This is part of the series of letters I’This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Isaac.Continue reading Last(ing) words: a letter to Isaac
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Abraham and in particular the part of his story where he very nearly sacrifices Isaac. The story is in Genesis 22, though Genesis 18:1–15 and Genesis 21:1–7 provide context.
Jews refer to the (non-)sacrifice of Isaac as the “Akedah.” Some of what I write in this post draws on a book by scholar Aaron Koller: Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought (2020: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).Continue reading The truth of worship: a letter to Abraham
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Sarah. Her story is broken up and intersects with those of her husband, Abraham, and her slave Hagar. You can find the relevant passages in Genesis 12:10–20, Genesis 16, Genesis 17:15–22, Genesis 18:1–15, Genesis 20, Genesis 21:1–21.
Sarah’s not exactly a comfortable story—both in terms of how Abraham treated her and how she treated Hagar. Nevertheless, Sarah’s story and her identity as a mother figure was of huge importance in Jewish thought and we can see this in New Testament writings.Continue reading The story never told: a letter to Sarah
This is the fourth in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Abram (later renamed Abraham) looking at the events of Genesis chapters 12–15. I will write another letter to Abraham in a couple of weeks.
I’ll be honest, I have many unanswered questions when it comes to Abraham. And part of me wonders if that’s the point: he wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was just that there were moments in his life when—for whatever reason—he was able to recognise the voice of God for what it was.Continue reading What do you make of your younger self? A letter to Abram
This is the third in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Noah. The story of him and of his ark is in Genesis 5:28–9:17.
By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. - Hebrews 11:7 (NET)
Your story certainly captures the imagination. I grew up with sing-along stories and songs about you, the ark, the animals and all that rain. My choir was actually on TV once singing “Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo” by Michael Flanders and Joseph Horowitz. But since then, it seems many of us have grown tired of hearing the flood spoken of like a children’s story.Continue reading Commission, courage and completion: a letter to Noah
This is the second in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Enoch. His story is in Genesis 5:18-24. Note that this Enoch was descended through Seth and was the seventh generation (Adam being the first) recorded in the book of Genesis. He’s not to be confused with Enoch son of Cain!
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. - Hebrews 11:5 (NIV)
Sorry, but we didn’t talk about you in Sunday School. Or church. Or our Bible study group. In fact, most of what I know about you, I learned from Wikipedia.
Or rather, I learned about the idea of you and the ideas people have attributed to you over the ages.Continue reading The hidden life: a letter to Enoch
So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. - Hebrews 12:1 (NET)
Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring the “cloud of witnesses” listed in Hebrews 11. The author of the book of Hebrews was looking to encourage Christians in the early church not to lose faith or hope. The author looks back to the Old Testament scriptures and starts naming a number of people who walked by faith, but did not receive the fullness of what they hoped for. I say “starts naming” because we only get half-way through the judges before the author writes about all the names they don’t have time to write about!Continue reading Faith, offering and voice: a letter to Abel
The twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany, was yesterday. We have officially moved beyond the Christmas season. And this devotional series ends today. It is, after all, day 40.
I’m not sure I quite knew what I was biting off when I planned this series. It’s definitely been a stretch assignment, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and the skills I’ve learned.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 6, Day 5: Revelation
Today I want to share two images: one of water and one of fire. But they’re both from the same film. And the plot needs some explaining.
This is your spoiler warning.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a children’s fantasy-adventure 3D animated film. It was made in 2010, directed by Zac Snyder, based on a series of books by Kathryn Lasky.
Condensing several books, the film has pacing and tone issues. But it is the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen. So much so, it often took me a while to put my finger on what was resonating with me.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 6, Day 4: Fire
As any consent activist will tell you, boundaries are crucial to your health and wellbeing. Transgressing boundaries is inherently unfaithful. It’s no accident that in the Lord’s Prayer, in its traditional form, we ask God to forgive us our ‘trespasses.’
I’ve long believed it’s important to respect God’s boundaries. If God has set them, then they must be both ethical and important. But whilst I still believe this is true, I don’t act on it in the way I used to.
You see, I used to believe I had stay well within the lines. I’d be nervous not to get anywhere near God’s boundaries. I believed the onus was on me to build up my own little guard rails to stop me from coming close.
But then I wondered: what if I don’t need to be like that?Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 6, Day 3: Ways
People say that shame is the feeling you have when you believe something is inherently wrong with who you are. Guilt, on the other hand, is feeling there’s something wrong with your actions.
But actually, shame stems from a fear of exclusion. It’s not just about how you relate to yourself, but how you relate to other people.
I learned about this when I read a definition from a 2003 paper by Thomas Scheff. He wrote that shame is:
“the large family of emotions that includes many cognates and variants most notably embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, and related feelings of shyness that originate in threats to social bond. This definition integrates self (emotional reactions) and society (the social bond).”Scheff, Thomas J. “Shame in Self and Society.” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 26, no. 2, 2003, pp. 239–262. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/si.2003.26.2.239. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020
Suddenly a whole heap of experiences made sense to me. Including those times when I haven’t felt shame.
You see, when I felt no shame, it’s because I had no fear of exclusion – even if I was aware that something I had done wasn’t fabulous.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 6, Day 2: Growth
“I think we’ve found Screwtape’s opposite number.”
