“No Lives Matter” at the Missouri State Penitentiary

Ah, summer time, when on-break academic types travel to see family and the decrepit relics of a once-flourishing Midwest. After seeing billboards for the Missouri State Penitentiary Tour one too many times along our travels to and from St. Louis, we broke down and paid our twelve dollars to visit, for whatever reason, this site of tremendous human misery.


 

An active prison from its completion in the 1830s until, astoundingly, 2004, the labyrinthine Missouri State Penitentiary once housed a maximum of 5,300 prisoners at once, according to our nice, sweet tour guide, himself a former long-serving guard at the prison. In his telling, thousands of prisoners died at the Missouri State Penitentiary over its 168-year lifetime, 40 of whom were executed in its gas chambers.

(Incidentally, the MSP gift shop proudly sells a set of 40 postcards commemorating its history of gruesome capital executions. Eight bucks.)

Quite a bit bothered me about this all-white (1), no-need-to-acknowledge-contributions-to-and-complicity-with-historical-injustices tour (2), perhaps more than I’m able to put into words. In light of this, this blog post iis not intended to be a thorough review or critique of the prison tour, but rather more of a stream-of-consciousness commentary approximating my feelings and thoughts from my two-hour stay in its terrifying walls.

  1. To be perfectly honest, a black woman and her daughter showed up at some point after the tour had officially begun, but left just after it was half over. I can’t be certain why this was the case, but the tour guide did acknowledge that we were sitting in the MSP’s all-black barracks shortly before they left. If this was not the reason, perhaps it was a realization that the tour was essentially a whitewash—in the sense of skin color, an event meant to be interesting/palatable for us and not for anyone else, as well as in the sense of a non-acknowledgement of wrongs, essentially a two-hour stream of quasi-governmental braggadocio about  its accomplishments.
  2. The tour guide approached, but stopped short of outright criticism, several times. One example that comes to mind was when he recounted a man’s 17-year stay in the “dungeon” of the prison after the warden believed he started a major fire, ostensibly as a distraction that would allow for a mass prison revolt and escape. “That used to make a man crazy,” he said; emphasis on the “used to” portion of the quote mine. There was no acknowledgement that people are still held in solitary confinement for cruel and unusual lengths of time these days, with one example being a man by the name of Shaka Senghor. (Shaka spent seven years in solitary confinment as part of a 19-year sentence for murder.) I came across Shaka’s story in a recent Democracy Now! program on the efforts toward prison reform that have created strange bedfellows, from himself and liberal activist/writer Van Jones to the Koch Brothers. Of course, I highly recommend the program, which can be downloaded as a podcast as well.

 

 
Our tour guide showed us photos on posterboard from as far back as the 1870s inside the prison, with prisoners standing in line waiting to go from station to station inside their caged existence: barracks to yard, yard to mess hall, mess hall to showers, showers to barracks—wash, rinse, repeat. In a moment that either showed his hand or was meant to be a critique of poor record-keeping habits, he told us that no one knew the names of this man or that man in line; it was as if they didn’t even matter.

In the Missouri State Penitentiary, no lives matter. On top of this, were they even human? He repeated his mantra over and over again that outside the walls of the prison, we have our world. “We call it society,” he said. Inside the prison, they have their own world. They’re not like you and me. He recalled being the go-to mentor for new prison guards, and he would tell them, “You can’t trust them. They’re not like you.” They’re not human, essentially.

Our prison system is currently overtaxed and overrun, full of both violent criminals who should be locked up for life (or suitable terms to fit their crimes) and people who sold or turned to drugs and were hit with mandatory minimums and other drug war-era overreaches of an insidious and often racist nature. Obviously, there is not a binary that fits all persons presently in prison, but I mean to emphasize the problems of our prison system encapsulated by one statistic: the United States comprises five percent of the world’s human population, but somehow can claim twenty-five percent of the world’s overall prison population. We have a serious over-incarceration problem—one that the Missouri State Penitentiary certainly contributed to, having previously housed abolitionists who freed slaves and anti-war activists who ran afoul of the Espionage Act—but on this tour, nothing of this over-incarceration problem existed.


