I don’t know exactly where the time went, but the other day I just realized that I am thirty-seven years old. Wow.
After considering the matter, it occurred to me that I aged three years while at Seminary. (To be clear, this means I now have righteous reading skills, not major math skills.)
Additionally, I just realized that I finally have the clearest and most truthful answer to the question that has been nagging at me for some time.
The question: What did you do at Seminary?
The answer: I got older.
The drawstring on my gym shorts has never retracted all the way into the band, but it seems like it may if I’m not careful as I put them on.
My forehead has a skin irritation that I do not believe I can cure with the limited amount of time and skill that I possess this morning.
The one on my upper left arm is prime for attention and now healing.
Remembering that I felt my big toenail snag on the blankets last night, I leave my anklet socks on the kitchen table as I return to the bathroom.
After clipping, the metal file is put to work.
Donning my shirt first, I then pull on my socks. Next, my glasses. One more look in the mirror to make sure that the additional light didn’t reveal any embarrassing and correctable flaws.
Well, my forehead still has the acute pain, but I’m good.
And I’m failing as I try not to think about the shooting, and what, if anything, it means, but I’m good.
“Why are they holding candles?” H-asked, looking at the laptop open on the kitchen table.
“To make it look pretty,” I answered.
Accompanying the recorded images of faux-candlelight, a lady’s voice sang, “But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.”
“What do you think she means, H-?” I asked.
“Huh?” she asked, distractedly.
I began again. “The songwriter wrote, ‘But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.’ I’m curious what you think that means. What did he learn?”
“Well,” she started, pausing thoughtfully, “it’s kinda hard to understand.”
I nodded to myself.
“It is, isn’t it?” I agreed. “I think he means that when someone tries to be mean even before you can be nice, the only thing that can stop them is love. But I may be wrong. That’s part of what makes it pretty like the candles.”
The voice continued, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”
“You know, Daddy, I was singing this in the shower,” she pointed out.
I shook my head in wonder. “I know. I heard. That’s why I put it on.”
“I only know the Hallelujah part, though. It’s in Shrek.”
The startling oven timer sounded to her left. She turned to look. Grabbing the oven mitt, I opened the oven. The cookies were done baking. Time for dessert.
Transmitted through my helmet’s CEP’s, the phrase “tail’s hit” will forever be connected to the word “fear” for me.
Immediately I wondered whether my formation lead’s pilot meant that the tail of his helicopter was hit or that his tail gunner–the human–was hit.
And immediately I began to scan the monochromatic green terrain one hundred feet below for shooters.
And immediately I was overwhelmed with the reality that they could be anywhere and if they weren’t presently firing, I would likely not notice them.
And at the occurrence of that precise thought I became afraid.
I felt fear for the first time in my life.
Eventually, in a matter of seconds I mean, it was clear that the tail gunner was the victim of the “hit” and our direct action mission was aborted in favor of flying him to the nearest ‘cash.’ (Combat Support Hospital.) He lived.
But me? I was incapacitated for a little bit and I had an overwhelming desire to cry. Let me repeat that first part: I was incapacitated for a little bit. Luckily, I was the inexperienced co-pilot at the time.
Years later, I was the instructor pilot on a night sortie at the schoolhouse, and one of our other Huey’s had stopped checking in with HUB–or on any other radio or frequency we all tried. (That usually means the crew had crashed.) Soon after, my student was on the controls and hover taxiing to hot refuel at Andalusia. He was all over the sky, as they say. Too high, over-correcting to too low. So as my aircraft commander did for me in Iraq, I took the controls without comment. The student was clearly going through the realization that his friends might be dead–that we might later die on the job–and he didn’t need any more input. (They lived.)
Dr. Ford (et al): Stay terrified–it lets me know that you’re not a leader, that you’re not worth following.
Or you could apologize for lying. Or you could forgive.
But I can’t/won’t/don’t want to join you in your fear. I’d be trading in every ounce and moment and piece of hard-earned experience I have for nothing–no reason, no action, no sound, no light, no nothing–for darkness. In other words, I’d be exchanging it all for fear.
And I am not afraid.
To recap the last couple years: After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of 2016, I read the Koran. I was attending a Christian Seminary, and enrolled in a Master’s of Divinity degree. After that shooting I needed to read for myself just what the heck that book said about violence.
Instead of merely seeing the passages which call for violence, I saw something worse. Lies. Lie after lie after lie. But all the lies centered upon one big lie: the lie that Jesus of Nazareth was not the resurrected Jesus the Christ–the very Son of God.
So I blogged about the experience. Several of you were reading along, and one of you even asked, “Well, how should I address these issues with my Muslim friends?” I offered suggestions. But I also admitted that I had yet to know any Muslims myself, so I didn’t have first-hand experience.
