Monday, July 31, 2006

Book Tag

I'm not usually into this kind of thing, but it's about books. So how can I resist? This is from John Barach. Also, I'm going to do this as a speed test. I'm not going to think long and hard about these answers. Consider this a variation on free association or something like that.

1. One book that changed your life: For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemman
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Most of P.G. Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse
4. One book that made you laugh: Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
5. One book that made you cry: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
6. One book that you wish had been written: The Faerie Queene: Books VII-XII by Edmund Spencer
7. One book that you wish had never been written: The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology by Guy Waters
8. One book you’re currently reading: The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Being as Communion by John Zizioulas
10. Now tag five people: How about three?

Charles, Joffre and Rich

If we can get responses from all three of them, I would imagine a very interesting spread.


Shape of the Liturgy: Chapter 1

The following is what I hope becomes a complete summary of Dom Gregory Dix’s magnum opus The Shape of the Liturgy. I want to make it clear at the outset that this report is a “complete summary” in the sense that it completely summarizes whatever I want to remember or find interesting throughout the course of the entire book. So it should probably be considered more of a selective summary than a comprehensive analysis. What you will find here are general ruminations and quotations on various points that I find stimulating, startling and sometimes even troubling. But be aware that I have not always labeled each as such. Some I leave to your judgment, reserving my own for the sake of conversation at the present. Other times, I will not hide my prejudices or suspicions, but again, that’s why this is more of an informal summary than a comprehensive analysis.

Dix begins with a definition of liturgy: “‘Liturgy’ is the name given ever since the days of the apostles to the act of taking part in the solemn corporate worship of God by the ‘priestly’ society of Christians, who are ‘the Body of Christ, the church’.”

Dix goes on to explain that the heart of this “solemn corporate worship of God” is the Eucharist or Breaking of Bread. Thus worship is in its simplicity a corporate action, a ritual performed by the entire gathered assembly. Because of this central fact, Dix puts forth three essentials: First, the whole Eucharist must be seen and flow as essentially one action and therefore the entire service must have a “logical development as one whole”. All of the direction of the service must flow into and out of the central corporate act of Breaking Bread. This sequence is what Dix calls the ‘Shape’ of the Liturgy. Secondly, the structure of the liturgy ought to display each ‘order’ or office in the church, in other words, it should show the role or gifts of each in “fulfilling the corporate action of the whole.” And finally, in order for the corporate action to truly be a corporate action there must be a common agreement and awareness of what the action is to be performed.

He says that the sequence of the actions is obedience to Christ’s command to “do this”. And the prayers which flow into and out of the action are what primarily express the meaning of the actions. In some ways this can simplify much of the debates and discussions surround worship. To defend what you want to occur in worship, it must be in submission to Christ’s central command to “do this”. Perhaps we might call this the Imperative Principle of Worship, as some distant relative of the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Dix goes on to describe the Liturgical Tradition, how the various parts of the liturgy have come to have a place in the service. He says that where the Scriptures played an important defensive role in expelling explicitly pagan elements from the service, “it is important for the understanding of the whole future history of the liturgy to grasp the fact that Eucharistic worship from the outset was not based on scripture at all, whether of the Old or New Testament, but solely on tradition.” (emphasis his)

And yes, to mix metaphors, that gets my Reformed hackles all in a twist. Obviously this sort of statement begs the question, ‘what tradition?’ and ‘where did it come from?’ If it’s descended from the instructions of Christ and the apostles then it’s rather difficult to hold to such an exclusive view of the matter, as Paul seems pretty comfortable with the instructions he’s given in writing. His epistles are the authoritative and sufficient traditions he’s delivered by mouth (2 Thess. 2:15). And if Dix means that that the liturgy developed completely extra-biblically then whence came such dependable wisdom that was neither pagan nor Scriptural?

Dix finishes Chapter 1 describing the universality of practice in the early church despite the diversity of setting and culture. And because the actions were so universal much of the prayer was similar as well: “[B]ecause the Eucharistic action was everywhere the same, the prayer which expresses the meaning of that action had necessarily certain fixed characteristics, though these were phrased and expressed in a great variety of ways by different churches.” Dix suggests that two phenomena were responsible for the changes in the basic outlines of the liturgy. First, ‘clericalization’ was a prime factor. “Changes in this outline only began when the rite as a whole had been partially ‘clericalised’ by becoming something which the clergy were supposed to do for the laity, and the laity for the most part had lost their active share in its performance.” In other words, the more corporate the actions and words of the liturgy were, the more stable and enduring the actions and words of the liturgy were. The other cause Dix suggests for the disintegration of uniformity of the rite was political disintegration. This division begins to occur between the East and West as early as the Roman Empire begins dividing in the fourth century. But Dix says that the continuing breakup of the West throughout the Middle Ages accounts for the greater “flourishing of local varieties” in the West than in the East where the Eastern Byzantine Empire continued for many centuries.

Despite the many, many variations, Dix maintains that there really are just two rites, East and West, when all is said and done. And even at the root of these two, he says that there still remains “what may be called the classical form of the Eucharistic action—that fixed outline, the core of which descends from the time of the Apostles…”


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Felicity Elizabeth Sumpter

Felicity was born at 7am this morning. 7lbs and 20.5 inches long. She and mom are doing very well. God is very good.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Reformed Liturgical Institute

A friend of mine is in the process of starting the Reformed Liturgical Institute. While the work is still in its infancy, the idea is to begin building a website for discussion and resources to later include conferences and the like. The Institute is under the authority of Christ Church in Cary, North Carolina, the mother church of Holy Trinity. You'll notice that I'm listed as one of the "contributors" but I'm still trying to get my act together to post something worthwhile.

But check out the site and tell all your friends.


Crunchy Cons

Crunchy Cons or what we might call Granola Conservatives looks interesting.

From the page, The Publishers Weekly says:

What do you call people who vote for Bush but shop at Whole Foods? Crunchy cons. And according to Dreher, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, they're forming a thriving counterculture within the contemporary conservative movement. United by a "cultural sensibility, not an ideology," crunchy conservatives, he says, have some habits and beliefs often identified with cultural liberals, like shopping at agriculture co-ops and rejecting suburban sprawl. Yet crunchy cons stand apart from both the Republican "Party of Greed" and the Democratic "Party of Lust," he says, by focusing on living according to conservative values, what the author calls "sacramental" living. Dreher makes no secret of his own faith in Christianity, and his book will resonate most with fellow Christians. His conversations with other crunchy conservatives—e.g., the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, a Manhattan home-schooler, the author's wife—are illuminating, but the book fails to offer any empirical evidence to connect these individuals to a wider "movement." Instead, it works best as an indictment of consumerism and the spiritual havoc it can wreak. While his complaints about consumer culture are similar to those advanced by liberals, Dreher frames his criticism of corporate America in explicitly conservative terms, painting rampant consumerism as antithetical to true conservatism. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

"Ewww, that's so lefty," Dreher's editor at his old National Review job sneered when Dreher said he was picking up some locally grown organic produce. And what's with the sandals I'm wearing, he then thought; am I going liberal? Not a bit, he concluded, though if associating with liberals could help him have healthy, flavorful food and a beautiful, durable home; be involved in his children's education; protect and nurture the environment and other species; and live with religious integrity, then associate, befriend, and work with liberals he would. That made him a crunchy con(servative), and since leaving NR and NY for Dallas, he has just become crunchier--and met scads of comrades, including literary patron saints G. K. Chesterton, Russell Kirk, E. F. Schumacher, and Wendell Berry and articulate representatives of the types recorded in his book's expansive subtitle. His engrossing report on his encounters and his own motivations and endeavors stresses that crunchy cons follow principles more than formulate policies; their most cherished hope is to overthrow the consumerist mentality that has made the Democrats the party of lust and the Republicans the party of greed. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

I'm highly suspicious but also intrigued. I'm not a Republican, and apart from the general honor due our leaders, I have no special love for Bush. But some of the general themes described in these reviews do resonate with me. I often feel that I share many social concerns that would have me labeled as a liberal even though I wouldn't have many friends on that side of the aisle because I'm fully committed to the ethical and moral standards of Holy Scripture. I'm not an agrarian, but I appreciate some of the urban renewal emphases that seek to bring a kind of agrarian consciousness and appreciation back to cities and communities.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Green Grow the Rushes, O

Mark Reagan taught this song to the boys at Atlas this year. Every week beginning around Easter until near the end of the school year, he began his music class with this popular English carol. Similar in concept to "The Twelve Days of Christmas", the song builds a verse at a time up to the number twelve and repeats all the previous verses all the way down to one. Wikipedia says that this song was first recorded in Hebrew in the sixteenth century which I find very fascinating. There are a number of verses that are quite enigmatic while others seem fairly straight forward. The tune is very catchy, and I wish I had some way of playing a sample for you, but alas, I'm not sure it's possible. But for whatever it's worth, here is the last verse with all of the prior verses built in.

