MM: An inviting invitation (musical settings of Matt 11:28-30)

[This is an installment in the sporadic Monday Music series which deals with topics related to Christian music.  Other, related posts may be found here.]

In mid-2016 and again in early 2017, I was invited, in a manner of speaking, to reconsider an invitation from Jesus’ own lips, as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30.

Even if it didn’t possess an intrinsically openhearted quality, this passage would stand out because it has been memorized a lot.  It was also “my” passage to recite during my college chorus’s scripture-and-hymns program, performed every evening while on tours.  At the time, despite my sometimes having to stutter out the initial plosive consonant on “Come to me,” I was complimented on my delivery and the perceived match of my vocal timbre with a preconceived idea of the Jesus behind the saying.  Now, however, I have negative associations with a couple of people from that time, and I definitely had a less mature understanding of the text back then, so it’s with mixed feelings that I recall the experience.

At some point, I became acquainted with the Leonard Burford song “Come Unto Me.”  The legally blind “Brother Burford” was director of the chorus at Abilene Christian College and had studied at Juilliard.  This song is available in only one of my hymnals.  I suppose it was sung in only a very few churches and would hardly be known now.  It is an inviting, near-choral-type setting and is of good technical quality (speaking musically and poetically), but it seems to excel in terms of musical form and harmony more than in communication of a text (and context).  Here is a sample:

Another setting, used several times a year in the church of my youth, was more accessible to large, untrained groups.  Both of these songs employ a good deal of repetition, but the latter is more approachable and singable.  The stanzas below, written for soprano-alto duet, are only indirectly related to the text.  The men’s voices enter emphatically at the chorus, which was the actual setting of the Matthew text.  This version, in my estimation, is somewhat better than the Burford one.  Given its era, the quasi-instrumental-accompaniment setting of the refrain here was effective.  The textual emphasis at primary cadence points (ends of lines 4 and 6) seems to be on “rest for the soul.”

It might even be supposed that the writers of many other “invitation” or “altar call” songs had Matthew 11:28 in the backs of their minds—loosely and implicitly if not explicitly.  I think here of the likes of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home,” and “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.”

Years transpired after my college choral days, and I became less interested in choral music.  Incidentally, I became increasingly averse to the whole churchy “invitation” thing during that time.  Nevertheless, in 1996, I wrote my own “Come To Me,” tied more directly and strictly to the passage—and specifically spurred by Gary Collier’s book The Forgotten Treasure:  Reading the Bible Like JesusA sketch history of this song goes something like this:

At what I might say was just the right time of my life, I read The Forgotten Treasure.  Bothered as I was by what I took as legalistic, un-grace-filled approaches to people within certain churches, I felt a deep impact from much of the book and keyed in on the middle of Matthew (including chapter 11), based on Gary’s emphases and structural suggestions.  Compelled, I wrote the song and shared it with the author of the book, having been in touch with him through a Bible discussion e-mail group.

A group called Lights, audiowhich I directed and sang with through the 1990s, was available to me, and I naturally went in the direction of a musical arrangement that played to that group’s strengths and resided in its comfort zones.  Lights ended up using the song in performances at youth events, church retreats, etc.  Lights made two recordings, and both recordings strike me now as acceptable, given what I had to work with, but dated.  A bass voice is heard on the solo, and my younger sister’s voice and mine are heard in countermelodic bursts in the final chorus of the recording stored here.  I am still pleased that the overall demeanor of the song is different from that of the run-of-the-mill, more churchy appeals the Matthew text with which I had been acquainted.  This song is more targeted, more insistent . . . and even the conclusion is a comparatively forceful invitation, with a half-cadence that suggests the Son of Man’s unending, energetic interest, not a namby-pamby “just lie down and go to sleep with gentle Jesus.”

I moved on from Lights, but I never forgot the song and still periodically turn to it for personal devotional use.

