Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Was God Thinking?

By Kristi Vrooman

Per Daniel and Walter's suggestion, step one in this experiment was to read the book of Leviticus in its entirety. A first for me. I'm just like so many would-be Bible-in-it's-entirety readers who get hung up somewhere in the middle of this book. But I did it. Partly because I had a deadline and knew I'd have face the rest of my tribe (the Kosher breakfast which marked our first meeting as a tribe), and because I'd already agreed to do it. I do have a confession: I read Leviticus in "The Message". I have 5 different Bible translations at home and I chose that one (I know, it's not REALLY a translation... whatever). Part of me wanted to see if Eugene Peterson could work the term "skid-row" into Leviticus as he had in the Psalms. Nope. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. Honestly I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I found myself underlining sections just as often as I would in the New Testament or the Psalms. The marked difference, however, was the sheer number of question marks I felt compelled to draw. A low estimate might be somewhere between 100-125. Really. Many of them were preceeded by these words "What was God THINKING???!!!!" Most of the time they came from a place of confusion, my "working out" the ideas in my head, trying to make sense of them in my 21st Century, North American, Christian context. But I shudder to think how many times those utterances resembled blasphemy. Speaking of blasphemy, in Lev. 24 God says:
"...anyone who blasphemes the Name of GOD must be put to death.
The entire congregation must stone him. It makes no difference whether he is a foreigner or a native, if he blasphemes the Name, he will be put to death."
But as Walter keeps reminding us, "It's all part of the process - we want you to struggle through this." That shouldn't be a problem.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Are We Doing This?

by Daniel Harrell

So we've had plenty of questions regarding this Living Leviticus experiment, with the biggest question being why? Taking for granted that the whole of God's word is for all God's people, the video below offers a few answers for those who've not yet joined the Facebook page...

Holiness Permeates Everything

by Kristen Filipic (one of the Levites)

So, I hang out with some families on a regular basis and have discovered that with certain kids, asking "Do you want to read a story?" ALWAYS works as a child-wrangling technique. We have gotten to the point where small children will sometimes climb into my lap and wordlessly hand me a book. This is excellent.

One of these small children has recently become interested in Greek mythology and is currently quite enraptured with an "introduction to the Olympians" book. Now, I love Greco-Roman mythology. I got drawn into this when I was a older then he is, but thought this was the most fascinating thing ever and it ended up leading me into taking Latin in high school, occasionally flirting with the thought of a classics major (ended up minoring) and other hopelessly nerdy things. So I particularly enjoyed helping introduce him to these stories, and am not especially concerned that this will lead him to abandon the faith of his family and church and instead worship Zeus and Athena.

It occurred to me that come January I won't be able to read this particular book to the children. It further occurred to me that this truly stinks.

So I was gearing up to write a post about how much this stinks, how there's really no harm in reading these stories at all. And even assuming that we were living in a society that actively worshipped the Olympians, a faith that's shielded from all challenge isn't much of a faith and how am I supposed to interact with the nice pagans enough to tell them about Jesus if I'm so walled off from their way of seeing the world. If I was in a particularly nerdy mood, which let's face it I usually am, I might even cite C.S. Lewis talking about how the similar themes throughout various cultures' mythologies (e.g. a dying and rising god is a very common theme) point to the One True Myth of Jesus.

I was going to say "Well, I can't cite chapter and verse, but I'm sure it's in there ..." and then continue on with my rant. But then I decided that it would be a much better post if I cited the specific law that was getting my goat. So I started paging through. And skimmed and skimmed, and flipped through some more pages. There's something about not worshipping idols, OK of course that's a bad plan. Not planning on doing that. There's something on not creating idols, ok, that's not what we're talking about either. Skim skim skim some more, haven't found it yet ... and now here we are at the end.


So apparently as long as we're very clear that we're not worshipping Athena, enjoying Bulfinch's Mythology is just fine.

This is good news. I wonder what other "well of course that's forbidden" assumptions I have will also be groundless.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did Jesus Eat Pork?

