Judging (general)

This post is a kind of interlude within a mini-series on “judging” topics—topics that have been a little dangerous.  I don’t want to give the wrong emphasis to readers; neither do I want to paint myself into a corner in anyone’s eyes.  Let’s take couple steps back.

Last fall, I wrote a few posts on gleanings from the book of Judges (link opens in a new tab).  That book, within the library we call the “Bible,” continues to draw me in.  Sure, the stories are riveting, but it’s not that, really; it’s the events described.  What happened is revealing:  how God’s people’s navigated those events, and how God dealt with them over a period of decades.  I think the time of the Judges can be wrongly dismissed as a few cool stories—without apprehending the theological significance of what was going on at the time.  PictureMy current series on “judging” doesn’t have anything directly to do with the book of Judges, but there’s obviously a verbal connection.

What are “judging” and “judgment” after all?  The English word ‘”judge,” when used as a verb, tends to be pejorative, but the corresponding words in other languages might not have the same import.  For instance, I suspect the ancient Hebrew word would have had different nuances and implications.

As to this current series on “judging”:  I have intended it to deal more in (1) spiritually or logically assessing than (2) legally judging or (3) ultimately condemning.  Secondarily, I mean to challenge the notion that judging is necessarily to be avoided.  In fact, one well-known personality inventory (non-judgmentally!) validates judging as a neutral trait.  The diagram here comes close to representing my own personality, as assessed a couple dozen years Image result for judgingago.  I’m largely introverted, intuitive, and feeling.  At that time, I came out near the middle of the fourth spectrum that encompasses “judging” and “perceiving,” but my judging tendencies, as defined by Meyers-Briggs, meant that I made many decisions in my outer life based on plans, order, and organization.  I liked to “bring life under control as much as possible.”  These days, I’m more flexible and would probably be stronger in “perceiving,” at least in some respects.  None of this relates too much to what I’ve been saying about judging; it only serves to illustrate that we need to know what we’re talking about when we use a word like “judge.”  Context can help.

On the way to work this morning, I judged that a driver was less competent and courteous than I.  I judged that based on evidence of how that person treated a stop sign.  Yesterday, I judged myself to have enough fortitude to do something that needed to be done.  This was perhaps a spiritual prompting to go out of my way to be kind to someone who had not been kind to me.  That is a judgment I made, as well.  Had I not taken the step I took (which was well received, I’m happy to report), I would have judged myself weak.  I judge myself too harshly at times, and too graciously at other times.  Judging oneself involves many pitfalls, and as a result, we need accountability within small, organic groups of Christians.

Repeated experiences with individuals may lead us to note inconsistencies, or even hypocrisy, in their character.  Less ominously, we may simply assess traits and tendencies and opt out of close association with this or that person.  These are all “judgments” that need not be considered malevolent.  They may not in fact contain any ill will at all.  It may be necessary to judge at times—in order to keep oneself sane or pure.  Judging is not all bad.  We just need to judge rightly … and not direct all the judgment outward!  (See end of previous post.)

The next post, I think, will take a while to construct, and it will conclude the series.  It will briefly evaluate (assess, judge) one view that’s spotlighted in the book Three Views on Israel and the Church (book title).  The format of this book is geared for critique, which is another type of judgment.  My particular critique of one of the views is important to me in several aspects:

  1. It deeply touches my overarching focus on God’s Kingdom vs. the governments of humans.
  2. Generally, I want to challenge myself in scholarly thought process.  I want to be able to think through something with a clear head and without prejudice, inasmuch as this is even possible.
  3. A dispensationalist preacher recently showed patience with me but has judged a few related things quite differently from the way I’ve judged them.  I want to investigate before heading back to finish the conversation.

I’m not sure which of the above will take the lead in my heart or mind.  I do look forward to being challenged by the views, the scholarly responses, my intellectual process as I read all the above, and the process of communicating all that on this blog.  It may take a bit of time to get it all together, and other posts may come in the meantime, so please stay tuned.

And if you haven’t signed up to received posts by e-mail, please considering doing that.

B. Casey, 1/2/20 – 1/17/20

Judging fruit

You know how they pack strawberries in those plastic containers, sometimes hiding the mushy or blemished ones?  Well, according to an esteemed opinion, I have a knack for choosing strawberry packages well.  Looking at the outside fruits critically can reveal possible issues with the berries within.  I can choose a fair blueberry or apple, too.  I chose three avocados last Saturday and made my first guacamole—a nice success.

I can also see fruit in others’ lives from time to time . . . and the implications run deeper there.

Long ago, I was acquainted with a charismatic (read:  affirms and claims all the miraculous “gifts of the Spirit” now) Christian.  He was invited in to guest-teach an adult Bible class in a non-charismatic church.  This class was not exactly cutting-edge, but it included some relatively open-minded folks who wanted to grow, so I figure they intentionally reached out to this guy—an acquaintance of a member of the class—so he could instruct them more accurately in the ways of the Spirit of God.  Come to find out, he was having an affair with the married woman who was his connection to the class.

