Spread the Word

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

25 April 2017

A Biblical Theology of Blessing in Genesis

 I have been studying blessing in the book of Genesis for a number of years, particularly concentrating on it for a two-year period around 2010. I experimented with writing my research into an article several times, but it never came together. Last summer, I decided to try to actually get the article written as a means of getting back into academic thought patterns as I start a master's in TESOL this summer.

 I submitted it to Themelios, and today it was published as "A Biblical Theology of Blessing in Genesis."

 I would be remiss not to mention the impact of one teacher on this whole project: without Dr. Horn, I almost certainly would never have studied, written or submitted this for publication. Dr. Horn told our class regularly to write and to submit our best work for publication, and he'd occasionally mark what our best work was. He said it often enough that I finally believed he was serious. Beyond that, he fostered my love for Genesis in one class, taught me what biblical theology was in another class, and provoked my interest in the meaning of 'blessing' in a sermon. I have truly been blessed by his impact on my life and my learning.

A couple of previous posts that stemmed from this same study: Divine Blessing and FoodThe Broken Ugly, a poem.

17 April 2017

Dreaming in English - a Turkish author's ponderings on writing in English

 At the end of print copies of her novels, Turkish author Elif Shafak has a short piece on why she writes novels in English; it's called "Dreaming in English." She has a slightly adjusted version of this piece posted on the English Pen. It is beautiful and well worth the read, especially if you are interested in the lives of global nomads and TCKs. Shafak expresses that sense which children of multiple cultures may have of being able to be true to each of their cultures in various ways, without betraying or abandoning any of them. She expresses the sense of belonging and connecting and loving, indeed, the sense of identity, which is felt deeply and yet somehow at a distance. I'd love to have posted the whole thing, but I'll leave these tidbits, with the hope that you will go read the whole thing for yourself (hereemphases mine).

I never thought I had to make a choice between my two loved ones: English and Turkish. In truth, perhaps even more than writing in English or writing in Turkish, it is the very commute back and forth that fascinates me to this day. I pay extra attention to those words that cannot be ferried from one continent to the other. I become more aware of not only meanings and nuances but also of gaps and silences. And I observe myself and others. Our voices change, even our body language alters as we move from one language to another. At the end of the day, languages shape us while we are busy thinking we control them.

Sometimes, the presence of absence strengthens a bond and distance brings you closer.

Rather than a pre-given, fixed, monolithic identity, we can have multiple and fluid belongings. We can even love more than one person. Our hearts are wide and deep enough to do so. And yes, we can also dream in more than one language.

 Incidentally, for reasons she hints at in the article, Shafak is often not well regarded here in Turkey. Unfortunately, the reasons for that here (as with other authors in their own homelands) are political rather than literary. I am interested, however, in the experience she is expressing - not in either the literature itself or the politics thereof.

16 April 2017

Christ honoring God in the Atonement

 I'm reading a recently-released book, Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, by Brandon Crawford. While I haven't gotten to the main part on Edwards yet, several nuggets have stood out in the historical overview, particularly from the pre-Reformation period. I thought I'd post them as it is the week when we particularly recall Christ's work of atonement. These quotes derive from the thoughts of Athanasius and Anselm, and these particular ones emphasize the work of Christ in relation to God's honor and the shame brought by sin.

“He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world.”
(quote from Athanasius) 

Sin dishonors God because it belittles his glory; it declares that God is not the kind of being who deserves loving obedience. For this reason, the penalty of God’s law—death—must be carried out. God would dishonor himself if he ignored the demands of his own law and allowed men’s sins to go unpunished. By sending his Son to pay sin’s price for men, God upheld his own honor, answered the demands of his law, and made it possible for sinners to have life.
(summary of Athanasius' theology of the atonement)

On the other hand, “the man who does not render to God this honour, which is His due takes away from God what is His own, and dishonours God.” This, Anselm argues, is the essence of sin. It is failing (or refusing) to give the entire self to God in wholehearted worship and obedience. And sin demands “satisfaction.” Making satisfaction for sin means not only restoring what was wrongfully taken, but also giving back above and beyond what was taken—for only then is the honor of the offended one truly restored, Anselm says.
(emphasis mine)

 Each of these sections are well said, but the final highlighted sentence is a fresh thought for me, at least phrased in this way. Christ was not only restoring or repaying God's honor, he was increasing it!  