By Daniel Harrell

So if Jesus kept the Old Testament law in order to fulfill it, then he had to have kept kosher, right? And if Christians are supposed to do what Jesus did, shouldn’t we be keeping kosher too? And if not, why not? And why kosher in the first place? What’s wrong with lobster? There is that place in the gospels where Jesus says “Nothing that enters a person from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?” Mark interprets this to mean that Jesus thereby cleansed all foods, though whether this is what Mark meant remains disputed. It’s certainly seems to be the case that Jewish Christians continued to obey the dietary laws. Pork roast didn’t show up at church suppers until the Gentiles fully took over. According to the B-Log, Christians have been warming lately to the Jewish kosher laws governing which foods are proper to eat and how to prepare them. "The Maker's Diet," "What Would Jesus Eat?" and other Christian flirtations with keeping kosher tend to stress the health benefits of the God-given dietary conventions, but other Christians contemplate going kosher as a matter of faith. Rabbi Telushkin is clear that keeping kosher was never part of some ancient Jewish health code. But there has to be some reason that it’s commanded in the Bible. It must have been good for something. Could it not still be good for that same thing? I did manage to ask a few people over Blue Ribbon BBQ, but as you can see, their mouths were fairly full of swine flesh.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Should I Shave?

By Daniel Harrell

OK, so I'm getting ready to embark on this month of living Levitically, along with eighteen friends (read about them here), and already I'm worried about Leviticus 19:27- "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard." I grew a beard once and hated it. Who knew that small creatures could crawl in there and make a home. Some say that the reason behind this prohibition had to do with shaving being part of a heathen ritual (OK, I do have a fairly complex shaving ritual, but not sure I'd call it heathen). Others argue that hair is part of the natural order, and thus deigned as good by God and not-to-be-messed-with. Still others say that hair symbolized the life force of an individual (which explains the popularity of Hair Club for Men) and thus should be emphasized for whatever reason that it should be emphasized. Was this just an ancient cultural thing? A mark of separation from the pagans? Or is shaving truly immoral? Do I need to grow a beard to be obedient? I'll admit that my biggest concern is that I'm traveling to my parents' home during January and my mother wants a new family portrait. She'd kill me if I showed up with a beard. Of course Levitcus actually says don't trim your beard presuming perhaps that you already have one? Maybe that's my workaround. This stuff is going to drive me crazy.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Month of Living Levitically

By Daniel Harrell

Whenever I've mentioned to folks my plan to preach the book of Leviticus during the winter,
there have been no shortage of puzzled looks. Sure, Leviticus is in the Bible, but didn't Jesus render it dispensable? What relevance could Leviticus possibly have to my life now? We're done with animal sacrifice and the whole cleanliness code, aren't we?

True confession: I've never studied Leviticus. I've only skimmed it as part of those read-through-the-Bible -in-a-year plans (though admittedly it's the place I usually get stuck in my reading through the Bible in a year). I get why Leviticus is part of the Hebrew scriptures, but do Christians need to heed it? What if God does intend us to obey it? He definitely intends that we obey parts of it. After all, Jesus taught the second greatest commandment to be "love your neighbor as yourself." That comes from Leviticus 19:18. What if there are other parts of Leviticus that are just as important?

Inspired by A. J. Jacobs' book The Year of Living Living Biblically, I've decided to find out. I've decided to try a month of living Levitically to coincide with my sermon series. You know, sort of a "living theology," just to see what happens. Walter Kim is going to join me. Are any of you interested in trying it too?

We're looking for ten people to be Levitical guinea pigs with us. We want to not only try to live by Leviticus (albeit interpreted through a 21st century Christian grid), but document it here on this blog too. Check out the Park Street Church website for details and watch this blog for updates on how the whole thing is going.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Birth

One of the things you're supposed to do when your wife has a baby is buy cigars. Not being much of a cigar guy, though definitely one who appreciates tradition, I pedaled over to Peretti's for a box of his best. Already at 9am there were a number of men in his store puffing away. He asked me how much I wanted to spend. I guessed, "50 bucks?" The gathered aficionados chuckled a collective raspy cackle. He said he could set me up with some Hondurans for $75. Sounded exotic. So I headed back to the church with my cigars in a box, making sure to stop by DD for a box of munchkins in case the cigars weren't much of a hit. And they weren't; at least not until I got to the women on staff. The hipster receptionist was among the first to elija el cigarro, followed shortly by the missions pastor who actually had his own cigar cutter that he'd brought back from a short term missions trip to Honduras. Eventually we had a quorum, enough to ascend to the roof and celebrate Violet's birth in proper form (sans receptionist who promised to join us next time). Admittedly, we all got a little sick (the missions pastor particularly so), a reminder that the fellowship of believers is a fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10). But also that we should rejoice with those who rejoice--on earth as it is in heaven (though the smoke in heaven is more likely the incense variety).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Church Shopping

