Sunday, August 30, 2015


The answer to a question
seldom asked
but its shape is cast
into the festering
and groaning earth
dragged from the past
yard and mast
taint and curse
the broadcast ascends
from the mouth of dust
now ignorance must
make, and receive amends.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


“...after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all,"Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”"

The Lord warned his twelve against the leaven of the Pharisees.  The disciples were concerned about the obvious failings, the practical mistakes they had made that were evident to all.  But the Lord spoke about something else, something it took clarification to bring their attention to.  

Why tell them to “look out” for it unless there were danger - danger that it would take root in themselves?  This is why he calls it “leaven”.  It only takes a little, but once it finds its way into the dough, it will grow, and grow, until it has infected the whole.   

Look out for it.  We see men fall like trees in a forest full of loggers, and we think Oh God, look at the hypocrisy!  The leaven has been discovered, once its work was done.  Are the disciples of Christ immune?  No! We have need to watch.  Neither it is a harmless reality of the Kingdom, that hypocrisy is present in some.  You might hear it spoken about in some circles when talking about the nature of the Church: “Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, there’s room for one more”.  This does not address the leaven with the same wariness that the Lord commands.  But what the Lord commands is not just to look out for this leaven in others, but in ourselves.  There would be little point in watching if prevention were impossible.

I don’t say this because I’ve seen hypocrisy take root in other men.  It is, like leaven, a silent, slow, steady worker.  You don’t notice it, but your religion becomes less and less about communion with God and doing his will (concerning yourself with His Kingdom and Righteousness) and more and more becomes “I must do these things, so that people will know there is a godly man on the earth.”  And all the while dark things grow in our private practice. Lies and inconsistencies grow when we are not in the light of public opinion and choke the life that once flowed from God to us in private.  We say things we ought not say, we look at things we ought not look at, we meditate on things we ought not meditate on, and desires for dark things grow where there was once light. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

“Take heed” - Watch out for this!  It is always there, the leaven is like pollen in the air, encapsulated in teachings that are mere human traditions, in a prideful attitude that is grateful it is not like other men, excusing its vices (evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander) while making sure to maintain the clean exterior, convincing themselves that it is for the glory of God that they must maintain appearances.  In the Church in Corinth, it manifested among other things as a boastful concern for being of a prestigious party while allowing sexual immorality to flourish in their midst.  In Peter it manifested as a refusal to eat with Gentiles.

Watch out, it is in the world still.  If you see it growing in you, cut it off and throw it away.  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  We are crucified to the world and it to us.  It is no longer we who live but He who lives in us - provided He lives in us. Therefore let us celebrate the feast,
not with old leaven,
nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness,

but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"There will no longer be any sea"

Take that wave stretching decades to the sky
it’s a dragon, leviathan flashing sacrificial fire
we know its hell-home, no bathymetry
is called for to crest and conquer
the swallower of souls
our ship is able
of Noachic build, and we
are a crew already drowned.
Impervious, we breathe a different air
so sail on, men and brothers, sisters fair
the shock of water-weight strikes down
on oiled brows - for we are christened as our keel and king
and will cut through this sea, that cartographic kenning
surely holds fast as friends, and it is written
we will cut the serpent wave, until the sea will be no more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Nature of Allegory

