Quote of the Day: The Brain Rules

“Most of us have no idea how our brain works. This has strange consequences. We try to talk on our cell phones and drive at the same time, even though it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention. We have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. Our schools are designed so that most real learning occurs at home. This would be funny if it weren’t so harmful.”

John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (p.2)

I have been thinking a lot about how I can improve my thinking, learning, and doing, with the hopes of improving my academic, professional, and creative endeavors. I’ve only read about 20 pages of Brain Rules but so far I’d highly recommend it. Not only is it full of helpful information on how to improve our thinking and doing, it’s an incredibly interesting read. You can also check out the 12 Brain Rules here.

Top 10 Posts of 2014

Might as well join the parade of Top 10 lists of 2014…

1. Read the Bible Like a Texan, Y’all

2. I’d Rather be Christlike than Biblical

3. Is Putin Ezekiel’s “Gog”?

4. Has World Vision Abandoned the Gospel?

5. Open Theism & “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

6. A Cruciform Christian Feminist Credo

7. Frauen Friday – Mercy Amba Oduyoye

8. The 5 Most Common Myths about Romans 13:1-7

9. “Classical” Western Theory of Metaphor: Aristotle

10. N.T. Wright on Matthew 10:28 – Satan or God?

New Position and New Reading Material

On January 1st, I am starting as the Executive Director of CHARM Prison Ministry.

 
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The ministry was started by my good friends, David and Kaye Trickett, and God has blessed the ministry by growing it to the point of needing a full-time director. (For those familiar with CHARM David is not going anywhere, I am only stepping in to run the day-to-day operations so he can be freed up to do the ministry God has called him to do.)

I will share more about CHARM and the prison system in the coming days and weeks, but as I prepare for my first week in full-time prison ministry I did what most academics do…I ordered a few books relevant to the subject.

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – I am only a couple chapters into this book, but it has already begun to open my eyes. Transition homes is the area CHARM has grown the most in the past few years, and her thoughts on the prison label clearly identified an issue I knew was there but couldn’t explain. She writes, “So long as large numbers of African Americans continue to be arrested and labeled drug criminals, they will continue to be relegated to a permanent second-class status upon their release, no matter how much (or how little) time they spend behind bars. The system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time.” I look forward to reading the rest of the book.

2. Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System – This book lays out a 12 points for changing the current prison system.

3. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race – Dr. Jennings’ book has been on my radar for a while now, excited to read it in conversation with these other books.

4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree – I am not sure what to expect of this book. I admire James Cone’s works (and usually enjoy reading them because he is a gifted communicator) but never been able to jump on board with his theology. Wanted to save this book to read with other voices like those above.

I am really looking forward to 2015 and all the new beginnings (also part of another new project – projectCURATE). And hopefully at least one happy ending (I am scheduled to complete and defend my PhD dissertation this summer).

Jesus, Apologetics, and SnapChat

I currently teach two different courses: Apologetics and New Testament.  I came into the year convinced that I would love and be refreshed by the New Testament course.  I mean how can you read through the Gospels and not be overwhelmed by the love and beauty of Jesus?!  I think Apologetics is a worthy and necessary class, but it is quite a different animal.

But something unexpected happened….this year I have enjoyed teaching Apologetics much more than the New Testament.  I think this largely has to do with the overwhelmingly positive response from my Apologetic’s students and the surprisingly negative response from my New Testament students.  I should add that I still enjoy and get pumped over my New Testament material, but it’s hard to not let my student’s responses affect me.  This has made me ask the question why?  Why do high school students seem to enjoy apologetics more than reading the New Testament?  Here are some theories I have come up with:

1) This is more of a disclaimer — Every new batch of students is different.  I always have to be cautious generalizing my limited experience and applying it to all high schoolers everywhere.  I know that there are many of my students who enjoy the New Testament class, but at least this year they seem to be in the minority.

2) High schoolers hate reading….period.  My Apologetics class has significantly less reading, but you cannot get around reading the New Testament if you want to know Jesus.  The Bible is largely viewed as boring and unfortunately familiar.  However, as soon as I try to make the Bible a little strange to them I am quickly met with animosity.  This is most clearly seen when we read through Jesus’ commands against violence.  My mere suggestion that Jesus’ commands should be wrestled with are quickly rejected in favor of the image of a warrior God.  A close second is pointing out that Jesus’ views on money tend to fly in the face of free market capitalism.  The cries of protest are so quick and loud that its almost counterproductive to mention them.  The Bible is strangely revered by young Evangelicals, it is the book that they both love and hate.  It is where they get their assurance (or their foundation for being right) but they edit or miss out on all the challenges it has for their lives.  (I should also add that this is not solely a problem with high schoolers, but with fallen humans in general).  Again, this is largely due to the very mundane fact that they simply don’t want to read it.  I feel like I finally understand what Jesus was getting at in John 5:39-40.  They search the scriptures and yet miss that they are pointing to Jesus.  Je

3) Apologetics is a battleground.  The course focuses on articulating arguments and demands quick thinking from my students.  This is an exciting break from their typical day.  I honestly think they like being kept on their toes.  Apologetics creates a relatively safe space for a discussion and high schoolers love to debate.  And who wouldn’t get a thrill out of getting proven right through some rigorous argumentation.  Apologetics is attractive because the students feel like they are finally getting to think for themselves.

