The Bible and Culture

NZ 057.jpg

If you are sizing up things to read in 2011, here are some theologically rich books which you may have not read just yet.

Start with a short book on Jesus— the one I just reviewed on this blog— Will Willimon’s  Why, Jesus?  (Abingdon, 2010).  It’s a great way to start the year and get the juices flowing.
Then while you are thinking about your New Years resolutions, I suggest you think about your spending habits, so read my Jesus and Money (Brazos, 2010).  If history is your thing, and you want to understand how the early Christian traditions were remembered and passed on,  then you can help yourself by reading Richard Bauckham’s fine book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006).  Confused by the debate about the phrase ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ found in Paul’s letters?  Read the compendium edited by Mike Bird and Preston Sprinkle– The pistis christou debate— The Faith of Jesus Christ (Hendrickson, 2009).  How about a book entitled The Content and Setting of the Gospel Tradition, by my Aussie friends at Macquarrie—Alanna Nobbs and Mark Harding (Eerdmans, 2010).   Tired of people saying Luke wasn’t much of a theologian?   Read Francois Bovon’s second edition of his Luke the Theologian (Baylor, 2006) which gives a good history of the discussion.   Is archaeology and Corinth on your radar—- check out the collected essays edited by Steven J. Friesen and others entitled Corinth in Context (Brill 2010). 

But maybe fiction, thrillers, is your bag— you should try Papias and the Mysterious Menorah  (Pickwick 2010)  by your truly and his wife Ann.   

That’s enough to get the year off to a good start. 


I subscribe to the skies

Even when clouds roll in

I simply wait patiently,

For the skies to clear again,


I trust in the warmth of the sun

Even on a cold winter’s day

I know the chill can’t last,

It will finally go away.


I believe in replenishing rains

Though I happen to live in a desert

I’ve visited an oasis

Living waters make a convert.

I’ve watched the tides of oceans

They ebb and then they flow,

Just like the passing seasons

And floods that come and go.

I once saw a rainbow

A sign across the sky

Its many beautiful colors

Suggested an artist’s eye.

I’ve seen a comet streaking

Occasionally across the night

The rarity of the occurrence

Made me wonder if all was alright.  


I believe in the constellations

Even when the sun’s shining down

Just because I cannot see them

Doesn’t mean they aren’t around.


I believe in the power of the wind

A force I have never seen

Yet I can see its effects

What it shapes and where it has been.


I’ve felt the mighty thunder

And yes the earth did quake

What power could crack the earth

And make the lions shake?


I believe in the light of the moon

Even when something blots it out

I trust this too will pass

Like my occasional doubts.


I saw the Daystar’s rising

On a eastern horizon afar

I saddled up my beast

And journeyed on towards the star.


 I did not arrive in time

To see the new king’s birth

My camel moved too slowly

Plodding across the earth.


I had some lunch with Herod

And didn’t like his schemes

So I didn’t return thereafter

Being warned in one of my dreams.

I brought a gift for rulers

Myrrh and frankincense

But this king lay in a manger

Which really didn’t make sense.


Til I consulted the prophecy

Of a king for the least and the lost

Born in ordinary circumstances

Delivered without fanfare or cost.

The people who dwell in darkness

Required a bolt from above

Before they’d believe in light

Or the fire of heaven’s love.


Lift up your eyes to the heavens

Take your gaze off the ground

How will you ever know what’s up

If you’re always looking down?


Our minds cannot encompass

All that’s real and true

But there are many witnesses

Pointing us to You.


I should not take my viewpoint

My knowledge or limitations

As proof there’s nothing more

Than what’s in my location.


When I consider the works

Of the Almighty’s hand

The sun, moon and stars

I ask— what is man?


And yet you have crowned us

With glory and wanderlust

So we would follow stars

Trekking across the dust.


I subscribe to the skies

And the One who made it all

And somehow I saw him wink at me

A star in manger’s stall.  



“Now faith is the assurance of things
hoped for

A conviction about things not seen.”


January 1,  2011

turtle 012.jpg

Lord God, maker of all that is good, and true and beautiful, all that is right, and righteous, and holy, all that is giving and forgiving and merciful, we entreat you on this day to have mercy on our nation America.

We confess to you that we have been self-centered, self-seeking, self-indulgent, self-absorbed. Sometimes we have even assumed that we are your favorite people, but Lord in our better moments we know that arrogance and ignorance dull our spiritual senses and cause us to over-estimate our standing with you, over-compensate for our own sense of being a young and inexperienced nation, and over-react to those who would do us harm.

How much of the bounty you have bestowed on us have we wasted in over-indulging ourselves, in greedy pursuits? How much of the largesse you have bequeathed have we wasted on fighting unnecessary wars, alienating both friend and foe, wasting our moral capital on pointless pursuits and vain strivings, all for little or naught. In the eyes of even our allies we need a complete makeover, but more importantly Lord, where do we stand in your eyes? Are you ashamed of your violent children who refuse to trust you and leave vengeance in your hands?


And now Lord we are experiencing correction, economically and otherwise. Help us to receive it as the discipline we need. Help us not to point fingers of blame at others, but ask ourselves— Is it I Lord?  Have I contributed to our being a debtor nation?  Have I spent money like there was no tomorrow? Has my capital run through my hands like water through a sieve? Have I built my financial house on sand or on solid rock?

Forgive us Lord our sense of entitlement, our sense that it is ‘owed’ to us, often without hard work, without fulfilling the Genesis mandate. Forgive us for seeking short cuts to success, to wealth, to opulence–gambling, lotteries, and the like. Help us to remember Lord that work is a gift from you, and while ‘the workman is worthy of his hire’, we are not entitled to riches, or early retirement or pension, simply because we have worked hard.

