Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Greatest Prayer


Sometimes I love the fact that I "know my discipline" (Biblical Studies) and I am thankful that I have learned how to read quickly - with meaning.

That helped me read John Dominic Crossan's 190 page book on the Lord's Prayer:  The Greatest Prayer in under an hour this evening.  A great read.  (If only the student papers that I grade could be read so quickly!!)  (Alternate link to text here from JDCrossan webpage.)  (Oh how I love picking up new texts at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature!)

I don't mean this at all in any presumptuous way when I say that he has drawn together - with greater scope and depth and meaning - many themes that my friend Dr. T. Scott Daniels and I have noted all across scripture.  (And again, I am not trying to be presumptuous here - what J.D. Crossan has done - simply and with depth - is *more* than what Scott and I have done! - but if you'll review Scott and my blog posts, either his or my sermons, and independent or shared writing projects - you will find discernible and direct connected themes - which, in truth - we've probably all "taken" from the same sources of texts we've each read over the past several decades!)

That being said - I'll post my review here - with supplemental note.  At I wrote:

This book is not a "devotional" about the Lord's Prayer - nor a simple articulation of Matthew's version of the prayer set in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. Not at all. Rather, in this text, as Crossan outlines in the prologue, he notices patterns (parallelism) and key words that operate within the prayer - that hold it together - in balance between "heaven" and "earth."

Crossan draws upon nearly the entire scope of the Christian Canon - including significant extra-biblical stories and events - to discern what the Lord's Prayer "means" in its historical context, framed within the larger Biblical Canon.

Crossan admits his own bias as having shaped how he might read the prayer - when he notes how he has been critiqued for using his homeland, Ireland as a model for seeing Jesus (p. 165). And, as any good Biblical scholar, Crossan should note his own interpretive and cultural framework that would shape his ideas about the Bible! But, this is not a book about how Crossan interprets the Lord's Prayer. This is a book where Crossan peels back Canon and History to show how the Lord's Prayer very likely *should* be interpreted from within its own contexts. This is a book about where Crossan reveals how History and Canon inform interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.

I have my own bias - as a peacemaker, pastor, and professor. So let me be clear in posing that here. My presuppositions, I will admit, were already with Crossan on many issues - including the use of "deliver us from evil." I still gleaned new layers of insight when I read Chapter 8, "Lead us not into temptation." - As Crossan notes, "The disciples must continue in prayer . . . . [because] it is not acceptable for the followers of Jesus to use defensive counter-violence even to defend Jesus himself" (Page 181).

If you have a few hours, and a good grounding in the history and canon of the Bible, I recommend you read the book straight through - in a single sitting - to capture the scope of what Crossan does in this text.

A note on the 4 stars - instead of 5 stars. First, The book's size and paperback form - and it's publication by HarperOne suggest that this is for a broad, public audience. While it should be read by many and while it is not complex - Crossan covers a huge array of historical events and scripture, such that a "lay" reader, in my opinion would get lost in the details and not finish the book - or, not discern the "larger" thing that Crossan is doing - which he does masterfully. And, second, because the book is much more technical than it appears, a full appendix to cover both topical issues and citations from Biblical passages would be helpful for review.

Finally - on a personal note - I found an email address for Dr. Crossan wherein I suggested he explore more Jewish Scripture connections to what he does in Chapter 6 with "Take-Break-Bless-Give" - pages 129ff. I think the themes he extends forward into the Christian Scripture have a nuance of issue he has not yet seen in from Genesis 1 to 3. I hope Dr. Crossan will explore the possibility of noting the themes I highlighted in a short piece I wrote about this much smaller issue - of much less significance and scope - via Duke University's Faith and Leadership website, entitled "Take, Give, Eat."

I'll add a few more notes here.  I think J.D. Crossan's work could have more depth, too - if it connected with themes Scott has nuanced out of Revelation - and these themes connected - as well to the work of  how the prayer and its focus on "heaven" and "earth" could be better connected to the Kingdom themes in the Book of Revelation with respect to the Lion/Lamb and the Kingdoms of the world getting "leaves" for peace and healing - from the tree of Revelation 22 - great insight from this text.

I read the book quickly - with no pen(cil) in hand.  But I dog-eared the following pages to come back to:  75, 91, 94, 103, 111, 118, 129, 140, 155, 167-168, 173-175, 178-181, and 187.

I have long wrestled - for all of my professional Biblical "career" with the issue of the violence of God in Scripture.  And here I'll post what Crossan notes - and I don't think it is is a "spoiler alert" - but know that this is central to what Crossan discerns in The Greatest Prayer.  Crossan notes that we are finally people who are Christians - followers of Christ and not "Bible-ians."

Confronted, as we are (italics in original), by tandem visions of both a nonviolent and violent God throughout the Bible, we simply ask ourselves another question.  Is Christ the incarnation and revelation of a nonviolent or violent God? (italics in original).  Since Jesus the Christ was clearly nonviolent (thank you at least for that judgment, Pilate), we Christians are called to believe in a nonviolent God. 

In other words, the nonviolent incarnational Christ challenges and judges the violent apocalyptic Christ.  Our Christian Bible, therefore, tells a most strange story.  It is one whose meaning is in the middle, not the end, whose climax is in the center, not the conclusion. That is, by the way, why we Christians count time down to the incarnation of Christ and then back up from it. (page 187)

I read this text on Sunday, November 27th - the first day of Advent for 2011.  What a delight to be reminded that across history, the Canon, and within the "greatest prayer" - the focus is on a God who empties Self to become human, to teach us how to live nonviolently.  Now, if only we can make it on earth, with God's dominion operative through us, as it is in heaven.  Then we will live into and "fulfill" with God - the purpose of our prayers for God's Rule to be effective even this year.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I wish someone had told me - what's a Guild!?!


