Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I say I'm changed.
Ironing out one's deepest wrinkles
Isn't strange."

Perhaps gone on.
Those wanderlusting feelings
Once so strong."

Horizon's clear.
I see where I must go
While standing here."

That helps me cope.
Even though I've started down
The dark and dusty slope."

To not look back.
In longing or in anger
And get off track."

Not a possessor.
By a Spirit not my own
I'm made confessor."

Not a consumer.
There's room for growth
In a late bloomer."

But for the better.
The Giver has tranformed
A greedy getter."

In short----
Spotless leopards can adapt
Old dog saying isn't apt.

For my Father on his 90th birthday-- May 31 2006

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Obsolete Truth-- Truth in the Ruins

İ have been pondering something for a while on this trip as İ have visited one archaeological site after another. Here we find facts, hard realities in the ground which of course can be subject to various interpretations. Nevertheless we are dealing with tangible realities which my opinions do not change. When a person ıs well grounded ın history and in its handmaiden archaeology one is used to thinking about immutable truth, truth that is unchanging and unchanged by the passing of time. Such truth is not changed by the vicissitudes or changing tides of human opinion. Such truth can be discovered and explained but it cannot be invented. Like an archaeological find it has a stubborn tangible reality that persists whether İ like it or not, whether İ believe it or not.

But what of those who have grown up in the 'computer age'? They have grown used to several intertwined ideas shaping their thinking about a big concept like truth. One of these is that all things eventually become obsolete and irrelevant. With the constant turnover of technology this is not a surprising idea. One just assumes that the idea applies to truth as well-- such a person may say 'it may be true but it is no longer relevant.' In other words they conjure with a concept of obsolete truth.

The second guiding assumption ıs that 'the new is the true, and the latest is the greatest.' One judges all reality on the basis of the evident fact of technological progress, and thus assumes that all reality is lıke that. Of course we could talk about the myth of progress. I am mindful of the Air Force commander who said during the cold war that we are scientific giants but moral midgets. Teilihard de Chardin had some interesting things to say about this as he attempted to integrate Christian truth with the scientific era and presuppositions.

Suppose then that theological and ethical truth is one thing-- something that does not change and ıs inherently relevant (though we undoubtedly need to display, not prove its relevance), and the technologıcal revolution quite another? Suppose Biblical truth is more like those rocks in the ground that İ keep tripping over on these wonderful archaelogical sites? Suppose they cannot be reduced to nothing by our cries for relevance or our grasp of technological progress? Suppose they are stubborn realities waiting to be dıscovered and examined? İ suspect that if the church could once grasp thıs fact,or truth, it mıght change the way we attempt to communicate the Gospel to a lost world.

I was staring at a grave stele yesterday here ın Manissa ın Turkey. İt had a pıcture of various persons standing up and pledging allegiance to the unchanging virtues of 'theosebeıa' and 'dıkaıa'--- pıety and rıghteousness or justice. I think they were on to something. There are indeed truths that do not become obsolete due to the changing of time and tide and life situation. And long before personal computers T.S. Eliot had it right when he asked--- 'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge, and the knowledge we have lost in mere informatıon?' It is still a crcuial question. Can we really afford to indulge the myth that the more information we have access to, the more we actually know or understand and therefore the wiser we must be? This is a prevalent notion these days, and İ might add, a false one. Discovering truth requires digging not just downloading, it requires pondering not just printing out, and for it to make a difference in one's life it requires embracing not just understanding. The Word does not become flesh in us just because we are ın close proximity to it or have ready access to it.

Think on these things.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Turkish Delight

So here I am ın Turkey mındıng my own business near the Syrian border and checking out Antioch and there ıt ıs-- the Davincı Code billboard advertising the movie.Its omnipresent apparently. Off to Singapore next to speak to the World Council of Churches on this subject at the beginning of next week. But İ dıgress.

Turkey ıs one of the most fabulous countries ın the world for Bıbliophiles like myself and Antioch and Tarsus turned up some new insights. You wıll remember Edmunds affinity for Turkish Delıght ın 'The Lion...etc.' Well guess what the Turkish word for lion ıs--- ASLAN! I am not kıddıng. Seems Lewis was encoding some Turkish clues ın hıs children stories that even Robert Langdon would miss.

I have tıme for one ıtem of note. I visited the ruins of the monastery of Simon Stylites just outside Antioch. What a huge place ıt was with three churches and a monastery cloıster and of course the famous column on whıch Sımon sat on the top of between 541 and 592--- yes for over half of hıs long lıfe. And thıs one act of ascetical wıtness drew hundreds of Christians to come found these churches hıgh on thıs mountain overlookıng Syria. It reminded me of the Gospel saying-- 'If I be lifted up I will draw all persons to me.' Sımon decided he had best literally follow Jesus word and as bızarre as ıt may sound he became a beacon that drew many Christians to hım and to a deeper walk wıth God. Lest we thınk this was pure exhibıtionism I would urge you to try and sit on top of a stone column for even an hour--- thıs was an act of ascetical athleticism deserving of the Guinness Book of world records. It leads me to ask a question-- are we also willıng to be fools for Christ ıf that ıs what he asks of us or ıs it beneath our dignity?

