Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life, of late

I haven't posted in a few days because it's been pretty busy. So now, I'll just update all (both) you faithful readers as to what's been going on - even though at least one of you was there for most of it. ;)

Recently Amanda and I went to a wedding and then her family came down to meet my family for the first time the following day. It was, all told, a pretty good weekend. Amanda and I had a lot of fun hanging out with my family, as is usually the case. She even learned how to drive a stick-shift after the wedding on Saturday! It was really impressive, she didn't kill it once on the whole way home. I was very impressed.

The wedding we went to was possibly the most awkward wedding we've ever been to (together, at least). There was no specific even that occurred to make it so awkward, it was really more of a state of being. Just not a comfortable atmosphere. Not what I expected out of a couple that's been dating for...let's just say a very long time. Since the wedding, I realized that the reason it felt so awkward was really just that it was a wedding involving normal people. By that I mean that they are part of the vast majority of people who are not, in fact, terribly comfortable in front of large groups of people. Or at least, they do not with their presence put groups at ease. This led me to the realization that I have a very strange group of close friends. By and large, my friends to whose weddings I've been invited have been very socially skilled people. A lot of my friends spend time in front of large groups on a consistent basis - either as teachers, preachers, musicians, or through the course of other more random things. Anyway, all that to say that my friends are the strange ones, and anyone who is less comfortable with these things is, I suppose, way more normal. But it just is more entertaining for the audience when the main focus is a couple who thrives in the spotlight, no offense to anyone who does not.

In other news, this week is being pretty insane at work. I started training at a new position - basically the same thing I was doing, managing a copy/mail/general service center at a law firm - but now it's exceptionally larger. I went from a firm of 13 attorneys to 60 (plus several more in the coming days and weeks) and from a staff (under my employ) of 2 to a staff of 6. That change alone would be enough, but on top of it, during my one week of shadowing the current manager and training on the position, we've got a huge in-house move to prepare for the incoming attorneys. That means that I'll be staying late, potentially several hours late, on Wednesday night, and then heading back to work at the normal 8 AM on Thursday, which may or may not also be a late night (though not as late). I've gotta be honest, I'm not exactly looking forward to all that, but such is life, I suppose.

So now that we're all caught up on my exciting life like it's something worth being caught up on, I'm going to go ahead and call it a night. Thanks for reading, and sorry it was so boring.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's your theological worldview?

You scored as a Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Reformed Evangelical
Neo orthodox
Roman Catholic
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Understanding Obedience

Another post on N.T. Wright's book about Paul. I have a feeling these will become commonplace before this book is over. I suppose that's not such a bad thing, I'm just gonna roll with it either way.

I'm not sure exactly where it was that Wright talked about this, but it was somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd chapters, I think. In any case, I feel like God slapped me across the face with an understanding of the Cross and Obedience that maybe should have been obvious a long time ago. In his discussion of Paul's understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ - specifically from the perspective of a 1st century Roman-Jew - Wright went into some detail about the fulfillment of the prophecies to Abraham, Paul's inherent understanding of those (as well as other prophecies about the coming Messiah), and how these things would have been naturally internalized by a man like Paul.

Somewhere in this detail, I finally came to understand the part in Romans where Paul says that Christ was the fulfillment of the law and, if you will, the counterpart-man to Adam. Where Adam's sin was disobedience to God - the eating of the fruit - which resulted in Sin's great entrance into the world, Christ's sacrifice was a great obedience to God whereby sin is defeated for all who accept the gift. Sounds great, but that's about where it always ended for me before. Then I realized (again, I'm not sure exactly what it was that tipped me off) what the operative word here is - I italicized it, in case you missed that.

So obedience is what was most vividly displayed on the Cross - humility, yes; love, yes; sacrifice, yes; but all of those things were borne out of the unspeakable obedience of Christ.

I look at it this way: Adam could have eaten anything in the garden except that food. Why that food? Could God have made that food without whatever special properties it had? Absolutely. Could God have given the special properties to something else - maybe a certain part of the garden to which Adam was debarred from entering, or a body of water he was to avoid. The fruit and it's nature as food is not what's important here. What's important is that he was given a command from God - any command would have done! - and he disobeyed.

Now look at Christ. He was God and man at once. He had all power and authority in heaven and earth at his disposal (and we see examples of that, calming the storm, miraculous healings, even bringing people back from death!) and he allows himself to be treated the way he was. And let's be clear about something else here. Wright goes into detail also about the horror of crucifixion. This was not just execution. The act was so heinous, so despicable that respectable Romans avoided it in polite conversation. I can't even think of a modern equivalent (maybe that speaks to our depravity and exceptional debasement...but that's another post), but the point is, this was horrible, in the most painful sense of the word. And Christ did it - and the reasoning behind his doing it was to obey his Father in heaven.