University courses and reading have been enjoyable to me.  I very much enjoyed the persons who taught me at several schools - Nazarene schools - where I earned Bachelor and Master's Degrees.  I know my professors were caring individuals and good thinkers.  But I wish I would have been given more information, earlier - about what it means to distinguish the differences between work with the Bible for the Parish or Church community and work with the Bible for the Professional Community or "the Guild."

I earned a Bachelor's Degree and two separate Master's Degrees in Religion/Theology from three separate Nazarene Schools - and then went off to do Ph.D. work.  I had grown to love reading the Bible, discerning its nuance and complexity - and my professors helped shape my thinking.  But none of them gave me discernible, credible and direct insight into what it might mean for me to be "a Scholar."

My pursuit of University degrees came about in large part because I had a higher than average (but not excellent and not genius!) mental aptitude - and because I worked hard and invested time in being a student.  (I am convinced that I learned to read and work "harder" as a student than most students.  If I have had any success, it is because I invest effort - not because I'm "smart.')  I earned scholarships and stipends that encouraged me to continue pursuing degrees, but it wasn't until I had been in Universities for more than 6 years, and I matriculated to the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology that I came into a real awareness of what it means to "be an academic" and to "enter into the Guild" - for me, the Society of Biblical Literature.

For most of the past 16 or 17  years, I have attended, every year, the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and/or a Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  I remember distinctly when I attended the Annual meeting in 1999, in Boston.  I recognized at that meeting that I was a "Bible Geek" and I "fit in" with this eclectic and diverse group.  I was sitting in a session committed to the Deuteronomistic History - (Joshua to II Kings - historical books in the Jewish Scripture.)  The focus of the session was on David.  The room was cold. Boston was cold.  And a scholar got up to present his paper. And before starting his presentation, he noted how cold it was in the room.  He said something along this line.  "It's so cold in here I need an Abishag!"  I laughed with the cadre of scholars gathered in the room!  How funny!  Then, I realized - no where else in the world would this joke be *this* funny to this many people - and, in fact, most people would not get the joke!  (Abishag is the young woman given to David in his old age - to lie beside him - to keep his aged, dying body warm.)  The fact that I laughed at the joke, confirmed for me that I really was a "Bible Geek" and I really did enjoy "this" Guild.

Every Fall at the institution where I work, I teach Old Testament Theology to every School of Theology and Ministry Major.  In October, I require every learner to read and engage an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, about the Old Testament.  The assignment is simple enough - read the article you have found, and on 2 page summarize the argument and give a personal reaction.  After the learners complete the assignment, I talk to them about "where" these articles come from - typically the result of some "paper" "presented" somewhere at one of many scholarly conferences or meetings.  I describe the meetings to them and how "the Guild" woks - for various venues, Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, Wesleyan Theological Society - - and the like.  I am very clear with my learners - usually sophomores and juniors - that they may not have enjoyed the scholarly journal article they reviewed - and they do not have to pursue scholarship.  I encourage them that they don't have to pursue graduate work and I let them know they can effectively and capably pastor churches without seeking higher degrees - so long as they covenant to be life-long learners!  But, I also make sure they know - clearly and unequivocally - what "the Guild" is and that "now" is the the time in their lives that they need to begin to think about how they will perform and where they will seek graduate degrees and when they will enter the Guild as student members - so they can live into their best possible futures. 

That all takes place in October.  Then, after another couple of weeks pass, I typically attend the November Annual meeting of the SBL and I remind my learners where I am going and what being a member of "the Guild" entails.

I have many, many good friends in "the Guild" - and I treasure relationships I have from persons of various religious traditions and perspectives, from various schools where I have studied.  (In fact, I wish I would have known to be a better colleague and friend with fellow students in my under-graduate and graduate experiences!)  With one colleague, in particular, though - he and I both being from the Church of the Nazarene - we lament with a smile - that "no one told us" what we needed to do to become "true" Scholars with "pedigreed" degrees.  No one told us that "getting into the right school" and studying "with the right people" can set trajectories in motion that can not be established other ways.

I love what I do and am so very happy in so many ways to be where I am in life - but my career is different than colleagues and friends who teach elsewhere.  As an example, I teach at least 8 courses a year - with hundreds of students, thousands of pages of papers to read and grade.  I might get a one-semester sabbatical every 9 years.  A colleague just a year my senior, pedigreed up differently than I - and he teaches at a school where he gets a year long sabbatical every 4-5 years - and he only teaches a maximum of 3 courses per year, plus has at least one (if not two) Graduate Assistants personally assigned to his courses - giving him much more time to read and write and engage in other ways.

I celebrate where I am at.  In truth, I'm not smart enough to be at the most prestigious schools in the world - but, if I had been guided and mentored differently, my life would have taken on other options that are now not possible to me. 

I  am not lamenting - simply commenting! 

And I comment so that the young persons that I teach now will have the insight of this wisdom - from my lived experience - as they think about how they might elect to pursue Graduate School work . . . and life within The Guild!


Thursday, November 03, 2011

I've never been in this kind of library!


I've been in libraries across the U.S., in Europe, England and in Southeast Asia - but never before in a library like the one I was in today.

I stood in a private vault that houses the largest privately owned collection of Bible and Biblical Antiquities in the world today.

I walked past rows of 12 foot high shelves - 20 feet long that held hundreds and hundreds of ancient Torah Scrolls alone.

We then went to another room were I was working with Yitchok Reisman from as he and his colleague were establishing the provenance of numerous scrolls. 

As the day started, I asked, "What can I do to help?"

He answered, "Ask questions."

I love the wisdom of Judaism.