Forgive us our dishonesty Lord… for seeking ‘something for nothing’ for seeking compensation without real injury, for seeking good goods for little or no money, and thus driving out of our nation the artisans, the blue collar workers, the furniture makers, the textile experts, and many others. We are reaping what we have sowed Lord, and the fruit is bitter. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves much less loved our enemies, but rather we have loved things more than we have loved people, and so we have used people to get the things we love, rather than the reverse.

And Lord what of our leaders? We remember the stories in Samuel about how Israel got the king that they deserved, rather than the leader that they needed. We ask Lord that we might have more godly leaders equal to the awesome tasks we face with daunting troubles both at home and abroad. Give us patience with our leaders as they try to dig us out of the enormous holes we have dug ourselves into. Lord, remind us to pray for our leaders even when they exasperate us, perhaps especially when they exasperate us.

Give us leaders that promote a culture of life, not death, peace not war, equity not privilege, justice and liberty for all, not just for privileged few. Give us leaders that will appeal to our best and most Christian instincts, not our worst ones, leaders who will make faith rather than fear based decisions about our drastic circumstances.  Lord we do hereby repent of all our sins as individuals and also as a nation, but help us to daily live out that repentance by actually turning away from the very things that made for debt, death, destruction, disaster, and the demise of our nation.


We know you are not finished with us yet, and there may yet be more painful corrections along the way, but Lord we take them all as tokens of your love, for we know you chasten those that you love so deeply, so that our relationship with you will not go forfeit, so that we will seek your face when all else around us is falling apart and the dark clouds loom.

We remember your promise ‘If my people who are called by my name will repent and turn to me….” and we cling to it, like a man clinging to a rope from a helicopter who is being rescued from a raging sea. Lord, teach us to truly put you first in all that we are and all that we have. Teach us the meaning of doing justice, loving loving kindness, and walking humbly with You.


Lord we do hereby repent of all our sins as individuals and also as a nation, but help us to daily live out that repentance by actually turning away from the very things that made for debt, death, destruction, disaster, and the demise of our nation.  Lord, teach us to truly put you first in all that we are and all that we have. 

Most of all, Lord, we ask in the New Year that your Son’s image might be better reflected in our demeanors, our behaviors, our beliefs. Lord we ask in the New Year that when the world looks at us, they may get a glimpse of you. And for us Lord we ask that we might see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly every single day of 2011.

In Your Blessed Name we Pray these things,




Thumbnail image for kings.jpg

In a year when one could get discouraged about the state of film and music in the English-speaking world, there were a few truly exceptional films and efforts at music making that deserve to be mentioned. Of course, works of art need to be evaluated within their genre.  For example a jazz CD should not be compared with a classical CD.  Nor should an animated children’s movie be compared to a serious historical drama.  That is like comparing apples and oranges, and in those kinds of comparisons, the discussion degenerates into a spitting contest based on personal preference and individual taste.  There are however criteria by which to help one determine the excellence of a work of art, and technical performance is perhaps the least of these.  For example, I have heard a technically flawless performance of  Schoenberg  before, but alas the musical composition itself could hardly be called a classic, and in some ways it hardly qualifies as good quality classical music.   Or, to refer to a more au courant example, take the movie ‘Avatar’.  This was by no means a great movie— the acting was plebian, the dialogue pathetic, the story mostly a rip-off of Dances with Wolves and other similar scripts.  Technically though, in terms of 3-D cinematography it was eye-popping and in spots, spectacular, advancing the art of that sort of filming.   But like the movie Tron, it just wasn’t a very good movie, despite its visually alluring and stunning qualities.   With these sorts of caveats,   I offer the following two very short lists:

Best historical drama– a tie between the King’s Speech and The Last Station

Best original children’s animated full length film— Despicable Me. 
Tangled deserves mention as an excellent reboot of a familiar story, and to a lesser extent Toy Story 3.  

Best sci-fi type film—- Inception.  Hands down, no closer competitors.

Best Western— Despite this being a remake—-  True Grit.  The fact that it is a remake says something about the sorry state of Westerns these days— slim pickins.

Best Eccentric True Story— Get Low.   Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are amazing in this film

Best Sports Film— Some of the ESPN 30 for 30 films could be mentioned as short subjects— e.g. The Two Escobars,   but as for the silver screen  The Fighter deserves the nod on points.

Best Spy Spoof—-   Red, though Knight and Day has its moments as a spoof.

Best Technology Driven Script— Social Network.  This is not a great movie, though some of the performances are good enough, but the script of Sorkin, and the true story behind the script make this an important and memorable film.

Best Musical with Original Score– Tangled with the Menken score.

Best Comedy or Satire— Alice in Wonderland. Helena Bonham Carter manages to play a queen in two movies this year, the other being The King’s Speech.  And Johnny Depp is as usual doing his home state of Kentucky proud.   Wish I could recommend a romantic comedy, but sadly not this year.  

Best ‘Smooth’ Jazz CD of the Year—- Six String Theory— Lee Ritenhour and a bevy of fantastic guitar players.

Best Classic Jazz CD— Freddy Cole (yes Nat’s Brother),  Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B

Best Return to Form of a Jazz/R and B artist— Sade— Soldier of Love

Best Symphonic Collaboration CD— Sting— Symphonicity

Best Pop Concert/BW Concert Album of the Year—  James Taylor and Carol King— Troubadour Reunion

Most Rejuvenated Classic Rock Band— Journey.  Check out the Live in Manila DVD

Best Acoustic Do-Over of their Best Rock Songs—-  Duo—  Richard Marx and Matt Scanell (of Vertical Horizon).