Tag Archives: musings

Be gone, sensible reticence…now let’s finger paint

I fear I have been too reticent.Yonah smile

Too reserved.

I’ve edited myself too much. Perhaps.

Actually posted posts stand apart like a child’s semi-toothed smile.

monk_1I think I’m going to try showing more teeth on this blog. Just not the bared teeth of ranting rage (I will leave that to much more qualified, bold, prophetic souls; I will continue to joyfully don the robe of the jester monk). I would offer here the toothy grins of holy irreverent curiosity and wonder; musings and haverings and attempts at the poetic; theological finger-painting – which I’ve discovered is so much more fun than religious or moralistic finger-pointing, whether employing right or left fingers – though I reserve the right to finger paint with the middle finger on either hand. Propping up shoulder chips and grinding axes makes such sad grist for this wordhavering mill!

So you may be seeing a few more meandering, reckless lines painted with these neuropathetic fingers as I attempt to jump more faithfully from the canvas of my soul to this one.

Do I want your critiques, your reBUTtals?

Not really.

No more than a child wants an art critic’s review of her work.

Though I will listen.

Even as a child will listen patiently — until she rudely interrupts by throwing another finger-painting in your face, exclaiming excitedly, “Look, look, look! Now look at this one!”

Just know that my palette is always and eternally Christ.

Not the one on display in our religious cages, but the Cosmic|Word|Christ at the center of all reality, enlightening all, energizing all, holding all, infusing all.

I breathlessly chase the One whom I find everywhere. Everywhere.

I thank my friend Harry — and you can blame him for it — for the revived passion I feel.

It was his parting gift of life to me in death. Seeing him lying lifeless on that mortuary slab was quite the vivid reminder that there lie we all. Quiet tongue. Stilled hands. And yet his words speak.

So what am I waiting for?



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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in haverings


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When I see your face, the stones start spinning.dreidel
You appear. All studying wanders.
I lose my place.

Water turns pearly.
Fire dies down and does not consume.

In your presence I do not want
what I thought I wanted,
those three little hanging lamps.

Inside your face the ancient manuscripts
seem like rusty mirrors.
You breathe, and new shapes appear.

The music of a desire as widespread as spring
begins to move like a great wagon.

Drive slowly.
Some of us walking alongside are lame.

Love this from Rumi. Love it.

When I quoted Rumi recently while teaching I almost said “13th century Persian prophet” but changed it to poet. It was a near mispeak, but afterwards I wished I had said “prophet” from the simple biblical perspective that sees so much overlap between poet and prophet. Both speak under the influence of divine breath to one degree or another. Both traffic with life as it is, as it should be, as it could be.


Rumi is so on to something. Particularly here.

“You search the Scriptures, because you think that by them you have eternal life – and they point to me! And yet you refuse to come to me that you might have Life!”

Rumi’s ruminations serve as amplification and elaboration of Jesus’ words.

I love ancient manuscripts. I love the play of Hebrew words rolling on, around and off my tongue. But “inside his face they are but rusty mirrors.”

I can’t shake the image of the Divine Visage causing Hebrew words and letters to spin like dreidels! My God, how we need to lose our place in such reverie! How we lame souls need ears that can attune to the “music of a desire as widespread as spring” that will finally cause our studious study to wander…

…as we walk beside the Great Wagon…

I do believe I hear it.

And how the letters spin.

spinning Rumi

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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in musings


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of penny nails and precious daggers

There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.

It is as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a knife of the finest tempering were nailed into a wall to hang things on. For a penny an iron nail could be bought to serve for that.

Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don’t, you will be like the one who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You will be wasting valuable keeness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.

Love this from Rumi.

Love it.

I have spent so much of life missing it. Is there a greater human tragedy than having the precious dagger of our unique existence confined to the role of a penny nail?

How crucial to know where our business way_2

In 1864, after Sherman took Atlanta, in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of things, John Bell Hood took his Confederate Army of the Tennessee back north to play havoc on Sherman’s supply lines in the hopes of drawing him back. Sherman began pursuit, as military wisdom would dictate. But then he stopped. “My business is south,” he told his officers – and then left Hood to crash on his own wall in the north while he turned to make his infamous “march to the sea.”

