Lendrum Mennonite Church – Edmonton, Alberta

Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

Weekly Book Review : Revelation Redux

How a 80 A.D. Sci-Fi Letter Saved Christianity

 

Christianity within Asia Minor was stuck in a complacent groove within the Roman Empire by the close of the first century. You could stand outside the marketplace and find a charismatic and gifted communicator claiming to give leadership to the church instructing the fledgling movement that since the Emperor wasn’t asking them to sacrifice a dove, lamb, goat or child to him that offering a mere pinch of incense wasn’t that bad. Considering also that if you didn’t offer up the incense to the Emperor you would not be given “the mark” and entrance into the marketplace where you could buy and sell the products you needed to meet your basic needs. (Revelation 13:16)

 

 

“You have a family to think. Besides,” the Nicholation would go on ” do we really want to upset the Emperor and our prosperity over such a trivial matter as a pinch of incense? Just look at what happened to our brothers and sisters to the south when they acted like they could subvert the government.(Luke 19:42) Christ message was one of “personal relationship.” (?) Christs message was that He would dwell in “your private lives”(?) so just offer a little sacrifice, get the mark and get back to your “public life.”

 

 

But despite the efforts of a small group of Christians in Asia Minor who thought this teaching was contrary to what the prophets and Jesus taught (Revelation 2:2), Christianity was very much on the decline. Who were people to believe? A group of poor, destitute followers of Jesus who were claiming to worship him and him alone even to the point of starvation and death or a group of affluent followers of Jesus who were claiming you could have the cake and eat it too. (Revelation 2:9) These Nicholations weren’t bad, immoral or even overtly evil people. They were competent men and women who were moving up in the Empire while “holding Jesus in their hearts.” Plus they did have a point. Everyone needs to eat. (Exodus 16:2 and Revelation 2:17)

 

 

And then came theologian Johns letters from exile. (Revelation 1:9)

 

 

It was subversive and gritty, a poetry-kaleidoscope trip into the adulterous near future. In this poem the smiling Nicolations were recast as worshipers of Jezebel (Revelation 2:20) and followers of Balaam (Revelation 2:14) who were unintentionally doing more than merely encouraging men and women to give a pinch of incense to the Emperor. According to Pastor Johns tale, giving the pinch on incense to the Emperor was equivalent to spending a night in the brothels of demons. (Revelation 2:20) It was a tale of beasts, dragons, monsters, stars, demons, angels, horses, serpents. The letter of the near future was bizarre, threatening to most, reassuring to a few and also strangely real to all. “For those with ears to hear” this story would have been like seeing the world for the first time and with its many throwbacks to the Hebrew Scriptures it would have also been like hearing the prophets again for the first time. With his ingenious use of sevens, sixes, fours, twelves and ones, Johns Revelation wasn’t just stylistically stunning; it felt like the template for a future that was breaking in upon them. A future that “was moving into the neighbored” not just in the future 15 minutes-it was the future sideswiping the listener and leaving them on their knees in either worship, repentance or confusion. Usually all three.

 

 

The letter was a desperately needed course correction. Christianity had lost the thread of devotion, obedience and sacrifice it was originally birthed with ( ). Christians were no longer worshiping a God who was beyond their comprehension, they were systematizing and compartmentalize a deity into “their private lives” so that they could avoid it all the while bowing down to a self-proclaimed deity that seemed to hold all the power. Someone needed to put the Emperors in their place, silence the Nicolations and more importantly, someone needed to grab this young movement by the scruff and yank it around-force them to look at the present moment and decipher its implications. “Let him who has ears, let him hear.”

 

 

Feeling out of options, St. John, reached for a long out of date genre for his letter. People had been complaining for decades that this particular genre wasn’t direct enough. If they couldn’t read it or understanding its meaning in 20 minutes with a simple scan of the eye they would move on to the latest “3 points and a poem” from the charming Nicolations. People criticized the genre as “fluff” and irrelevant to the worlds more sophisticated and scientific pallet. But for whatever reason, maybe John saw things alone on Patmos that could only be described with beasts, violence and mayhem. Who knows? For whatever reason John chose to write his letter as Science Fiction and the Christian church was jolted out of their slumber.

