“Known knowns, known unknowns,” and the New Testament


The good folks over at the Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical site, posted a gem of a fake article today called “Historical-Critical Scholar Doubts Authorship Of Paper He Wrote,” which comically captures some of the dubious certainties that sometimes come out of the New Testament studies combine.

The article quotes the fictitious Dr. Gunther Burg of Yale questioning the authenticity of an article he himself had written. Continue reading

My Top Ten Posts from 2015


Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2015:

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

“The God of the Far Off” Toward the Ministry of Inclusion

“The Cross and the Church: The Soteriology and Ecclesiology of P. T. Forsyth”

I was ordained forty years ago today

What I Love about the Gospel of Luke

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

“Better Late Than Never” Reflections on women in ministry.

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Rick’s salade niçoise

 And desperate preachers (of whom there seem to be many) and other net surfers brought in a surprising number of hits to my archived material from other years (“Ten Highly Effective Strategies . . .” for example, had a three-day run with over 9,000 hits, which speaks well either of people’s appreciation for satire or for the poor morale of the clergy.) In either case here are the ten most visited posts from previous years on this blog in 2015, which I began in 2009:

 Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

Prayer for a Retired Pastor

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

“Anticipation”: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2016.

Adam Desnoyers’ Thanksgiving

Adam Desnoyers is a wordsmith extraordinaire, a winner of an O’ Henry Award for best short story, a putative novelist, a creative writing professor at the University of Kansas, and a valued part-time employee of  Harbour Lights, a hipster townie/student bar in Lawrence, Kansas. In the interest of the kind of transparency you have come to expect from this blog, I need to admit that Adam is also my nephew and godson.

He writes periodic blurbs for Harbour Lights, which he posts on Facebook. His most recent one is about Thanksgiving, and, since I was with him on Thanksgiving when he wrote it, I can attest that it is (mostly) fictional, though none the less funny for being so. So for all of you who have survived the messy and comical goings-on of your families at Thanksgiving,  enjoy:

No one saw the dog hop up and lick the turkey so you made sure you got a cut from the other side. Aunt Myrtle burned a Virginia Slim hole in the loveseat when the weight of the day had her dozing off. Cousin Dane had been waiting in a Black Friday line since Tuesday; got incarcerated for events occurring somewhere between Hosiery and Electronics. Mikey floated him bail. Bro-in-law Tyler left the linen closet full of dirty diapers and Hot Pocket sleeves. Darlene neglected to mention the weed in the pan of muffins. Hugh emptied your Ativan prescription but left you one because he’s thoughtful. Morgan announced she’s preggers again. Your mother tried really hard. Nobody has seen the cat. You haven’t really lost the weight, mostly you’re just dehydrated. Eddie says during the Rapture you should come to his house, he’s got a year of Hungry Mans and light beer. The athletes left it all on the field. You wonder if you really married the right person. Linda and Frank promise things will be different this time around. Sometimes there’s this tightness in your right lung. You never know if the bright one’s a star or a planet. One place never changes–well, maybe just a little right now, but soon it will stop. HARBOUR LIGHTS.

Ronald McDonald for President: It could happen!


Fast food icon Ronald McDonald shocked the political world today by announcing his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president in the 2012 election.  Early poll numbers have been impressive, as Mr. McDonald’s celebrity quotient and name recognition are off the charts.

Political analyst Robert Blake says, “Basically, no one can beat this guy on his celebrity, now that Liz and Michael are dead and Tiger is on the ropes.  Maybe Oprah could do it if she was interested, but hey, this guy’s got the numbers!”

Major GOP leaders say they are interested in his candidacy, and representatives of the evangelical right say that some of his previous indiscretions can be overlooked and that he has changed on some major policy positions.  Also he is working on overcoming earlier allegations that he is “a clown.”

(Note:  None of this is intended to be a factual statement.)

“Don’t Know Much about Geography:” Mike Huckabee’s Map of the World


So let’s not be too hard on poor Mike Huckabee for saying that President Obama was born in Kenya.  I don’t know about you, but I always confuse Kenya with Hawaii.  They’re both far away and they both have hot climates.  Yeah, I know one is an island and one isn’t (I can’t remember which) but they are practically the same.

