Archive for the ‘Study’ Category

The Black Magic Marker

April 26, 2023

Once upon a time there was a guy who, when faced with difficult passages in letters from the Apostle Paul, would say, “Get out your black magic marker and cover over this passage.”

He was joking, of course. As a sort of fundamentalist, he wouldn’t advocate modifying scripture. But he was serious in the sense we all are when we read something in biblical writing with which we disagree. Rather than say “I don’t know” like I mentioned yesterday, we  choose to ignore it. Treat it as if it were non-existent.

At university and for many years following, I disliked the writings of Paul. He was anti-female, anti-gay, anti-sex. He was used by Christian preachers in southern US from before the Revolution to justify slavery. At a time when many of us were upset with the promoted racism and war of our government, he had written Romans 13 about supporting your government (something today’s American fundamentalists also ignore).

One day I said to myself, I don’t know. I took a deep dive into scholarship around his letters gaining some respect and insight into his thought.

It is OK to disagree. Even among ourselves. If we use that as a starting point for “I don’t know” and open ourselves up to deeper revelations.

I’ll leave you with this thought.

We are probably all familiar with the Shema, the Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus quotes it a couple of times—the part about you shall love the lord your God… NT Wright’s study of Paul pointed out what he calls Paul’s Shema. Meditating on this has led to new insights for me:

One God, the Father, from whom all things, and we (belong) to him.

And one Lord, Jesus Messiah, through whom all things, and we (live) through him.

1 Cor 8:6

Searching Diligently

March 30, 2023

My morning chair for meditation and writing faces across a yard. This time of year I begin at dark and continue into the first light of dawn. Just before I can really see much outside, my eyes catch dark shapes flying low across the yard.

It’s the proverbial early bird searching for the worm. Robins have awakened. Soon I will see several hopping or running from spot to spot diligently looking for breakfast—for nourishment.

I should be at the same. Reading, reflection, meditation—diligently looking for food for the soul.

They are driven by basic survival needs—they find food or they die.

What drives us to search diligently for food for the spirit?

What causes us to become complacent and lazy? Can we admit that  sometimes we open today’s devotional or reading and fail to concentrate? Our spiritual energy has come to a low point.

It’s the routine of the chair that helps. We are there. We are aware. We awaken to the need and begin return to the word.

And now we are ready for the day.

Think About What You Read and Hear

March 10, 2023

Here comes a tale of two news sources. I read this week about a “study” done about whether a certain substance found in some artificial sugars could cause cancer. One source published the press release that stated a correlation between the substance and some cancers. The other source looked at the details of the study. It (the study) did not screen out for variables. The results were poorly reported by the researchers and by the media. In effect, one could not draw any worthwhile conclusions from the study.

This happens often. We only get a superficial report of a study. We do not received enough information about the study in order to draw an informed opinion. In fact, most media copy editors are looking for the most hyped headline possible in order to draw readers.

This trend can be found among US Congresspeople and others seeking celebrity. They try to be as outrageous as possible on social media in order to generate more “likes” each of which gives a dopamine hit.

Why do we see so many outright lies by so-called free speech advocates? Well, to generate “likes” from their intended audience (not me).

If you see or hear someone talking about the Bible, please take my advice. Suspend judgement until you can go to the source–the Bible–and research for yourself.

A popular writer in the 70s wrote a book on the letter to the Hebrews from the New Testament. I started to read that book. After a couple of chapters things started sounding a bit weird. So I went back to the beginning and opened my New Testament to the book of Hebrews and started a comparison. It didn’t take long before that book found a dark and dusty spot on my bookcase, and I began to read more honest and reputable works.

People unfortunately cannot all be believed. Think before leaping into unknown territories.


February 27, 2023

I wonder if geese become confused.

It’s northern Illinois in late February. We have warmer days and colder days. The ice on the ponds has melted in spots and remains in spots. Do you wonder what exactly geese see when they are circling above and coming in for a landing at a pond they know well? Have you ever seen them land on the ice and go skidding for several feet?

During my walk, I saw most of the flocks of geese swimming in the open water. There was a couple, though, walking on the water–well, the ice at the other end of the pond. Everyone else was contented. They raised a ruckus with their honking.

Were they confused? Looking for help?

I wondered about our confusion. Perhaps reading something from the Bible or some random spiritual writer. Inevitably we will read something confusing. What is our response?

Do we ignore it and hope it will go away?

Do we think of something we agree with that is similar and just push past that part?

Do we pause? Puzzle over the phrase? Grab our iPhone, go to Safari, search for what other people on the Web have to say?

Perhaps we stop and contemplate for a while. Opening ourselves to God for the spirit to bring us at least a partial enlightenment.

I used to rush through things. I’d try to do many things at once. Then I learned to slow down. Hit the Pause button. Instead of looking for immediate relief from confusion, stopping to think and contemplate.

We can wonder where the water is and honk our fool heads off. Or, we can pause and re-center ourselves and find the open water.

Approaching The Study of the Bible

February 1, 2023

How do we approach the reading of the Bible? Any book, actually, but especially the Bible?

I try not to bring my prejudices and biases to my reading of the Bible; rather, I try to let the Bible speak to my prejudices and biases. At least, that is my goal.

A philosopher called Jacques Derrida thought that we cannot divorce any writing or reading from our prejudices. (Side note: I’ve been forever grateful that I ignored one of my English professor’s invitation to become an English major. They seemingly all became disciples of Derrida, which I am not.)