I heard this funny thing: Somebody volunteered to help out here at the church, but by the time we contacted the person about getting them involved (a few days later), they let us know they had already started attending another church. Nice! Not that this is a surprise. There are so many good churches in the Boston area these days---so many more than when I first moved here 25 years ago. And if you're new, it takes a few Sundays to get around and see them all. What makes a good church? I'm guessing the worship experience is important, the music and the preaching needs to connect. And the community aspect matters, as I guess does location and the sorts of values a church espouses. But here's what I've always been curious about: Once someone has shopped and purchased a church (to keep with the consumer analogy), when and why does the buyer's remorse set in? I naively imagine that committing to a church is not unlike committing to a friendship. You make a friend and naturally desire that the relationship will deepen, so much so that you're willing to adjust expectations and behavior to make it happen. Or maybe it's just a big church thing. Once you get to a certain critical mass, the expectation is to be served rather than serve? Be fed rather than feed? Not that these should ever be dichotomous. One makes the other possible. As the body of Christ, we need each other.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Most Famous Man in America

The title refers to Henry Ward Beecher, famed founder preacher of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church (where former Park Street pastor David Fisher now serves). The son of the illustrious Lyman Beecher (among the last of the genuine New England Puritans) and brother of Edward Beecher (another former pastor of Park Street), Henry Ward Beecher was his day's Billy Graham in terms of preaching renown and name recognition, Bill Clinton in terms of scandal, and basically all over the map theologically. Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln gave Beecher credit for keeping England from siding with the South during the Civil War. Mark Twain and Walt Whitman both counted themselves as admirers. Debby Applegate's Pultizer prize winning biography of Beecher ( surveys his life, successes and failures, and concludes that the gospel of unconditional love that so pervades Christianity (to the exclusion of judgment and sin) is in large part Beecher's legacy---so successful in fact that it eclipses the man himself. He was an orator for the ages, with many of his words still in circulation:
"The power of hiding ourselves from one another is mercifully given, for men are wild beasts, and would devour one another but for this protection."
What struck me about the book was the power that personality has over theology. So much of what has been passed down to us to believe through the ages results from the particular passions of those who fashioned it. This is both good and bad, of course, for reasons that Beecher himself fully recognized even as he was doing it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The church was packed with kids for the annual Park Street version of Vacation Bible School called Kidsweek. Crafts, dramas, music, a lot of fun. The theme was Avalanche Ranch. Lots of cowboys and cowgirls. I got to play Joshua one day. Led groups of kids to the parting of the Jordan River (accomplished by having two pieces of blue tarp pulled apart by pulling on a hook and wire pulley). As I sat in front of the 5th graders to check their Bible acumen, I said, "This is the Jordan River, who does that make you?" They replied, "We're the Israelites!" When I asked the 6-year-olds, their reply was "We're Americans." And then when I asked the 4-year-olds, the answer came back, "I'm Hannah." It was straight out of child development class. Of course what it signifies is the move we all make developmentally from the ability to see the world as solely as an extension of ourselves to being able to see it as comprised of many other cultures and people besides ourselves. The irony, of course, is that even though we're able to conceive of all these other people, we still think mostly just about ourselves.

Who Has Time to Blog?

With sermons to prepare and preach, people to see, books to read and prayers to pray, setting aside time to keep up with minister blog is no small feat. All that to say I'm sorry for having not written anything since April.