Last summer, a conference was held, organized in connection with the Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation.  When the theme was announced as centering in Matthew’s gospel, an obvious opportunity arose to revisit my song that had also been based in that document, so I did just that.  It turned out to be the 20th anniversary for my “Come To Me.”  Having become largely disenchanted with the a cappella medium of the first version of the song (excerpt shown here)—and particularly with the accompaniment style I had used for the Lights performance group—I knew it was time to abandon that approach.  Few really sing that way anymore, and the group was perhaps even in a time warp during part of its history, too.  In trying to function within the niche-world of a cappella church music, Lights appealed to some but perhaps outlived our usefulness.  I digress.

Looking back, I’d say the song is conceptually and creatively among my 10 or 15 best.  (There were many others written during that decade—some, barely mediocre.)  Gary’s book had pointed me in a focused way to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus, so I think the song carried an authentically scriptural, strong message.  Since 1996, my understanding of Matthew (and of texts in general, and the newly inbreaking reign of God, and more) have grown immeasurably.  Here are sections of the sheet music for the updated version of “Come To Me”:

A home recording of this version is here, for what it’s worth.  It might need to be downloaded before playing it, depending on your setup.   The pre-recorded keyboard part is 5-10% too fast, and my out-of-shape voice is found wanting.  (A more in-shape female solo voice would have been better on this song!)  This 2016 update incorporated several minor musical and lyrics changes—plus adding a bridge that solidifies and significantly strengthens the whole, I think:

Hear and learn from the Master.
Understand the reading of the Old and the New.
Go and follow the Master of mercy!
He brings the Kingdom into view!

A responsible interpretation of Matthew 11:28-30 must not merely take some poetic expressions and make them sound sweet in a song.  One ought to consider those words of “invitation” apart from the “altar call” or “invitation” dynamic in traditional congregation settings.  Further, one ought to pay attention to Matthew 11:28-30 within the striking contextual arrangement of Matthew’s gospel.  No song could succeed in every detail, but in pursuing such a biblical text contextually, in this way, what Matthew’s gospel says about the Master can become clearer.

Whatever its strength or weakness of this song, I hope that you are taken further, or maybe just a little differently, into Matthew’s riches and Jesus’ invitation.

Xposted from Subjects of the Kingdom

These recent posts are available on my Subjects of the Kingdom bloga site that focuses on topics directly related to the Kingdom of God, conscience and the believers’ relationship to human government, sovereignty, Israel, and related topics.

Early Christians and military service  Allegiance & Motivation, Peacemaking & Nonviolence, Sovereignty 5/10/17
Roman-Era Military/Civil Service Roles and the Imperial Guard Allegiance & Motivation, Peacemaking & Nonviolence, Sovereignty 5/10/17
On Israel: my present stance Ancient Israel, Nationalism 4/27/17
Inherent antipathy and other foundational Kingdom matters Foundational 4/20/17

To access a post, simply click on any of the titles in the left column above.  Alternately, click on one of the topical categories.

My book Subjects of the Kingdom is available via one of the following sites:

  1.  CreateSpace Direct

Password:  allegiance

Add the book (1 or more copies) to your “cart,” and then on the next page, paste in the BL8DQZ4H discount code for $1.50 off.

2. Amazon  (probably cheaper only if you get a used copy or get free shipping)

Xposted from Subjects of the Kingdom

These recent posts are available on my Subjects of the Kingdom bloga site that focuses on topics directly related to the Kingdom of God, conscience and the believers’ relationship to human government, sovereignty, Israel, and related topics.

On Israel: my present stance Ancient Israel, Nationalism 4/27/17
On Israel: Kairo USA’s position Ancient Israel, Zionism, Politics, Zionism 4/24/17
Inherent antipathy and other foundational Kingdom matters Foundational 4/20/17

To access a post, simply click on any of the titles in the left column above.

My book Subjects of the Kingdom is available via one of the following sites:

  1.  CreateSpace Direct

Password:  allegiance

Add the book (1 or more copies) to your “cart,” and then on the next page, paste in the BL8DQZ4H discount code for $1.50 off.

