Thursday, September 29, 2011

overheard yesterday evening

Easton (age 3): What do we have tonight? Are watching Brady Bunch? Are we having a family meeting?

Danny: We're doing our chores, and then it's "time with Mom."

Easton: Wahoo!

I get to be with the kids after school every day, and then after dinner I get 20 minutes alone with each of them.  Eliana and I are reading Bruchko, a missionary biography. Emma and I often play a game together. Last night, Easton and I listened to Dave and the Giant Pickle on tape (Veggie Tales' version of David and Goliath), and then we got out my favorite children's story Bible to read the story there and compare.  Easton has a current fascination with Dave and the Giant Pickle, and listens to it several times a day (this is, by the way, not on my top 10 list ... or top anything list!). He seems to really comprehend what's happening in the story.

Easton: Dave lives in Israel.

Easton (on hearing the word Philistines): That's a funny name! 

Easton (at the end of the story, celebrating): Israel was saved!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

my second life lesson from Wheaton: read faster

When I discovered that I had 600 pages to read this week, I realized I was going to need to do something differently. It often takes me an hour to get through 10-20 pages in an academic theology book. You do the math. I simply don't have that much time.

Instead of reading, I spent my first hour online learning how to read faster. Good move. Here's what I learned.
  • Minimize distractions. Turn off email. Sit in a quiet room.
  • Scan the whole page first to decide what's important
  • Focus on action words (skip words like a, an, and, the)
  • Soften your gaze and make use of peripheral vision
  • Use your finger or a pencil to keep focused and keep moving
  • Stop pronouncing the words in your head
    • One online video actually recommended counting 1,2,3,4..1,2,3,4 while reading to prevent yourself from pronouncing what you read. That will take some practice.
    • I found that I don't say the words in my head, but I do hear them, which severely limits the speed at which I can read. I'm learning to just see words and absorb them that way.
  • Don't re-read (I still do this a lot)
  • Take a break every 1/2 hour
I'm no speed reader yet, but I just made it through 55 pages of a published dissertation in just over an hour. That's a huge improvement. This was my break . . . now back to reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Has the KJV been bad or good for America?

Mark Noll's answer to the question is "both." Today I had the privilege of hearing him lecture on the topic, "'Isn't This the Book of the People?' The King James Version in America." Mark Noll is an emeritus faculty member of Wheaton College and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has written two dozen books, many of them on the relationship between theology and culture.

Noll outlined the pervasive influence of the KJV on American culture and politics. From the retail business to place names like Beulah and Salem, from art and film to language and literature, there is no doubt that the KJV has left its stamp on America. Even the inaugural addresses of many of our presidents have been laced with quotations and allusions to the King James Version. (He mentioned John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon as recent examples, noting that Barack Obama is the first American president whose general practice is to quote from more modern translations). Also notable are the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 (quoting Amos 5:24 and Isa 40:4) and Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, where quotations from four biblical passages in the KJV formed the very skeleton of his speech! There is no question that the KJV's lofty style elevated English literature and shaped public discourse.

The popularity of the KJV in American high culture did not preclude its widespread use among common people, though, even among the marginalized. Noll mentioned feminist and African American readers who preferred the KJV over other versions available. This is remarkable considering its coercive use by proponents of slavery. The King James was so widely available that no one group could co-opt it for their own ends. It was everyone's Bible. That was its strength.

As with most things, strengths can become weaknesses. Noll pointed out some disturbing historical problems arising from the use of the KJV. These problems do not stem from the translation itself (Noll thinks it was a good one for its time), but because of its overwhelming popularity and pervasive use.  The KJV gave America the lofty language with which it could talk about any number of subjects. Noll called it "an omnipresent source" for allusions and quotations which betowed a "sacred aura" on public discourse. The mere cadence of KJV-inspired speech was seen as having a certain authority, quite apart from the content of the message. Critical thinking skills were numbed by familiarity. This resulted in confusion between literary and spiritual influence, and between the role of church and state. It was easy to sound Christian without being one.   

