Monday, January 25, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

You can read the text here.

Through Timothy, Paul had heard that the Thessalonians had some anxiety about those in their congregation who had died before Jesus returned.[1] Paul issues the Thessalonians some reassurance. There is no disadvantage to those who died prior to Jesus return. They will join with Jesus when he returns just like those who are still alive will.[2] They will not miss out on the resurrection. Jesus himself confirms this. Grief is ok, but not grief without hope. The language Paul uses is perhaps a bit odd, talking of meeting Jesus in the air. At the core it's an expression of the fact that Jesus is not mere human king. His kingdom includes and transcends that.[3]

Paul moves on in the next section to give them further comfort via eschatology. His goal is to reinforce what they already know because it is critical and to further comfort them.[4] Paul affirms, Jesus is coming back some day, and it will happen suddenly. It also won't be a pleasant return for everyone as some will experience his wrath.[5] The Thessalonians, however, have nothing to fear. They are God's children and live in a manner worthy of their status. Paul encourages them to continue to live out their identity and to live...'in light of the certainty and unexpectedness of that Day's coming.'[6] It will be a day of their vindication, a day that will begin a blessed eternity living under the rule of the divine King rather than the rulers of this world. In the meantime they will be protected in part by their lives of faithful love for God and one another and their resolute expectation in Jesus' salvific activity on their behalf. Critically, it is a message that the Thessalonians are to remind each other of, that way they can persevere even when the going is tough.

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[1] This concern makes most sense to me if 1 Thessalonians is very early. If it had been 15-20 years since Jesus ascension, then this concern would be odd since surely many Christians has died before his return. Of course this causes problems with Acts' narrative, but I agree with Campbell that Paul's own letters deserve priority when dating the letters. Campbell's date (argued for on other grounds) between 40-42 is plausible.

[2] I don't want to make too much of this, but it's interesting that Paul doesn't say that they're in heaven with God after they die.

[3] Drawn from Gaventa.

[4] Fee is very helpful in drawing out the theme of comfort in 5:1-11.

[5] If only Paul was more explicit here about who will receive wrath. At minimum it appears to be their Roman overlords and those who wholeheartedly invest their system. Fee suggests it's those who are making life difficult for the Thessalonians, which is true probably true as well.

[6] Malherbe p. 289.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Thank You Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, and Jenna Coleman

In 2012 and 2013 I was fairly frustrated with the state of Doctor Who. There were several good episodes that would come out each year, but the drop off from the Davies era was massive. Many of the characters were poorly written and Moffat had a penchant for writing himself into corners (Matt Smith's finale was brutal). I went as far as calling for the BBC to go in a different direction. I didn't think that Moffat had what it took to be the show runner for Doctor Who.

In 2015 (and to a lesser extent 2014) Moffat has changed my opinion of him as a writer. This past season was nothing short of excellent. Now, a great deal of credit belongs to Peter Capaldi. I don't see how anyone can objectively prefer Matt Smith to Capaldi unless they just really like Smith's schtick. His superiority is obvious in how much better he and Jenna Coleman work together on screen. Coleman was excellent this year and Capaldi is in the same tier as David Tennant, Tom Baker, and Patrick Troughton. Is there any way that Matt Smith could have delivered this speech anywhere near as effectively? No way.

Back to Moffat. This season lacked the frequent deus ex machina moments that littered the Matt Smith era. This season in particular was well crafted and a cohesive whole. It had great high moments like the Capaldi speech. The first five minutes of the season premier were the most tension inducing moments of any episode of Doctor Who since David Tennant stared down the Vashta Nerada in the Silence in the Library. The classic series and the Davies era got some nice treatment. The show regained a sense of cosmic scope.

In closing let me say, thank you Steven Moffat. I'm glad you've stayed the course. You gave us an excellent season of Doctor Who and I hope you can follow it up with a few more!

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Image taken from: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-11-14/steven-moffat-peter-capaldi-saved-doctor-who

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

You can read the text here.

