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What I did on Halloween

Posted by Gary Labels:

This evening I dressed up as a monk and spoke in Hebrew or Latin in hushed scary tones all night. I carried a staff with a cross etched into it, and that was pretty much my costume. All I did was answer the door and pass out candy for about an hour and a half. Now, as a monk, I am enjoying some "hallow-wine." Or "hallowed wine." Doh, whichever.

Handling Depression

Posted by Gary Labels:

I found a paper today in the jumble on my desk that I got long ago during counseling. It's called "How to Love Yourself." If you're tagged in this, it means that as a human being you endure stress and I want to share with you some ways of handling it. It's specifically geared towards handling depression, but it works for anyone.

1. Stop all criticism: Simply refuse to criticize yourself. Everybody changes, but criticism never changes anything.
2. Don't scare yourself: Living in terror of your own thoughts is a dreadful way to live. When you feel scary thoughts coming on, have a mental image ready that gives you pleasure and switch to that.
3. Be gentle, kind, and patient: Go easy on yourself as you learn new ways of thinking. Treat yourself as you would treat someone you really love.
4. Be kind to your mind: Self-hatred is only hating your own thoughts. Don't hate yourself for your thoughts. Instead, gently change your thoughts.
5. Praise yourself: Criticism breaks down the inner spirit. Praise builds it up. Praise yourself as much as you can. Tell yourself how well you are doing with every little thing.
6. Support yourself: Reach out to friends and allow them to help you. When you need help and ask for it, you are being strong.
7. Be loving to your negatives: Acknowledge that you created negative patterns in the past to fill a need. Now you are finding new, positive ways to fulfill those needs. Lovingly release those old negative patterns.
8. Take care of your body: Learn about nutrition. What kind of fuel does your body need to have optimum energy and vitality? Learn about exercise. What kind of exercise do you enjoy? Cherish and revere the temple you live in.
9. Do mirror work: Look into your eyes often. Express this growing sense of love you have for yourself. Forgive yourself as you look into the mirror. Talk to anyone you feel resentful towards as you look in the mirror. Forgive them, too. At least once a day say "I love you. I really love you."
10. LOVE YOURSELF! DO IT NOW! Don't wait until you get well, or lose the weight, or get the new job, or the new relationship. Begin now and do the best you can.

Another paper called "Constructive Thinking"
Thought Stopping
1. I am not going to think about that.
2. Visualize clicking "delete."
3. Visualize "bookmarking" it and come back to it later.
4. Say "out" or "not right now" to every negative thought that comes to mind.

Thought Substitution
1. I am going to think about something that is calming
2. I am strong.
3. I am capable.

Debating, Disputing, and Challenging Your thoughts
1. Where is the evidence?
2. Is this thought really valid?
3. How does this thought/belief serve my best interests?

Coping Statements
1. This too shall pass.
2. It's hard, but not too hard.
3. I can cope with this.
4. I am working on my problems.
5. I am doing the best I can.

Positive Affirmations
1. I am a good person.
2. I accept myself.
3. I am growing stronger by facing my fears and pain.

Review of Goals
1. I want to feel better; that is my goal.
2. I want to think more positively about myself.
3. I will keep my focus on my goals rather than the obstacles.

1. I can learn from this experience.
2. Tolerating and handling this calmly will make me stronger.
3. Don't take myself so seriously.

Guided Imagery
1. Imagine myself feeling and thinking differently.
2. I can respond to someone in a different, more rational manner.
3. Imagine myself in a situation that makes me feel good.

What's a good person?

Posted by Gary

"Not hurting anyone" would only make you neutral, not good. A "good" person seeks to help those who are lost and who have given up on hope. The homeless, alcoholics, pregnant teens, those with terminal illnesses, people who die of hunger (thousands do every day).

Think of it this way. If you were God, and you were going to make a perfect place called Heaven, and you wanted it to be peaceful, what sort of people would you invite into this new kingdom you're building? Those who have a heart to give their lives for the benefit of others, or would you pick those who go through their own lives making no major difference one way or the other, who don't go out of their way to help or harm?

If you were God, and you were building a perfect kingdom, wouldn't you also want to pick the people on Earth who already share your vision and try to shape the world into a better place? If you were going to let humans help you build Heaven and live there with you, wouldn't you pick people who had that same dream?

Maybe the people you'd pick are not perfect in and of themselves, but you'd probably pick the people who have a heart that wants to make the world perfect. Does that make sense?

Christians aren't perfect, and good works don't make us perfect, either. However, it is through the experience of seeking God's kingdom (i.e. making the world a better place through acts of mercy and by coming together as a community) that Christians grow closer to God. We grow to resemble God more and we grow emotionally closer to Him as well.