I think this is what Paul's saying when he says that any "good" done without God is not good (I'm paraphrasing, obviously). If God wants the glory for anything we do - and if we do good things in His name, not ours - then how could we do them for any reason other than simple obedience? It suddenly strikes me that if I give out an amount of money every week or month, and that amount of money is a sacrifice for me (because I believe that just giving 10% is not what's important, what's important is not the amount, but that the giving is sacrificial, whether more or less than 10%), but I don't do it to be obedient to God, then it doesn't matter. If I tell someone I love them and give them food or money or my time, but I do it because it makes me feel good about myself or because I feel guilty, then it doesn't matter! I am convinced that the only justifiable reason for any such action is in order to obey the dictates of God. Otherwise how can I say that I do it for God? If obedience is not the basis for my action, then how can I honestly say it's not because I feel better after? Christ's sacrifice was incredible, and painful, and loving, but it was most of all - and, I would argue, most of those things simply because it was - obedient. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I cannot shake this new belief that love is not love for God if it is not borne out of obedience, sacrifice is not sacrifice for God if it is not borne out of obedience.

I'll end with this thought. If nothing I can possibly do, or say, or think, or feel can be worthy of my God on its own - and it can't, how could anything I do be worthy of the God who created me?! - then it follows, doesn't it, that only my vivid, simple, sincere obedience to God would be of worth to Him? Any amount of money I give, any amount of time I give, any amount of love I give is absolutely pathetic in comparison to Christ's sacrifice, and is of absolutely no worth in comparison to His Love - what He requires instead is constant, life-changing obedience. Nothing less, and simply, nothing more - because anything I could do should flow out of obedience to God's commands. And that's my epiphany for today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Gospel?

Toward the end of last week, I started reading a book by N.T. Wright called What St. Paul Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Now, I've heard a lot about N.T. Wright and I've read some excerpts before, but I've never actually sat down with one of his books myself. I have to say, I'm pretty impressed thus far. Aside from what seems an absurdity of giving a book with this title a slim 183 pages, it's packed with dense reading (plus, Wright's way smarter than I am, so I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt here). And it's not a scholarly work, nor is it entirely pop literature, so you sort of have the choice between making it more or less scholarly depending on what level of focus, thought, and intensity you want to give his writing.

As I'm only about 60 pages in, I can't comment on the entire work just yet, but at this stage, I'd suggest it to any of my friends, no questions. The thing that struck me most, though, was a discussion of what the word "gospel" might have meant to Paul. Wright does an incredible job of flushing out, in each of his subjects so far, the relevant sides of the relevant debates, their merits and shortcomings, and, finally, why he disagrees with both sides and chooses a third side (usually, anyway). He has an incredible grasp on the historical situation in which Paul lived, both secularly and religiously, which anyone must agree is fundamentally important in any discussion of a historical person, place, or event.

The conclusion that shocked me started by raising this question: what does it mean to say "the gospel of Christ?" The question itself shocked me because I realized that I don't have an answer to that myself. I could ramble about it for a while, but I don't think I would get anywhere substantial. He then traced a number of reasons to conclude that for Paul, the "gospel" is not any set of issues relevant in the Church today, it's not singularly about wealth or sexual orientation or giving or saving or teaching or speaking or sharing - it's about being a herald for the King. The word (in Greek) references the style of heralding the Emperor of Rome, of announcing his presence or his ascendency. This is what Paul lays out in Romans, according to Wright, as the definition of the gospel of Christ.

The most poignant part of the explanation, to me, is how Wright points out that by the very annunciation of the presence of the Lord of all the World, of the victory of Christ over death and His subsequent ascent to the Throne of Dominion over sin in the world, people are saved - salvation is the subsequence of this announcement, not the reverse! People aren't saved only to later discover Jesus' victory! If there is no victory, if there is no fulfillment of the prophecies naming Christ as Lord of all the world (as opposed to just ruler of Israel), then there would be no salvation. Bearing this in mind, Wright paraphrases Paul's mimicry of the Roman emperor's herald as saying: "When the herald makes a royal proclamation he says 'Nero (or whomever) has become emperor.' He does not say 'If you'd like to have an experience of living under an emperor, you might care to try Nero.' The proclamation is an authoritative summons to obedience - in Paul's case, to what he calls 'the obedience of faith.'"

This just floored me. The reality is that we are not living under a King who's content to let us choose whether or not He exists and is King. He has become King through the ultimate act of obedience and sacrifice - this is not a passive ascendency! He has violently laid claim to the throne of utter world domination and whether or not we decide to accept his legitimacy and his presence, it exists, and it exersizes judgement over the world. It's a pretty big deal.

