Emerging from the Food Coma

1. Since my MIL doesn’t travel well anymore, most of the family came to our place for Thanksgiving this year. We have a perfectly sized family room to accommodate the whole crew, and we had a lovely day together. I smoked one of our turkeys (now my favorite way to prepare it), and the other one we baked and then crock-potted. Both were delectable.

2. All the menu items turned out great (especially the Polish potatoes) except my feeble attempt to replicate “Cope’s Corn,” a dried corn that happens to be a local holiday favorite. Our stores couldn’t get any in stock this year because of the economy. So, I got regular corn and dehydrated it, but something didn’t work right in the re-hydration process, and I had to throw it out. C’est la vie. Maybe next year the cans will be back on the shelf. (The corn isn’t that great; it’s just a delivery system for butter and brown sugar. It’s also a childhood memory, so it’s a necessity at Thanksgiving.)

3. I had my annual sob-fest in the parking lot a few days ago as I was loading Thanksgiving groceries into the car. I didn’t even see it coming this year. It just hit me, yet again, that I am blessed while too many people in this world are still hungry. I had an overwhelming sense that the Spirit was saying to me, “Remember the poor.” That’s a mega-theme in Scripture, so clearly it’s something perpetually on the heart of God. It should be perpetually on our hearts, too.

4. In between meals and family laughs, I was able to work through all the primary sources containing Greek, Hebrew, or Syriac words for “veil” or “curtain,” the cultic tapestry separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jewish temple, which is the focus of my second dissertation. I successfully made it through the Babylonian Talmud, so ancient Jewish Apocalyptic is the last block of texts to consider. That’s where things get weird. It’s not unlike the book of Revelation, an odd (to us) genre of literature that has its own set of rules for interpretation. 

5. Here’s a lament from this former newshound: The mainstream media has become the journalistic equivalent of professional wrestling—mildly entertaining in the campiest of ways, but only people with severe learning disabilities take it seriously. There’s no greater source of misinformation, disinformation, and polarization in this country than CNN and MSNBC. They’re both contemptible organizations that need to whither on the vine and become utterly irrelevant. ABC, CBS, and NBC are close behind. The NYT is beyond redemption. The View is hell on earth. FOX is less annoying to my taste, but they don’t cut it straight, either. I spent a couple decades lamenting the growing bias and spin of the media, but that turned out to be a big waste of time and energy. Now I just mock them whenever I can. The Babylon Bee has the right approach. Make fun of them every single day. They deserve it. (O.k., rant over.)

6. My daughter is two centimeters and counting. If Samuel doesn’t arrive in the next several days, she’ll be induced on Wednesday. Question: How am I supposed to read the Infancy Narrative on Christmas Day this year with a newborn in the room? That’s just a puddle waiting to happen. 

7. My son is in final preparations for his appearance in the Reading Civic Theatre’s production of Grease (December 10-12). It’s a fun musical, and I may or may not have been an Olivia Newton-John fan as a teenager.

Have a great weekend, everyone. And welcome to Advent.

The Frost Killed My Zinnias (and Other Updates)

  1. 1. I started watching Chernobyl with my son. It’s a heartbreaking mini-series about the accident that took place in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. It was the worst disaster of its kind in terms of cost and casualties. The slow release of information (and misinformation) made it hard to know what was really going on. I was too young (or maybe too aloof) at the time to care, so this series has been a real eye opener. In three and a half decades, the mainstream media in this country have managed to surpass the wretchedness of the old Soviet propaganda machine. Three cheers, then,  for the internet—although this medium can feature its own heartbreaks from time to time. At least we can filter it out as needed.

2. I recently read that Tony nominee Andrea McArdle, who starred as Broadway’s original orphan Annie, has joined the cast of NBC’s Annie Live! I wasn’t enamored with that particular musical, but I was a major McArdle fan back in the day. She was amazing in Rainbow, where she played the incomparable Judy Garland in the star’s early years breaking into the entertainment industry. After hearing McArdle sing, “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” I became a fan for life. Maybe it was the mood I was in at the time, but it struck a chord. There’s a low-quality clip of it below, but it still illustrates “the little girl with a big voice.” I’m struck by the nuance and restraint she demonstrates in the piece, knowing she can belt with the best of them. McArdle will play the role of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the live musical, set to air on December 2 (SamJam’s anticipated birthday).

