Spread the Word

...observations and ramblings from a learner and traveler...

02 February 2017

Resurrection - quotes from Wright

 For a number of years I have been setting goals of various sorts at the beginning of the year, things to guide me in my year. Many of them I never get done, but others I do, or at least I get farther than I would have otherwise. This year, my theological reading goal was to read a substantial portion of N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God by Easter. I had been told by a good friend that it was probably the best book available on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, in fact, it has been excellent - there are certainly things to disagree with along the way, but the book has painted a beautiful picture within historical and literary contexts of the ideas of resurrection in the ancient world. Here I'd like to share some extracts, any emphasis is added by me.


[Resurrection was] the reversal or undoing or defeat of death, restoring to some kind of bodily life those who had already passed through that first stage. It belonged with a strong doctrine of Israel’s god as the good creator of the physical world. It was the affirmation of that which the pagan world denied... (Kindle 4667)

Resurrection is precisely concerned with the present world and its renewal, not with escaping the present world and going somewhere else; and, in its early Jewish forms right through to its developed Christian forms, it was always concerned with divine judgment, with the creator god acting within history to put right that which is wrong. Only if we misunderstand what resurrection actually involved can we line it up with the kind of ‘pie in the sky’ promises which earned the scorn of many twentieth-century social reformers. (Kindle 3303)

The constant love of YHWH was never merely a theological dogma to the ancient Israelites. In many parts of their literature, and supremely the Psalms, we find evidence that they knew this love in vivid personal experience. (Kindle 2558)

Where we find a glimmer of hope like this, it is based not on anything in the human make-up (e.g. an ‘immortal soul’), but on YHWH and him alone. Indeed, YHWH is the substance of the hope, not merely the ground: he himself is the ‘portion’, i.e. the inheritance, of the righteous, devout Israelite. (Kindle 2674)

Echoes of the Genesis creation narratives lurk in the shadows of these passages: it is from the dust that YHWH creates humans, breathing into them his own breath, and when he takes it away again they return to dust once more.162 The fresh gift of his breath will then bring the dust to life.163 The promise of resurrection is thus firmly linked to creation itself, which was the basis of the normal ancient Israelite celebration of life in the present, bodily life in YHWH’s good land. This robust affirmation of the goodness of life in YHWH’s world and land is what is called into question when Israel sins and faces punishment in the form of national catastrophe. (Kindle 3002)

01 February 2017

Panoramas of Istanbul

  This week I got to return to one of my favorite views of Istanbul. There are probably 5 places that I think are best to see the city from, considering both the city's beauty and its vastness. Galata Tower is relatively famous for this, but I think it's terrible - not the view, the expense to get the view, the crowdedness, and the overall experience. The place that we went to instead is a nearly perfect substitute - 360Istanbul. The view is superb in many directions; and the price... well, it's expensive, but only if we are talking about the drinks. A pot of tea today cost us less than a single adult ticket to Galata tower (19tl to 20tl).

St. Anthony's Cathedral, Beyoğlu (center); Sultanahmet with Hagia Sofia (distant right); Asia (distant left)

 As the restaurant's name implies, it has a 360-degree view, with a wrap-around balcony, but I didn't take pictures of the rest today. (If you want to find it on Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim, it is several buildings up the hill from St. Anthony's Cathedral in the Misir Apartmani, 8th flour. Use the elevator!)

 By the way, my other favorite panoramas of the city include the following: The Seven Towers (Yedikulesi - previous post), the Princess Islands (previous posts 1, 2, and 3), the restaurant on top of the Bosphorus Swissotel (where I asked my wife to marry me), and the ferries (many people's favorite part of a visit to Istanbul).

30 January 2017

how a book lover becomes a loser

It always makes a sucker out of a man who truly loves books to see someone taking a genuine interest in them.

  This according to Louise L'amour in Yondering, 'Shanghai, not without Gestures'. The quote is excellent though the context may be less so. Speaking of Yondering, I'd highly recommend it for the sake of the short story "A Friend of the General," one of my all-time favorite short stories. It is fit to stand beside "The Most Dangerous Game" as an outstanding, stand-alone short story. Beyond that, "A Friend of the General" has always struck me as being written (semi-)autobiographically, and so I was not much surprised to find that at least aspects of it are indeed supposed to be true.