And his mistake is not really his fault since Huckabee didn’t get taught geography when he was a kid growing up in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick (see note below) because of Fenwickian proto-Republican budget cuts.

Besides, he wasn’t really putting down the President by saying he was born in Kenya. After all, think of the foreign policy and national security experience the President got from keeping an eye on the Russians across the Bering Straits, or is that someone else?

Huckabee is surely right that a history of foreign travel is a big liability for an American politician.  We know George W. Bush hardly ever traveled, so there you go.

(Note:  “The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is no more than five miles (8 km) long and three miles (5 km) wide and lies in a fold in the Northern Alps. It features three valleys, a river, and a mountain with an elevation of 2,000 feet (610 m). On the northern slopes are 400 acres (1.6 km2) of vineyards. The hillsides where the ground is less fertile support flocks of sheep that provide meat, dairy products and wool. Most of the inhabitants live in the City of Fenwick that is clustered around Fenwick Castle, the seat of government. About 2 miles (3 km) from the City of Fenwick is a 500 acre (2 km²) Forest Preserve that features a 20 foot (6.1 m) waterfall and attracts many birds that the nation claims as its own native birds.[1] The Duchy, ruled by Duchess Gloriana XII, is described as bordering Switzerland and France in the Alps. It retains a pre-industrial economy, based almost entirely on making wool and Pinot Grand Fenwick wine. It takes its name from its founder, the English knight Sir Roger Fenwick who, while employed by France, settled there with his followers in 1370. Thanks to Sir Roger, the national language is English.”  Wikapedia)

(Note 2.  One of my readers e-mailed me to correct me that Mike was actually born in Hope, Arkansas.  Well that does it for his presidential hopes, since we have had lots of presidents from Kenya and Hawaii but none from Hope, Ark.)

My Ten Guidelines for Oversharers


Our little family was on one of those cool Hebridean car ferries, traveling from Oban to Mull on our way to Iona, when I first ruminated on the American national trait to share way too much information with total strangers.  My five-year old daughter (this was 1989) had just commented, “Duddy, there are lots of Americans on this boat!”  I was reminding her that, although we had lived in Britain for several months, we were, in fact, ourselves Americans, when we were set upon by two very friendly Mid-Western American women who had overheard our conversation.

Within minutes we knew where they were from and the names of their children, their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren.  And when they discovered I was a minister, they felt compelled to tell me all about their church, their pastor, and all their activities in the congregation.

Perhaps none of this would have struck me as particularly strange if I hadn’t been a foreigner in Britain, but the contrast was evident to me.   Everybody in England had been quite pleasant to us during our stay, but with few exceptions maintained a certain reserve that I actually came to appreciate.

When we left Oxford that summer, I said my goodbyes to college dons and staff, and several remarked,  “But you’ve only just arrived!  We will miss you.”  While I believe they were sincere, I was amused by their heartfelt goodbyes in that they had barely given me the time of day.

I liked it in Britain, but I must confess that I’m an American oversharer, and that I come from a family of oversharers. I was one even before my brain injury, which adjusted my social filters to, shall we say, a more porous setting.

I come by it honestly.  My Dad, of blessed memory, was at times an oversharer.  One Thanksgiving dinner he launched his own campaign of “shock and awe” (shock to the grownups and awe to us kids).  My Uncle Dick was expertly carving the turkey with an electric carving knife (remember those?).  My Dad felt the need to share that a former secretary of his had committed suicide using such an implement, but his telling was not nearly as discreet as mine here.  I suspect that there were lots of leftovers from that meal.

The Internet was made for oversharers.  Blogging or updating one’s status on Facebook  offer hourly temptations.  So in yet another of my high-minded public service offerings, here are my ten guidelines to avoid oversharing:

