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Posts tagged ‘Craig Koester’

Why The Blog Has Been Neglected…

It’s been an entire 2 months since my last post. It’s not because I’ve stopped seeing God in my days, but that I’ve had a new, exciting writing project on the go.

When I left teaching, a real anxiety came up as I wondered, “What am I supposed to be doing now?” For a while I thought I’d be working 1/2 time in teaching, but when that didn’t work out, a window opened for me with a 1/2 time job at my house church, and a lot of that has involved writing.

how-do-i-write-blog-postsI’ve been hard at work writing entries to a new blog, which is launching today. In 2015, Watershed did a study on the book of Revelation, that wacky book at the end of the New Testament which one author has called “off-the-charts weird”. It was such a helpful study for us that we decided to offer a summary of it in a 10-week “online course” called “Rescuing Revelation”. It became my first job assignment, and it’s been a doozy.

I don’t know what your associations are with this book, but it was a source of terror for me growing up. The idea of that Christian would be suctioned up to heaven (with “non-Christians” being left behind) in an event called the “rapture” was introduced to me as a teenager. (For the record, the word or concept of “rapture” is not ever mentioned in the Bible.) The church of my youth showed a 1972 movie called “Thief in the Night,” which showed people suddenly disappearing when Jesus came to get them.

It terrified me! Every time I came home to an empty house, my heart would start to pound as I thought  the rapture had happened and I was left behind. It led me to “asking Jesus into my heart” over and over again, which if you ask me is not a great way to start being someone’s friend! (Luckily we got through that rough start!)

I know I’m not alone in that experience. My heart grieves for others who were ever terrified or led astray like me from the heart of the gospel. The “left behind” theology is so dangerous because God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind.

When we began our course in January, 2015, our first assignment was to listen to the book of Revelation straight through. It was like trying to listen to someone’s really long, bizarre and violent dream, and it wasn’t long before I began tuning out. Honestly, I was dreading the course, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

Like any tricky subject, having a good teacher makes all the difference. And Revelation is definitely a tricky book. You need to know what you’re reading and how to read it. A Lutheran theologian named Craig Koester was our main guide through the course. He has made the study of Revelation one focus of his life’s work, and through “The Great Courses” (which offers university-level video courses), he teaches about it in 24 video sessions. He makes the book clear, engaging and meaningful.

What we learned through the video series, the accompanying book and the guidance of our resident teacher and mentor Paul Patterson, is that Revelation is a call to faithfulness for anyone who is struggling or even seduced by the false powers of the dominant culture. Despite our deep initial reservation, Revelation went from being a book we were slightly embarrassed by into one that became hope engendering and profoundly practical.

Whenever someone has experienced a health conundrum, as I have with headaches, you need something greater than the problem to take you through it. Otherwise a person starts to despair. For me, my assignment of writing about Revelation has been that “something greater”. I had the honor of sifting through all the material again. I listened once more to Koester’s lectures and our rich discussions and began to summarize and synthesize the material. It’s largely how I spent my winter, and I’m still not done. The themes of love and healing in the book helped me maintain my focus and give me a deeper source of hope in God. I truly fell in love with this book as I wrote about it.

If you’d like to take a peek, here’s a link and an invite. The writing is mine and my friend Linda did the technical side of things. We’ll post a new blog entry every Monday for the next 10 weeks. And hopefully it won’t be too long before I write on this blog again.

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Revelation is a book many people would rather ignore. With its violent imagery and a sword-wielding, warrior Jesus who seems straight out of a Hollywood movie, it hardly seems to emulate the “Love thine enemies” Jesus of the gospels.

Besides the skewed reading of the violence, Revelation has also been misused as a crystal ball over the centuries, in a (failed) attempt to predict the end of the world. Christians supposedly get suctioned up to heaven in a strange event called the “rapture”.

So, why should we read the book of Revelation? Read more…

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Summer Reading

Since our kids were little, my friend Bev and I have been taking regular walks together. One of her favorite questions for me is, “What have you been reading?” It’s always fun to describe the books I love to another book lover, and always seems to take the conversation to a deeper level. Books have a way of taking our minds off whatever is worrying us, gently guiding us like a loving and wise friend, to something bigger than ourselves.

Here’s a peak at some of the books that are catching my imagination this summer.

UnknownInside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova — As a teenager, the custodian of my church had a rare disease which made him walk very strangely. He was progressively losing his muscle control, making it look like he was drunk. He had Huntington’s Disease, a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment or cure. What was worse, his children had a 50/50 chance of inheriting it, which some of them did. It is a cruel disease, said to be like having Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and Lou Gehrig’s diseases all at once.

