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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Things That Impacted Me

Here is my editor's gripe. I don't like the word "impacted."

Check out the third definition. The word means constipated, OK? If I'm impacted by a fancy dinner with a prospective writer, that doesn't mean I have wonderful memories. It means I'm going to be sitting on the john reading Rolling Stone for a very long time.

I know, this is not fair. The word has two other definitions, but in my mind they get trumped by visions of constipation.

Consider this book. Executive Influence: Impacting Your Workplace for Christ. Now I'm sure this book has some wonderful truths for a reader. But I don't want to cause anyone to be constipated for Christ. That just doesn't seem like a good thing to me.

Whether you think I'm full of it or not, you have to admit that Christians and businesspeople are impacted much too often. Everything about church impacts people. Every new business method promises to impact the bottomline. Just use a different word, people. Don't talk about being impacted when you really mean transformed.

I'd much rather be transformed than impacted. To be transformed reminds me of Ovid's Metamorphosis. It reminds me of spiritual renewal and baptism and butterflies.

Next week's word to hate: Plethora.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Exorcism of Emily Rose

I met the writer and director of this movie, Scott Derrickson, in LA a few weeks ago. He's a Christian who makes horror movies.

He said, "The level of violence in movies reflects our human need to see ritualistic sacrifices to atone for our own sins." Interesting.

He also said, "If someone doesn't believe in God, show them the devil."

I like that. I've always felt like a sicko for enjoying scary movies. No more!

Here's the clip he showed us.


Limestone Literary Magazine

Last year this time, I was taking a deep breath because the literary magazine was finished. The AP tests were finished. The school year was nearly finished. And so was I.

I visited O'Connor twice this year for literary magazine events. The new adviser is doing a great job. She generated more enthusaism than I ever did by creating open mic nights that actually worked. They would get 50-100 kids gathered in the library to share poetry and music.

You should hear the CD they produced this year to go with the magazine. Two of the student musicians are simply amazing. You get the sense that these kids could make a living in music if they keep honing their craft during college.

I wish I had a picture or a sample of the new magazine. But I don't.

Just imagine what it must have been like to tour Germany with Byron and Shelley and Mary Shelley. Imagine Mary Shelley in a dark living room, reading chapter one of Frankenstein to her new husband. They couldn't know where her book would go, but they had dreams and hopes.

Young people have a chemistry and excitement. The world is waiting for them, and they know it.

HillCountryWriter Category: Teaching
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


My Man Hopkins

My poor students had to suffer through my infatuation with the dense poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is difficult stuff, but it sounds SO cool when you read it out loud. I even forced Carrion Comfort onto my bible class at First Baptist this past week. (I admit I was showing off for my friend John Poch who was visiting us for the day.)

Seems that my employer is suffering from Hopkins infatuation, too. Now I don't know any editors who might have influenced this radio message about Hopkins, but here's the beginning:

In one of his sonnets, Gerard Manley Hopkins writes about kingfishers. These birds catch fish he says. It's what they're made to do. . .
Read more

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Sunday, May 21, 2006


So Dark the Con of Ron

Saw Ron Howard's Da Vinci Code last night. Now I'm not a film critic, and I rarely post reviews of the books I read or the movies I see, but what is the big deal?


Everyone was so worried the movie would be morally offensive, and no one thought to worry it would be artistically offensive.

Oh well. It isn't the first time our fifty states have been the victims of a marketing conspiracy. The seed of Ron and Tom is a stinker.

(I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friends, though! Love you guys, Jessi and Rick!)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The Real Mother's Day Poem

I decided a Mother's Day poem from me could never work because my wife needs a Mother's Day poem from her kids, not her husband. Here is what my daughter came up with (with a little help from me).

A Five-Year-Old to Her Mommy

In the tub behind a duck curtain
CJ narrates her poem and Lyle struggles
to pee. “I like her because she was born
before me and that’s very special, I think.”
Then Lyle hops into the tub and CJ sways
naked, sucking on a green wash cloth
“I like you because I love who you are.
You always give me a good breakfast.
You give me pop tarts I like. I like
about mommy that she’s really good
at teaching me how to do exercises.
And mommy don’t forget I love you
always.” How do you love her? I ask.
“I love her always. That’s it.
That’s the poem. I wanna see it.
Are we gonna cut the page out?”
she asks, reaching and dripping
bath water on my journal. I pull away
to protect our words but she protests,
“Daddy, let me see the poem again.”
I keep writing and she confesses,
“Daddy, I’m a mermaid. See how my tail is
criss-cross applesauce? But let me tell you
about Slimey.” She holds up the green washcloth.
“This is Slimey. Sometimes he likes to come up
to my mouth and argue with me,
so I have to bite him real gentle
like this.” Suck, suck, suck.

