Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Last Blog Ever...

...on Blogger.

Thanks for a great 9.5 years, Blogger, but we all knew this day had to come. WordPress just gets me. I'm leaving you. Let's not drag this thing out. We will always have the early 2000's to look back on...and we will always be friends.

I'm archiving this page and moving Rebel Pilgrim to WordPress at I'd love to see you over there...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Goat on a Cow!

Have you ever seen a goat standing on a cow? Me neither. I have professed my love for Radio Lab before. This may be my favorite ever. Listen to the link below:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is My Favorite Bible Story Biblical?

My favorite Bible story probably shouldn't be in the Bible. I love the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. I think that I have publicly told every story about Jesus found in the Bible. But there are a few favorites. For some reason many are found in John's gospel - healing the man born blind on the Sabbath, turning water to wine, etc. But my favorite is the woman caught in adultery. I have to be pushing 100 tellings of that particular story in my lifetime. To me, it is gospel in microcosm.

But, here's the thing I tend to gloss over about that section of Scripture. There is almost no chance that the story was in the original manuscript we label the book of John. I won't bore you with the textual and archeological evidence for it. (Because I really don't care to convince you one way or the other.) Most scholars would agree that the story was likely added to John's gospel about 100-200 years after it was written. Now, my non-believing friends tell me all the time the New Testament was constantly altered by monks and scribes with agendas throughout antiquity - implying that we can't trust the text preserved for us. I think this opinion is generally overstated and uneducated. We have so many late copies of the New Testament books that we can rest assured most all of it contains the authors' original message. This story however fails the test of Johannine authenticity on a few fronts - it is the only story in John that pits Jesus in direct conflict with the Pharisees, for instance. This is a common theme in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), but not in John. The story actually fits the style of the synoptic gospels much better. (In fact, some early manuscripts find the exact story inserted into the later chapters of Luke instead of John.)

I feel like the reason this story still exists in most all modern translations is for one simple reason - we like it too much to get rid of it. It is so full of gospel that we can't bear the thought of de-canonizing it. This is also why I believe it made its way in originally. The early church couldn't let the story of Jesus exist without this account documented somewhere.

My personal guess (and even though I am acting like a scholar right now, I really have no credentials) is that this was an oral tradition rooted in some historical event in the life of Jesus that was so important to the early Christians that it made its way into the written accounts of the gospel after the fact. For years this bothered me. How could my favorite story be an add-on addition? What does that say about its historicity or inspiration?

Then, out of nowhere, I saw it in a new way. At the end of John's gospel he says this...

"Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the King, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name...Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

John gave us the stories we needed to receive life in Jesus. We have the gospel in full without the story in John 8. But the early church couldn't bear for us to be without they filled in just one of the empty pages in one of the books that the world did not have room for. It makes me wonder if this story of Jesus had become such a part of the early gospel telling that it found its way in at any cost. Is the story Biblical? I guess it depends on how you define Biblical. Is it true? Absolutely. And when I think about it that way, it means even more to me.

Here is my latest imagining of this story...

He squatted. A drop of sweat fell from his furrowed brow and landed on the dusty ground. It was a hot day. Her wails of agony and embarrassment pierced his ears. Had he taken the time to listen closer, he would have heard his enemies chattering and his followers gasping. But all he noticed was his own elevated heart rate.

He was focused on his next move. This was not on the agenda today. He was to teach in the morning, have lunch with his friends, then move onto the next house that had been arranged for him. He looked forward to what he hoped would be a softer bed in the new house than the one he had used for the last several days. His back ached.

He glanced up. He was surrounded. At least a dozen of them encircled the girl and him. They wore smug faces and the clean garments of priests and professors. He felt his stomach turn sour. Sometimes he wished he couldn’t’ see through them.

His eyes fell to her. Naked. Curled in a ball. Bleeding from her knees and face. She wept. Her fear overcame him. Anger boiled in his soul toward her accusers. She was only a pawn in their game. But she had a name…a story…and maybe even a future.

His eyes fell back to the ground. Instinctively he began to draw with his finger in the sand. Meaningless scribbles helped him think. Then he grinned ever so slightly. Like that moment a puzzle is solved in the mind.

