He’s 8 today

My first blogpost was a year prior to our son Jedd’s birth, and I began blogging in earnest when he was born.  I’ve noted a few other numeric milestones on this blog but semi-intentionally passed by post #1500 recently.  Jedd’s 8th birthday, a milestone for him and for us, seems a good time to document a bit of his life on this blog. . . .

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No one set Jedd’s alarm on Sunday night, so I woke him up on Monday morning. Three days before his birthday, I told him he was officially 7-point-99 years old!  He is a morning person, and he smiled right away.

Jedd has had more than his share of sniffles this year but is generally a healthy kid and hasn’t been to the doctor since he was two or three.  He is a little shorter than average (like Karly) and has a sweet spirit (like Karly).  He likes all people (even more than Karly) and has friends of various ages—including adults.  He actually asked me two days ago about planning a “date” to Pizza Hut with a little girlfriend, but we’re passing that by for now.  Jedd’s first friends in western NY were mostly college students, and that doubtless contributed to his strong vocabulary, communication skills, and love of people.  Due in part to interim faculty positions I’ve held, Jedd has lived in five states already and has traveled in 22.  He has seen the Gulf of Mexico, and he has breathed thin air at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies and felt a “polar bear wind” in Wyoming.  He’s traveled through Bald Knob and Bennington, Corpus  Christi and Cookeville.  He has lived in Allegany County and Atchison and has seen Anderson and the Atlantic Ocean.

He thinks his 2nd grade year has been his best ever.  He reads at a level that can make it problematic to find reading material that’s challenging but age-appropriate, and I think he reads aloud better than some 5th or 6th graders.  He seems to understand arithmetic “strategies” quickly.  He likes surprises and says “Oh, yay” when I offer him just about anything, including going exploring on a country highway, running out to a store, or giving him a pop quiz on math while we drive.  “I love questions,” he says.

Jedd has played baseball, basketball, and soccer on organized teams.  Of the three, he is best at baseball (starting his 2nd year now) and seems to like it the best, too.  He has learned some things on piano, thanks to my mother, and I should probably be capitalizing on his interest in piano and brass instruments soon.  Within the previous two or three days, he had expressed his typical enthusiasm for multiple things, including pizza, Bible history, digging holes, earthworms, baseball, and pretending to set up a store to sell rocks (testing for any meteorites first), and practicing solfège syllables.  An older friend who’s known him about 1/3 of his life once took Jedd fishing, and just last week, he went again and won a fishing rod.  He still loves trains and construction vehicles, just as he did when he was two (although Thomas has been out for several years).  He points out cool-looking classic cars as quickly as we do.  He loves animals, but it takes him a minute to get used to jumpy, intrusive dogs (since he was bitten once).  He plays free games on our tablet and watches sitcom reruns on Netflix, but he likes playing outside even more.  He rides his bike and his scooter, and he loves my motorcycle.  He likes to build forts with cushions and chairs and blocks and sheets, installing temporary lighting so he can read in there.  A clip-on reading light for his bed was quite possibly his most used gift ever.

We are of course interested in his spiritual development (and are not contributing directly to it as much as we should).  He has always loved going to various Bible classes and “children’s worship” times in various churches.  We feel it is good for him to be part of “Christian family” experiences, including various small group Bible studies and informal talks.  A few times in the last couple of years, we have included him unobtrusively in communion observances although he has not made a profession of faith or been immersed.  We had some matzah in the house recently, and it was he who wanted to use them in reenacting the “Last Supper,” so we did just that.  He also expressed a prolonged interest in watching a video we have of Matthew’s gospel.  Jedd has assimilated a lot of facts and has a great deal of acquaintance with the Bible (and has three Bibles of his own).  We are working on his memorizing half a verse in Greek to “perform” for his school’s talent show next week, and he commented recently that some of his neighborhood friends believe in God but that’s about as far as it goes.  He feels some personal sadness when he does wrong, and that could be the most important thing in this sphere at this point in his life.

