Why you shouldn’t skip the boring parts

Christmas readings at churches and homes will rightly include a heavy dose of Luke 2 (for the birth narrative), and Matthew 2 (for the visit of the magi). Even Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Immanuel may make an appearance, but there’s one Christmas-related passage of Scripture that’s more likely to be skipped over.

You know the part I’m talking about. It’s the one we all skip over to get to the good parts — that cumbersome prologue that is bespeckled with begats: Matthew 1:1-16. In the passage, Matthew traces the heritage of Jesus beginning with a peripatetic Chaldean named Abraham all the way to Joseph and Mary. It’s tedious to be sure, but it’s by no means insignificant. Christopher J.H. Wright observes:

If the average Christian pauses between carols to wonder what the previous seventeen verses are all about, his or her curiosity is probably offset by relief that at least they weren’t included in the readings! And yet they are there, presumably because that is how Matthew wanted to begin his Gospel, and also how the minds that shaped the order of the canonical books wanted to begin what we call the New Testament. So we need to respect those intentions and ask why it is that Matthew will not allow us to join in the adoration of the Magi until we have ploughed through his tedious list of begettings. Why can’t we just get on with the story?

Because, says Matthew, you won’t understand that story— the one I am about to tell you — unless you see it in the light of a much larger story which goes back for many centuries but leads up to the Jesus you want to know about. And that longer story is the history of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians came to call the Old Testament. It is the story which Matthew ‘tells’ in the form of a schematized genealogy — the ancestry of the Messiah.

— Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, pp. 1-2

The Matthew who gives us the Magi and the Herod saga didn’t bumble as a storyteller with this wandering introduction. Each name is a keyword for an era, and each name pours into fullness of time that was that night in Bethlehem. Don’t skip it. The nativity didn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a living, vibrant world that had both a past and a future — not unlike our own lives.

At Christmas don’t forget the prologues, both Matthew’s and your own. Begats make the good parts good.


Sandlot foreign policy

Strange business is the saga with the Obama administration and that downed drone aircraft recovered by Iran in Iranian territory. It’s bad enough that Iranian officials are using the whole thing as a publicity stunt, but now the Obama Administration is asking Iran to return the drone:

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a session with reporters Monday, refused to comment on what he termed “intelligence matters that are classified.” But news reports say the aircraft with advanced stealth technology either strayed into Iranian airspace from Afghanistan or was spying on Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Obama said the United States has asked for the drone back and will “see how the Iranians respond.” But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that given Iran’s past behavior, “we do not expect them to comply.”

You think?

In the now classic 1993 film, The Sandlot, a group of boys hit a baseball over the fence onto the property of the mysterious Mr. Mertle — which is guarded by “The Beast,” a dog of mythic ferocity. It turns out not to be so bad once they get to know both the dog and its owner. Perhaps the Obama administration has this in mind?

Since we have no expectation that Iran will hand it over willy-nilly, why ask? Have we no shame at all? Someone please explain.

Names: they are a changin’

“…And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”
(Genesis 1:19, ESV)

Over at First Things, read my latest musings on a culture that changes its names:

This week, the Southern Baptist Convention announced it is launching yet another committee to examine changing its name. The goal is to better reflect the fact that, aside from folks who live at the North Pole, they’re not necessarily always geographically “Southern” anymore.  Whether or not the name change will go through is up in the air — this is the eighth attempt at renaming the organization.

But it isn’t just the Southern Baptists. Name change fever is in the water. The interwebs are abuzz with the announcement by Netflix this week that it’s changing the name of its DVD service to Qwikster — a name that conjures up images of oil changes and bunnies with chocolate milk. Campus Crusade for Christ, in a move which resulted in a public relations nightmare, recently announced it was changing its name to Cru (rowing teams or short haircuts, anyone?).

Read the rest here, before they change my name to a pseudonym.

