Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So who's lying? ( Titus 1 )

"All Cretans are liars," said the Cretan poet.

I don't know if Paul got the joke. If all Cretans are liars, how can you trust the Cretan who tells you that all Cretans are liars? Well, apparently Anaxamander (if memory serves me correctly) had a whole string of unpleasant things to say about his fellow countrymen:
Tit 1:12 Kendilerinden biri, öz peygamberlerinden biri şöyle demiştir: "Giritliler hep yalancıdır, azgın canavarlar, tembel oburlardır."
Let's look at a few words:
  • Giritliler -- People of Crete, Cretans. Girit (Crete) + li (partaking of, citizen of) + ler (plural) [1]
  • hep -- all
  • yalancıdır -- Liar(s). Yalan (lie) + cı (agent ending, like the -er in baker) + dır (are)
  • canavarlar -- beasts
  • tembel -- lazy
After this observation was published, I imagine that the poet heard the same message communicated to Tom Wolfe after he published his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. The message that became the title of his next novel, You Can't Go Home Again.


[1] OK -- so li comes before ler. Even as it's idiomatically correct, in English, to talk about a "little old lady," but not an "old little lady." Size comes before time ... one of those "rules" that native speakers never even notice!

If you think it's hard now ... ! ( II Tim. 4 )

When times get tough, people get strange. There are times, rare in history, when a distinct demographic group suddenly is fascinated by God's truth, eager and responsive. This usually happens at times of national catastrophe. However, a more common reaction is to tune in to comforting lies. In the aftermath of the American war of Northern aggression, our people brooded over the smoking ruins of two Christian nations. The losers had lost the war, and suffered punitive military occupation. The winners lost their souls. This was the time when "dispensationalism," a perverted heresy that ran rampant through popular Protestantism, sank its roots into the hearts of this subculture. Paul warned Timothy using graphic language:
2Ti 4:3 Çünkü öyle bir zaman gelecek ki, sağlam öğretiye katlanamayacaklar. Kulaklarını okşayan sözler duymak için çevrelerine kendi arzularına uygun öğretmenler toplayacaklar.
2Ti 4:4 Kulaklarını gerçeğe tıkayıp masallara sapacaklar.
And today's word is:
  • okşamak -- to caress, to fondle.
People who see nothing but increasing distress ahead are easy prey for those who seduce, caress, and fondle their ears. Who trot out rationalizations for why things turned out so bad.

And Paul's advice to Timothy was -- expect it, and soldier on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you can keep your head ( II Tim. 3 )

Paul loved the Jewish civilization, tradition, and culture, with all the passion of one who knew himself to be somewhat peripheral to it. Stalin, after all, was a Georgian. Hitler was an Austrian. And Paul, who had the most impeccable Jewish credentials, and had even completed advanced studies at Jerusalem U, studying with the most prestigious rabbis of his day, was still the guy from Anatolia.[1]

Yet, Paul knew that "the beloved community" was on a collision course with reality. His nation, his tribe, his people, were being mismanaged into destruction. Israel had crucified and rejected the Prophet God sent them, and that's a hard mistake to bounce back from. So, Paul warned his protege, dying cultures can break bad. Dying cultures can be possessed by an insane lust to share the misery. "Timothy, my lad, watch out," Paul wrote.
2Ti 3:1 Şunu bil ki, son günlerde çetin anlar olacaktır.
2Ti 3:2, 3 İnsanlar kendilerini seven, para düşkünü, övüngen, kibirli, küfürbaz, anne baba sözü dinlemez, nankör, kutsallıktan ve sevgiden yoksun, uzlaşmaz, iftiracı, özünü denetleyemeyen, azgın, iyilik düşmanı olacaklar.
2Ti 3:4 Hain, aceleci, kendini beğenmiş, Tanrı'dan çok eğlenceyi seven, Tanrı yolundaymış gibi görünüp bu yolun gücünü inkâr edenler olacaklar. Böylelerinden uzak dur.
Let's look at that last sentence:
  • Böylelerinden -- from these kinds of people
  • uzak -- far away
  • dur -- stay!
Although it may be a surprise to today's apocalyptic nincompoops, Paul's letter to Timothy was written to Timothy. The condemned prisoner was giving the man he most counted on to further his legacy the exact admonitions and advice that protege needed. Paul did not break away from addressing Timothy to pen a handful of sentences for the entertainment of 20th century fortune-tellers.