One thing for sure--- Simons age did not suffer from our myths that the new must be true and the latest must be the greatest. His was an age that believed that truth ıs something that stands the test of time and can be visibly demonstrated even by sitting on a pole for an impossible number of years.

On to Smyrna and then Sıngapore--- more anon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Da Vinci Code-- the Movie: "So Dark the Con of Man"

Ron Howard's two hour and 29 minute adaptation of Dan Brown's mega-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code" has now hit the big screen to mostly negative reviews (see Having read some thirty criticisms of the movie I was prepared for this movie to be a bomb. Actually, its not. It stands up rather well as a suspensful movie, and it is not the case that there are long boring discussions of ancient lore in this movie.

In fact there is only one major debate or discussion in the movie where Leigh Teabing disputes the traditional interpretations about Jesus' divinity and insists he was married and had children, things which Robert Langdon takes some objection to, calling them just theories, and a rearranging of the facts to suit such theories. Those looking for major discussions about the Gospel of Philip or Mary should abandon hope. They are only really mentioned in one scene and are not given much play at all. Nor is the theory that Constantine invented Christianity and imposed it on the Empire really given the time of day either. This is in fact disputed by Langdon in the movie. Ron Howard seems to have had enough sense to know when enough is enough. The story is much more about Opus Dei vs. the mythical Priory of Sion, one seeking to suppress the truth about Jesus' marriage and offspring, the other vowed to protect the secret and protect Jesus' descendents. Nor are we regaled with long problematic assertions about the Divine Feminine, though the subject comes up. though infrequently in the movie.

For those who have not read the book, or much if anything about Opus Dei, this movie will raise more questions than it answers. My son, who has not read the novel, went with us to the movie and he felt there was not nearly enough explanation of who they were and why they were so concerned about Mary Magdalene. The movie, like the book, of course exploits the fact that there have indeed been cover-ups in church history, and indeed there have been lives taken to protect some alleged dangerous secrets. More than Jesus or the canon being on trial in this movie, it is rather mainly the Roman Catholic Church, its asceticism, and its passion mysticism that is on trial here, with the albino monk of Opus Dei representing all that is loathsome about religious fanatics, especially those who are mentally unstable.

In a surprise at the end of the movie Langdon tells the story of how he prayed to Jesus to be rescued from a fall into a well, and of course he lived to tell the tale, though the adult Langdon is prepared to settle for a Jesus who merely inspires good things in others. Jesus is not the adversary here, though his divinity is denied by Teabing. What is missing of course in the whole discussion is the fact that Jesus' full humanity is in no way a threat to his divinity. Indeed even if he was married this need not have been problematic for a belief in his divinity.

Audrey Tatou's portrayal of Sophie Nouveau is well done. She does indeed come across as a woman with secrets and a troubling upbringing which she has tried to repress and overcome. And Tom Hanks though be starts off in rather Stoic or wooden fashion is believable as a professorial type not apt to willingly become the hero of a conspiracy or murder investigation. Paul Bettany as the mad monk Silas is positively demonic in some scenes and repulsive in his self-flagellating mode as well. Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf) is marvelous as the mad hatter Teabing, and the supporting cast is good as well. Han's Zimmer's score is well done (cf. the Gladiator score) which preserves an air of forboding and brooding darkness throughout the film. It adds to the ambiance of the film.

This is a dark movie, but the "con of man" in this movie is not one perpetrated by the church about Jesus and his real nature, but rather one foisted on a Biblically illiterate public large numbers of which seem naive enough to believe the hysterical fiction in Brown's novel. It is a good thing that various critics, and to his credit Tom Hanks as well, have seen through this ruse. Hanks plays his role with one eyebrow raised most of the time--- good for him. This movie will still raise some other eyebrows as well, and raise some questions about the truthfulness of the church about its heritage. It is my hope that this will lead to candid discussion about the real Jesus, and the real story about what the early church believed about his humanity and divinity, long before Constantine was ever born. Surprisingly enough at my advance showing, the house was not even full. Nor was there much reaction from the audience at all, and hardly any applause at the end. This is not your typical fun summer thriller. It is too dark for that, but it may at least raise some interesting questions for those really trying to puzzle out the religious mysteries involved.