I’ll sing of twelve, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your twelve, O?
Twelve for the twelve Apostles,
Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven,
Ten for the ten commandments,
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door,
Four for the Gospel makers,
Three, three, the rivals,
Two, two, the lily-white boys,
All dressed up in green, O
One for the one that stood alone
And evermore shall be so.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well, my cyber friends, we are down to the final days. My lovely wife is due to give birth to our second child today, tomorrow or Sunday depending on which date you believe. Things are beginning to happen, but we're not running out the door to the hospital or anything yet. Lots of walking interspersed with lots of movies and resting. And lots of praying.

My wife pointed out last night that the birth of a child is always a significant story. We know it is an episode in a greater story that will surely be recalled and retold. And it's strange to suddenly "emerge" for a moment and realize that you're in a story, and well, you don't quite now how it ends yet. Does that make me "emergent"? ;)

Last time, when River was born, God answered a number of very particular prayers about when and how River would be born. Those answered prayers are fixed quite firmly in our minds as we think and pray about this time. God is good.

I listened to an excellent sermon this week by Douglas Jones which can be found here. It's the one entitled "Praying like Royalty". I heartily commend it to you. Jones explores how God uses the prayers of His people to direct the course history. It's an excellent challenge to both pray specifically and broadly for matters both near and far.


Liturgy and Starbucks

Quinn Fox suggests that part of the genius of Starbucks is the refusal to be "seeker sensitive." A friend gave me this artical, and I found it online here.



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Cross

The cross is without question the most prevalent symbol in the Christian Church. Flying high above steeples and domes, it is the banner that proclaims the triumph and victory of Jesus Christ. It adorns our sanctuaries, often holding a place of prominence at the center of our view. It decorates the table of the Eucharist, it sets the lectern apart, and it may appear on the covers of our Bibles, hymnals, and bulletins. It is worn on jewelry, displayed on logos, and it decorates homes and schools. This is a glorious testimony to the Cross of our Lord, where the salvation of the world was accomplished, where sin and death were defeated. The cross sets these things apart, adorning and claiming their use for King Jesus.

Thus St. Paul declares, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14) Paul nor we for a moment believe that our boasting is in any way disconnected from the reality of what happened on a particular cross in a Roman province a little less than two thousand years ago. It is the Cross of Christ that gives all crosses their meaning, their beauty, and their power.

But to say that crosses have power, isn’t that superstitious? Superstition in its usual sense means putting faith in something which is not worth putting faith into or acting out of fear towards something or someone which ought not be feared. But depending on what you believe and who you believe, there are many things which rightly deserve our faith and fear because God has given them to us. In regards to the symbol of the cross, we believe that Jesus Christ has unalterably changed the world. In fact, His death and resurrection were the beginnings of the New World, the new heavens and new earth. In this new world, the cross is worthy of faith and fear for what Christ accomplished on it. It is foolishness and terror to those who are perishing; those who hate Christ are enemies of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18, Phil. 3:18). This does not mean that wood or gold work in any way independent of the Triune God. Those who believe this are truly superstitious. But Jesus has altered the state of the world dramatically, ascending into heaven and sitting on the throne of God ruling and reigning until all of his enemies are his footstool. The victory and reign of Jesus Christ is a fact which is true apart from all the sin and lawlessness of man. “Let God be true, and every man a liar…” St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, speaking particularly about the difference between inward and outward faithfulness and unfaithfulness. But the cross is a symbol of this reign, of His victory over sin, and therefore of our reign and victory over sin with Him. This is just what St. Athanasius says, “A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead.” And again he states, “By the sign of the cross, on the contrary, all magic is stayed, all sorcery confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up from earth to heaven.” For these brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom gave their lives for the Faith, the cross signified their faith but also enacted their faith, and by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, it delivered many from the “spiritual forces of evil” that contended with them.

While we may not face the same battles as St. Athanasius, we are still engaged in the same great struggle against sin and the world. Just as we are called to trust the words of God in Scripture and its proclamation, we are also called to trust the pictures of God, such as the bread and wine in the Eucharist and the water of Holy Baptism. These sacraments are the central pictures by which God displays and bestows His grace in physical ways in this world. But these pictures, these memorials, are also prayers and signs that we perform and enact before the face of God, as a testimony back to God, crying out to Him for justice and mercy, pleading for salvation. We do not pretend to make the cross a sacrament, but it too is a lesser picture of God’s victory and therefore may and ought to be displayed in faith, trusting and praying that all of God’s promises to us in Christ have been and will be fulfilled.

Lastly, all of this being true, it follows in a rather straight forward way that the cross may not only adorn our churches, schools, and homes, but it may also adorn our bodies through the sign of the cross. From ancient times, as St. Athanasius records, Christians made the cross over their bodies reminding themselves of the crucifixion, joining with all Christians everywhere trusting that in Christ we have all been crucified together with Him, symbolically taking up our cross to follow Him, and confessing together that He is now alive reigning and ruling and working in the world on our behalf. The great arguments raised against this practice are basically two fold. First, it is argued that this practice is Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. And this is certainly true. But this is no reason to reject anything outright. Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose, and Gregory the Great were all Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox! The catholic church preserved for us the true faith, the Holy Scriptures, and did battle with the great enemies of Christ, throwing down the pagan temples and statuaries, and proclaiming Christ as King of all. The reason we are Christians today is because of the Catholic and Orthodox Church of the first thousand years of the faith. That Church is our Church, and while this certainly doesn’t mean we must or ought to imitate every last thing they do, it does mean that if we turn away from their practices we ought to have a good reason for doing so, namely that they are in conflict with Holy Scripture. A number of witnesses can be called to testify to the antiquity of the practice as well as its orthodoxy. Tertullian (d. ca. 250) said: "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross" (De corona, 30). Later, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) exhorted in his Catechetical Lectures, "Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest" (Catecheses, 13). Even St. Augustine speaks of the sign of the cross as a sign or seal of Christ. Furthermore, Martin Luther, who is remembered in history for his great conflict with the Church of Rome and the origination of the Protestant Reformation encouraged the use of the sign: “In the morning, when you rise, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer… In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. (“Prayers for Daily Use,” The Small Catechism, An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism [Mankato, Minnesota: Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 2001], p. 26) In another place, Luther is recorded: “ do I approach this Savior and Redeemer? By means of cowls or monastic orders and rules? No! Just cling to the Son in faith. He conquered death and the devil, and He slit the devil’s belly open. He will reign and rule again, even though He was crucified under Annas and Caiaphas. Therefore attach yourself to Him, and you will tear through death and devil; for this text [John 3:15] assures us: “Whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Accept the truth of this miracle of God’s love for the world, and say: “I believe in the Son of God and of Mary, who was lifted up and nailed to the cross.” Then you will experience the new birth; for death and sin will no longer accuse, harm, and injure you. Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Cling to His neck or to His garment; that is, believe that He became man and suffered for you. Cross yourself and say: “I am a Christian and will conquer.” And you will find that death is vanquished. In Acts 2:24 St. Peter says that death was not able to hold Christ, since deity and humanity were united in one Person. In the same way we, too, shall not remain in death; we shall destroy death, but only if we remain steadfast in faith and cling to death’s Destroyer. (“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1957], p. 356)

Secondly, it is argued that making the sign of the cross is done by many people superstitiously or flippantly. Making the cross of Christ in vain is akin to taking the name of the Lord in vain. But the fact that people do it wrongly, flippantly, or superstitiously is no argument against using the name of God. In fact, it is more reason than ever to use God’s name correctly and with reverence, fear, and faith. Likewise, to display a cross or to make it upon one’s body in true faith, believing and resting upon Christ and His gospel is in no way superstitious, and it is the greatest remedy for its abuse.

As a final caveat, I would hasten to add that wisdom is needed in all reformation. Reformation is not hard headed, demanding or divisive. Reformation is full of love for the Triune God and love for one’s neighbor. In short, true reformation is always catholic, however strange that may sound. Included in this must be respect and obedience to those in authority. Particularly when it comes to matters of adiaphora, matters of indifference. As we have seen, a case can be made both biblically and historically for the symbol and sign of the cross. However, we are not required to do this by anything in Scripture and therefore this is a matter of wisdom and freedom before God.

The sign of the cross is no incantation or fairy charm. Rather, when a man, woman, or child touches their forehead, abdomen, and crosses their chest, it is an incarnation of the gospel. It is prayer with our bodies. Historically, the name of the Trinity is spoken while the sign is made, dedicating our bodies, our thoughts, our words, our actions, all that we are to the service of the Trinity. We must use our bodies; we always use our bodies. The only question is: how will we use our bodies? Will our hands merely hang at our sides? Will we salute or put our hand over our breast? Will we shake hands or hug? Will we kiss or gesture? Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. If crosses are right and proper on our buildings, surely they are proper upon our bodies. Our bodies are sacred to God and set apart for His purposes in ways far beyond even the most beautiful cathedrals. They will one day be rubble, but our bodies will be glorified in the resurrection of the dead. This is who we are; this is our identity as Christians. Therefore it is right and proper that our words, thoughts, and gestures be cruciform, displaying the gospel with faith in all that we do, think, and say. Truly this is something to glory in, that death is swallowed up in victory. May our entire lives boast in nothing less than the victory of the cross, won by Christ Jesus our Lord.