I couldn't write fast enough to capture all of the items in Noll's scathing rebuke of the anti-intellectualism that has been engendered by the KJV. It was shocking. The KJV has, he says, spawned the wrong kind of creation science and the misuse of the Bible to promote slavery, and has even given rise to bibliolatry, or worship of the book itself (in this version!) rather than the God who inspired it. Noll would prefer a dozen modern dynamic-equivalence translations over a lofty, literal, archaic one because the meaning of Scripture is made plain to those who need to know Jesus Christ. He asked, referring to the ability of modern translations to speak to lost souls, "Isn't the worse translation the better Bible?" [This, in case you're wondering, did not go over well with Dr. Leland Ryken, in whose honor the conference is being held.  Ryken evidently feels that something crucial is lost when lofty style is abandoned in favor of common speech.]

In short, Noll sees both positive and negative effects of the KJV on American culture. Its popularity was a boon to biblically-infused literary expression.  But any monopoly has its drawbacks. We need healthy dialogue, not dominance of one point of view. Noll is encouraged by the signs that evangelicals are beginning to make substantive intellectual contributions to society. Ironically, the number of empty seats in the auditorium may have been an indication that he is right. While most evangelicals are willing to admit the great literary, cultural, and spiritual legacy of the KJV, it appears that they are also eager to move on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The King James Version: myths debunked 400 years later

One of the reasons I've been so excited to study at Wheaton is the multiple opportunities I have hear to learn from world-renowned experts at conferences such as this one.  Tonight I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Alister McGrath lecture on "The King James Bible: The Making of a Classic Translation."

McGrath is a British scholar widely respected for his work as a theologian, historian, and scientist.  His lecture was not a disappointment.  I learned a number of fascinating things.

Myth #1 - The King James Version has been popular for 400 years.

Actually it was not popular at first.  Historians are not even sure exactly when it was released in 1611.  It was a non-event.  Neither the Puritans nor the Anglicans wanted a new English translation.  Not until 1660, almost 50 years after its publication, was the KJV was widely embraced.  (And then for political reasons, fueled by the restoration of the British monarchy and the appeal of a national Bible.)

Myth #2 - The King James Version was written in the common language of the people.

While the goal of the translators was to be accessible, the KJV would have already sounded out of date by the time of publication.  Words like "thee" and "thou" had already begun to fall out of use by the time the translation was made.  The committee was guided by a set of rules that included the intentional re-use of earlier translations for the sake of continuity.

Myth #3 - The King James Version was radical and revolutionary.

Translators only deviated from previous English translations where inaccuracies were found.

Myth #4 - The King James Version is a bad translation.

The translation itself, according to McGrath, was a good one in its time.  The problem is that the English language has changed considerably since 1611, and the meaning of the KJV is no longer accessible to common people.  The translators endeavored to be quite literal, bringing Hebrew and Greek figures of speech over into English.  In many cases the sense of the original is "lost in translation."  Another problem is the failure to distinguish poetry and prose through different typesetting, resulting in misplaced expectations of readers.  On the whole, though, the translation is good.

Myth #5 - The use of the name "James" in the New Testament, where the Greek actually reads "Jacob," was a 'tip of the hat' to King James, who authorized the translation.

I approached Dr. McGrath afterwards to ask him about this in particular.  Somewhere during my education I heard this and have always wondered if it was true.  Dr. McGrath says this is a common assumption, but the practice of Anglicizing Hebrew and Greek names goes back further than the KJV.  Even the Great Bible of 1539 reads "James" for the Greek "Jacob."  No one knows why.

If you're interested in reading more summaries of the conference sessions, check out the new blog of Wheaton's doctoral students: http://wheatonblog.wordpress.com/.  Summaries of the lectures will be posted as they are written.  I'm scheduled to write about Mark Noll's lecture tomorrow, so check back tomorrow evening for more!

Friday, September 16, 2011

my first life lesson from Wheaton: work smarter, not harder

My first few weeks here were laced with anxiety as I watched my workload grow and my available time shrink.  I felt like the life was being squeezed right out of me.  There was no possible way that I could accomplish what I was being asked to do.  I'll spare you the details of my syllabus shock because they would only obscure the point.  You feel stress like this, too, sometimes, even if you're not in school.  Life has a way of expecting more from us than we have to give.

After prayer and talking things through with Danny and other friends, it became clear to me that there was one thing that was sapping my study time.  Yes, my workload was heavy, but one assignment in particular overshadowed all the rest (ironically, it involved reading part of a German commentary by a man named Duhm, pronounced "doom").  It gradually dawned on me that if I was to let go of that one thing, I would have time for everything else.  So I did.  I put it aside and decided to do everything else first.

