patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, November 4, 2011

God has made it plain

On Tuesday, my first year students came into class all riled up because of the chapel presentation of my colleague Dave, an archaeologist and Arabic speaking professor from the biblical studies department, to the semester’s series on unlikely biblical heroes. He spoke on Balaam, the guy with the donkey.

“He said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” April told me. I love April. She has this ability, rare in first year students, to get right to the crux.

I hadn’t been in chapel and Dave’s message was probably more nuanced than that, but, it being a Gateway to Christian Higher Education course, a goal of which is to explore the faith-relevance of their studies, I decided to let them duke it out a while before we returned to the theme of our section of the course, writing from faith. In the course of the duking, the same-God question spread from Muslims to Jews to Mormons. Several students got Bibles out of their backpacks and read to us. The gist of what they read was the centrality of Jesus’ divinity to Christians’ notion of who God is.

I mostly refereed—and babbled a little, as I typically do when surrounded by believers defending their views—but I did offer one scriptural passage I’ve always found exciting and comforting in the writings of Paul, where he argues that truth is available to everyone because “because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:19-20 TNIV).

“Looks like you don’t have to know about Jesus to know God,” I told them.

No one seemed much impressed with this promise, maybe because Paul phrases it as a threat: those who reject this readily available truth are thus “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In any case, they kept arguing and pontificating and leafing through their Bibles a while, then we returned to the topic of creative writing.

Yesterday, after a tamer chapel, we got immediately to their current assignment. Quite by accident, I used the word epiphany. I meant it in the literary sense and was pleased when one of my English majors, Nate, was able to explain it.

“Anyone know the religious meaning of that term that James Joyce was referencing when he used it that way?”

Another student, Jewel, surprised me: “Isn’t it the feast day in January, when the Magi visit Jesus?”
So we talked about how the magi were from the East—and not the typical sort of people to seek a Jewish Messiah. Scholars think they were Zoroastrians, a major world religion that predated Islam in Iran. Somehow the magi knew, though, that they would find God’s son where that a star took them.

“The word magi,” I told them, “is the root of our word magic. It’s the same word used in the New Testament account of Simon the Sorcerer that some of you wrote about. Simon was a magus, the plural of which is magi.”

I love how God claims everything, even the crazy tohuwabohu of my courses, and makes things plain to us.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

you can't be cheerful when you're mad

Kris read to me this morning from a Wall Street Journal article by Kathleen A. Hughes entitled “When Your Vacation Home Becomes Everybody’s Vacation Home.” In it, rich person after rich person—people with six-bedroom vacation homes in Tuscany—complain about acquaintances taking advantage of their hospitality.

Having recently endured an unannounced visit that seemed it would never end to our barely three-bedroom, all-year house that is also my office, I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately. Or, actually, stewing about it.

And venting to my sister Sharon. She attempted to soothe my anger by legitimizing it. “In Proverbs it says, if you stay too long at someone’s house,” she told me, “they’ll grow to hate you.” (Afterwards, I looked it up. It’s Proverbs 25:17.)

But I was already obsessing about Jesus’ complaint to the inhospitable, in the account of the sheep and the goats: “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,” he tells the unwelcoming goats. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me,” and he relegates them to hell (Matthew 25:43, 45 TNIV). In an email to my colleague Jake, who teaches an intro to higher ed course with a theme of hospitality, I complained that the passage was distressing. He agreed.

In the Wall Street Journal article, a guy in  Ocean City, Maryland, finally comes up with the idea of charging friends and family $2000 a year plus incidentals for staying at his “two-level condo with ocean views.” A rather inhospitable solution to the problem, it seemed to me at first, until I read his concluding words: Now I'm getting $30,000 a year of income from the families,” he said, “and I'm not as angry about it as when we were subsidizing everyone.”

“You know,” I told Kris at the breakfast table, “It’s like Sharon says. That’s just what happens when you feel you’re being taken advantage of. You get mad and feel put upon. And your anger and put-upon-ness undermine whatever love you may have had to begin with. This guy’s coming up with a way to avoid feeling that way while still giving people a better deal than they could get at a hotel could be a practical realization of how to be the kind of ‘cheerful giver’ that Paul says God loves (2 Corinthians 9:7). You can’t be cheerful when you’re mad.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

is it about me?

Lulu, the younger of my two daughters, started college this year and called the other day to brag about getting an A on her first lit paper. After we used up that topic, she asked what was up with me.
“I started a new blog today,” I told her. “You should sign up as a follower, so then I’ll have one.”
“Really? Is it going to be about me? I’m only going to read it if it’s about me.”
“No. You probably won’t be interested in it. It’s about the Jewish shema—you know that passage in Deuteronomy that’s sort of the crux of everything for the Jews? Where Moses tells the Israelites,  ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’”?
“Well, after that God tells them to talk about that command—and, by extension, all of God’s words—all the time: to their kids, when they get up and lie down and sit at home and walk down the street. Whenever. With whomever. I’m going to try to do that: talk about scripture all the time to people and then write about what gets said.”
“Well, so, then you can write about me. Cuz you’re doing that right now.”
“Talking about scripture to your kid.”
“Oh, yeah!”
I checked today, though, and she still isn’t a follower. Go figure.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

have a blessed night

I stopped at the supermarket on my way home from work the other evening. The checker completed my transaction by saying, “Have a blessed night.”

I babbled something nonsensical in response while I sorted through the lovely surprise of a stranger’s talking Christian to me.

The other day, at a book discussion among women from my university, my colleague Jennifer commented that she always went out of her way to avoid talking about Christian topics when she was with nonbelievers—or strangers who might be nonbelievers—and I recognized in that moment that I tend to do the same thing.

Jennifer’s comment was in reference to a scene in the novel we were discussing: Mischa Berlinki’s Fieldwork, about a journalist in Thailand—also named Mischa Berlinski—researching an American anthropologist’s murder of an American missionary, all three of them engaged in “fieldwork” of a sort. When the journalist starts hanging out with the Christian missionary family of the murdered man, he is surprised that, although family members talk about Jesus all the time—almost as though Jesus were a family member—they never try to evangelize their nonbelieving guest. Later, in a heartbreaking scene recounting the lead up to the murder, the mother of the family flat out refuses to tell the anthropologist, also a nonbeliever, the good news.

Despite these two scenes, and despite the fact that the real Mischa Berlinski is also a nonbeliever, the novel is surprisingly refreshingly congenial toward this missionary family and toward Christianity in general.

It struck me, as I was reading the novel and then later as my colleagues and I were discussing it, that maybe evangelism—that is, literally, telling the good news—isn’t just about telling people how to be saved. It’s about telling the good news that God made us and pays attention to us and loves us. That when we don’t love God back, God suffers pain. That God is determined to win back our love. Evangelism is telling the gospel—another word that means good news—present in all of scripture, not just the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Bible is full of gospels. Which is probably why we’re encouraged, in Deuteronomy 6, to talk about scripture all the time—when we get up and when we lie down, when we walk along the road and when we sit around at home—and not just with our own families and fellow believers but with anyone we encounter along the way.