When I heard a CBC radio interview with Lisa Genova about a novel she’d written about this disease, I turned up the volume in the car, remembering our church custodian. Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, has written several books about illnesses and disorders – autism, early onset Alzheimers, brain injury. Still Alice (about Alzheimers) is probably her most famous since it’s been made into a movie.

The book did an excellent job of teaching about this disease through the lives of the O’Briens, a family whose cop father develops the disease. While news of this disease, which some have called the worst disease in the world, shakes the family to the core, it is more deeply a story about courage and love.

P.S. By now I am on my third Lisa Genova book. Still Alice, and Love Anthony are also informative and deeply engaging, building  awareness and compassion and offering hope for all who struggle.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzail — I’d received this book as a gift in 2014, but it sat unread on my shelf for over a year. 51ADCrSbkxL._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-54,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_Then this spring we heard Malala being interviewed (for the second time) by John Stewart on “The Daily Show”. Done the day after the tragic Charleston shootings, the interview was so inspiring that I knew it was time to pick up the book and I’m glad I did.

Malala of course is the girl who stood up for education in Pakistan and was shot by the Taliban in 2012 when she was 15. She was not expected to survive. Now at 18, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and has won the Nobel Peace Prize. She speaks and advocates for education for all.

Reading this book reminded me of how much I take for granted every day: freedom of speech, freedom to get an education, freedom of religion. It opened my eyes to life on the other side of the globe, and to political situations that I usually don’t spend much time trying to understand. I also learned more about the deep and profound truths of the Islam faith.

Something I love to do after I’ve read a memoir (my favorite genre), is to listen to the person speak on the internet. It’s like meeting someone who just became your hero. So I googled “Malala’s United Nations speech” and listened to the speech she gave on her 16th birthday at the annual UN conference. I’d encourage anyone to listen, it is a powerful and moving testament from a humble, loving person who does not sensationalize what happened to her, but who lives and forgives her enemies. She says she is only “one girl among many” whose lives are affected by terrorism. She is one of my heroes.

51O0o9+wVcL._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-54,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_The book of Revelation — Yes, that’s right, that book at the end of the Christian Bible that make people think of the end of the world, apocalypse, and cartoon like crazy monsters and villains.

Instead of taking summers “off”, our tiny church battles hazy lazy summer brain by going full-tilt into study together. Invariably, it ends up being the highlight of the week for us.

We are half-way through a film course from the “Great Courses” series called “Revelation and the End of All Things”, by Craig Koester. I recommend it highly, especially since Revelation is the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book of the Bible. I myself barely knew much about it and I’ve been a Christian all my life. Koester is a teacher who makes the book clear, engaging and meaningful.

It’s been a wild ride so far, and a rich study.  As another author describes it, Revelation is “off-the-charts weird”; definitely not a book to be read literally. (Try to understand what a 200-mile-long river of blood is all about!)

When read as a piece of literature, and understood in its historical and cultural context, it has a lot to say even to us modern readers who are often caught in a world torn with conflict and which tempts us to compromise our deepest values.

What I’m learning through the film, the accompanying book and the guidance of our resident scholar Paul Patterson, is that Revelation is a hopeful book for anyone who is struggling. Far from telling the future, it is a book that tells even us modern readers what to believe in tough times. At the centre of it all is a King who wins the day not by force, but through love which sacrifices and stands with the weak and powerless (think Aslan for fans of the Chronicles of Narnia).

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns — Ok, this book might not be for everyone. But if you’re like me, raised on the Bible and sometimes given interpretations that were not the most Unknown-1helpful, this book is a must-read.

First of all, the book is incredibly funny, not to mention easy-to-read. I kept thinking as I was reading that it was more like a novel in how engaging and page-turning it is. But even though it’s a fun read, it is backed by reliable research.

He is totally honest with how odd, bizarre, contradictory and even violent the Bible often is. What do we do when the Bible doesn’t “behave itself”? (Canaanite genocide anyone?) It’s enough to confuse believers, and I know of many people who have had crisis of faith or just turned away from faith or the church because of this. To help us begin, Enns says, “I believe God wants us to take the Bible seriously, but I don’t believe he wants us to suppress our questions about it.”

What he wants you to know is, relax, it’s ok, there’s a way of understanding the Bible that helps us make sense of it. It’s not a rule book or owner’s manual. It’s a collection of stories, known and passed down by God’s people. It’s a living Word, able to stretch across the centuries and be relevant to us today. But we have to know how to read it, and Enns gives a pretty decent set of tools.

I’d recommend it to people who identify as Christian or are seeking to know more about Christianity. It’s not, as one blogger put it, for the faint of heart. The idea that the Bible isn’t “perfect” can be deeply unsettling for evangelical Christians. Enns argues that in the Bible, God lets his children tell the stories about him (and tell them imperfectly). God is ok with that, and God is also bigger than those stories.

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