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Agamben on Paul and the Law, monastic rule

This is the most succinct I have found Agamben on Paul and the Law. (He wrote a whole book on it, The Time That Remains, but besides that he brings it up often). The second paragraph is what matters here, the rest are given for context, the italics are original but boldface is my emphasis.

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The considerations developed up to now must have rendered obvious the sense in which it is almost impossible to pose the problem of the juridical or nonjuridical nature of the monastic rules without falling into anachronism. Even granting that something like our term juridical has always existed (which is no less dubious), it is certain, in any case, that it means one thing in Roman law, another in the early centuries of Christianity, another still starting from the Carolingian age, and another, finally, in the modern age, when the State begins to assume the monopoly over law. Furthermore, the debates that we have analyzed over the “legal” or “advisory” character of the rules, which seem to approach the terms of our problem, become intelligible only if one does not forget that they are superimposed over the theological problem of the relation between the two diathēkai, the Mosaic law and the New Testament.

In this sense, the problem ceases to be anachronistic only if it is restored to its proper theological context, which is that of the relationship between evangelium and lex (that is, first of all, the Hebraic law). The theory of this relationship was elaborated in the Pauline letters and culminates in the declaration that Christ as messiah is telos nomou, end and fulfillment of the law (Rom. 10:4). Even if in the same letter this radical messianic thesis —and the opposition that it implies between pistis and nomos—is complicated to the point of giving rise to a series of aporias (as in 3:31: “Do we then render the law inoperative by this faith? By no means! On the contrary , we uphold the law”), it is nonetheless certain that the Christian life is no longer “under the law” and cannot in any case be conceived in juridical terms. The Christian, like Paul, is “dead to the law” (nomōi apethanon; Gal. 2:19), and lives in the freedom of the spirit. Even when the Gospel is counterposed to the Mosaic law as a “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27), or later as a nova lex to the vetus, it remains the case that neither its form nor its content are homogeneous to those of the nomos. “The difference between the law and the Gospel,” one reads in Isidore’s Liber differentiarum (chap. 31), “is this: in the law there is the letter, in the Gospel grace . . . the first was given for transgression, the second for justification; the law shows sin to the one who does not know it, grace helps him to avoid it . . . in the law the commandments are observed, in the fullness of the Gospel the promises are consummated.”

It is in this theological context that one must situate the monastic rules. Basil and Pachomius, to whom we owe, so to speak, the archetypes of the rules, are perfectly conscious of the irreducibility of the Christian form of life to the law. Basil, in his treatise on baptism, explicitly confirms the Pauline principle according to which the Christian dies to the law (apothanein tōi nomōi), and as we have seen, Pachomius’s Praecepta atque iudicia opens with the statement that love is the fulfillment of the law (plenitudo legis caritas). The rule, whose model is the Gospel, cannot therefore have the form of law, and it is probable that the very choice of the term regula implied an opposition to the sphere of the legal commandment. It is in this sense that a passage from Tertullian seems to oppose the term rule to the “form of the [Mosaic] law”: “Once the form of the old law was dissolved [veteris legis forma soluta], this is the first rule which the apostles, on the authority of the Holy Spirit, sent out to those who were already beginning to be gathered to their side out of the nations” (Tertullian 3, 12). The nova lex cannot have the form of law, but as regula, it approaches the very form of life, which it guides and orients (regula dicta quod recte ducit, recalls an etymology from Isidore, Etymologiarum 6.16).

The problem of the juridical nature of the monastic rules here finds both its specific context and its proper limits. Certainly the Church will progressively construct a system of norms that will culminate in the twelfth century in the system of canon law that Gratian compiles in his Decretum. But if Christian life doubtless can readily encounter the sphere of law, it is just as certain that the Christian forma vivendi itself—which is what the rule has in view—cannot be exhausted in the observance of a precept, which is to say that it cannot have a legal nature.

 

Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life, 45-47.

Two recent posts about apologetics

Here are two recent statuses from my Facebook about apologetics method. This topic has become important to me lately, and more so as I’ve been gearing up to finally read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. My blog may begin to focus on it more as well. My goal in the long term, I guess, is to think of apologetics in terms of theological anthropology — how should we share the truth of the gospel, given what it means to be a human being? — but we’ll see how that goes. For now here are the two posts; click the links to see comments from some of my friends. (More pushback on the second one).

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(unrelated: first snowfall of the Winter was the very day we left for a Fall retreat at camp.)

 

1. About presuppositionalism (here)

It has taken me an entire college degree in Philosophy to realize that “presuppositional apologetics” is just Christian Philosophy but done in an annoying way.

The presup tactic is to expose the other person’s unspoken assumptions, and show how those assumptions make their non-Christian answers a foregone conclusion. “I don’t believe in God because I only believe in the 5 senses” is exposed by the question “can you know that the 5 senses are reliable using the 5 senses?” which implies that the person does not have good grounds for disbelieving in God. They had to chose that starting point (the 5 senses) and of course their conclusion is atheism; but we could have just as easily chosen any other starting point (“I believe in what seems rationally intuitive” or “I believe what my traditional community tells me”) and get any other number of results.

What I am just now realizing is that, in addition to being the most annoying tactic a person can possibly use during an in-person conversation… this is not much different from the extremely annoying dialectic that Socrates used. “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” “Ah, I see that we’ve reached bedrock, but do you have reason for believing this particular claim?”

The presup method is not much of a method at all. It is just Christian philosophy. But can’t we be so much more straightforward, so much less annoying, and so much more clear by just stating our epistemic grounds right at the beginning, instead of waiting for the other person to imply theirs and then question it into existence?

 

2. About religious epistemology and the Apologetics Industry (here)

So many times I have heard folks associated with the apologetics industry argue that we need a “cumulative case” approach to proving Christianity. Maybe one argument does not convincingly lead to the conclusions we want, but it almost does; another argument also almost does; so do these other ones over here, and look over there! More arguments that almost work.

But obviously, two 50% convincing arguments do not make a full truth. Nor do four 25% convincing arguments, nor do four-thirds of a 75% convincing argument, or even one-hundred ninety-ninths of a 99% convincing argument. If every single argument can be ruled out as flawed in some clear way, then they all fail. Full stop.

The solution to this does not seem to be “make better apologetics arguments” seeing as that has not worked well to date, but rather, “rethink apologetics methodology” or “rethink religious epistemology altogether.” This is why presuppositionalism has become the standard brand of Christian philosophy, along Plantinga’s lines.

But there is no reason why that has to be so. Why can’t there be other ways of understanding religious epistemology? Paul Moser in The Severity of God and his other books seems to have a viable competitor, and one that lines up more closely with the faith that apologetics tries to prove.