 
Through a recent tour live-tweeted by activist Deray McKesson, I became aware of the Whitney Plantation in rural Louisiana. Formerly known as “Habitation Haydel,” the Whitney Plantation has been transformed into a living museum of the history of enslavement. To the best of its founders’ abilities, they have tried to recover the names of all slaves who worked on the plantation during its history, and to transmit, in whatever terms possible, the manner of life lived by them. I’ve not been on this tour, obviously, but hope to someday.

The Children of Whitney by Woodrow Nash

A post shared by Whitney Plantation (@whitneyplantation) on

 

Given the example of the Whitney Plantation, and the historical (and ongoing!) injustices in our prison system, the Missouri State Penitentiary tour could’ve been so much better. One wonders how long it might take for universal acknowledgement of penitential wrongs, however. It’s much harder to see and name injustice when we’re living through it and perpetuating it, whether through outright complicity or passive cognitive support.

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Post Script. I might not have written any of this had the tour guide not ticked the last box of fanatical hasbara (a.k.a. “explanation,” a.k.a. pro-Israel propaganda). In the midst of emphasizing, in English, not to close any prison cell doors behind us after entering several times, the tour guide believed that there might have been someone among us fifty or so white people who didn’t understand him. (By this point, the black mother and daughter had left the tour.) “Is anyone here Al Qaeda? Taliban? Hamas?” he asked. “I’ll give it to you in Arabic!” He proceeded to speak in a Semitic-sounding language, but as I don’t speak Arabic, I of course can’t confirm if it was authentic or jibberish. I wasn’t aware Hamas had aided or abetted attacks on the United States. They haven’t, of course: lately, anyway, they’re usually busy responding to Israeli aggression against Gaza, as Max Blumenthal laid out so brilliantly in his recent “The 51-Day War.”

Benjamin Netanyahu predicted the sentiment espoused by our tour guide just after the twin towers came down, calling the acts of terror “very good” for Israel, which would henceforth be able to sell its struggle against militant Palestinian factions opposing its apartheid occupation as an analogous struggle to that which the United States would eventually embark upon.

It’s a special relationship. Very good for Israel, indeed.

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Finally, I don’t know where exactly to put this, but here’s a cross on the way to the Missouri State Penitentiary’s gas chamber.

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9/11 + 10: Today, I Heard the Worst Sermon of My Life

Well, to be honest, today’s message wasn’t all that different from numerous others I’ve heard in church. Nothing said was doctrinally wrong or unsound (not that I am especially concerned with those things). The message wasn’t explicitly hateful or exclusionary.

Actually, based on that fact alone, I’ll even concede that the totality of the message wasn’t as rotten or devoid of the gospel as others I’ve sat through recently. Rather, it was more about what wasn’t said.

And an opportunity lost.

Today’s service began with many in the congregation delivering impromptu testimonies in remembrance of 9/11, including one from a Ground Zero responder who helped to pull bodies from the rubble. Then, the message was about being agents of grace. You and I personally, that is.

And I affirm that message, don’t get me wrong.

The problem is, it’s a message I hear frequently in church. Twice a month, perhaps. It’s an “anyday” message.

And today isn’t just any day.

If it was, we wouldn’t have spent over a half-hour listening to people relive and remember the terror we all felt on 9/11 – the tremendous loss of life, the sense of security that disappeared instantaneously, the confusion about what just happened, the fear for our loved ones who might’ve been in danger, the anger at seeing video of people in the Middle East dancing in the streets after our misfortune, and many other emotions that we will not soon forget.

We’re willing to relive the horror of that very day one decade ago, but we apparently aren’t willing to ask what, if anything, we’ve learned in the years that follow. That’s the message that needs to be said to the whole country, but it needs to begin in church.

Could we, the Church, have responded differently?

  • Could we have prayed for our enemies?
  • Could we have “supported our troops” without supporting a foreign policy of quick-triggered military interventionism?
  • Could we have urged forgiveness instead of retaliation?
  • Could we have preached radical and transcendent peace, rather than being complicit in (and sometimes rubber-stamping) the state’s drumbeat for war?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is Yes, we could’ve, will we do so the next time peace and patience and forgiveness are called for?

At any point in the decade after 9/11, could we have awakened and remembered that there was a time when the church, because of those things we proclaim about Jesus and his message, would openly disagree with the destructive policy of the ruling authorities?

