Monday, November 19, 2007

"Thank You, Howard Wohlgemuth, for Looking the Other Way."

(Warning: This post contains graphic and gross content. If you are squeamish, have a weak constiution, or adore Martha Stewart, then you would be ill-advised to continue reading).

I just suffered a miserable and embarrassing experience that was only spared more embarrassment by the industrious discipline of Howard Wohlgemuth. No pictures accompany this post...and for that, you should be glad.

I was at the church office today, on Main Street. I decided that I wanted to spend some time in prayer and that I would do it while enjoying this wonderful, beautiful, and unseasonably warm day that our Creator has provided. I'm also almost over a cold...but not quite yet, it seems.

Anyway, on the way back from a fairly long walk up to the north part of town, my nose starts to run like Carl Lewis. I had no tissues. I had no handkerchiefs (indeed, I never have those because the very thought of them is quite disgusting to me). There were no convenience stores nearby with a helpful men's room. In short, I was well over a mile from the office with plenty of neighborhoods filled with quaint, Hesston homes to traverse before reaching the safety of a Kleenex.

Of course, my nose cared about none of this. It continued its marathon run and the river had no place to go except in the obvious direction of the earth's gravitational pull. I used leaves. I made friends with several trees and used them to deposit what I could (don't ask how).

I have seen men (usually manly men that are playing professional football or doing construction in below-freezing temperatures) just lean over slightly, cover one nostril, and blow the other out onto the ground. But I had no such recourse. Every time I gathered myself to do such a deed, a sweet little mother on an afternoon run, pushing a stroller with a child cooing softly would be jogging by on the opposite side of the road.

The truly amazing thing is that I almost made it back to the office at a brisk pace without being seen in my most compromising state.


A most unfortunate gentleman on a bike happened to be coming by on his way to the bank. He rode by. Looked at me. I waved.

He didn't wave back.

That was embarrassing enough. But just as I was about to cross the perilous street to the safety of the beloved "Backside" (for those that don't know, that's what we call the youth room which is on the backside of the church office--almost in danger of being dubbed "Chris and Julie's Backside" in honor of the great youth sponsors, a name which was rejected for obvious reasons [the congregational vote was close, I am told]), Howard Wohlgemuth pulled up into a parking spot in his powerful, red truck.

That was when I thought I was doomed. For Bike Guy to see my face in its present condition was bad enough. For someone I knew to see me and to want to say "hi" would be quite disasterous. Such a meeting could have only led Howard to two possible conclusions. First, "our new youth pastor has no shame." Second, "our new youth pastor has a numb face and the poor shlub needs to see the doctor right away."

I slowly crept up to hide behind a blue truck parked on the street. And then Howard did the best thing he could have done at that moment. That wonderful man slid open the side-door to his van and walked inside his flower shop to pick up some botanical arrangements for delivery.

He did it for me.

I ran out from behind the truck. I ran into the church office. I ran into the bathroom and my nose, my face, and my self-image found healing from a roll of delightful toilet paper.

Thank you, Howard Wohlgemuth. Thank you for looking the other way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A World War 2 "Kick"

Yep. It's happening. I'm officially on a World War 2 kick (hereafter to be referred to simply as "the kick"). I've been on such a "kick" before, but not this bad. I think what makes this current "kick" so potent is the time and resources I have to really study what happened in our world from 1933-1945--something I have not had during the last four years of seminary.

(I also think Ken Burns' series entitled "The War" on PBS also got me going...not to mention the new WW2 strategy game I've been playing lately).

Anyway, the latest chapter in my "kick" was the purchase of an illustrated book called The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by Chris Bishop and David Jordan. It is a fairly in-depth account of every major event involving the Nazis from 1933-45. It is a large, fascinating book with many pictures and over 100 maps. I did a double-take when I looked at the price-tag in Borders yesterday...only eight bucks on sale! I had some left-over money on an old Borders gift card so I bought it...

And a latte.

As I read this book, I am so fascinated by the people who lived during that time...for a variety of reasons. First of all, I am quite fascinated that an entire nation of people could ever follow a short, really loud guy whose native language ensures that every other word will result in large amounts of saliva being flung in a ninety degree arc in front of him. Maybe they liked the mustache.

