Tag Archives: theology

Faith = Doubt

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Webster’s defines the word “Faith,” as follows:

1a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one’s promises (2): sincerity of intentions 2a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b(1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust 3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction ; especially : a system of religious beliefs

I hadn’t looked up this definition when I started crafting this post in my head. I was hoping against hope that there would be something like the, “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” statement. I was immensely gratified to read it, as it props up my little thesis.

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Near the very end of the last Gospel, in John chapter 20, we find the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the Apostle who wasn’t buying the news that Jesus had been resurrected. He was rational, cool, and frankly, pretty well reasoned in his statements.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Downright reasonable, if you ask me.

A week later, Jesus shows up, and has Thomas go ahead and get a nice, long feel on those scars. Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, ”My Lord and my God!” Jesus, being Jesus, has this awesome little zinger for him.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I haven’t seen Jesus. I haven’t put my hands on his scars. I didn’t see Him forming the foundation of the earth. I don’t know how it will all shake out in an end times scenario. I am not certain that every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, and Democrat will all burn in eternal damnation. I have a sneaking suspicion that God is greater and kinder than our little, offensive value judgements. I have also, in my darkest moments, been terrified that this whole Jesus thing is just a big sham, a human construct to give some meaning to our random, miniscule existence.

But still … I believe.

At the end of the day, I cannot shake the feeling loose that the words and teachings of this Jewish carpenter are not from this world. At the end of the day, I calculate my doubts, and I calculate the evidence, and realize that this equation will simply not balance out, and I take a deep breath, and make a choice to hold some things in a state of unresolved tension, and I simply… believe.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega, said that I will be blessed in the presence of my fully reasonable doubts, for I am a man of faith.

The Christmas Stories: Mark

From Rome, 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ, Mark set ink to paper and began to write down the stories of Jesus’ life, as told and retold by the apostles and evangelists. Relying on the conversations that he had with Peter, as well as on some already existing written and oral records of Christ’s years of ministry, Mark’s gospel holds the distinction of being the first written (… probably).

Mark leaves things out of his gospel that we would expect to see in there. It’s the shortest of the canonical gospels, and reading it leaves you with the sense that it’s more like a companion book than an exhaustive biography.p52 For example, in the most reliable manuscripts, the resurrection account in Mark gets 8 verses, and we see only the angel announcing his resurrection to three of the women among Jesus’ disciples. Huge portions of what we would think of as essential teaching material get left out.

The church that Mark is writing to is a story-telling group. Most of the local gatherings in cities throughout the empire have direct connections to one of the apostles, and would have received their knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus directly from the stories told by the men and women who walked with him. Mark seems to be writing his gospel as a supplement to this tradition of story-telling, as if to say, “You know the stories about Jesus and what he taught us, but here are some of the details that you may not have heard.” In particular, Mark seems to be interested in providing some of the political context for Jesus’ crucifixion.

In keeping with the character of the rest of his book, Mark’s Christmas story is brief. He doesn’t talk about the virgin birth, or Bethlehem, shepherds, or wise men. For Mark, the Advent is a much older story. His gospel is simply this, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came as the Messianic heir of the God’s covenant with Israel”. Here’s how he writes it:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his pathway straight.”’”

Setting aside the theological weight of the gospels for just a second, I am frequently struck by how good these guy were as authors, as word-smiths. Mark does two things in the opening of his gospel that are just plain good writing.

First, Mark uses a very cool turn of phrase in the first line. The closest parallel might be the famous JFK line, “Ask not what your country can do for you.” In JFK’s speech, the word “not” hangs in our ear, because it’s a swinging modifier. It might belong to “ask”, or it might belong to “what”.

ask_not.mp3

In Mark’s opening, the phrase “gospel of Jesus Christ” places both the words “gospel” and “Jesus Christ” in genitive, a case in Greek that is kind of like our possessive apostrophe “s”, but not quite. So, the result is a phrase where both “gospel” and “Jesus Christ” are swinging modifiers, and the reader isn’t sure if the phrase is “This is the gospel that Jesus brings”, or “This is the gospel about Jesus.” Mark probably intends both (called a plenary genitive), something we don’t have good tools to do in English. We might read it as something like this, “This is the good news that Jesus told us about himself.”

