Truth is always Stranger

Tertullian once said “I believe because it is absurd”. It is the strangeness of an idea— it’s undeniable texture and inconsistent density— which is a hallmark of its truthfulness, and not the smoothness and consistency of an idea. The old quip that “truth is stranger than fiction” has much in common with Tertullian here. Fictions have smoothness and consistency, clear beginnings and symmetrical endings. But reality makes twists and turns which, while they do not contradict reason, neither can they be predicted by reason. Real things are irreducible, and defy being fully encapsulated in a conceptual system, to be rendered completely predictable, and hence controllable. 


Can Cattle Breeding trigger the Apocalypse?

A friend recently sent me an article with the overblown and click-baity title of "Birth of first red heifer in 2000 years fulfills Bible prophecy and signals end of days". He asked me what I thought about this. In reply, I told him I’m probably the most un-fun Bible scholar to play this game with. 

This absurd article is based on an obscure read of Numbers 19 where it says “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded:  Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. …  This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them.” [verses 1–2, 10] 

Some sects of fundamentalist Christians interpret it this way: Jesus cannot return until the Third Temple is built in Jerusalem; The Third Temple cannot function unless there are Red Heifers to sacrifice there; Therefore if and when a Red Heifer is born, it will trigger the building of the Third Temple, which will trigger the return of Jesus. Don't blame me for the logical holes in this: I'm just reporting what a subsection of a subsection of a subsection of Christians believe. 

Here are some of the many reasons why this interpretation is problematic...


Jesus, the Bible, and Private Property

Recently one of our History classes viewed this video in which Billy Graham makes the claim that “Jesus... taught the value of private property” (start at 5:14 for the whole quote). This seems to be an odd claim for the teachings of Jesus, and it generated quite the class discussion, after which the teacher asked me to make sense of Graham’s claim. 

I’ve actually been reading and thinking about this subject for the last 20+ years, but I’ve never penned anything publicly about it. In that time, I have travelled quite a distance politically and economically. I ended the 1990’s and began the 2000’s as a Christian Libertarian, convinced of the goodness and Divine sanction of the Free Market and its Invisible Hand to find the best solution to all social ills. I fundamentally resonated with George W. Bush’s vision of compassionate conservatism and market based public-private partnerships to do good in the world. 

Two decades later, in the midst of an interminable War on Terror which diverts trillions of dollars to the Military Industrial Complex, after a Bank Bailout that diverted trillions of dollars of public money to private coffers, after Occupy and Bernie Sanders and staggering levels of wealth inequality, as we watch public institutions and civic life desiccated and destroyed by ravenous Global Consumerism, after reading and re-reading and re-re-reading Scripture and Christian Tradition on economics and social justice, I have come to reject the naive Christian Libertarianism I embraced as a 20-something. 

As you may guess by now, I am convinced that the Bible as a whole, and Jesus in particular, do not support the post-enlightenment Capitalist concept of "private" property, in which "goods are irrevocably and unaccountably owned and controlled by the libertarian freedom of atomistic individuals, without connection to a higher duty, social purpose, or larger community".

In fact, to understand Jesus’ teaching on property, we have to look at the whole trajectory of the Bible on these issues. And, in short, the Bible nowhere supports our odd and recently formed concept of “private” property. It may be used to support ownership and property in a very publicly accountable sense, with many responsibilities tied to ownership. But it does not support private ownership unaccountable to other social, ethical, or spiritual responsibilities. 


Pontius Pilate and the inversion of Cynicism

One of the many things that interest me about the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John is how he writes Pilate. Pilate is the epitome of worldly wise, battle hardened, cynical wisdom. His one liners of “What is Truth?” (John 18.38) and “What I have written, I have written” (John 19.22) show us the sardonic gallows humor of a man who doesn’t believe anything anymore, except the power of power to crush and silence. And yet...


Credo: The Story that Reads Us [A Mini-Systemic Theology]

This was originally written in 2006 in partial fulfillment of requirements for Systematic Theology at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. It is fairly representative of my current thought, although in several ways I have built on, or superseded, what is written here. This is especially true in matters dealing with Science, World Religions, and Socio-Economic Justice.

This is the FULL 18,000 word original version that was trimmed to around 10,000 words to be turned in. Note that all endnotes have been removed from this version, due to the limitations of the blog format. However, all sources cited and consulted are found at the end of the essay.

A Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, send forth your Spirit that I may say what needs to be said, in space allowed, and bear witness fully to your Father's Glory and His Story which writes us all. Amen+


Hard Power, Soft Power, and Christ's Kingdom

A sermon for St. Paul's Episcopal Church, based on the readings Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

One of the great pleasures of working as a chaplain in a rigorous college prep environment is that I get to work with young leaders who really think they have a shot at changing the world. They have a kind of "childlike faith" in the possibility of making the world a better place, and a wonderful naivety about their own capacity to bring about that change. 