In her loft bed later she bounces
on her knees and says, “I love you,
Mommy, because we always play together.
Hide-and-go-seek, tag—do you know
that Where-is-Thumbkin game?—we play
that too when you’re at work, Daddy.
So you don’t get to see it.” She leans over
my journal asking as I write, “What’s that say?
Read it again from the beginning.
Read it! Read it! Don’t write it. Read!
So I do, starting with the last stanza.
She is all wiggly in bed, cuddling my arm,
her legs like scissors over the sheets, whispering
“Read it! Read it!” Then “Oh and Daddy did you know?
—you can write that on the paper, go ahead—
Did you know that I didn’t come up
with any ideas for a Mother’s Day gift?
Do you have any ideas?”
How about this poem, CJ?
“What poem?” This one that we’re writing
up here when you should be sleeping.
“Daddy,” she says, smiling, “I like that
you wrote about at the beginning how Lyle
struggles to pee.” She laughs. “That’s funny.
Ok. Read it from the beginning.
Read it! Read it! Don’t write it. Read!”

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Monday, May 15, 2006


Looking for Easy Answers

My friend Karl wrote in his blog today, "What seemed easily true journeying along lush riverbanks may no longer be the case in the desert. We assume much when we we traverse paths blazed by others."

It's one of the big paradoxes of life. We can only learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others. But knowing what elements of past experiences will apply to future experiences takes a special kind of wisdom.

As an English teacher I was always wrestling with students who wanted the perfect model for their essays. They were looking for a formula. Plug in the thesis here. Plug in a quote here. Summarize your three points. And get an A.

Too often I find myself approaching life the same way. I want the formula for each situation.

I pray to my Teacher and ask for formulas I can control. Don't make me trust you, God. Just tell me what to do.

Like a good Teacher, God must be shaking his celestial head.

The truth is never that easy. If we seek answers from Him, if we seek Him, He won't let us settle for the over-simplifications. He doesn't put us off with easy answers.

He gives us the big dark difficult truth.

And He says, "Trust in me. You can handle it."

Friday, May 12, 2006


Failed Mother's Day Poem

I tried to write a Mother's Day poem for my wife, but it turned into something else entirely. Oh well. I'll try again tonight or tomorrow. We have a happy marriage, really!

Sluicing for Mother

The word sluice should mean more than this
wooden trench flowing in a thin square river.
A chart tells tourists what kind of mothers they'll hope
to sluice. A sunburned man with a broad nose sells
bags of dirt—Some Contain Real Hidden Mothers!—
to travel tired Dads and kids who won't leave it
alone. "You lost our last mother," they say.
And Dads shrug. It's true. Why deny it?
One man mounted their mother in a cheap setting.
A raised solitaire, she snagged on sweaters and loose sleeves,
once even scratching her son's soft cheek with rough facets
so sharp they shined. Square sieves wait by the sluice.
And clear water rushes its narrow channel. Two kids pan
for moms. They pour bags the sunburnt man prepared,
hoping for a real mom like his sign promised.
Dads know kids will settle a cheap mom over none,
"Made in China" stamped on her left heel.
Who cares if her painted smile wears off too soon?
Who cares if her mommy hugs are too loose?

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Monday, May 08, 2006


Spreading the Word

This is part five of a five part series, Is the Bible a Myth?

The New Testament calls us to spread the word and preach the good news. The words for preaching that Bultmann associates most closely with theology are kerugma (NT:2782, Luke 11:32, Romans 16:25) and kerusso (NT:2784, Matt 3:1, Matt 4:17, Luke 9:2, Luke 24:47, Romans 10:13-15). Unlike Bultmann, we must trust the Holy Spirit to interpret our prayers to God and our message to others (Romans 8:26). We cannot trust ourselves any more than Bultmann could trust himself. The truth beyond ourselves must give validity to our words, for our words do not have validity on their own.