One further thought, taken from Yondering:

Artists who work with the pen, brush, or chisel flatter themselves too much when they speak of creation, for his materials are here, all about him. What he does have is a gift of perception beyond the ordinary, for he must select from all this great mass that is life what is most useful for his purpose. (in 'Author's Tea')

31 December 2016

2016 Recommended Reading

The recommendations I can make based on my reading this year may be even more eclectic than usual this year.

The Courage to Teach (Parker Palmer) - This work has been very helpful as I continue to learn my vocation in the practical ways of the classroom. I'd happily recommend it to anyone who spends time teaching intentionally.  I posted thoughts from it here earlier this year.

The History of Christian Doctrines (Louis Berkhof) - The notable insight from reading this book was the tremendous unlikelihood that a group of 8-9 guys could create a set of coherent theological documents like the New Testament in the relatively short space of about 60 years, unless under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It took Christian theologians after the NT era a couple hundred years to begin really formulating systematic theology from the NT instead of mostly repeating its language. In other words, a bunch of guys working relatively independently are highly unlikely to come up with a coherent Christological interpretation of the Old Testament by themselves.

Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis - This book is the insightful retelling of an ancient myth, detailing the struggles of rationalism, mysticism and faith. It deals with themes like shame and guilt and grace. A thought-stirrer that is classic Lewis.

The Hornblower Saga (C. S. Forester) - These were a re-read, but this saga has fascinated since I first read it in high school. It is a wonderful way to explore the world of the Napoleonic Wars. It's perspective is very British, but it's scope is global.

A Child's Garden of Verses (Robert Louis Stevenson) - I re-discovered this classic with my daughters this year. Stevenson's descriptions were classics for them, as they were for my childhood.

I read several a good bit of new science fiction or fantasy this year. The Silmarillion was neither as difficult to follow nor as dry as some have said. It was fascinating to get a deeper insight into how Tolkien built a world that both reflected his own worldview and yet did not require his readers to share that view in order to enjoy and benefit from this masterpiece. I also read the entirety of the Magic Kingdom for Sale series this year; this is a fun, yet relatively simple, world of classical fantasy creatures. The Secrets of Sagalon and The Magic of Recluse were also interesting. (The former was written by a friend and fellow ESL teacher.)

Halil - The Peddlar of Old Stambul
 is the relatively true story of the peddler who overthrew a sultan. It was a reminder that historical fiction used to be more history than fiction. Also, because Hungarian author Mor Jokai's works are often free on Kindle, I have a number of them, and they are definitely interesting.

Calico Joe spoke to my love of baseball. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (Mark Twain) was enjoyable, and its end note spoke to the difficulty of writing, even for a 'great' writer.

Top song of the year: "The Dark Before the Dawn" by Andrew Peterson - And it wasn't even close! (my blog post here)

Recommendations from years past: 20152014201320122011

22 December 2016

The Way in a Manger

In a Manger
The Way in a manger;
The Truth among men;
The Life became mortal,
According to plan.
The will of the Father
To crush His own Son
And bring us redemption:
Immanuel has come.

- Miriam K. Champlin

12 December 2016

The Nations in the Birth of Jesus

  As I watched a homeschool group share the Christmas story through arts and music tonight, I was pondering the incredible fact that the Gospel of Matthew emphasizes the universal claims of the Messiah-ship of Jesus. 

 Matthew does this in two ways, even while being the Gospel which emphasizes 'King of the Jews.' First, it highlights four women who graced His line (two Canaanites, a Moabite, and a women who had married a Hittite), particularly interesting are Tamar and Ruth who played pro-active parts in perpetuating the line. 

This is a pictorial genealogy. As far as I can tell, the women are only shown in the top left corner. (link)

 Second, as far as Matthew mentions, the only visitors who come to honor the baby King were some travelers from far to the East looking for a king. They knew instantly who to worship when they entered his room. How striking for a King who went unnoticed by "His own"...