Still, Timothy had to know what to expect as his culture came unglued. How people could be expected to react to those special pressures. What kinds of charlatans would arise to take advantage of the prevailing misery. All of this is helpful information for believers facing the unraveling of their worlds, at those hinges of history.


[1] A man may live 50 years in the south -- but whenever he opens his mouth, people hear "Pittsburgh."

The Big Picture ( II Tim. 2 )

One of the metaphors Paul frequently uses is the soldier. I sometimes wonder how my life would be different today if I had answered my country's call back in the late '60s. When you march in demonstrations against your nation's military, even if only out of a desire to belong, a desire to impress your peers, it leaves a nagging suspicion, in the back of your mind, about your own manliness, your own courage, your own ability to face hardship and adversity. I know, logically, that my nation hasn't participated in a just war for well over 150 years. I know, as Smedley Butler realized, that most of our more recent wars have made a handful of plutocrats really rich, while costing the expendables their lives, limbs, and sanity.

Yet on a level beyond logic, a sense that one has avoided the challenge of his generation does leave one at a loss when talking with those who took the challenge, measured themselves against it, and measured up.

Well, as Uncle Remus used to say, "Dat's needer heer nor dare." Paul used the metaphor of military service to warn Timothy against the tyranny of petty distractions:
2Ti 2:4 Askerlik yapan kişi günlük yaşamla ilgili işlere karışmaz; kendisini askerliğe çağıranı hoşnut etmeye çalışır.
A few words:
  • Askerlik -- military. asker (soldier) + lik (participating in the characteristics of)
  • günlük -- mundane. gün (day) + lük (participating in the characteristics of)
  • yaşamla -- of life
  • işlere -- works
Now, on the one hand, most of life does consist of small duties, routine obligations. The problem happens when one gets immersed in the urgent to the extent of neglecting the important. There are always trivial things one could be doing. Programmers call those distractions "dogwash." When a major project is approaching its deadline, other things suddenly look interesting. Like washing the dog.

Only a vision of the Commander who conscripted us has sufficient power to break us out of the tyranny of the urgent, the immediate, and keep our eyes focused on the big picture.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Non-automatic gifts ( II Tim. 1 )

Second Timothy is believed to be the last letter Paul wrote. In any case, if he wrote anything after this letter, we don't have it. He's in prison, looking down the barrel of one last criminal trial, and probable execution. He is encouraging his closest associate, the younger man he trusts to carry on his mission. He reminds Timothy of how much he has going for him -- starting with the Biblical faith of his grandmother and mother. And, he reminds him of his spiritual empowerment:
2Ti 1:6 Bu nedenle, ellerimi senin üzerine koymamla Tanrı'nın sana verdiği armağanı alevlendirmen gerektiğini hatırlatıyorum.
2Ti 1:7 Çünkü Tanrı bize korkaklık ruhu değil, güç, sevgi ve özdenetim ruhu vermiştir.
Key words, verse 6:
  • armak -- gift
  • alevlendirmen -- stir up into flame
Key words, verse 7:
  • Tanrı -- God
  • bize -- to us
  • korkaklık --fearful
  • ruhu -- spirit
  • değil, -- not
  • güç, -- power, strength
  • sevgi -- love
  • özdenetim -- self-mastery
  • vermiştir -- He has given
Each of us has his own special "gift," his own knack for doing something more easily than most of our peers. The problem is, these "gifts" do not operate themselves. Yes, God has equipped us with an ability to make an impact on our world. No, we can't go onto autopilot and coast along. For example, I have a gift for writing. However, unless I "glue the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair" and "drive the dreary quill," nothing happens, other than increasing anxiety and frustration.

Well, I'm memorizing verse 7, as part of the ongoing project of recalibrating the brain.

Servant or master? ( I Tim. 6 )

Here is an interesting article on the intersection of money and putperest (idolatry).