3. I dropped major hints to my MIL (via my daughter) about a gift book I’d love to read over Christmas break. It’s The Mystical Nature of Light: Divine Paradox of Creation by Avraham Arieh Trugman. I’ve always been tantalized by the ontology of light. What exactly is it—a wave or a particle? Physicists tell us it displays the properties of both; hence, the wave-particle duality of light theory. Science can take us little further than that. Relatedly, one can ask, “Is Jesus human (a particle) or divine (a wave)?” Scripture says he displays the properties of both. No wonder, then, he called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). If scientists can propagate their duality theory of light with impunity, theologians can have our hypostatic union without fear of any justified riposte. Moreover, Einstein showed us that waves and particles are related. I suspect that’s why ontology always breaks down at some point; this world is a relational word, created by a relational God. Things only exist in relation to other things. Interestingly enough, George Whitefield once said, “Jesus was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again.” Spot on. (Oh, that all the waves and particles in this world could relate to each other as they were meant to!)

4. They say that doctoral students start resenting their dissertation topics after a while. I’m not there yet, but I can understand the sentiment. I spent the day translating passages from the Mishnah, and tomorrow I need to make an attempt at translating a certain Syriac text. (I’m using the word “translate” very loosely here, as my Syriac is pretty dreadful.) It’s just the price of doing a deep dive on a single issue. The research is fun, but pulling it all together in an academic way is tedious and tiring. After it’s all finished, I’ll share some of my findings. I am blown away by the new things I’ve been learning.

5. My Thursday students loved our MBTI unit. Their favorite part—of all things—was the Jane Austen chart. They also appreciated how the instrument explains, to some extent, the different Christian spiritualities we find throughout the Body of Christ. (See below.) In the end, MBTI can be a helpful tool, but there’s more to who we are than these 16 categories. Tastebuds come to mind—but that’s another post. 🙂

  • The SP Temperament = “Artisan”
  • The SP Spirituality = “Franciscan”
  • The NT Temperament = “Rational”
  • The NT Spirituality = “Thomistic”
  • The SJ Temperament = “Guardian”
  • The SJ Spirituality = “Ignatian”
  • The NF Temperament = “Idealist”
  • The NJ Spirituality = “Augustinian”

6. The frost killed my zinnias. R.I.P., beautiful ones. See you next year—in another form. Hope springs eternal.

7. We’ll be singing a new (to us) worship song this Sunday, “King of Kings” by Brooke Ligertwood and Hillsong Worship. It’s rich and beautiful.

Random Thoughts the Day After

1. Proverbs 26:20a says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” The message is clear enough. You want to minimize contention? Then stop talking for a while. Our nation should try it. The last thing anyone needs right now is another opinion on social media, which can only become fuel for the dumpster fire that has become political discourse in our country. As such, I will say very little today. De-esclation is sorely needed after yesterday’s riot and storming of the U.S. capitol by protesters. There’s “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7b), and I will stay largely silent for right now.

2. What I will say is the obvious—what everyone should be able to say across the board without equivocation: I condemn violence and destruction in the attempted furtherance of any political agenda, whether it comes from the left or the right. I also condemn the hot, biased, and inflamed rhetoric of our corrupt media. They are as guilty as any politician or protester. Alas, I’m not optimistic that they will do any self-reflection in this crucial moment.

3. For now, I have said everything I wish to say about politics here. Additionally, Carey Nieuwhof has a good post here on “Why Your Words as a Leader Matter (Far More Than You Think).” There is some overlap there with the study I did on TNL called “Oh, My Word.”

