Stained Glass Abstract or Representational?

We typically think of stained glass as an art form that is most often seen in churches. Stained glass has been around for more than a thousand years. But in stained glass, as in other kinds of art, it can be representational, which means it looks like something we can easily recognize, or we might say that it “represents” something. On the other hand, it might be abstract. Oxford dictionaries defines abstract art as “art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.”

The photo above is of a stained glass window, actually one of a pair of very similar windows, in the First Presbyterian Church of Alpena. I would propose a question. Is this stained glass window representational or abstract? And if you think it does represent something, “What is it supposed to be?” Let me know what you think.

Presbyterian Church Structure

The Presbyterian structure operates on several levels. These levels are made up of representative bodies. They begin with the Congregation, and include the session and deacons. The session elects representatives to the presbyteries, but the presbyteries include the pastors of the churches as well. The next level is the synod and then the general assembly. This video gives a short overview:

Ex Nihilo

Most Christians believe the universe was created by God from absolutely nothing. The world then was said to be created ex nihilo. Like many theological terms, ex nihilo is Latin. It means “from nothing”. It is an important concept that finds its roots in the early church when there was much argument over whether or not the universe was made by God from pre-existing matter. It is important because it is fundamental to our concept of God and God’s relationship with the Universe.

If we believe that God is eternal, then logically nothing could exist before God. If we believe that “the world depends on God for its existence” (McGrath, 220) then we must also believe God created its substance, in whatever form. I think the implications of this are profound in that God, in creation, completely made the universe, and in a similar way God loves that creation completely. We were made in God’s image as part of that creation and are loved completely as well.

In the Gospel of John (3:16) we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Did God send Jesus because the universe was made from nothing? Was it a factor in God’s love for us? What do you think?

(ref: Alistair E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Ed. UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.)

Ascribing to God

In Psalm 29, the psalmist tells us to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” (NIV) Reading this got me to wonder exactly what the Hebrew is for “ascribe” in this translation. It is one of those verbs that is a bit nebulous and does not always have an exact word to describe its meaning in another language. “Ascribe” in the Oxford Dictionary is defined as “regard as a quality belonging to.”

The Hebrew is interesting. The word in the original is הָב֣וּ  (Habu). It comes from יָהַב (yahab) which means to give. In this form it is in the imperative masculine plural, which gives the word a meaning something like “you all must give.” So it would literally mean “we must give the Lord glory and strength.” Obviously, glory and strength are qualities that are inherent in God, and not something we can give to God.

I think there is a lot of room for nuance in yahab. It is well to note it is not the most common form of the verb “to give”. The most common form is נָתַן(nathan). So yahab would probably have special connotations. In fact, it is variously translated as “ascribe”, “choose”, “place”, “give”, and even “provide” in the New American Standard Bible (via Bible Works). Most modern translation have it as “ascribe”, though some say “give” and others “honor to God for”.

So, what this really means is that we can come to an understanding of God’s power and glory and proclaim this power and glory after reading the rest of Psalm 29. After all of this analysis, I have to think that the NIV’s “ascribe” is a pretty good translation and conveys most closely the original meaning of the passage.  

Ordination

The dry definition of ordination is “the conferring of holy orders on someone.” This of course does not really get to the very essence of the idea. I was in a meeting of ministers in Alpena the other day, and since I was so recently ordained (22 April), the subject of ordination came up. I mentioned how going through the ceremony I felt like I had moved from one state of being to another.

Energy, Intelligence, Imagination, Love!It was suggested that this was kind of like marriage. And I think this is absolutely true. Ordination puts pastors in a relational state with congregations, the church and, of course, God. At the service I took nine vows. (That is a lot of I dos and I wills.) The eighth of these was, “Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.” This one brought home to me the responsibility inherent in being a pastor. It is a call to service to others. It is a call to look out for the well-being of others. It is a call to help others perceive their connection with God and with each other. It is a call to do all this to the best of our ability, putting to use the best qualities within us.

But, you know, in the Presbyterian Book of Order, this is a vow that deacons and elders take as well. In fact, it is really a responsibility we all have as Christians, but we do not often think about that as we move through this life. We concentrate on our own goals, our own desires and forget that, as Christians, we live a life of service to one another, to the community, to the world, and, above all, our Triune God.