1. The quotes from Athanasius are from his On the Incarnation.
2. The quotes from Turtullian and Cyril of Jerusalem were found here.
3. The quotes from Martin Luther were found here


Monday, July 24, 2006

A Story

I can't remember where I heard this story or who told it to me. So perhaps it's simply best to consider this in the same category as legend or lore. Perhaps you may add this tale to your (no doubt) growing collection of stories and legends from New St. Andrews College Mythology. Additionally, I should add, that if you remember this event or perhaps you are the victim of this story, I would beg your apologies for factual errors, rhetorical hyperbole, and all other manner of exaggeration and distortion of what really happened. I remember laughing very hard about this story--to the point of abdominal pain, and even when I don't laugh about it anymore, I still smile quite fondly and remember that little soft spot in my belly.

At any rate, all first year New St. Andrews College students normally take Rhetoric as Freshmen. This course was taught by Mr. Chris Schlect back in the day when I was a student at NSA, and I believe Mr. Douglas Wilson taught the class for a year or two and now finally, it has become something of Mr. Nathan Wilson's bailiwick. This course covers numerous areas of public speaking, creative writing, logic, classical rhetoric, and all manner of angles on coherent discourse and carefully tuned wordsmithing. Now that's the idea at least.

During the course of this year of rhetorical study impromptu speeches and debates are occasionally held. Thus, a topic is assigned and without further ado, you or one of your hapless compatriots may find him or herself hauled to the lists.

The story, of which I made mention several paragraphs ago, took place on one of these occasions. I am told that on this occasion Mr. Douglas Wilson was mercilessly attending to the proper "breaking in" of the newbies, engaging in impromptu debates with them on a whole host of issues. I'm not sure if he was the teacher of the class or if he had been invited in to the class for the afternoon to cultivate a greater din of rhetorical bonhomie. In either case, the story goes that some young Andy found himself blinking bashfully in the limelight of some hallowed NSA classroom standing directly across from Mr. Wilson. The assigned debating topic was something to do with "working hard vs. laziness/relaxation". I don't know exactly because, as I mentioned previously, I wasn't there. But as it seemed, the gods favored the lad granting him what seemed to be the easier case, a defense of the goodness of hard work and diligent labor.

The terms were set, the topic assigned and the poor little brute went about it, hacking and walloping with all of his rhetorical might, seeking to lay his axe of wit and wisdom to the tree of all things lackadaisical. Having championed his cause for the stated amount of time and beaming with satisfaction at the apparent results, the young Demosthenes rested his case and yielded the floor up for a cross examination, like an ox to the slaughter, like the little ants fleeing under my son's stomping feet. I'm not sure how the cross examination began, and I really do not know how long it lasted. But I'm told that the critical climax of debate was reached when Mr. Wilson reached into his vast repository of Bible verses and flung Proverbs 24:33 at the poor, unsuspecting fool, leaving him wide eyed, stunned, and eventually speechless. Proverbs 24:33, for those of you who don't remember, is that pointed, breathtaking champion of all verses anti-laborious. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest."

The world froze. Comets missed their turns. Galaxies hiccupped. Several freshman girls fainted. It appeared that Mr. Wilson had proven beyond a shadow of doubt that while work might be fine and dandy, sleep and slumber were far more desirous, and as it turned out, far more Biblical. The young man stammered and stuttered, feverishly racking his memory for some come back, some logical fallacy, or just some Latin word that meant "nuh-uh" to make all the world right again. But it was not to be. The young man relented, recanted and sheepishly yielded the floor.

I do not think that it was too long after that our bold and fearless Andy read Proverbs 24:33. And growing in his great mastery of rhetorical insight, he dared to push the limits, expanding his horizons, boldly going where he at least, had never gone before, reading Proverbs 24:34: "So shall poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man."


Eucharistic Meditation

“Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be give her to eat.” (Mk. 5:41-43)

This is a resurrection meal. This meal is part of what the writer of Hebrews describes as tasting of “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5) In this meal, we are invited into the resurrection of the dead, into the life everlasting. And this is fitting. Paul says in Romans “that as many of us that have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4) And Jesus raises us up hungry. Like the little girl whom Jesus raised in our passage, Jesus says that something should be given to us to eat. And thus you are here. One thing we know about heaven, about the world of the resurrection, about the New Heavens and New Earth in their fullness is that we will eat. Jesus ate after his resurrection, he has food given to this little girl upon her resurrection, the glories of the New Jerusalem are described as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and of course we have this meal here, the Eucharist, a feast which we confess is occurring in heaven with all the saints before the throne of God. So come. Believe that you have been raised, because you have. And fear nothing, for though you face the mysteries and pains of life, you are already claimed by the Resurrection. Because you are in Jesus and He is the Resurrection and the Life. You are in the Life, and therefore this food is for you. This is the Bread of Life.


Eucharistic Meditation

“Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be give her to eat.” (Mk. 5:41-43)

This is a resurrection meal. This meal is part of what the writer of Hebrews describes as tasting of “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5) In this meal, we are invited into the resurrection of the dead, into the life everlasting. And this is fitting. Paul says in Romans “that as many of us that have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4) And Jesus raises us up hungry. Like the little girl whom Jesus raised in our passage, Jesus says that something should be given to us to eat. And thus you are here. One thing we know about heaven, about the world of the resurrection, about the New Heavens and New Earth in their fullness is that we will eat. Jesus ate after his resurrection, he has food given to this little girl upon her resurrection, the glories of the New Jerusalem are described as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and of course we have this meal here, the Eucharist, a feast which we confess is occurring in heaven with all the saints before the throne of God. So come. Believe that you have been raised, because you have. And fear nothing, for though you face the mysteries and pains of life, you are already claimed by the Resurrection. Because you are in Jesus and He is the Resurrection and the Life. You are in the Life, and therefore this food is for you. This is the Bread of Life.


Mark 5: The God of Tension

The last chapter ended revealing Jesus as the One who tames storms, the One who speaks to the wind and commands obedience. In this chapter this same Jesus is revealed as the One who continues to tame the untamable but does so on His own terms, in His own timing, through His own means.

Lord of the Greeks
Jesus encounters another unclean spirit, this time in the region of the Garasenes or Gadarenes (5:1) near a Hellenized area of Palestine called “Decapolis” (5:20). The assumption then is that we are dealing with gentiles or at least gentile sympathizers in this episode. The name “legion” is also a Roman term associated with their primary military unit (5:9). This unit usually consisted of between five and six thousand soldiers. Jesus is doing battle with Rome, with Hellenization but perhaps not as some people hoped. Finally, there near the beach, where Jesus has landed is a herd of swine, an unclean animal for faithful Jews and a sacred animal to Hellenistic culture. The demons entering the pigs (there were about two thousand) and then rushing down to drown in the sea is highly fitting given the association of the sea with the unclean gentile nations (5:13). Also notice the Exodus motif here: the enemy armies ("legion") drowning in the sea. One would think that the local crazy man, sitting and clothed in his right mind, would be a cause for thankfulness. But the reality is otherwise (5:15-17). One commentator points out the parallels between this story and the previous one (4:35-41). Both the storm and the demon-possessed man are untamable. Both are wild and dangerous, and both by a spoken word are reduced to calm. The results are the same as well: fear. Having read the beginning of Mark, we know that Jesus’ ministry is one of grace and healing, but these people from Decapolis don’t have the same information. The loss of an enormous herd of pigs is also probably a significant economic blow to the community. They think that Jesus is a threat to their culture, their society, their way of life. And in one sense, he is. The calming of their storm presents an unknown, a tension, a mystery they are not willing to face.

Dead Daughters
The following interpolation or “sandwich” story relates two healings with a number of similarities. Both are daughters (5:23, 34). The woman with the flow of blood is ceremonially unclean and therefore ceremonially like a corpse (Lev. 15:25-27, 11:39-40). The girl lies at the point of death and then dies. Both are in some sense dead. Both afflictions are kinds of barrenness as well. The girl has just come into womanhood and the ability to bear children; the woman, having a flow of blood, is obviously afflicted in her reproductive system. Neither can bear children because of their “death”. Both are also associated with the number twelve. The woman has had the affliction for 12 years and the girl was 12 years old. The parallels make it obvious that Mark would have us see the episodes as almost a single event. The method of story telling also emphasizes this. The number twelve points to the house of Israel, and as has been indicated previously, Israel is afflicted, unclean, barren and dead. Israel has suffered many things at the hands of many physicians; she has spent all that she has and is still no better (5:26). Israel needs the healing and resurrection of Jesus.