So much would pull us north, east and west and every point on the compass in between, when our business is south.

Having recently taken a spiritual assessment in Bruce Bugbee’s book What You Do Best In the Body of Christ (check out my review on the BookCellar blog), I was wonderfully reminded where my business lies. I suck at evangelism (at least defined in traditional ways). Also at discernment (coming up with detailed solutions to people’s problems). It’s true! And good to remember. No precious daggers crammed into those walls. My personal pillars in the assessment: mercy, faith, shepherding. No surprise there for me – but wonderfully clarifying. And empowering.

How crucial to slow down enough, to listen and look deeply enough, to know where our business lies. And where it doesn’t.

To see the one necessary thing.

Then to be.

Then to do.

one way


Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Evangelism, musings, Poetry


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of running toilets and metaphor bonanzas

One of the serendipities of blogging continues to be the other bloggers who encounter my blog leaving me a trail back to theirs. So many rich voices with the word in season for me that otherwise I would never have heard.

Jennifer Stuart and her blog Enjoy Life for Once is one of the richest such serendipities for me.

I do believe I love her.

Seriously! Over this past chemo-laden year her voice, though not directly addressed to me, has repeatedly been quite directly addressed to me, meeting me, filling me, giving me a much needed laugh, gratifying me with her insights into everyday items and occurrences and playfully exploring them, looking for something deeper. A true Rafiki spirit who “looks harder.” She blesses me. As I’ve commented on her blog before, she often makes me belch with satisfaction, because I simply have no words to add. You might check out her blog sometime. You just might find the same thing. You might even belch.

Her post, Running Toilet: The Rorschach of Household Problems is the most recent case in point. She’s really running toiletnot trying to be deep, to drip with heavy spiritual and metaphorical implications and applications. She just manages to. But in a very playful, unassuming way (“Maybe this is all just new age hippie crap,” she frequently muses). Anyway, read the post, and for those who don’t and won’t take or have the time, it’s essentially a musing about a running toilet, and finding an unexpected metaphor. In a toilet. A running toilet. I can hear it now: “The kingdom of heaven is like a toilet, a continuously running toilet…” Yes, I would not be surprised if Jesus went there. Okay, just sensed a double meaning…quickly on to Jennifer’s analogy:

What if this was a metaphor of something?

This running toilet was interesting. I didn’t realize that you could just turn the water off to make it stop running, turn it back on, use the toilet, and then turn it off again. It was like empowering magic. Do I have something that’s constantly running in my mind, something that ends up doing more than it should and causing problems because of it? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. It’s called fear about the future. It’s always running, overflowing, doing more than it needs to. A small amount of that fear can be fine in some situations. It helps me to be careful, to be safe, to take account of what’s happening and choose my actions accordingly. But too much of that fear constantly running is just a waste of energy and creates an annoying noise in the background. So I started applying what I learned about the toilet’s water system to my own fear. Turn it off. Twist the knob, make it stop. I can turn it on when I need it, but there’s no need for it to be running constantly.

Her musings prompted this comment from me:

The Way_smallerGreat scene from The Way (one of my favs) between Jack from Ireland and his new-found pilgrim friends on the Camino:

Jack: I think this place means something.

Sarah: This place means–?

Jack: This place is brimming with significance! That’s the problem with this whole damn road!

Joost: Problem?

Jack: Me-ta-phor, man! You’re out walking all alone and suddenly you see a dogfight by a cheese farm. What does that dogfight mean? And despite its literalness, the idea of a pilgrim’s journey on this road is a metaphor bonanza!

: Well, Jack, maybe a dogfight near a cheese farm is just a dogfight near a cheese farm.

Jack: Ahhh! Okay. That’s good…that is very good. Maybe I should adopt a more conservative attitude instead of trying to trickle meaning out of every curve in the road…oh Christ!

