Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Make Statues?: Daniel 3:1-7

how quickly nebuchadnezzar forgets!  he recognized daniel's yhwh as the true god in the chapter before (2:47), but then makes a statue of himself in gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide.  he makes everyone in his realm bow down to it!

of course much could be said about how easily we forget god.  how we worship him one day and turn around just to engage in self-worship.

but i'm also struck by the very fact that king nebu and we love making statues.  

perhaps we want to feel larger than life.  for king nebu to stand on his own and to order the whole realm bow down to him would not have had the same effect as the whole realm bowing down to a ninety-feet golden image of himself.  that just looks much more impressive.  we want to be more than we actually are.

i'm sure king nebu had impressive features.  people who rise to those ranks often have remarkable talents.  i don't know anything king nebu, but it wouldn't be surprising if he had been a great general or a astute politician (though the bible does not depict him that way).

at the same time, however, i think most people's successes come mostly from chance, circumstance and dumb luck.  king nebu's father was probably the king of the babylonian empire, which probably did 90% of the work for him.  he probably had the infrastructure and resources to go out and conquer in ways that his predecessor didn't.  i don't know.  i would need to do some more research, but i think it generally stands - our successes are rarely individual achievements.

but we still love to exaggerate the little part that we played in our successes.  this is certainly true of myself as well.  i did okay in school and in life, but that's mostly because i had good parents, went to good schools (which led to other good schools), surrounded by good friends and given good genes.  in terms of school, my friend will hafer edited my college essay, which helped in getting into wheaton.  i had tracy landers who helped me with my divinity admission essays.  i got to all souls owing to another good friend chris jones.  even now, the successes of shatin church, if anything in the church could be counted as a success, owe to great children's program, tireless volunteers, and works of countless people in the church.  but i love taking credit.  i love making statues.

i think this is because we all crave recognition, and we need to exaggerate every little achievement, because we want to feel significant; and if we don't exaggerate but put our 'achievements' in perspective, they don't amount to much.

secondly we love making statues, because there is a desire in us to be ' permanent.'  even if king nebu dies, his statue would have remained.  he would have lived on, and we all want that, don't we?  most people don't make statues, but they crave immortality through their children or in the hospital wing that's named after them or in the 'difference' we make in people's lives.  we want to live on.

but of course this too is misguided, for statues are impermanent.  hospitals get torn down and our names forgotten by the second or third generations.

thank god for the gospel.

god sees everything in our lives and recognizes our little achievements.  we don't have to exaggerate or lie about them, for god cares about the very little things.  he sees and remembers everything.  and that's all the recognition we need, since the recognition by the greatest is the greatest kind of recognition.  and he lives on forever, and we too in him.  he gives us the kind of permanence that can't be compare to the immortality of a statue.

no need for statues.  just need to please jesus more.

thank god for the gospel.

Friday, June 20, 2014

pressure to conform

daniel 1:3-8

i've always been struck by how much daniel actually 'conforms' to the world in this story.  daniel is okay with his new name beltshazzar, which has the name of the babylonian god 'bel' in it.  he learns their literature filled with stories of babylonian gods. later, daniel becomes the head of the magi, becoming the secretary of the ministry of magic (2:48).

yes he does draw a line and chooses not to defile himself with food from the king's table.  but how could not eating the food actually keep him pure?  could one of the lessons of the story be that absolute purity in this world is impossible?  that a certain level of tarnishing is inevitable?   

in this world, staying perfectly pure is not an option.  we participate in a market system that's driven by greed; when we buy a banana, we participate in a structure that exploits workers in poor countries; we walk around in cities filled with images that exploit women's bodies for money....  it's inevitable that we participate in structural or institutional sins and can't stay pure. 

in this sort of environment, i often am tempted to despair and to not do anything.  why try so hard to 'not to defile' myself, when defiling is inevitable?  

i know people who don't eat meat, because meat is wasteful in that it produces unnecessary carbon dioxide and costs way too much to produce.  i often thought that not eating meat for this reason was silly, because what difference does it make?  let's face it, not eating meat is not going to catch on!  it's just not effective.  

i'm not sure how effective daniel thought not eating his king's food was in keeping him pure.  he's a smart guy, and i'm fairly sure he knew that it wouldn't make much of a difference.  

but he took a stance.  he drew a line, no matter how tenuous that line might have been.

i think what daniel's stance tells us is that we can't just despair and give in.  we need to be different.  we need to make a stance somewhere and tell ourselves and the world that we are a different people now that christ has come into this world as our king.  we must raise banners of mini-rebellions, not because they're going to change the world, but because we have now become a people who belong to jesus, people whose very existence remind the world that their king has already come; that the kingdom of god is coming.