The entire chapter is concerned with “uncleanness” of various sorts. The man from the tombs (place of death) had an unclean spirit, the spirit “Legion” is cast into the unclean swine, a woman with a flow of blood is ceremonially unclean, and the daughter of Jairus is an unclean corpse (grave). Part of the lesson is to point out the similarities between the “faithful” (Jairus is a ruler of the synagogue, v. 22) and the “compromisers” (Decapolis is a compromised region). They all need cleansing. Both are unclean; both are afflicted by death in various forms. And Jesus touches them both. But we also need to remember the trajectory of Mark. We first ran into uncleanness in the synagogue and now it’s everywhere. But the whole point of ceremonial cleanliness laws was to make distinctions. God wanted Israel to know that she was to be a holy, priestly nation; and even within that priestly nation, Israelites were to recognize when they themselves were “unclean” and could not come before God. The concept of “uncleanness” was a divine institution to create tension, to create awareness of obstacles and challenges.

Conclusion: Tension and the Gospel
One of the things that Christians need to come to grips with is the fact that our God loves tension. He loves to tell stories where the odds are against the hero. He prefers not to explain everything even when he could. Why doesn’t Jesus allow the demons to say who He is? Why does He not explain to the people of Decapolis who he is? Why does he send the newly healed town crazy as his ambassador only five minutes after his healing? Why does he take so long to get to Jairus’ house? Why doesn’t he just say the word and send Jairus on his way? Why does he stall with the woman with the flow of blood? Why does he confront her and draw attention to her in the middle of throng of people? Isn’t this insensitive? Isn’t that a “private” sort of thing? Why does Jesus say that the girl is only “sleeping”? Why does he say confusing things like that? Why does he warn Jairus not to tell anyone? Why does God erect seemingly arbitrary cleanliness ceremonial laws, etc?

Our God is a God who loves tensions, a God who loves suspense and mystery. And we need to love it too. Without loving sin or evil, we nevertheless need to come to love what God does with these things. God starts reformations with martyrs. He sanctifies his children with cancer and tumors. He sends famines and barrenness to us because he likes what they do to us. He likes how he can see His glory in us BETTER afterwards. He loves to keep us in the dark to see if we will trust him. He loves to send the under qualified, the novice, the weak to do jobs that many others are far more qualified to do. He prefers to send Davids to face giants and John the Baptists to face the Herods. He prefers to use the inarticulate expressions of toddlers to proclaim his truth. He loves the catacombs because he knows that’s the only way to get to cathedrals. He loves pain because he knows that’s the way of peace and comfort. He loves the cross because He overcomes it and turns it into resurrection. He loves death because He destroys it and turns it into life.

And so Jesus continues to say the same thing to us today that he said to Jairus some 2000 years ago: “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!



Once upon a time there was an Apostle named Peter, and one day he wrote a letter addressed to the “pilgrims of the Dispersion”. There were a number of churches in this group, and he listed several cities where they were to be found. He wrote several pages of instructions, but toward the end he wrote these words: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’. Be hospitable one to another without grudging.” (1 Peter 4:8-9) And the reason he both encouraged love and hospitality and warned against grudging and murmuring is because there were some in those churches who talked an awful lot (and sometimes too much), and there were some who needed careful prodding to keep any kind of conversation alive: they never seemed to talk at all. Others were jolly and full of jokes and stories, they were always ready to laugh and giggle at the slightest hint of fun. Others were more serious, and it took more to coax laughter out of their lips. There were some men who were very concerned with manners and politeness and always tucked in their shirts and other men who were more concerned about the truth and came across sloppy sometimes and sometimes as brash. There were women who preferred to keep immaculate homes and minute-by-minute schedules, and there were other women who kept tidy homes but who preferred a more relaxed schedule and organized their days accordingly. There were some who shopped whole foods and never ate a processed grain in all their life, and there were others who ate fast food and white bread and never thought twice about it. There were some who home-schooled and still others that used private schools and tutorials. Some had their children born at home; others had their children at hospitals. There were some who were old and cranky and there were some who were young and foolish.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’. Be hospitable one to another without grudging.” 1 Peter 4:8-9


Friday, July 21, 2006

Slow Motion Suicide

"The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all day long, but the righteous gives and does not spare." (Prov. 21:25-26)

We often think that the problem with lazy people is that they don't want anything. They have no ambition, they have no direction in life. They're losers because all they care to study are the ten latest secret codes to Halo 500. But this proverb says otherwise. It's actually the "desire" of the lazy man that's killing him. In other words, it's not that he hasn't any desire. It's not that he hasn't got a mission. It's just that he's got the wrong one. His mission is sedentary passivity and hot damn! his mission is being accomplished. And that's what's killing him. Laziness is suicide in slow motion.

The second part of the proverb reveals more about the lazy man's desires. Again, it's not a lack of desire that makes a man lazy, it's having the wrong desire. In fact, the lazy man is obsessed it seems, "coveting greedily all day long". Far from being directionless, the couch potato has non stop dreams of glitz and glamor. But this is all an additional indictment. Not only is a lazy man a fool, but a lazy man is also a law breaker, a covetous man. Laziness is greed. The sloth, by refusing to work, is refusing to be generous, refusing to help those in need. Not only does a lazy man refuse to lift his own hands to feed himself, but he clenches his empty fists in greed, refusing to defend the weak, refusing to feed the hungry. While his children are neglected and his wife bears the weight of the family needs, he's busy surfing the internet, slowly castrating himself with the nothingness of cyberspace.


Slit the Devil's Belly Open

Luther says:

“ do I approach this Savior and Redeemer? By means of cowls or monastic orders and rules? No! Just cling to the Son in faith. He conquered death and the devil, and He slit the devil’s belly open. He will reign and rule again, even though He was crucified under Annas and Caiaphas. Therefore attach yourself to Him, and you will tear through death and devil; for this text [John 3:15] assures us: “Whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Accept the truth of this miracle of God’s love for the world, and say: “I believe in the Son of God and of Mary, who was lifted up and nailed to the cross.” Then you will experience the new birth; for death and sin will no longer accuse, harm, and injure you. Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Cling to His neck or to His garment; that is, believe that He became man and suffered for you. Cross yourself and say: “I am a Christian and will conquer.” And you will find that death is vanquished. In Acts 2:24 St. Peter says that death was not able to hold Christ, since deity and humanity were united in one Person. In the same way we, too, shall not remain in death; we shall destroy death, but only if we remain steadfast in faith and cling to death’s Destroyer. (“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1957], p. 356)


Three for the money

We call this sport River Polo.

River gives Papa riding lessons.

River, Uncle Jeremy, and Aunt Molly riding the statuary at the local Greenville Zoo.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Godfather

I'm sure many, many people far more qualified and observant than I have commented on the brilliant biblical and theological themes in the 1972 Hollywood classic The Godfather. However for my own benefit (I think better on paper) and for the benefit of anyone who hasn't seen the movie or considered it in this light, a few pregnant thoughts after just watching it this week.

The movie opens with a wedding and about two-thirds of the way through the movie there is another wedding. A significant amount of screen time is spent on the wedding celebrations. No time is given to the actual vows/church scene which is implied throughout, but the emphasis is on the celebration. Dancing, drinking, eating, pictures, hugs and kisses. These weddings are gigantic family events, and that's what first strikes you: the Godfather, Don Corleone, is a family man. The movie opens interweaving the wedding of the Godfather's daughter with a man who has approached the Godfather with a request for justice. The Godfather’s office is where his closest associates gather, the council chambers of a king, and where some other few are chosen and permitted an audience. The man who is granted an audience has a daughter who has been dishonored and beat up by some hoodlums, and the justice system has failed to do justice. The Godfather scorns money to do the job, scorns any kind of impersonal system that would manipulate him into helping. What he wants is for the man to kiss him and call him "Godfather". He wants to be approached as the head of a family, not a mob-boss, not a politician. He's wants family loyalty. This is of course an extraordinary picture of the covenant and salvation. Christ came to the world to be the head of a new family in the midst of a corrupt world full of hypocrisy and miscarrying justice. He promises justice, but the just ones, the righteous ones are those that trust in Him and submit themselves to His family in faith, in loyalty.

There are a number of father-son themes throughout the movie as well. The central question being, who will be the next Godfather? At the beginning of the story Michael appears to be and says quite plainly that he is not like his father and not like his family. He’s different, he tells his girl friend. This is in contrast to his father’s refusal to have a family picture taken without Michael: he’s considered to be part of the family. “Sonny”, the brash son, is probably looked to as the most obvious successor to the “throne”. But he’s not a family man. He understands justice and loyalty only superficially. He’s an adulterer, and therefore he’s a hypocrite and reveals a fundamental disloyalty. Tom, the adopted son and lawyer, is loyal and level headed, but he is most needed as a trusted lawyer, and therefore to keep that position he cannot be successor to his father. The oldest son is weak. He cannot defend his father from assassins and cannot stand up to the enemies of the family.

