham and Wendell Sutton of Mid-America Christian University, Rev. Levi Jones of Piedmont Church of the Nazarene, and Rev. Stephen Vandervort of Wenatchee Church of the Nazarene. Each participant in the group is a graduate of SNU, invited into the cohort application process by Michelson.

The purpose of the S3 Project is to provide funding that offers peer groups of clergy and other church professionals an opportunity to collaborate and construct ministry-strengthening learning experiences related to Sabbath, study and service. The CTS selection committee chose the group from Oklahoma based on the age and Christian denominational diversity of the group's members as well as the strength of the group's proposal. The Oklahoma clergy group will join five other groups of colleagues from around the U.S. 0n the campus of CTS in February 2011 to form the 2011 cohort group of the S3 Project. Collaboration will continue through 2012.

When asked about expectations for participation in the S3 Project, Pagel responded, "The S3 Project offers a remarkable blend of opportunity and challenge. It offers the opportunity to have a funded study project that many dream about, but few have the opportunity to pursue. It offers the challenge of collaborating with peers over an extended period of time on a project."

The Oklahoma group plans to use the S3 Project as an opportunity to nurture conversation based on reading and study to cultivate new concepts for practical church ministry in each of the member's separate parish locations. The group members have already begun written collaboration, and at the completion of their study, they will seek publication of their collective ideas and ministry focus through appropriate publishers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chicago - Catholic Theological Union, Christian Scholars Group and the International Council of Christians and Jews

Too many things going on in the past few days to capture complete reflections - so consider these thoughts as brief notes along the way.

  • I'm impressed with the work the Catholic church is doing to effect change and shape peaceable conversation with and among Jews.
  • I've never before realized how "small" the church of the Nazarene is as I've not only had to introduce myself personally, but denominationally to several persons in the past few days!  I realize I am not a minority, but I have felt something like it here.  Delighted to be here as one who adds a distinct perspective to conversations that are primarily among the largest groups - Catholics, Jews, and Lutherans.
  • Had a delightful meal with an Conservative Jew who insured where we ate (a non-kosher restaurant), no one would notice (though she maintained a kosher meal herself!!) that someone at the table had bacon.  Thankful for her willingness to sit among "goyim" (gentiles) - and yet, found it curious and funny that in my own tradition I might have to feel the same way about sitting at a table where someone at the table might be consuming liquor.  Not sure what to say about it - just the curiosity that in our unique faith traditions we have different things that make us "unclean" or are perceived as "wrong/bad/sin" - and they are so very different.  Bacon or Liquor.  For different communities of faith, reading the same Scripture (!), these different things really do matter!
  • Catholics "get" Christian art.
  • Worshiped at a gorgeous, wonderful "cathedral" - the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.  But, it "felt" hollow as a mere 40 people were there at the start of the service with perhaps another 20 arriving late.  The space - physically and with "choir" singing - literally felt empty.  What does it mean that some places of "aesthetic" beauty for worship lack vibrant communities to "fill them"?  I know I have experienced a greater "feeling" of "intimacy" and "spirit" among the equal number of persons I normally worship with - in a setting at my home congregation where most are poor, former addicts, and have been homeless. 
  • Sitting earlier today (and will be again for next two days) among a room full of key, significant leaders of significant organizations in and around the U.S., Europe and Israel.  Not sure how I deserve the invitation - or if the invitation will come again - but feel humbled and honored to do my part to attempt to find my way to best advocate for others in advancing a peaceable future.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(In)tolerance among clergy in the 21st Century

It is nearly the end of the 2010 – and we’re safely into the 21st Century!

Consider these words: 

“Intolerance has been too prevalent as of late, and many clergy of different denominations are [responsible] with its growth.  The whole spirit and office of religion is to make [humans] merciful and humble and just.  If such teaching was preached by the pastors to their own congregations and the [responsibility] of others left to their own clergy, God would be better served and human society governed more in accordance to His holy commandments.”

The quote is from a respected Jewish woman in Philadelphia, written in 1844!  (I edited the words for clarity, “chargable” to “responsible” – “man” to “humans” – and “charge” to “responsible.”)

I am not certain that this quote applies equally in our time in all places in the U.S. – but I am certain it has continued applicability in all too many places in the U.S. today. 

It seems to me the spirit and ethic of the prophets of Hebrew Scripture and Jesus of Christian Scripture intends to create believers (Jews or Christian) who shape humans as individuals – and within society – to be “merciful and humble and just.”  Or, as the prophet Micah in chapter 6 writes the same words, in different order, “What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8) 

I had opportunity today to explore these themes with Mary Christine Athans, B.V.M. -  based on her article just published in the U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 28, Spring 2010.  What a delight to be in the conversation with Christine – but how unfortunate that a disparaging note about U.S. clergy and denominations from the 19th Century remains all too true as we proceed into the 21st Century. And, even greater tragedy - that we may still not be able to discern the message of the prophets from two thousand seven hundred years ago! Or from Jesus two thousand years ago. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Learning with & from ecumenical leaders at DUKE

I have spent a number of days, over a period of months - on retreat and in learning and fellowship with persons from a variety of faith traditions. In our shared program of learning through DUKE Divinity’s Faith and Leadership Program we have talked about many things! Too many to list!

We have shared ideas about traditioned innovation, vibrant institutions, reconciliation, adaptive leadership and thinking institutionally. We have played together and prayed together. We have read good books – and shared the knowledge we have gleaned together. We have shared meals and fellowship. We have learned the value of telling stories, while sharing our stories one with another. We have grown and learned from one another.

In the midst of it all – I am reminded of how “big” and vibrant the Church is in all its manifestations. I am reminded that the Kingdom embraces various aspects of leaders and leadership to cultivate and direct faithful institutions in the work of the Kingdom.

I have developed friendships with Adrienne, Herb, Wes, Kirsty, Rob, Keith, Phil, Sarah, Kate, Laura, Nicole, Kevin, Sharon, Kiely, and Elizabeth – not to mention leaders from DUKE including Bill, Tamara, and Dave.