Jennifer, this is not new age hippie crap. Really it’s not. It’s having the eyes to see beyond the literalness that surrounds us. To look harder, to playfully look deeper. Yes we can get weird with it. And yes we may even be committed one day if we look too hard and too deep for too long. But the fact is that the journey we all share is quite literally a metaphor bonanza. Most of us are just too dimwitted (aka sophisticated) to even go there. Glad you do. And I’ll be musing on that running toilet for a while. Thank you. As always. I once again burp out my satisfaction as I exclaim, “Dear God, where does she get this stuff?” :o)


A metaphor bonanza.

Yep. That’s where we live, alright.

May we all, like Jennifer, be blessed with eyes to see more of that bonanza. Daily.

unexpected road


Posted by on February 9, 2013 in musings


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towards a Christian blogging ethic

Being in Galatians mode since the first of the year, I’ve found myself also slowly digesting N.T. Wright’s 2009 book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Wright is always on the meaty side requiring much careful chewing. I’m enjoying the chew.


Courtesy of

Came across this statement as he reflected on our all too common tendencies to snarkiness in how we handle our discussions, and each other. Particularly online. It’s so easy to see others fling presumptuous words about what they think others believe or don’t believe (always very dicey ground, this commenting on the hearts of those we’ve never even met; in fact it’s still dicey  icey ground even when we have) – and then to find ourselves doing the same thing to the flingers. Flingers are flingers. It’s so easy to become the mirror image of that which we despise.

Anyway, here’s the quote. Chew carefully.

Go to the blogsites, if you dare.

It really is high time we developed a Christian ethic of blogging. Bad temper is bad temper even in the apparent privacy of your own hard drive, and harsh and unjust words, when released into the wild, rampage around and do real damage. And as for the practice of saying mean and untrue things while hiding behind a pseudonym – well, if I get a letter like that it goes straight in the bin. But the cyberspace equivalents of road rage don’t happen by accident. People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their worldview to be under attack. Yes, I have pastoral concern for such people. (And for that matter, a pastoral concern for anyone who spends more than a few minutes a day taking part in blogsite discussions, especially when they all use code names: was it for this that the creator God made human beings?)

NT Wright, Justification pp. 26-27

Love that last line. Was it for this that the creator God made human beings?

Ouch. In a very good way.

Takes me to James’ proverb which in Greek would sound something like this:

Tah-coos ace tow ah-kou-sai, brah-deuce ace tow lah-lace-sai, brah-deuce ace ore-gain.

Swift to hear, slow to post, slow to rant.

Not a bad start towards a Christian blogging ethic…


Posted by on January 23, 2013 in musings


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the long way home

winding road“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them the short way, through the country of the Philistines…he led them through the desert toward the Sea of Reeds.”

This text quite literally tumbled out at me during my reading this week.

I didn’t manage to get out of the way in time.

God did not lead them the short way.

We thrive on short ways, short cuts. Even if it only trims seconds off the journey, we’ll go for it. We detest shortcut_0detours and delays. Get us there quick and get it over with. What moron would choose the long way? Who wants to head out into the desert for a round about tour of nowhere? The Sea of Reeds doesn’t exactly sound like Kauai. We’ll deal with Philistines, bring on the battle, let’s get it over with. Hard and fast beats slow and agonizing any day of the week. And twice on Sunday.

God did not lead them the short way.

He led them into the desert toward the sea in a long and winding path that had Pharaoh and company convinced that they were wandering around confused and lost, “hemmed in by the desert.” I don’t think the people had to fake the confusion. If they could have left indelible marks in the sand along their long and winding road, I’m sure we would see some rather large letters roughly approximating WTH, G-D?

I want to be done with all the effects of chemo.

pathI’m ready to feel again. I’m ready to be done with shrouds and clouds and a foggy brain.

Enough already of port flushings, of scans, of labs, of procedures and billings and waiting rooms.

Enough of having to watch those I love suffering under their own unbearable burdens, their own loads. Enough of tears, of sighs, of pain that simply refuses to leave.

God does not lead us the short way.

They traveled “by stages” as YHWH directed them. So do we.road work

And most of those stages were short on water. And food. And comfort.
Sounds like our journey.