Consider the Kohathites in Numbers 4:4-6 and 15-20.

"This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place... After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting...

"Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, is to have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and the anointing oil. He is to be in charge of the entire tabernacle and everything in it, including its holy furnishings and articles."

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not cut off from the Levites. So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die."

Like the Kohathites carried pieces of the tabernacle, we carry the pieces of God’s message. Like the Kohathites, what we carry is covered and obscured. We can’t know it fully. We can’t understand it fully. Such knowledge would be destructive. Like the Kohathites, we carry our burden in faith, believing that someone, somehow will take what we carry and assemble it so that God’s plan for creation will be fully realized. Like the Kohathites, we carry it reverently, fearing its holy power.

But the Koathites carried an earthly burden under the supervision of an earthly priest. We do not. We carry the Kingdom of God, and Jesus carries it with us. Jesus has seen the Kingdom of God. He built it; he tore it down. He can and does rebuild it, reassuring us gently. “Don’t worry if you can’t understand all there is to know about what we carry. Don’t worry if you can’t even understand the piece you carry. Now you know in part, but someday you will know fully. When the time is right, I’ll help you understand. I’ll show you what to do. In the meantime, trust in me.”

The best I can say about Bultmann is this: he sought to understand the piece of God that he carried.

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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Language IS Reliable

This is part four of a five part series, Is the Bible a Myth?

There is a more fundamental problem than the unreliability of language, though. When Bultmann and others claim language is unreliable, they are wrong. Daily experience proves them wrong. Certainly, we all have moments of miscommunication, but those moments shouldn’t lead us to the absurd conclusion that all language is unreliable.

There must be some other explanation for interpretation besides the unreliability of language.

We might claim that interpretation is a way of helping people apply the text to their daily lives. A good preacher retells parables in modern settings and even creates new parables to illustrate abstract concepts of the Bible. He places the truths of the Bible in the cultural context of our daily experience. Perhaps the role of a theologian is simply this modernization of the Bible’s metaphoric language.

Of course, modernizing the Bible’s language through demytholigization is exactly Bultmann’s proposal. Any attempt to label some Biblical statement as a product of first century myth or culture inevitably leads to the process of deciding which statements are universally true and which were only true for first century culture.

Bultmann might argue that Mr. Butt’s interpretations of the Bible modernize Biblical language in exactly this way. Mr. Butt writes about the Trinity as excellence, service, and unity. He discusses the psychological truths of the Bible. He uses Freudian language to discuss the relationships of people in the Bible. Bultmann would then conclude the truth of Mr. Butt’s abstraction rather than the stories which led him to that abstraction. Bultmann dismisses the mystery of the Biblical narrative, for example. He seems to dismiss the mystery of the Trinity itself.

Mr. Butt, though, discusses the cognitive-narrative dance. Reason and abstraction are important, but so are the stories. The experiences and decisions of our daily life are important, but so are the abstract truths which justify those decisions and illuminate those experiences. Mr. Butt also holds up the mysterious and simultaneous truth of the Trinity: “God is three” and “God is one.” He is not afraid to have faith in God rather than his own ability to explain God’s word fully.

Discussing Mr. Butt’s analysis of the Bible provides a good contrast to Bultmann’s analysis, but we are still left with the question of interpretation. How can we claim the Bible is true when no one agrees what the Bible means? What use is a true text if no one agrees what truth it offers? Ultimately, if no one agrees what is true about the Bible, how can Christians presume to spread the word? What part of the word do they spread?

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The Relevance of Bultman

This is part three of a five part series, Is the Bible a Myth?

For all his heresy, Bultmann is wrestling with a real problem. If the Bible is the truth, why can’t we agree on how to interpret that truth? In short, I believe Bultmann is trying to justify the act of interpretation.

Bultmann seems to assume that human language is unreliable. According to Bultmann, the Bible was written using unreliable language drawn from the mythological worldview of the first century. This unreliability of language leads to the need for interpretation. Interpretation opens the possibility of differing interpretations. Differing interpretations of a text that claims truth lead to the differing visions of the truth itself. The existence of so many different interpretations of truth lead some to reject the concept of an absolute truth altogether.

