Saturday, August 29, 2009

Translating Paul (part three: soteria, apolytrosis)

What Paul MeantAgain I return to the appendix of Garry Wills' book "What Paul Meant" to discuss some of his ideas of how to translate Paul's letters in ways that land on our contemporary ears with the same force and intention that Paul originally meant for them. (Here are parts one and two of the series.)

In today's entries, Wills takes aim at the reduction of God's mighty acts to personal commodities: namely, our obsession with our own salvation and feeling content with having "got ours." Wills is trying to awaken us to God's greater purpose in defeating death and liberating the whole of humanity from imprisonment to sin.

So often the mental image we have for salvation is that the world is the Titanic, sinking slowly — even if some don't believe or see it — and that God is out in a lifeboat, waiting to take us to safety and sail away from the wreckage to a new paradise. He is out there taking people one by one onto his raft as they learn that danger is at their heels. But our motivation in this scenario is our own helplessness and our own survival instinct. The image that the Bible presents would be more like this: God is raising Titanic from the depths of the ocean, freeing it from the clutches of the icy water, and restoring it to a place of beauty and strength and safety. We are invited on board to be part of the glorious reinvention, to play our part in restoration. Our rescue is just not about the saving of our skins, but an invitation to a purpose, to play a role in God's mighty acts.

Wills suggests that the word Soteria, usually rendered "Salvation," be translated as Rescue:
"Salvation" has become something we think of as a condition of the individual, something he or she gains, loses, or feels sure of ("Brother, are you saved?"). ... Paul did not think of the person's own sense of himself, but of God's activity as the rescuer. Rescue was for him a divine initiative, God's raid on enemy territory, bringing the people out from captivity ... the whole of creation is to be rescued and restored to God. ... "God initiates it all by rejoining us to himself through Messiah and by making us active in this rejoining—as we profess that God is rejoining the world to himself through Messiah ..." (2 Cor 5:18-21).
Wills likes the image of prison gates flung open (which probably makes more sense than my lifeboat metaphor, since the opened prison is a Biblical chord ready to be struck). In suggesting that the Greek Apolytrosis be translated as Release rather than the usual "Redemption," he says:
Apolytrosis means, literally, "ransom." But its translation into Latin redemptio, "buying back," has been caught up into Anselm's notions of paying off God the Father by sacrifice of his Son, a concept foreign to Paul. Paul means by the ransoming of the whole world a release of it from thralldom to the evil order he personified as Satan. It is a massive liberation act, like the breaking open of every prison, and only God's energy can accomplish this.
An emphasis on personalized salvation conveys more of an idea of God bartering with Satan for particular souls, like God is cashing in his chips one at a time as he "buys back" individuals. Whereas the idea Wills is getting at is that the doors have been blown off the hinges by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and we are all free to walk out. The work has been done. The reason this distinction is important, I believe, is that is changes the nature of the sales pitch: It's not a matter of "life is terrible, you are suffering, but God will set you free from evil," but something more like "come and join us in this amazing mission, this commitment to love — God has already cleared the way for you to walk right into new life." Our churches must reflect the celebration of the prisoners freed, not the dour survivors at sea, adrift, waiting for tomorrow.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nana's birthday

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The sweet aroma of Christ

A beautiful little meditation from pastor Richard Dahlstrom, which I quote in part here:
Aromas are a byproduct that reveal the essence of something. They don't set out to BE aromas, they simply are: Pine trees smell like pine; cigarette smoke like tobacco; coffee like heaven. That's the way it is.

Christ followers, when they're living in the moment as worshippers, listening for the voice of Jesus and stepping into His calling, smell like Christ. ...

The aroma ambition is liberating, in that it frees me from the ambitions, constant measurements, fears, and obsessions, that are necessarily wed with IMPACT. I've pretty much traded in IMPACT for AROMA.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Knock, knock

The other day we were telling Knock Knock jokes in the car, and every time someone said "Knock, knock" Corin would laugh, as if that was the joke.

Today we thought we'd see if he's laugh at it again, but instead when we said "Knock knock," Corin just repeated "Knock! Knock!"

"Who's there?" we asked, laughing, as if he would then continue to tell a joke.