People who claim to be followers ought not to act or speak in certain ways.  Further, the claim that God indwells, i.e., lives in us is a claim with which we ought to be pretty careful.  If a guy asserts that he has miraculous abilities given directly by God’s Spirit, I figure that same Spirit ought to keep the person from obvious, egregious sins such as adultery.  A Christian marriage broken by a supposedly Spirit-filled Christian?  I judge that fruit decisively.


Here’s another post in a similar vein:  https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/inconsistent-behaviors-disrespecting-god/


Some say Christians shouldn’t “judge” but may be “fruit inspectors.”  I say that’s probably just a semantic distinction.

That was easy.  Now to the hard part:  me.  Judging within God’s household is entirely appropriate, and I don’t have many people nearby that I consider part close to me in that household, but there are some.  What are the people of God seeing when they assess the fruit in my life?  It’s also important for me to be cognizant of what nonbelievers and less committed believers are seeing in my “fruit bin.”  Even if they are less discerning than I, or though have different baggage (doesn’t everybody?), or if they have wronged me, or if they are moving away from God rather than toward Him at the time they cross my path, they are no less valuable to the Father.  I need to bear good fruit in order to be a good representative to all, whether they (1) reject the Christ, (2) claim Him, or (3) claim and intentionally, noticeably honor Him.

Judging charity opportunities

I like AccuRadio and have publicly mentioned their diverse music offerings more than once.  I’m also impressed that they have (at least two years now) had their listeners vote on charities for the company to support financially.  I’m not impressed, however, with the balance of their charity listings on one day in particular:

That was representative of most days I noticed this.  15 charities, and less than half for basic human needs?  4 of them for animals?  What are they, in cohoots with Antenna TV with their sad cat commercials?  I mean, I like animals as much as the next guy.  I particularly like good dogs, I’m generally sympathetic and fond, and I would oppose any cruelty.  But when human trafficking and cancer and diabetes lose out to blind cats, something is amiss.

I’m equally unimpressed with the choices made by their listeners:

Getting your wish is nice, and purple-hearted people deserve some national attention, but I see many higher priorities in the list than those enterprises and two other top vote-getters (including two non-human causes).

On the positive side of judging:  my own votes last month went to causes such as juvenile diabetes and cancer research, human trafficking, and homelessness.  Charities that have received other recent attention from our home attention are Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, a nearby family whose 8-year-old girl has a debilitating brain disease, and World Vision.¹  We judge (evaluate) these charity opportunities to be in line with Christian living, and we trust Jesus has been pleased with our meager efforts.


¹ We love World Vision’s opportunity to give animals such as ducks, goats, and pigs to a family or community that needs ongoing food supplies like eggs and goat milk!

Judging books

Early in life, I learned to care too much what other people think.  I think this was one of Dad’s faults, passed on to me.  I’m generally private about my business, and I’m usually hyper-aware of talking so loudly that the neighbors might hear.  Will someone notice me in jeans on Sunday and think I’m not going “to church”?  Will someone notice me in a sport coat and think I’m some haughty Christian who thinks he’s better than everyone else while going “to church”?

My mom, on the other hand, cares far less about others’ perceptions, and this ends up being one of her faults.  I suppose I got some of this one, too.  Sometimes I’m just going to do the thing I have in mind or heart, no matter what someone might think.  This trait, I think, can manifest strength of character.  It can also betray stupidity.

It’s with these inherited traits in mind that I mention (and discuss a little) a few book titles that I’m embarrassed about.  In other words, I’m afraid these books—and I—will be judged by their covers.  I’ve never gone out in public with some of them . . . or I hide them . . . or I at least think twice.  For the embarrassment, the caring-too-much-what-people-think, I owe Dad.  For the willingness to make it public in this blogpost, not caring too much what naysayers might think, I owe Mom!  (Writing was/is a strength for both of them.)

These titles will come in two supra-categories:  the negative (those I judge to be not for public view) and the positive.

Not for public view

The Politics of Jesus (John Howard Yoder)
I’ve had this book for a couple years but have barely cracked its cover.  It’s written by a now-deceased Anabaptist theologian whose mind has been highly influential but whose character and actions have been seriously (legally) judged.  I’m pretty sure this book is going to challenge me with a deeper view of “politics,” dealing with Jesus’ views and ways and means in the areas of social intercourse and ethics.  That is a much higher road than the pathway that leads to the polarizing party system and the mixing of authentic Christianity with today’s political “right.”

I’m afraid that when people see this cover, they’ll think I actually align myself with the religious right.  Not at all.  I’m interested in pretty much anything that deals soberly with Jesus, but I have no time for those who think Jesus wants to change the government of a contemporary country—or that He was at all concerned with affecting the Roman empire in any political sense.  My Jesus isn’t in the business of geopolitics or national politics, although He cares about all the business of people’s lives.