Tonight we are surprising Jedd with a trip to the KC Royals game with a friend from school.  In about a week we will head out to see his nonagenarian great-grandmother in DE, and she’ll be thrilled to see him, watch TV and walk with him, and see him throw a baseball.  He has another summer treat coming right after that.  It is time for a new bike, but we’ll hold off on that for a couple more months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some tidbits just 1% as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  Jedd is a neat kid.  His first name, by the way, comes from Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”), which was another given name of King Solomon.  His middle name is a form of his paternal grandfather’s name, Gerald. (Jedd is the only one to carry the family surname.)

Happy birthday, Jedd Garrett Casey.

Karly, Jedd, and Brian, May 19, in the hospital
3 Generations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Lennon, religion, and (re)viewing with less obstruction

I recently subscribed to the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.  This is not a “classical music” enterprise but is rather a sort of clearinghouse for academic research and reviews of recent works about aspects of the first Classical Period (i.e., the one associated with Ancient Greece).  Big mistake, though, to sign up for this thing.  I am feeling really stupid now, plus, I feel the need to buy another book or seven.  Below are a couple titles that caught my eye.  These are available for review, but I am NOT applying for that job (!) as I am completely unqualified.

Bakker, Egbert (ed.). Authorship and Greek Song:  Authority, Authenticity, and Performance.  Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song, 3.  Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. x, 295 p. $132.00. ISBN 9789004339699.

Baron, Carlin A. and Daniel Boyarin.  Imagine No Religion:  How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities.  New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 325 p. $35.00. ISBN 9780823271207.

The first title interests me on the Greek language, general literary, and music fronts, but I’m not about to pay $132 for it.  Apparently there are two earlier volumes in this series, but the audience for this kind of thing is surely relatively small.

The second title, referring as it does to the now-famous John Lennon song, says a lot in and of itself.  I immediately resort to my melancholy inner world, thinking if only people could differentiate between realities of the biblical cultures and times on the one hand and modern constructs and human superimpositions on the other!  I’m no disciple of Lennon, but “religion” chafes me, too, and I so wish that it hadn’t gotten in the way.  People might otherwise be able to see Jesus and His way, unobstructed; and not as many people would have drifted from some essential truths they learned early in life.

Echoing the Lennon lyric, I too imagine no religion, and it’s not so easy, no matter how hard I try.  Often I think thoughts like if only. . . .  Moving toward deeper, more visible substance, I appeal to a subsequent entry from the same journal, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.05.02, which reviews Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World.  Since one of Hurtado’s chief areas for exploration is Roman-era adherence to cults, his take on the existence and nature of “religion” in the ancient world is of great interest.

Hurtado stresses that Christianity did not fit “what ‘religion’ was for people then,” and was accordingly dismissed as a superstitio (p. 2).  It was the distinctive features of Christianity that account for its successes and not Constantine’s embrace.

– Reviewer John S. Kloppenborg

The technical Latin “superstitio” does not hide the essence above.  (It’s usually all about context.)  The terms “religion” and “religious” can be used with various shades of meaning, for different purposes.  Personally, I rarely use either term positively, but I recognize that “religious” can be somewhat positive or neutral in the hands of others.  Above, in a scholarly context, the inquiry is valid, regardless of the terminology.  We basically know what is being discussed when “religion” is the topic, whether the period in question is antiquity or the present.

Based on the reviewer’s assessment, it appears that Hurtado, when speaking of the early centuries after Jesus Christ, differentiates between “religion” on the one hand and superstitions that did not have the hallmarks of established religion on the other.  It further appears the author’s use of “religion” in this context is neutral or negative, that is, that he is asserting a distinctive place for Christianity precisely because it did not look like “religion”—and because it had uniquely compelling aspects that drew new adherents.  Hurtado himself, I might add, has taken some exception (here) to the reviewer’s characterization of his major thrusts.  I found the objection a bit overwrought, perhaps owing to how each scholar sees the single word “burden.”  Kloppenborg had commented, “The burden of the book is to discuss the reasons that the Christ cult thrived in the Empire,” and Hurtado demurred, “I state no such intention in the book.”  For my part, I suspect Kloppenborg wasn’t speaking of intent at all; a “burden” would be a theme that a book “carries,” regardless of any explicit purpose or stated intention, wouldn’t it?  At any rate, Hurtado clearly bristled a bit, but he did appreciate the tone of the review.