I am working on a paper right now (literally right now) on this topic and while writing it, it has become more and more obvious that there is an entire Apologetics Industry that feeds on bad arguments and shallow epistemology by failing to reckon with any new developments in epistemology since… say… the 1700’s. Why do we give them so much credit? And why are they, of all people, the ones whose work is popularized so that it reaches the common student in youth ministry?

This underscores the point I made in the post a few weeks ago about presuppositionalism: that what we need is not a shortcut method that leads to our conclusions, but a full-fleshed Christian philosophy that unashamedly grounds itself in the Gospel of Christ — both in content and in method.

Trump, White Evangelicalism, Immigration, etc.

There is a lot to say about this new essay from Tara Isabella Burton at Vox. The key quote to focus on:

“This willingness to define seemingly straightforward passages in the Bible along politicized terms — reimagining what it means to be someone’s “neighbor” — speaks to a wider issue within white evangelicalism. The degree to which white evangelical identity is increasingly predicated on politicized whiteness — and on an insular and isolationist vision of community — reveals the extent to which white evangelicalism has become synonymous with Christian nationalism under the Trump administration. And, increasingly, white evangelicals are willing to selectively reinterpret the Bible to justify this.”

What disorients me is that I have experienced little of what TIB has described. The pastors of my parents’ church and my own current church have forcefully denounced Nationalism from the pulpit in messages on 1 Peter 2 (the church is “a holy nation, a royal priesthood”), on Revelation 5&7 (People of every nation will worship around the throne), on Ephesians 6 (that the Devil is our true enemy, not political or ethnic opponents) and Romans 14 (politics as disputable matters). My church is currently doing a series on politics and political engagement as a Christian, and the tone is nothing like an “evangelical identity predicated on politicized whiteness.” I go to the largest EFCA school in the country, and the rhetoric spoken around campus is always pro-refugee-life, pro-aid, pro-humanitarian. All of the Christian leaders who I pay attention to are similarly oriented when it comes to immigration topics — including the editorial staff for The Gospel Coalition, which is not a platform for liberalism.

But TIB’s description is still true. I see tastes of it at conferences, or from across the Christian blogosphere, or from individuals in small group settings in-person or being interviewed on television. And the polling numbers don’t lie, at least, significantly outside the margin of error. Here’s what I am wondering: in the same way Conservative and Progressive voices online get locked into echo chambers where only supporters see their content, could something similar be happening even within evangelicalism? I am not suggesting that we have carved out sectors of the larger Conservative-Progressive social mediaspace, but that within the Christian mediaspace certain niches have been carved to accommodate each perspective.

In an essay from earlier this month TIB pointed out that White Evangelicals are the only religious group in the country who supports President Trump. Which is true. But what she does not acknowledge is that there have already been longstanding breaks between Mainline and Evangelical protestants, and even longer, historic breaks between Catholics and Protestants. Those breaks happened at the level of whole countries (e.g., Germany vs. Italy, England vs. France), whole denominations (e.g., PCA vs. PCUSA), whole universities (e.g., Princeton vs. Westminster), whole ideologies (e.g., Modernism vs. Fundamentalism). But what is really new, what is really damning, is that now, in this current transition, there is not much of an institutional shift. The separation between politically conservative Evangelicals, on the one hand, and politically moderate or just leans-conservative Evangelicals, on the other hand, is happening at the grassroots level. President Trump has galvanized something like a grassroots split within Evangelicalism proper, mirroring broader concerns over the “Death of Truth” or “Post-Truth” society we inhabit in the information age.

But regardless of the existence of a niche, politically-moderate voice within Evangelicalism that happens to surround me, here is what TIB nails: the new hermeneutic at use that subverts Jesus’s calling to care for the helpless. By redefining “neighbor” to be only fellow Christians (which is bogus), or to be only those who have not broken the law, Christians in the age of Trump are buying into an inward gaze. This inward gaze is the concrete result of Nationalist rhetoric, yes, but I would also say it is a result of Rule-of-Law thinking that became really popular during Black Lives Matter protesting a few years ago. Of course, of course, of course, the Rule-of-Law mindset is completely irreconcilable with Christianity. With Jesus’s rendering inoperative (katargeó) the Old Testament Law. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem these days, since the Old Testament laws about refugees and immigrants are also being ignored. TIB refers to Isaiah 10, Matthew 25, Leviticus 19:33–34, Jeremiah 7:5–7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9–10, and the flight to Egypt by Joseph and Mary as Biblical precedent for a pro-refugee-life stance. Ultimately she employs Galatians 3:28 to say that the power of Christianity subverts political and ethnic identities.

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(The gross mishandling of Romans 13 by Jeff Session and Sarah Sanders, which I didn’t know about until reading this piece, is also important. Can you imagine Nero quoting Paul’s words back to the Christian community and saying, “Yes, you heard the man, now offer sacrifices to me”? When Rome quotes Romans, we have a problem.)

On that count, TIB is spot on. But what about the specific policies we support? What about the particular ways the federal bureaucracy maneuvers through these topics? Those are important, but disputable questions. However, we need to keep in mind that the most shocking statistic TIB cited was not about a specific policy: “more than half of white evangelicals report feeling concerned about America’s declining white population” is not a policy position; it is a generally racist sentiment. Such racism, obviously, has no place in Christian community. If not specific policy, when we focus on the topic of ethnic nativism: let’s not condemn ethnic nativism because “the Bible says that” you should care for the helpless and those who are fleeing persecution. Worse, let’s not default to citing “these Biblical writers who say that” we must be pro-refugee-life. If our doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture informs our thinking on this topic, we can comfortably and boldly say that “God himself has said.”

To use brackets when teaching theology in the church

Something the NASB edition does but nobody else bothers with: italicizing all words that have no basis in the original text. Of course, this is hilarious, because even word-for-word translations have several words in each sentence that are interpolated. A phrase like πιστις Χριστου cannot be translated into English as “faith Christ” but must include an “of” in between to make sense. Should we italicize “of” in every genitive? The word “in” or “to” for each dative? Beyond case-use, there are more ways that words get added. One that Matt Chandler pointed out a few years ago is Philippians 2:4, “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” In the Greek, this sentence is more like “not looking to your own ________ but each of your to _________ of others.” The word “interests” is a simple translation addition to make the sentence clear for English readers. The NASB italicizes it.

brackets symbol vectorTo avoid being confusingly word-for-word, the NASB still includes the word; to avoid giving the word undue weight, the NASB italicizes it. While that approach may be ridiculous — and at times unhelpful, since English readers are used to thinking of emphasis when they see italics — the idea can be applied on a different level. I would like to suggest that the same inclusion-by-italicization method can be helpful for our teaching of theology in the church. Since, again, italics usually communicate emphasis, maybe brackets are the better symbol.