Standing with Israel (David Brog)
A real academic is not embarrassed about having books on his shelves that take contrary views.  He, in fact, has been intellectually stimulated in dealing with such opposing views, and has incorporated some of their aspects into his own thinking.  I, however, am not this kind of academic.  Not all the time, anyway.  Also, it is not other academic-types who’re likely to see my shelves . . . so I even hide the spine of this book in my own home.  The friends who might see it in my living room would not understand why it’s there, or wouldn’t know to ask, or would likely assume something about my thinking that I’d be horrified about.  I wouldn’t take Standing With Israel out in public.

I have one book in this camp that’s even worse.  I note that it was published by a Time Warner imprint (not a religious publisher such as Zondervan or Eerdmans), and the TW entertainment conglomerate might have been onto something.  I consider this title merely entertainment:  The American Prophecies:  Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation’s Future.  One doesn’t have to go beyond the cover to realize this is balderdash.  Baseless fiction.  Nation Under God is another one I wouldn’t want public, although its content could head in multiple directions.  The Great Church-State Fraud is provocative, and I might carry that one around eventually. 

I’m proud now to own Three Views of Israel and the Church, a thoughtful debate book that presents representatives of three distinct views and includes scholarly challenge to each view.  I’d be cautious about this one—again, because of presumptions about the religious right—but I plan soon to post notes based on gleanings from this book.

Holy Bible (NRSV)
I wish the covers of some Bibles were different.  Believe it or not, I’m actually embarrassed at the words “Holy Bible.”  For the nonbeliever or disinterested party, I fear the “holy” part sounds presumptuous.  And for all of us, I feel a kind of mesmerizing effect that puts us to thoughtless sleep instead of thoughtful introspection.  In other words, we can be lulled by having a “Holy Bible” in our hands rather than pondering and dealing responsibly with the varied contents of this library we call “Bible.”

Yes, I’d let these be seen by almost anyone

On the other hand, some book titles I’ve been proud to carry around, hoping someone might ask me about them:

  • This Beautiful Mess (Rick McKinley)
  • Mere Discipleship (Lee Camp)
  • The King Jesus Gospel (Scot McKnight)
  • The Kingdom of God in the Teachings of Jesus (Norman Perrin)
  • Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Matthew Bates)

Will someone be interested, judging these titles worthy of note?  Will we be able to dialogue about the nature of God’s kingdom—and humans as loyal subjects and disciples?  Will they ponder the words and work of Jesus just a little more?  Do I care too much about what people think?  I’m not a very good ambassador in most ways.  Far too often, I don’t represent my Lord very well, and maybe, just maybe, someone could see my intent in a book, overlooking my personal failings.

What if I carried around a little book titled The Gospel of Christian Atheism without hiding its cover?  Would that start some discussions, or what?  I can hardly wait to get into that one.  According to a cover blurb, this is no atheist author.  Rather, he seeks to promote primitive Christianity; “gospel” and “atheism” are used advisedly, provocatively, in order to attract readers who might not otherwise pick up a “Christian” book.  But what is “Christian”?  I suspect that this author will use a working definition closer to my own than to, say, most journalists’ or evangelicals’ definitions.

For those who aren’t interested in topics of scripture or Christianity:  I’m never ashamed of Grisham novel titles; I recently finished Camino Island and have read a dozen others.  Most of my baseball books are displayed proudly.  Poetry?  Short stories?  Sure.  And I’d be proud to carry The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr).  And yes, I just searched the WWW to make sure I have its author’s name correct!

MM: Baloney

[This is an installment in the very-sporadic Monday Music series, which initially dealt with Christian music topics and has more recently included other music.  The MM category of posts may be accessed here.]

Never has a more ridiculous stanza been written than this one:

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But his smile quickly drives it away.
Not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

That’s from “Trust and Obey,” otherwise known by its first line, “When We Walk with the Lord.”  There are many good thoughts in the song, and I’d sing most of them willingly.  But not the above lines.  Even if God’s smile drives some shadows away for some people some of the time (a reality I accept), it is patently unhelpful to suggest that there’s no shadow or cloud or doubt or fear that can last while we trust and obey.  I know too much about the shadows and clouds to sing such baloney.

Now . . . never has a more appropriate, helpful stanza been written than this one:

The anger of the enemy would have swallowed us alive
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side.
The waters would have engulfed us; we would have surely died
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,

The above stanzas, being poetic, are probably better interpreted figuratively, and I should be charitable, allowing others to understand it non-literally.  Despite the direct reference in the second example to scripture, the first example makes better English poetry.  My own introductory expression in each case—”never has a more appropriate/ridiculous stanza been written”—is but poetic hyperbole, too, and I acknowledge that.

