Doing church….

first century churchI realize it’s been a while since we’ve tried to get organized and do anything together.  It’s not you, it’s me.  All we’ve wanted these past few years out of a community was to find a group of people who looked like the picture of the church we see in the first century, a healthy blend of loving, apocalyptic, apostolic, persecuted, worshiping, liturgical, disorganized starry eyed believers.  They’re not  necessarily a group of people I’d feel really comfortable being around for an extended period of time, me with my 21st century American privileged lackadaisical attitude towards spiritual matters with a proclivity towards personal comfort and privacy.  Its not that the churches around here are wrong, there is some really extraordinary ministry going on, and there’s some of them whom we love deeply and already have great relationships with.  But, especially after the arrival of our daughter, I’ve been very picky about what I want to see modeled for her, and what I want her to experience is something as close as we can get to what we read about in the book of Acts, a first century church experience.  Personally, I prescribe to the theory that nothing significant happens to a person developmentally after the age of four, and if thats the case I’ve really felt like we had to get on the ball and find the right place for Séraphine before we miss that window.  Our list of demands is exhaustive and exhausting, and tends to fluctuate from week to week about what is really important, and as we’ve traveled and visited an extraordinary cross section of churches, small groups, Bible studies, fellowships, missional communities, and the like, we’ve seen nearly the same template in place in each.  Once again, I reiterate, it’s not that the 21st century church model is wrong, it just doesnt resemble anything that I see demonstrated in the documents we have describing the Church in the first century.  That ragtag group of multicultural hunted families with their revolutionary beliefs who met in each others homes, shared meals, and provided for each other, prayed for miraculous outcomes, and saw their monumental faith rewarded didn’t have a building with a lighted marquee, electrified bands on stage with amplified preachers, youth group leaders, “worship” teams, boards of directors, powerpoint presentations, and a “big show” on Sunday mornings.  The first century church had what I want, an authentic relationship with the maker of the universe, and a peculiar notion that the empire they resided in was not their home.  Maybe i’ll find that at one of the mega churches popping up like Starbuck across the street from every McDonalds, but there are a lot more of them i’ll need to visit first.  Until then, I might have to just try and do it myself, as flawed and disorganized as I am.  So we’ll meet again this Sunday, May 10 from 1:00pm to 2 pm at the Nature Park on 270 1220 Egret Bay Blvd., N., League City, TX 77573, and we’ll have the opportunity to do it all wrong together.

Unicorns?

Unicorns in the BibleWhat? Unicorns in the Bible? Yes, they are mentioned nine times.

Could it be unicorns really existed?

A 1967 hit song by the Irish Rovers tells a fanciful story of how Noah couldn’t persuade any “silly” unicorns to get on board the Ark since they wanted to play in the rain.

But, what does the Bible say about the antediluvian days? Were there really unicorns in the Bible?

The word “unicorn” appears in the King James Version nine times – in Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9,10, Psalms 22:21, 29:6 and 92:10 and in Isaiah 34:7.

What was this biblical unicorn? And why don’t later translations of the Bible contain the word?

Numbers 23:22 in the King James Version reads: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”
However, the New International Version says: “God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.”
The New American Standard Bible reads: “God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”
And the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible says: “God hath brought him out of Egypt, whose strength is like to the rhinoceros.”
Well, which is it? Unicorn? Ox? Or rhino?
The original Hebrew is the word re’em. What was a re’em? Scholars cannot agree. In the late Jewish author and skeptic Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, he offers this:

“The Hebrew word represented in the King James Version by ‘unicorn’ is re’em, which undoubtedly refers to the wild ox (an urus or an aurochs) which is ancestral to the domesticated cattle of today. Re’em still flourished in early historical times and a few existed into modern times, although it is now extinct. It was a dangerous creature of great strength and was similar in form and temperament to Asian water buffaloes.”

Biblical scholar Bert Thompson, Ph.D., agrees. “When the first Greek translation of the Bible was prepared about 250 B.C., the re’em was already rare in the long-settled areas of the Near East. The Greeks, who had no direct experience with it, had no word for it.”