Could we begin to do that today?

Becoming agents of grace in our own lives is important. It speaks to an overall orientation toward the macro-level, big picture things that God desires of his kingdom — living individually in a correct manner, loving all persons, being communally oriented, standing up for righteousness, and conspiring for radical peace.

But on some occasions, a slightly different message is called for.

The gospels are all in agreement that John the baptizer served as a forerunner to Jesus. Matthew’s account says it this way:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV

Implied in this simple message is that kingdom-orientation requires, assumes, presupposes, or is otherwise improved by first repenting.

The Greek language thought of “repentance” in a much different way than we do. My esteemed professor Fred Shively explains it this way: he grew up believing that repentance was feeling sorry about all the bad things he’d done. More or less, we were all probably taught something similar to this. But for the Greeks, repentance was a compound word meaning “change of mind.”

μετανοία (metanoia) = “change of mind,” translated as repentance
μετα (meta), meaning “change of/in” + νοία (noia), a form of νόημα (noema), meaning “mind”

“Repentance” is an ambiguous, if not outright poor, translation of the word, if you ask me.

If we’re honestly seeking an orientation toward the kingdom-life, we must collectively change our minds about supporting the state’s war machine, whether explicitly or implicitly, by changing the words that we’ve spoken in the past or the words that we’ve kept to ourselves. The kingdom of God is compatible with neither guns and bombs nor the quick trigger to use them.

Today’s sermon included a reminder about St. Paul’s Chapel, an episcopalian church at the feet of the World Trade Center towers that survived their collapse with nary a scratch. Though this particular church served as an important relief center in the hours, days and weeks after 9/11, the message was that the church still stood after that fateful day.

But I’m wondering if the Church will now stand for something.

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PostScript

As much as was humanly possible, I attempted to keep politics out of my message, which is church-oriented by nature. I rather think I succeeded in doing so, for the most part. But where matters of policy are involved, it’s hard to keep politics out of it completely. So I’ll let Judge Napolitano of Fox Business’ “Freedom Watch” speak for me. This video is golden, and I am in agreement with virtually everything he says.

 

Thoughts on the Modern Self-Identity of the Church of God Movement

My class for Church of God History frequently requires assignments similar to those you may have seen me post for Old Testament class. While I will not be posting every one of these assignments, I will select those that I regard as interesting, worthwhile or enjoyable for posting on the blog. In particular, the prompt for this assignment (dated February 23) included an evaluation of the Church of God’s modern self-identity. This may or may not be interesting to you 🙂

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PROMPT: At the heart of the discussion of the Reformation Consciousness is the issue of self-identity. Describe and illustrate what you see as the self-identity of the Church of God today.

Expressing self-identity for an individual is usually a simple affair, often merely requiring an interview or two with the party at hand. Nailing down the self-identity of an entire religious movement with many thousands of adherent-members is a substantially more difficult proposition, given that their collective understanding is constantly developing, somewhat nebulous in nature, and in all likelihood quite different from congregation to congregation. Therefore, while I will attempt in this response to describe and illustrate the current state of the Church of God’s self-identity, I am aware that the well-attested and generally preferred lack of movement-wide cohesion signifies that its self-identity has become essentially experiential. In seeking to identify a present self-understanding, I will first compare the modern Church of God’s climate to the basic theological presuppositions first offered by John W.V. Smith before analyzing emerging ideas affecting recent and present self-identity mores. After delineating these two sources, it will be possible to make personal conclusions regarding the self-identity of the modern Church of God.