The balance struck by the NASB is also a balance to strike with teaching theology: we don’t want to be unhelpfully text-only, which would deprive our congregation from thinking rightly about the text. On the other hand, the theology we supply to the text may be wrong, and we do not want to give it the same level of authority in our teaching.

The main example that comes up in my conversations at Trinity is limited atonement. Limited atonement is a doctrinal idea that I believe is logically consequent from other doctrinal ideas which have strong Biblical basis: the other four points of Calvinism, total depravity, unconditional atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Each of these command strong Biblical support in a way that limited atonement does not. (If anything, 1 John 2:2 leans the other way on atonement). Limited atonement is extra-biblical, but this does not mean untrue; it only means not necessarily true. Calculus is extra-biblical, but true!

So if someone were to ask me, “Where do you see limited atonement in the Bible?” I would have to first show the Biblical support for those other four doctrines, and then after all of that, say, “Look, I know its not anywhere in the text, but limited atonement just has to be an accurate description of Christ’s work on the cross if these other four things are true.” In other words, limited atonement as a doctrine exists one level of abstraction above these other doctrines; it does not have roots in the text, but in other doctrines, which themselves have roots in the text.

So, should we teach limited atonement? Or should we just leave it unsaid? My answer is that we should still teach it, but bracket it with phrases like “it seems like the best way to understand these doctrines would be…” as an opening bracket and then “there may be more precise ways to talk about the relationship between these doctrines, but we can save those for later.” Maybe it’s my evangelical upbringing, but this approach seems like a healthy way to major on the majors, minor on the minors, and keep our gaze focused on the Biblical text and the doctrines most obviously rooted in the text.

Of course, this bracketing is unnecessary in a doctrinal class, a catechism class, a book study group, or, unthinkably, a class on theology. I am only talking about expositional preaching on Sunday morning, especially when the congregation is walking through a book of the Bible chapter by chapter. As pastors, our understanding of level-two and higher doctrine should impact how we read the text and the basic ideas which emerge from it — don’t get me wrong, higher doctrine matters — but it is unhelpful to explain these ideas as if they bears the same weight as other teachings. Your doctrinal stance on the precise nature of the atonement will color your teaching, but don’t trick the congregation into thinking that stance is rock-solid authoritative like the text itself.

I know there are objections to what I am saying. For his part, Paul comments that he opposed Peter “when I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” (Galatians 2:14, a great verse to memorize). Likewise we should understand the gospel in all its abstract implications and try to live accordingly. There is also the simple fact that Paul himself was a deeply systematic theologian, and he wrote Biblical text, so then we have some Biblical texts that ground even our deepest systematic theology. The number of topics that can be two layers of abstraction away from “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!” or “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” is small. (Romans 11:12, 29).

I am talking about practical, day-to-day, sermon-by-sermon use of theology for teaching laypeople. For the Junior High students I volunteer with at church, this can be important. I remember when I was in eighth grade and first started to discover the doctrines of grace and the five points of Calvinism. It changed my life, but not always for the better. Eighth-grade me would have been far better off being challenged to learn more about the Torah and Prophets, or about the doctrine of sanctification (!) than about theoretical constructs which I later discovered were deeply bankrupt. The solution doesn’t have to be complicated: we can better communicate the message of scripture by including-by-bracketing logical developments of doctrine.

Denmark, Civil Disobedience, and the Holocaust that was not.

We all know that civil disobedience in the face of injustice is a good thing. And we all know that it can be successful even when only a few (but still vocal) people stand up. The main example in the American subconscious is the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s, in which the majority of the country did not participate and against which many actively fought. If King, the NCAAP, and the SCLC could change society from a minority position, how much more incredible would it be if the entire society stood together? What does successful, society-wide civil disobedience look like?

Last week I devoured Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Everyone with an interest in the Holocaust, in totalitarian systems, or in the Problem of Evil should read it. The book is controversial, it is true, but primarily because Arendt does not reduce the trial or the events of the Third Reich to a simple good guy – bad guy story. Eichmann in Jerusalem is jam-packed with the ironies of a totalitarian state that cannot become maximally evil because of the classic failures of bureaucracy. Because the S.S., the R.S.H.A., the W.V.H.A., the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Transportation, etc. etc. etc., were in never-ending competition, they would logistically undermine each other to make themselves look good in the eyes of the Party leadership; yet, for exactly the same reason, they each tried as hard as possible to meet the goals of the First, then Second, then Final solutions. In this way the Third Reich was nearly, nearly as efficiently evil as a human system can be.

However, this was not true everywhere. “For various reasons,” Adolf Eichmann later said in his trial, “the action against the Jews in Denmark has been a failure.” What are those various reasons? By what acts of civil disobedience and subversion did the Danish people conduct undermine their Nazi occupiers? Rather than trying to summarize what is already a superb summary by Arendt, I will merely reproduce that summary here. As you read, take special notice of the lines I have bolded; they are especially key to her analysis, and may hold something valuable for a practice of civil disobedience today.

 

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At the Wannsee Conference, Martin Luther, of the Foreign Office, warned of great difficulties in the Scandinavian countries, notably in Norway and Denmark. (Sweden was never occupied, and Finland, though in the war on the side of the Axis, was the one country the Nazis hardly ever even approached on the Jewish question. This surprising exception of Finland, with some two thousand Jews, may have been due to Hitler’s great esteem for the Finns, whom perhaps he did not want to subject to threats and humiliating blackmail.) Luther proposed postponing evacuations from Scandinavia for the time being, and as far as Denmark was concerned, this really went without saying, since the country retained its independent government, and was respected as a neutral state, until the fall of 1943, although it, along with Norway, had been invaded by the German Army in April, 1940. There existed no Fascist or Nazi movement in Denmark worth mentioning, and therefore no collaborators. In NORWAY, however, the Germans had been able to find enthusiastic supporters; indeed, Vidkun Quisling, leader of the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic Norwegian party, gave his name to what later became known as a “quisling government.” The bulk of Norway’s seventeen hundred Jews were stateless, refugees from Germany; they were seized and interned in a few lightning operations in October and November, 1942. When Eichmann’s office ordered their deportation to Auschwitz, some of Quisling’s own men resigned their government posts. This may not have come as a surprise to Mr. Luther and the Foreign Office, but what was much more serious, and certainly totally unexpected, was that Sweden immediately offered asylum, and sometimes even Swedish nationality, to all who were persecuted. Ernst von Weizsacker, Undersecretary of State of the Foreign Office, who received the proposal, refused to discuss it, but the offer helped nevertheless. It is always relatively easy to get out of a country illegally, whereas it is nearly impossible to enter the place of refuge without permission and to dodge the immigration authorities. Hence, about nine hundred people, slightly more than half of the small Norwegian community, could be smuggled into Sweden.