Truth is relative to human experience, they say. Or “truth” is just another unreliable concept of human language.

Yet, every human feels the need to find meaning and truth. Christians claim the Bible reveals Truth. We just can’t agree on what Truth it reveals (and that, I argue, is the essential problem Bultmann wants to address). Because Christians can’t state Truth precisely, because we present such shifting views of Truth, non-Christians use our dissension to justify their claims that Truth is unstable at best or simply relative and personal.

Certainly, the Truth of the gospel is more about my personal relationship with Jesus than my academic relationship with the Biblical text. The Bible is just the most tangible part of my relationship with Jesus, but Bultmann claims the Bible is limited by the unreliability of language.

And yet, if we reject the Bible (in part or whole) as unreliable myth, what then do we rely on except the unreliability of human reason, the unreliability of human experience, or human motives, or emotion, or something else unreliable? And furthermore, if we reject the Bible as unreliable myth, why would we seek a personal relationship with Jesus at all if not for the Bible’s declaration that we should do so?

Of course, Bultmann does not believe a personal relationship with Jesus is possible–except in an academic and esoteric way that reduces the person of Jesus to something more like a metaphoric embodiment of his teachings.

We might choose to agree with Bultmann that human understanding is unreliable. (The claim is worth consideration, at least.) Christ himself demands we recognize our own unreliability. We cannot avoid sin. We cannot reach perfection ourselves. Instead, we must be made perfect.

To put it another way, mainstream Christians are unreliable in the way they read the Bible. Christians do not obey the entire Bible or treat it as literal truth. For example, 1 Corinthians 11 tells women to cover their heads. Yet few churches suggest women do this. Nor do we all greet each other with holy kisses, celebrate communion at every assembly, refrain from wearing jewelry, etc. Not only do we disregard many of the Bible’s commands–sometimes arguing that such cultural advice does not constitute a command–we do not even suggest that we should do these things. For whatever reason, these passages have been dismissed by the majority of churches as unreliable.

In many ways Bultmann’s statements about the mythology in the New Testament are the same as recent statements about the cultural bias in the New Testament. This argument often concludes Paul’s teaching about women are chauvinistic, for example. Yet both methods of thinking, whether the Bible is corrupted by mythology or cultural bias, lead to the problem of distinguishing God’s truth from human distortion.

Whatever our justification for deeming certain passages unreliably distorted, we must agree that Christians do treat certain passages of the Bible as if they are unreliable. Some passages contradict others. Some passages contain paradoxes. Other passages are just not clear. We see the Bible through a glass darkly, and the truth which comes to us is distorted by that dark glass.

The ambiguity of scripture gives purpose to theological study as men spend time trying to understand which parts of the Bible are useful for understanding God and which are not, which parts are applicable to daily life and which are not. In short, many theologians seek to decide which parts of the Bible are reliably true and which parts are not.

Yet our logic and argument can always and only take place within the confines of our own unreliable worldview and our unreliable language for describing that worldview. All this talk about unreliability only leads to another paradox1: we cannot even reliably say that language is unreliable.

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The Problem with Bultmann

This is part two of a five part series, Is the Bible a Myth?

Many elements of Bultmann must be rejected or else we risk fundamentally changing Christianity into something more like Unitarian Universalism. Although Bultmann claims the person of Jesus is not just another New Testament myth, that part of his argument is not particularly convincing. He claims that Jesus was merely the person in human history who revealed the broken relationship between God and humanity. Through Jesus, God clarified our complete separation from Himself and demanded that we accept a relationship with him as a gift given by grace.

This logic allows Jesus to be parallel to other philosophers like Buddha, Mohammed, etc. Bultmann claims Jesus alone provides the means for man’s salvation, but he never explains how Jesus does this except in pointing out our need for salvation. Certainly Jesus was not the only man to think humanity needed to be saved from itself. Nor was he the only man to die for his beliefs.

At his worst, Bultmann himself rejects the power of the Holy Spirit, claiming such possession by God can only be applicable in a mythological world of spirits, miracles, and heroes who are larger than life.

Even worse than Bultmann’s personal rejection of the Holy Spirit, though, is the direction his scholarship led others. The Jesus Seminar could be considered an example of the demythologization Bultmann proposed.