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagined the plight of an ordinary Christian man. His story is narrated through letters – written from one demon to another, both trying to ensnare the man’s damnation.
His ‘opposite number’ is a character in a radio play I wrote a few years ago. I hadn’t been thinking of The Screwtape Letters, but then a friend made the comparison. And I loved it. Best of all, my angels had sass and character; the good guys were savvy and wry. They had the best lines and the best laughs.
In 2019, I started work on another script. This time, you could say the themes were closer to those in TheScrewtape Letters. A guardian angel has a supervision meeting about his ‘assignment’ — being a Western, white, middle-class, Christian man. Who’s overwhelmed and teetering on depression.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 6, Day 1: Meeting
Apparently, Google translates “Kyrie eleison” as “Sir, take it easy.”
Christians are more familiar with “Lord, have mercy.”
But the Google Translate rendering strikes home with me.
Christians often say that mercy is not giving people bad things that they nevertheless deserve. But this has problematic overtones.
I’ve heard it stated, or strongly implied, that the slightest error warrants a gory death in God’s eyes. This is considered the reason behind Jesus’s awful death: supposedly, he took the punishment we deserve.
Again, I find this highly problematic.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 7: Gentleness
Above all, Tolkien has a fascination with names for their own sake that will probably seem excessive to anyone whose favorite light reading is not the first book of Chronicles.Robert M Adams
This quote comes from a 1977 review of The Silmarillion shortly after it was first published. The book prequels The Lord of the Rings.
I learned about the quote from my best friend. She said she had been reminded of me.
Touché.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 6: Saviour
In 2019, I read Kathy Khang’s book “Raise Your Voice.” She writes as a Korean-American about having courage to speak up and bring about change for the better.
Throughout the book, she speaks about the sensitivities involved, as well as how hard it is to gain traction with people. She writes about changing structural problems, often from a position of little power/influence.
Her insights were a balm for me and there are fabulous one-liners.
One of them was this: “the Old Testament prophets not only recorded history but also remind the modern church of the need for people who say things that need to be said, even when it’s uncomfortable.” (p89)
I nearly pushed this sentence out as a Facebook status, but just before I hit post, I hesitated.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 5: Integrity
Let’s talk about divisions.
On the one hand, boundaries are good. We put down markers to divide one space from another, to distinguish the public from the private, to delineate ourselves from everything else. When it comes to confidences, people need “safe containers, not leaky vessels.”
Holding and respecting boundaries are where we find wisdom and faithfulness.
On the other hand, boundaries can create silos and conflicts. They can segregate people and create disunity.
People talk about ‘divisive’ topics, or say that certain political figures are ‘divisive.’ But much of the time, these aren’t what divide people. The divisions were already there, it’s just that the underlying disunity has been exposed.
When that happens, we lose the luxury of believing we were on the same page. And it disappoints, exhausts and hurts.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 4: Empires
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”Grantland Rice, sports commentator
There’s a day in the Bible that gets call the ‘day of judgement.’ It’s described in various ways: something long-awaited, vindicating, something that ends long-standing injustice.
But it’s not described as joyful or even good. If anything, it’s described as terrible.
As I’ve said before, prophecy is a complex genre. The ‘day of judgement’ can be interpreted in a number of ways – many place it as a past event.
That said, many Christians believe, myself included, that there is one ultimate judgement day yet to come, when God calls all wrongdoing to account. We don’t fear it, but we ask how to live as the day approaches. (Though it could be centuries yet.)
For some Christians, this creates a desire to “be on the right side” before time runs out. And I kind of agree. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all like to think that we’re right, good and loving. We all think we deserve to be on the winning team.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 3: Justice
Some of the things Jesus said were pretty uncomfortable.
One of them was this: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29, see also Matthew 13:12)
As a Christian, I don’t want to dilute Jesus’s words. I believe he said them for a reason. I also trust that the gospels were written and compiled reliably enough. But sayings like this can make for awkward conversations – particularly with people who are fragile in their faith.
And I don’t believe the words of Jesus should make us anxious.
I come to this question: who were these words intended for?Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 2: Accountability
Gondor has no King, Gondor needs no King.Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring
Some days, I’m with Boromir.
This quote comes from the film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s an epic high fantasy, supposedly set in Earth’s distant past. And it has many plot threads. One of them concerns the land of Gondor, which has been bereft of a king for generations.
Meanwhile Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, is resentful of how much his people have endured, being bordered with the black lands of Mordor. And he’s cynical that some random ‘ranger’ from the North, Aragorn, could be the rightful heir and king.
And you know, there are days when I’m similarly cynical.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 1: King
I am no longer my own, but yours.Charles Wesley
These are the opening words of a prayer written by Charles Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church denomination. It’s prayed annually, as part of a special ‘covenant’ service where Methodists renew their commitment to God.
That said, many Methodists find the prayer intimidating; they’ll even avoid attending the covenant service so that they don’t perjure themselves. It surprised me when I learned this, but… maybe it shouldn’t?
Even amongst Christians, there is so much misinformation about God. So many questions, some of them unanswerable; so many people we’ve known who’ve let us down.
Never mind that it’s a big ask to unconditionally surrender your entire life to another. It’s hard not to see such unqualified commitment as a very bad idea, full stop.
And yet… I cannot bring myself to dilute my understanding of God. He is awesome and holy, fully deserving and trustworthy of total submission.
So where do we land?Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 7: Calling