I have come in direct working relationship with key persons from various institutions and from places around the U.S. including: Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, Nehemiah Christian Center/Apex School of Theology, Reformed Church in America , First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, Presbyterian Church (USA), General Assembly Mission Council, Western's Center for Continual Learning Western Theological Seminary, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Columbia Theological Seminary, Hope College, Massachusetts Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, Iowa Conference, Calvary Baptist Church of Denver, CUE (Chicago-United-Eden) Seminaries, Bethany Theological Seminary, and the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

Together we have discerned the following list of things that constitute the most vibrant issues for vibrant, engaged, living, institutions. As you will see from this comprehensive list – the responsibilities for faithful institutions is not simple or easy. But, vibrant institutions can become reality and I hope to be part of vibrant institutions and vibrant communities of faith for my entire life’s journey.

Our list (in no particular order) – What makes a Vibrant Institution:

Provide a place to stand/foundation
Strong individuals
Perseverance in darkness
Clear mission
Articulated purpose
Clear values
Practical application
Action oriented
Disciplined – communal participation
Vision bigger than self
Embody Trust
Cast articulate clear vision
See beyond self
Clear communication patterns
Clarity of mission
Connect to history but not bound by it
Process of initiation
Welcome newcomer with open arms
Stories of success
Room to be vulnerable
Clear expectations
Sense of history
Marks of distinction from other institutions
Sharing burdens
Clarity about what institution is not
Owning brokenness
Nurture, Challenge
Agents for transformation
Access to things
People to encounter
Extravagant welcome
Makes demand on and for
Forms my lifestyle and habit
Encourage people to improve
Evolution and Adaptation
Teachers of tradition bearer of ritual
Rethink power structures
Engaging physically, emotionally intellectually and spiritually
Clear communication patterns
Relational vitality
Ability to resolve conflict
Reconciliation forgiveness experienced
Love and care
Laughter and playfulness
Honor word
Ritual symbols
Training preparation learning
Bearers of traditions
Laboratories for learning
Incubators for leadership
Forms and structures our traditions
Cultivate thinking communities
Mentors and disciples
Clear vision
Right people
Acquired wisdom
Healthy turnover
Space for innovation
Places of reconciliation hope and lament
Foster relationships
Build on and pas on knowledge across generations
Convey a craft culture around along with their ends
Broaden and add to the lives of those they serve
Exists for more than themselves
Inspiring trust
Outwardly focused

Sense of joy
Emerging leader focused
People oriented
Leadership form among
Community identity voice
Holding place
Ask questions
I felt empowered
Afforded a voice
Life giving
Financially support
Everyone has a place at the table
Know my name
Institutional memory
Dream makers – spread and sending
Forward thinking
Inspire loyalty and stewardship
Sense of well defined identity
From the shadows to the future
Raising leaders from within
Accountability - mechanisms in place
Encourage change, risk
Admit brokenness
Atone – take action
Connect to context in ways that work for them
Portability – transcendent
It has a story – compelling narrative. If you can’t tell the story of your organization in a way that is compelling, it will die – not thrive.


Now I must journey on with these insights!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Former Students, Future Friends, Fantastic Life

Several months ago I gathered with my colleagues from the School of Theology and Ministry at SNU to meet with the class, on a weekend retreat - "Introduction to Ministry."  The class, taught by one of my colleagues and offered every Fall to incoming students (freshmen and transfers) is an orientation to what it means to think about and be a minister in the various capacities that constitute Christian Service and discerning one's vocation in ministry.

On retreat we have a Q&A session when the students get to ask anything.  At the end, my colleague asked us if there was anything supplementary that we would like to share.  Looking out at a group of some 40 (or so) students in all their unique diversity and with all their special gifts and talents I said something like this, "Some of my best friends in life - and the people I most routinely converse with on Facebook or through other social networks are former students.  I look forward to the fact that in the next decade - some of you will go on to church ministry, academic pursuits or various world regions - and you will become my best friends."

I note that because I'm at DUKE in Durham, N.C. as I send this post.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to be with Megan Pardue and her husband Keith - and we spent a great full day together - eating pizza, going to the beach - sharing our lives together in ministry thoughts, family conversations, jokes, travel, and just "nothing."  In fact, I joked with Keith throughout the day that he kept trying to make our conversation have a telos and we didn't need one!  We had a GREAT day!  See the pics here!!  I could not be more proud of who Megan & Keith are - for their contributions, for their conversation, for the way they think about being Christian in vibrant and meaningful ways!

Though I was not with him yesterday or today - as he's out of town - I am right now co-writing a paper with another former student - who is also at DUKE, Logan Kruck.  He and I will present our paper together in the Spring at the Wesleyan Theological Society meeting.  What a thrill to be working in harmony and synchronicity with former students who have competence and skill!

And today, I'll worship with a friend from my shared and collaborative work through Duke's Faith and Leadership Program - Herbert Reynolds Davis.  Then, I'll share coffee with a  mentor in my own life - my former teacher - W. Stephen Gunter.  He taught me many things when I served as his Graduate Assistant many years ago - and I continue to learn from him as he, many years ago - transitioned from being "just my teacher" to becoming *also* my friend.  And, he remains someone I learn from and glean from.

And, I anticipate wrapping up the day with dinner or dessert with Amber Gingerich Crispell - who was a "child" when I was a Children's Pastor in Colorado Springs.  She and her family - and her extended family - were key members - witnesses and workers! - in the church where I served.  Amber and her husband, who I have yet to meet, Dave - are finishing their program of study here at DUKE where he will complete his M.Div this academic year.  Amber's cousin, Kevin, also a former "child" when I was Children's Pastor in Colorado Springs - was a student at SNU - and lived with us off and on in between and before and after semesters on occasion. 

My life is filled with key relationships of meaning - that give me vitality, hope - from former students - and from my own former student days!

What a blessing to see the hope and possibility of former students who become future friends - as meaningful relationships are developed, and shared friendship is extended in open and hospitable ways!

And, what an absolute thrill to be a participant with others - these particular and specific others - as we attempt to do our best - together - to reflect and embody the life of God's Kingdom!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Participating with Scholars - Jewish Christian Relationships

I am delighted to have received invitation to meet this Fall with the Christian Scholars Group for their biannual meeting in Chicago.

