Israel, Day 2: Christian Pilgrims, Jesus’ Home, and…I’m on a boat!


Both wifi and wakefulness are hard to come by on this trip. My body is still trying to get used to being 7 hours off. Anyway, my biggest lesson on this day was a small, but profound one: I’m having to repaint the mental images of the entire BIble in my mind.  Israel is in the Middle East, right? The Middle East is desert and barrenness, right?

Wrong. I can see why this was the Promised Land. It (so far) has been nothing but lush and beautiful. We’ve yet to see sand anywhere. If this were a movie, the overall color palette would not be a dry, arid yellow, but green, grey, and black. It lush and rocky. The beaches are gravel-grey, not yellow and sandy. It is beautiful. Hopefully my pictures can convey some of this. On this rainy day, we spent it around the area around Northern Galilee.

Starting tomorrow, we will be staying with Palestinian Christian families in their homes in Bethelehem, and we’ll likely not have much access to internet and modern conveniences. Don’t know when I’ll put another post up (I’m already a day behind in writing! We had a crazy day today!), but keep up in your prayers, and enjoy the pictures. Continue reading

Contemplative Thought for the Day (from A.W. Tozer)


We have but to get quiet, recollect our thoughts, wait for the mild excitement within us to subside, and then listen closely for the faint cry of desire. Ask your heart, “What would you rather have than anything else in the world?” Reject the conventional answer. Insist on the true one, and when you have heard it you will know the kind of person you are.

–AW Tozer (h/t Dr. Chuck DeGroat)

Israel, Day 3: A Roman Siege, the Northern Kingdom, & Hanging Out in Syria


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I am back from Israel-Palestine, but the effects of this trip are still lingering with me, both emotionally and spiritually (and physically). I still want to share this trip with all of you. My time in this land will be popping up in many thoughts, reflections (and pictures) from here on out on this blog, but first, I want to keep documenting the basic schedule and images of what we did during the trip.

One key thing to remember about this trip was that it was not a vacation or tourist time. It was part of an “Intercultural Immersion” seminary course. Throughout our weeks here, our guides and professors repeatedly brought us to these moments of dwelling with the “Living Stones” of Israel-Palestine, and not just being enamored with the Dead Stones of ruins and biblical history.

This means that, in the days to come, you will see me write about our times hearing speakers and learning lessons about the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as time we spent at sites that have little to nothing to do with “Bible stuff”, but have a deep and visceral place in the minds and culture of contemporary Jewish and Arab peoples.

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For Israel-Palestine trip updates, read this…


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So… things have been crazy enough that I have not been able to regularly update this blog like I would have liked to. Tomorrow is our last day making visits in Israel, and then we fly back on Saturday, so any more updates from me are unlikely. But (somehow), one of my friends on this trip has been able to regularly update his blog about what we’re doing. So I want to send you there. He has great stories, reflections, and gorgeous photography from all over Israel-Palestine.  Enjoy and leave a comment for him!

10 Days in the Holy Land

My Pilgrimage to Israel & Palestine: Day 1


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A couple of days ago, I kissed my fiancée goodbye, boarded a plane in Philadelphia, and began the nearly 24-hour process of traveling to the Middle East for a two-week long trip to Israel and Palestine. Today was Day 1 (I’m 7 hours ahead, so while I’m about to go to bed, most of my readers are probably getting this in the afternoon).

I’m part of a team of students in my seminary program who are engaging in this Intercultural Immersion trip, where we will be spending time throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Anyway, I’m sitting here at the end of the first day. I’m exhausted physically, as well as emotionally. I had no idea just how disconnected my religious faith has been to the real world. I love historical things and enjoy walking in others’ footsteps and inhabiting their space once more. And yet, for the most important part of me, I have never had any material interaction with the physical, tangible stuff of my faith’s own story.

I realized today that I have learned to live my Christian life in such a way that I have no mental frameworks for how I’m processing this. I took for granted that I could have a thriving, deep, spiritual existence without having seen and walked the lands and places from which the beliefs were born. And yes, we can have such thriving spiritual lives without visiting this land.