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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Monday, May 01, 2006


Summary of Bultmann

This is part one of a five part series, Is the Bible a Myth?

A few months ago, as part of my job as Research Editor, I began a study of Bultmann and "demythologization." Essentially, a Christian speaker stirred up some controversy by discussing the mythology of the Bible. I was asked to explain what she meant by the "demythologization" of the Bible.

Of course, I can't speak for this woman, but I did my best to summarize the idea of demythologization that started with a German theologian named Bultmann.

I'll post a series of thoughts about Bultmann beginning with this summary:

Not being a Bultmann scholar, I can only summarize what I have read of Bultmann so far–which is not nearly enough to justify a generalization. Nevertheless, being as egotistical as he is, I will presume to do so.

In my opinion, much of Bultmann is an attempt to explain “eschatological” thinking about the New Testament. Eschatology is the theological study of end times. Mirriam Webster explains it to be “any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment.” Specifically, Bultmann disagreed with a literal reading of Revelation. He would disregard books like Tim LeHayes’s Left Behind series as “mythological.” Bultmann traces the modern debate in eschatology to Johannes Weiss. According to Bultmann, Weiss argues “that the Kingdom of God is not immanent in the world and does not grow as part of the world’s history... God will suddenly put an end to the world and to history, and He will bring in a new world.”

As far as I can tell, Bultmann claims to reject these teachings because they place the Kingdom of God in the future. The Kingdom of God is not in the future according to Bultmann. Jesus is not coming again in a literal sense. Instead, in Kerygma and Myth Bultmann explains the second coming as way of using mythology to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion. He writes, “Christ is crucified ‘for us’, not in the sense of any theory of sacrifice or satisfaction. This interpretation of the cross as a permanent fact rather than a mythological event does far more justice to the redemptive significance of the event of the past than any of the traditional interpretations. In the last resort mythological language is only a medium for conveying the significance of the historical event. The historical event of the cross has, in the significance peculiar to it, created a new historic situation. The preaching of the cross as the event of redemption challenges all who hear it to appropriate this significance for themselves, to be willing to be crucified with Christ.”

Bultmann argues that first century mythology distracts modern thinkers from the truth of the gospel. He sees two primary problems with the “mythology of end times,” specifically.

First, theology that expects the literal end times of Revelation places the Kingdom of God out of our reach. According to Bultmann, the Kingdom of God, the power to be free from bondage to this world, is already fully attainable. The mythology of end times distracts Christians from the present gift of the Kingdom and denies Christians the full peace and joy of their faith.

Second, theological interpretations are a distraction that can never be resolved. I am interpreting Bultmann’s motives to some degree here, but I think he wants to unify theologians and the Church (and receive credit for the unification, no doubt). According to Bultmann, the New Testament only contains paradoxes when we try to take its mythology as truth.

Once Bultmann begins this process of “demytholigization,” he hopes to explain the kerygma (or preaching) of the New Testament in terms that the modern world will understand. The modern world has a scientific worldview, he says. The New Testament is written from the first century’s mythological worldview. The Church alienates non-Christians when it forces them to accept the first century mythology along with the timeless truth of the kerygma.

His logic goes like this. God is “wholly Other.” Our human minds cannot comprehend him because he is greater than we are and completely separate from us. Thus, any attempt to explain God, understand God, or relate to God is limited and distorted by human language and thought. Bultmann includes the scriptures as one such distortion. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and the rest could only describe God and the story of Jesus with the language and world view of the first century. They used such language to explain an approximation of God that would be understood by the people who shared their language and their mythological understanding of the world (including demons, spirits, miracles, heaven, hell, etc.)

According to Bultmann, the role of the church is to strip away these myths. Our society no longer believes in the possibility of miracles, he would say. Therefore to teach the miracles of the Bible is to force the people around us to understand God in terms of an archaic and irrelevant mythological worldview that we no longer accept in our daily lives. Instead, the church must identify places in the scripture where the first century worldview distorts the message of God. Once we recognize the distortions through a process Bultmann calls demythologization, the truth of God will be distilled—acceptable to modern man because no longer dependent upon an arbitrary acceptance of first century mythology.

HillCountryWriter Category: Church stuff
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