2. Amazon  (probably cheaper only if you get a used copy or get free shipping)

In this time of year (2)

I have developed an aversion to being where other people are on Ash Wednesday.  I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it’s probably for one or more of these reasons:

  1. The ash-mark-on-forehead symbol is not in my world of experience and is neither a habit nor an interest of mine.
  2. Although I’m confident that some choose and accept the ashen symbol very sincerely, I’ve never been sure how to respond (or not) to those who use it.
  3. I don’t want anyone to think I am disinterested in Jesus because my forehead lacks a dark mark.

Speaking painfully candidly here:  I confess the need to be more interested in Jesus—more devoted to the memory and meaning of His singular suffering, yes—but beyond that, more devoted to hearing, learning from, and following Jesus.  Otherwise, how will my son (or anyone else) have any idea?

Opening post from this seasonal series:

An ill-conceived brochure on tithing

I invite readers to consider churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  While tithing per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of this practice is assumed by nearly all established churches.  Certainly, generous giving can be a good thing, yet God’s purposes can also be subverted by greedy institutionalisms and doctrinaire concoctions related to tithing.

Some might not understand the energy with which I pursue this topic.  In my mind, at least, it is not a “hobby” (see introductory last post here); rather, it is a real concern that should be considered by more serious believers.  Why not just be nice boys and girls and give money to your local church, not worrying about whether it’s considered a tithe?  Again, there is much to be said for simple generosity and for supporting bona fide benevolence, outreach, and teaching efforts with one’s money.  However, the problems related to tithing per se run deep, and they call for elucidation.  Here, I hope to facilitate consideration and growth in understanding.

Last fall I was in a large, contemporary church building for a couple of events, and I happened to amble over to a rack full of brochures.  One of them was called “Guidelines for Giving,” and I should never have picked up a copy.  Or maybe I should have.  The brochure was replete with a hermenuetical error, not to mention some other carelessness.  The fundamental error, seen in its best light, is a lack of discrimination that melds Old Covenant Torah law & the Levitical priesthood with the contemporary Christian church’s M.O.

Here is the inside of the brochure, with a few of my markings:


Depending on your device/computer and its applications and settings, you may be able to click on the image and see as much as you’re interested in.  Essentially, my highlights and notes acknowledge that sincere love may be seen in giving.  They also point out that most of the proof texts employed are found in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).  When God told (past tense) ancient Israelites to do something, that telling cannot logically be pressed into the Christian age without a hermeneutical jump or gyration of some kind.   Moreover, I would suggest that the author of this brochure manifests a rather flat, non-granular view of scripture.

Now, here are some separate bits from the other page of this tri-fold, with commentary below each insertion:

tithe2The make-believe dialogue hits me as . . . well, made up.  Who really asks, “What if I can’t afford to tithe?”  Not as many people as the institutional church wishes, I’m sure!  When a church fabricates this question, it makes for itself an opportunity to say, “Give to me!  This church!  Give to us!”

I don’t mind that this denomination used and defined the expression “spirit of poverty,” but I don’t find it to be a particularly scripture-based phrase, and I wish the brochure had acknowledged that fact.  Furthermore, connecting a monetary contribution to the notion of “stepping out in faith and obedience” risks an improper tie between a denomination or its pastor on the one hand and God on the other.  In other words, obeying a denomination’s or pastor’s whims is not tantamount to obeying God.  (The difference between the notion of papal infallibility and hierarchically induced accountability to a protestant pastor or creed is a matter of degree.)

The advice set off between the bold lines (ahem . . . besides having a word missing) perpetuates the ignorance by presuming 10% is (still) some sort of magical God-ration.  In terms of general financial stewardship, it’s obviously a good idea to have a budget and not to overspend it.  I’ll give them that, BUT … being “faithful to tithe” is an Old-Covenant idea, not to be equated with Christian obedience.