One of Hurtado’s motifs (note that I call these neither “burdens” nor “intents,” and I’m not even specifically referring to the one book here!) is the “bookishness” of early Christianity:  there is more evidence of writing and documentation than with other groups of the same era.  (I assume this is the case regardless of whether a group was more a “religion” or a “superstitio.”)  Kloppenborg finds that Hurtado  describes “Christ groups” as “adopting reading practices and embedding quotations of other literature in their works, making appeals to literate media recursively present.”  This is truly an important feature of Christianity . . . and, I might add, it goes to my aversion to the “Christian” (please read the adjective advisedly there) religion of Medieval times.  When believers are, by and large, neither readers nor writers, they are sorely limited in their “religion.”  It is with good reason that Medieval times were known for a long while as the Dark Ages.  Sight was limited by lack of literature and literacy.

So what is “religion,” really, and isn’t it a good thing in the Bible?  There is that verse in James that says “pure and undefiled religion is to to take care of widows and orphans,” right?  Well, yes and no.  Certainly it is true that taking care of widows and orphans is a good thing and is presented positively by James, echoing a Hebrew prophecy or two . . . but the use of the English word “religion” is a now mixed bag with a whole lot of rot in it.  Without further comment, I will close with a meaty paragraph that gets into this area.

A second methodological issue lurking in the book concerns the tendency to treat emergent Christianity as distinctive in contrast to polis religion. On this showing, Christianity was distinctive and indeed unique in its creation of a transethnic, translocal, elective “religion,” not controlled by or aligned with the interests of the propertied class. This binary, however, neglects the many instances of what might be termed elective cults that were variously related to the civic center and which in varying degrees were curious (but harmless), exotic, transgressive, or horrific. Some reverenced deities not part of the civic pantheon but, like the cult of Silvanus or Mithras, were scarcely treated as deviant.7  Others—Isis at certain periods, for example—were treated as deviant and suppressed. Participation in many such cults crossed ethnic, gender, and social class boundaries and some, Mithraism for example, imposed strict ethical requirements and produced a transformation in one’s lifestyle that was, in Roger Beck’s estimation, a “conversion.” 8  To acknowledge such a shift from cults predominantly of the polis-type to the development of elective cults in the late Hellenistic and early Imperial periods complicates Hurtado’s narrative of Christianity as the major innovation in the “religious” landscape of antiquity.

– Reviewer John S. Kloppenborg


7.   John North, “The Development of Religious Pluralism,” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, ed. Judith M Lieu, et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 174–93; Greg Woolf, “Isis and the Evolution of Religions,” in Power, Politics, and the Cults of Isis, ed. Laurent Bricault and Miguel J. Versluys (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), 62–92.
8.   Roger Beck, “On Becoming a Mithraist: New Evidence for the Propagation of the Mysteries,” in Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity, ed. Leif E. Vaage, Studies in Christianity and Judaism 18 (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfird Laurier University Press, 2006), 175–94.

Hurtado on origins

I regularly read a couple of academically oriented biblical studies blogs.   I should read more, but time and energy have their constraints.  One of the ones I read is by Larry Hurtado, a first-rate scholar, relatively recently retired from the University of Edinburgh.  His blog would not always be attractive to the masses since it focuses on academic research and chronicles his own contributions and exposures along with those of significant others.  However, as I said, his work is of high repute, and from time to time there is something that I wish every thoughtful person would read.

There have been quite a few posts about interviews and podcasts related to his 2016 book Destroyer of the gods (sic)m but this write-up on the intended audience(s) of the book will bring good summary, thought-provoking insights into aspects of Christian origins.  The nascent Christian movement (1st century CE) ought to be impressive to anyone of sound mind.