God very earnestly desires people who seek to bring heavenly peace and harmony on earth, not just people who would think Heaven is a nice place.

Nobody plans to build a building and then hires architects based on them saying "Well, I haven't done anything to destroy buildings, really." NO! You hire people who love to build things! It's the same deal with God.

When a Man Loves a Woman (Part I)

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Ah, so I've been thinking lately about how men and women are supposed to get along and interact. Part of my fixation on this is because I'm terrible with chap stick, chapped lips, and things like chemistry. And partly because I see a need in this world for change -- economic, political, cultural, and (YES!) religious change.

For now, I'm going to look over some important passages relating specifically to the relation of the sexes. My main concern here is about the treatment of women, in particular.

Last year I started an as-of-yet unfinished series of notes on Genesis. I took down the huge note I had of Genesis 1-3 to rework it in Word before posting it. Those chapters have so much to talk about, it's just crazy (My word file is 8 pages, single-spaced). However, I did re-post the section on Genesis 1-2:3, and I will be drawing from that note. For my study in Genesis, I am relying heavily on Alexander Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch. I would recommend it. So, if you want to fully follow what I'm saying in this note, please read Genesis 1-3 either piece-by-piece or all at once. That other blog post I linked to is just a reference for later, if you're curious.

So, concerning Genesis 1 (which I count up to 2:3):
The way God creates in Genesis 1 shows him as a loving and superbly powerful king. God speaks, and what He commands, happens. He tells the land to produce vegetation, something that is impossible for dirt to do, and the dry land obeys. The impossible is possible, because God says so.

God creates in a very ordered fashion, setting everything up. If all of Genesis 1 was a magic show God put on for the angels, then we are the grand finale. Everything leads up to the creation of man in Genesis 1.

Now, for Genesis 2 (which I count as 2:4 until the end of the chapter):
Here God is an intimate potter, crafting humanity with his hands. He set the man, his first creation, in a garden he had planted, so that the man could work the garden. More than work, God has given man food, too! But the man, despite God's full presence being near to the man, he feels lonely, and in God's infinite wisdom, it is not good for the man to be alone.

I will slightly romanticize the rest of this chapter, but I feel that it captures the heart of the story (and hopefully the readers' hearts, too). Now, God brought every living creature that he had made to the man, to see what he would name it. Nothing would work, though.

So God puts on a knowing smile, and tells the man to lie down and relax. After making the man sleepy, God pulls a second blueprint, one much like the man's, out of the man's dreams. God strokes his beard for a moment and says to Himself: "Now, if I use this blueprint, it's going to take a rib. Neither one will be complete alone if I do this thing. But... nothing else could possibly do." With a nod of His head, God goes to surgical work and extracts a rib, then closes the flesh around the wound, and he crafts (yes, not "makes," but crafts) the rib into the most amazing thing the man ever dreamed of.

When the man wakes up, he asks the Lord God what happened, and He just smiles and says "One sec. Let me show you what I've been working on while you were asleep." Then, with a flourish of his hand and a few angelic trumpets in the background, in walks the woman.

The man is overjoyed, and immediately makes a pun (which sounds like something I'd do). First, he calls her "a bone of his bones" and "flesh of his flesh," which is something an ancient Hebrew would say that more or less means you've adopted someone as your "blood brother" or "soul sista." The irony is that she is literally crafted from his bone and flesh. Then he makes the pun: I will call her woman, for she was taken out of man!" (The pun is true in Hebrew as well.)

The chapter closes with an explanation that this Edenic experience is the reason that a man shall forsake/leave his parents and cling to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This means much more than just "they're gonna hold each other tight and have sex." However, the wording should make that very thing spring to your mind, because that is symbol of union between man and woman (and God, whose name is often invoked during the union). It symbolizes that in marriage, the two become a completely new entity. A new family.

Bringing Genesis 1 and 2 together:
These two chapters are so very different. Some scholars go as far as to say that they were originally two independent stories. I'm indifferent to that idea, but they are very different in their expression and in what aspects of God they highlight. Genesis 1 shows God as the Creator-King, supreme in power and kind in love. Genesis 2 shows God as the Hand-crafter and Friend, unfathomably deep in intimacy and kind in love. Can you see a yin-yang thing here? The first chapter climaxes with the creation of man, as in, male. Chapter 2 begins with the creation of man, and then a problem develops, perhaps loneliness. Only one thing can cure that: chapter 2 climaxes with the creation of woman. The first story also highlights God's masculine attribute (strength) while the second focuses on his feminine attribute (intimacy), while both stories show his generous love.