They go on.  I can hardly believe someone had the uneducated gall to put that assertion in print.  I beg to differ that “the Bible is very clear” here.  The church that was distributing this brochure meets in Missouri, so I demand, as if a good Missourian, “Show me!”  I counter-assert that there is no such passage in Christian scripture that says any such thing.  Not only is there no clarity on this; there is no solid information at all, really, and precious little hint.  The very phrase “the local church” above has taken on an identity beyond mere locale, suggesting an institution and a building with doors—doors that, by the way, wear out and need replacing, remember, so we need your money to buy new ones.  The idea of contributing to your local church is rather obviously not inherently bad, but neither is it a topic of scripture.  Further, the notion that any kind of giving is an “act of worship” is an extension of worship ideas at best and an adulteration of them at worst.  It would have been better to say something like this:  “The heart that wants to worship God vertically will also likely want to give money horizontally in order to help people—perhaps first in one’s own locale, but also beyond.”

Below is my own paraphrase of 1Corinthians 16:2.  (For more detail and translations of the surrounding context, see this blogpost.)

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

Here, individuals are to set money aside, planning ahead for a specific need.  While there is some room for alternate translation, interpretation, and follow through here, it should also be said that the above text is really the only one in the Christian scriptures that suggests anything remotely connected to an institutional offering.¹  The connection is ostensibly negative:  Paul doesn’t want to have the hassle of a collection later.  We might surmise further, then, that a regular collection would not have been normative in Corinth, or else he might have just used that method-in-place when he got there.  No, the collective funding he was after was no regular occurrence but a one-time thing.  There is no ongoing, institutional common treasury suggested here; the picture painted is rather one of specific purpose, of a timely response to a need in one particular time period.

#3 offers helpful procedural advice, but it is a trifle self-serving for a church organization to be saying such things.  It comes off to me like salesmanspeak:  answering potential objections, closing the sale.

One can find good reason to contribute.  There are psychological/altruistic reasons to give charitably, and theologically based ones, and community-based ones.  Sure, give $ to your church collection plate if you want to, but don’t do it because it’s a “tithe” (originally a tax to support the Levites).  The simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.

Thus ends what some may feel was a ride on a hobby horse.  In the future, should I feel like yanking the ol’ gray mare down from her hook to take a spin, maybe I’ll have the restraint simply to refer to this post.

¹ I suppose the “widow’s mite” story could be seen as positively connected to institutional offering, but that was an observation in Jewish context.  Moreover, the lesson to be learned here may be primarily, or even exclusively, a negative one about the pharisees rather than a positive one about the widow.  Consider the surrounding context in Mark 12 and Luke 21.

Not an enjoyable hobby (intro)

A couple decades ago, I came to associate the churchian use of the expression “riding his hobby horse” with narrow-minded preachers and writers and editors of slanted periodicals.  These guys were said to have “hobbies”—preoccupations that amounted to masses of material, Image result for hobby horsefilling way too many sermons and pages of books.  For a given person, a ride on the “hobby” topic might not have been balanced with other, more important topics, or the stance (trot? gallop?) on a topic might have seemed dumb.  Sometimes, the ride taken on a hobby horse appeared to be childish, as though it were not a real thing being ridden.  In all cases, when so-and-so had a theological “hobby” he was pursuing, it was not a good thing that so-and-so did so.

I wonder every now and then whether I myself could be rightly accused of theological hobbies.  Probably.  I do have topical areas that I tend to return to a lot.  (Is having many hobbies a good thing?)  There are several different toy horses labeled “hobby horse,” and there’s quite a cultural history with these odd objects.  Whether my hobbies are strange preoccupations or just entertaining motifs I’m not sure.  I try not to let them lead to imbalance, but at times, it might seem that I am doing little but taking a childish ride on a hobby horse.