This movie is not appropriate to bring: 1) young children to-- the violence and self-flaggelations scenes involving Silas the monk are too much for the young; 2) likewise this movie is going to raise numerous questions for people not well grounded in their faith, especially those of Roman Catholic background. I am not urging them to see it either. 3) Those who know the Bible, but not much about church history (including modern church history-- e.g. what is Opus Dei) are not going to be able to dialogue with the inquisitive about this movie very well since it is more about church history than it is about anything in the Bible itself. In particular those who know little or nothing about the Council of Nicea, the mythical Priory of Sion, the Gnostic Gospels, or the formation of the canon will be ill-prepared for the discussions this movie may raise. It would be better to do a little homework before or after seeing this movie if one wants to use it to have a dialogue about the Christian faith with Da Vinci Code fans. 4) there are certainly some things in this movie, especially those that come out of the mouth of Teabing, and some of the actions of the Catholic bishop and his lacky the monk which any Christian should and will find disturbing. There is really not a single positive portrayal of a devout Christian in this movie, and that in itself is disturbing in a movie that is so much about the history of Christianity. Christian audiences therefore should be cautious, and come prepared to thinking critically about the movie if you go.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Vinci Code Movie Falls Flat-- the Early Returns

Maybe Ronnie Howard has done us all a favor. The early pre-screening reviews of the critics are out--- and they are all negative. All of them. In fact, on the tomato meter it gets a 0%. I am sure this will change, but 0% from the first 7-8 major reviews is lower than dirt, lower than "RV", the lowest in living memory. Furthermore, the reviewers could hardly be accused of religious bias. They range from the lead reviewer for Variety, to the lead reviewer for Hollywood Reporter and so on. You will find them at I must say-- I am stunned. I didn't really think Ron Howard, Akiva Goldman and Tom Hanks could come up with a tedious and boring movie--- but that is what the reviews all say. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ossuary Rises from the Patina Dust-- the Latest Bombshell

Hershel Shanks and BAR are now reporting that we have further, and perhaps definitive confirmation of the authenticity of the inscription on the James ossuary from one of Europe's leading micro-biologists. The article on the report which you will find the verbatim of below, shows the profound and clear flaws in the IAA report. It speaks for itself.


Update—Finds or Fakes?

Forgery Bombshell

May 16, 2006

The ossuary inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" has recently been studied by Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, a world-renowned authority. He has reached startling conclusions that will change the debate over this highly controversial artifact. Printed below is a summary of Professor Krumbein's report; click the following links for the full text of the report and the accompanying photographs.


As this is being written, Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan is being tried in criminal court for forging the now-famous James ossuary inscription ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"). A new report by a leading German scientist, however, may blow the case out of the water.

According to Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, of Oldenburg University, Germany, a well-known expert in geology, geochemistry and microbiology, "We can state with certainty that a period of 50-100 years, at least, was necessary for the formation of the specific composition of patina whose traces were identified inside the ossuary inscription."

Krumbein also examined the patina on the ossuary far from the inscription. His conclusion:

"Patina sampled from the surface of the ossuary, far away from the inscription, was found to be identical to the microscopic traces of patina, which I found inside the ossuary inscription and sites sloping from the surface into the inscription grooves (and no indication of any kind was found of any adhesive on this patina). Therefore, we must conclude that the patina formed over the entire ossuary and the remains of patina in the inscription area were formed over the same period of time."

What about the examination and reports by Tel Aviv University Professor Yuval Goren and his colleague Avner Ayalon of the Geological Survey of Israel on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), concluding without doubt that the inscription is a modern forgery?

Professor Krumbein directly addresses their reports:

"The conclusions noted in the reports by Goren, Ayalon and their colleagues, originate from a series of errors, biases, mistaken premises, use of inappropriate methodology, mistaken geochemistry, defective error control, reliance on unconfirmed data, disregard of information (such as the cleaning and preservation actions performed [on the ossuary], and the use of a comparative isotope methodology despite the fact that the [James ossuary] inscription fail[s] to meet the cumulative prerequisite conditions for such tests and comparisons." Each charge is documented in detail in Krumbein's report.

Professor Krumbein is considered one of the world's leading experts on stone chemistry and biology. He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Harvard, and has conducted post-doctorate research at Hebrew University. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates. He has edited 15 scientific books and has published over 400 articles in scholarly journals. He was recommended to undertake this study by Professor Steven Weiner, the director of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, who was asked for a recommendation by Golan's attorney, Lior Bringer.

Under the heading "Disregard of Relevant Information," Krumbein noted that Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon ignored the fact that some members of the IAA team also observed original patina in the inscription, patina that Krumbein himself observed. As stated in his report, "I found traces of natural patina inside the ossuary inscription in at least three different sites of the inscription (in the first and last sections of the inscription)." He pointedly added (an apparent reference to observations of other members of the IAA team), "Traces of ancient patina were found inside the area of the inscription... not only by us."