It’s clunky in English, but in the Greek it’s elegant, it’s poetic, and it’s deeply theological. For Mark, Jesus is both the source, and the demonstration, of the new truth of God’s covenant with his people.

The second literary technique that Mark uses is this: he sets up a massive historical parallel. The angel of God prepares the way for the nation of Israel to come out of Egypt, travel under the waters of the Red Sea, through the desert, into the covenant kingdom (the Old Testament quotes). John the Baptist prepares the way for the people of Israel to, again, leave their old country behind, be baptized in the Jordan, brought through the desert, and into … and then Mark introduces Jesus. All of the weight of the Old Testament covenant language, that Mark is dredging up with his quotes, comes to rest on the appearance of Jesus in the story.

Mark’s Christmas story, his Advent, is the coming of the hero into the old, old story.

Professor Lee

Today is a big day. A very big day. Huge.

I had an hour-long meeting with Duane Funderburk, Dean of the School of Music at APU. It turns out that the Michael Lee brand of “Amuse and Abuse” teaching is in high demand there.

I’ve been offered a full-time contract. For those of you outside of the academic world, it might be hard to appreciate just how momentous this is. For the school of music to get administrative permission to add new full-time faculty is roughly as difficult as, say, growing a third arm. There are people with graduate degrees from heavy duty schools who having been waiting 10 years for full-time positions to open up. The Dean had to do some pretty deft political maneuvering to get this one; he actually borrowed a contract that belongs to a different position, and is using it for me for this year, while they work on getting final approval for the new expanded position.

We spent most of the hour talking about what my new faculty responsibilities will be. I’m going to continue teaching the Introduction to Music Technology courses, going to expand my teaching in the Master’s of Worship Leadership program, and am going to develop and teach a new Senior level course in Music, Ethics and Spirituality, something I’ve been spending a lot of time on.

About a year and a half ago, Gretchen and I started looking at full-time church positions. I flew out to candidate as some places, and talked with a dozen or so search committees from mega-churches all over the US. Nothing felt right. There were some positions that we felt we could be successful in, but they would fall through, or we would get through a month of conversations, and the church would suddenly decide that I wasn’t the right fit. It was tiring, frustrating, and I emerged from the experience feeling like I had a valuable skill set that nobody seemed interested in making use of.

A few months after the final interview, after we decided that we weren’t going to look at any more church positions, I had my first meeting with Duane, where he proposed the possibility of this full-time position. I remember sitting in that meeting, thinking, “This is it. This is what was waiting for me, why everything I tried to force into place fell through.” I marveled at the providence of God in the midst of my own stubbornness and short-sightedness. I also remember thinking that I could do this for the rest of my life, and be very satisfied.

Here are some of the things that are very cool about this:

I get to go back to school, to get a Doctorate in Music, and they’ll pick up 75% of the tab.

I get to stop writing a $650 check every month to pay for medical insurance for our family.

That thing I do where I dork around in the studio, create music, that whole thing? It’s now officially called “Research”. And releasing the CD is called “Publishing”.

I get an office. With administrative support. And a ficus.

Sophia gets to go to APU for free. Also, Gretchen and I have worked out this thing where we’ll charge you 1/2 of what APU does, then we’ll adopt your kid for 4 years while they go to school. It’s called a “win-win”.

We can buy a house, because for the first time in a long time, we know where we’ll be in 5 years.

I get a free MacBook Pro. The big one.

I get to do music. Everyday. With students who want to learn to do music. With peers who love to teach. In a place that recognizes and values the spiritual dynamic of creative work.

Today is a big day. A very big day. Huge.