"Ah-toe" he said in response.

Humoring him, I said "Ah-toe who?"

"Ah-toe-pus!" (which, of course, means octopus)

Then, just to prove it wasn't a coincidence, he repeated the same joke four times. And he got us to laugh at it every time. His first joke!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Naming colors in German


Corin's first three-syllable word: Octopus! (or thereabouts):

Sunday, August 23, 2009

As vs. is

What the Gospels MeantI'm now reading "What the Gospels Meant" by Garry Wills. (I'm not done with my "What Paul Meant" series of posts, but those don't feel super urgent because I finished the book months ago.) With this book, I thought I'd just quote snippets as I am struck by them, and add a little commentary, making more of a living interaction, which is more appropriate for a blog.

The part that grabbed me was Wills' discussion of how vibrantly the early church felt at one with Jesus.

"The [gospel] books reflect not only past events from the life of Jesus but his experienced life in the members of his community," he says. Whereas a modern biography would tend to focus on all the major events of a person's life and be whole and complete, the gospel writers saw that the life of Jesus was continuing and would never end. Their aim was to tell the story of the Jesus who still lived among them, by drawing on the precursors that he foreshadowed in his human life.

In other words: in the case of Mark, whose audience was suffering Christians, he focused on the suffering Christ. His aim in his gospel was not to simply tell the believers that they could endure suffering as Jesus suffered, but to say that because they were suffering, Jesus is suffering now.
"Given this sense of Jesus' indwelling in the community, its members did not ask what Jesus would be saying if he were present. It asked what he is saying because he is present. ... If the community was suffering persecution or doubt or trouble, it took strength in the fact that this was the suffering of Jesus."
I have to admit that I do not have this same tangible sense of Jesus being within the church today. I get the idea metaphorically that we are all one in Christ Jesus, that we are his body. But in practice I just look around the room at church and see so many strangers, a group of people who are always changing as people move in and out of the Seattle area so frequently, that I feel only like a random collection of humans, not like a close-knit unit in which Jesus himself rejoices and weeps, shouts and furies, dances and draws still.

But I think I'd like to feel that way more. I'd like to have my eyes opened that way.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Itsy-Bitsy Spider

UNO flashcards

Corin taught himself numbers by stealing our UNO deal and scattering them across the floor, then pointing at the numbers so we would tell him what they were. (He's also learned S, R, W, and D for skip, reverse, wild, and draw two.) Here he shows off his skills:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The little gentleman

Whenever Corin doesn't like something he's eating, he's always simply pushed it out of his mouth and onto his shirt or to the floor.

Today, he grabbed my hand and brought it down to his level. I wasn't sure what he wanted, whether I was suppose to pick him up, or pinch his cheek, or what. Then he spit a wad of food into it. It was so unexpected, so civilized for a two year old to ask for a receptacle to dispose of his gristle, that I told Amanda about it and said "He's becoming quite the little gentleman."

"Yes, that's the very definition of a gentleman: spitting your food into people's hands," she reminded me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Translating Paul (part two: adelphoi, hagioi, kletoi, oikeioi)

What Paul MeantContinuing my series on refreshing our understanding of key Christian concepts through re-translation of Paul's words, as found in the book "What Paul Meant" by Garry Wills, I now move on to one of the core words, if not the core word of the faith, which I just used in this sentence: Christian.

The word "Christian," of course, was never used by Paul, because his emphasis was on announcing the good news that the promise of Judaism had been fulfilled. He was a Jew, he wanted to awaken other Jews to a new understanding, and to graft on Gentiles to the promise that God had given the world through Abraham. (Today, as the majority of us who call ourselves Christians are non-Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah, I wonder if it wouldn't do us good to refer to ourselves, not exclusively perhaps, but occasionally, by a name that reflects this status: Rescued Goyim, perhaps — something that emphasizes a humility of spirit before God and his story of working in history. This is not Wills' point, I should mention, but my random thought.)

Wills' point is that the many words Paul uses that are often translated as Christian are all words that stress the affectionate bond between fellow members. They emphasize relationship, interconnectedness. (Sometimes I wonder if the word "Christianity" hasn't diminished the word "Christian," because one might think that subscribing to the philosophy or theology or cultural construct known as Christianity means that one is therefore a Christian, which is not the case.) These other words that Wills mentions are more directly reflective of the deep relationships between people and between God.