“Well?” one of them spoke. It was the young brash one who had thrown her down by her hair. “What do we do with her, Rabbi? Moses says stone her. What do you say?”

His eyes didn’t go to the inquisitor. They stayed on her. She was curled nude in the fetal position. Like a baby abandoned at birth.

“We should stone her,” Jesus said. She shrieked. He was her last hope. “But we will do it right,” he continued. He only looked at her. “The one of us who is without sin will throw the first stone.”

Silence. Nothing but her whimpering. Just a thud as the oldest priest dropped his stone to the ground. Then another. And another. Then, like popcorn hitting that perfect temperature, they all began to fall. The young zealot was the last to leave. He turned and stormed off.

Finally, the teacher moved his eyes from her. They had all left. Only a few of his own disciples remained. They stared at him shocked. Confused. Speechless.

He removed his outer garment and walked to the girl. She couldn’t have been more than 17. The same age as his youngest sister. He covered her and lifted her chin with his finger. Again, he squatted.

She looked at him.

He wiped the tears from her eyes. Then the blood from her nose. “Where are they?” he whispered. “Your accusers are gone.” He looked past her eyes into her soul. “And I don’t accuse you either,” he said. “Now go, but stop sinning like this. It is destroying you.”

He stood and lifted her up. "Go on now."

She turned and limped away covered in his cloak, crying again.

But it was a different sort of cry.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I just finished reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, one of my two favorite books of the year. (The other is The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton, which coincidentally was quoted in McKnight's book.)

McKnight is an author whom I have never read, but I have seen his name bantered about from time to time. I had briefly reviewed his 2010 article in Christianity Today that thoughtfully tackled an issue I have often struggled with - the congruity of the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul.

Around a decade ago I read Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy. It was through that book that I first encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ. That may seem odd to say. I had been a Christian my entire life, graduated from Bible College and been a pastor for five years before reading it. My life could easily be divided into pre-Willard and post-Willard. Willard showed me that the gospel was the Kingdom come - not just sin management.

(Side note: I think The Divine Conspiracy is beginning to loom as a pivotal once-in-a-generation work in modern Christianity. Many evangelicals of my generation look back on that book as a kind of secret passage leading to a more Kingdom-centered tangible expression of Christianity.)

From Willard I found many other authors ready to aid in my exploration into this new and improved gospel - thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, John Howard Yoder, Hans Kung, and N.T. Wright. Over time, N.T. Wright rose about them all as a trusted voice - even beyond Willard in many ways. Wright just seemed (and seems) a half-step ahead of so many of us. (The irony that an Anglican Bishop in England has become the patron saint of post-modern post-evangelicals in America is beyond explanation to me.)

When I picked up The Jesus Gospel I immediately noticed that it had two different forwards - one by N.T. Wright...the second by Dallas Willard. How could I not read on?

I hope this doesn't seem somehow conceited, but what I felt while reading McKnight's book was an intense measure of agreement and thankfulness. Reading, particularly reading theology, is often best when you find an author who stretches your common perceptions and assumptions. That is what Willard, and later Wright, did for me. Certainly, McKnight did that for me in stretches through this book. But it wasn't so much the head-tilting moments that won me over as it was the head-nodding moments. With nearly every paragraph I found myself thinking, "Good, someone else sees it that way too...and someone smarter than me. Maybe I'm not crazy, after all!"

I feel like, for instance, I am constantly harping on my evangelical friends about the danger of over-emphasizing personal salvation. McKnight confirmed in me that my prophetic instincts in that regard are grounded. The gospel is not fundamentally about your sin problem. It is about Jesus...and more specifically about Jesus being Israel's Messiah and the rightful Lord of the entire cosmos.

When in doubt as a "preacher," I tell stories about Jesus - or about his people, Israel. McKnight encouraged me that what I am doing is pure gospel proclamation. In short, he confirmed for me that gospel is what I have come to think it is - simply Jesus as King. He is the good news. His life, death, resurrection and appearances in the context of the story of Israel is what changes everything. Those of us who believe his story are sent to proclaim it as historical testimony. We don't have to persuade people to action. We just tell the story and the story does the work. It is good news. Perhaps more accurately, he is good news.