It was in DENMARK, however, that the Germans found out how fully justified the Foreign Office’s apprehensions had been. The story of the Danish Jews is sui generis, and the behavior of the Danish people and their government was unique among all the countries of Europe – whether occupied, or a partner of the Axis, or neutral and truly independent. One is tempted to recommend the story as required reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance to an opponent possessing vastly superior means of violence. To be sure, a few other countries in Europe lacked proper “understanding of the Jewish question,” and actually a majority of them were opposed to “radical” and “final” solutions. Like Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and Bulgaria proved to be nearly immune to anti-Semitism, but of the three that were in the German sphere of influence, only the Danes dared speak out on the subject to their German masters. Italy and Bulgaria sabotaged German orders and indulged in a complicated game of double-dealing and double-crossing, saving their Jews by a tour de force of sheer ingenuity, but they never contested the policy as such. That was totally different from what the Danes did. When the Germans approached them rather cautiously about introducing the yellow badge, they were simply told that the King would be the first to wear it, and the Danish government officials were careful to point out that anti-Jewish measures of any sort would cause their own immediate resignation. It was decisive in this whole matter that the Germans did not even succeed in introducing the vitally important distinction between native Danes of Jewish origin, of whom there were about sixty-four hundred, and the fourteen hundred German Jewish refugees who had found asylum in the country prior to the war and who now had been declared stateless by the German government. This refusal must have surprised the Germans no end, since it appeared so “illogical” for a government to protect people to whom it had categorically denied naturalization and even permission to work. (Legally, the prewar situation of refugees in Denmark was not unlike that in France, except that the general corruption in the Third Republic’s civil services enabled a few of them to obtain naturalization papers, through bribes or “connections,” and most refugees in France could work illegally, without a permit. But Denmark, like Switzerland, was no country pour se débrouiller.) The Danes, however, explained to the German officials that because the stateless refugees were no longer German citizens, the Nazis could not claim them without Danish assent. This was one of the few cases in which statelessness turned out to be an asset, although it was of course not statelessness per se that saved the Jews but, on the contrary, the fact that the Danish government had decided to protect them. Thus, none of the preparatory moves, so important for the bureaucracy of murder, could carried out, and operations were postponed until the fall of 1943.

What happened then was truly amazing; compared with what took place in other European countries, everything went topsy-turvy. In August, 1943 – after the German offensive in Russia had failed, the Afrika Korps had surrendered in Tunisia, and the Allies had invaded Italy – the Swedish government canceled its 1940 agreement with Germany which had permitted German troops the right to pass through the country. Thereupon, the Danish workers decided that they could help a bit in hurrying things up; riots broke out in Danish shipyards, where the dock workers refused to repair German ships and then went on strike. The German military commander proclaimed a state of emergency and imposed martial law, and Himmler thought this was the right moment to tackle the Jewish question, whose “solution” was long overdue. What he did not reckon with was that – quite apart from Danish resistance – the German officials who had been living in the country for years were no longer the same. Not only did General von Hannecken, the military commander, refuse to put troops at the disposal of the Reich plenipotentiary, Dr. Werner Best; the special S.S. units (Einsatzkommandos) employed in Denmark very frequently objected to “the measures they were ordered to carry out by the central agencies” – according to Best’s testimony at Nuremberg. And Best himself, an old Gestapo man and former legal adviser to Heydrich, author of a then famous book on the police, who had worked for the military government in Paris to the entire satisfaction of his superiors, could no longer be trusted, although it is doubtful that Berlin ever learned the extent of his unreliability. Still, it was clear from the beginning that things were not going well, and Eichmann’s office sent one of its best men to Denmark – Rolf Günther, whom no one had ever accused of not possessing the required “ruthless toughness.” Günther made no impression on his colleagues in Copenhagen, and now von Hannecken refused even to issue a decree requiring all Jews to report for work.

Best went to Berlin and obtained a promise that all Jews from Denmark would be sent to Theresienstadt regardless of their category – a very important concession, from the Nazis’ point of view. The night of October 1 was set for their seizure and immediate departure – ships were ready in the harbor – and since neither the Danes nor the Jews nor the German troops stationed in Denmark could be relied on to help, police units arrived from Germany for a door-to-door search. At the last moment, Best told them that they were not permitted to break into apartments, because the Danish police might then interfere, and they were not supposed to fight it out with the Danes. Hence they could seize only those Jews who voluntarily opened their doors. They found exactly 477 people, out of a total of more than 7,800, at home and willing to let them in. A few days before the date of doom, a German shipping agent, Georg F. Duckwitz, having probably been tipped off by Best himself, had revealed the whole plan to Danish government officials, who, in turn, had hurriedly informed the heads of the Jewish community. They, in marked contrast to Jewish leaders in other countries, had then communicated the news openly in the synagogues on the occasion of the New Year services. The Jews had just time enough to leave their apartments and go into hiding, which was very easy in Denmark, because, in the words of the judgment, “all sections of the Danish people, from the King down to simple citizens,” stood ready to receive them.

They might have remained in hiding until the end of the war if the Danes had not been blessed with Sweden as a neighbor. It seemed reasonable to ship the Jews to Sweden, and this was done with the help of the Danish fishing fleet. The cost of transportation for people without means – about a hundred dollars per person – was paid largely by wealthy Danish citizens, and that was perhaps the most astounding feat of all, since this was a time when Jews were paying for their own deportation, when the rich among them were paying fortunes for exit permits (in Holland, Slovakia, and, later, in Hungary) either by bribing the local authorities or by negotiating “legally” with the S.S., who accepted only hard currency and sold exit permits, in Holland, to the tune of five or ten thousand dollars per person. Even in places where Jews met with genuine sympathy and a sincere willingness to help, they had to pay for it, and the chances poor people had of escaping were nil.

It took the better part of October to ferry all the Jews across the five to fifteen miles of water that separates Denmark from Sweden. The Swedes received 5,919 refugees, of whom at least 1,000 were of German origin, 1,310 were half-Jews, and 686 were non-Jews married to Jews. (Almost half the Danish Jews seem to have remained in the country and survived the war in hiding.) The non-Danish Jews were better off than ever before, they all received permission to work. The few hundred Jews whom the German police had been able to arrest were shipped to Theresienstadt. They were old or poor people, who either had not received the news in time or had not been able to comprehend its meaning. In the ghetto, they enjoyed greater privileges than any other group because of the never-ending “fuss” made about them by Danish institutions and private persons. Forty-eight persons died, a figure that was not particularly high, in view of the average age of the group. When everything was over, it was the considered opinion of Eichmann that “for various reasons the action against the Jews in Denmark has been a failure,” whereas the curious Dr. Best declared that “the objective of the operation was not to seize a great number of Jews but to clean Denmark of Jews, and this objective has now been achieved.”