God does not lead us the short way.

It’s reality – unless you are obnoxiously blessed. Which means of course we all hate you. Just saying. We can and do respond with our own scribblings of WTH or even WTF G-D? At least when we are being honest with him and ourselves. But hopefully there is a deeper, more ultimate and intimate inscription left not only by us but within us: I will trust anyway. I will see rejuvenation in each spot of shade, in each trickle of water. And when the current stage lands me in Elim with twelve springs and seventy palm trees, I will breathe deeply, drink slowly, and be thankful for each moment. When the current stage takes me to a dead-end dry rock, I will learn to see Christ even in this hard unyielding surface and look for water to burst from its bowels. When I’m staring into the sterile, bitter pool of Marah (Hebrew “bitter”) I will remember that Jesus (Hebrew “salvation”) was conceived in Mary (like marah, Mary is bitter). Healing is borne in the womb of bitterness.

And it is not a short bearing. Or birth.

We take the long way home.



Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Exodus, musings, Old Testament, Suffering


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Hey Jude: the rest of the guidelines

No sooner had I posted guideline number one than I saw this comment in Richard Rohr’s daily musings:

The sacred texts of the Bible are filled with absolute breakthroughs, epiphanies, and manifestations of the highest level of encounter, conversion, transformation, and Spirit. The Bible also contains texts which are punitive, petty, tribal, and idiotic. A person can prove anything he or she wants from a single line of the Bible. To tell you the truth, the Bible says just about everything you might want to hear—somewhere! This is a sad and humiliating recognition. But you can relearn your way of reading Scripture in a prayerful, calm, skillful, and mature way. Then you can hear with head and heart and Spirit working as one, and not just a search for quick answers.

Breakthroughs, epiphanies, encounter, conversion, transformation.

This Biblephile likes those descriptions.

Punitive, petty, tribal, idiotic.

Those are harder to swallow. But because I am a Biblephile, I have to own those for this Library as well – perhaps adding to the list violent, bloody, confusing, baffling, disturbing. Oddly enough, for me, that’s why it’s good news. The Divine is manifested not on sublime and pristine fields but in the muck of humanity. God remains the God of Jacob – the God of the selfish, insecure, flawed human being who keeps reaching and struggling. Which means he meets me.

It’s also why we’ve had such a cacophony of interpretations and applications. Unspiritual readers have done andBible-Reading are doing very unspiritual things with the darker hues of this Library – or, worse, bending the light of the brighter ones. Which means people like me have been visiting this room. Using the Library as a quick answer service not only doesn’t help, it’s a huge part of the problem. We must relearn how to read. Just because we quote the Book doesn’t  mean we are taking it seriously. With Rafiki we must look harder.

So here are the remaining guidelines from the Jude sermon that now seems like ages ago. Let’s illustrate these guidelines using our own past controversial issue of slavery. Proslavery believers during the 19th century in this country made a biblical case for slavery employing many biblical texts – Old Testament and New – that seemed to support the institution. Abolitionist believers argued their own case from the same ancient Library.
It’s instructive to compare the two approaches and see what guidelines for healthy reading emerge:

First, abolitionists valued the general over the specific, the Big Picture over little pieces. The proslavery hermeneutic pointed to legislation regulating slavery in Exodus and Leviticus as well as New Testament counsel to slaves in Ephesians and Colossians, all as evidence that “God sees this as the natural order of things.” For abolitionists, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this is the law and prophets,” carried far more weight as well as revealing the impelling direction of the Story. Which leads to the next guideline in our relearning how to read:

bible-readningIn looking for the Big Picture they couldn’t help but see the unfolding Story; they read narratively. It’s not a matter of quoting verses, of building a case. Anyone can do that, and everyone does. It’s a matter of seeing the Story and where it’s heading. The Story traces the path of humanity through a violent and troubled infancy when we were “under the ABC’s of world religion” with it’s primitive rules and rituals that were more about survival than transformation. The Story leads us to expect the transformation, to look for a rising standard of ethics, a challenge to love more deeply, more profoundly – a love that undermines and redefines our systems, overturning the tables of our religious, economic, cultural and political systems rather than endorsing them.