The early Christians read the Hebrew scriptures carefully and thoroughly. But they were not particularly interested in Jewish history or religion. They searched diligently for any mention of Jesus. Jewish scholars to this day are aghast at the interpretations that arose. But it satisfied the soul of the early Christians at the time.

But I wonder…do I search the Bible for sentences that reinforce my biases and prejudices? Am I searching for what Jesus is saying to me now, in my current situation? Am I searching for universal truth?

I just read through the Proverbs. I found many ideas that spoke clearly to me at this time in my life. I’ve read them before. But now there is perhaps deeper understanding.

I try to pause, open my heart and mind, and then read the thoughts there before me. Maybe that day something will open my eyes just a bit more and give me just a bit more of God’s Wisdom.

Asking More Questions

December 6, 2022

Wisława Szymborska, poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote, “Any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life.”

I’ll admit, I have problems asking questions. On the other hand, I read something, and I wonder about it. Why did the author choose that series of words? What was the point? Wait, doesn’t that remind me of …..?

Too often we read something and stop. We take the words at face value. We don’t try to understand just what the writer was trying to tell us.

Doesn’t this often happen when reading the Bible? Do we assume the tone of the priest reading the Gospel at church? But when we are studying and trying for understanding, it is fair to ask:

Hey Luke, why did you include this story?

John, I don’t understand why you always talk about light and dark?

Paul, why do you use such confusing word plays?

Reading, Writing, Thinking

November 30, 2022

I missed a day here yesterday. I had an outpatient procedure that necessitated leaving home about 5:30 am. I blamed the condition on past workplace stress. More likely it was hereditary given a bit of family history of my brothers. Also likely not as much genetic as growing up in the same household. We had plenty of stress there.

Glad to report that the operation was successful. I can’t praise the people at Advocate Sherman hospital enough from the receptionist to the nurses, doctors and support staff. By the time I got home yesterday early afternoon, my LiveWell app had been updated with all the blood test results, the results of the procedure, and the surgeon’s notes and commentary. Crazy good.

This sort of technology and follow up would be fantastic for service calls in my other job relative to manufacturing. Or even the service person who comes to your house. There’s the good side of technology when it’s a servant. Then there’s the bad side (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

This morning at 5:30 felt good. Back in the saddle. 

I read many thinkers and writers. Never stop learning. This thought came from Paul Graham’s monthly newsletter.

You can’t think well without writing well, and you can’t write well without reading well. And I mean that last “well” in both senses. You have to be good at reading, and read good things. By “good at reading” I don’t mean good at the mechanics of reading. You don’t have to be good at extracting words from the page so much as extracting meaning from the words.

Most people I read consider writing as part of thinking. To me, it’s core to education. They need to do more of it at least from middle school through grad school. I often begin with an idea that came from observation or reading then begin to write. Bless computers—it’s easier to backspace and begin again than cross out and re-write.

It’s a practice. It can be a spiritual practice. Read, observe, think. Begin to write. As you sort out your thoughts, you’ll find new wisdom percolating. You might even change your mind on some things through thinking rather than reacting. I know I have. Even (especially?) through somewhat critical comments.

Make The Text Part of Your Life

November 7, 2022

I was one of those lucky/unlucky kids to whom things came easily–well intellectual things, definitely not athletic ones. I earned straight As–until I didn’t. The unlucky part is that I didn’t learn how to study until well into university. And even then, that was baby steps. I learned about learning the hard way.

I had read Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor famous for his Meditations. Ryan Holiday has made a career out of popularizing the Stoics and especially Marcus. He stated in a recent Daily Stoic, “It’s not about skimming a couple thousand books. It’s not about “getting the gist of it,” as Marcus derided. It’s about making it a part of your life and your mind. It’s about lingering and digesting until it takes firm hold, never to be dislodged.”

Ah, the secret. read it until it’s part of your life. Don’t read the New Testament one and done. We can’t skim the letters of Paul and think we are experts and know how to live. I’d suggest reading the letter of James. Repeatedly. Until those words are not words but the very fiber of your life. Think before you speak. Love all the people, not only the rich. Listen.

It’s not simply memorization. We all know many people who can quote vast quantities of the Bible yet have lives of bitterness and hate. I like the metaphor of the tea ceremony. Infusing the leaves into boiling water until the goodness of the tea permeates every molecule in the pot.

Making Words Fit Our Attitude

October 28, 2022

Procrustes, a character in an ancient Greek story, had an obsession with making things fit his prior concept. He had a bed for guests. If a guest was too short to fit the bed exactly, he would have the guest stretched. If the guest were too tall, he’d cut the legs of the guest until he fit the bed.

We do that with concepts. We have an idea about what the Bible should say. Who knows how we ever came up with that notion, but it exists. And then we read the Bible. We try to stretch or chop the words in order to make them fit our preconceived ideas of what they should say.

Beware the Procrustean Bed when reading Scriptural text–or anything, for that matter.

Searching The Scriptures For God

July 26, 2022

The first generation of Jesus-followers passionately scoured the Hebrew scriptures, not looking for rules to regulate their lives and the lives of everyone around them, but for all the signs of Jesus they could find.

They were trying to find Jesus in the scriptures.

When we go to the scriptures, what are we looking for?

Rules to impose on others–and maybe ourselves if it’s convenient?


I suggest the best use of our time and energy searching through the Bible lies in discovering God and Jesus and the Spirit. Open the words and hear God speak to you.