But (to overuse a phrase people use all the time when they come back from this region), I feel like the Bible has transitioned from a silent, black-and-white movie, to a full HD Imax one. It’s crazy. I’m still processing it all. It’s surreal, to say the least.
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Terror, Rage, Hope & Christmas Lights


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This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.

“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.

These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!

Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth, Church DogmaticsIV.3.2, p.938 (edited for clarity)

Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.

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Hope in Advent’s Darkness


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This Advent, we’ll be meditating on the idea of Hope. It’s a trite word we throw around casually and misunderstand (and underestimate) profoundly. Today’s post is a meditation on Hope I wrote for the Advent Prayerbook my church put together. Get your own copy and engage all the more deeply in this season. 

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
–The Apostle Paul (Romans 8.24)

Jesus was likely born in Spring, not Winter. And yet, there seems to be such a wisdom and appropriateness to situating this Advent time of year during these Solstice days, when darkness envelopes all and the very air we breathe bites us back. Here, beauty is not seen in life, colors, and light; but in death, darkness, and night. Continue reading

Advent and… (the series)


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This is the dedicated post page for the Advent series “Advent and…”. In it, we looked at the various ways Advent connects to seemingly unrelated parts of our life and existence.

Welcome to Advent, 2012.
This was the series introduction. I looked at how Advent speaks to our whole selves, including a whole host of “un-Christmas-y” kinds of things.

Advent & Sex: we are holy ground
When you think of Christmas time, you don’t often think about sex. This post talks about the implication of Christ’s arrival for our sex lives.

Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!
The Advent story is a notably sex-less affair. What this means for us is huge. This was by far the most widely read post of this series, and in the top five most widely read posts in this blog’s history.  Continue reading

Oh no! What’s a Feminist Fundamentalist to Do?


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This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.

Yesterday I wrote about my fears of hypocrisy when it comes to Church and Theology in relation to Women and their experience in the world. I talked about how some people see the Bible as a product of patriarchal culture, and therefore is simply wrong when it comes to women. Others (like myself) try and argue that the Bible is itself in favor of women exercising full authority and presence in the Church and Theological consideration.

But when I do this, is it just another form of fundamentalism to doggedly refuse to let go of my belief that the Bible “has” to be right in this area? Here are a few things that have at least helped me sleep at night and move forward in this pursuit of a Male Feminist Theology.
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A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible (come watch!)


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This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.

When we last met, I tried to lay out a theology of the Bible that makes sense when we take into account the experiences of women–an experience that is marginalized, embodied, and connected to the earth itself. When you do that, you realize that a top-down understanding of the Bible is inadequate. The way God reveals himself is primarily from the bottom-up.  And that is how we should see the Bible–not as a divine dispatch from the heavens, but as an emerging reality out of the embodied, painful reality of human existence.

My argument was that the top-down idea that God spoke from on high and people wrote down his words in the Bible, is actually a patriarchal view that concentrates power and knowledge at the top and restricts it only to those with the privilege of being “in the know”.

Whether you agree with all that or not, there’s actually a bigger elephant in the room than our theological ideas about the Bible: the actual contents of the Bible itself. If you want to be sensitive to the realities of women in the world, what should you do when you approach passages (both Old Testament and New!) that disregard, demean, and disempower women?
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How seminary changes your relationship with your church


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I’ve got a new post up at Going To Seminary where I talk about how the difficulty of finding one’s voice in the midst of all the heroes you have going into seminary and the new ones you find. We end up doing a lot of mimicking and daydreaming about other people’s spiritual lives and gifts; it’s hard to find our truest selves in the midst of it. Further, I talk at length of the various ways that seminary changes the way that you, as a developing leader, relate to the leaders at your church. It’s also an interesting post to read on this All Soul’s Day. (On a side note, this post has a lot more to do with my experience years ago moving from one state to another for seminary than my current experience at my current church.) Check it out, and let me know what you think! Here’s an excerpt:

For many of us, attending seminary ends up changing our relationship with those people that have shaped and supported us and led us to that moment. For many, they are leaving supportive church families and leaders and doing school elsewhere. I’ve watched many of classmates have to go through a sort of internal “break-up” with their home churches and those pastors with whom they spent so much time. It hurts. They wonder why their pastors “back home” who were so supportive of seminary training won’t return emails. Can’t get together for coffee on school breaks. Won’t talk about possible job opportunities in the future.