Wow.  Since that day I have felt so much peace.  I'm keeping up with my responsibilities, and even enjoying the process (my schedule was no longer Duhm-ed!).  I needed to step back and evaluate the relative importance of what I was being asked to do.  That one thing was such a small part of my grade (Wait! We don't even have grades anymore!) and it was gobbling up all my productivity.  Looking back, I can't believe I let myself become so obsessed with an assignment of such peripheral importance.

This was a crucial life-lesson to learn.  Over-acheivers like me are in danger of placing too much importance on what we feel others expect us to be able to do.  We have a tendency to attach our identity or value to what we can accomplish.  We need to periodically step back and ask the question, What is God asking me to do?  What does He require of me? The answer will probably not be the same for any two of us.  As I keep reminding myself, "All I can do is my best."

A happy ending:  the assignment is due next week, and since I've now finished everything else I decided to give it another try.  This time, I took the advice of my more experienced colleagues and approached it differently.  Double wow.  I had spent 3 hrs/day on it throughout the month of August, and according to my estimation the project should have taken me another 24 hours of work.  After just 2 mornings I am completely finished ...with 4 days to spare!

Are you under pressure today?  Pause for a moment and ask yourself where the pressure is coming from.  Other people's expectations?  Your own?  If God expects something of you, then He supplies all the strength that you need.  Anxiety is never part of the package.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

remembering 9/11

I've been caught by surprise twice now at the depth of emotion I still feel remembering 9/11.  Eliana was an infant on that fateful day - alive, but oblivious to the horror that swept the nation as we watched the events play out.  It wasn't until she was in first grade or so that it occurred to me to tell her about that day.  As I told her I couldn't help but weep.  She was suprised to see mommy cry.  I rarely do.

Tonight at dinner it was Emma's turn to hear the story.  She's 6 now, and that must be the magic age of maturity for things like this.  Step by step we walked her through the horrifying events.  Again I cried.

Why does it still feel so raw 10 years later?  Why tears?

I guess it was the biggest world event that had happened in my adult life, or at least the biggest one I witnessed live.  (I do vaguely remember when "The Wall" came down in Germany, but I was not old enough to appreciate its significance.)  I'll never forget the call from my Dad that we should turn on the TV because a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  His urgency seemed odd to me.  Planes crash now and then.  It's sad when it happens, but Dad was insistent that we watch.  And watch we did, as before our very eyes the second plane hit the second tower.  It was in that horrifying moment that the sickening truth sunk to the pit of my stomach:

This was intentional.

Panic ensued.  The events unfolded too quickly for us to process them.  The Pentagon crash.  The collapse of the two towers as the pavement swallowed them whole, a living grave for hundreds and thousands of people. The 4th plane crash in a cornfield, an aborted attempt to bomb the White House.  Where will they strike next?

The stunned silence of the next few hours and days was filled with tears, pleas from family members for information on their loved ones, stories of people who should have been in the towers and were not, stories of the brave men and women who had been running up the stairs to their death when everyone else was running down to safety.

Other tragedies have happened in our lifetime, larger ones even.  Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, shootings, even.  For me, 9/11 was different because it was on our soil, the effects were massive, and it was intentional.  No one knew where it would hit next.  "Terror" came home.  That day a new generation learned that humans are capable of unthinkable evil, and even the invicible United States was brought to its knees.

I'm sure you remember the groundswell of prayer that ensued.  I wish that could have been the most lasting after-effect.  Naturally it gave way to finger-pointing, blame, and a thirst for revenge.  War was inevitable, we just had to locate our enemy (a process that took nearly 10 years!).  Meanwhile, America developed a deep distrust of Muslims from any country.  For me this was equally tragic.  Unfortunately, the line between revenge and justice can be a blurry one. 

I'll always be grateful that we had the opportunity to move overseas shortly afterwards and live among people who looked different than we do.  By the time the third anniversary of 9/11 came around I could count 80 Muslims among my friends.  They gave their children names like Ishmael, Hussein, and yes, even Osama bin Laden.  But I loved them and they loved me back.  I knew I was safe in their community because they were looking out for me.  My one desire was to show them the love of Jesus. 

Did you know that Jesus loves Muslims?  He did before 9/11, and he still does.  We can let our fear or hurt or mistrust build walls between us and the Muslims in our communities, or we can cross the line, extend a hand, and offer the gift of friendship.  It's the only way to reverse the cycle of hatred and revenge.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!