At the heart of this Grand Story, this Epic, is Jesus. They thus read the Bible Christocentrically. I like to bible heartillustrate this by holding a Bible up first by the Old Testament: Moses and law is then the high point that defines all else that follows. Then I hold it up by the latter part of the New Testament: the theology of the Epistles and the violent imagery of the book of Revelation now becomes the definitive vantage point from which all else is understood. Finally I hold it up, my hand underneath, the spine of the Bible pointing up with the rest flowing from it, to the right and to the left. The spine is Jesus. He is the ultimate vantage point from which we understand both Moses and Paul. The four Gospels form the heart of this Library. Everything flows from that Center. In the Old Testament, Moses only saw the backside of God; in Jesus we see God’s face. The words of Jesus in Luke have more weight than the words of Moses in Leviticus – or better, they provide us with the means of finally getting Leviticus.

Finally, they read the Bible relationally as a Library of Love, ultimately, rather than analytically as a Repository of Rules. This leads us to ask not simply “What does the Bible have to say about slavery?” or “Is slavery permissable to a law-giving God?” But rather is slavery desirable to a God who loves slaves along with the widow and the orphan – the God who first revealed himself, in fact, to a nation of slaves in the defining action of freeing them from their bondage?

So there you go. As I say at the conclusion of each book review I write: Take and read.

Or better, this Library is a door that is intended to be a portal to a journey, that is intended to be used, to be walked through – rather than to keep us locked up in a room as a holy, decorative brick in the wall. Use the door. Take the journey.

But then, it’s a dangerous business, going out your door…

hobbit door_1


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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Education, Jude, musings, New Testament


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Hey Jude: How to read so as not to miss the Story_1

Okay. Following up with Jude.

The guidelines.

Number one:


A constitution implies neatness and internal consistency. It demands strict interpretation and conformity. Each president in our history has stepped into office with the oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” it. Good constitutions also provide an amendment process that makes it possible, though difficult, to change it.

Of course, we can exchange “Bible” for “constitution” in the above paragraph and it works just fine for many folks – until you get to the last sentence. Witness the bristling that takes place at the very suggestion that the Bible be “amended” in light of current cultural debates.

When we hold a Bible it looks like we are holding one, neat, internally consistent volume written by one Author. The reality is it is a library (this is readily seen in the fact that “Bible” is from biblia = books; yes, to hold the Bible is to hold the Library). Not a huge library, by any means, but a library nonetheless. Sixty-six volumes of varying sizes by our count, volumes written by scores of mostly anonymous ancient authors and collected over a millenium or so, and then edited and assembled by other hands, many of them also anonymous.

No neat shiny heavenly plates these.

Raw, gritty, human scribblings on parchment, scrolls, skins and stone. The first incarnate Word.

You expect diversity in a library – multiple volumes of a variety of genres. So it is. Narrative. Poetry. Song. Records. Allegories. Dirges. Letters. Fantasy*. Legislation. It’s all there. All kinds of literature requiring all kinds of reading and hearing. To compact them all into one narrow bandwidth is to violate the distinctive nature of each. If God wanted one bandwidth called legislation, he would and could have done so. But the fact is only a small portion of the library consists of actual legislation: the ancient “constitution” of Israel (which constitution, btw, did not get them home). The majority of entries in this library is narrative.

To try to turn song into law or narrative into rules requires a certain level of madness, doesn’t it? Though the human authors of this library do manage to turn its laws into song.

To read the Bible as a constitution will alternately produce religious conformity or irreligious rebellion, depending on our disposition – and either way we will miss the Story. A library invites investigation, exploration, wonder, and debate between authors with various points of view. The more time I spend around this Library, the more I appreciate the diversities within it and the less inclined I am to smooth them out into forced harmonies.

And wherever I happen to be browsing in it, I always look for traces of the Story…


* Don’t freak out; “fantasy” is simply a more culturally relevant label (I think) for what we usually call “apocalyptic” literature.