So, in their Septuagint translation of the Hebrew, they used the Greek word monokeros, which means “one-horned.” When the Bible was translated into Latin by St. Jerome, he used the Latin word unicornis — which means “one-horned” – but does not necessarily mean a horse with a single horn.

In 1611, rather than speculate, the King James Version scholars just made up a new English word ”unicorn,” in the Bible rather as they did with baptismo, Greek for full-water immersion. In that case, rather than offend King James I, who had been sprinkled, they invented a new English word, “baptism” which could mean “sprinkled, poured or immersed.”

“Some people claim the Bible is a book of fairy tales because it mentions unicorns,” writes Bible scholar Dr. Elizabeth Mitchel. “However, the biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. The Bible refers to the unicorn in the context of familiar animals, such as peacocks, lambs, lions, bullocks, goats, donkeys, horses, dogs, eagles, and calves (Job 39:9-12.1).

“In Job 38-41, God reminded Job of the characteristics of a variety of impressive animals He had created, showing Job that God was far above man in power and strength.

“God points out in Job 39:9–12 that the unicorn, ‘whose strength is great,’ is useless for agricultural work, refusing to serve man or “harrow (plow) the valley.”

That might explain why some translators believe that the Hebrew word “re’em” actually was describing a rhinoceros — an incredibly moody and unpredictable animal that, unlike buffaloes, elephants or horses, defied any domestication.

“Modern readers have trouble with the unicorns in the Bible because we forget that a single-horned feature is not uncommon,” writes Dr. Mitchel.

She points out the rhinoceros has one horn. But so does the swordfish.

So does the rhinoceros beetle and the narwhal, is a marine arctic relative of the dolphin.

But the bottom line is that we just don’t know what kind of animal the re’em was.

“The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence,” notes Dr. Mitchel. “Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.”

Archeologist Austen Henry Layard, in his 1849 book Nineveh and Its Remains, sketched a single-horned creature from an obelisk in company with two-horned bovine animals. He identified the single-horned animal as an Indian rhinoceros. The biblical unicorn could have been one of those.

“Assyrian archaeology provides another possible solution to the unicorn identity crisis,” writes Dr. Thompson. “The biblical unicorn could have been an aurochs (a kind of wild ox known to the Assyrians as a rimu). ”

Humans fighting rimus was a popular sport for Assyrian kings. On a broken obelisk, for instance, King Tiglath-Pileser I boasted of slaying rimus in the Lebanon mountains.

Extinct since about 1627, aurochs were huge bovine creatures. Julius Caesar described them in his account of the Gallic Wars as: “a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull.

“Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast. Not even when taken very young can they be tamed.”

There is an account of a 1791 unicorn hunt in Africa, recorded in the 1832 revised edition of Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible, edited by Edward Robinson. He wrote:

“Dr. Sparrmann, the Swedish naturalist, who visited the cape of Good Hope and the adjacent regions, in the years 1772-1776, gives, in his travels, the following account: Jacob Kock, who had traveled over the greater part of Southern Africa, found on the face of a perpendicular rock a drawing made by the Hottentots, representing a quadruped with one horn.”

“Hottentots” referred to African bushmen who live in South Africa’s Kalihari Desert. They reportedly told Dr. Sparrmann that the animal was “very much like the horse on which he rode, but had a straight horn upon the forehead. They added, that these one-horned animals were rare, that they ran with great rapidity, and were also very fierce.”

Robinson goes on to say that a “somewhat more definite account of a similar animal is contained in the Transactions of the Zealand Academy of Sciences at Flushing (published 1792). The account was transmitted to the society in 1791, from the Cape of Good Hope, by Mr. Henry Cloete.

“This animal resembled a horse, and was of a light-gray color, with white stripes under the lower jaw. It had a single horn, directly in front, as long as one’s arm and at the base about as thick. Towards the middle the horn was somewhat flattened, but had a sharp point; it was not attached to the bone of the forehead, but fixed only in the skin.

“The head was like that of the horse, and the size also about the same. The hoofs were round, like those of a horse, but divided below, like those of oxen. This remarkable animal was shot between Table Mountain and Hippopotamus River, about sixteen days’ journey on horseback from Cambedo, which would be about a month’s journey in ox-wagons from Capetown.