It is the attempted murder of the Godfather that drives Michael back to the family. The weakness and vulnerability of his father convinces him of his need. The climactic turning point of course is when Michael carries out the justice for his father’s shooting, taking out both the drug lord and the chief of police who are in it together. Michael immediately goes into exile, “dying” so that his father might have justice. While he is gone, the Godfather recovers, but then Sonny is murdered. The death of the Godfather’s son drives him to convene a meeting with the other “heads of the families” to put an end to the bloodshed. Peace is made in the death of the beloved son. And peace is promised by Don Corleone. During Michael’s exile/death, he marries an Italian woman. This is proof that Michael is not only a man of justice but also a family man. His wife is killed by a bomb meant for both of them, but the marriage has occurred. Michael is a member of the family. In the death of the son of the Godfather peace is secured. In the death of the son of the Godfather, he takes a bride and creates a new family. In the death of the son of the Godfather, the bride also dies, taking up her cross and following the son.

The final scenes are the return of Michael from exile/death and the explicit succession of Michael to the head of the family. This succession reminded me very strongly of the transition from David to Solomon at the beginning of 1 Kings. Just as David had told Solomon that it would be necessary for him to do some “house cleaning” in order to secure the throne, so too, the Godfather gives Michael instructions for how/who to take out when he is gone. The second to last scene is an extended shot of Michael becoming the Godfather of his nephew. But the scene is also intended to be Michael’s official coronation to the office of family head. While the baptism is occurring in the cathedral, and Michael is taking his vows, a string of executions is occurring all through the city. The family heads and traitors who would compromise the new Godfather’s position are being taken down one by one. The last of these is Michael’s own brother-in-law whose wedding we saw at the beginning of the movie. It is the son of this brother-in-law whom Michael is now taking as godson. Michael becomes the son’s godfather and immediately following the service, after confronting his brother-in-law for being involved in Sonny’s death and other disloyalties, has him strangled like the Judas he has become. Michael is now the loyal father and head, and the traitors have all been put down. So too, when David dies and Solomon accedes to the throne, a number of executions are carried out to secure his rule and to bring justice to the land.

From another angle, the baptism and Michael’s vows to become Godfather ARE the enacting of justice. This is precisely one of the meanings of justification in Scripture. It is not only the declaration of a right standing (it is most certainly that), but it is also the enacting of justice on behalf of the righteous one, a public PROOVING of the right standing. Michael has been the loyal son. He “died” and has returned, and as the Just One, as the true Godfather, all of his enemies are being scattered and put down. The executions and destruction of the enemies of the family are proofs that Michael is the Godfather, proof that he and his father are one. And the final scene is blatantly this. He takes responsibility for the pain of his sister who he has made a widow and lies to his own wife, protecting her from the weight of that knowledge. The movie closes with his wife looking into his office, watching as his men gather around him. One calls him Godfather and kisses his hand and another walks to the door and slowly swings it closed. The transfer is complete. Michael is the Godfather. Michael is Don Corleone.

Certainly this is not an exhaustive analysis, but nevertheless a few observations that seemed to present so many of the central themes of the gospel: the centrality of the family of God, the death and resurrection of the Son, the identification of the Son with the Father, the justification and vindication of the Son and therefore the justification of His family. Other more minor allusions included the communion of the family at weddings and meals and the kiss of peace. There were several ironic statements about “business” versus “personal” revenge. The irony was of course that it was ALL personal. Dealing with the Godfather meant dealing with a family. It reminded me of some of the recent conversations surrounding the covenant of works. Of course Adam was required to be completely obedient to the covenant that God established in the garden, but sometimes this covenant gets spun as though it were a stale, arid contract between businessmen rather than a personal covenantal relationship between a father and a son. Of course there were very explicit stipulations of loyalty, but there was also love and grace throughout. In other words, Adam’s sin was not merely a “business” offense. It was high treason and betrayal of the family code. This does not diminish the work of Jesus in any way, and if anything, it actually heightens His accomplishment. Not only did Jesus come and live in perfect obedience as a creature, a man before the Creator God, fulfilling the covenant established with Adam to the letter, he also came to live that family code perfectly as a Son and to live with all loyalty, satisfying all the dishonor, all the wrath due our treason in Adam. And He most certainly has.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Book Menu

Probably the title of this post and the last one should be swapped, but that's the way the cookie crumbled.

I used to keep a list of books on the sidebar, books I was in the middle of, recently finished or whathaveyou. But not having the time or memory to keep up with the list, it eventually went the way of all flesh. All the same, from time to time, I like to keep a record for myself or anyone else with any interest of the books I'm working through.

I've just finished reading Tongues Aflame by Roger Wagner. Wagner is an OPC minister in southern California, and this work is a study of apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Apart from the cheesy promotional lines on the back of the book, it was an enjoyable read. Nothing too startling, but a good general study of the many different kinds of sermons that ministers may be called on to preach. Probably the only area that was left untouched was the role and purpose of liturgical preaching or sermons for the worship service.

Somewhat related is Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy. I'm about a fourth of the way through this massive study of the liturgy. I'd like to put up periodic reports of particulars from this work.

I've also recently started Heresies by Harold O.J. ("the orange juice") Brown. He continues to teach at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. This work is roughly a historical theology following in particular, as the title suggests, the role of heretical teaching in the development (or better) defense of orthodoxy.

You'll have noticed several titles in the previous post which are variations on the theme of the gospel of Mark. In addition, I'm working through Mark Horne's The Victory According to Mark. I've really appreciated his work. He makes a number of helpful connections and observations.

I recently finished reading through Perelandra and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (I had read Out of the Silent Planet outloud to my students this last spring). For a long while, I've insisted that Till We Have Faces is Lewis' finest piece of fiction. However, I really need to re-read it soon since after finishing the Space Trilogy again, I'm really smitten with That Hideous... There were a number of details that I had missed in previous readings that really increased my respect and enjoyment of the story. Both the cosmology and morality woven through the story are impressive and challenging, but I think I was most struck by just how well told the story is.

Both Graven Ideologies by Bruce Ellis Benson, a Christian analysis of some significant Post Modern philosophers, and A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke, a short treatise based on a lecture he gave to first year seminary students first published in 1962, are also on my reading pile as well.


Book Feast

Just went shopping this week at and I've received the first piece in the mail this afternoon. Irony in Mark's Gospel by Jerry Camery-Hogatt from Cambridge Press is the first peach in my pie. From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual and Political Context by Everett Ferguson and Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark Noll are on their way for my Early and Medieval Church History class with Dr. Fairbairn. The Oxford Bible Atlas edited by John May, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament by William Sanford LA Sor, et al are for my Old Testament I class which according to the online syllabus should cover from Creation to the beginning of the Divided Kingdom. I also picked up the New International Commentary on the New Testament's commentary on 1 Peter by Peter Davids. It looks like 1 Peter will be the NT book we'll be studying first in my advanced Greek directed study. The Gospel of Mark as a Model for Action: A Reader-Response Commentary by John P. Heil and Isaiah in the Gospel of Mark I-VIII by Richard Schneck are soon to be shipped according to the order status thingy.

Anyway, looking forward to digging in.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Erskine Orientation

Last Friday, Jenny and I went down to Due West, SC where Erskine Theological Seminary is located. I will be studying there full-time this fall in their Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) program. Apart from the usual 'house keeping' details that were presented, we enjoyed eating lunch with the program director, Dr. Dale Johnson, a professor of church history in Reformation studies, who also serves as a PCA ruling elder. Dr. Don Fairbairn also sat at our table. He is the director of the recently launched ThM program at Erskine. Dr. Fairbairn is also a professor of church history in Patristic studies; his courses also included studies in western philosophy and Christian thought. I will be taking two courses from Dr. Fairbairn this fall, one of which is a directed study in advanced Greek. Given my undergraduate studies in the ancient languages at New St. Andrews College, I have largely fulfilled the Seminary's language requirements. Having taught both Hebrew and Latin for the last several years at Atlas School those languages are my stronger points, whereas my Greek has a good bit of dust on it. Discussing this with Dr. Fairbairn (who also serves as the course schedule director) and the fact that my interests for study are in church history and theology, he offered to teach a directed study in advanced Greek that would focus more on patristic Greek in addition to some advanced NT readings. Our plan is to read one New Testament epistle (possibly 1st Peter) and then go on to the three universal creeds, and finish up with some patristic Greek document that has not yet been translated. Needless to say, I'm quite excited about this opportunity. Dr. Fairbairn will also be teaching the Early and Medieval Church course that I will be taking this fall.

In addition to those two courses, I will also be taking Old Testament I from Dr. Schwab and New Testament I from Dr. Melton, both of whom look/sound like very interesting scholars. And I'm looking forward to their courses.

