I Am Connected to the World Around Me


Then the Lord led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
~ Ezekiel 47.6-12
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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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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

My Pilgrimage to Israel & Palestine: Day 1


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A couple of days ago, I kissed Philadelphia goodbye, boarded a plane, 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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Wrestling with God: History & Theology | Genesis 32.24-32


Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Genesis 32:24-32

Two strands of thinking here:

Critical-Historical: Where the heck did this story come from?  It’s got to be a later interpolation (it has no connection whatsoever to the surrounding verses and is never mentioned again in the OT), but from what?  That last verse implies that the story came about simply to explain the dietary habits of Israelites. But really, why appeal to such an odd, powerful and incredibly profound story for such a simple message?

Biblical-Theological: Holy crap, what a concentrated text of such meaning. He “wrestles” with God, but it’s in the midst of his greatest stress and travail. It testifies to us how our greatest struggles in life are often wrestlings with God himself. We get a new name, we bear life-long scars, and it affects our ancestors for years to come.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Storied Propaganda of Acts | Acts 6.7,15


The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6.7

That’s odd phrasing. This is telling a certain version of history. Surely this fact would be denied by the Jews at the time. And yet, Luke is trying to paint a picture of the Gospel spreading, to the Jews first (in this section, the focus is on Jerusalem and Peter) and then to the ends of the earth (the big Paul section).

And all who sat in the council looked intently at him [Stephen], and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
–Acts 6:15

Here we see one of the inklings and beginning of the long Christian tradition of saint veneration and myth-making (St. George and the Dragon, anyone?)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

St. Stephen & the History of Israel | Acts 7.48-53


Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Acts 7.48-53

Notice how Stephen does a few things here in this turn.

  1. He skips the history of Israel that includes the Divided Monarchy, Exile, Return, Intertestamental Victories and and Sorrows, and the establishment of the Jewish state under Roman Rule.
  2. He jumps straight from the temple to their Rejection of Jesus. This could be Jesus’ connection as a New Temple among us, it could highlight Israel’s inordinate obsession with the temple, even unto the rejection of their Messiah, or it could be a reference to the charges they brought against Jesus to get him crucified: blasphemy against the temple.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

A Biblical Critical Advent: Luke’s Cosmic Christmas


Charles-le-Brun-Adoration-of-ShepherdsFor Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they were meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Last week, we sat with Matthew’s Nativity story. Today, we turn to Luke’s Christmas.

Matthew’s Nativity focuses on how Christmas plays right into Israel’s own story; how this is exactly how the Jewish Messiah should be expected to have come into the world. Luke’s Gospel, on the other hand, emphasizes Jesus’ significance to the entire world, all parts of society, and the entire cosmic order.

In other words, Jesus’ mission in Luke is much larger than simply Israel. These and other Lukan themes are brought out quite strongly and explicitly in his Nativity narratives. Today we’ll see how he does this through signs of the universal mission of Jesus, the story’s emphasis on the lowly and powerless, and his stories of Spirit-filled joy.

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A Biblical Critical Advent: Matthew’s Old Testament Christmas


root-jesse-matthew-icon

For Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they weren’t meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Today, we look at Matthew’s Christmas Story.

It’s well-known that the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic expectations. But the path Matthew takes in doing this moves against the way most messianic expectations played themselves out at time. Matthew recalibrates these expectations to show how even in Jesus’ infancy and birth, his “Messiah-ness” includes a retelling of Israel’s own history, both good and bad.

You can see this especially clearly in the way Matthew crafts his version of the Nativity story. Today, we’ll look at three particular aspects of this story that show his unique thematic and purposeful crafting of the birth story: his use of people and names, geography, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
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Father Abraham, had many sons; and many sons, Moses did not.


Rothko-9-White-Black-Wine-1958So…I had my mind blown this past week.