Though the invitation comes simply to be a kind of external participant to how this membership group works, I am thrilled.

The Christian Scholars Group (CSG) is an ecumenical gathering of Christian scholars that has been studying a wide range of topics pertinent to Christian-Jewish relations. Its members have written some of the most influential works on the subject. The CSG meets annually under the auspices of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning to discuss the research being conducted by members and the latest developments in the field.

I had opportunity to meet Rev. Dr. Peter Petit, who has given me this invitation - while working at Oxford this past summer. Peter and I have separate but unique connections in several ways - personally and professionally - and I have been nothing but thoroughly impressed with who he is as a gracious person, a formidable thinker, and a clear communicator.

I will be traveling with SNU students to the land of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan again in early 2011. This gives me opportunity as a professor to engage students in unique ways – and gives opportunity for networks of relationships that can expand the scope of how SNU graduates collaborate with other programs, professors, and universities.

The purposes of the Christian Scholars Group include fostering scholarship concerning the relation of Christianity to Judaism, providing a forum for constructive criticism of work-in-progress on this relationship and engaging in collaborative projects that might also serve as a resource for others concerned with Christian-Jewish relations. While an invited membership is for scholars, the work of the Christian Scholars Group takes place for the church as the group seeks to assist churches in reconsidering and reformulating their teaching regarding Jews and Judaism, and the Christian-Jewish relationship.

While meeting in this extended way with the CSG, seeing how they work and who they are, I will also participate in a consultation meeting with the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) including Chicago Theological Union’s annual Shapiro Lecture, being presented this year by the ICCJ president, Debbie Weissman of Israel.

Only God knows how these relationships can help foster my personal and professional growth - as I continue to try to nuance and discern in my life how to embody and reflect a life that extends good to the all, extending justice and peace.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ken Sande and Peacemaking

I've had opportunity this past week - and in forthcoming weeks - to become acquainted with the work of Ken Sande. I am impressed with the "ease of access" and Biblical models he develops in the books I have quickly reviewed - including The Peacemaker and Peace-making for Families.

I explained to my wife that Ken's work is like a practical, family version of what Walter Wink (and others) would call Jesus' Third Way - neither fight nor flight, but engaging in a new and challenging way toward better outcomes. Ken calls it neither "escape" nor "attack" - but "peacemaking."

Always good - even great - to engage peacemaking practices in discernible ways for families and "real-life" applications "at home and work" - in addition to the larger peacemaking efforts in national and international arenas. In fact, perhaps more peacemaking at home will lead to a more peaceful international diplomacy!

My connection to the work comes out of this opportunity, listed below. As I understand it we are a kind of "pilot group" for new curriculum Peacemaker Ministries has adapted from their church audiences towards business settings, yet to be fully distributed in this new format.

The Zig Ziglar Center for Ethical Leadership is hosting the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium as they present “Peacemaking for Business.” Sessions will be held in the Royce Brown building on the SNU campus from 5:30pm-7:30pm on October 12, 19, 26, and November 2 facilitated by Mr. Bill Blew.

Blew is a former Oklahoma District Court Judge and a graduate of Rhodes College and Vanderbilt School of Law with extensive experience in conflict resolution. He is also founder and executive director of The Olive Branch; a non-profit ministry that helps people find peace in relationships by teaching them how to deal with conflict from a biblical perspective.

“Peacemaking for Business” focuses on resolving the central issues of conflict while helping individuals preserve and restore lasting, healthy relationships. The course is recommended for anyone desiring to develop personal skills in the area of conflict resolution and relationship restoration, particularly business leaders, owners and human resources professionals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Swimming in Scholarship in September

I have been absolutely swamped in September.

I intend to catch up on several venues of reading, but will not be able to catch up entirely, I am sure.

A few highlights. I have contracted to write a commentary for my denominational publication on the book of Numbers - Beacon Hill Press. Additionally, I will be teaching a course for the denominational seminary (Nazarene Theological Seminary)on Leviticus and Numbers. As a result, I have been swimming in resources that I am adding to my library as I discern how to begin my writing - but more urgently - as I frame the syllabus that I need to have prepared for the course! Swimming in Leviticus and Numbers makes for some intriguing swimming! =)

I did, delightfully, catch up on a summer's worth of National Geographic Magazines! For the past several years a subscription to NGM has been part of my birthday from my in-laws! What a delight to get a magazine in the mail each month, that I read cover to cover - that reminds me of the grace and generosity of my family to me. NGM allows me to explore the world, open my cultural lens and "see" so many things from a new perspective. What a delight.

Also in September, I have made application to several other professional meetings or publications. I've got an invitation to write a piece on the Old Testament and Suicide for an edited volume out of London. I have had a piece accepted for the International Theology Conference for the Church of the Nazarene in 2012. I have had a piece accepted by the Wesleyan Theological Society meeting. I have been invited to join the Christian Scholars Group. And, I have applications in for two other fellowships, and one other writing assignment. In truth, I would not at all be disappointed if I don't get the fellowships or other writing appointment. I'm paddling all my professional muscle write now (the pun is intended) and it's going great - super - fantastic . . . but phew! I have got work to do!

All is well.

May not be posting much - and my reading will be framed in light of what and how I am writing. Life is great.

Life is truly great.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Second Hand Clothes

I bought a new suit so that I could officiate at my Grandfather's Funeral a few years back. I own four separate clerical shirts which I have purchased new. And, my socks and underwear have been purchased new.

Besides that - every t-shirt, every dress shirt, every dress pant, every pair of jeans, my tennis-shoes or sandals or dress shoes - has been purchased at some second hand store.

I don't have to purchase clothes "Second Hand" but it becomes a means by which I steward resources in my life (our own family finances). And, it becomes a means by which I steward resources that others have "discarded" for re-use.

It seems to me that the way we dress is a reflection of the way we use resources. It seems to me that the way we purchase items is a reflection of our highest priorities and values. Brand names, new clothes are not my priority.

Living my life as a steward of all that is entrusted to me, that is important for me.

I try to live my life as one who reflects and embodies the life of God's Kingdom.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Peacemaking - Prevention and Protection

I spent the day "on the Hill" as they say "in the Beltway" here in Washington D.C.

