Out of Ur, Leadership's blog, has been following and posting some of the highlights from the National Pastors Convention, going on this week a bit farther south of us in San Diego. So far they have posted some general session highlights with Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne. Enjoy.
Just got this forwarded to me from my buddy Ryan. Anyone planning on going? Unfortunately it is in the middle of weekend baseball/soccer games or I'd go. If anyone does go, report back on how it was...
Tomorrow, I'm heading down to San Diego to take in my first AAR/SBL Annual Meeting. This is the yearly gathering in the scholarly world, where people gather, connect with others, present papers, and sit on panels discussing a variety of issues related to biblical studies, theology, and religion. With a more deepening sense that my life is heading into the academic world, I decided that it would be a good idea to swing by AAR/SBL to take in the conversations.
I'm really looking forward to a few things while I'm there. One of them is hearing one of my professors, Dr. Karen Winslow, present her paper on The Exegesis of Exodus by Ephrem the Syriac [Saturday, 1-3:30 pm session]. I'm also going to sit in on as many sessions on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumranas possible. Same thing for sessions on Apocalypticism in Early Judaism and Early Christianity [especially anything John J. Collins is doing], as this is going to play a role in my Master's Thesis paper. There's also going to be a panel discussion on what is the most important non-Biblical text for understanding Jesus. Should be a good discussion.
One of other highlights is getting together with Tom and Maggie Wright while they're here. It was so great getting to know them a bit at Soularize. I'm most definitely going to hear Tom present his paper, God in Public?, on Sunday afternoon... and perhaps take in a little dinner after that.
Last Tuesday, a group of us headed out to The Wiltern in LA for the latest stop of The Gods Aren't Angry Tour. Now I had heard Rob present in this format on the Everything is Spiritual Tour, so I had at least a little preview of what the evening could be like. While both events were great, The Gods Aren't Angry struck me as Rob was going for a different response than with Everything is Spiritual.
The main thread moving through Rob's teaching was this - God's interaction with humanity needs to be read through the lens of how other Ancient Near Eastern religious traditions perceived of the gods. While other religious traditions saw the gods as something far removed and essentially as forces which could be appeased, the God of Israel was inviting humanity into a new and revolutionary way of living in relation to the Creator. This new way moved beyond the issues of sacrifice as appeasement and toward sacrifice and devotion as something from the heart, something that did not appease God, but something that primarily affected the sacrificer.
What I found fascinating how Rob interweaved learning about ancient near eastern cultures, religious cultic rites, and the scriptures in a way to present a way of seeing and embracing a fresh [and I would say a more balanced] atonement theology - all without using technical jargon. I loved his take on the cross and the sacrificial system - all of which is incredibly accurate when you explore more deeply the world and worldview behind the text.
A money thought from the night was this:
The sacrificial system had less to do with God and more to do with us. It was not as if God needed the sacrificial system in order to forgive us. We needed it in order to be reminded of what God was already doing. It was a metaphor, a way of physically connecting with the forgiveness that God was already offering.
This is pretty radical. He also wondered out loud why we perceive of a God who has to pour out wrath and destroy something in order to show love. Again this touches on the issue that the problem is not based in God, as if he needed to be appeased or is captive to some law that is above himself. The problem resides in humanity, not in God.
He linked this with the need it seems of some people to still see God as needing to be appeased, which is nothing more than harkening back to the ancient near eastern religions. If we do anything to try to earn God's favor, or appease him, or somehow get in better standing with God - we need to ask, are we merely returning to the guilt and ambiguity of ancient near eastern religious systems? Are we truly inviting people to experience freedom?
Interesting. Still pondering and chewing on what was said...
All in all it was a great night. Got to see some people I haven't seen in quite a while, which was sweet. It was also great to get a few minutes with Rob and catch up afterwards.
See the pretty colors? That's where we are right now.
So we're sitting in the Nassau Airport, wondering if our flight is going to get out of Nassau. We are ticketed on the 4:53 pm flight out of Nassau. The two American flights after us have already been canceled.
At this moment, it's still pretty calm outside, but this morning was pretty crazy. Looks like the storm as weakened, and it most likely will not hit us too hard.
Looking forward to getting home...
[UPDATE - Our flight out of the Bahamas was delayed about an hour, but we were able to make it out of Nassau. We literally were one of the last flights to get out of the Bahamas. It was still pretty calm when we left, but the storm was scheduled to make land near midnight. Once we got to Miami, no worries. We caught our flight to LAX and made it home after midnight.]