4. One of the joys of teaching at the master and doctoral levels is the depth and quality of work from my students that I get to review on a regular basis. I’ve been fed and inspired by projects submitted for my courses in preaching, ecclesiology, semiotics, outreach, and Old Testament. The students really hit it out of the park this semester. I’m also looking forward to serving as a member of the dissertation committee for three Th.D. students over the coming months. Not only are their topics fascinating, their passion and scholarship are coming together in such a way that I get to be the beneficiary of their labors.

5. Is it “de-decorate” or “un-decorate”? I’m not sure, but the time has come. Epiphany Day has passed, although the season remains for a little while longer. Putting the Christmas decorations away has always made me a bit melancholy. And this year we can’t have our Epiphany party for the neighborhood because of the virus. (Even this introvert misses that special get together.) Were it not for the bright sky today, I’d probably be sitting in the sad seat. So, let’s hear it for the appearance of the sun! Time to go out and make my FitBit happy, not to mention my spirits.

6. One last thing for now. We’re finally singing “The Blessing” this Sunday at church. I’ve already written about that song in this space, and I’ll post it again soon as it will be new for most of the folks in our congregation. “May his favor be upon” each and every reader of TNL, especially now since my frequency of posting has to drop for a while. Ugh!

The Lord bless you and keep you
Make his face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn his face toward you
And give you peace

A Bonus—Just for Grins

My son and I had way too much fun with this comic. We’re not sure if the two guys are to be understood as skinheads, or if the bear is to be understood as a butt-head. Either way, it…uhm…cracked us up.

Image Credit: pexels.com

Random Thoughts from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Spent a lovely day at Wrightsville Beach today, reading and relaxing one last time before the next dissertation “push” consumes my life. The crisp, gentle breeze and bright sunshine made for a lovely outing. Here are some random ruminations with no rhyme or reason—just some nuggets that wafted in and out, sort of like the waves at my feet.

1.  Walking on the sand always reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham, “So shall your descendants be.” That metaphor was all around me today. He is faithful as far as the eye could see—and then beyond. I may have to do some stargazing tonight and celebrate the same truth (cf. Gen 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, etc.). Apparently there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand (roughly 7.5 x 1018 vs. 1 x 1022). Either way, the message is clear: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24).

2.  Scrunching my toes in the sand reminded me of those swimming training trips we used to take in college. Whether it was in Florida or St. Croix, our days consisted of triple sessions, with the middle block of agony featuring long runs on the beach. Running on the sand is a lot more difficult than running on hard surfaces. Those jaunts were grueling, and I don’t miss them. Then again, I do miss having chiseled calves.

3.  I also miss those days when the media were (mostly) honest and evenhanded. Indeed, there was a time when our national news outlets were content to be our eyes and ears on the events of the day. Now they try to be our brains, too, telling us what to think. No thank you. We can do that ourselves. Who do you think you are? You’ve done more to polarize our country than any politician. And now you’re playing censorship games to aid and abet certain candidates. This is a flagrant corruption of journalism. Knock it off.

4.  The undulating waves reminded me of Enya’s song, “The Humming,” a clever musical reflection on the cycles of the universe. The ending (“Then all of this begins again”) makes me think of the references to nature in Ecclesiastes chapter 1. There’s a rhythm to the cosmos. A pulse. And, more importantly, a story. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” said King David. As Max Lucado put it, “Nature is God’s first missionary.”

5.  I started re-reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, which is a good and necessary corrective to those branches of the faith that have been so modernized as to be devoid of anything supernatural. Kudos to him for helping the church rediscover, as Hamlet put it, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

6.  I polished off a bag of Mint Milanos, my favorite non-homemade cookie. I mentioned that fact in class two weeks ago—just in passing—and this past week a bag magically appeared in my classroom. How kind of that particular student. (She’s an auditor, so there’s no possibility of grade inflation in this case!) And how kind of the Lord to give us taste buds, especially when flavors like chocolate and mint can swirl together inside a cookie. And then inside my mouth.

7.  Speaking of cookies, it’s probably time to mortify the flesh a bit. Chiseled calves don’t come easily. Likewise, I should probably finish my Alias binge this weekend, too. Dissertations don’t write themselves. The road ahead is long and lonely. I trust it will also be rewarding.

Enjoy the journey!