Friday, May 31, 2013

book response: Prototype by Jonathan Martin (2013)

Pastor Martin is strong in being weak. This is good. His honesty in his weakness and God's goodness towards him, nevertheless, makes him an engaging author of Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You're More Like Jesus Than You Think? He tells story of a Jesus who is awesome and who does awesome things through the people around him. He elevates everyone else in this book and not himself. He keeps pointing to
others as examples of Jesus at work and points to himself only to show the wonder-working power of his savior. His perspective, and style, are seen in this quote,
I feel like the guy from the old Hair Club for Men commercials: "I'm not just the president... I'm also a client." I'm not just the pastor, I'm a body under renovation. Because if God is saving anybody at Renovatus, He's saving me, and I have plenty to be saved from and even more to saved to. p. 186
The more honest he is about his oddities, the more normal he comes across. My favorite chapter is titled Obscurity. Christian books on being "radical" or "extreme" or "sold-out" are sold in spades. But most of us, have jobs and families and mortgages and are not called to "drop our nets" like Peter and John. We are called to keep living our lives and occupy until Jesus returns. Martin affirms this, and what a relief that is.
Obscurity is where God sends all of His favorite sons and daughters. Our society tells us that if and when we get "there" - the job or position or degree we've always wanted, the notoriety we've always dreamed of - that's when all the important stuff will start happening. Not so.
All the good stuff happen in obscurity. p.65
Thank you for not making me feel guilty for my non-radical-for-Jesus life. This quote gets to the thesis of the book, Jesus loves us. However, he tells that to us in more compelling ways.
I believe David's years of obscurity enabled him to receive a revelation of his belovedness in a way that Saul never could, amid the legion of voices from which he drew his own fractures sense of identity. Through all the worst moments of David's life, it was his intrinsic grasp of God's love that ultimately set him apart. It turns out that knowing how loved we are by God makes all the difference in the kind of people we will become. p.31
Of course there is more to the book, but I keep returning to this point. I'm one of those people, like Martin, who grew up in the church and keeps forgetting this. I keep complicating what is simple, and I'm glad for the refresher from Pastor Martin.

I received this book as a complimentary review copy from Tyndale House Publishers. The book's website has PDF's of a Q & A with the author and the first chapter.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

housing upgrades after disasters

In light of yesterday's blog about stronger homes for stronger tornadoes, I've been thinking about two related issues.

Issue one is the added cost for safety.

Hurricane straps make a difference, as would basements, or safe rooms. In an interview on NPR yesterday with the former mayor of Joplin, Missouri, Mike Woolston, he talked about the burden poorer people would bear if the building code was changed to require safe rooms. Joplin was severely damaged by a monster tornado two years ago.
BLOCK: You mentioned rebuilding there in Joplin. And I wonder if - as people are rebuilding, do you find that they are building any differently? Are they making their homes any - possibly any safer than they were before, adding safe rooms or storm shelters? WOOLSTON: I think quite a few people are adding safe rooms, and I think probably more of them at least talking about it. There was some effort moving forward shortly after the storm to have safe rooms required in all new construction. The city council declined to make that requirement out of concern that it might drive the price of housing up above where somebody could still afford it or whatever. Certainly, we encouraged people to do that. And we, in fact, did make a couple of small changes in our building codes in that we required hurricane straps on roofs now that we didn't before. The number of anchor bolts in a foundation that actually holds the framing down to the foundation, we doubled the number of those as opposed to what we had pre-storm.
In light of economic stimulus, I think it would be in our country's best interests to subsidize safer housing. But that leads to issue two.

Issue two is asking the government for money. This is the ironic position Oklahoma's senators find themselves in.
Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.
The saying goes, "everyone's a libertarian until their street floods." The amount of money our federal government has poured into the economy is so massive, that funding alternative construction for entire communities, would only be a trickle. On the other hand, since we rescued banks from their housing bubble hi-jinks, why don't they share a trickle of their profits with those in need of housing?

Alternative housing construction does not have the scale to reach a tipping point and become mainstream. But focused funding in areas devastated by weather could provide that, which would enable a decreased dependence on fossil fuels and free up money that is committed to energy bills.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

jumbo straw bale house

I like housing that is outside the norm, which could also be phrased, I like abnormal housing. Look at my Pinterest page to see all the alternatives that strike my fancy. Maybe they have a different shape, or a smaller size, or use a different building material.