I think I have some of the insider lingo correct. I am not sure that I need to have it correct.

The important thing is that I had opportunity to meet today with persons in my Congresswoman's office - and with representatives in both my Senators offices.

Did I "change the world"? Certainly not in any singularly global or effective way.

But I raised my voice in clear ways, expressing to my federal representatives that I am aware that the U.S. has considerable forms of resources that shape Global issues. And, while I had specific requests toward issues with regard to Genocide and the situations in Sudan *right now* - I specifically expressed that the U.S. use more of its resources to advance peace - through preventive measures and protection efforts, instead of promoting militarism.

I am the recipient of many, many, many "things" as an American Citizen. I am the recipient of many, many, many "things" as a Christian.

And, I believe Americans - and Christians - can do more and do better to advance peace in our world.


I had opportunity as a Carl Wilkens Fellow - to spend some one-on-one time with Carl Wilkens. Delightful.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Phyllis Tickle: Like an anthill | Faith & Leadership

I don't tend to "do" theology in the classroom - as a vocation - unless it is specific to the academic constraints that inform the task of Biblical Theologians. But, I try to "do" theology - to reflect and embody the life of God's Kingdom each and every day. And, many of the theologians and pastors that I work with have opinions and perspectives on the idea of the Emergent Church.

I am including a link to a short video clip and short audio (all one one page) that is helpful for the conversation, I think.

Phyllis Tickle makes an important connection with emergency theory (!) - the entire anthill issue. She also clarifies in the video, what I would put in my words as: "Emergent Christians are not saying 'We're doing something new and different because the old is 'dead' but we're emerging into new periods of God's unfolding future in light of the past.'"

Phyllis Tickle: Like an anthill | Faith & Leadership

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How should we teach ministry? | Faith & Leadership

A great article by L. Gregory Jones @ Duke regarding pedagogy for the future of Church.

The article connects with other work I have heard articulated by Parker Palmer in the past 12 months, where Palmer talked about how Courage to Teach is partnering to help make better, more intentionally informed and engaged Medical Doctors. More can be read about Palmer's work through the Center for Courage and Renewal.

Jone's article can be found here:

How should we teach ministry? | Faith & Leadership

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Metanexus Philadelphia 2007 and Madrid, Spain 2008

Had opportunity in the past few days to connect with faculty members in the OKC area who share some - broadly speaking "Science and Religion" interests.

Reminded me of some past work with with Metanexus.  Dealing with a " transdisciplinary approach to the most profound questions of nature, culture, and the human person. Metanexus serves an ever-growing network of locally-acting, globally connected scholars, researchers, teachers, students, and ordinary citizens committed to exploring our world from a rich diversity of perspectives."

Delightful past conferences.  I have had wonderful personal and professional opportunities afforded to me through the "discipline" of sharing in conversation and dialogue in conferences.  I am thankful for many things in my life.  Very, very thankful.

Curious fact about myself - I didn't realize until finding these pictures.  I seem to like to place myself in the extreme left of the frame . . . or - from the Group's perspective - at the very far right. I think it has less to do with wanting to be on one side - and more to do with not wanting to feel "squished" in the middle.

Posted via email from Recent Reading & Reflections: Collecting Random Thoughts In No Particular Order

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unique Conversations at the Parish

I was told by David sitting outside our church this evening that I was a "young fella" and, as he said to me, "your awful young." (And it was expressed "your" - not "you're.)

It was a nice compliment.

But, alas.

He would go on to tell me he'd never seen me before. Even though I have preached in our church for over two years on a consistent basis - and he has been in the congregation.

And, he went on to tell me that two of the pastors in our church had "stolen in the spirit" two gold rings that he used to have. It was a bit confusing. But apparently your "spirit" can leave your physical body in some "spirit" way - go to other bodies, steal their things - and transport those physical objects spiritually - then re manifest them as physical things. It was a bit more confusing than that, but that was the gist of it.

And, David would tell me that there are people in our congregation "right now" who he saw on his Cherokee land in the 1970's. These people, says David, actually killed children on his land and he witnessed it. When I asked him why he would choose to worship here with these murderers he said he was waiting for God to judge them.

So, while I'm thankful for David's compliments on my age. I'm not entirely sure he's a credible source. Too bad.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Senator Inhofe and Genocide Prevention - Today's Conversation

Brian ~
( )

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.  As I said to you personally, I know Senator Inhofe has long-standing vested commitments to what has been happening in Africa.  When you and I met on March 29th, our key conversation was with regard to issues in Sudan - specifically with concerns for the possible outbreak of violence surrounding April elections.

Today I am asking specifically that Senator Inhofe support the resolution introduced by Senators Feingold and Collins, Cocurrent Resolution 71.  (See attachments.)

Senator Inhofe is a key leader in setting a pattern for effective policy and legislation in Congress.  His leadership is key on the Senate Foreign Relations committee and his timely support of this resolution will set an example for other members of congress. 

As an Oklahoman who is concerned with how the United States works to effect peace in the world, I encourage Senator Inhofe to set an example for the Congress - and for the World - in supporting this legislation now. 

While I can only speak for myself in this personal email, I personally know many Oklahomans associated with the Eupan Global Initiative and Oklahoma STAND (Student Anti-Genocide Coalition) chapters on various high-school and colleges campuses in Oklahoma.  I will be inviting them to raise their voice on this issue - seeking Senator Inhofe's proactive leadership on this resolution, now. 

I am CCing several key leaders in Oklahoma who share advocacy interests on this issue.

Thank you, Brian.

I look forward to meeting with either or both of your colleagues in D.C. in September - Joel Starr and/or Sarah Klotz.  I have emailed Sarah about this in June and have recently followed up with her toward a specific time for September 10th.

Wishing you all the best today.

~ Marty

Marty Alan Michelson, Ph.D.
Mobile:  405.495.4488

Posted via email from Eupan Global Initiative

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Walking in England

There are many things to love about English life. I have been here for just nearly five weeks and my time to depart draws nigh. I could list many things I have enjoyed but will list here only one simple thing – walking. The weather is conducive to pedestrian traffic, there are sidewalks capable of handling pedestrian traffic, and vehicular traffic “give way” (at least in all my experience!) to pedestrians. And, what is more – pedestrian traffic is encouraged cross country.