The sheer weight of some topics will keep me from worrying too much about the accusation of having a hobby.  In other words, some things are just so important that I don’t care how hobby-ish they might seem to others.  For instance, I have spoken and written volumes about the Kingdom of God, about authentic worship, and about responsible reading and interpretation of scripture.  The insistent, convicted (if not prophetic) voice within simply will not allow me to stop putting my foot in the stirrups on some of these steeds.

Other topics are not very significant, when seen in perspective, making them less deserving “hobbies”:

  • mistaken ideas about Sabbath
  • inaccurate construction of possessives, plurals, and possessive plurals
  • whether music is shown on a PowerPoint screen

Some topics and practices might fall somewhere in the middle:

  • Hierarchical clergy-laity systems
  • False or overblown denominational egos
  • Communion practices

I may vigorously affirm (or vociferously object to) this or that practice or doctrine, but I do try to put things in perspective, even when practices are ill-advised or just plain dumb.

Speaking transparently, I will in my next post invite readers to consider again one topical area that may be a hobby for me (not as significant an issue as many others I write about):  Churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  Which category does it fit into—the central, the important, or the sideline concerns?

While the tithe per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of it is assumed by nearly all established churches, and I actually believe that any over-emphasis on my part is okay, compared to the potential harm done to God’s purposes by assumptions of tithing.  This periodic “ride,” if you want to call it that, is for the sake of others, and it gives no pleasure to me.  Still, I may be a little imbalanced.  You be the judge.

To be continued . . .

Of writing, wordsmithing, and making mistakes

During the past week or so, I have been writing, shaping, and “wordsmithing” a five-page memo for my boss.  It has been a learning process in some respects, and he’s been very patient in explaining some aspects of the subject matter to me so I could state things more purposefully.  We have an essentially finished product at this point, but I am left with a couple of questions:

  1. Did I say this or that in the best way possible?
  2. I found a typo and an another error or two in the fifth of six drafts.  How likely is it that errors yet remain in the memo?

In one way or another, I am often involved in writing.  I’ve written (typed) newsletters, hundreds of blogposts, five books, a few articles, hundreds of pages of music, program notes, research papers, memos, and volumes of substantial e-mail since the dawn of the home computer age.¹  All this writing has involved many, many mistakes.  I know all too well how often I make a mistake.  My typing speed can peak near 100 WPM, but the real speed is probably more like 70-75, minus 20-30, because of all the backspacing and correcting.

My engagement with writing sometimes extends into reading other people’s writing with a critical eye; I’ve been known to sit down with a pen in hand while reading a newspaper or magazine—not because of any plan to share “mistake finds” with the author but because it’s so proofreaders-marksnatural to notice and correct mistakes that it can actually seem slower to read without marking them.  (This proofreading habit/trait/obsession is sometimes annoying to me and often inexplicable to others.)

Aside:  the word “error” might be etymologically related to the word “err,” but the former should be pronounced with a different initial vowel sound.  No matter how many newscasters, talk show hosts, teachers, and business professionals say it incorrectly, “err” does not rhyme with “air.”  (Okay, this is a pet peeve, and at some point I’ll have to “cave” [what an interesting verb, that . . . I hadn’t previously thought about its imagery] and admit that language is a fluid thing.  What was once incorrect might later be considered correct.)

How humbling, and sometimes maddening, and yet delightful written language can be!  (Did you know there is a book called The Joy of Lex?)  Turns of phrases, diction and declamation, alliteration and consonance, puns and homonyms, synonyms and other -nyms (not nymphs, mind you!), and etymology can all be pleasures—or the causes of annoyance.  I often second-guess my choice of “may” and change it to “might” (as I did at the beginning of the previous paragraph), because I was taught that “may” indicates permission whereas “might” indicates possibility.  Punctuation can be a singularly annoying facet of writing.  American and British punctuation have developed differently, e.g., the use of “single quotes” vs. double quotes and the placement of a comma or period in relation to quotation marks.  Despite my non-Britishness, in terms of punctuation technicalities, I feel a great sympatico with British guru Lynne Truss, who wrote this in Eats Shoots and Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation:

I saw a sign for “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it, and something deep inside me snapped. . . .