The self-understanding of the early Church of God movement stemmed from four basic theological presuppositions, including the foundational nature of the Bible, the essentially experiential nature of religion, a New Testament mission of the apostolic church, and participation in a divine destiny. While I believe that the Church of God adheres to each of these four ideas today, it is necessary to explain some subtleties that currently exist. First, the movement continues to share the belief that the Bible lays the foundational bedrock for ecclesial life. However, if we were to take a tour around the movement, from conservative Ohio and Michigan congregations to the Pacific Northwest and to Anderson University itself, we would hear substantially different claims regarding topics like inerrancy, inspiration, authority, and the like. Certainly, as Henry C. Wickersham expressed before the turn of the 20th century, some nuance has always existed in the movement’s interpretation of the Bible,[1] but the Church of God’s pastors, teachers and even laypersons are more exegetically advanced today. Second, the experiential nature of the church remains in some cases, as in the sharing of testimonies at the time of baptism. But for the most part, expressing the facts of personal faith that make us unique is considered less preferable the espousing that in and of which we all find meaning and claim ownership. Third, while most within the movement would nod in agreement regarding the New Testament mission of the church (one, holy, catholic, apostolic), significantly fewer people would specifically claim attachment with the New Testament church vision, which it seems our congregations are grasping less and less in the hunt to revamp worship, church services and communal practices. Finally, our shared participation in a divine destiny has all but lost its apocalyptic nature, instead lying dormant in expectation of the second coming of Christ. We view ourselves less and less as the last bastion of religious wisdom and sectarian detachment, and are much more apt to recognize truth in denominations and the Christian walks of other brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile, over a century of experience has fueled the Church of God to face new challenges and develop fresh movement-wide foci. As a movement, for example, I recognize a distinct willingness to portray the availability of Christ to all peoples, and more importantly, the available opportunity within the church for all peoples. While this may be considered a throwback to the practices to the early Church of God, embarrassing episodes of passive discrimination have driven the movement to strive for diversity in congregational life and in worship. This manifests itself within the movement as reconciliation-mindedness and a global orientation for missions, and closer to home, as an emphasis on opening the doors to women and other minority groups in ministry. Second, the early church of God’s emphasis on “saving souls” has given way, appropriately, to leading men and women to discipleship. I am hearing less chatter regarding theological concepts such as justification and sanctification and more talk about growing in relationship with Christ and relating the life of faith to practical use in society. Perhaps this is an outgrowth of the modern pastoral pattern that places less significance on traveling evangelistic companies, but regardless, the Christian life in the Church of God is less of a singular identifiable experience and more of leading a life worthy of the calling placed on our hearts.

Third, the Church of God is currently toeing a tightrope between continued cultural relevancy and the history of the movement. Though some may choose to identify this as a garden-variety generational and liturgical gap in the church, I see glimpses of the emergent church peeking into some Church of God practices. At the same time, multi-generational Church of God members and other conservative congregations tend to long for a return to the movement’s past beliefs. Will the Church of God become a torchbearer for the liberal Christian church? Will it allow deep exegetical and analytical truths to impact belief and worship? Will the Church of God remain culturally relevant? Finally, for better or for worse, our self-understanding possesses an infatuation with remaining a movement and eschewing all hints of denominationalism. As I read excerpted quotes from Leith Anderson’s 1996 report to the Church of God Leadership Council, I could not help but feel the conclusion remains just as appropriate today: “There is a very strong desire to be described and identified as a movement and not a denomination. However, the Church of God retains few characteristics of a movement and many characteristics of an aging denomination.”[2] As important as it may be to remain true to foundational principles, the Church of God should not be so anchored within a particular belief about its structure that it openly contests and denies what has been constructed over the years while honestly seeking to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. However, that self-understanding remains at a crossroads, and the stoplight could turn green any minute now.

As the Church of God has found, and will continue to discover, the arrival at a crossroads was not unique to 1880, 1980, or 2000. Rather, it is continual; it will repeat. The movement’s modern self-identity, rooted as it may be in the basic theological presuppositions of the early Church of God, will always be driven by the challenges that appear in the developing religious and social landscape, and will constantly be open for interpretation and evaluation by the diverse member-adherents in its churches. Thus, it can be said that we face new issues in the spotlight of our past, but with an orientation toward the future. The Bible remains our foundation, and the New Testament church our guide, but going into the future, our language has changed and our discernment of the life of faith is enriched.


[1] John W. V. Smith and Merle D. Strege, The Quest for Holiness & Unity, 2nd ed. (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 2009), 83.

[2] Barry L. Callen, ed., Following the Light (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 2000), 34-35.

Jeremiah 36 and the Prophetic Process

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of March 7. Enjoy!