Politically and psychologically, the most interesting aspect of this incident is perhaps the role played by the German authorities in Denmark, their obvious sabotage of orders from Berlin. It is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their “toughness” had melted like butter in the sun, they had even been able to show a few timid beginnings of genuine courage. That the ideal of “toughness,” except, perhaps, for a few half-demented brutes, was nothing but a myth of self-deception, concealing a ruthless desire for conformity at any price, was clearly revealed at the Nuremberg Trials, where the defendants accused and betrayed each other and assured the world that they “had always been against it” or claimed, as Eichmann was to do, that their best qualities had been “abused” by their superiors. (In Jerusalem, he accused “those in power” of having abused his “obedience.” “The subject of a good government is lucky, the subject of a bad government is unlucky. I had no luck.”) The atmosphere had changed, and although most of them must have known that they were doomed, not a single one of them had the guts to defend the Nazi ideology. Werner Best claimed at Nuremberg that he had played a complicated double role and that it was thanks to him that the Danish officials had been warned of the impending catastrophe; documentary evidence showed, on the contrary, that he himself had proposed the Danish operation in Berlin, but he explained that this was all part of the game. He was extradited to Denmark and there condemned to death, but he appealed the sentence, with surprising results; because of “new evidence,” his sentence was commuted to five years in prison, from which he was released soon afterward. He must have been able to prove to the satisfaction of the Danish court that he really had done his best (170-175).

Fall, friendship, and experiencing God

As I drove back to college from my parents house today, my route wove through an aimless countryside. Along the way were Pumpkin Patches and Harvest Pickings, Apple Orchards and Tree Farms. My parents and I stopped at one together and bought cider, jams and apples. We even had our picture taken:

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Seeing the fall in action ushered my mind to a moment in one of my favorite books. David Whyte’s collection of short essays, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. In his meditation on Friendship, he writes this:

Through the eyes of a friend we especially learn to remain at least a little interesting to others. When we flatten our personalities and lose our curiosity in the life of the world or of another, friendship loses spirit and animation; boredom is the second great killer of friendship. Through the natural surprises of a relationship held through the passage of years we recognize the greater surprising circles of which we are a part and the faithfulness that leads to a wider sense of revelation independent of human relationship: to learn to be friends with the earth and the sky, with the horizon and with the seasons, even with the disappearances of winter and in that faithfulness, take the difficult path of becoming a good friend to our own going. (73-74).

One of our main goals as people is to experience transcendence. This is true of everyone, even, awkwardly, of those who deny that the transcendent is real. To see a mountain that dwarfs us in size. To look out on an ocean whose end is the horizon. To look injustice in the face and say “No, you will not remain,” only for, to our surprise, our words to make themselves true. To understand our world in a way that bring us if only for a moment far beyond our normal, small lives. To look up at the color-changing leaves of a tree and tremble under the weight of overwhelming beauty.

For the believer, these everyday moments point to something outside of themselves. They sign God to us, or his glory, or the meaning he declares over our lives. For the nonbeliever, these moments of transcendence are puzzling. Even though nothing exists out there, beyond us… we still experience the “out there” in our own lives.

These are “the surprising circles of which we are a part” and “the wider sense of revelation independent of human relationship.” We have the option to see them around us — or we can shut them out. If only we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to understand.

What surprises me about Whyte’s comments is that friendship helps us get outside us. Friendship and its “natural surprises” can condition us to see a bigger world. A world that is open to what may be outside it, whether we like that possibility or not.

Thinking it would be fitting to the topic, I sat outside to write this post. But within a few minutes, I was too cold and had to retreat to the Student Center fireplace. Even after almost twenty conscious years of living through the Midwest winter — which bottoms out at negative 20 most years — I always forget the cold. This is because the knowledge of cold and the experience of cold are two different things. Six months of warmth is not enough to make me forget that it gets cold in October. But that length is enough for me to forget what the cold feels like.

In the same way, we who believe can know that God is real. And those who do not believe can know that God is not real. But we all feel, we all experience, we all sense God. The changing seasons, of which Pumpkin Patches and Apple Orchards are reminders, remind us to look beyond ourselves. So, too, does the tumult of ordinary life with friends challenge our gaze to drift higher and higher.

A few reservations about “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”

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Today I finished John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP, 2015). Earlier in the year I read his similarly-titled book The Lost World of Genesis One. Laying around my dorm room somewhere are The Lost World of Scripture and The Lost World of The Israelite Conquest. I haven’t bought it yet, but earlier this year he released with Tremper Longman a book under the title The Lost World of The Flood. 

You know, if it works, don’t fix it.

The basic method of these books (and I’m obviously only knowledgeable about the books I have read so far) is to reinterpret the Old Testament text according to its ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. At the crux of all these particular reinterpretations we find a distinction Walton uses over and over again. Some things are created materially, others functionally. The image of God could be interpreted materially, but we should interpret it functionally. The serpent in the garden could be seen as materially forced to eat dirt, or to functionally eat dirt. The creation of gender could be interpreted as a biological, material reality, or in terms of the function that each plays in the original created relationship. Etc. etc. etc.

The mistake we moderns make is that we read Genesis 1-3 (and, I presume, the Israelite Conquest, and all (?) of Scripture, and the Flood) in material terms when the original authorial intent was to describe functions. Therefore, when we read that God “created the Sun, Moon and Stars to govern over the day and the night” on day four of creation, that means not that God formed their material, physical structures. Instead there was a point in time when God issued the authority to the Sun to govern over the day, and designated this as the purpose of the Sun. Ergo, the verse could be better rendered as God “created-to-govern the Sun, Moon and Stars over the day and the night.” What was created was not the Sun, but that it has the function of governing. Walton uses the same distinction in the exegesis of almost every verse in Genesis 1-3.

Walton supports this distinction in at least two ways. The first is by word studies across the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. I have no problem with this, and some of the word studies were fascinating. The other way is by finding similar motifs or thought-patterns in the literature of ANE societies. Suppose you could find that in Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Neo-Assyrian, etc. religious texts, every single one has a serpent without legs. In some of these texts the serpent is standing up, but is made to crawl on its belly — despite not having legs in the first place. You could then deduce something along the lines of “in the ANE context, for a snake to crawl on its belly is for it to be reduced in its functional posture from striking to passivity” or something like that. Walton does nearly this in Chapter 14.

