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The Gospel?

Do we even know what the New Testament means by "the gospel?"  I'm not so sure.

Do we even know what the New Testament means by "the gospel?"  I'm not so sure.

Ask most evangelicals to define the "Good News" (or "Gospel") and you will likely get a quick and confident answer.  But, however much the common-sense everybody-knows-that definitions pour out of our mouths, it would do well to hold them up against the actual biblical material.

Demythologizing Esther

Esther is a great story of redemption - one that comes about in a great crisis forced upon Esther. But, we often re-tell it as a Christian fairy-tale - one that equates her beauty with goodness (just like all fairy-tales seem to do).

Of the course, the storyline framework of "pretty girl" equals the "good girl" and star of the story has all kinds of problems, especially if you think about the consequences on young girls. The truth is that Esther enters (some may read it as she is coerced into entering) a contest that is not about simply being the prettiest or with the best homemaking skills. The contest centers on a series of comparative sexual performances for the Persian monarch.

Esther lives months within the Royal Harem with no one seemingly knowing she's Jewish. As the book of Daniel makes clear, this would have to mean she is making no effort to maintain the dietary laws of Moses. The contest involves spending a night with the King - and the one "who pleases the King" (yep, that's what the text says) the most wins. Esther does not win by having devotions with the King or just by being pretty. Also, when news comes to her of the impending assault on the Jewish people, her own un-coerced response is hardly commendable. It's close to, "Gee, that's a tough break for you guys. But, there's nothing I'm going to do about it."

Mordecai's response to Esther's less-than-desired reaction is clearly both a threat (don't think people won't quickly find out who and what you really are, little Miss Jewish Princess) and a challenge (it just may be that you've been brought to this place, this position, and this moment for this very purpose). And it is then, and perhaps only then, that we see the remarkable woman emerging from all too human girl.

Like stories about real people, and not children's fairy tales, Esther begins with a the real person. A young woman who may be beautiful, but is also self-serving, skilled at whatever sexual skills Persian monarchs expected, and certainly not showing any signs of tremendous personal religious convictions. But, pushed by events she hardly expected or wanted, she comes to a time of crisis that changes her, as surely as it results in the protection of the Jewish people. Her last words before preparing to enter into the King's court, "And, if I perish... Well, then I perish" are a seminal example of what people used to mean by the word "courage."

Martyrs and the Baffling Loss of Framework

The news of twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded on a Libyan beach by Islamic radicals proclaiming their allegiance to ISIS is heartbreaking.
It is also deeply troubling that, in the desire to remove religion from the discussion, the White House comment lamenting the murders only designated those beheaded on the beach in Libya as "Egyptian citizens." No mention of any religion whatsoever. Since these twenty-one were slain, according to their murderers, because they were among the "crusaders," the omission is baffling.
Apparently the whole world, without their knowledge of consent, has been unilaterally assumed to embrace the politely privatized religious assumptions of western Europe and the U.S. It seems that many in the west have no framework to grasp any reality where religion might be more central to a person's primary identity than family, tribe, nation-state or ideology. This loss of framework has left many without the grammar to comprehend words being shouted right at them.
For a much clearer voice, here is a link to the reaction of Pope Francis:

Pickup Posts

Blog posts are not unlike like my 1992 Dodge Dakota pickup truck.

Once both were happily engaged in daily activities.

But, that was some time ago.

And, for both, when you've allowed them to sit too long without being touched, you find inertia standing in your way.

It's not simply forgetfulness.  I think about getting the truck up and running, just like I think about putting up some new blog posts on worship.  But thinking and doing are not the same.  And, after enough time, it seems to require a huge decision of the will.  More like climbing a mountain than taking a step.  And, of course, the longer I wait, the greater the inertia resists any movement at all.

The problem is that the alternative is to simply sit here in a cold truck in February and wait for spring.  All this thought produces is the image of local newspaper stories like, "Frozen body found inert in pickup truck in his own driveway.  Neighbors said he never seemed quite right, anyway."

Faced with such a stark choice, perhaps it is time to whisper a prayer, turn the key, grab my laptop, and see if there's still any juice in the battery.

Wait, I just posted a post about not posting posts.

I think the truck started up after all.

I Don't Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary

While criticism of contemporary worship music is sometimes fully justified, I'm baffled that older gospel songs seem insulated from such scrutiny.  The truth is hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary worship music all have their fair share of either shallow, silly or even wholly heretical (a phonetic oxymoron) lyrics.

We ought to stop longing for A Mansion over the Hilltop.  In 1611 the word "mansion" simply meant a place to live.  The actual idea in John 14:1-2 is clearly the "Father's house" has more than enough room for everyone.  The gospel song seems to suggest heaven is going to be a land of millions of eternal antebellum southern plantations.  I would note this is an image of heaven many black Christians, for some reason, find less than appealing.  

Racism and Dressing Up for Church

As the title suggests, this post will explore dressing up for Sunday worship and racism. Racism, I need to acknowledge at the outset, may not be exactly the right word, particularly if someone is thinking about a consciously malicious way of looking at people based on ethnicity or skin color. Myopic cultural provincialism would actually have been a better description. But, then again, would you have read the post even this far if I stuck those words in the title? While it may start to sound like I’m writing about proper clothing for Sunday worship, bear with me to the end and you’ll find the point I want to make is considerably more important than clothing for church.

In an undergraduate course on Christian worship, I was concluding the unit examining the history and traditions of African-American worship in the United States. Since the students had seen the videos and pictures, my question was, “So, why do predominately black churches dress up for Sunday worship?”

Does God Care about Ritualistic Worship?

Stephen Lawson* oversees a course in the history of Christian worship for The Consortium for Christian Online Education.  A student recently asked a good question in an online forum that many evangelicals ask.  The question, and Stephen's response, are worth reading.

A student's question:

Does ritualistic worship matter to God?  I realize that it may matter to some men or women, but does God really even care about the ritualistic parts of our worship of Him?

Ode to Lent

A reflective and candid meditation for the season....

I pause now and want to lament
The bad poetry I have written for lent
But rhyming is just so tempting
And easier than actually repenting

                                    - Tom Lawson, 2014

Monkeying with History

First, I do apologize for getting off topic.  This isn't about worship.

But, I just finished reading over yet another evaluation of the recent televised debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

It was one of several reviews I have read recently that bring up the specter of the Scopes trial (the so-called "monkey trial").  In this case, the reviewer (somewhat begrudgingly) said that at least Ken Ham was better informed than the hapless William Jennings Bryan when confounded by brilliant Clarence Darrow about the earth being created in just six days.


Sometimes the message might be when there is no message.

It is a shame Protestants, especially Evangelicals, give little thought to the liturgical seasons. The reality is that advent is four weeks of anticipation. A little four-week metaphor on longing for what has not yet happened. And, yes, it does not end with Christmas. But, for nearly 80% of the world's believers, it does not end there.

Epiphany, associated with the visit of the magi, as well as the baptism of the adult Jesus in the Jordan River by John, is on January 6. In the Orthodox tradition, Christmas falls on our calendar date January 7. But, even those are not the end.