Paul now transitions into more direct exhortation and encouragement of the Thessalonians. They were doing well, but that does not mean that Paul didn't have a further challenge for them. They had seen from Paul and his associates what a lifestyle that pleased God looked like. He wants to focus on two particular areas in this section, presumably because they were at least partially an issue for his converts.

The first topic Paul addresses is sex. Given the nature of the culture he lived in, he is particularly aiming his advice at men. They need to be able to control their sexual urges and limit sex to being within marriage, abstaining from any of the other outlets accepted by their native culture.[1] The reason behind it all is because of their identity and their calling. They have been drawn into Christ by the Holy Spirit and must live in accordance with the nature of that Spirit which is within them.[2] Rejecting a lifestyle of holiness, of which sexual holiness is a component, would amount to a rejection of God and his authority. Presumably part of the reason why Paul focuses on this particular issue is the opportunity for distinctiveness that it offered to his converts.[3]

Paul then moves on, but first he reminds them again that he is encouraging those who, by and large are doing well. Paul is so confident about his disciples that he can affirm that they have learned about love from God, presumably through their intense experience of his love for them.[4] The second area Paul wants to address is their relationship to money and responsibility. Political ambitions should be suppressed.[5] They should live and work quietly, but they must work. Rejecting work and living off of the support of others in the community would not be loving. It would be taking advantage of their love. Second it would work to destroy their witness to the outside world.

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[1] This passage makes it obvious that the Thessalonians were a Gentile congregation.

[2] Both Gaventa and Fee are very helpful in drawing out this point in their own ways.

[3] It also was a very Jewish position. If Nanos et. al, are right in that Paul's goal was to incorporate the Gentiles into the Jewish people as Gentiles then it makes sense that a lifestyle of sexual permissiveness needed to end. Sexual immorality was the issue besides idolatry that Jews most commonly criticized the Gentiles for.

[4] So Gaventa.

[5] Assuming Gaventa and Malherbe are correct. This verse provides the clearest biblical evidence against Christians seeking political power.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My Debt to Orphan Black

In certain regards my political views have become increasingly raidcal over the past few years. There are many reasons why that is the case. Certainly part of it has been my study of the Bible, theology, and ethics. Some of it has been through the development of relationships with a wider net of people. A third, and key component has been television. No, it has not been through watching cable news outlets, but because powerful storytelling has opened my eyes to understand the world in a clearer fashion. Then theology can step in to make sense of my improved understanding of reality.

While there are many shows that I like, there are only two shows that I cherish, and for different reasons. Orphan Black is one show, and it's story and characters has forever changed the way I see the world. There's much I could write about related to Orphan Black, worldview, and ethics, but a lot of good ground has already been covered in some lengthy online articles (here's one of the best for a taste). Today I want to hone in on something very specific.

I chose this picture carefully.[1] On Orphan Black, the phrase 'I am not your property' speaks at two different levels. The obvious level is the relationship between the individual and corporations. The second, and more subtle level, is the way we cheapen each other and destroy community by defining others mainly on the basis of some characteristic(s).

Even before I began watching Orphan Black I had a an anti-corporate streak in me. I expressed some of those sentiments here, in what may be my single favorite post I have ever written. Orphan Black helped me see that I had not fully grasped the depth of the perversity of our corporate controlled economic system. The tale of the clones is, in many ways, the tale of you and I. Many of us are like Krystal Goderitch, 'happily' living our lives under the control and direction of our corporate lords and masters without even realizing it. We are pawns used by the powers in charge and act on their behalf without really knowing what we're doing or why. We have this sense in the back of our minds that something 'isn't right,' but we can't put our finger on it.

It may seem strange that I picked Krystal out of all of the clones to identify us with.[2] I think we all want to believe that we're Sarah. Yes maybe corporate America has given us certain genes, or predispositions, but we are free agents and are solely responsible for our own messes. We aren't under their control, and the moment they try to exert their control over us we fight back with a vengeance! How deluded we are!