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The thirty-sixth chapter of Jeremiah stands out as somewhat of an oddity in which readers are afforded a glimpse into the nitty-gritty of the prophetic process and the subsequent royal response. Chronological order has been disrupted in this middle section of Jeremiah: several chapters dealing with the reign of Zedekiah, Judah’s final king, are followed by this flashback to the days of Jehoiakim. First, although Yahweh appears to order Jeremiah to write a scroll (Jer 36:2), the prophet immediately chooses to dictate to Baruch, his scribe and assistant (Jer 36:4). I view this as an example of prophetic freedom, in which Jeremiah receives the word of Yahweh and is allowed to make key decisions about the development of the message. Yahweh furthermore permits dissemination on Jeremiah’s terms, as when the prophet chooses to have the scroll read aloud from a balcony on the event of a fast (Jer 36:10). Additionally, Jeremiah must have been granted the liberty to present Yahweh’s message in a certain manner, choosing from the many words that Yahweh spoke to him to that point. Perhaps the scroll contained some combination of the first 22 chapters of our present book of Jeremiah, including the metaphors of the linen loincloth and the potter and the clay in addition to harsh words of judgment.

Whatever the scroll may have said, we note that the message was shocking enough that Micaiah and Jehudi combined to request additional readings of the scroll (Jer 36:11-14), and eventually they question Baruch on the manner in which the scroll came to be written. The responses of Jehoiakim and his officials stand out against those of Micaiah and Jehudi, however. The king and his men elect to “play it cool,” calmly destroying the scroll piece by piece in a manner tantamount to choosing whom they will serve (Jo 24:15). Victor H. Matthews notes that none of the king’s men tears their clothes in grief, instead shearing Baruch’s scroll to “remain faithful to its covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, even if it means that it has abrogated its treaty with Yahweh.”[1] Pamela J. Scalise draws attention to the distinctive contrast between the fire that Jehoiakim uses to consume the scroll of Baruch and the eventual “conflagration of judgment that would destroy the nation and his royal line.”[2]

With key elements of the pericope illuminated, we can now tackle the thorny questions of authorship and motive for this chapter. While some scholars insist that the canonical chapter originate with Jeremiah or Baruch, they are unable to properly account for the phenomenon of third person voice that permeates every mention of the prophet and his scribe. Moreover, the story is full of what appear to be eyewitness accounts, parts of which we tacitly understand that either Jeremiah or Baruch would have been absent. Yair Hoffman opts instead for authorship by the biblically ubiquitous “anonymous omniscient teller.”[3] Furthermore, the form of the chapter deviates from most other biblical narratives given its “abundance of technical, administrative and factual data,” including names, places and dates, that would be more characteristic of “a kind of legal or official document, an accurate testimony.”[4] What, then, is the motive perpetuated by Jeremiah 36? Its literary elements serve to indict Jehoiakim, but Hoffman suggests that this is merely secondary to the intention of the author of the chapter, whom he views as the editor of our most basic form of Jeremiah. He suggests, “The author of the story wanted to validate his scroll and to substantiate his own editorial considerations. In order to achieve these purposes, he hitched his wagon to two stars: Jeremiah, and his faithful disciple and scribe, Baruch.”[5]


[1] Victor H. Matthews, Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 124.

[2] Pamela J. Scalise, “Scrolling through Jeremiah: Written Documents as a Reader’s Guide to the Book of Jeremiah,” Review and Expositor 101, no. 2 (Spring 2004), 216.

[3] Yair Hoffman, “Aetiology, Redaction and Historicity in Jeremiah XXXVI,” Vetus Testamentum 46, no. 2 (April 1996), 181. Hoffman regards the scroll, rather than Jeremiah or Baruch, as the chief protagonist of chapter 36.

[4] Ibid., 183.

[5] Ibid., 189.

My Old Testament-Style “Prophetic Message”

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 28. Enjoy!

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FIRST, a special note about this week’s reflection paper. I wrote in the traditional prophetic style, applying themes that are common through the prophets. Many of them are referenced below. Don’t crucify me, dear readers: I know full well what Jeremiah says about false prophets. I’m not actually claiming divine inspiration or prophetic status here. Thanks!