Fast forward two years now and I randomly (or not) ended up working at a job with a lot of African immigrants, many who are Muslim.
One man in particular has engaged me in discussion about such things, but the conversations were always brief. Then, one day as we sat down on break, he said, “So you believe in Jesus Christ?” I got ready to finally chat on topic for a few minutes, only to be disappointed when another co-worker appeared and killed that conversation. But I invited my co-worker over after work. He accepted and a few days later he came over.
A- is his name.
The following is a highlight reel. It is intended to show you one example of how conversations can go. Keep in mind that we are co-workers. Not that I would do it much different if we were strangers, but this situation added pressure, I felt, to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would make the next day weird. And the next and the next and the next.
Pete: Oh, man. Thank you so much for coming over. It’s after midnight, and you came. I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Thank you.
A-: I said I’d come. I just had to finish up a few things.
Pete: No worries. Come in, come in. Don’t worry about your shoes. Can I get you some ice cream? I had a dinner party recently and one woman brought the best desserts ever and left them with me, and I was thinking you could help me finish them.
A-: Sure. It would be my pleasure.
Pete: Actually, do you eat ice cream? I had lunch with E- and his wife recently (another Ethiopian couple from work–Christians) and they went with H- and me to ice cream after, but they didn’t really like it. I don’t know if that’s all Ethiopians or just those two.
A-: I would like ice cream. I will eat it.
Pete: Cool. Oh, by the way. Answer me this. Sorry, I’m just so curious. How many white people’s homes have you been in since living here?
A-: (Smiling) Why you ask this?
Pete: I just am curious. I feel like everyone comes to America and then never mingles. How many?
A-: You’re my third.
Pete: Wow. Three? Crazy. We’ve got to do this again. Only three, huh? That’s no good. We’re not all the white devil, you know?
(Skipping ahead to good stuff).
A-: (Pointing at my white board with Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet, Hebrew alef-bet, and Greek alphabet written on it) Why do you study all this stuff?
Pete: Because it’s important to know about the people who wrote the Bible and what kind of life they lived and such.
A-: Well, I want to tell you I really appreciate that you study all this. You know, one of the five pillars is to believe in Holy Bible.
Pete: Hmm. That’s confusing to me. How can you believe in “Holy Bible” if it says that Jesus is the Son of God? And that Yahweh is the name of God? I was under the impression that these were not things that Muhammad wrote.
A-: You know, that is big confusion. We don’t really believe in Muhammad. He is not that important to us.
Pete: (Raised eyebrows in shock)
A-: You know, allah–or god–is so big and mysterious that we cannot know much about him. (Picking up a crumb from the brownie) It’s like we are this teeny-tiny thing. (Dropping it on the kitchen table) And god is everything else. How could the tiny crumb possibly know about everything else?
Pete: That’s what the Bible is. That’s what revelation is. Yahweh, the LORD, has been revealing himself to us through those prophets in the Bible and eventually in Jesus himself. It’s not like we know everything there is to know, but we know enough to know his name.
(Skipping a bit)
A-: I was raised in Adventist missionary school in Ethiopia.
Pete: I remember. You told me.
A-: But I came back to Islam. Have you heard of (some name I can’t remember or pronounce)?
Pete: No. What does he do?
A-: I could show you YouTube video. He used to be Christian, but as he learned more and more he converted to Islam. Can I show you video?
Pete: A-, here’s the thing. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I hate watching YouTube videos. They send them to me all the time. “Pete- watch this.” I refuse. Ha. But if you want me to watch something, I will. But I’ll tell you this. I’ll make this prediction. I’ll try my hand at being a prophet here. The guy in the video is going to set up a straw-man and knock him down, but he is not going to talk about what the Bible says. Your man, these men, will not touch the Gospel. He is going to destroy the straw man, and then say Islam is the truth. It’s his only play. But he will not be destroying what the Bible says. He will not be talking about how Jesus got up on the third day. He will not be talking about how the war is over, how sin is defeated. He will not say anything about Jesus being the son of god.
A-: Holy Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god.
Pete: (Eyebrows raised even higher this time) ((And here, reader, I ask you, what would you say? Keep in mind, I’ve never seen a conversion in my entire life. Never ever. Not once. But I believe I’m prepared to preach the Gospel and to finally get in the game.)) Tell me, what happens next if I go get a Bible and show you that it does?
A-: (Looking at his watch) Ah. It’s getting late. I should be going.
Pete: It’s okay. You don’t have to go. No worries. We’re just talking.
(Some half-hour later)
A-: Well, what about Mary?
Pete: (Simple confused look that grows to frustration) The Bible- Ahhhh, see I’m telling you. You have to read the Bible. You cannot go off of Christians. It doesn’t work like that. The Bible never says to worship Mary or that she is worthy of worship. That’s just a traditional thing that has no biblical foundation. Of course she is special because there is only one mother of Jesus and she was it, but she is not a god. Okay. It’s late. I’m kicking you out. A-, it’s almost two in the morning! Jeez. I have to get some sleep.