In New England, we have an abundance of stone houses. We "grow" as many rocks as we do trees up here. I like the solidity of stone. I like the solidity of timber framing as well. But stone is continuously solid, unlike the fame only of the timber. Growing up, I played in rock forts. I didn't build them, but in the woods around my childhood home, boulders that were dug up and out of the way of construction were shoved into the woods. They made a great fortress for childhood Johnny.
Nowadays, I like rammed earth. It's solid, and beautiful.
I also like the earth log wall.

But I live in New England which gets pretty cold. Neither dirt nor stone have a great R-value. I like thermal mass, but research shows, in climates where the cold lasts for a long time, it doesn't help much.

I do have this ongoing thing for straw bale construction. In the past I've mused over pairing straw bales with rammed earth walls before. I think "jumbo straw bale" construction might be the method closer to my happy ideals. There is an architect doing this in Switzerland, Werner Schmidt. I love what he's doing.

This is one guest house. It looks normal, right? More pictures here. You can't tell the walls are 4 feet thick. Construction info and video here.

Here is another guest house/hotel.

With passive solar and the super insulation of the straw walls, it only needs an emergency heater. It's nearly completely passive. As long as the sun shines on it in the winter often enough, it will stay warm.

The construction video is great as well.

The picture below is a jumbo straw bale house with a steel frame in Australia, a climate which does not deal with cold, but heat.

With four foot walls, a tiny house builder need not consider them. But a small house, on a big enough lot, should achieve Net Zero pretty easily. A tiny house of regular straw bales would be sweet.

The thing with building with rocks or earth bags or rammed earth, is the bullet-proof aspect to them, literally. It's not a feature of regular straw bales, but I can imagine it's possibility with these jumbo bales. This got me thinking about the deadly disasters in tornado alley in the United States. Current research shows that if the midwest built with hurricane straps, more roofs would be saved and thus more houses. Only the all-concrete structures survive a direct hit of the EF-5 tornadoes. Monolithic dome, underground home, and ICF home builders are advertising their products' performances in these storms. I like them all. But I wonder if the massive 1200 lb. jumbo bales with concrete finishes inside and out might also be another option. [Update: This article at the Discovery Channel shows positive results with the tornado cannon.] The bale houses use much less concrete or cement and sequesters tons of carbon, literally, in that straw. It insulates with natural materials.

The roof is still an issue, but here is a solution in Germany, a straw bale round house with straw bales insulating the dome. Timbrel vaults, built with brick, might be another option as well, with the insulation on the ceiling underneath the vault. The Australian house above, with the steel frame is bolted together, roof to foundation.

Here are some useful principles in house design for cyclonic climates.

Cost is always the issue though. The houses go up quickly, but they are in the passive house price range, which you pays itself back in the very low heating and cooling costs.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tony Jones plans to follow through with his civil marriage

Two years ago, I wrote a post, which generated more hits than I normally see on my little ol' blog, criticizing Dr. Tony Jones's decision to have a sacramental but not civil marriage in order to demonstrate his allegiance to the gay community in Minnesota. His Twitter statement read, "But we are not getting legally married until you can. We are getting sacramentally married." In hindsight, as my views have evolved on gay marriage as a civil right, I really appreciate his sentiment. I still do not think it was the right call as a church leader or seminary professor. Even a national columnist thought it was a poor choice.

But today, Minnesota legalized gay marriage, and Dr. Jones has announced his plans to civilly marry his sacramental wife this summer. I'm happy for them.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 5

This series started from a lectionary reading last week, Psalm 68. I can't track with David ascribing to God this invitation,
Psalm 68:21 Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.
22 The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea,
23 that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share.”

But then stories come out, such as today's, of women escaping sexual slavery. And I have to admit, there is a part of me that wants to wade in these brothers' blood. What they did was so wrong, I have a hard time processing it rationally, and want to react to it viscerally. This is why our society has a legal process and tries to stop lynch mobs. Those guys hurt three women, yet it disrupts the baseline of trust in our society, and hurts all of us.

Did you see what happened there? My brain and my heart had a dialog and my soul is trying to synthesize those viewpoints. Freud would say my Id and Superego were at odds and my Ego has to straighten it all out.  Gene Roddenberry would have had Dr. Spock and Dr. McCoy argue in front of Captain Kirk. J. K .Rowling would have had Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley bicker in front of Harry Potter.