Professor Krumbein had available to him the photographs taken of the ossuary at the time the inscription was initially published in BAR, the photographs taken at the Royal Ontario Museum after the ossuary had broken into five pieces during transit from Israel, photographs taken by the IAA after the ossuary was confiscated, and photographs he himself took when he examined the ossuary in 2005. From a comparison of these photographs, Professor Krumbein found that "the ossuary inscription recently was altered and contaminated by the IAA and/or police." Professor Krumbein notes that "Traces of such [original] patina are evident in photographs of several letters taken in 2002."

Krumbein compared pictures taken in 2002 (published in BAR) with photographs subsequently used in presentations by Goren. In the 2002 photographs there is hardly any filling inside the letters, filling that Goren called the "inscription coating" and more sarcastically (implying a forgery) as the James Bond. This, according to Goren was the paste or adhesive (the bond) used by the forgers to cover the evidence of a modern forged engraving. Krumbein reported that later photographs, taken in 2003 by the IAA, do "show the presence of a 'granular' coating [the inscription coating or James Bond]." On Krumbein's examination in 2005, however, he "saw no traces of such granular coating inside these letters, because these had been recently removed by the IAA/police." Krumbein then observes, "This could be taken as a documentation of deliberate manipulation of the inscription patina by the IAA and/or police during the custody period."

The Krumbein report goes on: While the ossuary was in the custody of the IAA "The inscription and surrounding areas was contaminated using silicon-like red material, preventing more comprehensive tests to confirm or disprove previous test results." The red material was apparently used to make a cast of the inscription. The remains of this material are visible in many of the photographs Krumbein took in 2005.

The Krumbein report also accuses the IAA of ignoring exculpatory evidence. In his report for the IAA, Professor Goren states: "The inscription has been engraved or cleaned over its entire length in the modern age." In their scientific publication Goren and his colleagues acknowledge that the inscription was "freshly cleaned." The Krumbein report charges that "The IAA completely ignored these statements and specifically ignored the ramifications of the cleaning," which would account for the presence of the inscription coating.

Goren and Ayalon conducted oxygen isotope tests on the inscription coating (or James Bond), which in their report is the basis for concluding that the inscription is a forgery. The Krumbein report states that "the isotopic tests conducted on the ossuary inscription patina are irrelevant and can provide no indication of the dating of the inscription production, because the item fails to meet the prerequisite conditions, which are necessary if such tests should bear any scientific meaning." The Krumbein report explains at great length why this is so.

Professor Goren also condemned the ossuary inscription because he found microfossils of nanoplankton (coccoliths) in the inscription coating that, in Professor Goren's words, "are abundant in marine-derived sedimentary rocks (such as chalk), but are nonexistent in terrain-derived sediments. This phenomenon is unique to the inscription coating and was never observed in the other patina samples."

Krumbein directly contradicts Professor Goren:

"Contrary to Professor Goren's opinion, marine microfossils, unobservable to the naked eye, are commonly found in the patina on stone artifacts from the Jerusalem region and were found by us on the ossuary also at places far away from the inscription. Not only do they not indicate a forgery, their presence in the patina reinforces the arguments supporting the authenticity of such items...Over 150 years of literature it was established that all kinds of microfossil remains are permanently blown by wind and storm into the atmosphere and deposited on exposed surfaces and even penetrate into caves."

Professor Krumbein concludes:

"The patina covering several of the inscription letters is no less authentic than the patina covering the other parts of the ossuary, which, according to the IAA team, is authentic."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Heads up on the Da Vinci Movie and an Hommage to the West Wing

This is just to let all of you know that I have been granted an early viewing of the Da Vinci Code movie, and by Thursday night late I intend to post a full movie review and viewer's guide, if pastors and others want to use it next Sunday and the following weeks. Thus far the news flash.


My main reason for writing this post however is that I have just viewed the final episode of my favorite TV show of the last seven years (indeed almost my only TV drama show of the last seven years)--- West Wing. Its consistently high level of drama and dialogue rightly won it numerous Emmies. But while our own nation is floating along on a wing and a prayer, this show reminded us that governing could be done so much better than it has been in recent decades. It gave me hope in our political process that it could still work.

This show made clear that it was possible to have quality television on a major network with excellent scripts and acting, and often scripts that raised important issues about the relationship of politics and religion. Whether or not you agreed with the politics of the Bartlett administration or not was quite beside the point. What you learned was something of the huge moral dilemmas a President faces day after day, and the numerous compromise and compromising decisions one has to make day after day to govern our country. What you also learned is that in a democracy patriotism is not an ideological stance-- one can be a patriot and hold widely divergent views from other patriots.