Whether we trust and obey, or run and hide, or peek around the corner to see what the next horror or disappointment might be in this life . . . or become overwhelmed by a flood, I affirm what the chorus of the second song proclaims:

Blessed be the Lord, who would not give us up.

– Leonard E. Smith, Jr., “Had it Not Been the Lord”

I’m relieved not to have been subjected to Christmas music yesterday.  A couple of weeks’ worth is enough for me.  Today, some score study of Dvorak and Carpenter and some fun flugelhorn playing.  The musical diet tomorrow will include master Horowitz on the piano.

Foremost

Not being a bandwagon kind of guy, I prefer (for myself and others) that statements be based on individual thoughts rather than groupthink.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I start statements like this:

“Well, as a longtime member of this club, I say we should . . . .”

“As a taxpayer, I demand that . . . .

“As a ____________, I think we have to . . . .

If you begin a statement or demand with an affiliative preface like that, what is mostly likely to fill the blank?   What is foremost in informing your philosophy of living?  And what does it mean for that thing to be primary?

Image result for number 1

Depending on the seriousness of the matter, what it comes down to is how we self-identify.  What is foremost in your identity?  Are you first a husband/wife or father/mother, or daughter/son?  Do you identify yourself based on your occupation, e.g., as a teacher, manager, builder, accountant, or chef?  Do you think of yourself as a churchgoer?  Broader descriptions such as “good citizen” and “good person” may run deeper but also fall short.

It was recently suggested that I could “detach”; I took it that I was seen as too personally involved.  The tenor and direction of another conversation surprised me, and the use of a simple phrase revealed a possible difference in operating paradigms.  In both cases, it seems to me, it was assumed that one could be someone different in one setting than he is in another.  I’ve detected this distinction before, and I’m keenly aware of its depth and breadth.  While the difference might go no further than shading opinions, it can also be pervasive and far-reaching.  It has to do with what is foremost in our hearts and minds as we self-identify.  What affiliation primarily determines our thoughts and courses of action?

Some of us have particularly strong family identities.  Did your parents send you out the door to school with the exhortation, “Remember, you’re a Robertson?”  After that, do you think of yourself primarily an employee—one who thinks and acts first as a servant of the employer?  If you have ever been active in the military, you might tend to identify yourself foremost as a soldier.  (I gather there is often a kind of pride in that, and it tends to take precedence over other life-aspects and affiliations.)  Are you an artist, an introvert, an entrepreneur?  These things may be very important in your self-identification, but are they first for you?  Or are you, first, a friend?  (Now we’re getting somewhere.)

Many would identify self in terms of country.  They would say they are, primarily, Americans (or Argentinians or Greeks or Ghanaians or Iranians or Indonesians).  I heard a speech recently that seemed to assume that any American would be, first and foremost, an American.

Not so for the Christian.  Not first, anyway.

The loyalty to Jesus Christ, and identification with Him, will not erase all the other identifications.  A Christian may still be an American and a daughter and an employee.  But the Christian is, foremost and forever, a Christian.  That should trump everything else (when we are at our best).

Of holiday times, people, traditions, and peace

It’s been quite a while¹ since I wrote on this blog.  Not that I’ve been empty-headed; I’ve just had to prioritize other concerns.  I have been making notes for future posts, but it usually does me good to express prosaic thoughts, so here goes . . . .

~ ~ ~

I have deeply mixed feelings at this time of year.  The better part of wisdom would suggest keeping such feelings to myself, but I tend trust the written word (often more than talking, in my case) more than the wisdom of holding the feelings in.

I have made many mistakes in my life.  As in your own life, aren’t there too many to count?  Mine have included these:

  • poor judgment calls (that could have turned out for good or bad [and did—both])
  • near-misses that made God’s sheltering grace clear
  • rough-shod runs over people, in the course of overzealous churchmanship ²

I also established obsessive work patterns that, among other negatives, pigeonholed me as a non-people person.  (See here for more on identification as a “people person.”)  But it is holiday family times, not the work environment, that I intend to focus on here. . . .

I can recall a kind of melancholy retreat from holiday family activities, into a corner where I would do what I was better at than spending time with people:  work on my laptop.  This “work” was almost never work-work (for which I was paid); rather, I would be creating music or emailing or reading about God things.  I was hiding from the people nearby, to whom I was related, in order to be “with” other people across miles.  There were reasons for this arguably antisocial behavior, including profound disillusionment over the impoverishment of two cherished institutions, and the powerless feeling of having had to relinquish important ideals.  It’s for good reason that that’s a packed sentence.