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Hey Jude

So I literally stumbled my way into teaching the wee New Testament letter of Jude this past preaching

I mean, I literally stumbled on the steps as I made my way up to the podium. At least I know how to make an entrance. (And they wanted me to try dancing on the dance floor last night.) How ironic that this very letter says God is able to keep us on our feet and that I lost mine getting up to recite it. Guess it does actually just say he is able to, not that he will.

Anyway, I stumbled, got up, re-entered, and then had a fun little dance with Jude for the first time in over three decades of teaching.

The only trouble was, I didn’t get to any of my points.

I guess I really only had one point, which I got to, but that point has layers. And I really only got to hint at some of the layers and half my PowerPoint went unused.

Click on the link if you would like to experience my forty-five minute or so verbal dance (that’s putting it gracefully — stumbling remains the most apt description of what happens whenever I speak, which is one of the reasons this blog is called “wordhavering”; just look up the UK definition of “haver”). For those of you who only read my musings on this blog, this will give you the opportunity to experience my musings audibly and visually. Like Mike in 3D. Almost. Which isn’t to say that this will necessarily be a good thing for you. Otherwise, just read on.

You see, I told my audience that perhaps I would delve into the unexplored layers of the one point of this sermon/teaching/lesson/musing/thing on my blog. So I suppose I should.

So to recap the sermon/teaching/lesson/musing/thing – which, oddly enough, after explaining that my mind is rather non-linear looking somewhat like this:what is that

I was asked after the “Jude talk” by a more linearly minded person if I could do such a recap first whenever I get up to speak so linear people at least have a clue where I’m going. But where would the fun be in that. Besides, to quote Prometheus, one of my movie favs from 2012, “God does not create in straight lines.”

Where was I?

Oh yes, the recap.

car_ditch_1546747cJude, early Christ follower and leader of some note writes a missive to an early messianic Jewish community encouraging them to keep a firm grasp on God’s love, live lives of mercy (which is how we fight for the faith), and not to be thrown off track by the distraction of those who think they have a better idea. Thus the question: how do we stay on the road and avoid the ditch?

Refusing to quantify a formulaic answer consisting of three steps, five actions, or seven principles, I tried to break it down to one simple, foundational word. Or maybe three. Something rooted in the text of Jude itself. I thought about the question: how do we stay out of the ditch? By staying focused on the road (and slowing down – especially on mountain roads during Idaho winters). How do we stay focused on the Road (which is Jesus) and avoid the ditches of legalism on the one side and libertinism on the other? (Read Frank Viola’s excellent summary of these two “ditches.”) Three words: Know the Story. My initial thought, Biblephile that I am, was Student-Studying“Read the Bible.” But “reading the Bible,” to be honest, for most conjures up images like this:


Something more than reading and study is called for here. A deeper absorption, a more sublime imbibing.

Story. Imagination. Soul. Heart, as well as mind.

storytellerIt’s what Jude does with his readers – or more accurately, with his hearers. He takes them back into the Story. His Story which was their unfolding Story.

And so the question, how do we read the Bible (or read, period) so as not to miss the Story – so as to engage, heart, soul, mind, and imagination?

That’s about as far as I got in the verbal musing of my Jude talk. This is where the missing layers enter in the form of five guidelines for reading so as not to miss the Story (yes, they really are more like guidelines).

We’ll start in on my next post.

In the meantime with all this talk about Jude you know you want to. Go ahead. Listen to the song and sing along as you do. And happy new year!




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Dug Down Deeper Still

The academic part of me cannot help but wonder…is there anything upon which EVERY Christian “branch” agrees? If so, what? Is it possible to list things that are actually so basic that they really do meet his definition of “Orthodoxy”?

I love this question from my friend Stephen in response to these recent musings prompted by Joshua Harris’ book Dug Down Deep.dug down deep

It is the question, isn’t it?

When we look at all the branches of this immense Christian tree – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Coptic, etc. etc. etc. – “is it possible to list things that are actually so basic” that we will find agreement, that we will discern a common DNA amidst an all too often rancorous diversity?

My mind goes to several places.

