Summit, Day 1: Death and Resurrection

Every September, my alma mater gets together biblical scholars, preachers and the like to talk about pretty much any topic you can think of. It once was called Lectureship; now it’s called Summit. I wrote about Summit last year, and I’d like to do the same thing this year, highlighting what stood out from each day of classes and/or sermons.

The day started with Glenn Pemberton, an Old Testament scholar who suffers from chronic foot pain that leaves him in a wheelchair most days. I’ve mentioned him before, as he wrote and delivered perhaps the most poignant, honest prayer I’ve ever heard.

Glenn discussed Psalm 38, one of the bleakest of lament psalms, and gave six clues for why he believed the author of the psalm was familiar with deep, chronic pain – most convincing are his points regarding its structural discontinuity and abrupt swings of emotion. He closed with this question: “How do these psalms help the reader with whom they resonate?”

His response: Psalm 38, like other lament psalms, “restores our ability to speak. It gives us the language to restore and maintain contact with God. These words are forceful and audacious, equal to the writer’s situation. Most of all, they’re honest.”

As I’ve discussed, there’s a place for brutal honesty with God – who either causes or allows the suffering and is seen as either a tyrant for punishing beyond what is merited or neglectful for forsaking his “covenant partner.” On the former, Glenn described it this way:

God has had a few too many drinks of anger. The poet asks God to sober up first, or find a designated rebuker until he’s not so inebriated with wrath.

But the psalm also “models a tenacious grip to God – even when we believe God has caused our suffering. God may be the problem, but this writer knows no other source of help or hope than this same God.”

When Glenn talks about God being “inebriated with wrath,” certainly no passage fits the description better than Hosea 2.

Famed scholar Walter Brueggemann provided something of a live exegesis of the chapter, which opens with God’s stinging condemnation of faithless Israel and concludes with his pledge to win her back. It is, Brueggemann argued, “the most perfect poem in the Old Testament that articulates the sum of all biblical faith.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Summit Day 2: Books, Celebrity and a Dash of Polygamy

I almost wrote a book once.

Back in my previous life as a journalist, I was the lead reporter for our newspaper on the sensational raid by Texas Child Protective Services of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound south of Eldorado (pronounced with a long “a,” if you’re not from the area). Hundreds of children were removed.

It was the largest such action ever taken in the history of the United States, it was based on a hoax phone call, and it was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court weeks later, but it resulted in convictions and long prison terms for several men who had taken child brides, and ultimately a life sentence for the sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

Anyway, I was around for the first year of that process, which was crazy and intense and, for a couple of weeks anyway, the focus of national media attention. Suddenly, two or three of us reporters for the li’l ol’ San Angelo Standard-Times were competing with the likes of CNN, the Salt Lake Tribune, The Associated Press and even The New York Times for stories and interviews (and winning, I might add).

So, I figured, a lot of people seem to be interested in this, and someone should write a book, and why not me?

But it’s hard to write a book. Writing 2,000 words for a Sunday in-depth news story? No problem.

Finding an agent and carving aside time once a week to produce a manuscript of indeterminate length? Problem.

With kids and other responsibilities, including switching jobs and ultimately changing cities, pressing in, I ended up abandoning the project. But I still think there’s a book in me, probably not about that, but about something, though I have no idea what.

All that to say, I have great respect for those who actually have written books, especially ones I’ve heard of, and especially especially ones I and other people I know have heard of. I’m kind of in awe of people who have done that, actually.

And when those people write books that, if not precisely change my life, at least solidify and confirm that the direction it’s taking is the right one? Well, that’s even cooler.

And so it was pretty awesome to meet Rachel Held Evans yesterday.

Continue reading

Summit, Day 1: The Toxic Process

It’s Summit here on campus, which means three days of lectures and classes about pretty much any Bible-related topic you can imagine. The organizers have done a better job recently – certainly better than when I was an undergrad – of making the event more interesting to students and younger attendees, and as a result some real superstars of Christianity (oxymoron?) have been on stage, or soon will be. People like Shane Claiborne last year and Rachel Held Evans and alumnus Max Lucado this year.

Yesterday, however, it was Barron Jones’ turn. Jones preaches is a former minister (see correction in the comments) at Laurel Street Church of Christ in San Antonio, and he had some thought-provoking comments on the nature of the church and its involvement with politics.

“The church has formed an unholy and ungodly alliance with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We are the fools who go along for the ride.”

For those on the right, he launched a volley of inflammatory comments:

“Some of you white people are afraid the president is a black man,” he said. “And you say, ‘Oh no, I just don’t like his politics.’ Please. That’s like saying, ‘I have two black friends, so there’s no way I can be racist. I’ve been to a black church once.'”

“The dead babies are dead, and unfortunately it’s legal to kill them in this country, but the dead babies are gone. What are you going to do for the live ones? … I see a lot more excitement in our churches for hiring preachers and paving parking lots than feeding orphans. What if the church shut up about abortion and every Christian family adopted a foster child in the name of Jesus Christ?”

Continue reading