To give a taste to those who opt out of clicking into the full post, here are the final words, a quote that leads Hurtado’s book:

“Even in an age that some describe as post-Christian, the beginnings of the strange movement that was to become Christianity in all its varieties continue to fascinate thoughtful people . . . Yet something more than mere curiosity about an ancient puzzle draws our attention to the first centuries of Christian history.  Our interest in the question betrays our awareness that, whether or not we regard ourselves as Christians or in any way religious, we cannot altogether escape the tectonic shift of cultural values that was set in motion by those small and obscure beginnings.”  (The Origins of Christian Morality:  The First Two Centuries, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 1).

A scant few: “religion” words and passages

In the last post (“Religion?“), I tried to spotlight a line of demarcation between religion on the one hand and Christianity on the other.  I do believe there can be such a thing as true religion—i.e., a practice of religion that in some sense really is Christ-ian.  Here, I think not only of the aphoristic wordings of James 1:26-27, but of all those souls, far more devoted than I, who go about doing all sorts of good because of their devotion to Jesus.

On the other hand, I do try to pay attention to the definition of terms (see here and here for other examples) whenever anything is discussed, and I want to be clear on what I am (and am not) seeking to denigrate in these posts on “religion.”  So, toward a clearer definition—in terms of scripture—we find in one reputable English version (ESV) that the word “religion” or “religious” appears seven times:

  1. Acts 17:22
  2. Acts 25:19
  3. Acts 26:5
  4. Col 2:23
  5. James 1:26/27 (3x)

But an English word’s presence only tells us so much.  I mean, who cares what the English says unless it can be shown to be a reliable translation of the original language?  (And the ESV is certainly one of the more reliable translations available today.  I’m just making a general point here.)  We must either know something about the original or trust that the translators are handling the language correlation well.  Here, on a level that barely scratches the surface, I’ll refer to the original language….

The Greek term θρησκεία | threskeia and cognates serve as antecedents for the Acts 26, Col 2, and James instances.  In other words, the Greek antecedent is different in Acts 17 and 25.  A good hunt would eventually involve appeal to reputable lexicons to determine the range of meaning of that word in all period literature.  For purposes here, we’ll keep the definition at a “gloss” level:  it means, roughly, “religious observance.”

That is one level of investigation, but let’s dig down into another layer.  What about any other passages that began with the same Greek word but do not show up as “religion” in English?  There is only one additional instance of threskeia not translated as “religion” by the ESV:  Col 2:18, where “worship” is the English rendering.  (I think the choice of “worship” here can throw off even the most pure-spirited bloodhound on the trail of angel, religion, or worship “creatures”!)

The results of such searches may be different in other English versions.  For instance, the HCSB chooses a word other than “religion” in both of the Colossians 2 verses.  The NASB opts out of one of them.  The KJV actually skips both of them but chooses to give “religion” in two additional verses (Gal 1) in which the Greek original is different.  Consideration of all of these translations may serve either to clarify or to blur.  An illuminating sidelight here is that the KJV’s choice of “Jewish religion” for Ἰουδαϊσμός | judaismos in Galatians 1:13 and 1:14 is fairly close to current English usage, at least as I hear it.  In other words, the “Judaism” or “Jewish religion” referred to here might be a direct ancestor of some observant-but-less-than-centered manifestations of Christian religion today.

In Colossians 2:23, Paul might have been intentionally distinguishing between whatever had been genuine in Jewish religion and something false.  He might even have coined a term, because this compound word is found nowhere else in scripture:

threskeia

The Abridged Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (a/k/a “Little Kittel”) has this to say about Col 2:23:

The word ethelothreskeia . . .  seems to denote, not an affected piety, but a piety that does not keep to its true reality, to Christ, but is self-ordered.

Surely there is a distinction to be made between genuine religion and self-made (or other un-admirable types of) religion.  If I were a better person, I’d aim for stronger association with the former.  For now, I’ll have to be content with distancing myself from the latter.

Religion?

While working on another essay, I looked up a quote to make sure I was remembering it correctly, and I inadvertently found this in a collection of quotes about “clear thinking.”

Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration —courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth. – H.L. Mencken (attributed)

Actually, I’d have to agree that much “religion” often rises up in postures that oppose the things Mencken listed.  And, the more I experience—either from within, or at arm’s length—of “religion,” the less interest I have in that per se.  The thing is, there is something that matters a lot more than “religion.”  (I’m trying here to be a little bold, to think clearly, and to be open, honest, and fair in pursuing true things.)

I can manage a mostly polite tolerance for religion, but I think it’s quite sad that some people think Christianity is a religion like that.¹  Authentic Christianity, I would say, is actually very supportive of the things listed as venerable in the above quotation.  When I ponder friends and acquaintances who seem to have less faith than I (or no faith at all), I sometimes wonder what they include under the “religion” umbrella.  What do they think I support or believe in or even champion?  Do they assume I’m into “religion” because I’m into the God of Abraham and and Jeremiah and Jesus and Paul—along with the responsible study of the scriptures that deal with each of those and more?

Some friends might be wasting energy putting a deadbolt and bars on a door to a house that only a few would be interested in taking out a mortgage on, anyway.  That old house may not be condemned by the city, but, as it stands, it’s not a place I want to live life.  I’m not really into remodeling and “flipping” that kind of house, either.  (Now speaking non-metaphorically:  I think I’m done with house ownership and am renting!)  Thom Schultz, an astute observer, and the founder of the Christian publisher Group, has produced multiple pieces (in audio and blog format) about a Christian subset labeled “the dones.”  (He also identifies the “almost-dones.”)  I’m not sure if I quite fall in either category, but it’s worth thinking about.

I wish those who fancy themselves atheists would have come to know genuine, responsible, thoughtful Christianity and not a falsely² religious manifestation of it.  I think there would then be fewer atheists . . . and more devotion to Jesus (or at least more willing support for those of us who want to follow Him).  Real Christian religion has nothing to do with false fronts, denominationally handed-down decisions, hidden injustices, or dishonestly glossing over realities for the sake of appearance.  And of course authentic Christianity maintains an energetic interest in truth.

In a follow-up post, I’ll share a few tidbits about “religion” words/passages in the Bible.   (Spoiler alert:  there aren’t many.)


¹ I realize here that there’s religion and there’s religion (and maybe religion, too, on top of those!).  In other words, what is called religion on TV might not be religion in the mind of a given individual . . . and real religion might be something yet different from either of the others.

² I specify “falsely religious” because there can be such a thing as true religion.  Here, I think not only of the pat saying found in James 1:26-27, but of those souls who go about doing all sorts of good because of their devotion to Jesus.

 

Whatchacallit

I admit a general hangup with labeling, but I often think it does matter whatchacallit.  Sometimes, it matters a lot.

If it’s unimaginative, chaotic, seemingly unending noise and you call it “music,” you’re either less than fully educated or artless (or a punk).

If it’s persons doing jobs, and you call it “human resources,” the persons involved may feel de-humanized, as though they are now just one step up (or down!) from technological resources.

If it’s charitable giving and you call it “tithing” in this age, I’ll resist your assumptions and will be able to make a strong case.

According to some estimations, if it’s youth ministry and you’ve been calling it “student ministry,” a whole generation of young people might have been lulled into feeling that developing Christianity was just another class to sit through as a “student.”

It seems to me that this assessment is somewhat on target but overstated.  As an educator, I am compelled first to advocate the better sides of teaching and student-ing.  It’s certainly not inherently negative to be called, or thought of as, a student.  Yet the reality that many young people live in their schools is not entirely positive, and I acknowledge the likely negative association with being a student in a desk-chair, listening to a typical teacher drone on un-enthusiastically and periodically giving assignments and saying “be quiet” and grading papers.

When the business world rejected the label “personnel” and moved toward “human resources,” I imagine it sounded more “human” to some.  I’d say they weren’t too attentive to the second half of the term, “resources,” which also comes into play with reams of paper, reference materials, computers and other machines, and other non-human stuff.