When I lived in Manchester a few years back working on my dissertation, I had time to walk portions (but not anything close to all!) of the Transpennine Trail. This trail allows individuals to walk from East or West Coast to the other side of this large island – across public and private lands.

Just outside the Yarnton Manor, which houses the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Study where I have spent many days, is the Shakespeare trail.

I love the simple but “maze-like” way that the trail allows access over the fence – and through what appears to me to be the private field of someone who lives in Yarnton. I have gone out on several days and strolled across this field and a few others in the afternoon while in Yarnton. I cannot express simply – how personally and existentially refreshing it is for me to be able to go out for a walk, in the city or outside the city – in the cool of the day – by-passing others or walking alone on a dirt trail. Ahh. I love being able to go for a stroll. I will miss these walks desperately as I return to Oklahoma.

Someday I will live in a place where pedestrian traffic is encouraged – and perhaps – as well – where cycling trails are part of the culture! Someday!

Connected with Duke Divinity - Faith and Leadership

Happy to share link to some writing I have started with Leadership Education and Duke Divinity.

My article is at this link - reflecting new thoughts on the practices of Jesus as reversing the taking, eating and giving of Eve and Adam.

Train and Bus Time reading, Summer 2010

I have had opportunity over the past several weeks to “work in” a few books to the voluminous reading I have accomplished through the National Endowment program I have been involved with in Oxford. Thankfully time on the trains and buses allows for a bit of “leisure” for reading.

I will make only brief and quick comment on them here – for I know I will not have time as the new semester begins and I spend time with students – as well as a return trip to Duke and then some advocacy work in Washington D.C. in early September – followed by an active program of work with the Eupan Global Initiative in late September.

I read Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. A nice read.

One point I will take away. In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson narrates the life story of Reverend John Ames Boughton. As an aging and dying minister living on the Prairie, Reverend Bougton records his life's story for his son, to have as perspective on his life, since John is himself in his 60's and his son is not yet ten.

In numerous anecdotes and portions of his story, Reverend Boughton shares insight on how his son "ought" to live. Reverend Boughton offers his son to consider the following:

"Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in that ordinary sense. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it? . . . I do like Calvin's image, though, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us." (p. 124) Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead: A Novel. Picador: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2004

While this perspective on wisdom does not emerge from the text of the Bible, it nevertheless reflects an apt way for the believing community to begin to think about how we think about our role in the world – and in light of this, what it means to be the church. Understood in this way – not as something trite or playful – but as something intended for enjoyment – for God’s enjoyment – we discern a different shape for framing the practices of the church.

In his significant and influential text, Will Our Children Have Faith, Westerhoff outlined in the 1970’s how the church had wrongly adapted the framework of educational models and thereby, had begun to shape children not so much as persons of faith – but as persons who had a certain educational perspective on what to “think” about God and the church. In a different, but more recent text, James K.A. Smith in the first part of what promises to be a three-part trilogy, Desiring the Kingdom, has suggested similar constructions for discerning persons in light of cultural formation.

What Reverend Boughton touches on – that is addressed more decisively in full-text documents like those by Westerhoff and Smith is that the church does not simply educate the church to be the church. The Church should be forming selves to be the church – embodied lived out persons – not just “minds” – but actors who are designed to please God.

This, by the way, connects powerfully with the work by Samuel Wells that I read early this summer. I hope to connect some of these pieces in a larger whole in some writing I am doing elsewhere.


I read significant portions of David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence – this summer. The 2 part, almost 15000 page text did not lend itself well to leisure reading while on trains/buses (!) – but I did enjoy reading portions of it here and there. Even though I got through about half the actual text (in both volumes) – I will have to come back to it for further discernment in a more concentrated way - *if* I am able to at any point in the near future.

I was delighted to purchase, and read in full, on my kindle device, Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction, by A.C. Grayling. I have one colleague who talks about Wittgenstein on a regular basis – and another who derides the later work of Wittgenstein but welcomes the Tractatus. I believe the text I read by Grayling was highly accessible and gave me much better insight – both into Wittgenstein and into the work of my colleagues. I am no expert on philosophical works – but from my reading, I would recommend Graylings work to any neophyte – like me – wanting to know about Wittgenstein.

What did Abram see?

This is a long post about preaching, and more specifically, about Genesis 15. While not intended for a “technical” audience – it will only be of interest to those who might have vested interested in preaching/teaching/interpreting Genesis 15 for a faith community. Be advised.


What did Abram see?

Which view of the sky did Abram look upon?

Was it this?

Or this?

I have decided to take a few moments here to comment on a particular issue from a Biblical text. Why? Because this particular text in the Bible, Genesis 15 – is understood in Jewish and Christian communities as being uniquely important.

In Genesis 15 – just a few chapters after God has beckoned (“called”) Abram – to separate out from his family to become the unique extension of God’s blessing, God covenants with Abram. Several important chapters happen in the context of Abram’s life – each of which becomes significant – many of which have connections to other stories and theological issues in the rest of the Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Abram and his life become a kind of model for thinking about faith – for being a believer. I have explored in other settings the fact that in the stories associated with Abram, God only reveals details of Abram’s journey to Abram as Abe steps out in faith. That is, if you read across the story, God only gets more specific about issues in Abram’s life as Abram *acts* on his call. So, for example, notice God’ call is very generic with respect to place in Genesis 12 – but in Genesis 13 (and elsewhere, later) place and location become much more specific as Abram has acted and followed. (This, in itself is an important lesson from Abe’s life. God reveals God’s future Abe steps into that future with God.)