To be honest, I love this approach. This makes it so much easier for me to dismiss the text of Genesis!, says the side of my personality that reflexively bows to current criticisms out of fear of embarrassment. (Charles Taylor-y side note: when we frame our life stories as one going from ignorance to learnedness, as I realize I have done for most of my life, we condition ourselves to have this reflex). Everything in me wants to be able to stare science in the face and say “oh hey there science how are you doing.” So, I hope that my reservations about Walton’s method can be resolved.

The extra benefit of Walton’s approach is that he can see the theological significance in Genesis 1-3 just like those who interpret it as poetry, while still having a literal view that does not reduce the text’s historicity to mere myth or glyph. By unseeing the material dimension of the text, he can avoid conflict with modern science; by seeing the functional dimension of the text as real, actual history, he can side-step the problems that arise because Adam needs to be a historical figure. It really is the best of both worlds.

While I have found it extremely difficult to explain to people outside of college the difference between material and functional ontology (mostly high school students and some people at church), that is not my real complaint. At some point we can find good metaphors, and Walton introduced one in this book that was not present in Genesis One that I think would be helpful (family moving into a house and then setting up furniture). No, that would be a useless critique. My actual objection is somewhere in his use of ANE texts when interpreting the Old Testament.

For example, in his concluding summary of the book Walton writes that

A number of these elements in Genesis find similarities with ancient Near Eastern literature, while others are entirely unique in the ancient world. Proper interpretation will recognize both. We should note, however, that the Israelites often show marked dissimilarity from the surrounding cultures even when they share concepts with the ancient world. So, for example, even though the ancient Near Eastern literature considers the creation of humanity to involve a large group of humans, the underlying reasons are far different from what would exist in the biblical text if en masse creation of humanity were to be seen from Genesis 1. In the ancient Near East creation narratives, many humans are created at once because many gods were intending to use many humans to supply their needs. The purposes of the gods would not be well served if only a few humans were created. In contrast, if Genesis 1 allows en masse creation of humans (as I have argued), it is not for the same reason. The God of the Bible has no needs, and the function of humans is presented in very different terms. Likewise, the roles and functions of human beings as presented in the Bible cannot be confirmed through science because science is incapable of discussing final causes. (199-200).

The problem that I have with this hermeneutic is this: how can we separate Biblical intent from ANE cultural motif? More concretely, and in the question more relevant to the Genesis One book, how do we know that the authors of Genesis are subverting only the polytheism and use-of-chaos-to-create? Why couldn’t the authors of Genesis be radicals who subverted both of those things AND the entire functional ontology of their time? Why does their subversion of cultural paradigms and motifs and etiologies have to stop precisely when it gets inconvenient for our 21st century modern beliefs? If we were to play “which one of these things is not like the other” with all of the ANE societies, I would hazard that Israel is most dissimilar to the rest. So then, how do we know that this dissimilarity stops only at the level of motif and does not extend also to ontology?

I am sure that I am not the only person to ask this question. I am 100%, 1000% sure that I am not such an original mind to be the first person to ask this. Which means that I have more reading to do. Walton has a scholarly edition of the Genesis One book, and has a few stand-alone books about ancient culture and his methodology. So I’m sure that he has addressed this problem somewhere. For now, the only answer I can imagine is that because the functional/material ontology is something that changed over time, it would then be out of chronology to read materiality back into the text; whereas the inversion or parody or subversion of motifs is something that has happened from the beginning and has continued. So, you have to argue for a subverted motif by ANE context, but you can know an ontological paradigm just by dating the document to a certain century.

That solution seems implicit in Walton’s method. Another potential critique — but I did not think this through much — is that his use of ANE texts seems like some form of affirming the consequent. I wrote in the margin of the book at one point, Can comparative ANE studies PROVE Walton’s interpretation, positively, or can they only disprove, negatively, someone else’s interpretation? There would not be a distinction here if there were only two possible readings of scripture: to disagree with one is to agree with the other. But as we all know, there are a zillion readings of Genesis 1-3 no matter your initial methodological constraints. If/When Walton’s method becomes popular among scholars, no doubt somebody will use the same method to draw entirely separate conclusions about ANE texts. In a world where Old Testament professors at christian colleges are doomed to… never mind. I think my point is clear. Once another scholar proposes any fact about the ANE context, there is no longer anything in Walton’s methodology that would make his reading of Genesis de facto more accurate than theirs. So, the use of ANE comparative studies cannot on its own prove an interpretation, even if it gives strong grounds to dismiss someone’s interpretation as anachronistic.

Maybe I did give that some thought. But this whole post, indeed this whole blog, is not scholarly and mostly gives me something to do that nobody reads anyways. (Except that recently a post of mind from almost two years ago — about a bad study conducted on Chiropractic patients (?) — has been getting a ton of hits.) My most viewed post is about a Starbucks frappe, and my second most viewed post is… also about a Starbucks frappe. John Walton, if you are reading this, know that you are the only one. And please don’t hate me. Or blast me on Biologos for being an unfair critic.

If you are just reading this post and have not read the books, I would strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Read them with a healthy blend of charity and critique. Some parts are excellent, some dubious, and others unhelpful. But the whole experience is mind-bending in a way that this blog post can’t convey. At minimum, he is good opposition reading. At maximum, he could rework your entire understanding of the Bible. More likely than either of these, and situated right between them: he will free you from the shackles of your middle school biblical exegesis.

More Wisdom from “Help for the New Pastor”

To add to yesterday’s post, here is another passage from Charles Malcolm Wingard’s book, Help for the New Pastor. This is a great read; it would be helpful for anyone… to whom it applies. So, new pastors. Or seminarians.

This time, here is some advice on Social Media use.

My personal rule for social media is simple: it is an extension of my ministry. If information does not advance the work of my church or seminary, I do not post it on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

My posts tend to fall into two categories: events of church and school, and celebrating the achievements of the people I serve.

What about matters of political controversy? I assume that the world does not need my opinion about political candidates or public policy. I gladly leave that to others.

My personal opinions are best shared in private, if at all. Why needlessly offend members or potential members of my church? If, for example, I endorse a candidate, why run the risk of alienating persons who will vote for the other candidate? Unlike some ministers and Christian celebrities, I don’t think I can say of any man, “He is God’s candidate.”

Whether I like it or not, my social media will be judged to represent the churches I serve. They don’t endorse candidates or issue public-policy statement, nor will I. If I were voicing my political beliefs on social media, readers might wrongly conclude that I speak for my church on these matters.