While I don't know if Genesis 1-2:3 and 2:4-25 were originally separate or not, I can tell you this: if they were separate, then it's no accident that they were brought together. Neither is complete alone. Both show elements of God's character that complement what is found in the other story. And if you want to understand how man and woman are to interact with each other, it is to be with complete trust, humility, and joy, because neither is complete alone.

Genesis 3
A major connection between 2 and 3 is the word "naked." Note that the word "crafty" in 3:1 looks very much like the word "naked," so that provides a clear link between the two chapters. Now, in this land of harmony, the craftiest of all the wild beasts holds a conversation with the woman. The serpent purposefully misquotes God, and then reacts with feigned shock that God would ssssay sssuch a thing. I imagine the serpent was slack-jawed with his tongue hanging out awaiting the woman's reply. And reply she does, for she knew well what she was supposed to do.

But the serpent guffaws and says "you (two) definitely won't die; God just knows that once you eat of it, you'll be like Him -- you'll be able to judge for yourself what's good and what's not." The way the woman heard it, she would understand "knowing good and evil" not as moral choice, but as in autonomy. What flashed through her mind was the situation in the movie Home Alone: stay up as late as you want, watch whatever you want on TV, and (of course) eat whatever you want.

What's ironic is that everything the snake said was technically true. He didn't lie, but he did deceive. Once she (and the man) bit into the fruit (pomegranate?), they were no longer innocent and now knew evil as well as good. They gained moral familiarity with evil, but never had the autonomy that the snake tricked them into thinking they'd gain. That tricky snake! What's more, they didn't "die" right on the spot, but the introduction of sin into the world brought about a decay that is moral, social, and physical.

Overwhelmed with this new feeling -- guilt, it is called -- they hastily cover themselves physically in an attempt to hide from their own emotions. When God approaches, he asks the man, who is the head of the two, what happened. As woman's leader, he is ultimately responsible and God demands an accounting from him first. He quickly places blame on the woman. So God demands an accounting from her, and she likewise blames the snake.

The snake, being of a class lower than humanity, does not merit an opportunity to explain its actions. Punishment follows for the snake. In poetic justice, since the snake made them eat what they should not eat, God makes the snake eat dirt, which we all know snakes cannot eat. That is the snake's curse. Then God goes back up the hierarchy ladder to the woman, and pronounces something to her. With pain she will bring forth children. Then he goes further up the ladder and pronounces judgment on the man. God will not curse man, but God curses the ground because of man. In case you don't like the idea that God didn't give the snake a chance to explain itself, please realize that the point is not that God is unjust, but that man and woman are special and are given consideration beyond that of a mere beast.

Now, what are these punishments on the humans? God demands an accounting firstly from the man, and notes that part of his folly was that he [blindly] "listened to his wife." I absolutely encourage listening to a woman's feelings (they're important!) and to her advice and opinions. Love her for the mind that lies behind that beautiful face, too, fellas. There is nothing wrong with taking suggestions from a woman. However, since it is man's place to lead, what he should have done was stop and ask "is this a good idea?" It is for skipping this crucial step that God reprimands him.

The woman does not receive a curse, but she will have pain in her childbearing, which is the highest point of fulfillment in a woman's life. With pain he will eat of the earth's bounty. Working the earth is man's highest point of fulfillment in life. Now sin has led to pain, though both are still allowed to continue their highest point of fulfillment. And now, the woman's desire will be for her husband. The NIV study Bible leaves an interesting comment on this that explains this as sexual attraction. Uh-uh. That's wrong. God is describing the natural consequence of sin in the world: "your husband will no longer be perfectly loving to you, and you'll have desires go unfulfilled. Now instead of being gentle he will utterly dominate you." The pain-in-childbirth thing was the punishment, but this is NOT a punishment nor is it a curse. Rather, it is a description of the natural consequences of what she set in motion. The fact that God bothers to explain this to her shows that God treats woman as a rational being capable of making decisions, and as someone of value.

So, the five dialogues of God here are: A: demand accounting from man; B: demand accounting from woman; C: judgment on snake; B': judgment on woman; A': judgment on man. God gives both man and woman exemption from being directly cursed, and allows them an opportunity to explain their actions. As such, both man and woman are special to God and in His image. They are subject to God and it is righteous for Him to punish them, but He grants them dignity. Humans are both a cut above the rest of creation. This is somewhat like how medieval nobles were not supposed to be executed in an undignified manner such as hanging, but they would instead be beheaded (except in cases of high treason).