 

 

Notes

-The Genre that John wrote Revelation in is called Apocalyptic Literature. It is different than Science Fiction in that it is even more bizarre

-I left the title as similar as I could to Paolo Bacigalupis article in the June 2012 edition of Wired magazine because the post is mirrored almost completely on it. See “How the 80’s Saved Sci-Fi” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Wired 20.06

Weekly Book Review: Revelation

 

Little over a weeks’ time we will begin our sermon series on arguably the most debated and speculated at piece of writing in the Western and Eastern biblical canons, the book of Revelation in our series entitled Letter From Patmos. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” Fortunately for St. John and G.K. Chesterton they were not prophets in the predictive sense of the word therefore they were spared from hearing the wild, escapists, end-of-world-forecasting fantasies that have been successful (think billions, not millions, of books and movies) in being propagated the past few decades. Most namely being the collection of novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. What has often been left behind by these and other wild commentators” has been the Bible itself. With this firmly in mind I have spent as much time as possible with guides whom recent history has found to be not all that wild ( nor for that matter wildly successful at entertaining the masses as their counterparts have been) and would like to offer up a brief bibliography of the texts , both biblical and none, that have been the poet Virgil equivalent to me not as I journeyed through a fiery inferno but as I journeyed through the vision of reality for the 1st century as well the 21st century and everything in between, before and after, given to Poet John while in seclusion on the Island of Patmos. This summer and early fall at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren we have fifteen Sundays to engage this book which means much will regrettably be omitted and so for a slight consolation if there is something you want to engage with a little longer, linger on or cultivate more fully, it is my hope that this little bibliography can serve as a good place to start.

 

Canonical (The ancient writing collected in the Christian Bible) Books: Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the Psalms. Throughout the series I will be teaching from, unless otherwise noted, the New Revised Standard Version but any translation will do and if you don’t have yet have a Bible flag me down and I will set you up.

 

Non-Canonical (ancient writing not collected in the Christian Bible) Apocalyptic Books:

1 Enoch   ( http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/enoch.html) , 

2 Baruchhttp://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/2Baruch.html) ,

4 Ezra     (  http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Kjv4Ezr.html ).

If the book of Revelation will “bring a blessing to those who read it” why is the message seemingly so obscure?

The simple answer is that it isn’t obscure and that we have just lost the art or ability that would have been commonly held by Pastor John’s original congregations. As one commentator puts it “faced with the style of revelation, the modern reader who knows little about Biblical literature and its parallels is like a person who, though unfamiliar with stocks and bonds, tries to understand the Dow-Jones reports.” I argue that the best place to start engaging the letter of Revelation (outside of the book itself) is the Bible. While St. John takes pieces of every book of the Bible and makes it his own, he writes in the line of other Jewish prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the poets of Psalms. We would be well suited to learn from the same prophets and poets that shaped Theologian John. When it comes to having our imaginations first filled with the prophets and poets before we pick up the letter of Revelation Eugene Peterson goes so far as to warn “we have no business dealing with Revelation until we have (read the entire Old Testament)” which is a helpful reprimand but not entirely feasible for some who may be new or newer to the Bible. However it would serve a good purpose to say that the collected Christian canon should be engaged before we engage the non-canonical apocalyptic books (1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra).

 

Commentaries, Dictionaries and Introductions

The Revelation of St. John The Divine

Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2005 – 242pp. – $37.63

 

A Rebirth of Images

Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2007 – 350pp. – $44.26

 

Revelation

J. Massyngberde Ford – Doubleday and Co.,1975 -455pp. – $44.99 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

M. Eugene Boring, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 – 236pp.- $27.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

Craig S. Kenner, Zondervan, 2000 -576pp.-$35.49 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation for Everyone

N.T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 -227pp.- $16.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

J. Ramsey Michaels, InterVarsity Press, 1997 -265pp.-$18.99 (or free for loan from my library)

 

The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings

Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2000 -465pp.- $71.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

John J. Collins, Daniel C. Harlow, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.-2010 -1360pp.- $104.99  (or free for loan from my library)