They have been told repeatedly that the sky is the limit, and they can do anything they put their mind to, if they will just work hard enough. And most of them have not had enough experience with the world yet, to have that beat out of them by life's hard knocks, or slowly drained out of them by life's compromises.

Do you remember what it was like to have that kind of childlike faith that you could change the world? Before you "grew up" and repeatedly failed the same failures, fought the same fights, and argued the same arguments, over and over and over again. Jesus repeatedly praised childlike faith, saying that it was necessary if we wanted to enter into the Kingdom of God. 


When American Politics became Professional Wrestling

Watching American politics seems to me to be much like watching professional wrestling. Back in my childhood, both Hulk Hogan and the Rowdy Roddy Piper (and a whole host of heroes and villains) were all owned and operated by the same World Wrestling Federation. No matter who you root for, or who wins in the ring, the money all goes to the same place. 


Why God feels sorrow and joy

Is God able to truly feel sorrow over our failures? Does God truly rejoice with our successes? Today in Church our lectionary included the text from 1Samuel 15 that "The  Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel". This is a wonderful text which leads into several interesting theological places I have wanted to write about for some time. To get to those places, let's start Biblically. 


The Devil is in the Algorithms

Today I want to deal with a subject that scared us to death as children, that we tend to laugh off as mere superstition when we reach adulthood, but that still haunts us when we experience something truly evil in our lives, or see it on the news. That subject is hinted at as early as Genesis chapter 3, when our first parents were tempted by a sneaky snake in the Garden of Eden, and afterward God gave that snake the ominous warning: "I will put hatred between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; The human will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." [Gen 3.15]


Four Years of Fitness Logging

The last time I blogged about Fitness in 2014, I had just started my journey back to health. I have learned a great deal since then, and figured it was time to share some of that.

I will only toot my own horn if it helps others, so perhaps this will help someone. Today I have logged my meals for 3 years straight, 1095 days in a row, on MyFitnessPal. It would be 4 years in a row, but my Mission Trip in 2015 broke my 1 year streak. In these 4 years, I have gone from 330 lbs to 275 lbs (I still have 25 lbs to go to get to my goal of 250 lbs). With that loss of 55 lbs, I have gained muscle mass, and my 5 rep max lifts are at 285 for bench, 205 for overhead press, 325 for front squat, and 425 for deadlift. And beyond that, I generally feel healthy and energetic and comfortable in my own skin. 

What’s my point in this bragging? My point is that you can do it too. Your goals may be different. They may be running or swimming or CrossFit or whatever. But you can do it, with self discipline that comes from the grace of God. It may not come dramatically or quickly (it sure hasn’t for me), but it will come. I’m a very busy married guy with three active kids and a demanding job. And if I can do it, you can do it. 


The Möbius Strip and The Holy Trinity

The history of discussions about the Holy Trinity is littered with dead analogies and metaphors which fail to do justice to the God they are trying to represent. The hallowed Ice-Water-Steam analogy ends in the heresy of Modalism. Patrick's Three Leaf Clover inevitably leads to Unitarianism. The "mother who is a daughter who is a wife" analogy leads to Modalism yet again, while the analogy of "three men who share a common human nature" leads to Polytheism. The Triangle is too impersonal, whereas Augustine's analogy of Lover-Beloved-Love seems too personal, and makes the Trinity seem to be three separate consciousnesses. We could also heap up "1x1x1=1", or "Thinker-Thinking-Thought", or "Giver-Giving-Gift", or one Person as "Mind-Heart-Will", or one Family as "Father-Mother-Child", on the pile of analogies that are too inaccurate or mundane to be definitive examples of the Trinity.

All fail. All fall apart. None fully conveys, or captures, the Mystery of the Trinity. Like I saw online the other day: The Trinity is a Mystery, not a Puzzle.

And yet. And yet!

The opposite end of over-explaining is under-explaining: The Trinity is a Mystery we cannot understand, so don't even try. Just affirm it and go about your life. Keep calm and don't think too much.

The Trinity grounds Inclusion

To be inclusive, one must have something or someone to include people into. And for that inclusion to be “good” we must include people into something that brings abundant life and full human flourishing. It is not enough to include people into communities or families. Street gangs, prisons, cartels, and Nazis all form strong communities. We must ask what greater good— what God— is served by those communities, and if that God is worthy of worship. That God could be racial identity, profit making, power acquisition, or even some version of “God” itself. But how do you define the God you include people into? 


Is the Letter to the Hebrews adoptionist?

A friend recently asked me if Hebrews 1.1-4 is "adoptionist". Adoptionism is an early Christian heresy which states that Jesus was not fully God and fully human during his entire Earthly life. Rather God "adopted" Jesus as the Son of God at his Baptism, when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and filled him with Divinity. Jesus was then "un-adopted" on the Cross, when he died and gave that Divine Spirit back to the Father. This idea raises serious questions for Incarnational and Trinitarian theology. For instance, God does not become fully and truly human from the womb to the tomb in the Adoptionist scheme. 