Moving away from the personal and toward the more generally applicable . . . I further agree with Truss’s assertion that “proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.”  (Read that quote again and see if you don’t agree, too.)  Even the onslaught of errors with plurals and possessives (and plural possessives) may chafe, and I should probably pay less attention to them, reserving energy for deeper matters of writing such as clarity, transitions, and solid, rational argumentation.  (Redundancy and repetitiveness and repeating oneself are also issues and matters of concern!  I counted 15 instances of the phrase “with regard to” in one man’s presentation.)  Still, there is the baseline need to know words.  Usually, I know when I don’t know a spelling or a usage.  For instance, last week, I was not confident of my ability to use the term “cash flow” in our work milieu, so I asked someone who knows far more about it than I do.  It might surprise many of my readers to know that “cash flow” may be used as a verb, i.e., “that business operation won’t cash flow.”  In a sort of word-reverie that occurs in my odd head from time to time, I began to wonder whether, in future years, the two words will become one.  “Flow” is already both a verb and a noun, so maybe an evolved, concatenated “cashflow” will eventually be the norm.

Continuing in the word trance . . . thinking about two words vs. one leads me to the term “set up.”  I prefer to use two words when it’s a verb and one when it’s a noun (not hyphenating the two).  Thus, I would set up a schedule for graduate students to be responsible for an ensemble’s setup.   Others might take no thought for this term at all or might see it differently, using the hyphenated “set-up” as the noun.  I would say that the least accurate usage occurs with the verb use of the hyphenated version:  “John, would you set-up the tables for me?”  (Did you notice the adjectival use of the word “verb” there?  I opted for the unadorned word “verb” as an adjective since “verbal” is commonly used to mean “oral,” as in “verbal communication.”  Ain’t words great?)

I have discovered more errors in my writing than I want to admit.  There will probably be some in this post.  By the way, I looked up the word “wordsmith” to make sure it was properly one word and not two.

To be continued . . . 

In the meantime, enjoy this 30-second video from the old Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Or if you prefer a more contextually robust experience, here’s the full 2-minute version.

¹ Are we seeing the sunset of the home computer age already?  I sincerely hope not, and yet it is clear that small-device screens (less useful for most e-activities I care most about) are increasingly depended on.  More and more websites are designed with smart phones in mind, so it takes more steps to access what I want to access on a full-sized screen.  The younger generation seems not to understand the benefit of a real map (perspective beyond a few streets!) and more screen real estate (perspective beyond the 18 words simultaneously visible in a text!).  It also appears to have increasing difficulty understanding written communication with good punctuation (and without texter abbreviations).

How would one describe the Indescribable?

I wrote the following in response to a book review published here.

It’s always well-advised to seek a more adequate, thorough understanding of God, as the author Powell has suggested.  Trinitarian thought may provide “the basic conceptual framework of a Christian vision of God,” but such a proposition appears more speculative and historical than explicitly scriptural. . . .

[The remainder of this blogpost is a considered expansion on the original response.]

In the NT writings, the expression “the Spirit” (often seen in juxtaposition with God or Christ (i.e., “Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of Christ”) clearly depicts something real and active, but most of the Spirit texts may reasonably be read as referring to the essence/core of God—not necessarily to a third entity.  Moreover, simplifying the basic reading of the Greek genitive case to the simplest English possessive form can clarify:

For example. in Rom 8:14, the phrase πνεύματι θεοῦ | pneumati theou is sometimes given in English as follows:

“led by the Spirit of God

The phrase can become, in an alternate translation,

“led by God’s Spirit” or “led by God’s Essence

In the first rendering, the Spirit almost seems to jump out as a different entity, but this ontological understanding is not necessary.  The Spirit could be a “third,” or this and other passages could simply be dealing in specialized ways with God and not referring to a separate entity per se.  One could also reasonably de-capitalize “Essence,” remembering that such explicit “proper noun” differentiation by upper-case lettering was not a part of the earliest manuscripts:  “all who are being led by deity’s core essence are ‘sons’ of our deity.”