The level of public discourse in America has gone down dramatically in the last two decades. We have degenerated into shouting matches, and spitting contests, and it has not helped us resolve any issues. This show in its best moments helped us think hard about the profound issues that confront us as a people and as individuals, and regularly the issue of what role religion should play in our democracy came to the fore. I shall sorely miss this show, as it did a better job of stirring up real patriotism and love for our country at its best than much of what passes for honorable rhetoric these days. Would that there were candidates like Arnie Vinnick and Matt Santos that we had to choose from in the next election. A country, it has been said, should be judged at its best, not its worst. Any country that can produce this kind of drama that honors freedom, democracy, and even at times the Bible and Christianity can't be all bad.

God bless America, and God bless producer John Wells and all those who gave us West Wing for the last seven years. May we aspire to better things in 2008.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Crunchy Conservatives?

My Colleague Lawson Stone (prof. of OT at Asbury) shared the following with me. While some of this I would certainly disagree with, there is much worth pondering



Am I really the last person to discover Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons? He means, of course, Crunchy Conservatives. I have always felt a little funny in business-as-usual conservative politics, and this book has come the closest of anything I’ve read to “ID-ing” my political and social convictions. Below I reproduce, verbatim, Dreher’s “Crunchy Con Manifesto” for your pondering:

A Crunchy-Con Manifesto
Rod Dreher, Crunchy Cons, Crown Forum, 2006
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the contemporary conservative mainstream. We like it here; the view is better, for we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper.
3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity's best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America's wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk identified as "the Permanent Things" -those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world's great wisdom traditions
5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative. This is particularly true with respect to the natural world.
6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract.
7. Appreciation of aesthetic quality-that is, beauty-is not a luxury, but key to the good life.
8. The cacophony of contemporary popular culture makes it hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. There is no area in which practicing asceticism is more important.
9. We share Kirk's conviction that "the best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them 0' evenings, arid teach them what is worthy of praise: the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths .... The institution most essential to conserve is the family. "
10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. lnthis sense, to conserve is to create anew.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dan Brown Comes Out of His Rabbit Hole

Dan Brown has finally surfaced in front of a live audience. Granted it was an audience in Portsmouth New Hampshire near where he lives, and granted it was for the New Hampshire branch of NPR which I had to have a friend from Hong Kong help me find the link for to hear this program, but he has surfaced. Here is the link-- What he offers here is a lecture on the relationship of science and religion-- both of which he sees as evolving, and he sees this as a good thing.

Little tidbits from the lecture of note: 1) His father was a mathematician who taught at Philips Exeter Academy, one of the elite prep schools in America, his mother a church organist; 2) he tried a career in music, and was in Hollywood for a while. He didn't like it and it didn't work. He skedaddled back to New Hampshire; 3) he has not read any of the response books to his novel. He says the debate is great, and may it carry on; 4) he is still talking about the divine feminine, and the evolution of spirituality, and he still seems to think that the God Mithra was said to be born on Christmas and died and rose from the dead. In other words he subscribes to the theory that we are dealing with archetypal myths found in various religions; 5) his Dad inculcated a love of codes and mystery in him; 6) he used to love to read the Hardy Boys; 6) yes, he would like to be Robert Langdon; 7) when he can't figure out a plot twist, he puts on his gravity boots and hangs upside down for a while until something comes to mind. This must explain some of his upside down thinking about early Christianity.

What we see in Dan Brown is syncretism--- the amalgamation of various religious ideas, histories, claims into some kind of pan-spirituality. And in our pluralistic culture that likes smorgesbords this plays very well. Of course the amalgamation is done at the expense of accurately representing any of the discrete elements he has blended together. This however does not much bother him-- he thinks that it is the big ideas that count. At one juncture he reads an outtake from the Da Vinci Code novel-- where Langdon playfully suggests he belongs to a cult where they eat the body of a god on the day one worships the pagan sun god, and he urges his students to join him. Then he reveals he is inviting them to the Harvard Chapel and to the Lord's Supper celebration. This is a very revealing moment. Dan Brown sees the rituals as universal and polyvalent. They reflect the human search for God, not God's attempt to reveal himself to us. They are many and varied. At another juncture he serves up the mantra that "history is written by the winners" which is far from an accurate statement that one could apply widely to the writing of history. He adds that all his history writing is interpretive, which is of course true.

There is much here to confuse the ordinary listener or even the erudite one, but what is clear is that while Dan Brown still says he is a Christian, what he means by that is something very different than would be ordinarily understood by the term. And he seems to see himself as part of a movement to reinvent Christianity in a different image.

You should find this troubling..... and oh by the way-- He says he is thrilled with the movie, and that it in no way waters down the controversial claims of the novel.

I ask once more--- Are you ready to rumble?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Omar's Story-- The Tale of a Shiite Christian

Omar Alrikabi is one of my students who has had a difficult journey living in the U.S. and has experienced a good deal of racism within and outside the Church since he is of Iraqii Shiite descent and is also a born again Christian, and Asbury seminary student in training for ministry. Here is a thumbnail sketch of his story, in his own words.


Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son inimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.”
Matthew 11(The Message)

My entire life has been a quest for identity. A journey for an intimate father/son relationship.

Growing up I never really liked my name very much. Omar. For a little kid in Texas, a foreign sounding, deeply ethnic name was a nuisance. It stood out too much. It made a scene. In classrooms full of Mikes and Peters and Amys and Stephanies… Omar felt like the person who wore jeans to a wedding while everyone else was in suits. Very out of place. I always wanted to be a David.

But my name is Omar. Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi. Literally translated it means “First Born Son of Hamid of the Rikab Tribe.” My father is from Iraq. Once the customs officer in Cairo would not accept my declaration that I was an American citizen.
“Where is your father from?”
Then I was stamped into the country. Not much has changed since the days of Abraham. It does not matter what you declare, or even where you were born. You are whatever your father is. So I am considered an Iraqi. I’m even eligible to vote in Iraqi elections.

But I grew up in Texas, where my mom is from. And yes, she is a Christian. And yes, my father is a Muslim. I have been raised by Shiites and Southern Methodists. Over the years, as different Middle Eastern despots and terrorist groups made headlines, my name was the butt of many jokes, stupid questions and varied translations. Then of course there were the nicknames that went along with such an Arab background: Dune-coon. Camel jockey. Sand nigger.

Of course, I always played along. After all, it was my friends who called me these names. It wasn’t like they were burning crosses in my front yard. I figured if I played along and poked fun at myself, it would show that I was just like them, and that would give me identity.

My parents had an agreement. My dad could name us if my mom could raise us in the church. But my mom quit going after a while. She got tired of all the anti-Arab, end-times Sunday school lessons. You see, there has always been a low-grade racism towards Arabs and Muslims in the church, at least in the Bible Belt.

After September 11th, things really picked up. I never really noticed it until that following Sunday when I heard it in the hallway at church: “Well, what would you expect from the descendants of Ishmael.”

What was I to expect when Texas and Iraq literally collided on the world stage right as I entered seminary. How do I reckon with cousins in the Republican Guard and close friends in the Army Rangers? Who is the real enemy?

I got emails from church members, wanting to know why I didn’t support the war because, as a Christian, I should be supporting Israel and that is God’s side, and that is the winning side. On more than one occasion friends I had made at Asbury would later tell me they hated Arabs until the got to know me better.

I met my wife here. Her last name is Horowitz. Imagine the long pause on the other end of the phone when I told my father that one (and by the way, he loves her). But I had to endure her father telling me he was a Jew by birth, but was now a Christian… but that he wanted to make sure that since I was an Arab I would not take his daughter away from him to Iraq and abuse her.

So what does all of this have to do with my spiritual formation? Everything. Just as many Christians in America believe wrongly about Arabs, I have lived most of my life believing lies about myself: I am just Omar. Nothing special. Loved but not liked. Wasted potential. Worst of sinners.

But my name and my background have helped me to see something. Omar. First born son. That means a lot in the Bible. The first-born son is the heir to all the father has. And I am joined with Christ. I am an heir with Christ in all that the Father has. My name is a living, literal gospel reality. I am not just Omar. I am not an ass. I am an heir.

Once at the Abbey of Gethsemani the Lord spoke to me in the most intimate way I have ever known, and said, “You are important to me.” It was like the words of the Father over the Son at His baptism, and in baptism is where we all must find our identity as sons and daughters of God.

If we believe what we say we do about curses being generational, then imagine an entire race of people who’s patriarch was the first born son, loved by his father, but then one day with no explanation he is sent into the desert to die.

On the cross we are reconciled to the Father. If our identity is found in baptism, then our vocation is found the Eucharist: “This is my body, broken for you.” I have come to believe that bad theology, unchecked patriotism, and the idol of national security has led many in the church to abdicate the cruciform calling of Christ to guns and politicians.

For it is not the descendants of Ishmael who are the problem, it is the descendants of Adam and Eve. Remember, the word ADAM in the creation story is translated “humanity” and that it is the work of the Cross-to redeem all of humanity.

If indeed these three major religions are the sons of Abraham, then I think God is looking at us the way my parents did when I fought with my brother, saying, “Yeah, but you should know better.”

My father gave me a name. Whatever struggles I wrestle with in who I am through birth, I must always return to who I am through Baptism. Jesus set for me an example, and whenever I fret over the evils men do, I must return to my vocation in the Eucharist.

So you see, COEXIST is not a pluralistic idea for me, it is a way of life… it weaves through the entire fabric of my family. It is the calling of Christ for me. And in truth, it is a calling for all of us, for in the end God’s people are not called to wave flags as a sign of victory, but to bear the Cross as a sign of reconciliation.