  • "Brothers" (Adelphoi): This is the normal term, both in Paul and Luke, for the followers of Jesus. ... Though the masculine noun was used generically for the whole Brotherhood, Paul addresses specific women followers of Jesus as Sister (Adelphe)...
  • "The Holy" (Hagioi, or Hegiasmenoi): Paul also refers to "the Holy" in such-or-such a place, or to "the needs of the Holy" (Rom 12:13). They were the Holy because they had been incorporated into Jesus by baptism.... (1 Cor 12:12-13)
  • "Those in Messiah" (Hoi en Christo[i]): Because they are baptized into Jesus, the Holy can be said to be "in Jesus"—or in Messiah-Jesus or Jesus-Messiah. ... "Anyone in Messiah is a new order of being" (ktisis, 2 Cor 5:17)
  • "The Called" (Kletoi): Paul thinks of the Brothers as summoned to holiness (Rom 1:6, 8:28, 1 Cor 1:24)
  • "Housefellows" (Oikeioi): Since the followers met mainly in each other's homes (oikoi), Paul calls them, in general, housefellows of our trust (Gal 6:10, Eph 2:19)
  • "Those of the Path" (Hoi tes Hodou): This term has become common by the time of the Acts of the Apostles. Luke therefore can speak of detractors or persecutors of the Path (Ac 22:4), of debating or understanding the Path (19:23 24:22).
It is fairly common within the church to use a multitude of names for God (Lord Almighty, Deliverer, Savior, Messiah, King of Kings, Rock, Shepherd, Redeemer, Immanuel, etc.), so why not make room for more synonyms for us as Christians? Why not give us a new way of thinking about ourselves? If we regularly referred to ourselves as "The Called," wouldn't that spur thoughts in our mind that we must have been called toward something, that we have a mission, and need to be active? If we used "Those of the Path," doesn't that emphasize, as we talked about last week, our subservience to the active revelation of God? If we spoke of each other as "Housefellows," would we be more inclined to visit one another's homes for meals and discussion outside of official church functions?

"The Holy" is probably one that we don't need at this moment, as part of the image problem Christians have is that of being holier-than-thou. "Those in Messiah" could go either way: Perhaps it draws a line in the sand: we're in Messiah and you're not — or maybe it would help out Christians with humility in remembering our rescue, our need for the Messiah, in referencing ourselves.

"Brothers" and "Sisters," of course, are still being used in a great number of Christian contexts, depending on your denomination and heritage. Yet somehow I can't see starting it up in my own. I guess it wouldn't be out of place to refer to the church as "the brothers and sisters," but to start calling individuals at church "Brother John" or "Sister Mary" would just seem to smack of a cult — even though I do have affective bonds with these people that make them feel as close to me as brother and sister. (It seems our culture in general lacks words of affection for relationships that fall outside of the realm of romantic closeness.)

* * *

The final thing that bugs me about the word "Christian" (and again, these are my own thoughts now), is how prevalently it is used as an adjective for objects: "Christian music," "Christian business," "Christian T-shirt," etc. A Christian is a person who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. A thing cannot believe, or be saved. To label certain items as "Christian" is just a temptation to fill one's life with such things as a way of proving or convincing oneself of one's status as a Christian.

Furthermore, what is usually meant by the use of these adjectives is that the object complies with a certain set of standards. It complies with an external law of non-offensiveness, non-corruption, and non-timidity. Which is fine in and of itself — but the Christian faith is not about complying to an external law. To think of oneself as "a Christian person" and think that means that one should be ethical, amiable, and mention Jesus a lot, is to miss the point. (I'm not saying that a vast swath of Christians actually don't know there is a deeper component of Christianity that involves owning up to one's own sin rather than hiding it; I'm just saying that there is pressure within the church to live a life outwardly perfect and unassailable, and never admitting imperfection.)