God allowed them to maintain dignity and cover their shame by making them garments to cover their physical nudity. Then they were expelled from the Garden and moved eastward. Always east with the book of Genesis, for some reason. Despite the fact that every event in Genesis 3 has "death" written all over it, the man names his wife Eve, which means "life-giver." He believed in God's promise in 3:15.

Now let's take a step back and look again at the actual temptation narrative. First, Why Eve and not Adam? There's a multitude of answers to that. One respected scholar (Gerhard von Rad) actually bites the bullet and generalizes that women are the weaker sex, more inclined to engage in fanciful speculation. Specifically, he sees women as more likely to engage in astrological cults (Ezek. 8:14, for instance). I'm quoting him second-hand, I admit, so I can't really say too much other than that is pretty extreme. Now that I think about it, though, most Wiccans are female. What's more, is it boys or girls who use Ouji boards? And is it an old man or an old woman that you think of first when you think of crystal balls and fortune telling? There could be some truth in saying that women may tend to enjoy fancies such as that, but that doesn't make women morally weaker overall. If anything, I would say that men are more likely to fall prey to the promise of autonomy from God, which is the specific "fanciful speculation" the serpent is using.

At the other extreme you have the moderate feminist Phyllis Trible, who instead argues that the serpent considered Eve the more challenging of the two humans. Now, I do have access to some excerpts of her writings, so I can directly critique her. In comment on this passage, she writes that "speaking with clarity, the first woman is theologian, ethicist, [scriptural interpreter], and rabbi." God's exact words to both people were "you shall not eat of it," but Eve gives a longer quote than recorded earlier: "... and you may not touch it, lest you die." Apparently, this makes Eve a rabbi and Bible commentator in Trible's eyes just because she quoted a longer form of what God said. That's a bit of a stretch, considering the man is the one who heard the prohibition personally before the woman was even created! Is there even a remote possibility that the man is the one who expanded it for the woman? Apparently not.

So, how about a sane explanation for why the woman is tempted directly? The very thing I just mentioned is Hamilton's explanation: it is easier to tempt someone who only heard the prohibition indirectly, and that's why the snake went for the woman. We see the same thing when the people and Aaron make a golden calf, while Moses, who directly received God's Law, did not.

Now, let's tie all this together and see what Genesis says about the relation between man and woman.

Both are made in God's image. Both contain such dignity as God's representatives that they in fact are special, and are the capstone of God's creation.

God made man with the intent that man alone rule over everything else. When God was dissatisfied with this setup (2:18), He amended that plan by creating a helper for man. No longer is man second to God without equal, for there is one in dignity and God's image who is like him: woman. The fact that man was created first and that he named woman is not an insignificant fact. Naming something implies power. However, this does not reduce woman to the same status as an animal any more than me naming my cat elevates her to human status. Even Phyllis Trible admits that the Hebrew word for helper can means someone equal or lower in rank.

Woman was created by God in some sense FOR man. The question is how to unpack that statement precisely. God clearly said that man on his own wouldn't do. There was a problem. Woman was the solution to that problem. As such, she takes some part in the man's formerly exclusive stewardship/dominion of creation.

Woman is meant to assist man in the endeavor of stewardship over all creation. This does not mean that each individual woman's purpose is solely to assist an individual man in fulfilling his purpose, though. Rather, it means that women also have responsibility to speak out against the injustice of this world and to nurture and encourage what is good. Maybe the man worked in the fields with vegetables, while the woman instead took care of the trees. In this case, she'd have her own individual purpose, but she would be helping him in the overall purpose.

For a contemporary illustration, a preacher's wife can run a soup kitchen without her husband's oversight. Since the church's purpose is to proclaim God's justice and mercy, she is still contributing to her husband's purpose while fulfilling her own individual purpose with a separate (but linked) identity. She does not have to support him by being the church's secretary or even by being the most influential female in the congregation. Women should not be pressured to aid men in everything they do.

I had originally deluded myself into thinking that I could treat this passage and a few others all at once. I'm definitely going to make at least one more note over another passage. There's plenty more than could be said about Genesis, but I tried to trim this specifically for the relation between the sexes.

God bless and keep you all. And everybody -- regardless of what views you may hold, speak in love when you comment. Thanks!

*quotes of Phyllis Trible are from The Christian Theology Reader pages 151-152.

We Belong to the Sea

Posted by Gary Labels:

So, after having a series of two negative posts, I've decided to focus back on the constructive and encouraging.

[Side note: right now, I am talking to a friend on Skype -- a member of the Chinese media. She's a local TV reporter on the east coast. I'm trying to let her know about Gao Zhisheng. She keeps going back to the Tibet thing and the earthquake, though, so it's hard to really keep her on that topic. I got her to agree to look into it.]

