The meaning of salvation (part 3)

December 25, 2012

Several months ago, I purchased and read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright. I had read reviews of some of his books and had been wanting to read at least one. When I read the description and reviews of Simply Jesus, I “simply” had to get it.

I did not immediately write a blog post about the book, partly because there is so much meat in the book that it is hard to do it justice, and also because I wanted to wait and see what long-term impact – if any – the book would have on me. Sadly, it’s very easy to be excited about a book that seems to change how you think about things, but then pretty soon to go on with daily life much as before.

I’ve been thinking about rereading the book, and then writing a blog post on it, but it was only reading another book that pushed me to do so. One morning at church when I had little to do (being a pastor’s wife means getting to church early and sometimes staying late afterward, and occasionally I forget to bring a book to read while I wait), I found an interesting book in the church’s small “library” (two bookshelves in the room used for fellowship and coffee hours).

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The meaning of salvation (part 2)

December 21, 2012

One of the first things I was told I needed to do as a new Christian was share my faith. Since I preferred the company of books to people, and I rarely expressed my thoughts to anyone if I didn’t have to, this was very difficult for me.

One of the first and most difficult conversations was telling my mother about my new beliefs, as I knew my parents had a pretty low opinion of fundamentalist Christians. (I don’t remember telling my father anything; I assume my mother told him about it.) They had always insisted that my sister and I were to make our own choices, however, and they were surprisingly accepting of my going over to the fundamentalist “side”, if not exactly supportive.

In his comment on my previous post, modestypress says he “would feel less aversion to Christianity (or other religious beliefs) if there were less obsession with guilt (about our imaginary original sin Adam and Eve ancestors) and with an imaginary Hell, and with condemnation of people who do no harm (e. g. non-believers and homosexuals).” I’m sure my mother’s aversion to the fundamentalist version of Christianity was for much the same reasons.

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Books: Radical

April 17, 2011

 I finally finished David Platt’s book Radical yesterday. When I started it, back on Super Bowl Sunday, I couldn’t put it down. (Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to distract me from watching a football game.) Once I was offered the chance to take it home, and finish it at my leisure, I couldn’t seem to get interested in picking it up again.

That’s perhaps not too unusual a reaction. As one of the editorial reviews at points out,

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream.” (Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Most days I read for relaxation and intellectual stimulation. I like to sit in a comfy armchair, often with a snack or at least a beverage handy. Picking up a book that makes me feel guilty for time or money I spend on my own comfort doesn’t quite fit the picture.

When I did finally pick it up again yesterday, I had another surprise. Most of what I remembered about the book was the emphasis on American Christians needing to be willing to give up at least some of their material comforts and give to people elsewhere in the world who have so much less. Apparently I had pretty much finished that part of the book, because when I started reading again, it was all about needing to take the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to people who have never heard, so that they will not all go to Hell.

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Language without abstraction

March 22, 2011

I’ve been working on ideas for a speech I’m giving Saturday (for a Toastmasters contest), and one idea (which I’m thinking now won’t really work but I haven’t figured out what to do instead) had to do with the importance of words vs numbers. (Think of King Azaz and the Mathemagician in The Phantom Tollbooth.) I remembered having read about a language that has few if any numbers, where people manage with just words like “few” and “more.”

Looking for more information, I came across this fascinating article about the Pirahã, a tribe in northwestern Brazil. Don Everett, a linguist who first went there as a missionary with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, probably knows as much of their language as anyone else outside the tribe. Their language not only lacks numbers, Everett says, but any kind of abstractions. They have no interest in the distant past or future, or in anything that they cannot experience directly.

Imagine the challenges that presents to someone trying to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have read a number of accounts of the difficulties Bible translators have with languages that don’t have words that are key to understanding Bible stories and concepts. But I never heard before of a language without any abstract words.

Some linguists think that Everett is wrong. His claims fly in the face of much of what is widely accepted in academic circles regarding language and linguistics, particularly the theories advanced by Noam Chomsky. Everett himself was once an enthusiastic disciple of Chomsky, until he realized that the Pirahã language simply didn’t fit the theories.

I once thought I would spend my life doing what Don Everett and his wife Keren headed to the Amazon to do. Keren still works at learning Pirahã, with the goal of translating Scripture into their language. Don now considers himself an atheist, and his interest in Pirahã is for the language itself. The couple separated years ago, after Don concluded that he found no more spiritual meaning in the Bible than the Pirahã do. (Don did succeed in translating some passages, but the stories elicited no interest among the people of this tribe.)