  1. Never post on the Internet when you are intoxicated.  Trust me on this.  You may wake up to see that cute little red flag with lots of numbers in it on your Facebook page, and smile and wonder, “Which of my carefully crafted witty status updates are all my ‘friends’ responding to?”  Moments later you are mortified to suddenly remember that last post you made right before bed, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  It wasn’t.
  2. Remember the old adage about the difference between major and minor surgery?  “Major surgery is surgery on me, and minor surgery is surgery on someone else.”  The same is true for the difference between interesting surgery, and boring surgery.  And no surgical scars please.  Remember LBJ?   Nobody wants to see your scar.
  3. If you have an interesting story to tell about your friends the Andersons, and you ask your friends the Smiths if they know the Andersons, and the Smiths say, “No,” don’t tell the story.
  4. If your child or grandchild just learned to use the potty that is a grand thing but don’t share it.  Same thing for cute pictures in the tub.  Cute now, but the kid might not appreciate it when he’s 13 and the class bully finds it on the Net.
  5. Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome may well be very preoccupying to you, but it is not of general interest.  In my thirty years of pastoral ministry I patiently listened to people’s accounts of their bodily ailments.  We call it an “organ recital.”  You can and should share such concerns with your pastor and your doctor, but not with the world, and not on the Internet.
  6. Pastors are notorious for telling cute stories about their children from the pulpit.  Everybody loves this, right?  Well, no, actually.  The children usually don’t.  I would ask for permission.  Same policy for posting. Children and other family members have a right to privacy.  I have sometimes observed this rule in the breach, as my children have noted.
  7. When I go on vacation I take lots of pictures, and love to look at them again and again to relive the experience.  This is something that you want to share with all your friends and dinner guests, right?  No.  Pictures of other people’s vacations are not everybody’s idea of a good time.
  8. We live in an age of scientific miracles, and have medications available that can make us feel younger, happier, healthier and, just better.  Nobody wants to hear which ones you are on.
  9. Have a new hobby?  Yoga or origami?  Just because it excites you doesn’t mean it will excite others.  Same for religion.  If someone asks you what you believe, don’t lay out your systematic theology.  Say, “I’m a Methodist.” Or, “I affirm the Nicene Creed.”   A balance between talking and listening is a good anditote against oversharing.  Remember Bette Midler’s character in Beaches?  She says, “But enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do You think about me?”  Don’t be her.
  10. Tighten up you privacy settings.  Not just on Facebook, but in real life.  All of us experience ups and downs in our lives.  Most of us are battered and worn one way or another.  Some of us have had really traumatic events that have left us permanently scarred.  How and when (and whether) we share these parts of our story is something each of us must discern in our own way.  But such sharing implies some level of trust and intimacy, and although the Internet may sometimes give the appearance of allowing that, it is a risky medium for such sharing.   Be careful with yourself and others.

But I’ve shared too much.

(And yes, I know “oversharers” isn’t a recognized word, but it will be.  Just watch!)

Ridiculous and sublime: Richard Bauckham’s “The Pooh Community”


More and more I am finding satire the proper vehicle to address some of the more foolish antics of both the church and the academy.  So I was delighted to come across Richard Bauckham’s delicious deadpan savaging of his own guild in his lecture “The Pooh Community,”  in which he employs some of the methods of contemporary New Testament scholarship to analyze A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh.”
His careful sifting leads him to posit the existence of several “communities” behind the final redaction of the text.  Here’s a sample:

“The very distinctive nature of the Pooh community can be further appreciated when we compare it with other children’s literature of the period, such as the Noddy books or the Narnia books (though it may be debatable whether these were already written at the time when the traditions of the Pooh community were taking shape). Words and concepts very familiar from other children’s literature never appear in the Pooh books: the word school, e.g., is completely absent, as is the word toys, even though the books are ostensibly about precisely toys. Conversely, the Pooh books have their own special vocabulary and imagery: e.g. the image of honey, which is extremely rare in other children’s literature (not at all to be found in the Narnia books, e.g., according to the computer-generated analysis by Delaware and Babcock), constantly recurs in the literature of the Pooh community, which clearly must have used the image of honey as one of the key buildingblocks in their imaginative construction of the world.