Here is the most famous quote from İncil about money:
1Ti 6:10 Çünkü her türlü kötülüğün bir kökü de para sevgisidir. Kimileri zengin olma hevesiyle imandan saptılar, kendi kendilerine çok acı çektirdiler.
Let's look at a few words!
  • Çünkü -- Because
  • her -- every
  • türlü -- kind
  • kötülüğün -- of evil
  • bir kökü de -- a root of
  • para -- money
  • sevgisidir -- love is.
It's not the money itself that is evil, but the inordinate love of it. Like fire -- a wonderful servant, but a fearsome master!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Priorities ( I Tim. 5:8 )

Efeses is a sophisticated place. People loved having long conversations on speculative topics. Time after time Paul had to remind them -- directly, and again through Timothy -- that good doctrine must be lived. Consider this shocking offhand comment:

    1Ti 5:8 Kendi yakınlarına, özellikle de ev halkına bakmayan kişi imanı inkâr etmiş, imansızdan beter olmuştur. 

Let's look at a few words:

  • imanı -- the faith (direct object case)
  • inkâr -- denial
  • etmiş -- has made
  • imansızdan -- than an unbeliever
  • beter -- worse
  • olmuştur -- has become 

A favorite scholar, R. J. Rushdoony, suggested that the American cult of celebrity correlates to the loss of reverence for worship. When we celebrate our covenant with God with condign passion and seriousness, we are less inclined to live (and lust) vicariously through the glossy pages of People magazine. 

Still, this is  a country that cherishes its heros, its larger-than-life sized "American idols." Sadly, this adulation of public figures has also affected the community of believers. Several decades ago, several very visible "televangelists" had spectacular public falls. A century ago, a Billy Sunday mesmerized a million people into performing a novel ritual, the "altar call response." Meanwhile, he lost all four of his own children. His advocacy of prohibition also discredited Christians in the larger public sphere ever since. 

Paul asserts that the man who refuses to measaure up to his responsibilities at home is "worse than an unbeliever." No atheist hurling[0] brickbats[1] at us from outside our community can do as much harm to the gospel we proclaim than the guy inside the camp who feels entitled to consort with prostitutes. 


[0] Hurl is a less-common way of saying throw, and always refers to an object propelled with hostile intent. A decade ago, it was also a slang term for the verb vomit

[1] That's a funny old word, defined by its use. "An object, such as a piece of a brick, that is hurled in a fight." 

Left brain, right brain ( I Tim. 4 )

During the American war of independence, an engineer named Bushnell invented a submarine he called the Turtle. It was made of wood, and shaped rather like a barrel. The inventor climbed into it, closed the lid and began turning a crank that span a propellor that moved the ungainly craft slowly towards its target. 

Creative writing has been described as performing a right-brain activity (visual, spatial, 3-D) through left-brain means (verbal, linear). For me, a good and productive day is more like one wherein I can get "inside" the project, and start cranking away. 

The muse is mysterious. Folks on speaking terms with it tend to be incredibly productive. But getting into the flow is the problem. It is entirely too easy to drift around the outside of one's calling, one's area of giftedness, and not get anything done. My screen saver is a three-word phrase, ... armağanı ihmal etme. Armak = gift. ihmal = neglect. etme = do not. Let's look at the larger context:

    1Ti 4:13 Ben yanına gelinceye dek kendini topluluğa Kutsal Yazılar'ı okumaya, öğüt vermeye, öğretmeye ada. 
    1Ti 4:14 Peygamberlik sözüyle, ihtiyarlar kurulunun ellerini senin üzerine koymasıyla sana verilen ve hâlâ sende olan ruhsal armağanı ihmal etme. 
Timothy, it appears, was a gifted speaker who was prone to stage fright. Paul reminded him of all that had gone into making him the man he was, and told him, "Don't let it go to waste."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Of kings and castles ( I Timothy 3 )

Mormonism has been called "the American Islam." This strange cult, which is especially strong in the state of Utah, boasts a post-Christian prophet and another book. The early Mormons also believed that polygamy was necessary for salvation. They discovered for themselves the observation made by anthropologists in Africa -- the men found themselves outnumbered all too often, as the wives made common cause. The Mormons had a wry comment on that condition -- "That man isn't king in his own castle!"