Friday, April 27, 2007


People will say that their biggest obstacle to believing in Jesus, right after the “problem of evil,” is the exclusivity of Jesus (John 14:6). Is Jesus the only way to God? I overheard an interesting conversation of late where a professor argued that Jesus’ assertion “No one comes to the Father except through me” was not a statement of exclusivity (with the emphasis on only) but a statement of uniqueness (with the emphasis on me). Then, with a deft hermeneutical move over into Matthew’s gospel, the professor identified the “me” of Jesus as his solidarity with “the least of these” (Matt 25:40). Since “the least of these” (the outcast and the excluded) are thereby included, Jesus is saying that the only ones ever excluded from the kingdom are excluders. Granted there is a flaw in logic here: If indeed Jesus excludes excluders, that makes Jesus an excluder and he thereby excludes himself (but I digress). Christians struggle as much as nonbelievers with this claim of Christ. Is he simply saying that saying that salvation is only possible through him (an ontological claim, Acts 4:12)? Or is Jesus also asserting that a person must know him to gain access to God (an epistemological claim and the cause of much missionary anxiety)? I heard another workaround that went like this: “Jesus is the only way to God, but there may be many ways to Jesus.” Author Annie Dillard told the tale of a missionary who approaches an Eskimo and shares the gospel. The Eskimo asks, “Are you saying that my rejection of this message constitutes my damnation?” The missionary responded yes. The Eskimo replied, “Then why did you tell me?” Christianity is based on the reality of God incarnate in Christ. This is how God so loved the world (John 3:16). But some will wonder: Is it love if most of the world has historically been unable to know it?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rent to Own

We've embarked on an ambitious project to raise 10 million dollars in order to repair and refurbish the church on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. We have to fix the roof, point the bricks, repair elevators. We want to redo the interior front of the meeting house to accomdate morning and night worship, create a better welcome area and spruce up the Fellowship Hall. One of the things that's hard to remember when you attend Park Street Church is that the buildings literally belong to the congregation. It's our responsibility to keep them in shape. Maybe the reason it's hard to remember this is that our congregation is so transient; people who feel like renters instead of owners. We're only here for a short time, so the church isn't really my church. This isn't a recent reality. Ever since Park Street became engaged with the ebb and flow of university life, it's known the ebb and flow of congregational life. People come and go with the frequency of the seasons. Alas. Nevertheless, the ones who came before us made sure that we had this place on the corner to come to once it was our turn. And even if our stint has been a short one, surely our (good) experiences here make us want to leave the place in proper shape for the ones who'll come next.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Upside of Hypocrisy

It was the 17th century French writer, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, who first suggested the upside to hypocrisy when he quipped, “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” His point, I think, was that at least when you’re a hypocrite, the morality you’re faking at least looks like morality. Al Gore can get caught consuming 20 times the national average of electricity in his 20-room home, but at least his message against global warming gets heard. Mitt Romney can do his chameleon bit as he races from Blue State to Red State, but at least issues of social significance get debated. The Pharisees could cheat their way around the Ten Commandments and fail to practice what they preached, but at least they preached it. Yet hypocrisy infuriated Jesus almost more than anything else. Why? Is it because God (who alone is able to see the heart) is forced to look at all our inconsistencies? We know that being saved by grace hardly makes any of us sin-free; if anything, it makes the sins we continue to commit seem even worse. Would it be better to let our true selves show instead of trying to keep up appearances? Honesty and humility are the only cures for hypocrisy (empowered by that same grace), but we Christians still haven’t managed to figure how to help one another pull down our masks and risk it. We’re just too afraid of what we’ll see; or worse, we’re too afraid of what others will see in us. Best to leave the darkness of our hearts to the eyes of God?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oscar Night

I imagine many church folks made it home in time to watch Marty finally get his Best Director Oscar for his bloody Boston movie (which by the way is hardly what Southie is like these days). I was interested in Jennifer Hudson's acceptance speech, given her unabashed profession of faith. I have to admit it made me cringe a bit. Not because I don't appreciate whenever public figures are genuine believers (which I understand Miss Hudson to be); it's just that the Hollywood setting for any profession of faith is just so, well, ironic. Given the material and self-serving values of show business, not to mention the showiness, I don't know, I'd just prefer to leave Jesus out of it. Granted, the movies are a powerful medium. And I like when faith is portrayed on screen in un-caricatured fashion, as with the current film Amazing Grace (though we are talking 18th-early 19th century in his case). Still, Narnia and The Passion included (especially once you throw in Mel Gibson's after-antics), movies are still for the most part entertainment more than anything. And I can't help but struggle with making an honest connection between faith and entertainment, given that faith will most times get the short end of the stick. Except in the rarest instances (namely, when the need to make a profit is not at stake), making Holywood out of Hollywood is a long, long reach.