4) Clobber Texts:  The New Testament is scripture and as such it contains information that we don’t get to make up, we simply need to have ears to hear.  Unfortunately, many people like to shout scripture at others without ever listening to the text themselves.  I get the sense that my students feel preached at or judged when we go through the New Testament.  In one sense they are understanding the role of scripture, which is supposed to examine our hearts through the Spirit.  But this is of course not the only role of Scripture. Scripture also tells us who God is so that the more we know about him the more deeply we love him.  The problem is that it is hard to convince my students of this truth when they see so many Christians in the pulpit or on tv using scripture to beat someone up.  It is to the point where they almost mistrust anyone who claims to be an authority on scripture because that is what they expect them to do with it.  This is why I think many of them shut down when I try to get them to wrestle with the radical commands of Jesus.  They are viewing these texts as just one more reason why God or Christians are judging them, waiting for them to make a mistake.

So now what?

What can I do to cultivate a love of reading slowly in a fast-paced world?

How do I show them that the purpose of reading scripture is ultimately to enjoy God and to be conformed to his image?

How in the world can I compete with Netflix, Tumblr, and SnapChat?

I know that the one thing I have to resist is trying to make the Bible like Netflix, Tumblr, or SnapChat.  If the church is to have any future at all it must learn that what it has to offer is distinctively different from what the world offers.  And one of the things that is distinctive about the Christian faith is the God we come to know through Jesus. If we resist making the Bible like Tumblr we also must resist turning the Bible into a tool for power.  This resistance can only be assured by meditating on our crucified Lord.  One of my fears with an emphasis on Apologetics is that it is used in a way that makes Christians feel superior.  I don’t think this is a problem with Apologetics itself, but that modern Apologetics has unfortunately been co-opted by the Enlightenment project (that is a topic for a whole other blog post).  So while I may not have many practical solutions to my current dilema, I will continue to trust that as my students keep reading the scriptures they will also deepen in their knowledge and love of the One revealed in its pages.

Jesus Misquoting Scripture . . . On Purpose?

How well did Jesus actually know his Bible?

This isn’t a common question posed by Christians, but it is one that the end of Mark 2 forces upon the reader. In Mark 2:25-26, Jesus re-tells a biblical story as part of a confrontation with the Pharisees. However, his version of the story is riddled with . . . mistakes?

Jesus’ biblical reference comes in response to the questioning of the Pharisees concerning his disciples’ activity of picking grain on the Sabbath. He returns their question (“Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”) with another question, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

Jesus seems to be referencing a tale found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. The problem is that Samuel’s version of this story is significantly different from Jesus’ version. In Samuel’s narrative, David was by himself. There is no mention of hunger. David does not enter the house of God. The priest was Ahimelech, not Abiathar.

Most Christian interpreters try to smooth over the differences between the versions of the story presented in 1 Samuel and Mark 2. These efforts are, in my evaluation, usually unsatisfying. But there is another, perhaps more creative, interpretive possibility.

What if Jesus misremembers this tale on purpose? What if his misquotation is an ironic jab at the Pharisees?

This is the conclusion that theologian William Placher reaches:
“Is this all a joke? A mistake? By Jesus? By Mark? Mark so rarely misremembers texts that I doubt he is doing so here. I infer, then, that the point of his reply is to show that these Pharisees, eager to burden the common people with the details of the Law, are actually so ignorant of Scripture that they do not notice one misquotation after another. Such matters have not altogether changed, and those who quote a particular biblical passage as a means of condemnation often turn out not to know its context or relation to other biblical texts.” (William Placher, Mark: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, 51)

My experience does confirm that those who use religion or religious clobber-texts to condemn other people usually are not very familiar with the sacred texts they hold so dear. This reading is further supported if Placher is right and Mark rarely “misremembers texts.” Why doesn’t Mark (or a later scribe) spot and correct Jesus’ mistake? Why do Matthew and Luke carry over these mistakes (Matthew 12 and Luke 6)?
Perhaps they caught the irony in Jesus’ response.

What do you think? 
Are you convinced by Placher’s interpretation?
If not, how do you reconcile the two texts and Jesus’ apparent mistake/ignorance?