In using language (and lower-case letters) like that, I am not in any sense intending to de-emphasize or de-elevate thoughts of God.  I am only seeking to understand and probe more deeply than typical assumptions and common-market literature allow.  I have noticed that some secular labeling frameworks these days (I think here of voice-dictation modules for electronic devices) appear to default to lower-case letters or some other means of ostensibly devaluing the believed-in divine.  While that trend bothers me on some level, it doesn’t seem inherently secular or disrespectful to use an expression such as “the essence of deity” or “our father’s holy spirit” or even “the spirit of the christ.”

The presence or absence of capital letters is a surface-level concern.  We ought to probe more deeply, considering how we conceptualize the “Spirit.”

The baseline assumption of the orthodox theologian is that “the Spirit of God” is a third “person” of the “Godhead.”  (N.B. the quotation marks:  these are figurative expressions.)

The common question of mass-marketed pop-Christian literature is “How can I live a ‘Spirit-filled’ life?”

At the root, at least for me, is the proposition of attempting to describe the Indescribable. 

And how might people attempt to depict the indwelling, ongoing aspects of the Almighty in our age?  Maybe by fashioning a model with multiple entities and/or by attempting to reduce aspects and operations of God to three distinctly labeled partner-beings.

I suggest that (1) “Father,” (2) “Son,” and (3) “Holy Spirit” is an insufficient framework.  It is, after all, a superimposed idea, not as biblically based as most people think.  God transcends our rational attempts to figure Him out, and I appreciated Bruner’s (the review author) spotlight on Powell’s (the book author) attention on the healthy reality of the mystery that is our God.

In speaking of the so-called Trinity (with capital “T” used advisedly),  the late Leroy Garrett has said that he doesn’t want to require of God something that the scriptures do not themselves require.  I agree:  the “trinity” construct may be a helpful and even unifying framework, but it should not be presented as an end-all, absolute way to understand God.  

Do you meet other believers on Sundays and park near a sign that says “Trinity ___ Church”?  Maybe you can move beyond the underlying assumption.

Do you sing the third stanzas of songs that address the “Holy Spirit” seemingly out of obligation, or the songs that include the wording “Three in One”?  Maybe you can reconsider those.

Trinitarian doctrine has been adhered to through the centuries by most Christian believers, but it is not beyond challenge.  Historically, “the church’s understandings have gone awry in so many other instances that we ought to suspect divergence here, too.  But there is something more important than the history of Trinitarian thought:  its restrictiveness.  It is a confining doctrine, placing God in a box rather than moving us to ponder and worship the Infinite.

Uh, no

Ah, the unbridled passion of Roman Catholic youth.  Passion was surely involved in the conception¹ and production of this poster spotted nearby.

img_20161201_190345_370.jpgThe Legion of Mary.  Hmm.  Never knew such a thing existed.  I suppose I can deal with someone paying more attention to Mary than I’ve given her.  Perhaps I should pay a little more attention.  I might even go as far as to acknowledge a kernel of truth in the hyperbolic verbal formula “mother of God.”  It’s impossible, however, for me to conceive of the obtuseness that puts such an overtly off-base idea as devotion to Mary on a poster.  Really?  Devotion?  To Mary?

Nothing in Hebrew prophecy suggests the human mother of Jesus was to be iconized or viewed as a fountain of blessing.

No one prays to Mary in scripture, and no one ever should have afterward.

Luke does present the so-called “Magnificat,” a humbly devoted prayer of Mary prior to the birth of Jesus, but no writer of Christian scripture manifests any interest in devotion to Mary.

