Friday, November 12, 2010

The latest on my knee...

OK... it turns out my previous post on my knee was somewhat optimistic. In fact, it was very optimistic!. Since posting that I have been the physio several times, and my GP who referred me for an MRI. I received the results of that today... So, I have:
  • Torn my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)
  • Have some fractures in my tibia and femur. These are small fractures related to the impact of the bones hitting one another and twisting.
  • Bruising in the bone.
  • Grade 1 MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) sprain.
Needless to say, I will be off to see an Orthopaedic Specialist and surgery is inevitible. In the mean time, I'm not allowed to bear weight on my leg (particularly because of the bone damage), so it's crutches everywhere I go. I'm not allowed to drive either (because it's my right knee) which is frustrating and perhaps the most inconvenience. It's also a very busy time at work, plus commissioning is fast approaching.

I would appreciate your prayer support, for everything mentioned above, for my family who have to put up with my hobbling around now, and particularly for my longsuffering wife Megan. I don't think she realised when we said "in sickness and in health" that I would be "sickness" and she would be "health"! (See another previous post for even more detail on that!).

Further updates will come as I have them to hand. Thanks in advance for your prayer support.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Inerrent, Infallible, Inspired... Interpreted?

I love Chopin. I love listening to his music, but I especially love playing his music. His Nocturnes in particular. There's something very satisfying about playing Chopin. He was a pianist, and every piece of music he wrote was for the piano, and so he "gets" what it's like to sit at a piano and wrestle with those 88 keys in front of you. He was a genius who knew how to get the most out of this instrument, and to challenge those who would want to call themselves a pianist (ever tried playing 12 notes at once with 10 fingers?). Perhaps what I like best, though, is the opportunity that playing Chopin gives me to really express myself through the music. It's like nothing else that I know and taps right into the depths of my emotions and indeed my soul. For me, it's very much a kind of prayer to play this music.

Anyone who plays a musical instrument well understands (or should understand) that it's so much more than just the notes on the page. In fact, the better one gets, the less it is about the notes on the page. Sure, they're important, like flour, eggs, water and oil are to a cake recipe. What's really important, though, is the way you put it all together. Get the mix wrong and it leaves a bitter taste. The way you actually play the notes, and emphasise one over against another, how you express the melody and tell the story of the music in a way that communicates to the listener, this is what's important when playing the piano and especially Chopin.

In my English speaking background we generally speak of someone "playing" a piece of music. This  emphasises the "notes on a page" approach; the composer has written the piece and now it's just a matter of the pianist hitting the right keys at the right time in order to produce the desired sound. Generally, this is what you get from someone in the early stages of learning. It's very difficult to add emotion and "story" when you're main concern is "what is that note on that third ledger line again?" As I understand it, though, in French one is said to "interpret" a piece of music. This includes hitting the right keys at the right time and in the right place, but it also recognises that the pianist is very much "involved" in the process. It takes skill and practice to get to the point where you can almost ignore what your fingers and hands are doing and then pour your soul into the piece, but once you can do it, it is immensely gratifying. Connecting with the music, with the composer, with those listening, with God and indeed yourself through the music. This is interpretation.

There's some useful parallels with the study of the Bible here. I often read and hear discussions about the "inerrancy" or "infallibility" of Scripture - that is, how did the texts we call the Bible come to get into our hands, and how reliable are they? I don't know of any Christian writer who would suggest that the Scriptures are not "inspired" by the Spirit, but some would like to suggest that this goes as far as "dictation", where others would want to allow for much more room for the author's involvement in the writing process. It becomes even more bizarre in my mind when people claim that the "original autographs" were inerrant. That's a convenient claim to make given that we don't have the original autographs! Discussions about the "writing" of Scripture need to be balanced, I suggest, with an equal weighting on the "reading" of Scripture. In the same way that a pianist should concern themselves with the time a piece was written, who wrote it, what was the occasion, the intended audience and so on PLUS, how am I going to play this piece? What am I going to emphasise here? Should that cadenza be played fast or slow, or with more rubato? Similar questions should concern us as we seek to interpret the Scriptures.

How do we approach the text? Are we concerned about the "words on the page", how they have been put together, or "what the author meant"? Or do we also need to consider what we do with those words on the page, how the apply to our lives (collective and individual) today, and, most importantly, what the Spirit is saying to the church through them now? Of course, the "words on the page" are important, and very necessary, and we should be concerned with what the author's original intention for the letter was. But the real music happens when we immerse our very selves into the God of those pages, when we seek to connect with the author and the Spirit who inspired that author (and indeed the editors and copiers), even over the span of thousands of years. We can share their same joys and sorrows, indeed we do share their joys and sorrows, as we encounter the same "stuff of life" and encounter the same God. The joy of ministry, of preaching, teaching, and studying the word of God comes through interpretation. As the Spirit of God speaks through this amazing text that he has spoken through for thousands of years into our lives, and through our lives into others.