Name: Adolf Hitler. Interests: I like small, furry animals; lazy days by the beech; Sunday afternoon drives in a Panther tank; taking trips to places I have conquered; and mustaches that look I like I forgot to wipe my upper lip after drinking some chocolate milk. If interested: Please contact Herr von Ribbentropp or Hess. If you survive the trial based on ridiculous, trumped up charges we like to use to convict people we dislike purely based on their ethnicity, maybe we can go out on a date. I haven't conquered India yet. That might be something fun we could do.

But then I am reminded of the social situation in post-World War 1 Germany. These people were ready to follow anyone who promised to restore their national pride, help them escape from the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and fix the economy so that a loaf of bread could cost less than $20. This doesn't excuse the incredible atrocities of Nazi Germany or the part that the citizenry had in empowering those atrocities. But it does make me pause and ask the question, "If I had been living in Germany in the 1930s, would I have been caught up in the pageantry, display of world-class power, and the gratifying, unifying feeling of extreme nationalism?" Quite honestly, the answer scares me. I don't think I want to know the answer. I guess I would hope that the Lord would help me run into someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in such times as those. I would need someone to help me drop my sword...someone to help me suffer for righteousness. That would be tough. I love my sword and I hate suffering.

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about WW2. Gotta go for now...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Preparing the Heart for Biblical Interpretation

I have continued to be amazed by the great insight the Lord saw fit to give to the fourth century church father, Augustine of Hippo.

In many modern Sunday school, Bible college, and seminary classes that address rules for biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), students are told the importance of studying the historical and grammatical context of the passage under study. Thus students are encouraged to stock their personal libraries with lexicons, Bible encyclopedias, atlases, Bible histories, commentaries and the like in order to increase one's chances of arriving at the original, intended meaning of the biblical author.

All of this is quite important and should not be neglected. However, I find it interesting that when Augustine addresses the topic of biblical interpretation, he begins with the spiritual condition of the interpreter before addressing the proper methods and tools of interpretation. In his On Christian Doctrine, he establishes the importance of approaching the biblical text with two key spiritual ingredients: fear and piety (Book 2, Section VII).

Augustine understood that interpreters of the biblical text are coming face to face with the very words of God Himself, not just a collection of ancient myths to be read with cold, objective, academic dis-interest, much as we might read Homer or Beowulf. As a result, the responsibility upon the biblical interpreter is quite awesome. He or she must truly desire to interpret the text as Christianly as possible, in order to be a person who is accurately handling the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). This should cause a healthy sense of fear to arise in the heart of the interpreter. Undoubtedly, this thought was in the mind of the apostle James when he wrote, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (Jas 3:1).

Secondly, Augustine wrote that the reader of Scripture is to interpret the Bible with piety. By this, he meant to say that the interpreter is to come with a heart of faith, a disposition to believe what the Scripture says instead of an attitude of placing oneself in judgment over the claims of Scripture. Augustine would write elsewhere that we come to Scripture with a heart that says "I must believe in order to understand, not understand so that I can believe." This mantra would be repeated throughout most of medieval Christianity, most notably in the writings of Anselm and Thomas Aquinas.

Scripture is in a place of judgment over the thoughts of human beings, not subject to our fallen reason. Believing this captures the piety mentioned by Augustine. When we fail to recognize this and approach Scripture with another attitude or set of beliefs, we set ourselves up for theological and spiritual failure. The effects of post-Enlightenment rationalism and extreme optimism in human science and reason in modern Europe is a testimony to how an entire culture can be swayed to turn from faith in Scripture and church authority to "empty, deceitful philosophies" that are "according to human traditions" (Col 2:8). Many of the incredibly beautiful cathedrals and basilicas of that continent have been reduced to mere museums, left-over shells giving testimony to a once living organism that traded its faith in God's Word for faith in humanity's "potential."

May God give wisdom to the still remaining modern churches and the emerging post-modern churches of evangelicalism so that we will not place our highest confidence in any other source than God's written Word, which gives testimony to the Incarnate Word.