I remember that one relative criticized me for laptopping, and I reacted defensively.  Turns out he was annoyed (and on target) for the same reasons that now annoy me when I observe others doing what I used to do.  I still do that kind of thing at times, but I catch myself and quit.  When I’m with people I care about, I ought to show them I care about them by paying Image result for cell phone during conversationattention to them instead of stuff on a device.  The pic here makes me especially sad, because I value fresh, outdoor air, and I feel these folks would do so much better to look at the green around them, sniff the air, and talk to each other.  I place a higher value on human interaction than on nature, and I do know we need, or at least like, to take pics of our experiences in nature and with others.  But do we spend more time finding pics to show people than talking about real life, in the moment?

Image result for google images cell phone in restaurantSee this article on tech addiction and what to do with your smart phones while at restaurants.  I noted that another restaurant offers free kids’ meals when the parents ditch their phones while at the meal. I think that is about the best sociological development I’ve heard all year.

Christmas-season church stuff abounds.  I’ve participated in some of it, as in most recent years.  Yes, I have about 30 Xmas CDs, a couple dozen Xmas cassettes, and a dozen vinyl records.  I think I’ve played a dozen of them so far this year.  But in church, Christmas music often bores me.  (I’m not much of a traditionalist or a creature of habit.)  Some of it is downright glorious, though, and I’ve benefited from it.  I do wish we would dispense with some of the the formalities, and all the presumptions of validity based on tradition.  It is entirely right to ponder and celebrate the coming of God to earth, but certain ceremonies and phrasings put my soul to sleep more than helping me ponder “Love’s pure light” or pushing me to sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”³

One pop song touches me every time I think through some of the words.  “Grown-up Christmas List” (which a former student introduced to me in 2002) combines expressive melody, colorful chords, and key changes in support of phrases like “no more worlds torn apart” and “time would heal all hearts.”  What’s your list like?  I remember being the kid who passed out the presents to the extended family, and I liked that role, and I like seeing my son becoming enthused over similar things.  As grown-ups with years and hurts and growth under our belts, how much do we now care about wrapping paper and bows?  Wouldn’t it be enough if hearts were healed, and if peace reigned in our little worlds?

Here’s where I insert a few lines of my old friend Paul’s favorite carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Last December, I recall having had marked feelings of generosity, resolve, and hope.  This time around, time-bound hope doesn’t rise within me, but the other two feelings remain.  I’m just as intent as last year on giving (in various ways)—more than worrying specifically about presents or cookies.  No being tied to a computer for too long, or retreating from being actually with people I love.  Somehow that would not be emulating the God who came to be with us.

– B. Casey, 12/1/19-12/20/19


¹ There have been other breaks of this length.  I suppose, at ~1800 total posts (including my other two, less active blogs), breaks are OK.

² I’m an avowed Christian—but no longer a churchman and will probably never be one again.  I consider myself somewhat uncomfortably berthed among God’s people, and (don’t miss this next phrase!) unflaggingly, observably interested in connections with groups of said people, but it’s harder and harder to buy in to the trappings of local bodies, much less denominations.

³ Wait.  Was he actually a king then?  We shouldn’t be so assertive with theological history here!

Epilogue: perceiving the Judges

The history of Israelite Judges is an account of a series of so-called deliverersEach one, in sequence, appears to have been victorious over this or that people group, in this or that way, for some length of time.  John Bright has offered a neat historical portrait:

It must be understood that the Israel of the early days in Palestine was not at all a nation as we would understand the term.  On the contrary, she was a tribal League, a loose confederation of clans united one to another about the worship of the common God.  There was no statehood or central government of any sort.  The clans were independent units unto themselves.  Within the clans there was the recognition there was recognition of the moral authority of the sheikhs, or elders, but organized authority was lacking. . . .  [At Shiloh] the tribesmen gathered on the feast days to seek the presence of their God and to renew their allegiance to him.  This tribal structure corresponds perfectly to the covenant-people idea and may be assumed to be an outworking of it.  The covenant league was a brotherhood; it was ruled only by the law of the covenant of God.

One may best to see how the primitive order in Israel operated from a reading of the book of Judges.  Here we see the clans maintaining a precarious existence, surrounded by foes but without government, central authority, or state organization of any sort.  In times of danger there would arise a hero, one upon whom the spirit of Yahweh rushed (Judg. 3:10; 14:6), called a judge (shôphēt).  He would rally the surrounding clans and deal with the foe.  While his victories no doubt gain him prestige, he was in no sense a king.  His authority was neither absolute over all Israel nor permanent; in no case was it hereditary. -John Bright, The Kingdom of God, 31

I’ll add just a comment or two here.  First, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to paint all the “judges” as men over whom “the spirit of Yahweh” rushed.  The judges were a motley crew, so I’d like to guard against a monolithic view that considers only the stories, say, of Gideon, Samson, and maybe Deborah.

Next, Bright has observed some important limitations.  The Judge was not a king; s/he was not absolutely or broadly in power; and there were no dynasties.

