Tuesday, February 26, 2008


One of the books that I've read recently is God Was In This Place and I, i Did Not Know... by the great mystical Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. For the next post or two, I'm going to reflect on some of the concepts that he proposes.

About two years ago, I read a book by Terry Esau called Surprise Me. It was basically a journal about his desire to see God in the ordinary experiences of life. He would simply begin each morning by simply praying, "Surprise me, God" and then see what happened. He discovered that, when he was paying attention, he was able to discern the reality that God is constantly on the move and at work in the midst of the ordinary. What I didn't realize was that this concept had already been written about by Kushner. Not that Esau stole the idea or that I believe the rabbi should sue him. On the contrary, Terry Esau's book was instrumental in preparing my mind for eventually finding and understanding Kushner's masterpiece.

Kushner's book is an exhaustive exploration of the scene in Genesis 28 in which Jacob goes to sleep in the wilderness and had a dream involving God and a ladder. He awakens from the dream and exclaims, "Surely God is in this place, and I was not aware of it." The book explores eight different interpretations of the text by eight different Jewish rabbis. While each rabbi gives a completely different interpretation, all of them seem to work in concert with one another to create a rich and flourishing understanding of one single passage that so many of us have never thought twice about. Ultimately, the question we are left with is this: "Has God been in this place all along without my realizing it?"

He goes on explore the significance of the scene in Exodus where God calls Moses from within a burning bush. What Kushner explains is that it must take several minutes for a bush to be fully burned up by fire so for Moses to "see that the bush was not consumed" would have required several moments of simply staring at the bush. He could not have simply glanced at the bush and had this realization. He would have needed to stand still and stare to realize that something odd was indeed taking place. Kushner says this:

“The ‘burning bush’ was not a miracle. It was a test. God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. When Moses did, God spoke. The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep. There is another world, right here within this one, whenever we pay attention" (Kushner 25).

These words are so profound. I wonder how often in our age we miss the fact that there are burning bushes all around us? I wonder what we would see if we would simply pay attention and quietly pray, "Surprise me, God." (in case this is sounding familiar to anyone, I preached a sermon titled "God Was In This Place" back in November. This post is a continuation of that discussion)

Kushner goes on to say this:

"The beginning of knowing about God…is simply paying attention, being fully present where you are, or…waking up. We realize, like Jacob, that we have been asleep. We do not see what is happening all around us. For most of us, most of the time, the lights are on but nobody’s home" (Kushner 26).

This is brilliant to me. Even as I type this, I'm listening to music (it's a cover band called Shaw Blades, if you're curious). When I'm at home, my television is almost always on. When I'm in the car, I've got my Sirius radio. When I've got free time, I read. And regrettably, often when I am in conversation with other people, my mind has moved on to the next thing on my list. While I certainly feel that I've gotten much better in regard to these things in the past few months (since the good rabbi was gracious enough to tell me about this concept), I still feel that I have a long way to go. I need to learn to watch for burning bushes. I'll leave you with one final quote from Rabbi Kushner:

“If God was here, and I didn’t know, then perhaps God has been other places also" (Kushner 27).

Where has God been without my knowing it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Narrative Theology

In January of 2007, I visited Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI for a conference called, "Isn't She Beautiful?" This was a gathering of leaders designed to celebrate and offer hope for the future of the church. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I felt like my eyes were opened for the first time in regard to many concepts and issues that I had never previously considered. The biggest major discovery that I had was that of the concept of Narrative Theology. I attended a breakout session led by a guy named Matt Krick, who is sort of the Narrative Theology guru at Mars Hill and within the first twenty minutes of a 90 minute session, he had completely changed my paradigm forever. I'm going to summarize this concept very succinctly, but if this is something you're actually interested in, there is a brilliant article by NT Wright that treats this concept in a very accessible way.(Click here to read it.)

Basically, the idea is this: While the Bible is a collection of various documents from various parts of history, the finished work is a moving story that exists in multiple stages. NT Wright offers a very helpful illustration: What if archaeologists somehow unearthed a never-before-seen Shakespearean play? It is a masterpiece in five acts. The only caveat is this: The fifth act is incomplete. If this were to happen, scholars would be faced with two options: 1) To preserve the work in a museum or 2) to gather the greatest Shakespearean scholars, writers, actors, and historians together to ask the question, "Understanding what we know about Shakespeare and understanding how the first four acts progress, how would Shakespeare have finished the play?

Wright proposes that with Scripture, we are faced with the same basic structure. He suggests that the Bible is a single narrative that is broken into five acts:
Act 1: Creation (Genesis 1-2)
Act 2: The Fall (Genesis 3-11)
Act 3: Israel (Genesis 12 - Malachi)
Act 4: Jesus (Matthew - John)
Act 5: The Church (Acts-Revelation 20)

As a part of this proposition, we--the Church--are challenged to live as though the Fifth Act were not yet complete. With this understanding, we are to view ourselves as actors who exist within the divine narrative and we may now begin to contribute to this Fifth Act.

In a book titled The Drama of Scripture, Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew suggest that there is, in fact, a Sixth Act that is alluded to in the final two chapters of Revelation in which all things are finally restored.
Again, there is much more that could (and should) be said about this concept, but for the sake of time, I'll leave this as it is. If you're curious about a deeper unfolding of this concept, check out Wright's book The Last Word.

Obligatory Introductory Blog Posting (The "Bob Loblaw Law Blog")

Obviously, you can't start a blog without the obligatory, "Okay, I've decided to start a blog" post.

For about a year, I've been relearning and questioning what I think about everything and why I think it. I've been reading a series of books and taking notes on what I read, but it's still very overwhelming. So, I've decided to blog about some of the findings so that I can gather feedback from other people as I ask questions and continue on this journey of trying to be educated.