If you look at the open sea, the ocean, you can find a lot of parallels for God. All of creation, truly, declares God's majesty, but the ocean calls to me in a way that mountains and savanna simply cannot. Imagine you are on a boat on the sea -- an old-fashioned sailing vessel. The sea is truly a mystical place, truly alive though you see no physical form. The waves in all directions, truly the sea is vast and immeasurable.

Oh, and not just the surface! The depths of the ocean are without measure. Even today, we do not truly know what lies at the bottom of the sea. Granted, there may not be a plesiosaur stuck in Loch Ness, but for so long we thought the myth of Kraken to be completely made-up, then we find corpses of the giant squid, a name that refers to a genus of about eight separate squid species. THEN, we find out there is an even larger species of squid, which we dub the colossal squid! How crazy! And on rare occasions, we've managed to find some that weren't already dead or dying. But only rarely.

So many things of the depths are yet unknowable, even to us today with all our technology. Life teems beneath the surface and thrills our imagination! Every day on a merchant schooner would be quite an adventure, every day.

Oh, but the world below you is not the only realm! You look to the time when you can again see land, and also look up to the stars to give you direction, lest you run off course. Three dimensions to the experience of the sea. What are those bright lights, truly? Are they trapped angels, awaiting final judgment? When Jesus ascended to Heaven, did he preach to them also, that they may have salvation (1 Peter 3:19-20, II Peter 2:4)?* How can you not stare up at the starry sky and not be amazed?

The four winds with their mysterious power push the waves in one direction or another. The billows and breakers crash against the boat, rocking it rhythmically. It's easy to be lulled to sleep by the sea's smooth embrace. What peace! What exhilaration!

And also, every experienced sailor knows that ultimately he is at the mercy of the sea. If she unleashes her anger, there is no fighting back. All you can do is pray that you will weather the storm, if you cannot flee her wrath by making landfall somewhere. The sea is vast, infinite, beautiful, and beyond our power to control or understand.

So it is with God. He is wondrous, with depths of love, depths of a yearning desire for justice, that are beyond our conscious understanding. By his light we can find our way through the darkest nights -- his brilliance is always shining to lead us safely. His warm embrace envelops us, and everywhere we look, there we can see his presence. There is no sailing away from him. Yet when he unleashes his wrath, there is no protection, much less counterattack to God's fury. The earth melts like wax, and the seas churn like torrents at the slightest contact with his true presence.

Our God is so amazing, and I give thanks to my Maker for what lays before me. For giving me a world to explore, and an imagination to see what my eyes cannot, and be utterly fascinated anyway.

*Note about Peter reference:
1 Peter 3:19-20 says "through whom [=the Holy Spirit] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water." (NIV)
2 Peter 3:4 says "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but threw them in Tartarus, [binding them] with chains of gloom to keep them for judgment..." (my translation. I won't get into the "chains of gloom" vs. "pits of darkness" debate unless someone comments and asks)

These verses refer to Genesis 6's opening section, with the "sons of God" committing sexual sins by taking any of the "daughters of men" that they chose. Many Jewish interpreters in those days saw that as a reference to angels mating with women (and that is a popular interpretation today of Gen 6, though I believe otherwise; see my note God Renews Creation). So, these angels were captured and imprisoned in gloom/darkness as a holding cell for them to await final judgment. For a formal elaboration of the story, see 1 and 2 Enoch. The Grigori, or Watchers, are angels who have sinned and are awaiting trial. 1 and 2 Enoch are rightfully considered pseudepigraphia (books that claim Biblical status but are not of high enough quality to warrant our reverence), though the Ethiopian Orthodox Church considers 1 Enoch to be acceptable (the oldest form of it is in Ethiopic, so I think there's a racial pride attached to it), but nobody accepts 2 Enoch. They date from the first century A.D. While these books don't have much valid theological substance, they do tell us much of how Hebrews viewed Heaven and angels. Those ideas existed in their imaginations outside of these two books, so their historical value can't be dismissed.

Peter apparently looked to the stars (which he had been taught in Sunday school were entrapped angels awaiting final judgment) and assumed that Jesus, on his ascension, proclaimed the Gospel to them also. Sure makes you gaze at the stars and wonder, huh?

Wait. Hillsong is a church, not a band...?

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

For the longest time, I thought Hillsong was a band -- an extremely prolific one -- but little did I realize that Hillsong is in fact a church in Australia with an independent record label. I've done a little research on them, and truthfully I find myself concerned with the findings.