Also important from a higher vantage point is this textually based, yet also philosophical probe:  Texts may have multiple aspects or even “purposes” in different times, with different audiences.  A reader in, say, 500 B.C.E. would naturally have read the Judges text differently in his historical/cultural context than you and I read it in our situation.  And that variance ought not to threaten the sincere student; rather, if we’ll allow it, the cognizance of different contexts can illuminate.

In this brief series on the Judges, I have offered but a few snippets.  I didn’t care to go into Ehud or spent much time with a few others.  I’ll conclude this series before the sad case of Eli’s sons and Samuel’s unique influence.  Overall, in reading and observing, I think of all the history of God and his people—not only during the actual time of the Judges, but during the centuries and millennia to follow.  And I’m essentially led to wonder this:  Is the whole history of Judges/Deliverers recorded for ancient Israel and New Israel to see that those deliverers were nothing but human, whereas God is the only One who delivers and is sovereign?  Although some times of peace lasted 40 years or more, no one could ultimately deliver Israel except God.

Did Israel ever comprehend God’s utterly singular sovereignty?  Do we?

Interlude
In the tale of Abimelech, a son of Gideon, the name Ebed or Obed appears.  I suppose it’s doubtful that this would be the same Obed who was the son of Boaz, since Abimelech’s clan is said to have lived quite a bit north of Boaz’s.  Yet the later Israelite reader might connect the two stories, and, after all, the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz is set in the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1).  At least, we might note that Abimelech (meaning something like father-king” or “my father is King”) figures into the Judges narrative, in which the Israelites are hopelessly un-delivered.  On the other hand, Naomi’s husband is Elimelech (meaning something like “my God is king”).  Something tells me the reader would pick up more than a name here.  Not only Naomi is given renewal and hope; Ruth, a Moabite outsider of all things, is also given a place within God’s providence.  Here, God is a benevolent, gracious King.  We remember here, with John Bright, that “the idea of monarchy [had been] consciously rejected.  This was Illustrated in the words with which stout Gideon spurned a crown:  ‘I will not rule over you. . . .'”   Bright, 32

Recapitulation
As Bright observed re:  the “primitive theocracy” with a given Judge, “it was the direct rule of God over his people through his designated representative.” (32)   In a very real sense, the entirety of the Christian believer’s life may be summed up in two aspects:  the perceived place/role of God the King, and doing His will.  More succinctly put:  Kingdom and discipleship.  God is our Emperor/King, and we owe Him allegiance, which might also be termed loyal living as a disciple of Jesus, who was God’s “designated representative.”

Coda:  Excursus
N.T. Wright has asserted these truths:

“[T]the call to faith is also a call to obedience.  It must be, because it declares that Jesus is the world’s rightful Lord and Master.  (The language Paul used of Jesus would have reminded his hearers at once of the language they were accustomed to hearing about Caesar.)  That’s why Paul can speak about “the obedience of faith.’  Indeed, the word the early Christians used for “faith” can also mean “loyalty” or “allegiance.”  It’s what emperors ancient and modern have always demanded of their subjects.”

Living by “faith,” therefore, is not merely saying “Jesus, I trust in You,” although that attitude and posture are important.  Living by faith is also living loyally, acting obediently, being a disciple of the one everlasting “emperor.”

Being real & vulnerable

Some topics I touch are ones I should probably stay away from.  “Vulnerability” might be one of those.  Inimitably and famously, Brené Brown has given talks on this topic, touching something deep within many of us.  Surely no one like me could add anything worthwhile to her research and insights on this topic.  On the other hand, it might just be that I can note and transmit something very important, being an under-informed but sincere, sometimes-earnest observer of people and culture.  I’m betting many of you will agree that the following material about vulnerability and the pressure of social media is on track.

A book by Donna Freitas is titled The Happiness Effect:  How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost (Oxford University Press).  Freitas, also the author of Sex and the Soul, “comes from an epicenter of sociological research on adolescents and young adults, Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.”  She conducted 200 interviews of university students.

The Happiness Effect is organized around the topics covered in these conversations.  Each chapter overflows with personal stories, making the book an enjoyable read.  But on a deeper level, Freitas has a theory to test.  She contends that headline-grabbing abuses like bullying, stalking, and sexting are not the greatest dangers that social media poses for young adults.  Rather, they distract from a more insidious phenomenon:  the drive to look perfectly happy, all the time.  (emph. mine   -bc)

. . .

As Freitas puts it, Facebook and Twitter are, in a way, the anti-confession, the places we pretend that we have it all together as though we were the gods of our own future.  The gospel challenges the assumption that confessing weakness and need makes you a failure. . . .