To put this idea more in a concrete context: Fifteen years ago I set out to become a movie critic who would examine the themes and stories of film in terms of their value to a person who was trying to understand the human condition and grow spiritually as a follower of Christ. This quickly got condensed to "Christian movie critic." Which quickly meant that people expected my job to be telling people which side of the line a movie fell on as far as its acceptability to sensitive audiences. (Several of my colleagues rebelled against this label by insisting that they were movie critics first and foremost, who brought their Christian faith to bear in their evaluations — but for me, the art was never so much important for its own sake, rather it was the spiritual journey as a growing Christian that I was most interested in, and my focus was on using art to assist in that journey.) The question we all wondered about was: why doesn't "Christian movie critic" communicate either of our definitions, and is instead bound up in a ethic of praising safe and unchallenging art?

In short, I worry that the more "Christian" is unthinkingly applied as an adjective, the more I think it skews our understanding of the noun form — of who we are as people of God. I am drawn to these original translations Wills that uses because one could never say "I'm wearing a Those of the Path T-shirt" or "going to a Those in Messiah concert" or "working for a Housefellows company." Our bond, our community, our interrelationship, as saved people under the lordship of Jesus, could again regain its uniqueness in our lexicon.


Friday, August 14, 2009

"I'm Bat-Boy."

Poot Monster

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Solitary cinema

Something lonely
about laughing into an empty cavern

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boys night in

Last night I decided to try an experiment with Corin to see how long he would sit through a movie. The answer is about 20-25 minutes at a time, and that included me interacting with him on what we were seeing on screen. "See him, that's R2D2. What's he doing? Is he leaving C3PO? Where do you think he's going?"

Then we were off to do other things, and after a while returned for another session. He started to get more into it, and he especially loved it whenever Princess Leia was on screen. We got the point where every time she came on screen he'd say "Princess!" (or his equivalent: Suss-suss!) and then whenever it cut to someone else, he'd turn to me and say "More?" (of course, missing the cut back to her). It was funny the first ten times, and then I figured we were done for the night.

But since he loved Princess Leia so much, I thought I'd dig out my old Star Wars toys and see if he wanted to play with a Princess that wouldn't keep disappearing on him. What's funny is that I found Leia in a baggie of ten other figures, and out of the bag he could correctly point out which ones were Threepio and Artoo. His version of "playing" included ripping off the arms of C3PO (fortunately it's the one with the removable arms and legs from The Empire Strikes Back) and knocking over all the figures when I stood them up for him. Still, it was fun to see him fascinated by these action figures.

I knew hanging on to those toys for the past 30 years was a good idea.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

No dogs allowed on beach

Corin and I were out on the shoreline today when he saw a big sign that said "No dogs allowed on beach" right at his height. He walked over to it and pointed at an "E," which is his new favorite letter, and said "Eeeeee."

I pointed at some other letters. He knows "S" (which sounds like a snake, just "Sssss"), "W" ("dub-doh"), "O," and "L" (he actually finger-spelled "L").

He also sorta maybe knows "D." What he actually said was "Duck" — apparently he's equating the letter D with the picture that always go beside it in those alphabet books, a duck. In any case, the guy's a total sponge for information.

The hungry bather

As I was giving Corin a bath tonight, out of the blue he said: "Foo. Foo. Anana." (i.e. Food: banana).

"We can have some banana, but we should do it after the bath," I told him. "Are you all done with the bath?"


"Yes, but are you done with your bath?" I asked again.


"Are you 'all done' or do you want 'more bath'?"


"Can you say anything besides 'banana'?"

He thought for a moment. "...Two anana?"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Translating Paul (part one: euggelizein, euaggelion)

I remember the first time I heard that the word "church" did not refer to the church building in which we met, but to the church body that we formed when the congregation gathered together. I was young, but I still recall the sense of my mind being opened to a deeper truth about my place in the body of Christ.

I remember hearing it a second time, perhaps a few years later, and being glad for the reminder. And then I heard it a third time, and a fourth, and by then I started to wonder: Why don't we just come up with a different name for the building and for the people? Why do we have to suffer under a misapprehension most of the time and then correct ourselves every so often? Don't words go a long way toward determining our ability conceptualize possibilities? Why, if key words to our faith are inaccurate, do we still cling to them?