I do not deny that these are pressing moral issues that the church must think through. Abortion, the nature of marriage, racial justice, and poverty are just a few that come to mind. As these issues arise in Scripture, the minister must declare the mind of God from the pulpit.

But the crafting of legislation and public-policy solutions is not the work of the minister or the church. Forums can be established by concerned and competent Christians to help believers understand and think through complex issues. Often, even when Christians agree on the problem, they disagree on public-policy solutions. The pastor can do more good by pointing people to forums that host reasonable and informed debate than he can by wading into controversy himself.

Additional thoughts about social media:

  • Too often pastors address complex issues about which they have no competence to speak. They embarrass themselves and their churches.
  • I steer clear of theological controversy. Comments on Facebook do not lend themselves to thoughtful discussion — the kind I wish to promote.
  • Many social media sites drive readership by trafficking in outrage and personal attacks — precisely the opposite of the climate I want in my church.
  • When I comment on someone else’s Facebook page, it is ordinarily a congratulatory note or a word of encouragement or a promise of prayer. I want to build goodwill.
  • Some pastors get into trouble with what they think are humorous posts. What they find humorous might needlessly offend members of their own congregation or people we would like to see visit our congregation. So be careful.
  • I am first and foremost a minister of the gospel. All else must be subordinated to that work, even my deeply held political and policy convictions.

Handle social media with extreme care. (80-82)

This is advice that we all have learned, in some ways, from the last presidential election cycle. But in May, when that cycle begins afresh with all its dehumanizing vitriol, we will be tempted to forget what we have learned. Rage! Fury! Opinions! I myself need to be very careful of this approach. Not because I fear other people, or even for the considerations Wingard gives, but because of the spirit of critique it fosters in my own heart. Such a spirit is unhelpful in all of the Christian life.

Wingard also recommends that we find level-headed sources for politics, and just direct people to those instead of trying to be that source ourselves. I agree. From his position as a pastor, it makes sense. Why do a poor impression of someone else’s work when they could just do it for you? I only have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Or, 16 waking hours a day, and 6 days a week because of Sabbath?). This is really sound advice.

Alright, that’s enough. I probably can’t post a third excerpt from the book or P&R Publishing might send WordPress a take-down notice for copyright infringement. (Publishers have bots nowadays that find long excerpts from their books). But if I could, it would be his comments on prayer from 167-172.

Hymns and Songs

I have enjoyed reading Charles Malcolm Wingard’s book Help for the New Pastor over the past week. This book was part of the selection for Together for the Gospel earlier this year. I probably wouldn’t have bought it otherwise, but thankfully it has landed in my hands. Some of it won’t apply until I graduate in a few years (e.g. how to conduct funerals), but Wingard is full of the wisdom that comes from years and years of experience. Again, I’m thankful to have been given this book.

Something worth sharing: his thoughts on selecting hymns and songs for corporate worship.

The best hymns take their cues from the psalms. As they are sung, believers adore God’s character, praise him for his works of creation and redemption, express trust in the finished work of Christ, consider the sobering distinction between the righteous and the wicked, and exhort one another to covenant faithfulness in the midst of struggles, fears, and doubts.

Apart from its fidelity to Scripture, the most important requirement for a hymn is that the congregation be able to sing it with confidence. During your first year at a new church, work with your accompanist or music director to determine which hymns your congregation knows and sings well. This is especially important in smaller congregations. When numbers are small and your people can’t sing the chosen hymns, a musical train wreck leaves everyone discouraged.

One new hymn every two months is plenty. When introducing new hymn tunes, have the accompanist or musicians play through an entire stanza once, so that people can hear the tune. If you have a choir or band, let it sing or play the hymn the previous week as an introit or offertory, and then sing or play the first stanza on the Sunday the hymn is introduced. The congregation can listen and then join in singing the first stanza again, followed by the remainder of the hymn. With a little forethought, you can help your congregation sing confidently.

Even if your congregation is comfortable with only a small number of hymns, you are in good shape. You can work to build its repertoire over time. If you think a song would enrich your congregation’s worship, but they don’t know the tune, substitute a well-known tune in the same meter. If you don’t know what a hymn’s meter is, ask your accompanist to explain. (54-55)

What a refreshing perspective. So much of contemporary worship thought is focused on the performance quality, instrumental variety, the display of emotion from the stage… but Wingard seems laser-focused on the congregation’s ability to sing. I would add to his advice that most syncopated rhythms are going to be unsingable for most people. And worse, too, if they have thirds, forths, fifths, or my goodness, sixths intervals throughout. Most singable tunes have most intervals as steps; it just works.

I love his point that the best songs in worship take their cues from the Psalms. This is why I love Jonathan Ogden’s work. And the solo projects that John Foreman did… ten years ago??? They have enriched my walk with Christ by reminding me of the psalms He would have so often read and prayed through.

A final thought: if the point of worship music is congregational singing, then it would not make sense to have a super loud band. (It also does not make sense to have carpeted floors, or hall-arranged sanctuaries, or synth noise).

14 ordinary things that made me smile this week

Because not every post on this forlorn blog needs to have a controversial thesis, here are 14 ordinary things that made me smile this week. The photos are unrelated to the post but just enjoy them because why not? They are from Paris back in May. For the record, Paris did not make me smile. But each of these 14 things did!

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1. The breakfast shop on campus was “out of large coffee cups.” I sputtered “out of… out of… out of larges? out of large… cups?” in a voice very similar to the Valentino White Bag lady which probably sounded rude but whatever. I was laughing the whole time as I filled my medium-sized coffee with cream and sugar.

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2. A Junior High student mistook me for someone her own age. We were at a get-together for several of the area youth groups. One of the eighth graders I lead found someone from a different church but his same school. I decided to step into the conversation because it looked interesting and anyways I was bored. “Did you know that Bobby has a crush on you?” he said. “Oh, I had always thought that!” she replied. “Oh yeah, Bobby, of course he has a crush on you, yeah, you didn’t realize that? It’s so obvious!” I commented, pretending to know who Bobby is or anything about him. “Do you have Mrs. Livingstone this year?” she said. “I wish. She is the best teacher ever!” he replied. “Oh man, if there’s any teacher I could choose to have, it would be Mrs. Livingstone,” I commented, almost absentmindedly parroting their conversation. “Oh, I didn’t realize you go to our middle school!” she exclaimed with some excitement in her voice. Then, a beat. “I’m a junior in college. I don’t go to your middle school,” I said, satisfied in both my acting ability and my youthful deportment.

