Transformation

scribe.2 This is from a talk given to a chaplains group.

Romans 12:2:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Since no one has used this verse, I thought I would!  The verse talks about transformation through the life of the mind.  Or maybe it is better to say the new life of the mind.  For this verse follows the previous which references the mercies of God.  We are not talking the power of positive thinking, or a mental exercise, but how God goes about making us over into the image of Christ.

I’d to talk about this with a few stories of how words can be transformative.

In high school I was not in the popular group, we called them “soshes”.  I was not in the smoker group, the shop guys or the jocks.  I was in a group of guys who ate lunch together every day at the same table in the cafeteria.  We did not really do anything all that well except to insult each other. This is a rather common form of male humor.  The point of which is not to be left without a response but to answer every sharp word-strike with a counter blow.  I was pretty good at this.

All this time I was coming to terms with my faith.  It was when I was a junior in high school that I prayed the prayer. I was at a Christian conference in Seattle, and while walking through he hallways of the basketball arena, I tried to imagined a conversation with Jesus.  The thing that struck me was that I had nothing to say – Nothing at all.   Something was wrong.  The speaker gave an invitation to receive Christ.  I took the chance.

Shortly after that I was reading in the book of Proverbs.  I came to this verse Proverbs 10:11:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence

Bam!  The verse, more or less, reached out and slapped me across the face.

I realized that my mouth was a fountain of insults, not of life.  So things started to change for my last year of high school. I discovered that I had been friends with these guys for years but did not know anything about them – one guy wanted to go into social work, another wanted to be a radio announcer.  When I quit insulting them I came to see them as pretty interesting guys

The next year I was at the U of Washington and involved with Inter Varsity.  At a conference we were supposed to use a paper bag to talk about what is the difference between what is on the inside and the outside.   From years of insults  I had learned to keep anything very important tucked deeply inside.  As I recall the speaker was making a point from the Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitude which says: Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The idea here is not so much spotlessness, but that the out ward and the inward correspond.  Blessed are those who are truly who they are on the inside and outside, who do not pretend to be something. This verse was added to the one before.

The book of James that has a lot to say about the tongue.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The tongue has power, would I use mine for good or evil?

Now that I work along truck drivers and construction workers, I see the pattern of communication that I was very much a part of back in high school.   I hope that by a few well spoken words, some of that also might be transformed.

A few years ago I began to get interested in Wisdom Literature in the Bible – these are books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job as well as certain literary forms such as parables and proverbs.  I came across the passage in Proverbs 6 that talks about adultery.  It dies not quote the 7th commandment.  It paints a work picture: Pv 6:27

Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?

Wisdom Literature is like the music of revelation in another key signature. It does not work so much from commands, but with comparisons.  It observes and puts things side by side for us to notice. The interesting thing is that it can get to some places where the Ten Commandments might not be well received – such as Progressive Madison.  These words tell us that playing around sexually is playing with fire.  These are a lot like James’ point that words themselves are playing with fire.

I believe in the transformative power of words.  Not a flood of them.  Not the same words for every audience.  But in terms of another proverbs, words that are well crafted to the situation:  Proverbs 25:11

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

In our work we often only get a few words to share. I believe that these can be transformative, because I believe in the power of the word.

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Episodic Proverbs and a Cup of Coffee

coffee.pour

The one liner proverbs in life and from the Bible seem to lie dormant until a situation brings them to life.  I thought of this while studying some proverbs on how to listen and how to speak regarding the news.

This week there is a kerfuffle about Starbucks red cups.  someone somewhere declared that Starbucks made war on Christmas.  Now this is clicking all over social media.  In a week or a month this will pass.  No one will remember except that some religious folk are prone to goofiness.

Let me suggest this: read and think before you click, like, forward, paste and otherwise multiply this sort of thing.  Here is a proverb that applies:

The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him. 

Proverbs 18:17

The news reader should always check the source, and even listen to another point of view. If you only listen to the news you agree with, don’t you wonder if you are getting the truth?  Listen to who who don’t agree and you may get a better sense of the issue.