Michael Guglielmucci faked terminal cancer and wrote a song of hope called "Healer" for those with terminal illness. He apparently fooled even his own family. If I had cancer, I would want my family to go with me to the doctor for emotional support. Note that in this live youtube video, he even has an oxygen tube in his nose.

His song was included in a Hillsong album, but it was promptly (and rightly) removed from any further copies of that CD after his deception was discovered. Now, to my understanding, Mr. Guglielmucci is not a member of Hillsong itself, and I do not hold Hillsong personally accountable for this incident. However, it's still worth mentioning.

As The Thinking Theologian puts it, this conversation should not stop simply at saying there's grace and forgiveness for him, despite his misbehavior. Rather, we must go on to ascertain just how this man managed to be given a position of influence over thousands, millions, even. Accountability is necessary. We must put checks into place to ensure that this doesn't happen again, and make sure that no one else is doing this and still getting away with it now. The Thinking Theologian continues on this subject to give comment into how poorly this reflects on the leadership for choosing such a person and being so completely oblivious to his true character. My thought: scammers protect their own.

Triple-T was himself a member of Hillsong for seven years, even becoming a paid staff member. He also affirms that Hillsong is financially chaotic, if not outright corrupt. Now, I encourage you to read the rest of his blog and his forum (as I have done), but I'm going to not refer so strictly to him anymore. I'm not a single-source reporter.

As I look once more at the store page and peruse the products, I see many things on "building the kingdom/church." Yet, the Kingdom is not the same as the church. The Kingdom of God exists wherever justice (i.e. MERCY) reigns. The more that mercy reigns in our lives and in our community, the more fully God's kingdom is manifest among us. Many of the products are so focused on finances, such as Bobbie Houston's She is a Force on Earth! teaching CD, which is part of a series on the woman of God is. This series says (among other things) that she, the woman of God: 1. Has a big, beautiful heart, 2. Is confident (Part I and II), 3. Makes mince meat of her enemies, and 4. Loves and values her sexuality [A woman of God can be CELIBATE, actually.] I'll treat one particular book now and not burden myself with looking for every single book that seems off theologically.

Here is a pdf of a response to Brian Houston's You Need More Money: Discovering God's Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life, which I could not find through the store website, but could find on Amazon. I've reviewed the book here. There were two ratings, both one-star. What's more, there are exactly two reviews, both quite negative and following the same rationale as the scholarly response above. While I do not own a copy of the book in question, I will tell you that the scholarly response is Biblically valid. That scholar knows what he's talking about, and has my stamp of approval. Both he and the second reviewer on Amazon say that Brian did not even cite a single commentator throughout the book, and claim several hermeneutical (=interpretive) problems with how Brian uses scripture. The scholarly response impresses me by noting that Ecclesiastes is extremely sarcastic (which is true), and even using the proper Hebrew name for the book.

After thoroughly perusing 1. the list of products, 2. a review of a book by Brian Houston (which conspicuously doesn't show up on searches on his website but does show up on Amazon), 3. Parliament's mentions of Hillsong, 4. Australian newspaper articles, and 5. Comments of current/former members of Hillsong, as seen through the newspaper citations and Triple-T's blog, I have come to the conclusion that Hillsong is indeed a proponent of a prosperity gospel mentality that says that God intends for us to be rich in an economic sense. None of the products I've viewed on their website, which includes every teaching series and book by Brian or Bobbie, makes any mention of the Christian need to sacrifice, be strong through persecution, and even give in to death, if it comes to that. In contrast, "For This I Was Born" by Brian on page 5 speaks of Jesus coming to the cross with conviction that it was His purpose in life to do that [i.e. die on a cross for sins, though Brian doesn't say that]. Then pages 5-6 say "God does not want you and me to die full of potential. He wants you to live for something worth dying for." Page 5 also quotes the proverb that "everyone who is born dies, but not everyone who dies has truly lived." Interestingly, Jesus had a saying on that topic. Here's what JESUS said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 16:24-26).


Posted by Gary Labels: , , ,

Well, I hope the title was very attention-grabbing. My actual subject is my approach to Bible translation in general, which will address my standing on the conservative-liberal spectrum as well as my stance on gender-reference language.

Let me say that this is an incredibly long post. If you're tagged, it's because I think you might be remotely interested. This first part is a bit complicated, though. Oh, and whether you're tagged or not, you're welcome (but not expected) to read it.