– Andrew Root, Reviews, Christianity Today, March 2017

“Church” has for decades (centuries?) been a place for facades, for hiding.  The age-old story of the stereotypical, churchgoing family yelling at each other, slamming doors, stewing in silence all the way to the church building, then putting on fake smiles and acting as though “God is good all the time” is anything but humorous.  Despite encroaching reports of the likes of emotional illnesses, divorce, pain from LGBTQ concerns, human trafficking, and more, some Christians are still fixated on the need to “celebrate Jesus.”  This celebration sensibility comes from reasonably good, yet partly shallow theology and from good-hearted people.  I, on the other hand, resonate more with the need to be communicative, “real,” and vulnerable, sharing every emotion and experience, not only the nice ones.  I’d go further, too:  lament and other negatives need some affirmative action in churches.  In other words, there’s already enough celebration and praise, way too much slap-happy trivia and hype, and not nearly enough honesty.¹  Let the vulnerability emerge.

Facebook is not the only venue through which anti-confession (falsely presenting oneself and one’s situation as marvelously in control and persistently happy, as though there is no weakness and need) rears its head, but it’s a nearly omnipresent one.  Most of those I know are both well acclimated to FB and/or aware of its limitations and potential fallout.  Let us use it well (and not too much).  Let us share the great pics of our kids and our food creations, and maybe an interesting selfie or two (up to two, not two hundred, thank you very much).  Let us share our inspiring thoughts for the day and our scriptures.  But let us also share² our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and even our griefs.


¹ Our chosen, local church takes as its moniker “Historic Faith – Honest Fellowship – Humble Service.”  It makes quite a nice triumvirate, I think, and here, I would call every reader to the “honest fellowship” part—honest both with God and with other believing journey partners.

² Facebook allows one to share selectively, i.e., via private message and to specific individuals or groups.

Redefining “people person”

A “people person,” supposedly, is one who enjoys and likes crowds of people, parties, and such.  What if we could redefine “people person” as one who places a high value on other people and interactions with them?  One definition doesn’t necessarily exclude the other, but the focus is very different with the more customary understanding.

Image result for extrovert

Consider the person who is relatively extroverted (a quality that one source equates with being a people person), loving groups and large-scale social intercourse.  It’s fine to be extroverted, but merely being Image result for people personin groups without genuine interaction or concern for other people isn’t of much interest to me.  Moreover, if an individual were to show disregard or discourtesy, I would generally have to challenge that person’s connection with, and interest in, other people—at least in those moments of self-centered indifference.  It can be more detrimental to disregard someone than to treat him/her with hostility.  Can a person who is so disconnected that he does not truly regard others be a “people person”?

A persistent lack of interest in communicating with another person would tend to indicate a lack of genuine regard and empathy, all other things being equal.  My antennae are up for manifest empathy these days.  About 20 years ago, on a personality profile test, I had a high empathy score, but I don’t know that I would score that high today.  There could be multiple explanations for a lack of empathy here and there, but could someone who rarely cares for others’ pain really be considered a “people person”?

For that matter, was Jesus a “people person” in the stereotypical sense?  Could we say that?  I’d suggest that it depends on the definition.  Some well-meaning extroverts seem to be of the skewed opinion that introversion is actually a weakness to be overcome!  (Here I would refer you to this 3-minute video I recorded a few years ago about a “Bible study”—which really wasn’t one, I hasten to point out.)

Unless I’m conducting or teaching, it’s not natural for me to be extroverted or gregarious, and I doubt anyone would think of me as particularly congenial these days.  I did get place 2nd in the “Mr. Congeniality” voting as a 17-year-old at a Christian camp, but that was a long time ago.  In 2019, I may or may not look forward to a small party or a dozen people at a dinner table, but I did enjoy two such events within the last month or so.  Typically, after that type of gathering, I can use some time alone, or with one or two people.  I do relish connections with people.  I want to spend time with them.  And I sincerely hope I’m still viewed as caring and interested.  We introverts do actually enjoy people and conversation and laughter!

Congeniality and empathy could be said to be traits of a people person.  Extroversion is more typically connected with being one, and that’s what I resist in my attempt at redefinition.  I suppose it isn’t very Image result for people personrealistic to take a term that usually means one thing and unilaterally superimpose another meaning on it.  In the final analysis, a “people person” is probably whatever this or that person thinks it is.  My hope would be that those who know me on any level would not think me a nonpeople person simply because I don’t care to spend too much time at large parties or in shallow, loosely connected groups.

As I think about people and connections. . . .

Some people regularly challenge me to be a better version of myself by their presence or their words.

Others present opportunity to show grace or patience.

Still others demonstrate starkly how not to live.

And all of those are valuable human beings, deserving considerate regard, kindness, and grace.  I’m not suggesting that I myself always do right by people.  Rather, treating others well is a goal.  Genuinely regarding all people, paying attention to them, and interacting with them as valuable humans—sometimes one by one instead of in large groups—is a valid way of being a people person.

In sum:

  1. If “people person” is as shallow and as large-group-centric as it often seems, I want little or no connection with the label.
  2. On the other hand, I’d like to change people’s conception of what a real people person is:  one who interdependently lives in and among people, being with them in various ways and enjoying various levels and types of productive and/or spiritually helpful relationships.
  3. I’m somewhat a people person (not in the common sense) now, and I want to grow more in terms of healthy interdependence and interactivity.