The story of how a “covenant” and even “The Covenant” with Abram is most particularly central in Genesis 15. This chapters marks a unique theophany – a vision of God where a unique covenantal act/event will demarcate God and Abram in relationship. In the stories associated with Abram, several enactments of covenant and theophanic encounters (conversations) that take place(note how later, in Genesis 17, a greater specificity to covenant takes place with circumcision – a cutting covenant – and, worthy of note – the expectation from human persons to be circumcised (cut) comes after God has already passed through the “cut” up carcasses here in Genesis 15. One might argue that God only expects the cutting/circumcision of human persons after God has already placed Godself in the space of having been cut for the sake of extending Covenant. Circumcision, then, on a minor level might be argued as doing nothing more (nor less) than what God has demonstrated in a kind of kenotic way for and toward relationship with Abram.)

The end of chapter 15 has received much space in the scholarly (and commentary) literature regarding what goes on between Abram and God – and how this “suzerain treaty” functions. This is important.

But I want to call our attention to the conversation that precedes the covenantal action - to the words of Abram and God in the first part of chapter 15. In conversation with an orthodox Jewish friend, we discussed this conversation between God and Abram and while he may not agree with my interpretation of this passage (as outlined here) – he did concede with me that the conversation that takes place between Abram and God is more than casual speech. As I characterize it, the speech between Abram and God is disputatious.” This does not have to mean that either party is “mad” nor that either party is “emotional.” Neither does it have to meant that either party is accusing the other of wrong or malice. But, the speech is more than casual, I would argue. It is contested and even an argumentative speech between Abram and God.

I believe this contested conversation between Abram and God has been too often passed over – and perhaps misread – in light of the entire context of treaty making and in the context of the larger “vision” (Gen 15:1). Perhaps, in light of interpretation that has decontextualized this passage, we’ve even mis-read and perhaps misinterpreted what it is that Abram sees when he is sent to count the stars. The issue of counting the stars “if you are able” is central to my reading here.

Let me qualify – when I say the text is mis-read, I have only a *nuance* of difference that I want to cite (and will do so here) – but that nuance is distinctive. Distinctive enough to justify this article.

We need, then, to better discern and re-read the context of Genesis 15.

In Genesis 14, Abram has acted in order to save Lot. The text makes no hint that what Abram does is because God inspired him or because God offered him any surety or strength. Rather, acting on his own merits – Abram takes his household men and three hundred and eighteen of them – and sets out to defend his extended family.

Abram and, yes, 318 trained men! Not just men. Trained men. “Born” in his household. Stop for a minute. Think. That is a lot of men! That’s at least 6 classrooms full of students – or about 3x the number of persons on a professional NFL football team! And these 318 trained men are born in his household! And with these trained men, they “pursue” or “chase” Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him!

This is quite an attack! 318 trained men, led by Abram, with no directive from God, pursuing 4 kings who had just been victorious! The text notes, as well, that 5 kings (each are cited individually) tried to defeat the 4 and were not successful, but Abram – (not a king!) with h is 318 men sets out after the four kings on his own – and he, Abram is able to defeat the four kings, though the five kings were unsuccessful. This is an important story! Talk about military success! And, note well, what Abram does – he does so without any injunction or instruction from God.

After his success - *then* God appears in the extended “vision” or theophany we read in Genesis 15.

Before I share more about chapter 15 I need for a moment to comment on this “vision.” This can be interpreted both as a kind of “dream” vision or as a theophanic sighting from everyday. That is, this could be something that took place in an everyday – but unique event in Abram’s daily life, as when he greets visitors who sit down for a meal before they head off to the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. Or, this vision can be interpreted as a kind of “sleep” like “trance” that Abram experiences – in line with other visions sometimes given to other prophets or persons in other stories of the Bible. For me, because later in this extended vision, Abram is explicitly stated to go to sleep – and because he in this conversation both is taken outside and gathers animals (that seem to be real and not imaginary), I understand this vision to be of the former variety – namely, a vision of God that is theophanic and miraculous, but which nevertheless happens among the everyday events of Abram’s life. (Perhaps like Moses seeing the burning bush in Exodus 3 while he tends to the sheep near Horeb, here Abram encounters miraculous (the smoking firepot) alongside common events of the day, like going outside to count “if” he is able.)

Back then, to the context, after individually choosing to act with his own men – apart from any revelation from God – to save Lot and defeat kings – only *after* this does God come to Abram to say, “Do not be afraid. I am your shield your very great reward.” (This is the only time God tells Abram to not be afraid – and the same instruction given to Hagar, and later to Abram’s descendants.) What is curious in this passage is the fact that the commendation for Abram to not be afraid – comes *after* and not before Abram had acted with bravery and valor in fighting the kings – saving Lot and possessions. We should expect God’s promise for lack of fear to have come at the moment of threat – as for example it comes with Hagar in Genesis 16 or, with Moses in Exodus 14 or later with Joshua, or even later with Samuel or David. But, the provision regarding not being afraid comes only *after* Abram has acted without fear!

Taken in this way, then, we have to explore at some level, the motives or feelings or perspectives of Abram.

It is certainly possible that Abram had the thought or idea that God was his protector or shield prior to this announcement from God – but it is nowhere textually explicit. God had made notes of promise to Abram which may, certainly have given him a sense of courage – but nowhere had God promised to be Abram’s shield. In the story of Abram’s military conquest, then, Abram seems fully confident in his own strength and the strength of his 318 trained men. Abram does not need a promissory note from God to act, Abram seems fully confident in his own strength – and the strength of his own house for action.

This becomes important, then, as a prefatory note to reading the disputatious conversation between Abram and God, I argue, because it is possible to read Abram and bring this “strength” to his conversation with God as a form of conversational “chutzpah” – a tone and demeanor might characterize Abram whereby his feeling reflects, at some level, “I can stand on my own, God.”

After God indicates that God is the “shield” for Abram – one might expect (or even hope) that Abram’s reply would be something on the level of “Well, Thanks God.” Or, perhaps, even a simple, “Yes!” But, that is not what Abram says.

God’s promise of being a shield, too, is coupled with the note from God that Abram’s reward will be great. But remember, Abram, we have *just* been told, already has 318 trained men in his household at his disposal – and he has just successfully taken all the possessions (loot!) from the kings he conquered. Abram lets three named men who had gone with him, take their share, but the text asserts that Abram takes nothing. In the textual narrative, Abram does not need (or want) more stuff – whatever the reward might be – and Abram does not need God’s promise to be his shield to empower or en-courage him to fight. Abram, it seems, can well stand on his own.