About 20 years ago, a man become famous in my city by suggesting that a building burning down was God’s judgment on a particular kind of behavior that was associated with that location.  This kind of overstatement occurs around social issues and political campaigns.  It was an overstatement; who can tell us the mind of God in a situation?

In  a political year some prosper by division – their guiding proverb is “divide and conquer.”  Others simply don’t care if their claims are true or helpful.  A biblical proverb that applies here is:

Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.

Proverbs 29:8

As a teenager my clan rejoiced in well placed insults.  That continued until I read this proverb which jumped out of the book and slapped my upside the head:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Proverbs 10:11

Violence seems strong.  Words are not supposed to hurt, like sticks and stones.  Yet words can do violence to a community, to good will, to the chance of getting a hearing in the larger public, to friendships, to reputations and to friendships.  The righteous produce words that give life, like a fountain of fresh water.

fountain

Scholars Compass – Wisdom Literature

306px-Wisdom_-_Google_Art_Project-191x300 I recently posted three pieces in an online devotional called Scholars Compass, which is part of the Emerging Scholars Network with IVCF.

Post 1 – How I Discovered Wisdom Literature

Post 2 – How I Fell in Love with the Library

Post 3 – How Wisdom Calls Out in the Streets

A Proverb is like a Punchline

carlin

 

One scholar said that a proverb is like the punch line of a joke where the rest of the joke is missing.  So you have to think of what kind of story fits the punch line.

Here is a punch line:  “Pastor Dave’s feels longer.”

That does not make a lot of sense.  But when it comes after the first part of the joke it does.

 

Q: Which is longer, a World Cup game or Pastor Dave’s sermon?

A:  Pastor Dave’s feels longer.

 

 

 

 

Review: Wisdom & Wonder by Abraham Kuyper

wisdom & wonder_frontWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, Abraham Kuyper, Edited by Jordan J Ballor and Stephen J. Grabill, Translated by Neslson D. Kloosterman; Christians Library Press, Grand Rapids, 2011

Wisdom & Wonder contains a new translation of chapters written originally under the title “Common Grace in Science and Art.”

Common Grace refers to God’s preservation and self-revelation within the created order, which is imperfectly but universally available.  It is revelation by the creation as well as an invitation to study, understand and enjoy the creation.  It is “common” because it is not limited to Christian believers.

I’d like to give a brief account of Kuyper’s perspective on Science and Art – though he discusses a number of other topics.   Kuyper states that art and science were given their start and patronized by the church and the state.  One sees this in any survey of Art History: the earlier the art, the more likely it was part of worship.   Art and Science, though birthed by church and state, possess legitimate and independent domains.

“First, then, let us emphasize the independent character of science.  Before everything else it must be understood that science is a matter that stands on its own and my not be encumbered with any external chains.”  (p. 33)

Science had its origin in the church as it grew out of the universities, which had their birth in the church.

“Science has not demanded such independence in overconfidence, but possesses this independence by diving design, so much so that science neglects its divine calling if it permits itself again to become a servant of the state or church.  Science is not a branch growing from the trunk of government service, and even less a branch that grows from the root of the church.  Science possesses its own root…” (p.34)

            If, therefore, God’s thinking is primary, and if all of creation is to be understood simply as the outflow of that thinking of God, such that all things have come into existence and continue to exist through the Logos, that is through divine reason, or more particularly, through the Word, then it must be the case that the divine thinking must be embedded in all created things. Thus there can be nothing in the universe that fails to express, to incarnate, the revelation of the thought of God.”  (p. 39)

            “In this way, then, we obtain three truths that fit together. First, the full and rich clarity of God’s thoughts existed in God from eternity.  Second, in the creation God has revealed, embedded and embodied a rich fullness of his thoughts.  And third, God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in the creation.”  (p. 41-42)

Art had a similar origin and division from the church.  Art does not need to return to the patronage of the church.  The Reformation, according to Kuyper, with its restrictions on art in worship, brought about an abrupt separation in Western Europe, especially where the Reformed Churches predominated.  This is a good thing. Yet a true artistic vision will be incomplete without the corrective influence of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.  Art is independent, but needs guidance to find integration

           “The inspiration for art never belonged to particular grace, but always proceeded from common grace.  It is exactly everyday human living that constitutes the broad arena where common grace shines, and simultaneously the arena where art constructs its own temple as well.”  (p. 118)

The separation between church and art, therefore, does not at all bear the character of a complete separation between art and religion. Instead, the bond between both is guaranteed in the ideal character of both, so that if people refuse to permit the refined religious impulse to affect art, that defect belongs not to art as such but to the impiety of those advocates.” (p. 118-119)

By way of evaluation, I have several comments.