I rarely use this blog as a commercial, but I unashamedly encourage you to buy this book. It may do for you what The Divine Conspiracy did for me ten years ago.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why Halloween Matters

Today 161 million people in the United States are celebrating Halloween. That makes it our second most celebrated holiday behind Christmas. (Or third highest if you count the Super Bowl as a holiday.) 70% of Americans are spending money on Halloween this year, the highest percentage ever. They are shelling out more cash per person than ever before as well...even in a down economy. $72.31 per person...or a grand total of $6.86 billion. There is a national shortage of black turtlenecks this year. So, you can guess who a few nerdy guys in your office will be going as tonight.

Chart: Halloween 2011 - Average Historical Spending

Halloween 2011 - Average Historical Spending
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Chart: Halloween 2011 - Plans to celebrate

Halloween 2011 - Plans to celebrate
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All of this spurs a few thoughts in me. Here are the reasons why I think Halloween works so well in our culture...and why, ultimately, I think it is more good than bad.

1. An excuse to celebrate.

Sure if you go back far enough you will find that this "holiday" is really the day before a church holiday celebrating the saints. This was the day to drive out the evil spirits from the village. If you look even further you will see that before the church got a hold of it, it was an ancient Celtic tradition to light bonfires on October 31 and scare away a few ghosts and zombies. I am going out on a limb here and saying that 99.9% of the people spending almost $7 billion aren't doing so as a sacrifice of praise to some evil force. Some of my people (evangelical Christians) get a little worked up about the origins of Halloween. I don't think the origins have anything significant to do with the modern American tradition. I don't think demons are rejoicing that kids are dressing up like Angry Birds and Harry Potter.

Most American holidays are the same way. Modern Christmas has a little, but not much, to do with the birth of Christ. Modern Independence Day and Memorial Day (much younger holidays than Halloween and Christmas) have relatively little to do with Independence or Memorial. For some people they do...but for the majority of Americans those days are about burgers on the grill and fireworks in the sky. Even MLK Day, a holiday less than a generation old, is becoming more of a mid-winter's day off than a true solemn reflection on civil rights. September 11th is not an official holiday, but it is the closest thing we have now to a day of remembering. That said, I'd bet the farm that my grandkids will have that day off school and have no idea why.

I should say that none of this really bothers me. It just is. It's up to me to teach my kids about these traditions - and I do some of them and not others. My whole point here is that we live in a culture that is way less concerned with remembering (origins of holidays) than using them as an excuse to celebrate. Maybe behind all of this is that we don't celebrate enough. People need to party...

2. An excuse to play.

Halloween gives us (adults and kids alike) an excuse to play. We are more pent up than we would ever care to admit. Truth be told, we should all dress up and pretend more than one day a year. As a trained improviser, I see this more clearly than most. I would submit that part of fascination with Halloween is that it is a free pass to take a risk, to improvise, to pretend. Everyone who wants to play gets to play on Halloween. Try showing up to work in April dressed as Gandalf. It won't go over well. But anything goes today...

3. An excuse to be generous.

People are all selfish, right? Halloween proves that, doesn't it? Greedy little kids begging for candy door to door. It's pathetic. is really more about the people giving out the candy. Every year I hear people complain that they didn't get enough greedy little beggars at their door. Sure, every fourth house is locked up and darkened to keep the little ones away. But three out of four are lit up and waiting for an excuse to express generosity. People love to share when it feels safe to do so. Who doesn't like watching a five-year old princess light up after landing a snack-sized Snickers? Giving is good for the soul.

4. An excuse to be communal.

Most of us live in neighborhoods or apartments designed for isolation. As an introvert myself, I see why this is not a bad way to go. The downside is obvious. Most of us don't know our neighbors, let alone love them. Then comes that one night in October when you can't avoid them...unless you flee the neighborhood for a few hours. Every Halloween you get a glimpse of a neighborhood running on an open door policy. And for most of us, it feels strangely right. For some of us, it gives us the courageous to be more neighborly other nights of the year.