“Mr. Cloete mentions, that several different natives and Hottentots testify to the existence of a similar animal with one horn, of which they profess to have seen drawings by hundreds. He supposes that it would not be difficult to obtain one of these animals, if desired. His letter is dated at the Cape, April 8, 1791.”

In the Book of Job, God’s list of impressive animals goes on to discuss peacocks, ostriches, horses, hawks, and eagles. God builds up to a crescendo, commanding Job to look at the behemoth (Job 40:15). The behemoth’s description seems to match that several species of dinosaur.

The list concludes with the leviathan, a powerful sea creature.

So, are unicorns in the Bible really mentioned?

Yes. The King James Version uses the term nine times.

Were they horses with single horns coming out of their foreheads?

Probably not.

But the fact is we really don’t know — and neither did the translators.

a brief Self Righteous history

a couple years back, Alicia and I toiled at Anchor Baptist church in Kemah as “worship leaders” which I guess is how you say ‘musician’ in the modern sacred vernacular, frustrated with our attempts to bring our friends into contact with Christ through the “traditional” (read 20th century American) church model. That missional minded loving and relational evangelism stuff worked just fine up to a certain point-but when it came time for our fresh doey eyed disciples to ask about attending church with us we would always involuntarily cringe. We never knew when our pastor (intelligent and loving fellow though he was) would launch into some hard core Republican rhetoric or Zionist or anti Catholic ranting mixed in with his teachings from the gospels. Bringing folks to visit church with us frequently seemed to alienate both our friends and sometimes our yoke-fellows at Anchor as the loud tattooed foul-mouthed beer swilling biker smoking at our annual “friends of policeman” crawfish boil made for quite the spectacle. We wanted some safe haven where we could bring seekers to introduce them to the body of Christ, not the appearance of a sterile superficial edifice to further entrench their beliefs that all christians are Republican right wing conservative self-righteous hypocrites, and so when Anchor Baptist folded (as many small congregations today are wont to do) we decided to strike out on our own and try and create the church we so desperately wanted to attend. So now we meet in parks, coffee shops, and music studios- late in the afternoons on Sundays or Mondays, with small numbers of people, and try and keep it as close to authentic first century Christianity as we can muster. Minus the beheadings and the public burnings of course, hey lots of popular things suck, I’m not arguing with that. But there’s no reason to be smug and pat yourself on the back for hating a popular thing, whether it sucks or not.

Whats wrong with hypocrisy anyway?

Jesus Mask

Hypocrisy gets a bad rap sometimes

I get asked a lot “why do you call your group ‘that’?” referring no doubt to our inglorious epitaph, and like so many other things which are beautiful and true the reasons are multi-layered and complex. On the face of it, I think I just wanted something that stood out, to everybody. Nearly every street corner and shopping center has a “Grace” or “Peace Community” or “Faith Word Assembly of Wah Wah” or whatever, and although those names can certainly be very uplifting I wanted something that would lodge in the conscience a bit more, something that would perhaps seem a little offensive or preposterous and sensational. Secondly there is truth in advertising, if a majority of people believe that christianity is made up almost exclusively of self-righteous hypocrites then why not take the liberty of applying a little bona fide candor and let the public know exactly who’s getting together when we meet. Sure sometimes each of us take ourselves a little too seriously, and we’ve all slipped up and been a bit legalistic in one area or another and then fallen all over ourselves-seccumbing to exactly the fault we saw so clearly in another. But mainly, I think that the term ‘hypocrite’ is probably most aptly applied to christians who, though struggling in their faith, are genuinely seeking after godliness. Why? The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “Jealous” “play-acting”, or “acting out”, and is associated with the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun meaning “judgment” »κριτική (kritiki), “critics”) presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment. These masked actors would take on a role, and disguise themselves-burying their own personalities under this fictitious persona, and for the christian this is especially true. When we are ‘in’ Christ we arent instantly whisked away to glory to revel in the clouds in the presence of the Most High, but we remain here in the corporeal world and withstand the constant fevers and trials of living in our flesh while yet we are occupied by the Holy Spirit. Desiring perfection and godliness, we continue to fall into sin after sin, capitulating to the tragic frailties which our bodies are heirs to. And yet, when the Father looks upon one of these crippled creatures, He no longer sees the broken mass of seething desire and avarice we were physically born to-but under the sheltering cloak of the blood of His Son he sees Jesus in all of His perfection and glory. What greater mask to wear that that of the Maker of the Universe, what greater role to play than the Redeemer and Sustainer of mankind? Not that we are pretending to be something that we don’t believe, but given time our very features may begin to resemble those of the perfect costume we have affected, and the ‘persona’ of Jesus will be evident in our lives through our love, peace, and grace.