What a joy! What a privilege! What Divine music!

To demonstrate some beautiful "interpretation" of Chopin, here's one of my personal favourites... enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jesus Christ the Serpent

What do you think of the suggestion that Christ becomes a serpent?

At first glance the suggestion will be shocking to most people. It's not a title that we're familiar with, and certainly not comfortable with assigning to our Lord Jesus. I can't imagine Darlene Zschech sitting down to compose "Shout to the Lord" and considering the words "My Jesus, My Serpent, Lord there is none like you!" It would have to take someone either incredibly deranged or someone with incredible guts.

Gregory of Nyssa makes just this claim. We need to state at the outset that Gregory is allegorising, and for us with our scientific mindsets and methodologies we find it difficult to accept this as a "valid" hermeneutical method. In the 4th Century, though, it was commonly accepted practice. Gregory is dealing with the passage in Exodus 7:8-13 where Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh and in order to demonstrate that they come under God's authority they cast down the staff and it becomes a serpent. Amazingly, Pharoah's wise men and sorcerers are able to replicate this feat. Strangely, though, Moses' snake swallows the snakes of the wise men. For most of us this is just a strange addition to the story which we can rationalise away as having little to no significance to the greater meaning of the text. For someone who allegorises, like Gregory, these kinds of strange vignettes are exactly the verses to focus upon. These are the verses that must have a deeper, spiritual meaning since the surface meaning seems so strange to the naked eye. This is why Gregory has commentaries on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. You would be hard pressed to get a single sermon in a year in most churches from either of these books.

Gregory makes it very clear what he understands the serpent to represent.
The teaching is clear. For if the father of sin is called a serpent by Holy Scripture and what is born of the serpent is certainly a serpent, it follows that sin is synonymous with the one who begot it. (Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Trans. A Malherbe and E. Ferguson (New York: HarperOne, 2006), pg 40.)
Gregory then applies 2 Cor 5:21 to his spiritual interpretation of the text; "he became sin who knew no sin". This is where the claim of Gregory is startling
This figure [the serpent] therefore is rightly applied to the Lord. For if sin is a serpent and the Lord became sin, the logical conclusion should be evident to all: by becoming sin he became also a serpent, which is nothing other than sin. (ibid, 40)
Again, this is shocking stuff to read, but there is a point to the shock tactics. Here Gregory is making a strong assertion about the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Here it is
For our sake he became a serpent that he might devour and consume the Egyptian serpents produced by the sorcerers.(ibid, 40)
In other words, he became sin (the serpent) in order to destroy sin, as well as the father of sin - the serpent (Gen 3); which for Gregory and many others in his time was assumed to be the devil. In the Exodus narrative the serpent reverts back to the staff, and for Gregory the meaning here is also significant. Christ not only becomes sin, he destroys sin, and then by his resurrection restores humanity back to its original condition.

What I find striking here is the boldness of this method. We must keep in mind that whilst the fourth century was a time of political freedom (compared to persecution!) for the Christian Church it was also a time when the label "heresy" was thrown around alot within the Church. Gregory himself seems to have spent every other week refuting a particular heresy or responding to an accusation of one leveled against him. So in the context of such an environment to have the bravery to make a claim such as this shows, I suggest, a great deal of intestinal fortitude on his behalf. The shock factor may be comparable with someone in our day and age suggesting that Christ becomes a terrorist in order to destroy terrorism (I've not read such a claim, nor am I suggesting it as a valid metaphor, but simply suggest this for the purpose of comparison).

Now we can't just leave this amazing metaphor without also highlighting the fact that Gregory leaves us a little bewildered later in the same text. Further in the Life of Moses, picking up Paul's language in Rom 8:3 where Christ comes in the "likeness" of sinful flesh, he suggests that Christ comes in the "likeness of a serpent and not a serpent itself... Sin is the real serpent" (pg 116). Whilst the metaphor shifts slightly, the point he is making remains consistent. Christ became sin (or at least in the "likeness" of sin), destroys sin and restores humanity as a result.
[Humanity], then, is freed from sin through him who assumed the form of sin and became like us who had turned into the form of the serpent... The voice of the Lord teaches clearly that the serpent lifted up in the desert is a symbol of the mystery of the cross when he says, "The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert" [John 3:14] (Life of Moses, pg 116-117).

Sermon: Matthew 13:1

I love questions. Many here would be aware that I’m working on a PhD in theology. I’ve also been a teacher of theology, worship, and critica...