The family is the truest nursery for leadership in the larger community.
1Ti 3:1 İşte güvenilir söz: Bir kimse gözetmen olmayı gönülden istiyorsa, iyi bir görev arzu etmiş olur.
1Ti 3:4 Evini iyi yönetmeli, çocuklarına söz dinletmeli, her yönden saygılı olmalarını sağlamalı.
1Ti 3:5 Kendi evini yönetmesini bilmeyen, Tanrı'nın topluluğunu nasıl kayırabilir?
If it doesn't work at home, our gospel isn't worth exporting. (This is also, BTW, the motivation of many home schooling families.)

God likes good government ( I Timothy 2 )

"You know, there's something to be said about living in a police state," I said to myself one sweet summer midnight, as I strolled through downtown Kiev, feeling completely safe.

People in Franco's Spain could say whatever they liked about him -- but you could leave a $5 bill on the seat of a convertible on the streets of Madrid -- and no one would touch it.

People in South Africa today -- people of all shades -- recall the apartheid era with wistful nostalgia. "Before God, sir, we intended no malice," the Afrikaaner explained to me on the plane back from Kiev. Apartheid was an attempt to maintain the peace between a dozen or more tribes, only a few generations out of the stone age. Today, abortion and sodomy are legal -- and South Africa leads most of the world in per-capita rape and murder rates. Ain't progress wonderful?

What did Paul have to say about the imperial Roman empire and its sovereign, Caesar Nero?
1Ti 2:1, 2 Her şeyden önce şunu öğütlerim: Tanrı yoluna tam bir bağlılık ve ağırbaşlılık içinde sakin ve huzurlu bir yaşam sürelim diye, krallarla bütün üst yöneticiler dahil, bütün insanlar için dilekler, dualar, yakarışlar ve şükürler sunulsun.
1Ti 2:3 Böyle yapmak iyidir ve Kurtarıcımız Tanrı'yı hoşnut eder.
1Ti 2:4 O bütün insanların kurtulup gerçeğin bilincine erişmesini ister.
During times of peace, we have leisure to talk with our neighbors about the things that matter most to us. During times of strife, turmoil, and hostility, conversations die out. As Americans, we need to pray for the end of political correctness, and reclaim our liberty to speak freely.

Meanwhile, back in Efeses (I Timothy 1)

Scholars of ancient Christian history make a big deal over the contrasts between Antioch and Alexandria. Each city produced notable pastors, preachers, and teachers. Antioch seemed to be more under the spell of the Jewish culture, while Alexandria, of course, was named for that conquering Greek dude, Alexander, and celebrated Hellenistic culture.

Once again, in this book, we come to a third major happening place in the history of revelation, Efeses. You see, in addition to Greek philosophy and Jewish traditions, the early believers had to figure out what to do with the crazy mystical esoteric pagan cults that bubbled up in force at places like Efeses. Paul had spent a very profitable two years in this city, at the peak of his professional career. He taught and catalyzed people with such powerful effect that the Christian message made it to every corner of Anatolia.

Yet, the older perversions hovered around the periphery, and tried to sneak back in. In his warning to the elders of Efeses in Acts 2, Paul warned them that some of the corrupting influences would even come from among their own number. It was to deal with "the crazies" that Paul, once again, sent his right-hand man, Timothy, back to town to set things straight.
1Ti 1:3, 4 Makedonya'ya giderken sana rica ettiğim gibi, Efes'te kal ve bazı kişilerin farklı öğretiler yaymamasını, masallarla ve sonu gelmeyen soyağaçlarıyla uğraşmamasını öğütle. Bu şeyler, imana dayanan tanrısal düzene hizmet etmekten çok, tartışmalara yol açar.
1Ti 1:5 Bu buyruğun amacı, pak yürekten, temiz vicdandan, içten imandan doğan sevgiyi uyandırmaktır.
1Ti 1:6 Bazı kişiler bunlardan saparak boş konuşmalara daldılar.
1Ti 1:7 Kutsal Yasa öğretmeni olmak istiyorlar, ama ne söyledikleri sözleri ne de iddialı oldukları konuları anlıyorlar.
Imagine a sailor spending hours reading The Bluejacket's Manual just to rejoice in its elegant discourse. Or, imagine a nerd with a shelf crammed with instruction manuals for software he doesn't have, and has no intention of using! People of faith view sacred books as handbooks for living. To turn our backs on life in order to disappear into endless and sterile speculations is a misuse of God's precious guidance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