Children of the night

20111125-231034.jpgTwentieth-century mystic Simone Weil wrote, “Affliction compels us to recognize as real what we do not think possible.” my mind boggles at the popularity of the “Twilight” series of novels and films, although I am certainly not their target demographic, still I wonder at our ongoing fascination with vampires, werewolves, zombies and other “supernatural” monsters from the pages of history. Dwelling on this at length, I am inclined to believe that perhaps our modern enlightened age has stripped away so many of the things we used to fear in the dark recesses of our own unconscious minds, and our contemporary goddess “Reason” has left us all yearning for a simpler time with simpler monsters. Today, we look out of our comfortable ring of man-made firelight, the pitiful flickering barely illuminating our primative mud dwellings, and out in the darkness-but for the grace of God-there we ourselves lurk shambling in the night. Perhaps Edward the vampire is more comfortable than that after all…

I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks nearly crippled with a persistent and tenacious attack by my old nemesis, gout. True, it’s given me a lot of time to lay around in bed and read, play mindless games on my iDevice, fart around on the interwebs, and have a reason to limp around with a pimp cane- plus I’m always grateful for some excuse or other to be anti-social but I’m really beginning to get a little fed up with the whole experience and am really frantically awaiting the day when I can once again easily walk up and down the stairs. Yeah, the pain and swelling are pretty bad, but for me the worst part is having to explain my condition to those well meaning individuals I seem to keep coming into contact with on my few hobbling escapades outside of my apartment. Nobody outside of a handful of Rheumatologists actually understand the causes of gout, and I’m beginning to suspect that they don’t really have much of a handle on it either. The medieval explanation of “perhaps a toad or small dwarf has taken up residence in your innards” sounds entirely plausible sometimes, and is certainly easier to explain than the more complex truth as it appears that most people already have it in their heads that I’ve obviously been eating too many rich foods and if I simply cut back on the Brie and Chateaux De Chatterley a bit I wouldn’t have to undergo my current trials. That’s the real trial for me, not judging people (myself included) for their personal misconceptions about the causes and nature of my rather debilitating disease, it’s so easy for me to fall into anger and respond sarcastically when I should be taking this unique opportunity to educate and explain. I am also in a wonderful position to show people a man who revels in the chance to share in sufferings of Christ, and be joyful despite my circumstances. Paul Miki, a martyr of Japan, said, “My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.” At First Self Righteous Church of the Hypocrite’s meeting tomorrow at 6 pm Monday October 24th at the Starbucks in League City (2800 Marina Bay Dr. League City, TX 775732957) we will wrestle with these concepts together, and perhaps enjoy a caramel macchiato together. Can’t hurt (or can it!?!?!)

#JesusMessiah

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just put Jesus on autofollow, kick back, get out of the way, and let all the hard choices and temptations become victories? In some ways I guess that’s part of what the Holy Spirit does, He is the Father’s personal twitter feed ticking away in the foreground (or more regularly the background) of our conscious daily activities, and we have been granted the freedom to be able to listen in to those tiny bursts of divine advice or not- frequently to our peril. I wonder how many times I have ignored that still, small voice in my mind warning me of impending trouble, and yet ploughed headlong into some madness or other, recklessly abandoning whatever sound spiritual advice I was being served. But I suppose that’s the ultimate cost of freedom, to be given the choice to do things our way or Jesus’ way, thank God for the wisdom He imparts to know the difference, and the measure of grace extended to us when we fail.