Of course, you could look for all of the negative indicators that our fascination with this night brings. They are there - excuses to be gluttonous or promiscuous or whatever. But let's not overlook what is trying to break through...maybe all of this is really a desire in us to be a bit more normal in a world that says normal people never dress up as superheros, give away candy to strangers or hope someone comes knocking on their door asking for a handout.

For those of us who believe God is redeeming everything on the planet, it only makes sense that a pre-modern Celtic tradition rooted in the fear of demons, ghosts and zombies would morph into an excuse to love our neighbors in America several thousand years later.

Happy Halloween to you and yours.

*Halloween stats courtesy of National Retail Foundation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Other Prince

I haven't really looked at my book Between Two Kingdoms for about a year. Debbie had been reading it to the kids over the last few weeks. (They were so excited to read their dad's book that they penciled it in about 18 months after the release.) Last week, Eli asked me to pick up reading. "How often do you get the author of a book to read it to you?" was his pitch. Manipulatively masterful. Considering I am pretty sure he can read for himself.

So I did...and continued a few nights until completing it last night. Through the process, I realized that I had not read the last chapters of the book for two years or longer. It was an odd experience. I couldn't remember writing several sections. (Maybe my editor made significant improvements...or maybe I just forgotten. Hard to say.) I was struck, most surprisingly, by the fact that I enjoyed it. I think creatives tend to look back on their art with embarrassment. ("I could do much better now," we think.)

I was most struck by the chapter I wrote introducing the evil character Senkrad. He loomed as a faceless, terrible force throughout the book, but appeared for the first time toward the very end. As I read, I remembered how easy it was to write his dialogue. Evil is easy for me to imagine. I have always felt that evil is mostly good with a subtle twist. His words even made sense to me as I read them to Eli. "This Senkrad guy makes a pretty compelling argument," I found myself thinking. I'd like to share a section of the chapter called The Other Prince with you here. Hopefully it will makes sense out of context.

Tommy found himself in the middle of a huge bed covered with a thick, white, down comforter. The room was bright, and if he had not known better, he would have thought that the sun was shining in through the many windows. Touching his head, he discovered that his wound had already been neatly bandaged. He also realized that he was now wearing white, silk pajamas. His hooded robe was gone, as were his clothes—including his jacket.

He sat up in a panic.

A man sat in an easy chair across from him. The man had his legs crossed casually and was sipping tea from a cup. He had a sparkle in his eyes and a kind, relatively young face. Though Tommy had never seen him before, the man seemed strangely familiar to him.

“How’s your head, Tom?” the gentleman asked. “Do I know you?” asked Tommy. “Search your heart. I think you do,” replied the mysterious man. He stood up from the chair and walked over to a small bar. He poured freshly squeezed orange juice from a glass pitcher into a tall, chilled glass and brought it to Tommy.

“Drink this. Your breakfast is on its way.” Tommy sat on the edge of the bed, looking suspiciously at the orange juice.

“Tom—or Tommy, if you prefer—if I had wanted to hurt you or poison you I would have done it already. Drink your juice. Two gentlemen ought to be able to trust each other, yes?”

Tommy was parched and he gulped the juice down. It was the best-tasting drink he had ever had in his life. The man returned to his chair and crossed his legs once more.

“Would you like some more?” He asked, with friendly eyes. Tommy shook his head no. “Are you . . . Senkrad?”

The man laughed. “Senkrad? No. There is no Senkrad, my brother. It’s all a very silly myth. My name is Adam. This is my home.”

The man seemed so familiar to Tommy, like an old friend or relative. It was making Tommy crazy as he tried to place his face.

“I’m confused,” Tommy admitted. “Where are Amanda and Bobby?”

“They are being helped by some of my friends, Tommy,” said the man. “How about you think about yourself for a change? Why did you come here in such a hostile manner? I would have been happy to invite you in and discuss things, like two reasonable, well, adults. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t give me a chance to be your friend, before deciding to make me an enemy.” He almost sounded hurt.