One of the attractive aspects of Erskine Seminary was the diversity of the school combined with a fairly strong conservative reformed presbyterian bent. One of the most disappointing characteristics of many reformed presbyterian schools/seminaries is the narrow, sectarianism that often seems to be presented to the world. And while I value bold, assertive biblical teaching, I think this needs to be held simultaneously with an open-armed graciousness to the rest of Christendom. We need to be rebuilding a Christendom that is fiercely orthodox and un-apologetically biblical and at the same time so comfortable, so at-ease with the Truth, that we fearlessly seek friendships and communion with every one who confesses the Christian faith regardless of the specks in their eyes.

At any rate, Erskine has been attractive for this very reason. Although I have yet to actually take a class, my initial impressions of the seminary continue to be confirmed: the seminary faculty is about 75% conservative and evangelical reformed presbyterian; the other 25% represent other broader bodies of American evangelicalism: United Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian Church USA to name the three I can think of off the top of my head. Furthermore, orientation also confirmed this impression: of the 100 incoming students, 24 were present at this "early orientation"--essentially an orientation for those of us who live somewhat local to the seminary. Of the 24 students present, most were women studying for their Master of Divinity degree, most were black, and most were in their late 30s to late 50s. I suspect that this demographic is probably a little disproportionate to the rest of the student body, given that it represents those who are "local" to the seminary, but that remains to be seen.

Just to make it more personal, there were only two of us there in the MATS program on Friday. The other student was Evelyn, a very gracious 59 year old black woman from Augusta, Georgia. It was such a blessing to meet this woman, whose father was a presbyterian minister, who served as a music teacher for many years, and who now for health reasons can no longer teach. She uses a walker, but she is still quite mobile. She said on Friday that she has always had a desire to study the Bible and theology and never had an opportunity. She's applied several times and then for various reasons decided to not to attend. Now she is finally following through. She sounds a lot like me, only I'm 30 some years younger. I'm so thankful for this opportunity to live and learn in a diverse community that is in many ways, much more representative of this country's actual demographics as well as what is much more representative of Christendom at large. Of course this means that I must be prepared and expect to see and face the broader challenges and errors of the church in this country, but I'm thankful for that too.

So here's to Evelyn and all of the incoming students at Erskine: May our Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, be pleased to build us up together into faithful, fruitful servants in the Kingdom of God.


Eucharistic Meditation

As you know, the history of Christendom has been much taken up with what is taking place at this meal: How, when or to what extend the elements of bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. And while it is worth making some careful distinctions in some places, it is also worth recognizing the inherent mystery in the world. The fact the entire world works mysteriously should not be relegated to another discussion. The fact that it snows; the fact that diamonds are formed in the foundations of the earth; the fact that people are formed in the microscopic recesses of a woman’s body… these are all mysteries that we are only able to vaguely describe and certainly we cannot explain “how” it all works, even the greatest scientific gurus must shut their mouths at some point and declare how awesome are the works of God. The refusal to do so is the height of humanistic pride and arrogance. But the same reality is here. We have ascended into the heavenly places with the saints of the ages. And the same Word that spoke the galaxies into existence is the same Word that was born of a virgin two thousand years ago. And it is the same Word speaks to the wind and waves and they listen. And it is the same Word that speaks today in this meal, declaring grace and peace and blessing and forgiveness to you in His body and blood.


Mark 4: Parables: Measuring the Hearts of Israel

Introduction: The Sea and the Land
Beginning in the creation sequence, sea and land have always been significant. Day Three records this creation act and the parallel creation is man, on day six. But the “land” always meant more than just man, it represented God’s particular people. Adam and Cain leaving the land is a sign of God’s displeasure and divorce; Noah returning to land from the sea (flood) and Abram being promised a land is a sign of God’s intention to reverse the Fall. The Promised Land is God’s oath to Israel of His intentions. In contrast to this, the sea became very early on associated with the gentiles and the wicked. The flood is where God destroyed the wicked sons of God and their descendents; the Red Sea is where God destroyed Pharaoh and his armies. Consider the pictures: Eden with a river flowing out of it, the new temple with a river flowing out of it, the New Jerusalem with a river flowing through it. The picture is of God and His people with the nations and their gifts begin brought into the kingdom (cf. Ps. 46:1-3, Is.8:6-8, Jer. 51:34-44). Thus when Mark sets up chapter four describing the details of the sea and the land (4:1), we should be keeping this background symbolism in mind.

Why Parables
Parables are stories, riddles which are intended to challenge the status quo. For Jesus to tell riddles or proverbs in this way, we should immediately recall his Solomonic status. As a king, the son of David, he is coming to claim Solomon’s throne, to speak wisdom and make right judgments. Remember the archetypal challenge and display of Solomon’s wisdom in the story of the two prostitutes (1 Kgs. 3:16ff). The duty of a wise king is to divide between fact and fiction, to be shrewd in bringing the truth to light.

Further light is shed on what Jesus is doing by considering what “parable” means. Often, one of the root words, “bolis” is used as a nautical term for the sounding lead, the device sailors used to measure the depth of water. A couple of closely related verb forms from the same root can be rendered “throw/cast” or even “cast the sounding device”. The verb “to parable” is used here in 4:30 and only again in Acts 20:15 where the word describes a few of Paul's maritime adventures.

Given Jesus' previous description of what he is training his disciples for ("I will make you fishers of men", 1:17) and the fact that he's dealing with at least a significant minority of former fishermen (James, John, Peter and Andrew) AND the fact that Jesus is doing all of this teaching in chapter 4 from a boat (4:1, 36), It is difficult to shake the conclusion that the parables are meant in this nautical sense. They are meant as measuring devices, measuring the hearts of Israel (4:24), measuring their depth of soil (4:5), revealing what is hidden (4:22).

The Parable of the Soils
And this is precisely what the parable of the soils is about, and it is precisely what the parable of the soils (and the others) is accomplishing. Parables are used by Jesus to identify who is “in” and who is “out” (4:11-12). The “in” are those who “turn/convert” and have their sins forgiven, the “out” are those who don’t understand. The key is obviously not tons of training or meditation per se, but rather knowing Jesus (look at the disciples! 4:11,13, 34). He is the key to understanding the parables, the key to knowing the mystery of the kingdom of God. It’s the willingness to ask, “What was that all about?”

But Jesus seems to indicate that this parable is a type of all the parables in some sense (4:13). Given this fact, Jesus’ ministry and the symbolism we already considered, this parable’s first point is to analyze Israel. This is not primarily about “salvation” or “getting saved”. This is about how God’s covenant people respond to His Word. Some are hampered by Satan (perhaps a reference to the unclean spirits in the land). Others have no root and are hampered by the rocks of persecution and tribulation (this is interesting, given the connection with Peter). Others are sown among thorns, and are choked by the cares “of this age/generation”, riches, and other desires (perhaps an allusion to the crown of thorns). Finally, others are “good ground” and they become fruitful 30, 60 and 100 fold (perhaps allusions to Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the ‘ends of the earth’ Acts. 1:8).

Jonah and Moses
Given all the symbolism of land and sea going on in this chapter it’s difficult to miss the allusions to Moses and Jonah. Like Moses, Jesus leads a great multitude to the sea, and like Moses, Jesus commands the wind and the waves and they obey him, allowing His people to cross the sea. The primary parallel to Jonah is the description of the great storm and Jesus asleep in the stern and getting woken up in the middle of a bad storm. Yet, another more subtle connection is all the teaching Jesus does in the boat. The order of events is reversed, but it’s a similar event. The lot falls on Jonah and he gets to teach the sailors all about the God of Israel in a boat in the sea. The circumstances are different, but Jesus is in a boat teaching sailors/fishermen (the disciples) about the God of Israel. The sign of Moses indicates yet again Jesus’ ministry of calling out a new Israel out of the bondage of sin and uncleanness to build a new house in Him.

Conclusion and Application
Jesus is in a boat in the sea. He is the Logos, the word come to Israel, the ground. His parables are the sounding lead, measuring Israel’s depth, finding the faithful and turning away the unfaithful. The parables are the Wisdom of God dividing between lies and truth. But Jesus is a Jonah. And if Jesus is Jonah, then Jesus will die before the river can flow through the land, before making the nations (the “Ninevehs”) His inheritance.

Jesus has died and he has risen from the dead. He is the Eternal Word of God still alive and active today. This Word divides, Hebrews says, between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God still speaks in parables, and the parables of God still display and reveal who is “in” and who is “out”. And the only way to be “in”, the only way to be “good soil” is to stay with Jesus. Go with Jesus, and however cliché it may sound, the trials, the thorns, the temptations of riches and lust, and the storms of life can all be subdued. Jesus speaks to them all and they listen. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


What does it mean to be a church?