12:4:1 – The Nature of Allegory

brazen_seaReading through 2 Chronicles 4, one of the many details of the Temple’s construction stood out to me: the “sea”. It’s an odd sort of furnishing in the first place – tables, lampstands, those seem natural, but this huge chunk of bronze seems a little bit unusual. Then the numbers struck me. 12 bulls. Often 12 has something to do with the 12 tribes in the OT, so this made me pay attention. Then that they faced the four cardinal directions, something about the animals and the directions made me think of the book of revelation, angels holding back the four winds, oxen-faced cherubim, seas of glass around the throne – things like that. “One sea” (v.15) – it’s interesting to me that it’s numbered, not just “the sea” or “a sea”.
Long story short, I made an allegorical connection. The association occurred to me that the sea represents our “one baptism”. The oxen represent the twelve disciples/apostles of Christ, facing the four directions of the earth to bring it to all nations, from Jerusalem, as the Lord commanded.
I think I can defend this particular bit of allegory with Scripture, since we know from the NT that the elements of the house of God represent spiritual realities (Hebrews 9 comes immediately to mind). So it’s not a stretch to think that it means something more than a bunch of bronze cows (because ancient near-eastern people liked to decorate things with cows?) holding up a big bath for priests because, as we all know, cleanliness is next to godliness.
Even the “lily” shape of the rim lends itself to the allegory, since the Hebrew for lily (shushan) means “whiteness”, and the waters of baptism are to wash us white in the blood of the lamb. The sea was for the cleansing of the priests, and we are to be a kingdom of priests to our God. I found lots of little things that commended themselves to me as coherent symbols.
But then, that’s the problem with allegory; how do you prove beyond a doubt that your picture is right?  Some symbolic connections in the OT that wouldn’t jump out at most of us are revealed as allegory by the inspired writers – the story of Hagar/Ishmael Sarah/Isaac being the most obvious  (Gal 4:24).  Yet for the great mass of OT symbolism there’s no explicit NT exposition.  I’ve heard it suggested that we shouldn’t even try to find allegories beyond those the NT writers reveal.  I don’t buy that, since the section of Hebrews I appeal to above indicates that there is lots of untapped symbolism there, and the Scriptures were given us for edification and study.  But the question remains, how do you know you’re not just finding similarities that are incidental but unintended? And what about details that remain puzzling, like the cast mass of gourds around the sea? I have a hard time thinking of a spiritual significance for gourds. I mean, a valid one; it’s easy enough to conjure up connections off the cuff: “gourds are used to hold water, thence they are symbolic for the baptized bringing the water of life to the nations” there, I just made that up. But it’s not very satisfying. I don’t know how much if at all gourds were used to carry water in the ANE (ancient Near East), and the cast gourds aren’t spoken of as being meant to carry water. There’s more to a valid allegory than finding connections.
So, I acknowledge there are reasons to doubt any given allegorical interpretation. Even one of the historical figures criticized for his allegorical bent, Augustine, acknowledges this. In his “City of God” (book 15, chapter 26) he details his Christological allegory of the ark, but then acknowledges it may not satisfy all and opens up the field for others to make one better.  He gives some alternate explanations he’s heard from others, and staunchly maintains that all those details weren’t put in there for nothing. This is the word of God meant for us. Sure it’s history, but it must mean something beyond just being a big boat to rescue folks from the flood. Something for us. Something about Christ. So figure out some allegory, and as long as it’s not ridiculous and fits with the central truths of the Christian faith, then more power to you. It may not even be correct, it may give way to a better one, but at least it’ll be edifying.
Not to say that all interpretations are equally valid, not at all. Just as in science, there can be multiple hypotheses that account for the data, and they must be judged by how well they account for it. Yet the impulse to discover spiritual meanings to OT details is not, I think, a bad impulse. If there is an intended symbolism in the detailed descriptions of the Scriptures (and it seems very plain that there is) we shouldn’t shy from attempting to make something of it. Not all symbols are equally difficult, some seem to me to be nigh undeniable (the “scapegoat” for instance). Some we’ll have to work harder for.  And when we find one that strikes us as valid, we may have to hold to it with an open hand as Augustine advised. But we shouldn’t abandon the quest just because it involves uncertainty.
In a practical age, it will probably be asked “what good are allegories?”  To which I respond by asking you to meditate on a line from the hymn “This is my Father’s World”:
“This is my father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair, in the rustling grass I can hear him pass, he speaks to me everywhere”
If God can speak to us and reveal his beauty and presence in wind blowing through the grass, in the details of creation, how is it so remarkable that he would do the same in the pages of the writings handed down to us from the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles as the word of God?
So there you have it. Four directions, one baptism, 12 bulls to bear the message of cleansing and rebirth. “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The global purposes of God and the mission of his servants.  If nothing else, I hope that next time you read through Chronicles, those realities come to mind.