02 April 2017

Grief and Songs, as strangers

 Recently, I have been spending a good bit of time meditating on the question posed in the middle of Psalm 137, both from that psalm and from the book of Daniel: "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" Having lost everything, having been taken into exile, and having arrived at the place to where the they were being forced, the question is being raised. The ones who murdered the exiles' children, raped the women, destroyed and desecrated the temple, and burned their city are requiring that they songs of Zion: the grief is fresh, "Is it even possible to sing the LORD's songs here, after all that?"

 It seems to me that Psalm 137 gives two answers, while Daniel suggests a few more which I may post about later. Psalm 137's two solutions are both 'remember': the exiles must not forget where they came from - remember their origin, their God-given home. If they do that, then the songs of Zion may still be sung. The second solution is that the LORD Himself is to remember the injustices enacted upon them, those who gloried in their being massacred. These solutions are understandable for those who believe in the Psalms today, too.

 It has been said that our modern culture does not mourn or grieve well. That makes me wonder if that is why the themes in this song seem difficult to find put to music in English well. Here's a variety of audio versions of the psalm:

This may be the nicest of the Christian versions of it that I found. It's biggest downside is that it doesn't stick directly to the words of the psalm .

This Anglican chant solves that problem, but the style is a bit difficult for me.

Here's a Yiddish rendition, which seems to carry the tone well though obviously I can't understand it.

This Rastafarian version is catchy, but it only catches part of the psalm - and I'm not clear enough on the Melodians's cultures to know whether this is a style of grief: it seems quite possible.

18 March 2017

Details from museums across Istanbul

  An advantage of having visiting friends is the chance to learn by visiting museums. While I had been to parts of the museums below before, there is always more to see and learn. A few tidbits...

an arrowhead from Israel, authenticated as being 'from the time of the Judges'
(in the Istanbul Military Museum)

fish symbol (in similar spots, images of crosses had been removed)
(in the Hagia Sofia)

figures from Mesopotamia - one appears to be a winged unicorn, a similar relief was from the Babylonian Ishtar Gate.
Does pegasus cross with unicorn in ancient mythology as well as modern children's play?
(in the Ancient Orient Museum in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums)

an altar
(in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum)

another perspective on the altar

The 'wall of partition' beyond which Gentiles were not allowed to enter the Jewish temple. It is believed to be from Herod's temple.
(at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums)

The Turkish would be better translated 'no foreigner' instead of 'no intruder', as is confirmed elsewhere online: "No foreigner is allowed in the courtyard and within the wall surrounding the temple. Whoever enters will invite death for himself."
(at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums)

An item of interest which I didn't take a picture of is the Siloam Inscription (pictured here) which describes the conduit that Hezekiah had built as mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20. This is apparently one of the earliest extant Hebrew inscriptions.

Caltrops - historically used to stop calvary charges; here apparently used against infantry
(in the Istanbul Military Museum)

a daffodil, with a snail inside
(between Gulhane Park and the Archaelogical Museum)

07 March 2017

Understanding, Attacks, and Faith

 Often I wish that I could improve understanding between the cultures that I have lived in and love. My life has been spent mostly among three vastly different cultures, with a number of smaller variations or visits. Cultures do not easily or naturally understand each other. More accurately, people do not desire to listen to those whom it will be difficult to understand or who are easier to 'wonder about.' Here is an article from a Turkish newspaper that expresses commonly-held thoughts from the media here; at the center it says, "Attacks on Muslims at 2,800 separate points." It then goes on to list attacks in Canada, the USA, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, and Greece.

 Do you feel threatened by those of a different religion or culture than you? Maybe they are just as scared of you. Have you met them or talked to them? Have you prayed for them or welcomed them to your neighborhood? Have you made sure they know you are a safe person for them? Are you a safe person for them?

"A Balance Sheet of Islamophobic Attacks in the West"
"(2016 - Jan. 2017 Data)"

 A day after that article came out, this article was published in a Turkish English-language daily, concerning the difficulties faced by Christians (particularly Turkish nationals) in this country. This is the other side of the same coin, and none of this is new. Or, in an unrelated country and demographic, here is another article: this one is about anti-Semitism in Britain.

 This is the world we live in: fear is easier; violence is real; our impact feels impossibly small. But, in whatever country or culture we live in, at least for Christians, we are to supersede politics - whether we agree or disagree; we are to overcome fear with love - whether it is safe or not; we are to enter the realities of others' fear and darkness (and hopes and dreams and joys!) - whether we find it comfortable or not. Whenever I hear someone fearing and judging someone from a different culture or background, I always want to know if they have at least one friend whom they love from that background. It makes a difference! A few years ago, I had two friends who are atheists tell me that they would come be with me (as a Christian) if I ever felt threatened. That meant a lot, a whole lot.

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, Beyo─člu (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