One has to read the Kuyper with grace.  He made assumptions about non-European cultures and non-Christian religions that could offend our sensibilities.  We are all marked by the prejudices and judgments of our town times. Try not get impaled on these thorns.

The independence of Art and Science as domains intended by the Creator and built into the world is a scriptural idea.  Kuyper cites passages such as Genesis 1 where God created by the Word.  Wisdom Literature sees wisdom imbedded in all things (e.g. Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8).  The wise even seemed to gather wisdom from other places (see Proverbs 22:27ff and the 30 Sayings of the Wise).

One does not need to do Christian science or Christian art to be a faithful Christian in those domains.  One needs to do good science or good art.  Yet, science and art are powerful tools that come without a clear moral compass or centering integration.  A believer ought to do art or science in a way that is truly integrated by means of Special Grace.

            “Sin’s darkening lies in this, that we lost the gift of grasping the true context, the proper coherence, the systematic integration of all things.  Now we view everything only externally, not in its core and essence, each thing individually, but not in their mutual connection and in their origin from God. That connection, that coherence of things in their original connection with God, can be sensed only in our spirit.”  (p. 55)

What I’d like to do is gather a few bible students, some artists and scientists from any field and read and discuss this work together.

 

Wisdom Literature – bibliography

scribe.2I am posting this in response to a Face Book conversation about Proverbs.  I find Wisdom Literature to be scripture in another key signature, it tends to be observational, not doctrinal in the strict sense, inviting to outsiders  sometimes borrows from outsiders.  We can fall into making it kid stuff, or simplistic rules and regulations   It is best to realize that a proverb, “mashal” in Hebrew, means to lay one thing next to another and see what can be learned.  It is writing to help us notice, think and consider all things but most importantly the “fear of the Lord” before we act.

There are a number of posts on FRESH READ tagged with Wisdom.

Bibliographic Notes on Wisdom Literature

Modern Sensitivites – Proverbs 6

greeting-cards

 

 

In looking for a text for Mother’s day, which the author considers to be a conspiracy by card and flower companies, a text was found  – Proverbs 6:20ff.

20 My child, keep your father’s commandment,
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them upon your heart always;
    tie them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will lead you;
    when you lie down, they will watch over you;
    and when you awake, they will talk with you.
23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
    and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life… (NRSV)

So far so good.  It would be nice if it mentioned flowers I suppose.

Then read on, it is a warning from mom and dad against prostitutes:

24 to preserve you from the wife of another,
    from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
25 Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
    and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
26 for a prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread,
    but the wife of another stalks a man’s very life.
27 Can fire be carried in the bosom
    without burning one’s clothes?
28 Or can one walk on hot coals
    without scorching the feet?
29 So is he who sleeps with his neighbor’s wife;
    no one who touches her will go unpunished.
30 Thieves are not despised who steal only
    to satisfy their appetite when they are hungry.
31 Yet if they are caught, they will pay sevenfold;
    they will forfeit all the goods of their house.
32 But he who commits adultery has no sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.
33 He will get wounds and dishonor,
    and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
34 For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury,
    and he shows no restraint when he takes revenge.
35 He will accept no compensation,
    and refuses a bribe no matter how great.   (NRSV)

So there are interesting things here. The advice against adultery and prostitution has a practical feel – you will get burned!  Wisdom looks at consequences of choices, and here at least, does not quote the law’s prohibitions.

So will this work as a discussion on Mother’s day?  Well, probably not.  Not in the Midwest, among a people who like greeting cards and flower shops.

It does amuse the be jabbers out of me.