The Scriptures teach that a church is a covenant community that is centered on God’s Word and Sacraments. This community is a church by virtue of its confession of the true faith, its proclamation of the gospel, its celebration of the sacraments, and its faithfulness in daily living. This is just another way of saying that a church is a community of people committed to God’s Word and Sacraments. This means that we are a church now. We are not trying to be a church. We are not pretending to be a church. We will not suddenly become a real church when we have fifty people in attendance or when we have a real church building. We will not become a real church when we have a sign out front or when our web site starts getting a hundred hits a day. We are a community of Christians. We have been baptized in the Triune Name. We are gathered to confess the ancient Christian faith, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving Meal, the Eucharist. And it is our intention to live faithful lives each day by the grace and mercy of God. Therefore, put away your doubts. This is an authentic, Christian Church where God is pleased to be present. And this is not because WE decided to do this or WE pushed the right buttons, said the right prayers, put the right clothes on or sung the right notes. Rather, God, in His infinite mercy has drawn us together through an innumerable series of events, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, He is now at this very moment drawing us up into the heavenly places. Do not doubt. Do not worry. Do not be proud. Do not be bitter or discontent with where you are. The church down the street with 300 members and the other one with a glorious building and all the other faithful are joining us now, and there is plenty of room and there are no second rate citizens. You are here by faith, and you are here in the righteousness of Christ. And that’s the point of it all. So drop everything else and come, worship the Lord.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Feasting and Fasting

The virtue of temperance or moderation is often thought of as primarily the ability to find the "middle ground". Temperance is the ability, we say, to enjoy one or maybe two glasses of wine without feeling the need to have six more and be carried out on a stretcher. We often think that moderation is the ability to partake in 'medium-sized' quantities. It is the spiritual gift of seeing past the foolishness of teetotalers on the one hand and drunkards and frat boys on the other. And in some ways, we're right, but in another sense, this way of thinking has drastically reduced the value of the world, the goodness of creation. Thinking about temperance as merely a measuring cup, a 'creation-quantifier' spoils the world of its richness. To reduce the world to right and wrong quantities and expect holiness or piety is to castrate the world and still expect fruitfulness.

Temperance has historically meant something broader; it has meant simply, the right use of creation. So for instance, in the case of sex, temperance doesn't mean taking 'medium-sized' portions. It means if you are unmarried that you are required to completely abstain, you are called to fast. Being temperate means, on the other hand, that if you are married, you are called to regular, joyful, sexual communion with your spouse, a continual feast. And the only exception of course, is where Paul instructs spouses that they may occasionally abstain from one another for "fasting and prayer" (1 Cor. 7:5). Temperance means, with regard to sex, either feasting or fasting and never anything in between (foreplay notwithstanding: appetizers lead to the feast!). The marriage bed is to be honored by all and wholly undefiled.

This is one of the points that Edmund Spenser makes in the second book of the Faerie Queene with his hero, Sir Guyon, the knight of Temperance. Sometimes the right use or affection is a middle ground, but often temperance means 'all or nothing.'

Robert Farrar Capon makes a similar point in The Supper of the Lamb. He laments our calorie-counting culture, our soul-less obsession with looking at food and things as necessary evils, purely chemical values that are likely to have adverse effects on our hips and gut. Having succumbed to the social pressures for a short while, Capon records how he was able to lose some weight and generally meet his dietary goals. But then he came to his senses. It was spaetzle, a boiled, salty noodle dough wrapped in butter and gravy that brought him to his senses. He uses "Harry" as a generic, joe-American, health-idolator, and he puts it best in his own words:

A man who takes a small helping is a man without eyes to see what is in front of him. Accordingly, I passed my plate back for seconds and then thirds, and made a vow then and there to walk more, to split logs every day and, above all, to change my religion from the devilish cult of dieting to the godly discipline of fasting.
I have never regretted it. To eat nothing at all is more human than to take a little of what cries out for the appetite of a giant. One servingspoonful of spaetzle is like the opening measures of Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Any man who walks out early on either proves he doesn't understand the genre--and he misses the repose at the end. To eat without eating greatly is to eat by halves. While God gives me meat in due season and the sensibilities with which to relish the gift, I refuse to sit down to eat and rise up only to have picked and fussed my way through the goodness of the earth. My vow, therefore, was beautifully simple: If I ate, I would eat without stint; and if I stinted, I would not eat at all...
To begin with, real eating will restore his sense of the festivity of being. Food does not exist merely for the sake of its nutritional value... To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world...
But second, he will, by his fasting, be delivered from the hopelessness of mere gourmandise. The secular, for all its goodness, does not defend itself very well against mindless and perpetual consumption. It cries out to be offered by abstinence as well as use; to be appreciated, not simply absorbed: Hunger remains the best sauce. Beyond that, though, it cries out to be lifted into a higher offering still. The real secret of fasting is not that it is a simple way to keep one's weight down, but that it is a mysterious way of lifting creation into the Supper of the Lamb. It is not a little excursion into fashionable shape, but a major entrance into the fasting, the agony, the passion by which the Incarnate Word restores all things to the goodness God finds in them. It is as much an act of prayer as prayer itself, and, in an affluent society, it may well be the most meaningful of all the practices of religion--the most likely point at which the salt can find its savor once again. Let Harry fast in earnest therefore. One way or another--here or hereafter--it will give him back his feasts. (pp. 114-115)


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Parable is a Nautical Term

Speaking (or writing as the case may be) without a ton of fresh Greek saviness, I nevertheless venture to point out that the word "parable" can be broken into two roots in the Greek: "para" and "boli". The former is a very common Greek preposition with a number of possible renderings like "from, by, with, beside, against, etc." The latter, ("boli"), according to my lexicon is a throw or a cast (e.g. "a stone's throw", etc.) "Bolis", a near relative of the word, may refer to an object thrown, perhaps a "javelin" or "spear", but often enough it is a nautical term for the sounding lead, the device sailors used to measure the depth of water. Of course the root is also closely related to "ballo" the verb for throwing or casting, but there is also "balizo" which is the word for casting the sounding device. Witness the only other use of the verb "parabalo" in Acts 20:15 (the other is in Mk. 4:30) where the word describes a few of Paul's maritime adventures.

Given Jesus' previous description of what he is training his disciples for ("I will make you fishers of men", 1:17) and the fact that he's dealing with at least a significant minority of former fishermen (James, John, Peter and Andrew) AND the fact that Jesus is doing all of this teaching in chapter 4 from a boat (4:1, 36), I find it difficult to shake the conclusion that the parables are meant in this nautical sense. They are meant as measuring devices, measuring the hearts of Israel (cf. 4:24), measuring their depth of soil (cf. 4:5).


Parable is a Verb

In chapter 4, Mark introduces us to the parables of Jesus. With the exception of 3:23ff, this is the first place where Jesus tells parables and begins to explain his use of them.

There are a seven verses in chapter 4 which refer to parables, a significant concentration of actual parables as well as several straightforward discussions of them. A quick glance at the rest of Mark indicates that this is the peak in the mountain range for Mark, at least for understanding this term and what Jesus is doing with it. While the word/theme will show up again, this seems to be where we get the most explanation and direction in Mark's gospel.

One of the uses of the word in Greek that seems to be obscured by most english translations is in verse 30. The English says: "Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?"" But the word for "picture" (sometimes translated "compare") is actually the verb form for the same word as parable. Which means, the verse might more woodenly be translated: "Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable whall we parable it?""

That has a nice hebraic ring to it, doesn't it?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Presbyterian Family Tree

I found this on under "presbyterianism". A little sad, a littler interesting...

If you click on the picture it will enlarge and you don't have to get out your bifocals.


Monday, July 10, 2006

An exotic pair of boxers

Proverbs 12:16: “A fool’s wrath is presently known; but a prudent man covereth shame.”

Proverbs 12:23: “A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.”

Just a couple of observations: First, verse 16, “a prudent man covereth shame.” Prudence and understanding seem rarely to be linked with love or concern for others, but that is exactly how the writer of the proverb puts it. He who has prudence or understanding seeks the good of others, seeks to cover their shame. Secondly, the contrast of actions is sharp. The prudent man conceals and covers whereas the foolish man proclaims and wears the list of his enemies on his sleeve. Of course there is a time for confrontation; there is a time for denouncing loudly and proclaiming the truth when it is being wrongfully hidden from view. But often enough foolish men dig through other people’s dirty laundry looking for a particularly exotic pair of boxers to send up some virtual flag pole. Prudence seeks to cover shame and conceal unnecessary knowledge; fools would rather be dumpster diving and breathlessly blogging the contents of old checkbook registers.

May God be pleased to give us prudence: a true love for the brethren that seeks to imitate the love of our Father, a love that covers shame (Gen. 3:21).


Budding Talent

River explores the intricacies of body art.

There are very good possibilities here.

The picture says it all.


Eucharistic Meditation

You may have noticed that there have been several meals thus far in the gospel of Mark or at least implied meals. In chapter one, Jesus calls the first four disciples and when Peter’s mother-in-law is healed of her fever, she gets up and serves them. We assume she served them tea and crumpets or whatever the Middle Eastern equivalent may have been. In chapter two, Jesus calls Levi, the tax collector, and then they are soon in a house dining together with a number of tax collectors and sinners. Now here in chapter three, Jesus appoints the rest of the twelve and having gone into the house, they are planning to have a meal together but there isn’t enough room, not even enough room to cut off a few slices of bread. But you will have noticed a pattern. Jesus calls his disciples and then sits down with them to eat. And it is not different here. If you are at this table, and all of you are, then you have been called here as his disciples. Do not doubt that you have been called. Do not wonder about the person sitting next to you: that’s the sort of thing the Pharisees would have done. Just rejoice and be glad. You’re here, and there’s no doubt about it. Here’s the bread; here’s the wine; the Master of the feast invites you.


