Friday, February 7, 2014

January 2014 - A Month in Review

       After my last post I received quite a nice compliment for my blog.  Now that I know that someone, whose job isn't to like my blog, actually thinks that my blog is awesome, I hope that I don't develop any performance anxiety...

       Anyway, that also let me know that my core readership is now up to a whopping total of five.  I actually only know four of those people in real life.  My fifth reader is actually some person in Russia who checks my blog almost everyday.  In terms of page views Russia constitutes my second largest readership behind the United States.  здороваться!  Приветствую Владимиру Путину нашего Господа и Спасителя! Мой он вести Россию-матушку в славное возрасте богатства и процветания, как он едет верхом без рубашки. Хахаха шучу, но я надеюсь, что Олимпийские игры идут хорошо на Soxhi. США США!

January in Review

       Before we get too deep into February I figured I would write about what happened to me in the past month.  A lot happened in January: I moved, a new semester started, and I experienced an interesting string of events.  These events taken individually will seem small, but taken together and given their proximity to one another they seemed quite providential.  Now, I'm not saying they were miracles...

       But, they were providential nonetheless, and hopefully you didn't actually watch that video.  Also, I think  that our reluctance to call something a miracle is simply a product of our modernist bias against the supernatural as well as not wanting to be branded as one of those people who calls even the most trivial things a miracle.  That is another blog for another day.

       The first event in the line of providence occurred shortly after I moved out the snuff film set that my landlord called an apartment.  I left that place for four reasons: it was a piece of crap, the particular odor of marijuana emanating from my neighbors apartment, I found out that the building manager is an alcoholic has a history of assaulting tenets, and I found out that one of the dorms at TEDS is cheaper and less of a hassle.  So I thought.

       While it is cheaper it did not turn out to be devoid of issues.  When the first polar vortex of this year made its way down to the Chicago area to chill out the pipes in the dorm froze.  Then when the thermometer rose to a balmy 15 F outside the water came pouring out of the ceiling.  Only two occupied rooms were affected by the deluge.  Guess who was living in one of those rooms, - that's right Mung.  Guess who was living in the other one - that's right me.

       Some of my things were damaged such as my mattress, my phone charger, and, most tragically, my complete set of Barth's Church Dogmatics.  However, the school has been cooperative and is replacing my damage goods.  Also, the school moved me into a bigger and nicer dorm room, which is about $1000/a semester more than what my first dorm room cost, for no extra charge.  My new place is set up like a three bedroom apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, and living room.  I share all this with two other people.

       Speaking of roommates their names are Mung and Danny.  Mung is a Phd candidate from Burma who is working on the final stage of his dissertation, and Danny is an M. Div candidate in his last semester.  Danny is also body builder and a jazz musician.

Doctorate.  Body building.  Jazz.

Mind. Body. Soul.

At least I'm a whole person when it comes to my image issues now.

       Later that week I went to get my oil changed and my tires rotated at Merlin, it's kind of like a slightly less shady Jiffy Lube.  Only go there because an oil change is only $19 before 10 AM.  After they changed my oil and rotated my tires they tried to sell me on a whole package of good that would be necessary because my car has a whooping 24k miles on it, also my air filter was "dirty."  I know that the air filter is the oldest trick in the book, but I figured it would be worth the $10 to get them off my junk.  Well, they no sooner swapped out my air filter, and undoubtedly laughed it up, when a transformer down the street blew.  This meant they were unable to open the giant bay doors to get my car out.  After making me sit for a half hour they finally decided to open the bay doors manually.  The manager then told me that everything was on them because they had made me wait.  That and the registers didn't have any power, but I'm sure it was because he felt bad for making me wait.

       Then the day before the second polar vortex came calling I hit a pot hole on my way back to school from Beth's house.  It was also late at night and frigid.  Since my wheel wasn't ripped off the axle I didn't think anything of it, but as I was about halfway to Deerfield I heard a thumping sound and noticed that my car was tilting.  So, I pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center.  My tire was completely shot.

       I had never changed a tire before.  My parents are night owls so I gave my mom a call so that I could talk to my dad, and get some pointers.  After I got off the phone with him, I consulted the manual and got to work.  I was having a slow go with and I screwed up the jack placement which added body panel damage to my car's woes.  A man in pickup truck with a plow on it pulled up next to me.  The man rolled down his window and asked, "You okay there?"

"No, my tires flat."

"Ha! I don't have time for that, I have to clear of this lot."

       After that beloved child of God apologetically told me that he couldn't help, I got back to work.  Then another snow removal guy came over to me.

"You need help man?"

"Yeah my tires flat."

"Alright, don't worry me and my dad got you.  He fixes cars all the time."

"Thank you so much.  My names Ben by the way."

"I'm Carlos."

"Good to meet you, and what's your name?"

"Carlos, too"

"Oh, ha, well good to meet you guys."

"Yeah man my dad does this kind of stuff all the time.  He also owns this snow removal company."

       It took Carlos Sr., no more than ten minutes to change my tire.  He was something to behold.  His jack rotation technique was fluid, and we worked with the deliberateness of an artist.  When he was done both Carlos and Carlos Jr. refused anything in return.  The younger Carlos simply said, "Naw, we all been in those places man.  Get home safely.

       The first man who stopped to ask if I needed help looked like me and sounded like me.  Male, white, and from the Midwest, he should have been the one to help me, but he was too busy.

       Carlos and Carlos did not look like me, and Carlos Sr., didn't even speak English, or at least not very much.  However, they both took the time to help.  What's more Carlos Sr. was the first guy's boss yet he was not too busy to help someone out.  If you are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan you know where this is headed.  If you are not familiar go read, because I don't have time to recount it all here.