So yesterday a group of us plunked down $35 for the ability to actually get into the water with sharks swimming all around us. [Yes, you read that right...] Our little group of us, including the good Bishop Tom and Maggie, loaded up on a charter bus after lunch and headed out for Stuart Cove's, a 20 minute ride away from New Providence Community Church. Before leaving we had to sign a release waiver [like you do] in order to release Stuart Cove's from any liability that might result from, oh say... death. The best part of the form, which Jordon pointed out to all of us, was the fact that we were acknowledging that any medical attention that we might need as a result of swimming with said sharks might not be immediate. [What a wonderfully warm thought.]
Once we arrived at the cove, we were given fins - which we were told was not because we needed them to swim, but for the fact that they were to alert said sharks that our feet were not some form of appetizer. [Once again, the look on the faces of our fellow shark swimming compadres was priceless.] We boarded the boat, certain that death might await us.
So Bahamian shark diving goes a little something like this. Once the boat stops, they lower an enclosed chum bucket to attract the sharks. Once there is a significant amount of sharks in the water - you voluntarily step on the back landing of the boat, fins and mask firmly in place, and jump into the water. A yellow rope is thrown out, with a buoy at the end, which serves as something to grip and hold onto so as you don't float away in adrenaline induced fear.
Since I was one of the last people into the boat, I was near the landing - which made me one of the first in the water. I must say, it was amazing. The chum bucket was about 30-40 feet below the boat. The water was filled with hundreds yellow snapper. As you looked around, you see the big boys rolling in. One of them, easily a five feet long reef shark, silently glided past me, perhaps nothing more than two feet away.
After everyone was in the water, we sat watching in amazement as 30-35 reef sharks swam below us. As I was looking around I noticed the person next to me. He looked a little nervous. It was Tom Wright. [Yeah, that was kind of a surreal experience in and of itself. Here I am, in the Bahamas, swimming in the water with reef sharks, next to Tom Wright. Crazy.]
Anyway, after being in the water for 20 minutes or so, the sharks began to get bored with the whole game and began to swim around us and away from the dive site. We began to get out of the water and back into the boat. Then it happened. Like Pavlov's dogs, they began to swarm the back of the boat, knowing what was going to come next - feeding time.
Safely aboard the boat, we got our our cameras to capture the moment. The deck hand brought up the chum bucket, opened in up, and began to throw hunks of fish into the water. The teeming sharks literally climbed over each other to snap up the fish. Absolutely amazing. Something I'll never forget. Jordon took some photos and Spencer shot some amazing digital footage underwater. I'll post some it as soon as I can get it.
Soularize finished last night and now that I've finally had a good night sleep, I thought it was better late than never to pass along a few others who are here that have been sharing their thoughts about the conference. So if you're looking to live the conference vicariously, here's your chance. Here are a few of the nice folks who have been sharing their thoughts over the past few days...
Well, we're nearing the conclusion of our second full day and here I am just now getting to write up some thoughts from the first two days here...
We decided that since we were bringing people to the Bahamas, we needed to take the first day to help people relax and decompress. So rather than setting people into conference rooms, we decided a little trip to a private island might be in order. So at 9 am we loaded up the Soularize party and set out for a private island about an hour's boat ride away from Nassau for a full day of floating in the water, snorkeling, sun, and conversation. [Yeah... I know what you're thinking.]
Once we got to the island, we explained to people that the day was meant to foster relationship and connection. So we just encouraged people to get to know one another, to share who they were and what their story is. It was so cool to see N.T. and Maggie Wright, as well as Rita Brock, hanging out on a private island in the Bahamas, talking and sharing with people while sipping on a drink under a palm tree.
So far I've also been blown away with the people who have come to Soularize. I''ve had so many incredibly great conversations with people on the boat ride over and back, as well as one the island itself. Good people trying to make sense out of what it means to live the life of Jesus in this world.
Our evening session was with N.T. Wright - which was like a dream come true. I had the opportunity to help pick them up at the airport, as well as have numerous really great conversations with N.T. Both he and his wife, Maggie, are warm, down to earth people - who have a huge heart for people. They've made themselves totally available to connect with people and have made friends quickly with the participants at the conference. He spoke on the book of Acts, sharing some new material from Acts for Everyone, which is coming out next year. [And yeah, it was pretty phenomenal stuff.] After getting to spend time talking and getting to know Tom, I can say that I'm even more impressed with him.
Anyway, we're heading out for a thank-you/appreciation gathering over at a place called Compass Point, where we have Tom and Maggie staying. Looking forward to a little downtime, conversation, and perhaps even a little libation...