Read the full post:
All My Heroes are Dead

Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.

[image credit: “St. Jerome” by Caravaggio]

What Should a Male Feminist Think of Our Messy Bible?


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This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.

First, I have to say up front: this has been the hardest post of this series (so far).  Today we’ll talk about the theology of the Bible, in the next post we’ll talk about the actual content of the Bible. But first, let’s get the big picture again (because it’s been a while). 

There’s no such thing as a “neutral” theology. All articulations of theology are more sensitive to certain assumptions and concerns than others. What we historically conceive of as “regular ol’ theology” is, historically speaking, White Western Male Theology.

This series is an attempt to sketch a theology attuned to the heart of God towards our sisters all over the world who suffer more than any other single group. Women are (and always have been) by far the most abused, oppressed, poverty-stricken, and marginalized people globally. Therefore, I think there is a need for theology that speaks to this and frankly, our classical Western theology has come up short.

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Acorns: The only way I’ve been able to save money


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First off, no, this isn’t some “Sponsored Post”. But yes, I am passing off a link that could get me and you $5 for free. (So is this a sponsored blog post then? I don’t know.)

Anyway, this blog is mainly about big things, deep things, human things. Religion, Culture, Politics, Cities, Justice, Beauty, and others. But it’s also about me–a thing neither big nor deep, but still quite human.

And there are few things that expose our humanity more than money. How we relate to the resources under our care shows so much about who we are and the ways we’re wired. For me personally, I’ve had difficulty saving money. Not because I don’t make enough or because I spend too much–I’m just pretty undisciplined and disorganized.

If statistics are any indication (although research differs), for one reason or another, you might have a similar difficulty with saving money.
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Psalm 23: My Translation


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For my Hebrew class last year, I was asked to write up a super literal translation of Psalm 23 (below), and then build off of that to create a much more dynamic, creative, contemporary translation. This was the result.

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A Psalm in the spirit of David.

The LORD is tending to me
I want for nothing
He has me lie down in pastures of fresh, new grass
Beside the waters of rest
He gently guides me
He brings the life back to my soul
He leads me into the grooves of life well-lived because of who he is.

And yet—
Though I truly die in the depth of darkness,
there is no evil that I fear,

You are truly there with me
Your staff and your support: they comfort me
You host before my face a table opposite all that stands against me.
You clean me with oil over top of my head.

Overflowing abundance is my cup.

Surely, goodness and steadfast faithfulness will chase me down
for the whole of my life’s days

This will be my story:
I will return into the dwelling place of the Lord and stay—
for lifetimes upon lifetimes.

______________________________________

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Seminary for the Whole Person: Practical Theology & Preaching Classes


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I recently had two more pieces of writing go up at the website Going to Seminary. They both have similar themes about freeing ourselves to engage in seminary with our whole selves. The first about how to make the most of your preaching class. Here’s the intro:

In seminaries, the most hit-or-miss class might be the occasional course on Preaching. I’ve had the unique experience of taking two different preaching courses at two very different seminaries. One course was incredibly dry, unhelpful, and boring. The other was life-giving, challenging, and skill-enhancing. And I’m here to tell you that a good preaching course in seminary can change so much more than how well you do behind a pulpit.

Read the rest: “Don’t Waste Your Preaching Course

The other post is about the most maligned set of courses in most seminaries: Practical Theology. These have the reputation for being the obligatory wishy-washy or touchy-feely classes that all the theologians just want to roll their eyes had. And yet, at my seminaries, I’ve had the opportunity to take Practical Theology courses that ended up being the most important classes I’d take. Here’s a preview:

As I’ve grown older, the sermons that used to feel so “applicable”, “practical”, and resonant now seem to have less and less resemblance to reality or the world around me. They seem to be words offered to imaginary, disembodied people I’ve never met; people that can simply receive the proclamations of God from his ordained authorities and then live lives of passionate obedience and response–those who can simply “hear the Gospel”, “preach it to themselves”, and be changed. That’s a fantasy world. It is not reality.

Read the rest: “Practical Theology: Seminary’s Red-Headed Stepchild

Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.