A-: Please let me help you clean up. When I am guest I help clean the dishes.
Pete: You really don’t have to. I have a dishwasher here. I can do it.
A-: Please, let me do this.
Pete: Okay, man. If you must. I won’t stop you.
Alright. There you have it. Biggest takeaways for me were:
- He’s been here for years. And only three white people (presumably “regular joe Americans”, whether Christian or not) have invited him into their homes? How’s the Word going to get into his ears if no one talks to him? Where’s the love?
- How many times do you think he’s told someone that “the Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god” and that person has subsequently called him on his baloney? Will you be bold enough when the time comes? Did you notice how I did it without being arrogant? And did you notice that he didn’t get weird. At no time did it get weird or awkward. I was me. He was him. It’s called a conversation. You don’t like fake people. Muslims don’t either. Our job is not to be fake, it is to get the Holy Spirit in the game via the Word.
- Mary?! Mary?! MARY?! Shame on you, Catholics. Shame, shame, shame. Read your Bible. You are feeding evil.
- Did you notice that he used a defense of god that Christians teach each other, that Christians use to answer their children’s questions? I’ve never seen the “crumb defense” but I have heard it as, “Well, we’re 2D and God is 3D…” Did you notice that? Stop it. The Bible says no such thing. At best, you’re wasting time. At worst, you’re participating in evil. Instead of making foolish analogies that ultimately help no one, Preach. The. Word. Speak the Bible into people’s ears. They do not need an argument, they need the Word of God.
To be honest, this is just a review of the first hour of the first episode. I cannot find the motivation to finish even that one, but rest assured, you can watch everything to date here.
You have to give props to Kevin Costner and all the other thespians who still believe in playing Cowboys and Indians at this late stage in the game. Unfortunately, while they certainly delight in donning the definitive costumes, they fail to remain faithful to the fanciful, if not now forbidden, fun of times past.
I recently picked up Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea with the intent of reading it. At the back of the edition I hold is a review of the book by my current beau author, Robert Louis Stevenson, that includes an assessment of Verne which is perhaps best summarized in the Scotsman’s own stinging words, “Of human nature, it is certain he knows nothing.”
The same can be said for Yellowstone’s team. Simply put, there is no hate. The fact is there must be hate (deteste for you Verne loving Frenchies) for these types of stories to work. Fighting over land isn’t enough. The cowboys must loathe the savages, and the savages must truly believe their tomahawks can stop a six-shooter. Put another way, I must be convinced that the cowboys actually believe the blood flowing through the red-man’s veins is an aberration of nature, and that it is their duty to cure the human race through genocide. The land must be secondary. It may be seen as the reward for such a virtuous act, but land itself as goal is too abstract, as grounded as it is, to make for good television.
The audience must learn, alongside the cowboy, to not hate these primitives.
Only if there is hate–then and only then–have they told our story. And our story? That’s one worth watching.
I’m just saying that Robert Louis Stevenson is masterful. Check out this little section I just read from his The Master of Bellantrae.
Let anyone speak long enough, he will get believers. This view of Mr. Henry’s behavior crept about the country by little and little; it was talked upon by folk that knew the contrary, but were short of topics; and it was heard and believed and given out for gospel by the ignorant and the ill-willing. Mr. Henry began to be shunned; yet awhile, and the commons began to murmur as he went by, and the women (who are always the most bold because they are the most safe) to cry out their reproaches to his face. The Master was cried up for a saint. It was remembered how he had never any hand in pressing the tenants; as, indeed, no more he had, except to spend the money. He was a little wild perhaps, the folk said; but how much better was a natural, wild lad that would soon have settled down, than a skinflint and a sneckdraw, sitting, with his nosed in an account book, to persecute poor tenants! One trollop, who had a child to the Master, and by all accounts been very badly used, yet made herself a kind of champion of his memory. She flung a stone one day at Mr. Henry.
“Whaur’s the bonnie lad that trustit ye?” she cried.
Mr. Henry reined in his horse and looked upon her, the blood flowing from his lip, “Ay, Jess?” says he. “You too? And yet ye should ken me better.” For it was he who had helped her with money.
The woman had another stone ready, which she made as if she would cast; and he, to ward himself, threw up the hand that held his riding rod.
“What, would ye beat a lassie, ye ugly—-?” cries she, and ran away screaming as though he had struck her.
Next day word went about the country like wildfire that Mr. Henry had beaten Jessie Broun within an inch of her life.
Makes me wonder. Where is the woman who admits her safe status today? Seems out-of-fashion. And if she is in danger, what factors contributed to the change?
I say you’re all still very safe, safer in fact than you were in the nineteenth century–and that this still explains your boldness.