To start this discussion, let me briefly explain how language works.
Firstly, language is naturally compact and needs expanding/explaining. [The fact that not explaining further confuses you is enough to prove my point!]
Secondly, language is much like a living thing, and it changes over time. Languages eventually are "born," they "grow" (by becoming more commonly spoken), they change to fit the speaker-population, and they "die" when nobody grows up speaking that as their language at home anymore. They also give birth, as classical Greek sort of lead to Koine Greek (the kind in the Bible), which in turn led to modern Greek. The differences are like eve, evening, and night. Which are quite obviously the same, yet not.

Examples of language changing: 1st Peter 3:1 says in the King James: "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives." Note that at the second half there, it could be translated "without a word" instead of "the word." What most people don't know is that conversation used to mean conduct. So, then, a believing wife may win over her husband through godly submissive conduct without ever saying a word. Yet the KJV seems to imply differently when (mis)read by modern readers. Nagging doesn't help, but some women do it based on this verse.

Another example: the word "online" comes from the phrase "on the line," which meant to be on the phone line, whether for internet or for phone call. We kept the phrase even though very few people use dial-up internet. So, now it means "connected to the internet." This change took less than ten years.

Third: no language is absolutely perfect. The differences between languages, like the differences between people, make them all unique and beautiful. German is simplistic in vocabulary and has a harsh, guttural sound. Japanese doesn't distinguish between singular and plural nouns. Greek and Hebrew can make entire sentences (SIMPLE ones) from one word. No language has a cue for every single grammatical thing, and if such a language existed, it would be incredibly complicated to learn. Therefore, all are beautiful, but none are perfect.

Fourth: Language naturally works by certain rules. These grammar/syntax rules are based in how a hearer expects a sentence to work from previous experience with the language. However, you can break these rules. But, there are rules to how you break the rules. Well, sort of. Once, I jokingly insulted my roommate by calling him "brain-head-face." There are plenty of insults that end in -brain, -head, or -face. I broke the rules by just combining three suffixes. Yet, it made sense and was funny. I followed the rules in how I broke the rules, because it was understandable. If I just slammed my forehead on the keyboard and said "oipjnrfea," that would make no sense.

So, there's my view of language. It is compact, changes (much like a living thing), is imperfect, and works by certain tentative rules, and these rules change over time.

Now with that introduction out of the way, let me tell you about the article that inspired this post. The Conservative Bible Project is an attempt to make a brand-new translation of the Bible online using only about 5 translators. I can't help but shudder at this thought. Having read their attempted translation of Philemon side-by-side with my Greek NT, I think I prefer the KJV over their work. Their attempt to be concise really cuts out a lot of the richness of the original wording. On the other hand, I am all for cutting out the things inserted later on (such as the story in John about the woman caught in adultery), or _either_ ending to the Gospel of Mark, which has no true conclusion. Mark actually ends "and they exited the tomb in flight, for fear and wonder had seized them, and they didn't say anything to anybody, for they were afraid" (16:8). The rest of that chapter was NOT written by Mark, beyond any doubt. It also doesn't fit with the story.

Translation is an art and not a science, and several approaches can be effective depending on the goal in mind. The original NIV was written at the 7th-grade reading level so that even those who do not remember any learning from high school can read it, basically understand, and come to saving faith in Christ. This is absolutely wonderful. It is, in fact, my favored translation since it's what I grew up on. However, it is not perfect, and no translation is. This is because languages themselves are imperfect and, to make it more complicated, languages change. Biblical Greek does not, because it is a dead language. And truthfully, I don't think our understanding of it will advance much further than it is now.

So, we do need a translation that anybody with basic reading skills can understand, and that should be the normative translation (if we have such a thing!) for public use. The King James version was very good for its time, but it was written for people with an education equal to a double BA in English and Latin. Backwater preachers don't understand it as well as they think, as my example above shows.

And yet, it saddens me that the NIV simplifies things sometimes. Usually the basic idea comes across, and often they get the full idea across very wonderfully. However, there's some places where they oversimplify. One example is Titus 1:12. This is a poetic quote of a proverb about Cretins (people of Crete). The NIV translates this as straightforward statements: "Cretins are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." But this fails to capture the poetic flow and transforms the statement completely by inserting a verb. One scholar, in his commentary on Titus, proposed this wonderful translation: "Liars ever, men of Crete. Nasty brutes who live to eat." It flows, rhymes, comes across as a proverbial statement, AND still gets the intended meaning across.

And so, what I long for is 1) a universal translation that focuses on readability, which the NIV does -- or did for its time (1984), and 2) a more precise translation, even if it requires a higher level of reading. Such a translation would try to reflect the original style, including a rich vocabulary. If I were in charge of this effort, the vocabulary would be rich indeed. In fact, I will probably produce my own version of a few books, just for the practice I would gain. As an example word, I would use "jenny" for female donkey, since that is the proper English word. Also, I would include the apocrypha because of its long-standing impact on Christianity and Judaism. Of course, I wouldn't realistically expect anybody to read it if I included those books.