Called to Be God’s Children

1 John 3:1 in the New International Version reads:

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

I thought the word “called” here made an interesting study. In the Greek it is “kaleo” (καλεο), which has many meanings. I plunged into BibleWorks to find this definition: “1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite 2) to call i.e. to name, by name 2a) to give a name to 2a1) to receive the name of, receive as a name 2a2) to give some name to one, call his name 2b) to be called i.e. to bear a name or title (among men) 2c) to salute one by name.”

It is my thinking that, in this verse, the word “called” stirs multiple images. I know when I read it I first read it as “2a) to give a name to”. But through further reflection and prayer I felt compelled to see it also in the sense of “invite”. Indeed, the Spirit invites us (maybe even compels us) to be children of God. I know that grammatically it is missing the “to be”, as in “called to be children of God”. Nevertheless, it seems to me the implication is still there.

This word “kaleo” has been variously translated in the Bible in different ways, and it can be helpful to see the ways and the number of times it has been used. Here is what BibleWorks reveals: “call(14), called(98), calling(2), calls(7), give(m)(1), invite(2), invited(15), invited guests(1), invites(1), name given(1), named(2), so-called(1), summoned(2).”

This is just a little bit of technical background for the sermon this Sunday (15 April 2018) at the First Presbyterian Church of Alpena. The sermon title is “Called to Be God’s Children”.

BibleWorks, by the way, is a great research tool for understanding the Bible in its original lanuages.

Henri Nouwen and the 133rd Psalm

A great quote from a great theologian, Henri Nouwen:

“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide, but unite, that do not create conflict, but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” (https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/henri_nouwen)

Nouwen was born Dutch, but spent much of his academic life in the United States. In fact, he did a stint at the Yale Divinity School as a professor of pastoral theology (1971-1981). His words say much about where theology should lead us. It should lead us to finding ways to live in harmony with one another and, of course, in harmony with God, leading the life that God has planned for us.

The 133rd psalm is in the lectionary for this week, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year B). My feeling is that a reading of this Psalm, a full immersion in this psalm, will lead us to the inescapable conclusion that unity is one of the qualities that we must seek, and to do this we must seek it in one another. And this spans the people of the whole world, not just the narrow categories that we attribute to peoples or nations.

Here is the World English Bible translation of the 133rd Psalm:

A Song of Ascents. By David.
See how good and how pleasant it is
for brothers to live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
that ran down on the beard,
even Aaron’s beard,
that came down on the edge of his robes,
like the dew of Hermon,
that comes down on the hills of Zion;
for there Yahweh gives the blessing,
even life forever more.

 

The 133rd Psalm will be the text this Sunday for the Sermon at First Presbyterian Church of Alpena.

Reflection on Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani

Reflection on Mark 15:33-34

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (NIV)

At this point in the crucifixion of our Lord, at noon, the sky darkens. We can imagine the surprise of those who are watching. Heavy clouds hang low in the sky. The sun is blotted out, and our Lord, experiences the suffering of all humanity. All the physical pain of illness, all of the anguish of failure, all of the sorrow of lost love, all of the shame of rejection, all of the punishment for our sins. Christ understands it all. Jesus feels it all and expresses in one short sentence, the despair of all humanity, the feeling of abandonment, and cries out…

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In that moment all the doubts, all the fears, all of the horrible feelings that wrench at the gut, wrench at mind, wrench at the soul in times of trouble are expressed and lifted up to God.

And yet what Christ knew and what we know is this line of Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” is from the 22nd Psalm. And though this Psalm begins in despair, it ends with a song praising the Lord, telling us that all of this suffering will be swept away, that we will be redeemed. The last line of the psalm is “He has done it!” Indeed, in this act of suffering on the cross, Jesus Christ has redeemed us all.

Launching a New Life in Christ

On March 18 2018 I was called to be the new pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Alpena. I am excited to be moving to this beautiful city at this beautiful time of the year to work in the service of the Lord with the congregation at the church. I got to meet a lot of very nice people, and hear some of their personal stories. I am looking forward to starting a new life in fellowship on the fourth of April, which will be my first day in residence. Blessings to all as Holy Week approaches!