Nearly three years ago I applied for and was accepted into a 78-credit hour Masters of Divinity in Theology program. I later attempted to reduce my workload and transferred into the more reasonable 50-credit hour Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies degree. I am now out of quarters, as they say, and have decided to cut my losses. I will leave with the 24-credit hour Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies to show for my efforts. I have 56 credit hours total, but stubbornly and, I believe, biblically, I refused to complete the required thesis and thus forego the actual graduate degree.
24 of the other 32 hours I passed were in ancient languages. When it comes to scholarship, I prefer word study to anything else. How precisely do words work? Answering that is endlessly fascinating to me.
I confess that I would have loved to see future bio’s read, “Pete earned his Master’s of Divinity…” or hear, “…Pete comes to us having earned his Master’s…” But I had to do things my way. The truth is that I think the theological and biblical higher education degrees are the paper equivalent of bullshit. There. I said it.
First of all, any title that can generically cover studies in several religions are misleading from the beginning. Divinity? Who’s soul has divinity saved? You know the answer is, “No one’s,” and you don’t have a degree in Divinity. Amazing!
Secondly, the Bible is full of very intelligible words. Words like mountain, rock, rain, serpent, turn, and blood. Unity is another one. By my thinking, if we are not in unity as Christians, it often means we’re simply off topic. Let’s admit it. For Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only topic. See for yourself if you doubt me. In any case, talk about it. Reconciling evolution with creation is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you enjoy engaging in that type of mental gymnastic and know others who do too, by all means talk about it. If you lose friends over it, don’t talk about it; skip it like you would a difficult crossword puzzle. Keep the unity.
Thirdly, if I ran a seminary today, to accurately communicate to the fallen world what I was doing, I would confer to graduates only one degree: a Masters of Power. And I definitely would not recommend anyone enroll at my school. Can you imagine someone claiming to have earned a degree in power? And how could power be taught by books? What a joke he’d be. My first question to the new man-of-letters would be, “Which power, exactly? The wind? Heat? Speed? Darkness? Light? Forgiveness? Love? Make an actual claim, man!”
As it is, “Masters of Divinity” or “MA in Theology” plays only on a bygone era’s final unbroken string and merely reassures church-goers that they don’t need to read their Bible for themselves. Divinity and Theology are so general that their teaching solely requires that the institution’s curriculum be limited to trending positive ideas. But the Masters of Power degree, my way, would necessarily demand further specification. And instead of reassuring church-goers that they’re not being duped by some hack with a Bible, it would be an excellent metric by which to measure the preacher. Is he preaching that there’s power in some book? Power in some culture? Power in guilt and remorse? Or is he preaching that there is power in the Blood of Jesus? Power in the Word of God? Power in repentance? Power in holiness? Surely we all possess the mental faculties to discern the difference between these things.
Here me clearly: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He holds all power. The adversary, the great serpent of old is defeated. This is good news. If someone let’s you know they disagree with this, thank them for their honesty and then pray that the Holy Spirit uses you to reveal Christ to them. When answering questions (they will have them) stick to Scripture and the spirit of Scripture. Think of yourself as the translator. You know their vocabulary and you know the Word of God. Be the friend they need. Feed them. In doing so, you’ll help them see the good news that they are already free.
No different than the school shootings, we all have opinions on liberal education. Oh, you may disagree in this moment, but watch this: What do you think? Are all entitled to receive a liberal education or only the wealthy and powerful?
See what I mean?
Endearing Backstory: My school’s library had apparently been amassing donations of book sets for a few years and last Monday morning there was a long awaited sale. Each book cost a mere $2, but the catch was you had to purchase the entire set. I had heard rumor (cuz im sooo street) that they had a set of the famed Great Books of the Western World (hereafter GBWW). $126 poorer, and I am the proud owner of that 54 volume set. (They had 53 volumes=$106. I had to track down the missing volume on Amazon for $20. It’s best not to dwell on such things.)
Volume One explains and defends the project. There is no better title for it than The Great Conversation. I would know, because, as you know, I love conversation. According to Hutchins et al. however, what I actually love is the freedom to converse. No argument here. And inherent to our beloved way of life–as presented in GBWW–is the belief in liberal education for all. Put another way, we believe everyone gets a say and no one has the last word.
The one critique I have of the project is that Hutchins writes that the editorial board believes the–now 118 year–lack of teaching great books will be viewed by future historians as an aberration. I am happy to read such clear writing, but where I distinguish myself from Hutchins is that I believe that the lack of teaching the great books, whether someday viewed as an aberration or not, manifests something much worse. It is the evidence that in some very meaningful, though elusive, sense we are no longer the Western World.
Western Civilization, the great conversation it has had, ends with silence.
So speak up, I say! For Christ’s sake, speak up!
We saw the same world
But hers was without hope.