I’m taking this class on the idea of “worship” in all its dimensions, and we read a few pieces that gave me an entirely new framework to understand the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and how God works in those stories. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it’s a little weird, mainly because it’s entirely on God. He promises that he will be Abraham’s God. He promises he will give him many descendants. He promises to make those descendants a blessing to the world. And, most importantly, he takes all of the potential negative consequences of breaking the covenant on Himself. In essence, he makes this covenant with Himself on Abraham’s behalf.

What’s Abraham’s part in this whole thing? “He believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”, the text says (and he’s supposed to circumcise his kids as a visible mark of his belief). This is one of the earliest and clearest depictions of the unconditional grace-driven nature of God’s relationship to humanity and the world–a relationship that would later be called “The Gospel”. In fact, the Apostle Paul would look at this moment in Genesis and say:

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Okay….so what?
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Foreshadowing the City [a photo sermon]


philly-traffic-skyline-sunset

For those new to  the blog: occasionally, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “Foreshadow“.

* * * * *

Foreshadowing is a huge part of the Christian faith. The opening words of the Bible offer us the problem that the rest of the book will explore a solution to. It says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From the beginning, “heaven” and “earth” are two different things, in two different “places”. God intends to bring them together and make them one. How will he do it? The book invites us to read on.
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“The Books” are updated, and…what do YOU think about Iran?


(Forgive the picture. I know it’s weird, but it captures my love for books so well.)

I just wanted to put up a quick post to let it be known (to those few people who might care) that my “The Books” section above is updated again. In the midst of my reading and research for the summer Bible Survey Class, I had to put all personal reading off to the side–and, along with that, that Books page.

But, I’ve updated it now, with my new additions. For personal reading, I’ve added Moby Dick and Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men. For my devotional reading, I added the poems of Hart Crane (which are rocking my world). I’ve also changed the formatting on the page for easier reading, and added links to posts in which I’ve shared quotes, reviews, or meditations from my time reading that book. Hopefully this will make this page a little more useful for those looking for book recommendations.
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Why even being open to attacking Iran is stupid & counter-productive [QUOTE]


Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, imprisoned for six years for writing articles accusing Iran of ordering political assassinations (from an interview quoted in All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer):

The Iranian state is certainly guilty of violating manv of its citizens’ basic rights…. But a military attack is not a just or effective response…. An attack would be calamitous for the innocent people of Iran and the region…. It would foster the growth of fundamentalism in the region [and] reignite the conviction that the Judeo-Christian West, led by the United States, is assaulting the world of Islam, from Afghanistan and Palestine to Iraq and Iran…. The current U.S. military threat has given the Iranian government a freer hand in repressing Iran’s budding civil society in the name of national security, and so eclipsed democratic discourse that some Iranian reformists see themselves caught between domestic despotism and foreign invasion. Political change in Iran is necessary, but it cannot be achieved by foreign intervention….

Most Iranians, I believe, share a broad outlook on American foreign policy…. They think that Iran is valued only for its vast energy resources and its role in regional politics, and that Iranian culture and economic development, and the peace, welfare and basic rights of Iranian citizens, are largely irrelevant to American policymakers….

Iranians will never forget the 1953 U.S.-supported coup that toppled the nationalist, moderate, democratic government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and ushered in a closed, dictatorial political system. Iranian society lost one of its most important historical opportunities for the establishment of a democracy [because of these past U.S. interventions].

Join us this Saturday to see the Dead Sea Scrolls!


As part of the Bible Survey Class I’ve been teaching at my church, I’ll be leading a tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at The Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia (map).  We will be meeting at 4:30pm this Saturday, July 28th in the main hall just inside the main entrance (you can get into that hall without buying a ticket). I’ll have some introductory words to set up our time, and then we’ll go to the exhibit where we’ll stop a few more times for some added information.

Also, Living Social is selling discounted tickets to the exhibit all this week (the usual evening price is $19.50). So even if you can’t go this week, still buy the tickets and go another time. It’s an amazing exhibit and will be here until mid-October. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at burkhartpm [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

P.S. the trip to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology has been moved to a week later than originally scheduled, to the 25th of August.