Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Good News vs. News You Could Use

If you'd like to experience virality—not of the corona sort, but, you know, the way we used to speak of going viral, where people click and share something ad infinitum—post a new way of doing something that will cause people to say, Oh, I should do it that way, even when you and they both know they never will.

News You Could Use

For example, last week I saw a video of how to fold a cereal box top into itself so that it looks like you picked it up at a bakery. I guess the idea was that if you fold the box this way, it won't pop open on its own. The video was sort of watchable, but I knew I would never try to learn cereal-box origami.

I was one time convinced—for about a second—by a similar video. I thought I was going to show my kids an artsy way to tie their shoes. I never did. It was news I could use, but I didn't. Have you ever found this kind of news in a sermon or "Christian" book?

It often shows up as self-efficacy—the idea that the results you get are determined mostly by the effort you put in, rather than by outside factors. For example, even if the other guy or gal up for promotion is dating the boss's daughter or son, if you really believe that your success depends on your commitment to excellence, then you're going to have more success than if you focus on the office politics. There's nothing wrong with that way of thinking, but proclaiming self-efficacy is not the church's mission.

News That Can Use You

Self-efficacy is news you could use. The Good News is that Jesus our Lord "was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). The gospel is not news you can use. It is news that can use you. The gospel can make your life a testimony to God's goodness.

Keep an eye out in the messages from your church and others. Notice whether they're giving you good news, or just news you could use (but probably won't). Keep a close eye on bloggers, too!


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Keep A Close Watch On Your Bible

Fill in the blank.

Do not be conformed to this ______, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . .

Here's a picture in case you want to think for a second before seeing the answer.

Do not be conformed to this world . . . It's the first part of Romans 12:2. We covered it in Sunday school last week, and the ESV footnote on world got my attention. It reads, "Greek age."

You may be thinking, so what—translations have little different-word notes like that all over the place. Yes, but consider the difference between this footnote and the kind we see in Romans 12:1. There the ESV footnotes spiritual worship with, "Or your rational service."

Note the difference. The footnote on spiritual worship begins with "Or." The translators have chosen one phrase, but they acknowledge another choice could have been made. The footnote on world begins with "Greek." The translators acknowledge that the Greek text says one thing, but they have chosen to say something else. Why?

I wondered if the ESV Study Bible would comment on this question. Here's how its note on Romans 12:2 begins.
The present evil age still threatens those who belong to Christ, so they must resist its pressure.
That is, the ESVSB presumes age as the object at hand. It says nothing on why the ESV text reads world.  I found the same tactic in the commentaries I consulted.

For instance, Robert Mounce, in the New American Commentary, devotes some thought to why we might choose spiritual worship or rational service in verse 1, but in verse two he presumes age, even though the NAC uses for its starting point the NIV, which also reads world, and without any footnote!

There are some translations that read age, including the (Holman) Christian Standard Bible [which kind of works to the tune of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles], but I've found no more explanation on why they use age than I have for why others use world.

Having said that, there is one explanation we can assume for the ESV choice. It comes from its preface.
The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale–King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. (source)
The RSV says world, and so does the ESV. Translation is always an act of interpretation. Sometimes, it is also an act of tradition.

What does it matter?

Granted, this world is the realm in which we experience this age, and this age is the time—between Christ's ascension and return—when we live in this world. Both show the marring of sin, and we don't want to conform to either. They're two sides of the same coin?

Even if it doesn't make a huge difference for the meaning, any translation owes us an explanation when it deviates from the most straight-forward translation. In this case, the ESV is deviating both from its claim to be essentially "word-for-word," and also from this:
Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original . . . (also from the preface)
Paul uses the same Greek work several times elsewhere. There are a few other instances where the ESV renders it world, but in most cases it is either age or part of a construction translated forever. Here's a couple examples:

Galatians 1:4
. . .who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father . . .
Ephesians 1:21
. . . far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

But really, what does it matter?

What matters is that we remember our Bible translations are always making decisions for us. Usually, they don't even footnote these decisions. Let's be sure to read the disclosures when they do make them. Remember Paul's exhortation to Timothy.
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16)
Let's keep a close watch also on our Bible translations!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Stanley Hauerwas: A Prayer For Pandemic Times

Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon are leading a Zoom webinar, Reading Barth Together. Each week they discuss a few chapters from Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline. So far, it's been pretty cool. It's interesting to hear these two guys—both very influential in their own right—engage a thinker who's been so influential on both of them.