That rightly understood, then, we can perhaps better interpret the *tone* of the reply that Abram gives to God – because Abram’s reply suggests (it seems to me) what I have asserted – that Abram does not need strength, household men, or possessions. What Abram needs, he voices!

Abram’s voice of appeal to God comes with force, “What will you give me? Behold! . . . childless . . . . You have given me no offspring!”

This, I would suggest is a disputation. Perhaps it is characterized in an appeal – but it is not casual nor light-hearted! This is a problem for Abram – and it invokes more by nature of argument or dispute than friendly salutation!

Understood contextually, Abram does not need possessions or courage, Abram needs a son/seed! And, this son/seed, says Abram is the one thing that Abram notes that God has “not given.”

The three statements of Abram might be truncated to better discern their verbal dispute! “Give? Childless! You have not given!” says Abram.

“Childless,” I am!

Whether or not Abram is “mad” or “emotional” is not stated in the text - and that tone cannot be read categorically. But, what is clear is the fact that Abram holds God to account for not having given! And for not having given what Abram wants/needs – a child/seed/son!

To this retort, God replies that “one of [Abrams] own issue[innards] will be heir.”
God, as it were, is responding to Abram’s complaint! Not a slave, but one of his own will be his heir.

God then sends Abram out. (My Jewish friend provided enlightenment to me regarding this idea of sending Abram out. Among other items he noted, include rabbinic tradition that God takes Abram “outside” the realm of normal human seeing to the place above the skies – to the great expanse. While intriguing and certainly not an impossibility – I explore the text differently here. I explore the text as though Abram and God are having a conversation in Abram’s tent. Though not explicit, it is from this place that another conversation takes place between Abram and God so is possible here. Further, in none of the other conversations that God has with Abram – from Genesis 12 to Genesis 22 – is it understood that Abram and God converse outside normal parameters of life’s circumstances – so it seems curious to interpret “outside” as outside earthly normalcy in this text.)

“Outside” – understood as being in the context of standing outside his tent, God commands Abram to count the stars, “if you are able.”

It is precisely this portion of the text, I contend, that is perhaps misread to appropriate nuance.

This passage, as it is commonly interpreted, claims that God sends Abram out to count the multitude of the stars in the sky – and, unable to count them in their multiplicity – God gives a promise to Abram. The text is most often interpreted, thereby to suggest that in their magnanimity – God has promised to Abram that God’s promise is sure – though the breadth and scope of it seem impossible to this childless man. Thereby, then, this passage is read and interpreted as being about God’s promise – God’s provision – God’s productivity for Abram – it will be countable, though ultimately uncountable because of size! But, it can be seen! Look at *all* of them. The promise, it is argued, is sure based on the shear scope of size! This passage then, is interpreted to suggest, then, that this text is about the surety of God’s promise that could be *seen* by Abram - and by others (like us) who are later believers. As this passage is commonly taught, then, later believers in this tradition can trust God’s promises even for our lives because God can “show” it in its largeness!

The next verse is important. “Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Understood as Abram stepping out to see all the stars – but seeing them he is unable to count them, this passage is interpreted as Abram “believing God” because of what Abram has seen in the sky. God can be trusted because God has given the grounds of belief – the proof of God’s claim – namely the stars in the sky – and therefore Abram believes and it is credited to him as righteousness – and God will now come in the suzerain treaty setting which follows.


What if this is not what happens in the passage?

What if we have failed to read the passage in its total context?

What if we explore the entire passage and read it with full integrity for what it does and does not explicitly say?

We must note carefully two items in the text. (1) God’s response to Abram’s terse and tense reply is for Abram to count the stars, “if you are able.” And I would suggest, this is a retort from God to Abram’s caustic “Give? Childless. You have not given” directed to God!

Imagine, if you can, the tone that comes with a parent saying to a child, “Because I said so!” It is a tone like that, I suggest, that is possible for reading the tone of God’s retort to Abram’s casuistic statement God.

And, (2), and crucial to this reading of the text in its context, we read later in this passage – in two places v. 12 and v. 17 – that after this conversation transpires – later but not in a separate day or separate vision – the sun was going down and the sun had gone down and it was dark. (This is a separate claim than the “deep and terrifying darkness” that descended upon Abram in his deep sleep.)

Understood in its context, then – the passage where God appears to Abram with the promise of shield and great reward, happens (at least as it is constructed in the text) during the day. Abram steps outside (perhaps the tent) in the full-light of day. The sun is out!

Now, I will admit that it is not an explicit statement of the text that the sun is out – but it is an explicit statement of the text – twice – that later the sun sets. What is more – in other passages where God appears in theophanies in the Hebrew Bible – the text is clear to outline the time of day when God does appear – so that we are told when it is a dream or when it is either mid-day or overnight. (Contrast, for example, the dreams of Pharaoh or the theophany at Peniel – Notice two other passages where God promises to “not be afraid” – in Genesis 21 it seems clear it is mid-day with Hagar – and with Isaac in Genesis 26 the text is clear that this happens “that night” – though we don’t know what time of day (sunset or before, explicitly). In Genesis 15 we at least have to honestly explore the possibility – that God sends Abram out at mid-day – to count the stars.

As already noted, traditionally this text has been interpreted as Abram’s inability to count the stars because they are too numerous. The text has been interpreted as demonstrating that what is beyond Abram’s ability to *count* is fully within God’s ability to count. This text has been interpreted as suggesting that what is, thereby “impossible” for Abram to do – namely count, God can easily do.

But, what if impossibility is discerned *differently* in this text and the nuance of that “impossibility” is different?

What if, as the text at least leaves open for interpretation, God sends Abram out at mid-day (say, noontime) to count the stars? At mid-day, for other reasons of impossibility, Abram is unable to count the stars. At mid-day Abram cannot count that which Abram cannot see! At midday no stars are within his vision. (While I am fully aware that the “sun” is a “star” – of course any ancient person would not have known this – so the persons who might contend that Abram could see “one” star is off-mark here.)

*If* the text is understood in this way – then the following verse in the passage – so important in Jewish and Christian practice is also understood in a new nuance.

“Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (This passage gets used again in important ways in Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2.)
This passage has been interpreted to mean that – in light of what Abram has been shown – that which he cannot count for its shear breadth and size – Abram believes.

But, understood in light of the time of day – and how faith more often functions in the Canon of the Bible – *if* it is mid-day – and Abram impossibly cannot count the stars, precisely because they are veiled from his sight. Abram cannot see, “if he is able” let alone can he count!

Yet, the text says that he believes! Abram cannot see. To believe, then, in light of this dynamic, means that Abram has to believe God not in view of the magnanimous expanse of God’s vision for him – but, Abram has to believe in *spite* of the ability to count or even *see* the stars. For Abram to believe, then, means that he believes in the *absence* of evidence!

One may argue, of course, that Abram “knew” the stars were out there. One may argue that Abram knew the stars would come within view later that night, when the sun set. But, in this contested speech where Abram has just come back as valiant and perhaps full of his own vigor, God does not invite Abram to count the stars “later tonight,” but “if” – “if” you are able. And, Abram is not able. Abram has challenged God – “Give? Childless. You have not given.” And to the challenge, God retorts with a challenge of his own, “If” –“If you are able, count them, so shall your descendants be.”

Later this “so shall your descendants be” may be used to mean numerous size, as I do think it means in Genesis 22 where it is used differently in the Akedah! But here, I would suggest Abram is *not* able to meet the challenge of God despite his chutzpah and valor in battle. In the text, Abram does not know all! Abram cannot see all. In fact, some things are outside of Abram’s ability to see!

Understood in this way, imagine the speech as I have outlined and then imagine this scene. Abram, who was valorous and victorious – who had 318 trained men and plenty of possessions – begins a conversation with God in his tent (or even under a tree) in the light of day. And, in the middle of this day, Abram steps out to look up into the sky to count the stars. And Abram cannot count them because he cannot see them. Abram stands there. Abram pauses. He waits. Standing in the presence of God (oh, and elsewhere Abram and God stand face to face and have another contest – but that is in Genesis 18 – but it supports the fact that Abram has disputations with God, we have examples of it!) Imagine Abram standing there. Perhaps he stands there for a minute – two minutes – twenty minutes. Like a person who knows they have been caught in an argument. Standing there, unable to count not for their scope and number, but unable to count because they are hidden – in that moment,
Abram believes God.

Abram believes God not in view of the largeness of what he sees, but in light of what he is fundamentally not-able to see. “So shall your descendants be.”
So shall your descendants be, then, is not here a promise of how many – but a note that the descendants for Abram is *not* something he can see!

His faith, then, to “believe” is now understood in a nuance that is importantly distinctive. In other interpretations of this passage, Abram believes because God’s promise is so large. Here, though, understood in this way, Abram believes the mystery of what Abram cannot see. His belief then truly is a credit to his righteousness. He is not righteous for not being able to count! He is righteous for being able to believe without ability to see.

This kind of belief, I would argue, is characteristic of Biblical Faith! Abram does not believe here because God overwhelms Abram with evidence, but in spite of evidence he can visibly see, Abram *trusts* that stars are there, that stars will come out, that the order of the universe is stable . . . even when Abram cannot see.

If, now, apart from evidence, Abram believes – his belief is utterly rooted in trust, hope, and perhaps even – abandon. An abandon that despite his own chutzpah, trusts God for that which he cannot acquire – namely, a solid and clear picture of the future.

These issues, I would note – the inability to discern the future – are central in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible. Wisdom literature wrestles with the same issue that Abram wrestles with here with God. Wisdom literature, among other things, wrestles with – “How can I know?” “What does the future hold?” “What is your plan, God?” In the Book of Job, Job’s staunch hope is that God would show himself because God lies hidden. And when God does show *much* more and *much* different than what Job wanted to see, Job is overwhelmed.

And here in Genesis 15 – as in Wisdom Literature – God does not answer but remains hidden in the bright sunshine of mid-day.

After verse 6 – Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness – other things happen in this passage.

*After* this overwhelming hidden-ness – hidden in light – God then says that it is this God who has brought Abram out – and, in similar vein it is this God who will give Abram land to possess. But, despite his “believing” – Abram is still like himself –and he asks, “How can I know I will possess it?” Now God offers another kind of sign – itself mysterious and which I do not intend to explicate here. What God does is not really an “answer” to Abram’s question, rather it is a revelation about the nature/character/characteristic action of this God. Abram can know because God’s smoking firepot will pass through the place(s) of death as a guarantee of God’s fidelity. (This, too, has profound claims that Christians pick up in a Christology that connects to crucifixion and atonement.)

Genesis has traditionally been interpreted and understood that Abram believes God in light of the impossibility of size and scope. Abram sees the night’s fullness of numerous stars and believes the largeness of it. But, what if Abram sees the blue sky and white clouds of mid-day – and Abram believes God in light of the impossibility of seeing.

Understood in this way, I suggest, Abram’s faith is all the *more* (and not less!) remarkable. Abram does not believe because God has overwhelmed him with the expanse of what both God and Abram can see. Rather, God has overwhelmed Abram with the expanse of that which *only* God can see.

Abrams belief is a belief in mystery. It is a revelation – but it is not an answer. Abram believes *not* in “the stars” - *not* in his ability to count or not count. Abram believes *not* in signs or promises. Abram believes God in God’s hiddeness and mystery.

And, belief in mystery, it seems to me, is central to faith and “righteousness.”
*If* this is what it means for Abram to be “righteous” – to believe in the absence of evidence, then perhaps believers in our world ought to believe in the same way.

Perhaps we should believe God not for what God reveals in number, - but perhaps we should believe God in the impossibility of discerning that which is hidden.

(footnote, let the reader be advised that I am aware of the reference in Genesis 22 to God making Abram’s offspring as numerous as *both* the “dust” or “sand” of the earth and the stars. But, that seems to come *after* and *separate* from this text and, in Genesis 22, seems to demonstrate God’s fuller revelation in light of earlier references to *both* dust and stars which had come separately in Genesis 13 and here in Genesis 15.)

(images used with permission from Carl Zoch)