Mark 3: From the House of Bondage to the House of God

Last week we saw how Jesus ministry is focused on rebuilding the house of Israel. And this project is bringing the history of Israel to a radical head. Faithful Israel must follow Jesus as their Bridegroom or else be swept away like the temple so many years before.

A Withered Hand
1 Kings 13 records the story of King Jereboam’s withered hand. If the stories are parallels, the presence of a man with a withered hand is an indication of not only uncleanness and deformity in Israel but also of grave liturgical error and compromise (cf. Jeroboam). The synagogue has become a house of demons (1:23, 39) and therefore the rulers of the synagogues are inviting them by their actions. This is proven by their hypocrisy: Jesus asks whether it is right to do good or evil, save life or kill. And their responses (silence and plotting to destroy Him) indicate that they prefer the latter options. In this sense, they are far worse than Jeroboam. Given this answer and what follows we can liken this old Israel to Pharaoh and Egypt; it has become a “house of bondage”.

From the Sea to the Mountain to the House
The word translated “withdrew” would probably be better translated “fled”. Notice the geography of this flight: to the sea, where he is nearly crowed into the sea (3:7, 9), and then to the mountain where the twelve are appointed (3:13-14) and finally into a house (3:19). This should remind us of the Exodus where Israel went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, fleeing from Pharaoh and his armies to the sea. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses leads the people to Mt. Sinai where God claims the twelve tribes of Israel as his own and gives them instructions for how they are to live (Ex. 19-24) and how to build and keep His house (Ex. 25-40). Considering all of the previous wilderness and house themes that we’ve seen, this is yet another indication from Mark that Jesus is reconstituting Israel, remaking His special people.

Before considering the final narrative, it’s helpful to have some background as to who or what Beelzebub was/is. In Mark, the scribes who accuse Jesus, assert that He has “Beelzebub” or “Beelzebul” explaining that he is “the ruler of the demons.” (3:22). If there is a connection or perhaps an allusion or pun on “Beelzebub” then we’re being invited to remember the god of Ekron in 2 Kings 1, where Ahaziah rejected the prophet of Yahweh (Elijah) in favor of another god and is judged severely. His punishment for Baal worship is also a greater judgment on the idolatry of the house of Ahab. Baal-zebub means “lord of the flies.” Beelzebul, however would translate as “lord of loftiness” or “lord of an exalted dwelling” related to the name of Leah’s sixth son to Jacob, Zebulun (Gen. 30:20, cf. Ps. 49:15, Is. 63:15). Regardless, we know this accusation is false because at Christ’s baptism he received the Holy Spirit. But furthermore, with a little help from Luke’s version of this parable (Lk. 11:21-22), we know that the one who binds the strong man must be stronger (cf. Mk. 1:7). Jesus is the one who has entered the strong man’s house and bound him (1:13). Jesus’ ministry of casting out demons is his plundering of the strongman’s house (Israel).

A Divided House
The last fifteen verses form what is sometimes called a “sandwich story”. “His own people” (v. 21) and “His brothers and His mother” (v. 31ff) appear to be the same people. At the center of the story of Jesus’ family is a parable about the family of Israel. But if it is wrong to assert that Jesus is dividing the family of Israel, he is at least plundering it. And this gives some explanation of Jesus’ reaction to His family. He is founding a new family, a family that is tighter than blood. We have already seen this displayed briefly in the fact that Jesus has been going around asking people to follow him. He’s playing the part of a father, giving new occupations (1:17) and giving new names (3:16-18).

If Jesus came to bring Israel out of bondage, leading them to a new mountain and to a new house, it can be no surprise that this same pattern holds as the gospel progresses in history. The family of God supersedes the family of Adam, and every house will be plundered. The only question is whether you will be a willing house or not. The history of Israel is the story of the failure of the family. Blood is the problem. But in Jesus Christ, the bloodguilt has been paid. This is your family here, and only here are families put back together.

In your zeal to recover a biblical family, do not grasp for your family, but give it up to Jesus. Only after you have given it up and taken up your cross, will God raise you and your family back up and bring you back together.

We don’t need ‘family values’. Family values have been giving us this culture for the last 75 years. We need the cross of Jesus. Men need to learn how to die and follow Jesus. Women need to learn how to die and follow Jesus. Children need to learn how to die and follow. Give everything up and follow Jesus. And He will raise you up.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!



Jesus said: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mk. 3:28-30)

Many people have speculated as to exactly what Jesus meant by this saying. Some have concluded that if they said some particularly bad thing about God or used some profanity or obscenity against the person of the Holy Spirit, they would not be forgiven. However, Jesus’ words seem to be more of a warning. Not that the scribes have committed this sin, but that if they are not careful they may. It seems more likely that the immediate application of Jesus’ words is in the history of first century Israel. Jesus was rejected by the Jews, and yet God was patient. Even on the cross Jesus prayed for the Father to forgiven them, for they knew not what they were doing. And after the Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower his apostles and disciples to proclaim yet again to Israel the good news of the Messiah Jesus. However, this time, if Israel did not repent, God would not forgive them. He would subject them to eternal condemnation. And this is precisely what happened in 70 AD. After roughly 40 years of testing after the resurrection, Jesus poured out judgment on Israel, and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

The temptation of course is to breathe a sigh of relief, ‘whew! Glad I don’t have to worry about that!’ But the reality is actually just the opposite. Look at what God can do to a nation. If He can do that to Israel, then beware, lest He grow weary of your insolence too. Are you harboring sin your life? Do you think that God does not see? Is our God mocked? Everyman reaps what he sows. The writer of Hebrews is clear: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”

This is not a call to worry about whether you are saved. This is not an exhortation to despair. This is a call to repentance. Drop your sins now. You may not come in here with them. Drop them all now, and come, worship the Lord.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Walk

We're taking a walk. My son needs coaxing to keep up with us. He's enthusiastic, no doubt. And that appears to be the main challenge. He's enthusiastic about everything.
"What's that, dad?" He's squatting as only a two year old can squat, elbows leaning on knees, head bent forward, scrutinizing the sidewalk.
"It looks like a leaf, son."
"A leaf?"
"A leaf. Come on, keep moving."
We've only made it down the steps outside our apartment. Of course my wife is not particularly quick either, carrying our second child beneath her skin, but my son's idea of a walk has more to do with simply being outside than actually moving one's legs in a particular rhythm in some demonstrable direction.

I try to strike a balance. I want my son to explore. I want him to ask questions. I want him to be enthusiastic. But I also want to take my wife for a walk.

I tell my son that he doesn't have to hold my hand if will stay in front of us. He hobbles ahead, bobbing his head in agreement. A moment later he's behind us again. I remind him of our covenant, and he looks up, "Ahead, dad?"
"Yes, son, you need to stay ahead of us. Look, do you see the mail boxes?"
"Mail, dad?"
"Yes. We're going to get the mail." He runs ahead excitedly. He's almost across the short width of the parking lot. He stops. There's something bulging out of the asphalt. It's black like the asphalt, only its different.It’s smooth, it’s rounded, and it’s not the same as the rest of the parking lot.
"What's that, dad?"
"I'm not sure."

We make it to the mail box without further incident. I'm packing the single letter we received into my back pocket when my son holds up his hand. His fingers are scrunched together, pinching, holding something.
"What's that?" I ask.
"It's monies for you." I put my hand out and he let's go. I don't see the monies, but they are there all the same. "Thanks," I reply.
"Mom, you want monies?" His fuzzy, blonde head peers up at his mother. She assents and her hand is filled with the same gift I have received. I tell him I'm putting my monies in my pocket. He shrugs his shoulders indifferently.

The going is slow again. He's walking, but he's mostly looking. I remind him that he needs to keep up. A glance from my wife indicates that we need to move into a more formal walking mode now. I open my left hand down towards my son, "Now it's time to hold my hand, buddy."
"I can't, dad. I have monies." Sure enough. Both of his hands have fingers extended, pinching invisible monies.
"Put one in your pocket, son, then you'll have one hand free." He looks up at me, and then back down, craning his neck to see his pockets. I see the dilemma immediately. His shirt is a bit too long; it covers his pockets entirely. And with his hands being full, he can't just lift the shirt up and find them. "Put one in your other hand," I suggest. It takes. He moves his right hand over and opening his left, carefully places the "monies" in his other hand. Mission accomplished, he lifts his right hand up and takes my hand.
"We're walking, dad?"
"Yes, son, we're taking a walk."