The official LoM website features this prayerful address:  “O Mary, conceived without sin.”  In reading that expression, one might logically infer that other conceptions are thought to have involved sin.  That implication is offensive.  No one prays to any other child who was also conceived without sin.  But the adverbial phrase “without sin” is at issue, and it invites confusion:  it’s not really intended to modify the verb (according to official R.C. doctrine), but rather, the product of the verb, i.e., Mary herself.  In other words, the assertion is not that Mary’s parents didn’t have intercourse; it’s that the embryonic Mary was qualitatively different from any other human embryo to that point.

The “immaculate conception”—a doctrine fabricated without relation to any biblical text—is one that some non-Catholics will be surprised to discover relates not to Mary’s parents per se, but to the pre-born Mary in utero and her supposed freedom from “original sin” in the womb.  (Some Catholics have been confused on this doctrine, and a papal clarification was issued at some point.  Neither does the “immaculate conception” pertain to Mary’s own virgin state prior to the birth of Jesus.  That assumption a common mistake made by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.)

At the end of the day, the idea that Mary was without original sin while the rest of us are born with it is (a) loading the conversation theologically and (b) making Mary out to be special in a way the scriptures do not claim she was.

The silliness of human religion baffles me.  Joining the Legion of Mary might make some passionate college student feel s/he is perpetuating and building on centuries of something.  The Legion might offer a sense of camaraderie with other, equally off-track souls.  Whatever its draw, the Legion of Mary has nothing to do with authentic Christianity.

B. Casey, 12/2/16

¹ Originally I had “immaculate conception” above, but I was fearful of needless offense at the outset.  Then I realized this whole diatribe will be inherently offensive to a few, and I wasn’t willing to forgo the piece, so I put “immaculate” in this footnote!

An e-response to e-opinions about e-giving

I’m all for ease and efficiency, and I love systems that work.  I am not, however, in favor of weekly church contributions that are electronically set up on a recurring basis—for more than one reason.  A recent article brought up this question, and several official church leaders were interviewed.  Below is an expanded version of the original comment I made under that article.

Sincere individuals will frequently have very nice, spiritually minded ways of working something like electronic contributions out for themselves.  The folks interviewed for the article, for instance, presented a nicely balanced, thoughtful view of the e-giving conundrum.  Thinking about the masses, though, I would put forward three reasons not to move in the direction of e-contributions:

  1. As pointed out, it tends to be neither very personal nor very communal to click or tap in a charity app—especially if that click/tap is for a one-time setup for a recurring transaction that it’s so easy to be unaware of later.
  2. Some of the “pro” rationale strikes me as very institutionally motivated rather than Reign-of-God-motivated.  Contributing to building upkeep and salaries as a member of an institution may be fine for some, but it is not as compelling for those of us more interested in simple/organic concepts and missions.
  3. Giving charitably is good, but the tithe, after all—and we simply must realize this—is not a New Covenant thing.  A payment service calling itself “easyTithe” is perpetuating the problem.  Other e-giving options may be less problematic in terms of overt nomenclature and illegitimate association with ancient Israel’s priestly tithe system, yet the very idea of regular contributions appears more connected to paying dues in a club than to the goals of the apostolic church.

I found it interesting that a (pretty good!) translation of 1Cor 16:2 was included in the above-referenced article.  It bears emphasis here that the import of the first few verses of 1Cor 16 is not a little ambiguous.  This passage certainly cannot be inextricably linked to weekly contributions to today’s church treasuries, though.

For more on this topic, please see the following posts:

In the second of the above posts, this on-target quotation appears:

There is no indication given whether this is meant to be a tithe (no such prescription occurs in the New Testament); but is is implied that it is proportional and substantial.  It seems this is to be done on a family basis and the funds kept at home.”  (emphasis the authors’, not mine)   – Orr and Walther, The Anchor Bible Translation and Commentary, v. 32, 1 Corinthians (1976), p. 356.

One can object to my objections on any one of several grounds (e.g., community-based, tradition-based), but the simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.