To help with these ancient texts, no matter what they wrote in their introductions, modern commentators like Austin Farrer and J. Massyngberde Ford are demanding and call for a level of familiarity with the text and context of Revelation but offer the best example of the intent of St. John (Farrer) and assembly of the most current scholary material (Ford). I mention Borings Revelation because it is part of my favorite commentary series Interpretation and will use it extensively in our sermon series thus potentially making it redundant reading. Ehrman and The Eerdmans Dictionary on Early Judaism both contain only entries on apocalyptic literature and the book of Revelation so here I would suggest not a purchase but a visit to your, or my own, local library. All the remaining texts are accessible ranging from the slightly academic Revelation by Keener to the devotional approach of Wright and Michaels.

 

Revelation in the News

Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation

Elaine Pagels, Viking, 2012 – 246pp.-$29.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

If are only going to read one book on Revelation make it one of these

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination

Eugene H. Peterson – HarperOne, 1988 – 194pp. – $18.99 (free from my bookshelf)

 

The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions

Michael W. Pahl – Cascade Books, 2011 – 106pp. – $11.65 (free from my bookshelf or the LMBC Library but you really should buy it)

As someone who has made her academic career on Gnosticism I was shocked to find Elaine Pagels engage a most decidedly earthy gospel. One of Dr. Pagels many gifts is the ability to bring academic debate into the public square. She is able to articulate an interesting view of the writer John and presents a widely different approach than the one I will be taking which will most decidedly be in the vein of Peterson and Pahl. 

 

Non-Religious Summer Reading You Could Justify as Revelation Work

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

Margaret Atwood, Signal, 2011 – 255pp. – $26.99 (free from my bookshelf)

The Road

Cormac McCarthy, Vintage,  2007 – 304pp.- $21.00

The actual quote eludes me but I once an essay by Michael Chabon in which he wrote something like ” a religious systems of belief is beyond my grasp because of how much Science Fiction I have read” the quote, or idea, struck me as odd as it is precisely that type of literature (like Jeremiah, 4 Ezra) that create the right atmosphere to embrace a faith that has real life consequences on this earth here and now as represented in the letter of Revelation. Atwood displays how Science Fiction forms our imagination while Cormac McCarthy does just that.

Weekly Book Review: The Way of Baseball

The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95mph

Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine – Simon & Schuster, 2011 – 208pp. – $27.99

 

I could have said it was Derek Jeters’ backhand flip to Pasada to tag out Giambi in the bottom of the seventh in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series or I could also have said it was Monday September 18th 2006 when the Los Angeles Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and then went on to secure first place in the National League West after Nomar Garciaparra’s two-run home run in the 10th. A moment with Albert Pujols, the same year as the Dodgers comeback, would also have been close to escaping my lips as my final answer to my brother after Albert struggled through an ugly 0-for-4 game but with one swing of the bat on his fifth at bat of the game turned around not only the game but the National League Championship Series and the Cardinals’ season. Pujols sent a previously impenetrable Brad Lidge pitch over the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park to give his Cardinals a 5-4 win over the Astros in a National League Championship Series elimination game on October 17th.

 

All these answers would have satisfied my brother Marc last week when he asked me what my favorite baseball memory was and while those are good memories to have my favorite baseball memory comes from the summer of 1998. For financial reason my family downsized in home space and we moved from a four bath six room home in the nice part of town to a one bath three room condominium in the not so nice part of town. With the loss of space and rooms Marc and I were required to share a room together for the first time in our ten year relationship. I don’t remember it as the happiest time in my family history but one of the perks of downsizing was that there were no longer enough rooms to place all the televisions we had acquired over the years so Marc and I got one in our room. Cable was out of the question but this was the time when CBC still broadcasted Toronto Blue Jay games and so with Marc on the bottom bunk and me on the top we would spend almost all of our Saturdays watching a rather exciting Blue Jay Team which featured Carlos Delgado, Alex Gonzalez, Jose Cruz Jr. and Shannon Stewart.

 

I don’t know if we ever made it past the second or third inning before falling asleep but those 2-3 innings every Saturday afternoon during the 1998 season are easily my favorite baseball memories.