Omar Alrikabi

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Poet Laureate and the Budding Poet

Today, May 7th was a proud day for the Witherington clan. Our only son David graduated from the University of Kentucky today with a degree in English Literature (like his Dad) and a concentration in Japanese (totally unlike his Dad).

We were blessed to have Seamas Heaney, poet laureate of Ireland and Professor at Harvard U. as our commencement speaker, and he spoke of how these were tough times for poets. He wasn't just talking about how hard it is for poets to find publishers. That alone is nearly impossible. I once asked one of my publishers if they would take a volume of my poems. Their reply was "we don't do original poetry at Harper." I wrote back--- "suppose I sent you a volume of totally unoriginal and derivative poetry-- would you take it then?" Yes these are hard days for poets.

Heaney however was talking about the troubling effect our culture has on the art. He defined poetry as "the struggle to find and express balance between one's inner temperament and the temper of the times". This is all the more difficult when the culture is more prone to and more supportive of violence than of sensitive artistic expression. It is difficult when the times are out of joint, and the culture becomes coarser and less forgiving.

My son is also a poet. I am proud of him, as he has worked hard to graduate with honors. He is a quieter more thoughtful and shy person than I am, and in some ways this aids his poetry. When he says something, he says it in measured and carefully considered words. He also has a good dry wit, and lots of skill on the computer. He has saved me many times when there were computer problems. Only time will tell what is next for him. For now we are delighted that the whole family could be part of his big day. This is our last child to graduate from college, so it is a milestone for us as well.

"Children are a blessing from God; happy is the man who has a quiver full."

Poetry is the expression of the sound of the soul either in harmony with or in dischord with its surroundings. Today I am simply happy that there is resonance between my son-- David Benjamin, and myself. Here's to you Dave--- "vaya con Dios".

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Jesus on Thin Ice?

Well its settled. We now know how Jesus managed to walk on water on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn't a miracle after all. Jesus was on thin ice, and probably near the shore line of the Sea of Galilee.

The Journal of Paleolimnology (who knew there was such a journal?) has an article written by a Florida State scholar Doreen Nof and others in which he things he can now experimentally prove that Jesus walked on ice. Nof and his colleagues point out that in the Galilee region in the past 12,000 years unusual freezing conditions probably occured from time to time on parts of the freshwater lake called the Sea of Galilee.

Acknowledging that this hasn't happened recently, nonetheless they note that there were cold stretches 1,500 to 2,500 years ago. The scientists added that Galilee has warm, salty springs along the western shore, an area Jesus frequented. The water north of the springs does not convect when it is cold, and so they hypothesize that ice thick enough to support human weight could have formed in this area. Nof adds that from a distance it would have appeared Jesus walked on water. Furthermore, they suggest if it had recently rained, it would have left a smooth watery coating on the ice, which would make it look like water. These scientists don't insist it happened this way, they are just claiming it is possible.

I have a few questions---1) Did the ice reach out far enough from the shore for Jesus to step into the boat where the disciples were rowing?; 2) Was Peter's attempt to walk on water while in the lake, likewise skating on thin ice, and he fell through?; 3) What the heck were they doing playing row, row, row your boat on the lake during the worst ice storm in 1,500 years?

Mark Twain had a different idea. When he visited the Holy Land at the end of the 19th century with a tour group there was a boatman who offered to take the group across the Sea of Galilee in his boat for a fee. When Twain asked what the fee was and was told $50 (a huge sum in those days) he quipped "I now see why Jesus walked across this lake."

Friday, May 05, 2006

MI III--- Mission not so Believable

"Suspend your disbelief" I kept telling myself. After all, this is supposed to be just 126 minutes of summer fun, and after all we can't expect serious drama from Tom Cruise. This has to be a action and special effects flick with lots of Cruise's smiling mug splashed through the movie, for sure.

And you have to realize that this movie was supposed to come out two years ago this month. It has gone into the rewrite shop for a not so few small repairs several times (at Cruise's insistence), and then finally J.J. Abrams of 'Lost' and 'Alias' fame who has never directed a big screen movie was brought in and he insisted on a new script! The amount of money wasted on all this vanity is hard to fathom or justify. But you have to give them credit--- this movie is definitely different from MI I or II, and it does have some great action scenes (helicopter chase through wind turbines in Germany-- wait 'til the environmentalists get wind of this one; big blow up on and off the bridge to Maryland; and Cruise becomes human pendulum leaping tall buildings in a single bound).

But alas, the goal of this movie is to humanize Mr. Ethan Hunt, by giving him not just a love interest, but a wife (played well, though she gets too little air time, by Michelle Monaghan). And herein lies the problem. There is no back story about this relationship, and it is not allowed to develop at the beginning of the film. We must hurry up with saving the world for democracy and from the uber-bad guy-- played wonderfully by Phillip Seymour Hoffmann of Capote fame. We now know he can play incredibly different roles very well, but can he dance?