2010 in places

In keeping with my yearly tradition, here’s a record of all the cities, towns, hamlets, or dots-on-a-map in which I’ve spent at least one night this year:

  • Kingsport, TN
  • Nashville, TN
  • Memphis, TN
  • Rodanthe, NC
  • Tupelo, MS
  • Upperville, VA
  • Woodbridge, VA
  • Washington, DC

cf. 2005/1999, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

A Christmas prayer

Our Father, we come to you this Christmas day seeking to be mindful of your most precious gift to us. Though world would seek to drown him out, it cannot. By his continuing work in the lives of your people, the gift that is your Son still brings you glory today.

Lord, help us this day to remember how the darkness was once long ago pierced by the cry of a baby on an otherwise obscure night in an otherwise obscure village in Palestine.

Help us this day to be mindful of that same cry, which thirty-three years later would pierce the darkness that sin had cast upon all our hearts.

And help us this day to never forget that this is the same cry that will in a day yet to come that will once and for all put an end to sin and death and bring your people home.

Help us to set our hearts and fix our eyes and ears upon Jesus, in whose name we pray.

Amen.

Strangers in a Strange Land

[Cross-posted from Evangel]

In addition to a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation,” the King James Bible speaks of Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 as a “peculiar people.” Modern translations dispense with the term, but it seems that to at least one sociologist, some Bible-belt Christians are so far removed from American culture that they’re deserving of studies to document their peculiarity.

Bernadette Barton, a sociology professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky, recently took her class on several field trips to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky — a trip that apparently struck fear in her students:

On her third trip to the museum, Barton took her undergraduate students, who found the visit unsettling. Several in the group were former fundamentalists who had since rejected that worldview. Several others were gay. In part because of these backgrounds, Barton said, the students were on edge at the museum. Particularly nerve-wracking were signs warning that guests could be asked to leave the premises at any time. The group’s reservation confirmation also noted that museum staff reserved the right to kick the group off the property if they were not honest about the “purpose of [the] visit.”

Because of these messages, Barton said, the students felt they might accidentally reveal themselves as nonbelievers and be asked to leave. This pressure is a form of “compulsory Christianity” that is common in a region known for its fundamentalism, Barton said. People who don’t ascribe to fundamentalism often report the need to hide their thoughts for fear of being judged or snubbed.

At one point, Barton reported in her paper, a guard with a dog circled a student pointedly twice without saying anything. When he left, a museum patron approached the student and said, “The reason he did that is because of the way you’re dressed. We know you’re not religious; you just don’t fit in.” (The student was wearing leggings and a long shirt, Barton writes.)

Having never visited the Creation Museum (do they sell replicas of Adam’s rib at the gift shop?), I can’t relate to the oppressive fear that these students must have felt. One can only imagine the displacement felt by the professor and her students during their expedition. After all, they endured the nearly two and a half-hour journey from the cosmopolitan venues of Morehead, Kentucky to the wilds of the Greater Cincinnati Metro Area — only to be accosted by a canine and almost conscripted into “compulsory Christianity” had their disguises been slightly less effective.

All ribbing aside, while the absurdity of this account reveals how out-of-touch with their own surroundings the Morehead expedition was, it reminds us of the reality that Christian beliefs are increasingly cast by the world as quaint eccentricities — even when the numbers may not validate such a view. At this, we Christians shouldn’t be as shocked as our professor on her field study.

Whether or not the Creation Museum is a proper touchstone of twenty-first century Christianity is certainly debatable , but it is of little importance. For any Christian who believes that a dead man got up out of his grave two thousand years ago, there is an ever-increasing gulf with those who do not — a fact which no amount of cultural hipness can overcome. We will be found weird, wanting, and ripe for ridicule. We will be painted with a broad brush, and the temptation will be to say “that’s not me — I’m not like those Christians.” It would be better — when the occasion arises — if we instead pointed to Christ and lamented how unlike him we are. Better yet if we pointed out how unlike us he is.

Top 8 short-lived TV shows of the 80s

Ah, the 80’s. It was a time when TV shows wrapped everything up by the end of the show, nobody got killed (think The A-Team), and episodes were filmed before a live studio audience. If it wasn’t the golden age of television, it was at the very least bronze.

But the 80’s were also a decade of trial and frequent error. For every Cosby Show, there were a dozen other shows than never made it past two seasons. Below, in no particular order, I’ve compiled the top eight of these short-lived 80’s wonders:

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