In the Bible, David is an "all-heart" kind of guy. He is passion embodied. He passionately loves God. He passionately loves women. He passionately loves his best buddy Jonathan. He passionately loves another guy's wife. He passionately loves his kids even when they are raping each other, killing each other, and trying to kill him. David gets God's passion.

In Genesis, in the lead up to the story of Noah's flood, God is said to "repent" of his decision to create humanity because of it's wickedness and violence.
Gensis 6:5 The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6 So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. 7 And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.”
But after the flood he also promised Noah never to do that again.
Genesis 8:21 And the Lord was pleased with the aroma of the sacrifice and said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things.
I'm typically a cerebral guy, all brain, no heart, and I have a hard time understanding passionate people, much less a passionate God.

But news stories like today's awaken the passionate, irrational beast that lurks in my chest. Somedays, like today, I totally get Psalm 68.

Monday, May 06, 2013

the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 4

You might think I'm the brilliant kind of writer who knows the end from the beginning when composing pieces. If you thought so, you are mistaken, and that's why I'm only a blogger with a day job. This weekend, I think I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. But this post is still in the dark tunnel. I chose not to finish surveying the synoptics, because I did not expect much from the effort.

The same style of violent language shows up again in John the Beloved's Revelation. It's a little different in that the heavenly armies are doing the butchering. In the Apocalypse, nothing is clear and simple, so much of it is symbolic. This is from the end of chapter 14.
Rev. 14:17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
Uggh. That's more blood than I can imagine. I'm assuming that the blood is human, and represents the deadly effect of God's judgment on humanity, consistent with the other judgments in the chapter. Much of the latter half of the book consists of graphic, hyperbolic and symbolic depictions of God's judgment on humanity, not unlike the 10 plagues Moses brought on the Egyptians. But more of them. In Moses' story, he turned the Nile and every container of water in Egypt into blood. When I re-read Exodus during Lent, I noted internal inconsistencies with the plagues that indicate them to also be symbolic and hyperbolic rather than literal.

Back to John's vision. At the end, Jesus defeats his physical and spiritual enemies. It's quite rousing, if you are into even more blood and gore. It starts off with an adoring picture of Jesus, the conquering hero. His bloody robe could be colored with his own blood, but it gets mixed by the end of the battle with that of his opponents. Again, the winepress metaphor is used, which is pretty graphic when you think about it. People used to pour their harvest of grapes in big stone basins and stomp on the grapes with their bare feet to separate the juice from the skin and flesh. Then the birds are invited to the anticipated slaughter of his opponents, and they do. It's not very different from Psalm 68:23, which originally bothered me this morning.
Revelation 19
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.
17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.” 19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
What are my options with this passage? I think they are the same as Psalm 68.

  1. David John was wrong to attribute this to God.
  2. This is symbolic language, not to be understood literally.
In this case, we know with a great degree of certainty the language is symbolic. Not even my fundamentalist friends are on the watch for dragons to appear, signaling the end times. They also do not think Jesus has a sword in his mouth instead of a tongue.

But even if this is symbolic and hyperbolic, I still feel uneasy with the violent God/Jesus portrayed by John and David and Joshua. It's not just the gore, but the approval of the treatment of the enemies, after their deaths. Dogs will lap up their blood. Birds will gorge on their bodies. Yayyyyyyy!!!!!......????????

I'm slowly reading, between other books, Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld on my Kindle. He offers some ideas on processing these images. But I'm only halfway through, and I can't apply anything yet. I'm open to any suggestions from my readers on who to read and learn from in regards to my issues with these passages and their tone.

I think John the Beloved might be the way out of this tunnel. He was the last living apostle and he had one message, as summarized by this Russian Orthodox priest.
During the last years of his life the Apostle preached only one precept: "children, love one another" His disciples asked : "Why do you repeat yourself?" Apostle John answered: "This is the most important commandment. If you will fulfil it, then you wil fulfil all of Christ's commandment."

Thursday, May 02, 2013

the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 3

I didn't have time to research and write today, but I did have time to read. My eyes and ears are "open" to this topic, and I'm seeing how others are struggling like myself with God's violence.

Here are a couple I came across today.