I have long thought that one strong bit of evidence for a spiritual dimension to life is that people of all times and cultures have spiritual experiences and beliefs (not all people, but some people in all cultures). That the Pirahã do not (if Don Everett’s understanding is correct) does not weaken my belief in spiritual realities. But it is strange.

What could you do with a flying car?

December 7, 2010

I rarely link to video content – most of what’s out there isn’t worth the bandwidth. But Maverick Flying Car at Oshkosh is worth watching. 

You know those questions people sometimes ask, like “What would you do with a million dollars?” I always say I’d pay off my debt first, give some to church, save some for our sons’ college education and for our retirement. I don’t think that would leave anything much for splurging on ourselves, but if I had $84,000 I’d get my husband a Maverick from I-TEC.

Partly it’s because, after he saw this video on a friend’s post on facebook, he said how much he’d love to be the first one on his block to have a flying car. More than that, it’s because I’d want to help make one missionary’s dream a reality, to get some of these vehicles in use in the Amazon jungle to help people get better access to health care.

When we first watched the video, we had no idea who the man was driving and talking about the car. I figured he was just some inventor who came up with a great idea for a flying car and wanted to prove what it could do. Then he mentioned having grown up on the mission field, and wanting to create a vehicle to meet the needs he had seen there.

When he said something about his father and other missionaries having been killed, I realized who he was. A couple of years ago we watched The End of the Spear, and the real Steve Saint appeared at the very end. I hadn’t recognized him in this video, but that had to be who he was. Sure enough, one of the men he was talking to remembered the story of Jim Elliot, and this man (the one with the Maverick) said Nate Saint was his father.

If I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center) is to get the Maverick into production – as they hope to next year – they need to be able to sell it to people with the money and interest in this unusual car (depending on the model, it not only flies, it can also go on water, makes an excellent ATV, and is pretty darn fast on the highway). Steve doesn’t care so much what they want it for – as an expensive toy, a way to avoid traffic jams, or to “be the first on the block to own one.” Their purchases will enable I-TEC to get some where they’re most needed – among tribes like the Waodani.

Give Water for Christmas

November 12, 2009

first giftI’m going to start my Christmas shopping tomorrow. I don’t know yet what I’ll get my family, but I want to give someone in Africa some water. Ten years’ worth of water – clean water that will give life instead of disease and death.

There are a lot of charities competing for donations, all the more so these days with the rough economy, and some people who used to be donors now having to be on the receiving side instead. I try to pick one or two organizations to give to, ones that I’m sure are doing good work with the money entrusted to them. In the past I’ve given mostly to Heifer International, and I still think they’re doing great work.

But I recently learned about Water for Christmas. I happen to know the woman who started it, because we go to the same church. As a matter of fact she’s married to one of the pastors, and I’ve taught three of her sons in the K/1 class (not all at the same time – there’s a year or two between each one). So when the website says that 100% of the money I give goes directly to providing clean water in Africa, I believe it.

You can read her story here, and find out why she and her husband are so passionate about helping children in Africa. And if you’d like to get started with your Christmas shopping tomorrow, join in First Gift, a one day “viral campaign” to get as many people as we can to give $10 tomorrow, enough to give one person ten years’ worth of clean, life-giving water.

Remembering Operation Auca

January 8, 2009

When I first read, in my teens, about the five missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador 53 years ago today, I was surprised to discover that it had been big news in the States when it happened, because my parents had never mentioned a word about it in the years since. Of course, my parents would not have been supporters of missionaries trying to get people to change their religion, as they both believed that everyone would eventually come to God, if not in this world then the next.

I was inspired by the stories of these brave missionaries and their faith in God to go to such lengths to take the Gospel to people who did not exactly welcome them with open arms. For a long time I planned on being a missionary to unreached peoples like that, to translate the Bible into a language that doesn’t even have a written form yet. For a variety of reasons I became, instead, first a Spanish teacher then a clerk for a manufacturing company, then a computer operator/programmer/trainer/help desk/etc.

But when the movie The End of the Spear came out in 2006, I was excited about seeing it. We waiting to rent it on DVD, and I found the movie very inspiring as well. It is a story of faith, of the power of God, and of forgiveness. I wondered, as I watched it, just how accurate it was to the details of the true story it was based on, and hoped it did follow the true story fairly closely. But there were aspects that were unfamiliar to me from the books I had read about the lives of Jim Elliott and Nate Saint, so I tried to find info on how much the details of certain events were true.

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