B. Casey, 4/3/19 – 7/2/19

Yancey on Psalms and Ecclesiastes

Philip Yancey has for years been a favorite author of mine.  He writes fluidly, communicating genuinely to the common person without “talking down” to him/her.  His work never fails in terms of significance.  I’d say Yancey generally does Christian writing without Christian platitudes.  His is a voice worth hearing.

I recently picked up a Yancey book I’d seen before but have never read:  The Bible Jesus Read.  (The title refers to the so-called Old Testament.)  I sampled four sections.  Below are a few gleanings from two of them.

Psalms
While lament is widely recognized as an important feature of the Psalms, rarely does the typical believer take note of its prevalence.  Under the heading “Realignment,” Yancey refers to Eugene Peterson, who had asserted that more than 70% of the Psalms’ material can be seen as lament, as opposed to praise or trust or something else more “positive.”  Yancey has a hunch that “the average Christian bookstore reverses the proportions.”

If Yancey had said anything about churches in this regard, I doubt his publisher would liked it.  I’d say most churches do worse than bookstores—rarely if ever giving vent or voice to lament, in times of either personal or corporate distress.  Compared to celebration, praise, and other upbeat activities, lament seems less desirable, but it’s just as important for the human soul.  I could elaborate more and add personal observations about congregational practice, but I’ll simply let this stand for reflection.

Ecclesiastes
On Ecclesiastes, Yancey offers this:

[The] key word “meaningless” appears 35 times, drumming home the theme from beginning to end… It conveys a strong sense of “the absurd.”  The issues bothering the teacher were the same ones that bothered Job and that bother all fair-minded people today.  The rich get richer and the poor poorer, evil people prosper as good ones suffer, tyrants reign, disasters happen, disease spreads, everyone dies and turns to dust.  Life is unfair.  Nothing makes sense; the whole world seems off-balance and twisted….  There is only one word fit to describe this life:  meaningless.

Existential despair did not terminate in the hell holes of Auschwitz or Siberia but rather in the cafes of Paris, the coffee shops of Copenhagen, the luxury palaces of Beverly Hills.  After a trip into Eastern Europe during the Cold War, novelist Philip Roth reported, “In the West, everything goes and nothing matters.  While in the East, nothing goes and everything matters.”

 

Despair is certainly appropriate at times in human existence, but not always.  Ecclesiastes has struck me as being deeply philosophically and appropriately filled with melancholy.  I seems good to realize, too, that Psalms are not brimming with praise; rather, they alternate and juxtapose God-lifting thoughts with cries and laments.

Negative emotions need voice, and literature such as the Ecclesiastes and the Psalms can help.


For two previous posts on Ecclesiastes:

To elicit from Ecclesiastes (1)

To elicit from Ecclesiastes (2)

Of manna

This is the quickest-written, most spontaneous, least proofread piece I’ve written in years.  It’s about God’s provision, as I’ve recently experienced it.

Yesterday
Two friends appeared at just the right moments.  One of the moments was surprising:  I have only known this person for a couple years, and some of that time was spent intentionally staying away from one another.  Then there were marked steps in a better direction, including but not limited to a revealing moment in a conversation a few months ago:  she said she had made the decision to move from being a believer to being a follower.  I have observed bits of the fruit of that decision in her life, and good interactions of various types have sustained and renewed the friendship.  To the point, yesterday, she was at the right place at the right time.  She told me something about a poignant song, and it moved me.  A few minutes later, I simply had to tell her that I felt she was used by the Almighty in my life.  This was a provision of daily bread for me.

And then another bit of friendship “manna” came a few hours later.  Longstanding friendship comes in different shapes and hues.  This devoted friendship is rich, has multiple good facets, and has been unquestioned for a decade.  The conversation here was longer, providing sustenance on an even deeper level.  A listening ear … personal and spiritual connections … words cannot adequately convey my gratitude for this “manna” from God.

This morning
It’s only mid-morning.  As Jedd I sat at the table for oatmeal, I called to mind the back of a Fernando Ortega CD case I had just seen in my study.  One song’s title is “This Good Day.”  I could not in all honesty yet call this a good day, so I simply prayed openly about “this day.”  All I can ask is for His provision for this day.  It’s my recollection/understanding that God’s manna, provided during the Hebrews’ wilderness wanderings, was purposefully provided on a daily basis—precisely so the people would know God provides on a daily basis.  There was to be no storing up, no stockpiling.

In the same vein, I should try not to worry about provision for tomorrow or next week.  I am grateful now for the provisions of yesterday through two friends, and for sustenance for this day.   This is God’s manna.

In terms of parenting and discipling, I am glad Jedd knows without doubt that I was grateful to, and dependent on, the Lord this morning.