II Salonika

In his first letter to the new believers at Salonika, Paul encouraged them to endure persecution with patience, since their enemies would soon experience divine retribution. To quote the late Jerry Falwell's recipe for dealing with adversaries, "Love them, forgive them, outlive them."

The world these people lived in was facing radical (from the roots up) turmoil, and the people who were riding high at the moment had a date with destiny.

The problem is, when you hear that judgment day is upon us, and the world we now know is on its last legs, it gets really easy to lose one's own drive, momentum, energy, mojo. Apparently, many of the lazier people in Salonika used this news as an excuse to slack off, and start living on the charity of others. During the late sixties / early seventies, as the bungled Vietnam war was winding down, the hippy subculture preached the wisdom of "tune in, turn on, drop out." Who wants to expend energy neatly arranging the deck furniture on a sinking Titanic? This turned out to be really bad advice, even if the "drug of choice" was a vivid personal relationship with Jesus. Quite a few long-haired "Jesus freaks" bummed around the country, living on the charity of others. This was not a good scene. (sorry, my hippy argot keeps cropping up!)

Let's look at how Paul addressed the issue:
2Th 3:7 Bizleri nasıl örnek almanız gerektiğini kendiniz biliyorsunuz. Çünkü biz aranızdayken boş gezenler değildik.
2Th 3:8 Kimsenin ekmeğini karşılıksız yemedik. Herhangi birinize yük olmamak için uğraşıp didindik, gece gündüz çalıştık.
2Th 3:9 Yardımlarınızı hak etmediğimiz için değil, izleyebileceğiniz bir örnek bırakmak için böyle yaptık.
2Th 3:10 Hatta sizinle birlikteyken şu buyruğu vermiştik: "Çalışmak istemeyen yemek de yemesin!"
2Th 3:11 Çünkü aranızda bazılarının boş gezdiğini duyuyoruz. Bunlar hiçbir iş yapmıyor, başkalarının işine karışıp duruyorlarmış.
2Th 3:12 Böylelerine Rab İsa Mesih adına yalvarıyor, şunu buyuruyoruz: Sakin bir şekilde çalışıp kendi kazançlarından yesinler.
2Th 3:13 Sizlerse kardeşler, iyilik yapmaktan usanmayın.
Let's look at a few words. In vs. 7, Paul admonishes the folks at Salonika to follow his example. In the other translation I use, the verb the translators selected is izleyebileceğiniz. Let's tease that apart:
  • iz -- footprint, track, trace, mark, evidence, clue
  • izlemek -- to follow, watch, view, observe
  • izci -- Boy / Girl Scout
  • izleyebileceğiniz -- you will be able to follow. Combines the root izle with ebil (capability suffix) and ecek (future tense) and iniz (second person plural).
In the original language, Paul demonstrates a bit of word play in verse 11:
μηδὲν ἐργαζομένους, ἀλλὰ περιεργαζομένους·
The people he reproved were no longer busy, but had become busybodies. Erg- , the Greek syllable for work, shows up in the English word energy. Running one's own life well is a major-league project. It's so much easier to assert a right to run other people's lives for them. I guess that explains the perennial appeal of liberalism.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Salonike 5 -- the mushroom committe

The English idiomatic phrase "in the dark" means "out of the loop." During the Reagan administration, the catch phrase was "plausible deniability." A famous congressional committee once complained of being treated like mushrooms -- "We're being kept in the dark, and covered with bullshit."[1]