Monday, February 20, 2012

radical choices

on my lunch break, i just read this nytimes op-ed about dolores hart.  the article started with the question' how do you marry god after you've kissed the king?'  an intriguing start, don't you think?  it then went on to talk about hart's career that reached its zenith in her role as elvis's sweetheart and her sudden departure from the star-studded hollywood to become a nun.  she's been a nun for the last fifty years.

there is much to be commended in dowd's treatment of her faith.  i do think faith forces us to choose radically.  jesus, after all, calls us to pick up our cross if we are to follow him.  the gate is small and the road narrow.

the piece ends ends with mentioning don robinson, whom hart almost married before she entered into the convent.  as she was preparing for her marriage to him, the thought that she was 'in love with god' apparently struck her.  so she traded her designer wedding gown with a coarse black and white nun's wear.

it's an interesting article, worth a read.  but i lamented this presentation of love of god vs. love of husband by dowd.  perhaps it's unfair to blame this on dowd.  after all, she's only covering hart's choice.  

i can't remember how it exactly goes.  c.s. lewis pointed out that it's not the fierceness of our love for our spouses that's wrong with us.  it's the lukewarm love that we have for god in comparison that's wrong.  i wholly agree.  as we love the god-given partners and experience its oneness, we are to be reminded of god's fierce love for us.  

i hope all of you love your spouses fiercely.  i hope you are reminded then of god's love for you.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Suffering and the Retarded

I've been going through Stanley Hauerwas Reader and am almost done with it.  In an attempt to resuscitate this blog that has been dead for a while, I'll post a series of my engagement with the text.

I do this all the time.  In fact, I'm a professional at it, for I make a living by carefully crafting a reputation.  Igf my reputation has holes, it's because I have thought about how others might interpret those holes.  They're calculated and shaped.  They're never too big, and hopefully never out of my control.

In an article about suffering, Hauerwas rebukes me.  He says I need to learn from the retarded, those who constantly need help.  He says that the reason why we're so uncomfortable with the retarded is because they are sacramental reminder of who we are - people who are not self-sufficient, self-possessed, those who are needy.  He puts it this way: "We especially fear, if not dislike, those whose suffering is the kind for which we can do nothing.  The retarded... are particularly troubling for us.  Even if they do not suffer by being retarded, they are certainly people in need.  Even worse, they do not try to hide their needs.  They are not self-sufficient, they are not self-possessed, they are in need.  Even more, they do not evidence the proper shame for being so.  They simply assume that they are what they are and they need to provide no justification for being such.  It is almost as if they have been given a natural grace to be free from the regret most of us feel for our neediness" (572).

The Trinitarian God is love, and love is the trinity.  Even God reveals God's very self as one who lives in a community, one whose existence is contingent upon relationships with others.  What must our churches do in order for us to grow into communities where being in need of one another's help is the norm?

Article #28, 'Should Suffering Be Eliminated?' is not one of Stanley's best, but here are some fodders for thoughts:

  • "More important is the question of what kind of people we ought to be so that certain forms of suffering are not denied but accepted as part and parcel of our existence as moral agents" (564).
  • "Our neediness represents a fundamental flaw in our identity, a basic inability to rest securely with those things which are one's own and which lie inside the line between oneself and the rest of reality....  The irony is, however, that our neediness is also the source of our greatest strength, for our need requires the cooperation and love of others derives our ability not only to live but to flourish...  Prophetlike, the retarded only remind us of the insecurity hidden in our false sense of self-possession." (566). 
  • "Too often the suffering we wish to spare them is the result of our unwillingness to change our lives so that those disabled might have a better life.  Or, even more troubling, we refrain from life-giving care simply because we do not like to have those who are different from us to care for" (569).  
  • "By its very nature suffering alienates us not only from one another but from ourselves, especially suffering that we undergo, that is not easily integrated into our ongoing projects or hopes.  To suffer is to have our identity threatened physically, psychologically, and morally.  Thus our suffering even makes us unsure of who we are" (572).  
  • "By learning not to fear the other's retardation, they learn not to fear their own neediness" (573).  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott's Bed

I first met John Stott personally in his study in February 2006.  I had seen him a couple of times before during my time at Wheaton College, but this time his last study assistant Chris Jones arranged for a few of us from Yale Divinity School to meet with him during our class trip.  I remember walking through his bedroom to reach his study on the top floor.  The simplicity of the room struck me.  There wasn't any frivolous adornment.  I can't think of anything that looked new, and everything in the room seemed like it came from the 80s at best.

And to divulge a little secret, in my excitement I plunged onto his bed.  I wanted to see what John Stott's bed felt like!  (I'm blushing a bit.)  There was a surprise there.  The mattress was so old, that it was curved in.  The springs in the middle of the mattress had collapsed over many years of use.  As I proceeded to go up to his study I wondered loudly in my mind how it could be that John Stott, one of Time magazine's 2005 100 most influential people, could sleep on a mattress that was falling apart.

Then I got to know him better, and it made perfect sense.  He once wrote this about simple living: "Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment.  Its motto is, 'We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly carry nothing out.'  It recognizes that we are pilgrims.  It concentrates on what we need, and measures this by what we use.  It rejoices in the good things of creation, but hates waste and greed and clutter.  It knows how easily the seed of the Word is smothered by the 'cares and riches of this life.'  It wants to be free of distraction, in order to love and serve God and others."

People around the world, evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike, will remember uncle John for many things.  I will remember him as a person who lived to de-clutter his life from the richness of this world to enrich lives of many with His great name.

Thank you for your teaching, but also for the example of your life uncle John.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

'hunt' for human beings

just a second ago i logged onto to see what's in the front page.  i saw this:

at the bottom right is the subscript, 'the killing raises new doubts about the us efforts to turn pakistan into a trustworthy partner in hunting terrorists.'

hunting terrorists.

many people believe that language is used merely to describe the reality that lies behind it.  this is true to a large extent.  words like 'green', 'blue', 'desks' or 'lamps'... are assigned to the things we recognize without the use of those terms.  but that's a primitive use of language.  language also performs and creates.  language is not merely 'used' to describe reality, but it is the medium through which we experience and create the reality around us.  differences in language allow us to experience the reality differently.

for example, i have noticed that korean is well suited for telling stories.  it's full of color and sound.  in a way, it's an imprecise language used by a people who love to tell stories.  koreans are like that too.  we experience the world through stories!  on the other hand, a little bit of german i know tells me that it is a very precise language full of grammar.  germans are inclined to invent new words by combining a few to create a very precise meaning.  it's no wonder germans are known for their philsophizing and theologizing.  their reality is full of sharp, penetrating logic.

'hunting terrorists.'   i'm not sure if nytimes is using these words in a precise or an imprecise way.  i hope it's the latter, for no man who bears the image of god should be hunted.

the world has been celebrating the death of a terrorist after being 'hunted' for many years.  there is a modicum of justice done in killing bin laden (though i know not why we christians who believe in the final judgment thought it such a priority).  i just want to make sure that we understand that he was killed, not hunted.  this isn't semantics.  it's a difference of how we look at people whom god created.

Friday, April 15, 2011

while preparing a short homily for the maundy thursday service, i ran into this quote: dale bruner calls these chapters “the church’s passion,” because “the suffering, death, resurrection, and sole universal lordship of jesus are what the church has always suffered most for preaching and yet has been most ‘passionate’ to preach.”

indeed let's preach the gospel passionately even if that means sharing in christ-like passion.  but first, let's meditate on this great god this coming holy week.