Needless to say, it was a pretty intense ride to work this morning, reading this and having a series of little epiphanies. Hopefully, in my attempt to paraphrase the discussion in the book, I didn't commit too many heresies. If you spot one, let me know, I would like to not blaspheme - at least not on accident - if at all possible!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Whole New Level of Disgust

Look at this, and discover a whole new definition of disgust, and a whole new level of vanity. And be sad with me. Misery does, in fact, love company.

And just so this post, being only my second, is more than two lines long, I think I'll go ahead and come up with something to say.

I was listening to a new album the other day and I thought it was really good. In fact, I still do. So I started telling people about it. It's a local band (but not local to me, so that's weird) and they're basically just a bunch of guys with no money who love doing music. But when I mentioned how good I thought the music was to one friend, his response was, "yeah, it's ok. I thought the vocals were too far up front and the music wasn't mixed right." I just don't understand. If you're Coldplay and you're putting out an album on the dime of a multi-million (or billion?) dollar record label, and you're working with some of the greatest sound engineers you can find, then sure, you expect perfection. But if you're a local band who scratches up the money to put together an album to sell at your shows, trying to get your name out there and just getting started, then is it really necessary to require that your album sounds like it was done by a legend?

This, to me, seems like the equivalent of looking at a car to buy and then deciding not to because, even though it's an extremely well made car, reliable and safe, with great mileage and at a decent price, but the lighting in the showroom was bad, and the salesman really needed to brush his teeth. Hmmm. Maybe I'm just not a truly devoted audiophile. Or maybe I just prefer to listen to good music roughly mastered than shitty pop music* gloriously mastered at the best studio money can buy.

Sorry this post is kind of a downer, but I think there's only one person (other than me) reading this, so I suppose it's not a huge deal. ;) So there we go, a little peak into the rantings of Joe.

*this phrase does not apply to Coldplay

Thursday, June 12, 2008

insert pithy title here

It's been a big day. It's 8:43 AM and it's been a big day. Not a lot of times in my life I've been able to say that.

I decided today (well, today and last night) to become a morning person. To do a lot of things I've wanted to do for a while, really. There's this guy in my head that I imagine myself to be, and he's really not all that unattainable, but he's not really who I am. I decided that it's about time to go ahead and see just how attainable he is. One of the things he does is get up early and get things done, rather than rush around for 25 minutes and just barely make the train.

He shaves more often, too, but I think that one's more flexible.

I call this "musings from across the pond" but obviously, I'm not in York. I've not been in York for quite a while, actually. Roughly two years ago this time, I was finishing up my school work in the UK and trying to soak up as much of England and it's wonderful people as I possibly could. And it's taken me this long to start writing again for some reason. In any case, I'm back, and I think the title will stick around, too. I like it. It reminds me of a good time in my life (not that this time is necessarily bad) and, cliche as it is, a simpler time. I spent a lot of my time over there thinking, reading, playing Zelda, eating rice, drinking really good beer, and enjoying people. I also got pretty decent at frisbee (and double-bee, more importantly), but that's mostly gone, and I really need to get good at it again. But one of the things England taught me was how to be an alien. And how to enjoy it, to relish in the joy of difference. To love not belonging, not entirely, anyway. Cause, I'm not English. I know, it surprised me too. But it's true. So now matter how comfortable I got there, no matter how much it felt good to be there, and even natural, it wasn't natural to everybody. People I didn't know saw me as different, as an outsider. And it was kind of nice, to be honest. I've never really been a true outsider before. And more importantly, I believe that I am an outsider here, or I should be. My faith tells me that I'm an alien, and the more I come to realize my faith, and accept what it teaches me and try to embody it (let me tell you, that guy in my head rocks his principles like no other...it's impressive, trust me) I realize that to do that, I must be alien. I cannot conform. It doesn't work.

That was quite an epiphany for me when I realized it, and then I started thinking about York and then I started thinking about this blog and then I thought, well given this new reality, I suppose I may as well be musing from across a pond, whether that big Atlantic one or not. So the title remains.

Who writes this big of a post (with that big of a paragraph?) about a title? Me. If you're reading this, still, you should probably get used to that kind of thing. I'm sure it'll be commonplace.

So that's it, that's my first post in this new part of my journey. Hopefully it won't be my last, and hopefully it'll soon be joined by others. We'll have to wait and see, eh? In any case, it has begun. Feel free to join me if you want, though I'm not going to promise excitement...or even good writing. Just thoughts. I'll be here if you want to stop by. Enjoy yourself.