 

A player we also liked to watch was a young Shawn Green who at 190 pounds defied what it meant to be a power hitter.

 

How did he do it? How did someone with his frame hit 328 home runs, drive in 1,071 RBIs and bat over 280?

 

According to his book The Way of Baseball, Zen.

 

Much like Greens perennial slow starts the book comes out sluggish, childish and boring. The first chapter details his struggle with the 1997 Toronto Blue Jay coaching staff namely two time World Series winning manager Cito Gaston and 1998 Atlantic League manager of the year hitting and coach Wille Upshaw. The problem with Cito Gaston, according to Green was that he was “overbearing”, “viewed many younger players with suspicion” and benched players without a premeditated rational. Wille on the other hand was “a good guy” but who “generally marched in lockstep with the boss, Cito” and who “threw erratic batting practice.” In 1997 after being benched by Cito and forbidden to take unsupervised batting practice by Willie, Shawn found refuge, his swing, his future and maybe even redemption in a developing a spiritual practices around a batting tee. Green recounts that he would spend at least thirty minutes every day alone in a hallways taking swings on batting tee. Like most little league tee ball stands the one Shawn used during his exile from the batting cage and away from the overbearing gaze of his managers could be raised and lowered to work on extreme high and low pitches. Green notes that it was during this thirty minutes alone while hitting off the tee that he found the stillness, peace and perspective which proved to be life altering discoveries. During his tee work he was able to practice awareness, presence, space and separation, all of which were to become the seed bed which would ultimately blossom into The Zone (His historic game against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002) During his thirty minutes of tee work Green was able to forget about Cito and the managers and if the reader is able to forget the seemingly petty digs at former managers (“The ’97 season ended on a high note…Cito and the faction of coaches that had been less than supportive…were all let go) and seemingly cavalier statements about being able to know what pitches pitchers like Randy Johnson, Brad Radke, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were about to throw, the remainder of the book is as life giving as I think the authors had intended the whole to be. What you get in the remainder of the book is a baseball players incarnation or reinterpretation of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Zen in the Art of Archery and Siddartha. (Incarnation or reinterpretation that as a baseball fan and practicing Yogi I appreciated.)

 

In regards to meditation Green gives needed reminders ; “It’s the most common thing in the world to forfeit a fulfilling routine when one’s schedule becomes more demanding. Pouring myself into spring training, I was unaware that mediation could fit unobtrusively into my daily routine, even at the office.” In the same chapter Shawn finds his swing writing about stillness “Finding stillness enabled me to understand the pitfalls of allowing the ever-changing external world to dictate my inner world. If one stranger’s opinion could actually change my stress level, anger level, and overall well-being, then who was actually at the controls of my life?”

 

The book is accessible to anyone, fan or not, but there are parts that are plain boring no matter where you are on the sports spectrum. Listen as Green explains for two pages his swing; “In my square stance, my right foot, right hip, and right shoulder were all perfectly aligned aiming at the pitcher. However, as I took my stride I’d wind up aiming more toward the shortstop. Thus, my up-the-middle approach was defeated when I actually took my swing. How to correct the problem? Instead of fighting where my body wanted to go I went with it. Keeping my entire body locked into its natural position, I danced my feet around clockwise so that, when I swung, my right shoulder would be  aimed  directly at the pitcher…” I digress and I wish Green had as well as this description carries on for another page and a half. Luckily for the reader moments like this are rare.

 

In the summer of 1998 one player who didn’t really capture my imagination or that of my brother was Tony Fernandez. Tony, however, gets much attention and praise in The Way of Baseball. I left the reading of this book hoping that Tony too will write a book someday.

 

It was into my shared bedroom with my brother that I feel in love with the game of baseball. Within those afternoons the darkness in the house seemed to lift and I was able to carry that peace (as best as a fourteen year old could) through the reminder of the week. Fourteen years after the fact I now wonder if maybe in a small way the peace that was given to me those afternoons was a product of the mediation and philosophy of a slim 6’4 power hitter. I may never be able to return to that room but I can return to my highlighted copy of Greens The Way of Baseball a spiritual tune up or a good nap.