 Interestingly, Luke (the Greek) has a much more Jewish-oriented account of the birth of Christ, though he does not neglect the universal call of the Savior.

21 November 2016

Feriköy Protestant Cemetery tour

Chapel at the cemetery 
 Yesterday, I got the very enjoyable chance, along with about a dozen others, to go on a guided tour of Istanbul's Feriköy Protestant Cemetery. The speaker was from ARIT, a group which has significant archives about a lot of international history in Istanbul/Turkey/the Ottoman Empire. Obviously, given its name, this cemetery has a definite religious aspect. Less obviously, it has a distinctly international flavor as nearly 5,000 people have been buried there from all over the world. The cemetery itself is both divided into sections for various nations and administered by the consulates of Western nations.

 This peaceful setting would be well worth a visit on a trip to Istanbul as it is very different from other things one might see here. Here is a quiet place where you can see tidbits of history referencing naval and military history, plague disasters and life-long residencies, religious and educational works, and, really, glimpses of the history of this metropolis. The marking stones range from the 1600s all the way to the present.

Another shot

Gravestones of Elias Riggs' family; the one on the far left was the first grave in the cemetery 

23 October 2016

Without Works - An attempt to offend people!

 I teach English to a bunch of Translation Studies students, and I am constantly alert for 'authentic material' for them to read or listen to. So, when I came across Martin Luther's Open Letter on Translating, I decided to see if it had anything of use. It really didn't, for my context. However, amid his excellent case for meaning-in-context-based translation instead of a word-by-word translation, he explained why he had translated a phrase in Galatians in a particular way instead of a 'less offensive' way. These comments followed, expressing clearly the distinction between Luther's theology and the Roman church's which he opposed:    

...the phrase "without the works of the law" is so ever offensive, and scandalous that no amount of revision can help it. 

Gracious, St. Paul and I want to offend like this for we preach so strongly against works, insisting on faith alone for no other reason than to offend people that they might stumble and fall and learn that they are not saved by good works but only by Christ's death and resurrection.

- Luther, Martin. An Open Letter on Translating. Kindle Edition.

15 September 2016

WWII, a little girl, and a father

  Our family has a friend who brings the kids books when he visits. He visits regularly and particularly brings books that help us educate the girls. The girls particularly love the Usbourne Flap books - we've been through large swaths of history using these books, and they make history memorable. Today, I was reading "See Inside The Second World War" to my oldest; she was impacted and I was impacted. I've read a lot about WWII over the years and heard a couple first-hand accounts, but reading through it summarized in a this way made an impression.

  Of course, she wanted to know about the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys,' and there were plenty of bad guys. Even she could understand the horror of people groups, cultures, and entire cities being wiped out, of people inventing so many ways to kill each other faster. It got overwhelming, so we quit for today. For her, things sank in when I told her that her great-great-uncle had been killed in WWII in an airplane; for me, the horror sank in as I calculated that the 60 million deaths that were cited were as if someone died from war every 3 seconds, for the six years of the war. For the equivalent of my daughter's life, every 3 seconds someone dying because of the hatred and greed and fear and ambition of humanity. When we finish reading the book, maybe we'll talk about some good guys - she had a great-grandfather who fought and quietly carried the scars for life, as well as another great-great-uncle who helped open the concentration camps.

  History is impacting, even for kids; these books are a great way to share the history of humanity good and bad.

12 September 2016

The Closing Blessing's (Benediction's) ancient purpose

Regarding Israel's worship, during the Old Testament period:

A part of every gathering of the community was the blessing with which they were dismissed. This should not be thought of as merely a solemn concluding ceremony; the entire service of worship was concerned with blessing. When the priest at the conclusion pronounces Yahweh's blessing on the community, he does it so that all those who are scattering to their own homes may take with them the blessing of God that has characterized the entire sacred service. The psalms of blessing show this clearly.

- Claus Westermann,  Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church, pg 37.

  As I have studied, the biblical theology of blessing, Claus Westermann and James McKeown have been the two authors who have been most helpful to me in their various writings. This excerpt seemed particularly relevant and clear beyond it's context within the book.