What Exactly is Biblical Literacy?

Ezekiel eating the scroll (Eze. 3:1)

OK quick – what are the first three books of the Bible? Was Paul one of the twelve disciples? Did Abraham lead the Israelites out of Egypt?

If you can’t answer these questions (though I really hope you can) you shouldn’t be surprised. Research has shown that most Americans know very little about the Bible – presumably much less than what was known a generation ago.

“…A Famine in the Land”

Pastors, authors and pundits are saying that we are in a famine in terms of our biblical literacy. This famine is not due to lack of access though. According to the Barna Group, “Nearly nine out of 10 adults and teens report owning a Bible, a proportion that has held steady over six years.” The problem comes in that according to the same research only about 35% of those responding read the Bible once a week or more, and over 40% read it less than once a year if at all (not counting reading in church). Because the Bible isn’t read routinely by many in our society, we’ve lost that knowledge of it that was once considered a given. Continue reading

Crossing Divides: Can an Atheist be a Chaplain?

Can an Atheist be a chaplain?

It may seem like a ridiculous question, I know. However Great Britain recently named its first “Non-Religious Pastoral Carer” within its national health system. This sparked debate about whether or not it’s even possible for a non-religious person could technically be a “chaplain” given that the title itself has an obvious religious connotation.

While the argument is interesting, I don’t find it very helpful though. It becomes an argument about semantics and definitions. But frame the question this way and I think it gets interesting: Can someone of one faith provide spiritual support to another of a different faith, or of no faith at all? Put it that way and I think you are getting to a core question for those serving in Chaplaincy already, as well as those planning for ministry. Continue reading

“What do these stones mean to you?” Reflections on Joshua 4

The following is from a remembrance service I did at a facility some years ago. At the end of the service we passed out stones to the families and staff in attendance. I hope you enjoy it.

…Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Continue reading

Romans 1:18-20; What about the unreached and unreachable?

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the idea of salvation, namely who is saved, who isn’t, and why. Having been raised Calvinist I’m now questioning some points of it more directly than I have in the past, the state of the “unreached heathen” or “reprobate” being one of them. Traditionally Calvinism and many other branches of orthodox Christianity would say that those that never hear are lost based on the passage here in Romans. The teaching is that all of humanity knows something of God which can be inferred from the world around them. However this truth has been suppressed by the idolatry of others, leading all mankind to be in a state of sin. The implication is that all of humanity has been given knowledge of God but that humanity has rejected God from the beginning. Therefore, the species is under righteous judgment. Continue reading

Matthew 19:16; I am the Rich Young Ruler

 

“Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matt 19:16 NRSV

So begins the story of the “rich young ruler” in Matthew.

There’s a lot said negatively about this man, some founded and some unfounded. But let’s start by giving him the benefit of the doubt. He comes to Jesus, recognizing Him as a Rabbi with authority, to ask about how to attain eternal life. It seems as if at first that he is appealing to do something over and above what is necessary regarding the law, as he is asking about a “good deed” and not a general “what do I do”. No doubt that Jesus had many ask him this as it would be a question pressing to many Jews. No doubt the Pharisees and Sadducees had their own teachings on this and I would imagine people going from Rabbi to Rabbi (like the way people church-hop today) to gather opinions and find one that they find best fitting and proper, or most convenient for them. Continue reading

What do we mean by inerrant?

I highly recommend Relevant Magazine, both online and in print. This article is a bit shallow but raises interesting questions important for anyone studying the Bible. How you answer the question of “is the Bible inerrant?” – which leads to the question “well what do we mean by inerrant?” – will completely shape how you read and interpret Scripture.

article after the jump >> Continue reading

Timing

What a long trip it’s been!  Next week I’ll be finishing up my fourth unit of CPE – fourth consecutive unit I might add.  I’ve been spending my Tuesdays in CPE, getting up at 5:30am or worse, since last fall.  I said today that I felt like I was in a marathon with the end finally in sight.  The start was full of excitement but a lot of trips until I caught my pace.  Then I ran steady for a long time.  Then, this term, I hit my wall.  Now I feel like the “runner’s high” has kicked in as I finally realize the end is really in sight.

I am looking harder at not trying so hard.  I tend to feel that so much depends on me in order to keep up my own standards.  I’ve seen though that my own standards still can be unnecessarily high.  I felt very alone a few weeks ago, because I just couldn’t keep up with my own expectations and wanted someone to rescue me.  I was a fairly miserable person.  I realized that my priorities were so messed up – the things that I saw as important were really distracting me from the things that were important: my kids, my wife, personal time and so on.