“I didn’t just decide to make you my enemy, Sen—Adam. You are the one who started all of this. If you really are the prince of this world, then you owe us all an explanation. You made the Long Night, not us,” said Tommy.

“A prince is the son of a King, Tommy. I’m not a prince. I am no one’s son.”

“So you are a king, then?” asked Tommy.

“I don’t like to think of it that way,” said the man, with another friendly smile. “I’m really more of a servant than anything else. I serve everyone who lives in the Lower Kingdom. Think of me as the Servant-in-Chief.”

“How is all of this darkness and destruction serving these people?” Tommy swung the covers off and sat up in the bed.

The man looked steadily into Tommy’s eyes. “How old do you think I am, Tommy?”

“I don’t know. What does it matter?”

“Take a guess. How old do I look?” “Maybe thirty,” said Tommy. “I’m twenty-nine,” he said. “I have been in this Kingdom for hundreds of years, but I’m only twenty-nine. Eternally twenty-nine.”

“I don’t understand your point,” said Tommy. “I know how old you are. You are seven. You look like you could be my age, but you aren’t, are you? You must be embarrassed of your real age down here in my world; and I understand why. What does a seven-year-old know about life? About death? About trust or wisdom or anything of any importance? Don’t misunderstand me, Tommy. It’s not your fault you don’t know many things . . . most seven-year-olds simply aren’t that informed yet. Don’t you ever want to grow up a little, Tommy? Don’t you ever want to know a little more? To be . . . older?”

Tommy rubbed his forehead. Was this all a bad dream?

“Tommy? I asked if you ever want to be older?”

“I don’t know . . . maybe I’d like to be older sometimes, but I know I don’t want to die, and old people eventually die.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Tommy,” Adam placed his teacup on the table beside his chair and leaned forward. In a near whisper, he continued, “I’m still alive. I haven’t died. I’ve found the perfect age and stayed there. A few years older than this and my body would start to break down ever so slightly. I’d become just a little weaker day by day, until my body would eventually wear out, as you say. A few years younger than this and I wouldn’t be as strong and mature as I am right now. This is the perfect age, and I wish everyone could be twenty-nine forever. That’s all I’m trying to do . . . just help people live better lives. Share what I know, what I have.”

“But how did you do it? How did you get to this age and then stop growing?”

“I willed it. You can too, Tommy. You can . . . most people can’t. Most people need someone like us to will it for them. That’s what the Long Night is all about. The sun is what ages my people, you see. Those harmful rays. I’m trying to stop them from aging. Once I do, I have a plan to bring light back into the world. I wouldn’t leave those I love in darkness forever. Not like your King has done to you.”

“My King would never keep me in darkness,” snapped Tommy.

“Oh, well, I mean no offense. He gives you light for your eyes, yes, but what about your mind? He keeps the important things from you, Tommy. Tell me, what has your King taught you about the mystery of death? Has he told you anything about death, except that you should avoid it? What has he told you about the Messengers? What about the ocean that surrounds the island? Where does it go? What is its name? What of the stars, Tommy? Where did they come from? Where do they go when night fades? What has he taught you about how these two kingdoms were formed? Who created them in the first place? Surely, someone did? What has he done for you except make you a leader and force you to wear a ridiculous coat that actually prevents you from leading well?”

Tommy sat on the edge of the bed, motionless, yet feeling pulled in a thousand directions. “I feel sick.”

I think this chapter was easy for me to write because it is so similar to the constant chatter going on silently between my ears. In a world where everything is doctored with a strategic spin, including - maybe especially - matters of spirituality, life can get confusing. As I have attempted to pray in different ways over the last few weeks, I begin to notice that the chatter lessens. In prayer we catch glimpses of our true Prince. We see his face, hear his voice, know his presence. Knowing Jesus is the only way I know to identify his many imposters. I think I am getting a little better at knowing the difference between the real and artificial these days. I hope the same is true for you.

*Art provided by Mark Haas for Between Two Kingdoms

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs on Death (and Life)

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

-Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Speech

Read it all here.