Finally, let me address the more liberal spectrum of Bible translation. Specifically, feminist translation and theology. At its heart, I think feminism stems from the difficulty introduced in the husband-wife relationship by human sin in Genesis 3. God did not actively curse Eve in any way; he simply described the natural consequences of sin's existence in the world. No longer will her husband be perfectly kind. Actually, men can be jerks now. And that causes a not-unwarranted nervousness in females. Females want independence (or do they?) and men want to dominate. I myself must confess. I see this world with all its problems, and I just want to rule it. I want to conquer the world. I can't explain it. Why do cats like fish? Why do dragons like treasure piles? It's just instinct.

But what is good is what was natural before sin's introduction into the world. What is now "natural" is not what once was. Women are afraid of being forgotten, disenfranchised, and hurt. (And if I felt at risk for those things, I'd feel afraid, too. It's not cowardice but genuine painful experience that led to these feelings of vulnerability, and I hold no feelings of superiority over women for it.)

There are several issues in translation that associate quite naturally with these concerns. In most languages other than English, it is perfectly acceptable to refer to humanity as grammatically masculine. It is more authentic to say "blessed is he who fears the Lord," yet some would rephrase it "blessed are those who fear the Lord," so as to avoid giving a gender reference. However, if people wanted to read with authentic Greek/Hebrew syntax, then they can learn Greek or Hebrew. An English translation should reflect English -- at least well enough to be understood. However, since the mind-set of a culture is wrapped in its language's syntax, that does create a problem. How do we faithfully use understandable English to convey ancient culture instead of only reflecting our own culture?

Do women feel excluded by the use of the masculine pronoun? I, personally, find this ridiculous because all the languages I'm acquainted with will refer to a person in general as masculine (German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Spanish). Whatever movement there may be to neuter the English language will not be able to spread much beyond English at all, I suspect. I would like to attribute this to the American ignorance of grammatical gender, which does not necessarily imply true gender as we understand it. True or not, that's what I would like to explain it away as.

I can't stand referring in plural when it's singular in Greek, or using a singular "they" to avoid gender reference. I find the demand for this, once again, based in ignorance of grammatical gender. But you know what? If masculine singular causes confusion, then it's a problem. We have to make the message understandable and not written in such a way that the writing style itself causes problems for people.

Even if this feminist concern is ridiculous and irritating to me, I must say that saving people through the Gospel is the most important thing. If we demand that they accept masculine singular ("blessed is the man who does not go in the way of the wicked" Ps 1:1) or masculine plural ("brothers"), then we are putting up a barrier between people and the Gospel. I am a nerd who loves proper grammar, but I love the Gospel more.

Again, the reason feminists exist is because people of both sexes are not loving enough. And truthfully, you can't just blame men for this. Men may exploit women sexually, but if the situation is reversed, women may also exploit men sexually (see Gen 39 with Joseph and Potiphar's wife). What's more, women will exploit other women (lesbianism isn't directly in the Bible to my knowledge, but you can bet Greek and Roman mistresses had "expectations" of female slaves as well as male ones). What's even more, women can actively facilitate the sexual exploitation of other women by men (See Gen 16:2). It was Sarah's idea, and she was also the one who said to throw her out into the cold later on.

My point is simply this: sin is the root of this confusion of gender roles and feelings of disenfranchisement among women today. It is unfair to say that men are terrible creatures and are responsible for the world's problems. The problem is that people do not treat each other as humans made in God's image. Sarah acted wickedly toward Hagar because she viewed the Egyptian as less than human.

As one female pacifist said: "Of course, if WOMEN ran the world, you'd see a lot less of this WAR thing going on!"
A male playfully responded: "Nations would just spread gossip around about each other and call each other fat until they collapsed due to self-consciousness."
Her reply: "That's a great idea! Let's do that!" (from the wall of the facebook group "Churches of Christ Peace Fellowship")

While I do not at all like the use of gender-inclusive language in an attempt to make language precise (which by nature language is NOT), it may be necessary for the Bible to be understood from now on, or to not present a stumbling block to the readers. If I had to accept it, I would (though I would grit my teeth with distaste).

To my wonderful female friends who may be uncomfortable with my stance: keep in mind that I am a monk, and I very much prefer the ancient languages and ancient ways. Their style uses grammatical gender, and I like that. I admit my preferences are very quirky, but in the words of Popeye: "I yam who I yam."