Similarly, when some people rejected “youth ministry,” I imagine they were trying to avoid a negative connotation of ministry to the youthful, i.e., to those “younger than the adults and therefore not of full-fledged importance.”  I was there in one church when this labeling change occurred, and I’d say it was almost universally seen as either neutral or positive, but I’m not sure the label made any ultimate difference.  Aside:  any full understanding of “disciple” involves the idea of being a student/learner who follows, and perhaps that idea was involved in the original labeling “student ministry.”  Surely at least that much can be seen as a positive.

A change in terminology can be helpful or neutral or negative.  Perhaps it is time to change again, in one or more of the above cases.

For more on the possible fallout of calling it “student ministry” for the last generation or so, see this post by Thom Schultz of Group Publishing:

The Day That Disabled Our Youth Ministry

I suspect that the negative import of the label “student ministry”—certainly more a neutral factor than an inherently positive one, even when it was first suggested—has been overestimated.   Surely it’s the total picture of church experience, not a simple label for the “youth group,” that has led to decreasing numbers of real believers and disciples among the so-called “millennials.” 

Younger (and older) people have left and are leaving for many different reasons.

More important than “family”

Maybe you have heard someone say something to the effect that “there’s nothing more important than family.”  Maybe that line comes when someone must set priorities . . . or maybe a family member is going through trying times, and everyone is thinking about family loyalty.  Priorities and loyalties are good, yet family will let you down sometimes, so there is another side of this coin.

I’m actually not sure I know what a close earthly family looks like.  Last week, some correspondence from a friend got me thinking about non-family family. . . .

First—aunt who?

My wife’s extended family has a proclivity for calling everyone “aunt this” and “uncle that,” but I didn’t grow up in that familial climate.  There were on the other hand two very special people in our lives that my sisters and I grew up calling “Uncle Paul and Aunt Doris,” and when Aunt Doris died a couple years ago, it felt like a family event even though we haven’t lived in the same locality for 30+ years.  In more recent years, we have three times visited UP and AD and their daughter.  They are still “family” to us.

I’m now wondering whether we should encourage our son to call a few very special people “Uncle ___ and Aunt ___”  Based on facets of certain long-term friendships, e.g., with the friend who wrote, this “familializing” might or might not be expected.  Whereas some of our “blood” extended family really isn’t anymore,¹ some dear friends have proven to be more like family than most family, if you know what I mean.

Secondthe mortgage company was down wid dat

Once upon a time, when applying for a mortgage, I wanted to keep the payment lower, so I was looking for some additional down payment money—a “gift” that I would repay anyway.  The rule was that any such money had to be a gift from family, or it would be considered a debt, changing the debt coverage ratio.  In my case, the only viable blood-family source of funds was unwilling, so I asked some spiritual siblings, and they were willing.  The mortgage company had probably never before encountered someone like me who would go to some length to help myself financially without lying about it.  They went for it when they heard my biblically based explanation of how I viewed that Christian relationship as more significant than physical family.

Third:  those Mennonites “get it”

Another friend recently commented on my account of a visit with some Mennonites, explaining why nuclear families do not sit together “at church” in many Anabaptist traditions:

Another possible reason (as I’ve heard from some people) is to separate families.  In a church setting, families sitting together may create unnecessary barriers or distinctions between groups, when we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  The church family is higher than the nuclear family.  That isn’t to say the nuclear family is bad, just of lesser importance when compared to the bride of Christ.

I thought that wonderful explanation was worthy of repeating here.


¹ I’m not happy about the choices a few extended family members have made—or about the relational distance on several main branches of our family tree.  It’s the way things are, though, and I’ve mostly moved on.

Four eyes

eyeSometimes I see unexpected things at inopportune times.

A few nights ago during a long, multi-measure rest in a concert, for reasons I can’t completely remember at this point, I thought of four eyes.  I quickly moved from the childish eyeglasses taunt to things more substantive.

Eye No. 1:  The One that Communicates (with Music-making Partners)

Surely communication theorists have a plethora of journal articles and graduate research papers devoted to studies of the eyes.  An important aspect of communicating with anyone (or any group of someones) is looking him in the eyes—with your active eyes.