What do we all want? We want to be happy. Often, we equate happiness with being able to do, have, and experience whatever we want. Having and experiencing whatever we want are consumptive activities that mostly enrich major corporations.[3] How do you pay for it?[4] By working a job, often for a corporation, or a company that services corporations, or for a company that aspires to be a corporation. They've got you. You're enslaved. Unless you're very lucky or supremely talented you work for them on their terms so that you can buy stuff and experiences that they and other corporations sell to you. Wages are held as low as possible and prices as high as possible to enable the corporation to maximize their profits. We keep coming back day after day to make sure we can maintain our lifestyle and the illusion of happiness. Deep down, though, we know that this isn't the path to true happiness. However, advertising and social pressures (often experienced on corporate owned social media platforms) make us too timid to really try and break free. For many of us when we realize we've been sold a bill of goods end up medicating to different degrees like Alison. A decision that can easily destroy us and everything we love.

Now some of us try religion as a path out of this.[5] But too often we end up like Helena destroyed by seemingly righteous culture. Christian culture in particular has figured out how to monetize the rejection of conformity to the image of the perfect life sold to us by corporate America. They have crafted their own "perfect life" that parodies many of the values and consumptive patterns (go to Christian movies, not secular movies - either way you're still buying and going)  of American culture and don't end up bringing any of the liberation promised. It just ends up being slavery to a different set of masters.

Fortunately, Orphan Black gives us a solution to the problem. The answer is to seek happiness somewhere else than where the corporations are trying to lead us. Happiness comes through life together as a family where we accept each other as we are, look out for one another, and put each other first. This isn't easy. Like Cosima, we can be our own worst enemies, particularly when we are unable to forgive, but that is the only way to true life and freedom.

Obviously family is a place where we can experience this, but I'd like to argue that this is also what the Christian church is supposed to be like. Rather than focusing on enforcing a certain view of Christian culture, let's focus on loving one another, which means accepting each other for who they are.

This will segue us into our second topic. One of Orphan Black's goals is to get you to move past a shallow and superficial way of understanding people where they are labeled based on some characteristic that they have and treating them as if that fully defines them. Arguably the most famous exchange on the show is the instance where Rachel, upon meeting Cosima, notes that she is gay, and Cosima quips, 'my sexuality's not the most interesting thing about me.' On Orphan Black they are particularly focused on sexuality, but we see other characters presented as more complicated than our default labeling would suggest (Sarah is far more than the 'grifter' that Angie thinks she is, even Rachel has a sensitive and sentimental side, and Krystal has depth as a human being).

One isn't limited to their past. That's one of the big things that the clones, especially Sarah, have to learn. Helena may have been a ruthless killer who hunted their sisters, but she too can be turned and even trusted through love. The turning point in the whole show is when Helena finally realizes that Sarah loves her and isn't trying to use her like everyone in her life had to that point. Sarah only came to love her when she realized that what they shared was more important than the differences that they had and that, through love, Helena could be transformed. Love overcame the box that Sarah had originally put Helena in. It also enabled Helena to escape the box that she had subconsciously put herself in.

Both the dance and dinner parties that close out the first two seasons are powerful because they show the beauty of family when they accept and love each other as they are. To me that's a portrait of what true family should be like. That's a portrait of what the church should be like. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love each other with the transformative, redemptive love of Jesus. We should be able to be the leaders, building a beautiful alternative society that eschews the message of our corporate powers. Only then will we regain our credibility and only then will we find true happiness, when we are finally known by our love.

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[1] Image taken from http://screenrant.com/orphan-black-season-3-character-posters/

[2] Rachel may actually be the identity of some of us, if we're the ones in power. Be warned by her story. Everyone will be discarded by the corporation when they outlive their usefulness.

[3] Obviously sometimes our money is going to local small businesses, which can be less problematic, but not necessarily so.

[4] Or how do you pay for being able to do whatever you want?

[5] I'm softening the anti-religious rhetoric of the show. The show clearly favors spirituality over organized religion. I want to focus the critique a little more carefully than they do.