And "church" isn't the only word that gets swallowed up in our modern concept of things, obscuring the original intent and meaning of the Scriptures. When reading the works of Paul, for instance — who had no concept of what "Christianity" was, and was making no attempt to create a splinter version of Judaism, but was simply trying to reveal the fulfillment of the Jewish covenant that Yahweh had made with Abraham — one could easily misinterpret when he meant by the words translated as "Christian," or "preaching," or "gospel," or "faith," or "church."

What Paul MeantIn Garry Wills' book "What Paul Meant" (which is not about translating Paul for the most part — it is rather a follow-up to his book "What Jesus Meant," and the point is that Paul was proclaiming the same thing that Jesus was proclaiming, love God and love one another, rebutting recent scholarly claims that Paul invented his own twisted form of religion on the words of Jesus of Nazareth), Wills ends the book with an appendix titled "Translating Paul," in which he offers a few more accurate translations of the original Greek words that would have the same resonance in our world today that they might have in Paul's time.

I'm going to quote a few of his entries on my blog over the next few weeks and offer a few thoughts on them. This week's word is "Euggelizein," usually translated as "Preach" but which Wills translates as "Bring the Revelation."
Other New Testament authors use kerysso ("proclaim") for preaching, but Paul uses that verb only six times, and two of them are for dubious proclamations (Gal 5:11, Rom 2:21). Overwhelmingly the word usually translated as "preach" is the verb from euggelizo. This has the meaning of God's still actively revealing his plans. ... The revelation in Paul has its own divine power, so he speaks of "when the revelation first began to work" (Phil 4:15). ... Paul even "does priestly service" (hierourgon) to this revelation (Rom 15:16).
In our culture, "preaching" is almost exclusively a teaching role, and teachers in our culture are usually assumed to have mastered a subject. Wills' suggestion makes preaching seem more of a mediator role, someone presenting but then almost getting out of the way of living, breathing, continually unveiling, dynamic revelation of God.

But more importantly, I think, it makes the job of "preaching" that of any Christian, not just those with a microphone. We are to bring the revelation, to live the revelation, to get out of the way of God's unveiling revelation. The high bar we should be striving for in living up to our spiritual leaders is not mastery of a subject or eloquence before a crowd, but living in testament to the revelation.

For more clarity, I should probably also add in Wills' translation of "Euaggelion," usually rendered as "Gospel," but for which he uses "Revelation":
[G]iving the etymology ("favorable announcement") is not translating, either. ... For Paul, as an emissary carrying a message, the gospel is the revelation that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, and this is the entire meaning of history; it is what God wants to reveal about himself. ... The revelation is not only something that Paul and his coworkers carry to others, but what they "serve" (Phlm 13). It has its own power: "The revelation was not brought to you in words only but in miracle and the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess 1:5).
Perhaps this is what St. Francis had in mind in his famous proclamation to "preach the gospel at all times, and, if necessary, use words." Certainly Paul was getting up in front of crowds and speaking. Certainly Paul was extending pastoral care through his letters and visits. But everything he did spoke of perseverance, grit, passion, love, joy, compassion, and assurance, whether than meant facing stoning or singing songs in jail. The gospel revelation of Jesus Christ as Savior was not just an idea or proposition to him that he figured was probably true. Paul lived in full subservience to the revelation, as should we have the courage to do.

Perhaps conceptualizing the revelation/gospel as a living, breathing, unfolding thing is a first step toward embracing that life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The decade that dares not speak its name

Does anyone else think it's weird that there is no common way in which everyone refers to the decade we're currently in?

I remember in the '80s and '90s we relentlessly tossed the decade around as a signifier. ("Welcome to the '90s, Mr. Ba-unks," for instance, or those "Totally '80s" CDs.) But no one really knows what to call this decade.

Back in 1998ish I remember having a conversation in which a friend thought these would be called "the Oughts," as in "the class of Ought-5," from The Music Man. I think I've occasionally heard people say "the Two-thousands" or "the oh-ohs," but only random individuals, and never from an authoritative source like a newscast or a pop culture reference.

Will we name this decade retroactively, once we've reached "the teens" and all the college kids start to reminisce about how cool/lame their childhood shows and music were?

Or are we just going to, collectively as a society, never reference this decade again?