Any conductor who does not use the eyes to communicate is not using a crucial tool.  Yet it is such an extremely common problem as to be cliché:  most conductors stare at the score while they are talking to the ensemble, when giving cues, and immediately after having given cues.  Score-orientation is an important core value, to be sure, but the conductor should know the score well enough, and be confident enough, to speak to the ensemble vocally and gesturally without constant visual connection with the score.

The effective conductor will look at the ensemble intentionally and meaningfully during music-making.

Eye No. 2:  The One in the Skyeye

These words have been included hymnals:

Watching you, watching you,
Ev’ry day mind the course you pursue;
Watching you, watching you,
There’s an all-seeing Eye watching you.

The song’s inclusion should be embarrassing to generations of churchgoers, if not to the offspring of the poet (who doubtless had very good intentions).  No matter how you view God on the judgment vs. grace spectrum, you have to admit it’s silly (and downright counterproductive if one is thinking evangelistically) to think of God as a big eye in the sky.

It’s not that God’s eyes don’t see, of course; it’s a matter of how the reality is portrayed.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on those who are evil and those who are good.  (Proverbs 15:3, NET Bible)

“Keeping watch” sounds different from “an eye watching you,” doesn’t it?

eyeEye No. 3:  The Ever-Open One

Psalm 34:15, which is quoted, more or less, in 1Peter, has God’s eyes “on the righteous,” or perhaps “toward” the righteous, and His ears, open to their cries for help.  The NET Bible renders this “eye” as simply “paying attention to,” and that’s an acceptable idiomatic translation, although the Hebrew and Greek do include eyes specifically.

Here, we might add 2Chron 16:9, which has God’s eyes actively searching the earth in order to bolster those who in turn are seeking Him.

eyeEye No. 4:  The Bird- and Me-Watching One

This meditation song wasn’t part of my growing-up years, although I gather it was quite familiar in some circles.  I first heard it at an Integrity Music worship conference sometime in the 1990s, and I still have the CD recording (reproduced here) offering Ron Kenoly’s personable voice presenting the song.  Part of it goes like this:

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Now that’s a positive faith-expression.  The second half comes loosely from Matthew 6:26f.

If you want to read more on this topic, try this post from Rubel Shelly.  If I’d seen his extended treatment first, I might simply have shared his link instead of writing a post of my own!

Tending

Another blogger once referred to “tending” her blog; that expression has stuck with me for years.  Earlier this year, when I added two additional blogs to my framework, I had to consider seriously the “tending” factor.  Would my felt need to “tend” exceed the actual need to tend?  And would either one of those exceed my available time and energy?

There are many things to be tended to—too many, I think, for most people.  We tend to our houses/homes, our cars, our relationships, our personal finances.  Some of us add community groups such as service clubs, churches, sports organizations.  We tend to our health (more or less).

Where the pastor role exists in a local church, that person should by all rights “tend” the flock in some real sense.  I would go so far as to say that the basic meaning of the word “pastor”—both etymologically and contextually—in pretty much every NT passage in which the word “pastor” or “shepherd” appears is in fact tend (or, in the noun form, one who tends).  Yet when most staff pastors refer to having “pastored” a church, they seem often to be referring to administering facilities and institutions and programs more than to tending to people.

And I see that as a problem.  [Aside:  this observation demands further challenge to amalgamated titles like “executive pastor” and “administrative pastor.”]

I suppose those institutions and programs also need tending to, if they are to survive and thrive.  But the existence of institutions is not by any means essential in the kingdom of God.  Ironically, the most institutional churches and their “tenders” combine to constitute a major reason I tend to wander (1) away from them and (2) toward more organic groups that do not have, or need, official titles and roles.

I figure this way:  if the institution makes it difficult to envision a relationship with the One Tender and Guardian of our souls (1Pet 2:25), that group is presenting an obstacle that this particular sheep doesn’t need to try to hurdle.  Can this be indicative of a b-a-a-a-d attitude?  Maybe, he acknowledged sheepishly . . . but he doesn’t enjoy wool over his eyes.