Rather, God kind of "joy rides" Jesus of Nazareth for the "good" parts of his life, treating him like a Divine puppet, and then abandoning him at the time of greatest need on the cross. If this is the case, then not all of human life is redeemed and integrated into the life of God, just the "adult part" of life, until life gets hard as we near death. That is not full salvation for humans. And for God, it is not full empathy nor full solidarity with the human situation. For the Incarnation to be real and meaningful, it must include the entire human life, from the womb to the tomb and beyond. Thus, for these and many other reasons, the Church has rightfully rejected Adoptionism.


Praying Psalm 87 for Jerusalem

With the ongoing unrest in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, I have struggled to find a prayer to pray for them. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. Both sides have performed atrocities. Both sides deserve a safe and prosperous place to live. But how to pray through this on any given day is extremely difficult.

So, over the last few years I have found myself praying Psalm 87. It is a beautiful vision of Jerusalem (i.e. Zion in this Psalm), in which the City is the epicenter of God's blessing upon all peoples. Zion is elected by God as the chosen City, that it may draw all peoples into those blessings and bring them a genuine relationship with the Living God. God's election is never an election to privilege, but an election to use one's privilege to share God's blessings with all.


Ascension and Graduation

Jesus said "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as the disciples were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [Acts 1.8-10]

May 10 is the Feast of the Ascension. As a chaplain, this is an incredibly appropriate feast for the end of the school year, since this was Jesus’ graduation. He passed the final exam of the crucifixion with the perfect score of the resurrection. He graduates summa cum laude and immediately climbs the ladder to the highest position in the universe, sitting at the right hand of the Father to direct the work of his Body, the Community of Disciples, and empower them with his Spirit. 


Remembering James Cone

A Poem upon reading James Cone 

It’s always “too soon” to talk about oppression and liberation

The conservative assumption that things should be as they were

During the "good old days" that were so bad for so many

Combines with the liberal assumption that we should not rock the boat

And instead allow change to occur by a million tiny increments

Until we postpone any real change indefinitely into the future of God

So that real change always recedes from before our eyes

Like a cloud

Like a sunset

Like the infinitely deferred hope of the Second Coming

And perhaps not “like”

Perhaps it “is”

It is the infinitely deferred hope of the Second Coming

Infinitely deferred 

By our complicity with death and destruction

By our complicity with oppression and apathy

By our complicity with the Cross and the Lynching Tree. 


How to read the Whole Bible

This year I have student graduating who I have known since he was a precocious 6th grader. He is a young man who has always been skeptical, hovering somewhere between faith and ridicule, atheism and theism, during his entire time at our school. This young man of considerable intellect and intense curiosity recently asked me:

"I am really determined to read the entire bible cover to cover during my summer vacation. However, there seem to be so many choices of translation and I don't know which is better for my purposes. I want a Bible that is closest to the original translation but also full of helpful footnotes explaining things. Do you have any suggestions regarding a good bible? Also, feel free to recommend any companion books to go with it."

And so, this essay was born:


A Meditation on the Lives of the Greats

To truly change the world
One must have bedrock faith
That you are right
(whether as individual or collective)
And everyone else is wrong
That you have insight
And others live an illusion
That you have the cure
For a sick and dying world

This certainty 
Is an irresistible temptation 
(If wrong)
Or an unbearable burden
(If right)
Or in reality
Some inseparable admixture
Of both

So that is why so many of us
(Myself included)
Are content to merely critique the world 
Instead of changing it
So we can register our dissatisfaction
And cast our blame
Without paying the Price
Of change. 


On the Boundaries and Tasks of Ideology and Philosophy

I'm fleshing out some ideas for teaching philosophy next year, and at the beginning of the class I take students through an "Ideological Toolbox", meant to introduce them to the basic tasks and subjects within philosophy. So, below are some notes from me "thinking out loud".

Ideology refers to the symbolic maps we use, as individuals and as a society, to navigate reality and lead us to the realization of our ultimate values. Note that an ideology can come in many forms. Ideology can appeal to a transcendent source, and thus be a form of “Theology”. Or ideology can claim to stay proscribed within empirical reality and present itself as a form of science or psychology or sociology or political philosophy or economics or cultural critique. 


Why I think #deletefacebook is a scam

I think #deletefacebook is a scam. A lot of the motivation and funding and systematized "outrage" for the delete facebook movement in the wake of Facebook's data “breaches” apparently comes from other social media companies who are trying to gain market share, ad traffic, and profit from Facebook users SO THEY CAN DO THE EXACT SAME THINGS WITH YOUR DATA that Facebook is doing. And of course traditional media companies are piling on because news stories about outrage gain market share and ad revenue for them too.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.