Morgan Guyton is an associate pastor in a United Methodist church. I follow him on Twitter and after clicking through a couple links I ended up on his post about God's anger, God’s wrath as a cosmic spiritual immune system. He's a blogger after my own heart. His blogs are too long and bleed all over the place. They are an absolute mess, and I love it. I also really dig over-extended metaphors. I don't know if I buy all of his ideas in this post, but I identify with his struggle.

Richard Beck is a professor of  psychology at Abilene Christian University. He, too, is a believer who wrestles with God. Yesterday he wrote a post Devoted to Destruction: Reading Cherem Non-Violently. He writes about his jailhouse Bible class reading Joshua.
Cherem (also spelled herem) refers to the wholesale destruction of all living things--men, women, children and animals--that God commands when the Israelites captured a city. The word occurs 21 times in the Old Testament and most of those, eight references, occur in the book of Joshua.
Joshua is a thorn in my side too. Not unlike the conclusion of Douglas Earl's The Josua Delusion, Beck writes "Having recently read the book of Joshua I was struck by the following: Cherem doesn't work. That seems to be one of the take home points of the book."

I appreciate their wrestling. The commenters wrestle over more details as well.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 2

This series, the angry, bloody God of the Bible? begins here.

This post jumps right into the data from Jesus.

Jesus told his disciples that by seeing him, they've seen the Father. He is God. The same God as in the Old Testament. One option not available but born out of similar frustration is that of the early church heretic Marcion. His solution was to reject the Old Testament and most of the New Testament. He was Jesus-only to the extreme. But Jesus, himself, says some extreme things.
In Matthew 10 he states,
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
The fact that conversion brings division in families is nothing new. It doesn't do it in all families. Not everyone who converts risks their lives nowadays. But it is a risk in some cultures today. Jesus' point, with this language is to say he's worth everything we have, family and life.

Jesus also issues violent warning to those who put children at risk. Whether he means spiritual children or literal children is unclear.
Matthew 18:6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
As a parent, I can support this threat of Jesus'. Drowning is a terrible way to go. But Jesus says he has a worse way for these kinds of offenders. It sounds like a threat of deadly torture. Does divine justice have to be this way? I have to go with the data I have. In the same chapter, he explicitly mentions torture for an offense that doesn't seem nearly as bad as hurting children.
Matthew 18:34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Verse 34 is the conclusion of a parable, but verse 35 is the commentary on the parable. It appears God reserves the right to torture those who don't forgive!? In the parable, usually the master figure represents God. In this parable, the master forgave a guy who owed him a lifetime of debt, but then that guy shakes down another guy who owes him chump change. When the master finds out, he gets furious, and rescinds his forgiveness and goes with justice instead. I get the point that forgiveness is extremely important to Jesus. I get that he received torture on my behalf. I get that others (demons in hell) are doing the torturing. The master offered him a chance to live in a new paradigm, but the guy preferred the old paradigm of justice, so he got what he wanted.

The kind of torture, as well as port-mortem desecration, is explained by Jesus before his own trial and crucifixion. I think he is referring to the Jewish leaders who should have recognized him and received him with open arms instead of torturing and killing him.
Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The point seems to be he has no tolerance for pretenders/actors/hypocrites. Cutting someone to pieces is really extreme though. It's "Silence of the Lambs" crazy. There was a priest in Judges 19 who cut his dead girlfriend to pieces and mailed them around the country as evidence of how crazy the town was where she was killed. Her story was received with sorrow followed by a collective determination to inflict violent justice on her rapist/murderers, Judges 20.

In the next chapter, Jesus tells another parable involving a master and three of his servants. It doesn't go well for the third one, who was paralyzed with fear of his master, and did not invest the wealth left to him during the master's absence.
Matthew 25:24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The servant's assessment of the master turns out to be right. The point seems to be fear is a lousy motivator, which contradicts the warning. Doesn't it? At least the guy isn't tortured. He's only kicked to the curb.

This ends my survey of only one of the four gospels. Mark and Luke have plenty of overlap with Matthew, that's why they are the synoptics, so I should be able to survey those two together in the next post.

I'm only looking at the really negative, bloody, gory stuff, because I'm that kind of guy ;-). However, I'm really into God's love and Jesus' turn the other cheek theology. I'm trying to piece together how this violent teaching fits with the loving teaching. I'm open to any suggestions.