       There have been a lot things that could have easily discourage me in the last few months as I have studied in seminary: not seeing my friends as often as I would like, classes that repeat what I learned in my undergrad, alcoholic building managers, worrying about paying the tuition and rent, and other things.  Thankfully, January gave me a lot to be happy about, and overall it was a good month.  Indeed, it was a providential month.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Why I Dislike "Away in a Manager," an Epiphany Special.

I know that Christmas was over a week ago, but it is technically the last day of the Christmas season. It is Epiphany so this is fairly relevant.

I have been mulling over whether or not I should do a Christmas themed post for quite some time now.  When I finally decided to make one I had way too many options, and my indecisiveness took over.  I could have written any traditionally themed post or maybe something a little edgy but actually isn't because it is overdone.  I almost wrote a piece defending the inn keeper, but I found out that has already been successfully done.  "Let It Snow," was begging to be made fun of, but I figured that could wait until after Christmas, because it is technically a seasonal song not a Christmas carol.  Then I heard "Away in a Manger" and decided to write about how much I hate it.  Actually, how much I dislike the song, because hate is a bit too strong.  In the words of Henry Francis, "I hate Nazis."


I have disliked "Away in a Manager" for at least 18 years.  My earliest memory of despising the song is from Sunday school when I would have been about 4 years old.  Admittedly back then I did not have a good reason for disliking it.  My main reasons were that a girl named Megan and few other kids kept requesting it even when it had already gotten really old, and the music is nowhere near as exciting as the music to "Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and the like.  Simple reasons, I know, but now that I am older I have deeper reasons for not liking this perennial favorite.


Before we go any further I figured I better put down the lyrics for everyone to read.

Away in a manger, No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus, Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky,Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus,Asleep on the hay
The cattle are lowing,The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus, No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, Look down from the sky
And stay by my side, “Til morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children, In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven, To live with Thee there

I really have two issues with the song: it is borderline heretical and sickeningly sentimental.


The line, "But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes," is quite problematic.  At its best it means that Jesus wasn't crying which is problematic for newborns; at its worst it is docetic.  It seems to suggest that Jesus is only appearing to be a baby, because a real baby would be crying its head off.  The funny thing is that docetism, along with Arianism, was rejected by the First Council of Nicaea, the same council in which Santa knocked out a heretic.  So now we have a popular Christmas song that promotes a heresy on a holiday closely associated with a man who got so worked up in his defense of orthodoxy that he felt the need to physically assault a heretic.


The other issue is that the song focuses on the warm fuzzy feelings that sweet baby Jesus gives us.  My issue with that is that it strives to keep Jesus in the manger.  It is a very popular thing to do, implicitly if not explicitly, especially in popular American Christianity.  I don't know if that is what Will Ferrell was trying to get at in Talladega Nights, but this scene is a great parody of how many view Jesus.

In his book Godric Frederick Buechner gets at the reason why we prefer to keep Jesus in the manager.  The book is a retelling of the life of Saint Godric of Finchale.  At one point Godric is recounting the time he attended Christmas Mass at Durham.

"An easy thing it is to love a babe.  A babe asks nothing, never chides.  A babe is fair to see.  A babe is hope for better things to come.  All this and more.  But babes grow into men at last.  That's where it turns a bitter brew.  'He has no form or comeliness,' Isaiah says.  'No beauty that we should desire him.  A man of sorrows we despise."  Christ minds us to be good, to feed his sheep, take up our cross and follow him with Hell's hot fires if we fail.  All this and more our Savior bids when he becomes a man, and to a man we say him nay.  Thus when the Bishop tenders me with his own hands Christ's flesh and blood, I slobber them with tears"  (124).

We can make a baby what we want it to be.  All our ideas and dreams can be forced on a baby, but a man can talk back.  Examples abound of parents having this happen with their children.  It is the same with how we look at the Christ child.

The desire to keep Jesus in our mind as a cute baby in an adorably dumpy manager is a desire to make Jesus palatable.  Have a white American Jesus, a Jesus that would've been bros with Che Guevera, or any other variation starts with confining Christ to the crib and then moves to looking at some of the things the man said or did while ignoring other things that he did.  It is is similar to when a parent praises their teenager for doing something they approve of and then saying to the other parent, "He is your son," when the kid does something his parents disapprove.

But even our attempts to make Jesus feel safe by looking at just the baby fail.  The Incarnation is one of the most mind boggling doctrines taught and held by Christians.  The shear metaphysical divide that God had to cross is ridiculous and incomprehensible; it scandalizes the intellect.  I don't know about anyone else, but it makes me feel uncomfortable, awe inspired but uncomfortable, when I think about it.  We then have to start asking questions like:

"How can the Almighty be confined in the form of a man nonetheless a baby?"
"What does the kenosis mean exactly?"

These questions then lead to ones that are a bit more touchy for some:

"Did Jesus ever get a math problem wrong?"
"Did He have a libido?" (If we are consistent and say with the Church Fathers that which is not assumed cannot be redeemed then we have to say that Christ had a sex drive.)
"If God is willing to undertake the ultimate work of contextualization what does that mean for my desire to force, implicitly or explicitly, my culturally biased forms of Christian worship/practice onto other people groups?"


The last question is extremely relevant for today, Epiphany.  This holiday celebrates Jesus' visitation by the Three Wise Men and the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. God desires to be worshiped by all nations which means He desires to be worshiped in a variety of tongues and ways, and when we make out our brand of Jesus to be the only Jesus we have trouble sharing the Gospel cross-culturally.   However, if Jesus was going to stay confined to one culture it would have been the Jewish culture of His day, but he did not even stay confined to that culture.  Instead He took the place where it would have been the easiest for us to put Him in a box and turns it into the very place that He begins subverting our perceptions of Him by having the Wise Men worship Him.

That is why I dislike Away in a Manager.