The highlight, so far—at least regarding the experience—has been Stan's prayer at the conclusion of session two. Here it is. See below the video queued to where the moderator raises the prayer request.

God of time,
Lord of creation,
We feel lost in the cosmos.
We are not sure what's happening to us.
We're not sure how to respond.
Help us receive you as the Lord of all that is,
Making it possible for us to rejoice in your befriending us,
So that we might befriend one another in times of loneliness and isolation.
Make us love one another and even ourselves,
So that we might see in a world that seems lost
That we are in contact with one another by being made in your image.
Thank you for this time together.
May it feel as though we are enjoying one another and you.
In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ

If you'd like to have the prayer as an image, click here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

When Did Han Know What He Was Doing?

We watched Star Wars Saturday. It may have been only my third time to see it start to finish. Somehow, I felt a little like I was seeing it for the first time. I felt like I was watching a movie, rather than watching Star Wars. One scene stood out to me.

It's when Han is loading up his reward for rescuing the princess, while everyone else is preparing to attack the Death Star. Luke confronts him about deserting the cause. He tells Han to take care of himself, since that's what he does best. Luke turns to walk away, and then Chewy says something to Han, to which Han replies, "I know what I'm doing."

The attack commences without Han, but he later reappears at the critical moment, disrupting Vader's pursuit of Luke, so that young Skywalker can ring the two-meter target and blow up the Death Star. Presumably, Han was on his way to pay back Jaba, but his conscience ate at him until he turned back, returning fortuitously at the optimum time to intervene. But, what if that was his plan all along?

What if Han knew what he was doing back at the base, when he told Chewy he knew what he was doing? I think Han was preserving the element of surprise—relating to both his enemy and his ally. Han didn't want the rebels to include him in their plans. He wanted to be their ace in the hole—that they wouldn't know they had until they needed it. Han likes to work alone, wookie not withstanding. As he says earlier in the movie, he doesn't take orders. It was always his plan to help, but on his own terms.

After all, Han had stopped Luke when he was walking away from the confrontation to say, "May the force be with you." It wasn't that Han had become a believer. He was just tipping his hand a little. Luke would have some luck. Han would see to it himself.

When the two reunite after the big explosion, Luke tells Han, "I knew you'd come back." But, he didn't seem like he knew it when he didn't respond to Han's well-wishing before the attack.

I guess this dynamic got my attention because it's one of the movie's more human moments. Two people don't see eye to eye. One of them knows something the other doesn't. The other will later claim to have known all along. We all know what that's like, right? We all know that in a fight more is said beyond what is spoken and beyond what is not spoken. At the end of the day, you're either both trying to blow up the same Death Star or you're not.

Sometimes we have to fly half-way to Jaba's lair first. That's ok. It gives us time to think, to make sure we know what we're doing, and to look at the situation like we're seeing it for the first time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Church, But Don't Touch?

I saw a frog on the walking trail last night, but not before I scared him. He was hopping away before I could get a good look. I went back to walking, and thinking—wondering about when and how we'll return to church.

Maybe your church sent out a survey like the one we had last week. The question boiled down to something like:

Are you . . .
  • ready to come back
  • ready to come back but not touch anybody
  • not ready to come back
I posed the question a little differently to our Sunday school class. I asked whether folks would rather return sooner, but with restrictions, or return later without restrictions.

Our opinions will not affect policy, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to share what they were thinking. I didn't actually count, but I think the responses were roughly, six for returning later, five for returning sooner.

Our teacher commented that we're going to have restrictions regardless, whether it's sooner or later. That was more realism than I bargained for.

When I imagine going back to church, I have two pictures in mind—inspired by the survey questions. The first picture has families spread out across the sanctuary, with lots of space between the little groups. But, we're still in one room; singing together. That picture seems pretty good right now.

The other picture is one-way pedestrian traffic at the entrances. I don't like that picture. It strikes me as dystopian. But, if that's how we need to come into the building to make the first picture reality, well—we do what we gotta do.

One day—at least in theory—we'll settle into some new normal. The question is how close the new church normal will be to the old church normal. Who can say? I hope it involves social nearing as soon as possible. I hope we're able to get at least as close to each other as I got to this guy.