I feel freer and happier.  How often are we our own worst enemies!

Know, Be, Do

The biggest part of CPE is the process itself.  It’s not a matter of learning something new and then showing that you’ve learned it, as in a typical classroom.  You are the classroom and you are the textbook.

In fact, CPE and chaplaincy depend very little on knowledge.  Rather it depends on wisdom, developed over time and only through experience.  Many enter in to CPE thinking that either it will be like a college class or a small-group devotional.  In my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  The CPE group develops in a dymanic way, with each member of the group giving and taking with the ultimate goal of building pastoral identity and wisdom.  That wisdom is not gained easily though, not just through navel-gazing or drum-beating.

John Patton in Pastoral Care: The Essential Guide writes “Pastoral wisdom involves our knowing, being and doing.”  Sound profound?  Yeah, did to me to.  However it’s true, but here’s how I understand it.

Knowing involves not simply knowing a fact.  In pastoral care, this knowledge is not just knowledge of scripture or doctrine.  It is the knowledge of your self – strengths, weaknesses, history, pain, story, shames, successes and so on.  CPE involves a great deal of this self-identification, which is sometimes easy and sometimes hard.  I think lots of folks have experiences in CPE because they try hard to maintain false selves while the group or supervisor try even harder to tear that false self down.

Being involves accepting those things we are aware of through self-knowlege.  Too often self-awareness leads to self-rejection, I think.  The hard parts of my life are just a part of me as the good parts, yet I find I tried for so long to judge those hard parts as things to be set aside or avoided.  I reject negative parts of myself as not really me, but that only sets up a false knowledge of who I really am.  However when I accept my past and my self and my past without judgement I can use them both to work with others in the midst of their own story and pain, and also help them to see their own true self without judgement.  This is not saying that sin isn’t sin or that “I’m all good”.  It involves seeing myself as I truly am, not how I view myself or how I want others to view me – it is how God sees me.  And in Christ, God sees me without judgement.  I think that’s what grace is.

Doing is the acting upon that knowledge of who I really am, putting my self fully into interaction with others.  This is the essence of pastoral care, but it can only happen after the knowing and the being.

Hard Lessons

This has been a tremendously taxing last month and I’m glad it’s over.  July seemed long and tedious, and the fact that the AC on my car has been dead for some time didn’t help matters.  Neither did the “check engine” light that just won’t go off.  Neither did the fact that I traded territories with another chaplain as she was doing far too much traveling, only to find now that I’m doing a lot more traveling than I like now.

I kept up with everything and CPE was going great.  But last week killed me.  I had a very busy week with my new caseload and also had to manage the house and kids on my own as my wife was out at a conference.  I plugged through because I had this big goal at the end that I was looking forward to – being an extra in the new Batman film.  But then that got yanked and I felt like I ahd just run a marathon for nothing.

I got really mad and was emotionally all over the place.  Then I felt that I should just never count on anything good happening – that maybe I was holding on to things too hard anc counting on outside things too much.

And that was when I realized that I was exhausted and not taking care of myself.

This was why I was having such a big reaction to something that would have been disappointing but not a crisis event.  Self care for me is really hard, as I just don’t feel like I have the time to do so.  However failure to do so just makes me burn out faster.

Today I had trouble with one of my CPE reflection papers, as I found it really hard to “reflect” on the visit that I was supposed to be writing about.  What was going on spiritually during the visit?  Hard to tell, because right now I don’t feel spiritually connected to myself or anything else, just the stored-up pain in my shoulders that I can’t neck-crack away.

So all this to serve as the reason why I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off!

Awareness, Part II

I wrote already of awareness in terms of being aware of problems and issues in one’s life.  However this time I’m thinking of awareness in terms of simply being aware of one’s self in the world.  Yoda’s basic criticism of Luke came to mind:

“All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!”

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals and one thing I find is that every day is not filled with some kind of inspirational masterpiece or heavy thought on life or whatever.  Often it’s simply what’s going on:

“The sun, the clear morning, the quiet…” June 3&4, 1963

“Brilliance of Venus hanging as it were on one of the dim horns of Scorpio.  Frozen snow.  Deep wide blue-brown tracks of the tractor that came to get my gas tank the other day…” Jan 5, 1968

When I started CPE I saw awareness as being aware of what was going on with me at that time.  And that’s fine, but I’m seeing more that awareness involves not a narrow focus on me, but on me in the world.  I’m getting used to not putting on the iPod when I go out for walks.

I’m even a bit self conscious as I write this, knowing that this sounds a bit like navel-gazing or flaky or something.  But I’m appreciating the experience.