Ephesians 4:1-6 and Paul’s seven “ones” of Christian experience.

Hebrews 6:1-3 with its listing six foundational truths.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28 with one of the earliest creedal formulations we have on hand – with apostolic commentary, no less!

All of these would seem to provide solid ground to dig down to, experientially, and then to build a life.

Then, of course, there is the Apostle’s Creed. The day before the question came, I had been blessed by a communal recital of the Apostle’s Creed followed by a singing of the Doxology. Some seven hundred voices raised in unison. Deep chords there. Chords initially struck over the first decade of my life growing up in the Presbyterian Church. Week after week I learned to recite the words. Today I begin to hear the song.

And the song took me not to the above options, nor to any textbook fatter than a phone book  It took me to one of the earliest creedal songs. It took me to the poem. The Poem.

Six stanzas.

Eighteen words.

Forty-five syllables.

We have tagged it with the address 1 Timothy 3:16. The title placed over it is “Mystery” – or more fully: “Confessedly (or without debate, with full consensus) great is the mystery of godliness.” Ho-moh-loh-goo-MEN-ace meh-GAH es-teen toe tace you-seh-BAY-yas moo-STARE-rhi-own is something like how that title would read in the Greek. Ironically, the manuscripts of the New Testament aren’t agreed on what the next word is – on what the first word of the creedal poem is. And the difference is a dash. Literally. In the early uncial manuscripts it could be OC or it could be ƟC. OC is “he who” and ƟC is shorthand for “God.” Older English translations go with ƟC and say “God” (Theos), more recent ones opt for OC (hoes) and say “he who” or “the one who” reasoning that it’s easier to explain “he who” being changed to “God” than vice versa. I go with ƟC and read “God” though I totally get and even appreciate OC “he who” for the simple reason it enhances the mystery at the center of the poem. Just who is this? Who is this man?

Whoever this God/man is, the defining DNA in all of our branches is set forth in the following six stanzas – nine syllables followed by eight, then five, then eight, then seven and seven.

Here is an approximate pronunciation guide for the Greek. Take each stanza into your mouth before reading a translation – and you might try softly repeating moo-STARE-rhi-own after reading each line (go ahead, try it; it won’t bite you…but then it actually may). Say each word slowly, syllable by syllable, then combine the syllables and say it fast (what, a post that makes you work!? Preposterous! But try it anyway. Taste some ancient culture).

eh-pha-neh-ROE-thay in sar-KEE
eh-dee-kai-OH-thay in PNEW-mah-tee
OAF-thay ang-GEH-loys
eh-kay-ROOK-thay in ETH-neh-seen
eh-pea-STEW-thay in KOS-moh
on-eh-LAME-thay in DOK-say

Here’s what the actual Greek text looks like (with a Coptic cross background thrown in for free):


Why did I just torture you with this? Simple. This DNA is ancient. It is foreign. It is not a product of western culture. It is story. It is poem. It is song.

An English translation:

(The God/man)…
was manifested in flesh;
was vindicated in spirit;
was seen by messengers;
was preached among the peoples;
was believed on in the world;
was taken up in glory.

Two millenia of elaborations, formulations, councils, creeds, analysis, dissection, exposition, supposition, explication and pontification have failed to improve on its simplicity, power and passion. It may be the question that drives us, but it is story that forms us. Harris says it well: “Doctrine is the meaning of the story God is writing in the world.” I would just simplify it to “doctrine is the story God is writing in the world” – for it is in the many nuances, levels and layers of our deduced and adduced meaning in which we can and do so easily lose the story or, worse, hijack it. Mutate it. Mute it.

There is no list of basics. Only story. And the story is the doctrine. It is the creed. It is the DNA not only of all of Christendom’s branches, but of the whole cosmic forest in which we live. The forest where Immanuel lives, where his voice echoes, where His Spirit dances.

And if the academic part of us can still wonder, perhaps we can yet hear and enter into its rhythms…or to put it as Josh Harris does: perhaps we can dig down deep — dig down deep and build a new life, a new church, a new world, on it.


Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Doctrine & Heresies, musings


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