Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Reason for the Season

Ah, good ol' Halloween.
It's got to be one of the most misunderstood and abused celebrations on our calender. 'Cause Halloween isn't about Halloween. October 31st isn't about October 31st... it's all about November 1st. The point of Halloween isn't itself; "All Hallow's Evening" is about November 1st: "All Hallow's Day" or "All Saints Day," as it is more commonly known.

In fact, the Halloween that we know is actually more connected to the Gaelic harvest celebration "Samhain" ... it just so happened that Samhain was on the same day as "All Hallow's Evening" and as Celtic culture mixed with Christianity the two mixed, got all messed up, and spread around the Western World.

However, "All Hallow's Evening" (Oct 31) and "All Hallow's Day" (Nov 1) have their roots in very early Christianity. The years of the Early Church are typically characterized as being the history of the Church prior to the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It is in these years of the Early Church that All Hallow's Day has it's roots.

It was the practice of the Early Christians to celebrate the lives of martyrs (those who died for the cause of Christ) on the anniversary of that person's death. In fact, they originally called this anniversary that person's "birth day" as they looked forward to their New Birth in Christ; the resurrection.
However, under circumstances (like that of the Persecution of Diocletian [303-311]) when huge numbers of Christians were constantly being martyred it became impossible to celebrate all of the individual days when Christians were killed. The solution was to set aside one day when all of the churches would remind themselves and celebrate the lives of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice for their faith in Christ. In fact, while we don't know the exact day of the year which they celebrated it on, there are records dating back as early as 270 AD when churches commemorated "All Martyrs." Throughout Church history what we sometimes call "All Saints Day" has been celebrated all over the calender and has been called "All Martyrs Day," "Feast of the Martyrs," "Commemoration of all Confessors," etc... Actually, many Christians celebrate this day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Of course, throughout history the celebration became, in turn, both homogenized and diversified. After Constantine, the Catholic church took it and went in one direction... but when the church split the Eastern Church took it in another direction, and so on, and so on. Various Christian traditions emphasized it, neglected it, or integrated other local pagan customs into it which is exactly what we see Halloween to be now.

So, let's celebrate the lives of those who sacrificed themselves for the Gospel of Jesus Christ by dressing up like scary things and eating candy!
Yes, that was sarcasm.
That being said, my family participated in Halloween in a moderate way and I have no problem with that.

What are your opinions of Halloween?
Did you celebrate it/do you celebrate it?
Why? How?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jesus was totally into Camping

Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν.
You may be slightly more familiar with this phrase as "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14 ESV). A friend of mine who is a linguistic major at the UofS (yeah, most of you know her) sent me this phrase last week.

Her Greek textbook includes little snippets of the New Testament from time to time and one of the unique words it highlighted from this Biblical phrase was "ἐσκήνωσεν."
Wow! Cool! Isn't that amazing!

Oh, just wait, maybe I should translate that first. This word, ἐσκήνωσεν, is the word "dwelt" (ESV) or the phrase "made his dwelling" (NIV). However, this may be one of those cases where the Bible translators add a little "culture" to their translations.
After all, it sounds nicer to say that the Word "made his dwelling among us" rather than saying that the Word "tented with us."
Yes, that's right: tented. Because the root of the word ἐσκήνωσεν means: "to pitch tent, to encamp... to dwell in a tent..."
The Word became flesh and tented with us.
So is there any theological significance to this?
What do you think?
We have to rely on our English translations a lot. Knowing that there are a lot of situations like this where our translators don't translate things quite literally how much do you trust your english Bible?
Or we could keep it simple: what translation do you use? and Why?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

God is not a man.

Once when I was in my teen aged years my father (who was the pastor of all the churches I ever grew up in) was doing a summer sermon series called "You asked for it." The people of the congregation submitted topics/scriptures that they would like to learn more about.

In a fit of genius I anonymously suggested the topic of "the femininity of God." I assumed that when my father came home from work after reading the suggested topics of that Sunday he would mention it around the supper table, I'd confess my silliness, and we'd all have a good laugh. However, several weeks into summer, when my father was starting his sermon for that Sunday all of a sudden I realized that he was reading my suggestion... he was actually going to preach on... the femininity of God!

Of course, what followed was a sermon on how God is the creator of gender and is not subject to it Himself. Both genders equally reflect aspects of His nature as both genders were created in his image.

Despite the fact that this is somewhat common knowledge within Christian circles there has been quite the controversy surrounding the various portrayals of God in William P. Young's book, The Shack.
In Young's book God the Father is portrayed as both a man and (primarily) as a woman... a lot of people say they think of Aunt Jemima based on his description of her
... mmmm, pancakes...
Anyway, I've sometimes wondered if God had chosen to reveal Himself (yes, I still use the traditional masculine language) through a matriarchal society rather than a patriarchal society of the Ancient Near East if He would have revealed Himself as primarily feminine.
Acknowledging that this is completely speculative, what do you think?
At this point in my theological life I am fairly confident that God's self revelation to humanity as primarily male has everything to do with the cultures to which He was revealing Himself and little to do with gender itself... like I already said, God created both genders in His image. God is hyper-gender.
There is a theological concept called Accommodation. It is the idea that God uses certain means to make connections with people for specific purposes. The means He uses doesn't box God in to be limited to those means...
For example (and remember that we're talking about "God the Father" here:
God is not a burning bush... He just revealed Himself to Moses as one in order to evoke a certain reaction.
God is not pillar of fire.
God is not a pillar of cloud.
God is not a still small voice.
God is not a man... or a woman.
God is not a lot of things.
What other images of God does the Bible provide us that "God is not ..."?

The fact is that in order to grasp the concept of GOD we need something to hold on to. We can't grasp the Godliness of God and so God accommodates Himself to us by revealing Himself to us in varying ways.
Does that make sense to you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Christ, our Diamond Willow

Throughout the wild and rough places of the Canadian prairies can be found, from time to time, willow trees and shrubs that can be called "diamond willow." Diamond willows have distinctive and beautiful knots. Every knot has a unique "diamond" shape to it. At least six different varieties of willow display this unusual diamond knotting. You can see two examples of diamond willow below:
According to the ever reliable Wikipedia "...Diamond willow is willow distinctively shaped as the result of attack by fungus (Valsa sordida, and possibly others), which has resulted in a diamonding effect occurring in the wood of the shrub or tree as the tree forms cankers, or diamonds (elongated ovals with pointed ends), in response to the infection..."
This is another profound example for us from nature that "what doesn't kill you only makes you..." well, in this case, better looking. I kind of doubt that these diamond knots make the tree any stronger, but you get the point.

Just like the pearl, the beautiful stone that is born out of pain and adversity (for the clam), the diamond willow takes the fungus that life throws at it and turns it into something rare and beautiful.

Some people say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I say, “when life gives you fungus, make diamonds.”

Can you think of other examples of this principle that God has given us?

In the book, “The Shack” author William P. Young makes note of the fact that in Revelation 21:21 we see that the gates for New Jerusalem are made out of single pearls. He then connects that to Jesus through whom is the only way into the Kingdom of God.

Christ, through his suffering, made something rare and beautiful possible, hence the pearls as the way into God's New Creation. I think the gates of the New Jerusalem should be made out of Diamond Willow... not that I'm complaining or anything.

What do you think about this connection?
What did you think about The Shack?

How was that for you dad? Do you have any more leading questions?