Of course the premise of the movie is "the things we'll do for love", including selling out truth, justice, and the U.S. of A. But of course Mr. Hunt manages to find a way to be both a hero, and a rescuer of the damsel in distress. It requires lots of running, blowing things up, and killing folks.

What is especially distressing about all this is that even though Cruise has a good MI team to support him, including Ving Rhames, they hardly get enough air time to appreciate them. We simply go from one set piece to another, to another, to another where the whole focus is on Cruise, ratcheting up the noise and action and violence. Some of this is effective, for example the sequence in the Vatican, some is not. Why exactly must we race from Berlin to Rome to Shanghai with the aid of Mapquest? We never find out, and one suspects this is just a matter of taking a page out of the old James Bond recipe of filming in exotic locations.

But what is entirely missing is the old Mission Impossible premise that gadgets, and technology can help us solve crime. What is missing is any finesse and attempt to fool the bad guys-- no we just want to out muscle them and beat them to the punch and to a pulp in this movie. Furthermore, in MI III the best gadgets are in the hands of the bad guys, and it is hard to imagine them ever having a postive or life saving use. Alas what would Martin Landau say?

Here is a movie with few redeeming features, an eminently forgetable plot, but it is fun to watch as it passes by on the screen with impressive special effects. Here is 'Tom' on Cruise control-- don't expect any Oscar nominations for this film. But if you want to be dazzled by action, this may provide a Jolt of adrenaline rush for you.

How Bad Theology can Kill You

I make no claims about the historical veracity of the following story. I strongly suspect it is just a story, not a report of fact. It was sent to me by a student who thought it was a true story, but I have not been able to confirm its authenticity. So, caveat emptor! If it is a true story it is enormously sad and tragic, and shows how bad theology can kill you. If it is only a fictious story it is enormously hilarious... and shows how bad theology can kill you.

" A Little Rock woman was killed yesterday after leaping through her moving car's sunroof during an incident best described as a 'mistaken rapture' by dozens of eye-witnesses. Thirteen other people were injured after a twenty car pile-up resulted from people trying to avoid hitting the woman, who was apparently convinced the rapture was occuring when she thought she saw twelve people floating into the air, and then passed a man on the side of the road who she believed was Jesus. "She started screaming 'He's back! He's back!' and climbed out through the sun roof and jumped off the roof of the car." said Everet Williams, husband of 28 year-old Georgeann Williams who was pronounced dead at the scene. I was slowing down but she wouldn't wait until I stopped," Williams said. "She thought the rapture was happening and was convinced that Jesus was gonna lift her up into the sky," he went on to say.

"This is the strangest thing I've seen since I have been on the force," said Paul Mason, first officer on the scene. Madison questioned the man who looked like Jesus and discovered that he was on the way to a costume party, when the tarp covering the bed of his pickup truck came loose and released twelve blow-up sex dolls filled with helium, which then floated into the sky. Ernie Jenkins, 32, of Fort Smith, who has been told several times by his friends he looks like Jesus, pulled over and lifted his arms into the air in frustration saying 'Come back, come back,' just as the Williams car passed him. Mrs. Williams was sure it was Jesus lifting people up into heaven as they drove by Jenkins. When asked for comments about the twelve sex dolls, Jenkins replied 'This is all just too weird for me. I never expected anything like this to happen.'"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Commentary on Matthew is Now Out!

Just to give you an FYI, my new Matthew commentary is now out. In it I have tried to present a consistent reading of this Gospel in light of Jewish wisdom literature, with some interesting results for Matthean Christology and ethics. If Jesus indeed presented himself as God's Wisdom come in the flesh then we can indeed speak of a 'Christology of and from Jesus' himself, even in the Synoptics.

The commentaries in this series all come complete with a DVD with all kinds of extra materials and info, and with numerous art images, pictures and charts.

I will be interested to see what you think. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hays vs. Ehrman on the Da Vinci Code--- the Debate

On April 25th 2006 there was a dialogue on the Da Vinci Code and the issues, historical and theological it raises. The debate was held at the new chapel at Duke Divinity School (attendance about 500) and it goes an hour and 46 minutes counting the Q+A afterwords, which is not always audible. I found the discussion quite helpful, though some of you will find Ehrman not liberal enough perhaps, and Hays not conservative enough perhaps. It is a good model of a respectful and at times even humorous debate. Here is the link---- Once you get to the Duke website you need to click on the full debate link which is provided on that page.

It will be interesting to hear your reactions.

As for me, I have just returned from two Da Vinci Code events, one in Burlington N.C. (2,000 came) one in Richland Washington, where over a hundred pastors and spouses came for the Evangelical UMC Convocation. There of course remains high interest in the subject matter, but also, high anxiety. May 19th is coming--- are you ready?