The stories afford us a fairly accurate view of some of the rivalries and disputes within the community. The stories are told very much from the perspective of Pooh and Piglet, who evidently represent the dominant group in the community – from which presumably the bulk of the literature originated, though here and there we may detect the hand of an author less favourable to the Pooh and Piglet group. The Pooh and Piglet group saw itself as central to the life of the community (remember that Piglet’s house is located in the very centre of the forest), and the groups represented by other characters are accordingly marginalized. The figure of Owl, for example, surely represents the group of children who prided themselves on their intellectual achievements and aspired to status in the community on this basis. But the other children, certainly the Pooh and Piglet group, ridiculed them as swots. So throughout the stories the figure of Owl, with his pretentious learning and atrocious spelling, is portrayed as a figure of fun. Probably the Owl group, the swots, in their turn ridiculed the Pooh and Piglet group as ignorant and stupid: they used terms of mockery such as ‘bear of very little brain.’ Stories like the hunt for the Woozle, in which Pooh and Piglet appear at their silliest and most gullible, probably originated in the Owl group, which used them to lampoon the stupidity of the Pooh and Piglet group. But the final redactor, who favours the Pooh and Piglet group, has managed very skilfully to refunction all this material which was originally detrimental to the Pooh and Piglet group so that in the final form of the collection of stories it serves to portray Pooh and Piglet as oafishly lovable. In a paradoxical reversal of values, stupidity is elevated as deserving the community’s admiration. We can still see thepoint where an anti-Pooh story has been transformed in this way into an extravagantly pro-Pooh story at the end of the story of the hunt for the Woozle. Pooh and Piglet, you remember, have managed to frighten themselves silly by walking round and round in circles and mistaking their own paw-prints for those of a steadily increasing number of unknown animals of Hostile Intent. Realizing his mistake, Pooh declares: ‘I have been Foolish and Deluded, and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.’ The original anti-Pooh story, told by the Owl faction, must have ended at that point. But the pro-Pooh narrator has added – we can easily see that it is an addition to the original story by the fact that it comes as a complete non sequitur – the following comment by Christopher Robin: “‘You’re the Best Bear in All the World,” said Christopher Robin soothingly.’ Extravagant praise from the community’s major authority-figure.”

To see the entire lecture go here.

Richard Bauckham is a theologian and biblical scholar who was Professor of New Testament at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.   His web site is here.

When Blogs Die


You know the signs. First you notice that a favored blog on your blogroll hasn’t had a post in 5 months. That is often the end, but sometimes there is a preliminary stage, akin to Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stage of denial. The blogger appears and posts an apology for slackness. “I’ve been . . .

  1. Sick
  2. New child
  3. Writing my dissertation
  4. Rereading the Church Dogmatics in German
  5. Working too hard
  6. Leveling my blood elf ret pally
  7. Moving
  8. Despairing of life itself

Do not be fooled by this desperate act of repentance or by the pledge to lead a new and upright blogging life. Chances are this blog is going to die and soon.

Our internet presence gives us the illusion of both transcendence and permanence, but it is an illusion. Both our blogs and our selves are finite and destined to die. I have already outlived one blog, where I posted for years. When the Webmaster of the site changed programs the archives disappeared, with all my posts. Many I had saved as a Word document, but some were written on the blog, and so lost forever. There is one I wrote when Bard Childs died about a gracious personal encounter I had with him that I wish I had. Oh well, sic transit gloria mundi, sigh.

Our blogs exist as fragile lines of HTML code. They can vanish like the morning dew. Yet, it is also possible they can outlive us. I was on Linked-In the other day, and they suggested people I might know and one of them was a dear friend of mine who died way too young two years ago.

Either way, both our blogs and we are going to die, so “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

To replace some of the dead blogs I have added some new ones to my blogroll that I like:  Cathedral Bells,  Chrisendom,  and Intersections.  Enjoy them while they last.

Your Opinions Stink! A quick guide to the New York Times Op-Ed Pages


I am a long-time reader of the New York Times, and of its Opinion Pages, and lately I’ve been noticing that I know pretty much what each of the contributors is going to say about any particular subject even before I read their pieces.

To get to this point I have had to spend thousands of hours of my time and untold amounts of my money. So as a public service to the rest of you I offer this template that you can use to know what each one will say before they say it:

David Brooks: We rely too much on government and not enough on ourselves because our values stink.

Paul Krugman: If you would listen to me the economy wouldn’t stink.

Tom Friedman: The rest of the world is increasingly beating us at our own game because, although we didn’t used to stink, now we do.

Nicholas Kristof: There are a lot of stinking things going on in the world, and we stink for not doing enough to stop them.

Frank Rich: Republicans are evil, and those who don’t oppose them vigorously enough stink.

Maureen Dowd: Everybody stinks, and I get paid to judge them for it! Cool!