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Immersed this week in three minor prophets of the late seventh century, I became interested in what seems like the redundancy of the prophetic word. But for all of the repeated messages and allusions, the people of Judah were unable to respond to Yahweh’s incessant call to save their nation. While the American Christian church is not threatened by a military foe like Babylon, the second chapter of Habakkuk saddened me for the state of our empire that, while proclaiming liberty and freedom, equally oppresses the people of the world and obfuscates the life of faith. What follows is my reflection on the prophets we have studied thus far in the semester, and an application of their messages I believe to be relevant to the modern church.

The word of Yahweh that came to Rob Heaton Ben-Donald of St. Louis in the third year of President Obama:

My chosen people, my royal priesthood, says Yahweh,
they have fallen far from me,
they no longer can see me.

I have raised this people to bring blessing to a troubled world,
but they have learned nothing from the demise of Israel,
and even less from the fall of Judah.

Every desire of my heart, says Yahweh,
is to rejoice over them with gladness,
to renew them in my love (Zep 3:17).

Are they interested in that?
Will they be a people who seek truth?
Can they follow the example of radical inclusiveness?
Can they be a light unto the world,
that I may once again shine through it and take delight in my creation?
They,

Who are impressed when they erect magnificent buildings,
Thinking their height brings them closer to me,
Or that their great volume can better accommodate my glory.

Who wave their national flag boisterously,
And with incessant pride applaud their warriors,
When such exuberance should be reserved only for me.

Who trounce the globe holding the rifle with two hands,
Relegating the good news to their day-pack.
Bullets and bombs are their chief exports,
Bibles are far behind.
In which does their trust lie?

Who obsess over the size of their savings,
Building their nests on high,
Hoarding their lives from the Lord,
Safe from the reach of harm (Hb 2:9).
To what benefit is their accumulation when but bones they will become?

Who burden the world with a particular set of beliefs,
Their dogmatic assent to this or that
Overshadows applying the life of faith.

Who continually divide themselves among doctrinal lines,
Striving to prove to themselves that they are more right
than their brother.

Who stand by idly while my people are oppressed in their midst;
Why would they dirty their hands with the problems of their world,
Of the homeless man, of the battered woman, or of the orphaned child,
When they have grasped eternal life,
When their salvation has surely been reached?

Who vow to dedicate their entire lives to knowing me,
Yet gladly settle for lesser versions of my truth.
“I hate, I despise” their worship ceremonies;
I take no delight if they cannot express belief with their lives.
My ears are turned from the noise of their mouths (Am 5:21 NRSV, 23).

Who claim to know my word, yet care not what it says,
And even less, why it says.
In pursuit of relationship with me, they lose sight of my story, says Yahweh.

Who selectively ostracize their neighbors based on sin and perceived sin;
So easily they forget where they came from,
The people they once were.

If they really believed that the kingdom of God was at hand,
Wouldn’t I be able to see it in their lives?
For the life of faith is not about rules and regulations to follow,
But rather me to follow, says Yahweh.

For, “what does Yahweh require of [his people]
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with [their] God?” (Mi 6:8 NRSV)

In past days I have raised up other nations to destroy this people, but no longer.
For they have proven perfectly capable of destroying themselves,
Of detaching from me, of forgetting their mission,
Of becoming worthless (2 Kgs 17:15).

But I, Yahweh Adonai, “a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in hesed and faithfulness,
keeping hesed for the thousandth generation” (Ex 34:6-7 NRSV),
I do not change.

In love, I shall continue to pursue my people.
Who knows? They may repent and change their lives;
they may turn from their staunch individualism and their cheapened faith,
so that they may live evermore for me (Jon 3:9).

REPOST: A fascinating thought on “women in pastoral ministry…” (via Soul Renovatus)

Holy Scriptures! I have worked with Mike at a couple of Group Workcamps over the last 5 or 6 years. He’s working on an M.Div in Youth Ministry in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he recently shared this thought-provoking post that touches on everything we do as the church and as followers of Jesus if we really believe that God’s kingdom has arrived. It’s worth your five minutes, for sure!

I’ve been reading an evangelical ecclesiology (how you understand “church”) book, and ran across a small section about women in the community of the church.

In the seminary I attend, although we accept women openly in pastoral studies, I think the way they are treated in the classrooms and community is an uphill battle most of time.