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3. A professor in one of my classes has crazy quotes all the time during his lectures. We created a google doc to record them, which will remain a secret to him until the last day of class. Given his general m.o., we think it will be received well and with humor. The latest quote was a parable along the lines of: “A mother is walking through the forest with her children, when suddenly a pack of skunks comes up ahead. She yells out, ‘run children!’ and they all pick up a skunk and run away. ” We are not sure what this means.

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4. Our men’s Bible study group at school is called Men Under God, abbreviated as MUG. The leadership team decided to order coffee mugs with the logo printed on it. Though five dollars the lesser, I am satisfied.

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5. We went on a bike ride with some junior high students. Jon was faster than the other riders, especially the adults. His dad was also with us. When it was his turn to lead the group, Jon kicked up the pace and we were dying. “You should really maybe think about slowing down just a tad bit if you want” his dad said, feebly. When Jon did no such thing, his dad called out again, more passive-aggressively, “Any time you want, you can do that whole ‘slowing down’ thing I mentioned earlier.” Jon slowed down a little bit, but soon picked back up. His dad was the verbal equivalent of my reigns during a trail ride when my horse will not keep proper spacing — check and release until it understands the pace I want. Not that Jon is a horse. He is a 7th grade boy. This whole episode reminded me of the horrible education system I was forced to endure (and am still enduring) that has held me back from the pace I have wanted to learn. Because we do education at large groups at once (28-34 per teacher in my school growing up), it is mass produced and I was always at the fastest end, even in the highest classes. 15 years and counting of tedium. Of check and release until I “get” the pace the school wants for me. Not that I am a horse. I am a 21 year old man. That I made this connection to something as mundane as fast bicycling made me grin, at least.

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6. After leaving the bike ride, I turned right from the forest preserve because I didn’t feel like waiting for the left arrow. Then, as I drove in the opposite direction of home for about 10 minutes, I saw a Half Priced Books store. Sounds like my kind of thing. So I went, parked, and walked to the front. A lady is with her ~ 8 year old son looking at some movies in the clearance section. I walked up, also wanting to see the selection of cheap flix, and realized that the lady is Kate from my church small group with her son Isaac! Her other son, who is in the junior high group with me, is around the corner looking at books. We said hi and everything. What are the odds? I was just randomly there.

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7. A great comparison between my sometimes-chaotic program at school and sidewalks. I made the comment that nobody ever sat down and decided how our 5 year M.Div. program “works” from a Student Life perspective. They figured it all out academically, but nobody from the Housing, Dining, Chapel, Campus Life, and most critically, Financial Aid departments ever worked it out. So, the students have from time to time started our own precedents, which the next grade followed, and eventually those became Norms, which even later became policy. My philosophy professor compared this to the sidewalks on campus. None of them make sense, because they are just the result of people stomping the grass dead. Then some administrator realizes that the dead muddy trail from building to building looks bad, and said, “hey, lets pour some concrete in here,” and now they are sidewalks. In a system with no plan, the community will fill in the gaps.

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8. My friend Keegan found it funny when I sent him the link to some vines I was watching. The viner’s voice sounded just like his. He texted back saying “Oh my goah Ross thank you 😂😂”. It was this one.

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9. We had a department BBQ with my fellow wannabe philosophers. I got to stir the fire up to make s’mores. It made my flannel smokey. Everybody needs a go-to smokey flannel in the fall. It also reminded me of camp, and wow does that place beat Suburgatory any day. I wish society could revert to the days when everything in town was within walking distance. Less concrete poured probably also means more natural areas, which is conducive to my denial that modernity is suffocating our world. But anyways. Smokey flannel. S’mores. Fire.

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10. A friend came to my dorm apartment and made Indian food for my roommate and I. It was just a rice dish with some spice in it. My friend isn’t Indian nor does she know how Indian food is made, I think. But it’s okay. We talked about the doctrine of inerrancy. I like that.

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11. My micro-TA job for the semester is to guide the presentation groups for Intro to Philosophy. I met with the first group this week. One guy didn’t have the textbook, and was struggling to figure out financial aid. (He has also missed classes because he has thrice gotten stuck in the bureaucratic black hole that is Trinity Central). Being the admin of the textbook selling group on facebook, I connected with someone selling the book and bought it for this guy. He didn’t understand why I would buy him a book. “It’s a gift,” I said. “Oh, I’ll pay you back,” his words rushing out. “That’s not how gifts work,” I said, confused. This left me feeling like a Gideons Int’l guy but for philosophy.

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12. One of my campers from Timber-lee was at Trinity this week. He goes to some private Christian school, which sent the whole sophomore class on a college visit together. All eight of them, about. I did a double take when I saw him — Isaac, of all people — sitting just across the aisle from me at Chapel. Then at lunch I showed him the greatest secret of all in the Trinity cafeteria. Take two cookies, and ice cream, and with them make an ice cream sandwich. (It’s the little things that make college life bearable).

Seeing Isaac reminded me of the fun that we had that week. It was a junior high group, so, naturally, we spent almost every free minute gathering sticks in the woods and making a catamaran to try to cross the lake. We also did a lot of dancing. It was the first round with Gus, Foster, and Jake, three of the best humans I have ever met. (This summer I had the God-given privilege to be with them again). I also had one kid who I requested for my cabin named Colin, who thought I was the coolest thing ever. (Helpful for my ego especially after the events of the previous week). I have nothing but happy memories from those days. It reminds me of an Andy quote from The Office finale. He says

I spent so much of my time here at Dunder Mifflin thinking about my old pals, my college A cappella group. The weird thing is, now I’m exactly where I want to be — I got my dream job at Cornell — and I’m still just thinking about my old pals. Only now they’re the ones I made here. I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that.

But in this case, it was 100% obvious at the time that I was, in fact, in the good ol’ days. I enjoyed every second of it, and seeing one of my friends from that week was the sweetest reminder I could have asked for.

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13. I went to a rummage sale at a Catholic church in town. They had something like 600 purgatory-years worth of merch, if someone had stolen it all. (Thus, I have reached my two purgatory jokes per post limit). A giant circus tent filled with goodies, along with the entire church gym and all the classrooms. I walked away with two books, two movies, a winter coat, and a director’s chair, all for $18 bucks.

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14. Last one. Tonight at the combo-youth group mixer night, we played a variant of dodgeball where you had to dance the entire time. And if you got out, you became a member of the opposite team. The second variant here is useful, but the first was just hedonistic joy. I danced for about 35 minutes straight while dodging and throwing foam balls. This was more cardio than my usual weekly dose (none). It was gorgeous.

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Here’s to another week, filled with not-too-special moments which, taken together, make our daily lives memorable, enjoyable — and ultimately, livable.