To be frank, I am supportive of women as pastors.  I will have to tell that story sometime in another post.

However, in this book, Exploring Ecclesiology, Harper and Metzger present a great argument for women in pastoral ministry (don’t know if they intend to or not, but it’s good nonetheless).  It’s an argument that I’ve never considered before, and it’s beautiful.

Read More

via Soul Renovatus

On the Inspiration of Jesus and the Prescriptive Nature of Isaiah

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of February 21. Enjoy!

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In reading the New Testament, one indirectly reads a lot of Isaiah. Though detached some 800 years from the life of the historical Isaiah, the four evangelists make numerous Isaianic connections to the life, death and message of Jesus. In doing so, these early Christian writers are merely continuing a tradition that manifests itself in the latter half of our canonical book of Isaiah, when the prophet’s original message was found to have new meanings for a nation threatened by Babylon and a people returned from exile.[1] For better or for worse, Matthew’s birth narrative identifies Jesus with a young woman whose child will be named “God with us,” or Emmanuel. Furthermore, the Christian claims to Isaiah 53 require no superfluous introduction. It is no wonder that this Isaianic legacy of Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν leads Gordon McConville to devote a large sidebar to the question of whether prophecy is predictive.[2]

Meanwhile, I am developing this reflection paper under the guise that Isaiah’s prophecies are better understood as prescriptive. In other words, was Jesus’ awareness of the full body of Isaiah something of a roadmap for his ministry? Even if one doubts the scene in the Nazarene synagogue wherein Jesus was said to read from the scroll of Isaiah (Lk 4:16-20), as many scholars do, one cannot deny that his ministry drew special inspiration from Isaiah. For example, Jesus’ unique devotion to the cause of the poor evokes Isaiah’s description of the “shoot” of Jesse: “He shall not judge by what his eyes see . . . but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:3-4 NRSV).

Moreover, Jesus’ Isaianic orientation may have even borrowed and adapted thematic elements for his signature parable form. Isaiah sings of a vineyard that produces wild grapes (Is 5:1-7), while Jesus tells of a vineyard that received new laborers as the day progressed (Mt 20:1-16). Whereas Isaiah’s vineyard represented the house of Israel, Jesus develops a portrait of the vineyard as an instrument for the kingdom of heaven, which is buttressed by a second Matthean vineyard parable, that of the wicked tenants (Mt 28:33-41). A simple matter of collecting the harvest gives way to murder, and the vineyard is unproductive in a manner that Steve Moyise suggests would, without pause, “suggest to a Jewish audience the allegory of Is 5.”[3] Another parable true to the theme of Isaiah’s vineyard is that of the barren fig tree (Lk 13:6-9). In both cases, the owner of the plant expects it to follow the natural order and yield proper fruit, and furthermore, a condemnation against Israel is implied, given that “the fig tree is a common sign of divine blessings in Jewish lore.”[4] As Moyise explains, “the reason Jesus introduces the fig tree is because it concentrates the divine judgment in one single act. Is 5 describes the destruction of the vineyard in a series of actions . . . but cutting down a fig tree is swift and decisive.”[5]

We can scarcely doubt that the book of Isaiah inspired its first generation of hearers and even continues to do so today; consider that Isaiah 11 is read aloud in modern Israeli synagogues both during Passover and on Yom Ha’atsmaut, the country’s Independence Day.[6] It is no stretch of the imagination, therefore, that Jesus’ own ministry, and indeed, his self-understanding, were prescribed and informed by themes of a peaceful kingdom, the coming judgment, the suffering servant, the gathering of nations, and a “Wonderful Counselor” (Is 9:6 NRSV), all of which are developed in Isaiah.


[1] J. Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, vol. 4 of Exploring the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 4.

[2] Ibid., 8-9.

[3] Steve Moyise, “Jesus and Isaiah,” Neotestimenica 43, no. 2 (2009), 253.

[4] Robert W. Funk, Bernard Brandon Scott, and James R. Butts, The Parables of Jesus: Red Letter Edition (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988), 60.

[5] Moyise, 254-255.

[6] Christopher Leighton and Adam Gregerman, “Between Text & Sermon: Isaiah 11:1-11,” Interpretation 64, no. 3 (July 2010), 287.