The story is different for believers, though, and the ending is ultimately happy, no matter how it turns out in the short term:
1Th 5:4 Ama kardeşler, siz karanlıkta değilsiniz ki, o gün sizi hırsız gibi yakalasın.
1Th 5:5 Hepiniz ışık çocukları, gündüz çocuklarısınız. Geceye ya da karanlığa ait değiliz.
1Th 5:6 Öyleyse başkaları gibi uyumayalım, ayık ve uyanık olalım.
1Th 5:7 Çünkü uyuyanlar gece uyur, sarhoş olanlar da gece sarhoş olurlar.
1Th 5:8 Gündüze ait olan bizlerse, iman ve sevgi zırhını kuşanıp başımıza miğfer olarak kurtuluş umudunu giyerek ayık duralım.
1Th 5:9 Çünkü Tanrı bizi gazaba uğrayalım diye değil, Rabbimiz İsa Mesih aracılığıyla kurtuluşa kavuşalım diye belirledi.
1Th 5:10 Mesih bizler için öldü; öyle ki, ister uyanık ister uykuda olalım, O'nunla birlikte yaşayalım.
A few words!
  • Ama kardeşler, siz karanlıkta değilsiniz -- But / brothers, / you / of the darkness / you are not
  • Hepiniz ışık çocukları, gündüz çocuklarısınız -- Every one of you / light / are the children / of the day / you are the children.
You've got to be bright to be the lgiht of the world!

[1] Bullshit is a rude and contemptuous term for deliberately misleading and pretentious assertions. A favorite movie of mine, the rather clumsy Return of Captain Invincible, has an entire musical number consisting of that single word! Also known as "male bovine feces." The metaphor is cute, but in real life, mushrooms are raised on horse manure, since ruminants, with their four stomachs, leave little behind for mushrooms to feast upon.

Salonika 4 -- "Now I lay me down to sleep."

A long time ago, folks used to teach their children little rhyming prayers, such as this one, to be said at bedtime:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Hmmm ... I guess folks used to live more closely with death in those days. It would not cross my mind to comfort my children's souls by reminding them of their mortality every night!

Still, let's look at the words of comfort Paul gave the folks at Salonika:
1Th 4:14 İsa'nın ölüp dirildiğine inanıyoruz. Aynı şekilde Tanrı, İsa'ya bağlı olarak gözlerini yaşama kapamış olanları da O'nunla birlikte geri getirecektir.
We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. In the same way, we expect our God to resurrect those who gözlerini yaşama kapamış -- a lovely Turkish idiom that means their eyes / upon life / have closed.

Salonika 3 -- happy discoveries

The observant man notices failures around him as he goes through life. Some are petty. Some are catastrophic. A high school friend, one hears, "is doing 25 years to life,[0] for an incident involving a bank and a gun." An old mentor and excellent teacher was discovered to have forged his doctorate. Another friend, a brilliant and insightful guy, had a life that somehow never acquired enough momentum for liftoff into successful adulthood. He dies of multiple brain tumors, and his last few years are comforted by a new-found Catholic faith, and recourse to "the bottle."[1]

Then, from time to time, you learn that someone who'd made a spectacular train wreck of his life has overcome the setback and made remarkable progress in life. It is refreshing to find out "the rest of the story" decades later, and discover that it has a happy ending.

Paul tended to live in a compressed time frame. Note the exuberant joy:
1Th 3:5 Bu nedenle ben de daha fazla dayanamadım; acaba Ayartıcı bir yolunu bulup sizi ayarttı mı, emeğimiz boşa mı gitti diye iman durumunuzu öğrenmek için Timoteos'u gönderdim.
1Th 3:6 Ama yanınızdan henüz dönen Timoteos, imanınıza, sevginize ilişkin bize güzel haberler getirdi. Bizi her zaman iyi anılarla hatırladığınızı, sizi görmeyi özlediğimiz kadar sizin de bizi özlediğinizi söyledi.
His old friends were turning out all right. They were on the right track. All was well with his soul.


[0] "Doing time" is a euphemism for serving a prison sentence.

[1] When Americans speak of "the bottle," rather than of its contents, they frequently use the container as a euphemism for alcoholic beverages.

Salonika 2 -- a new citizenship

Americans tend to be tone-deaf to the communitarian aspects of human life. Our cultural icon is the cowboy, riding alone, making up his own rules as he goes along. A High Plains Drifter, disconnected from family, from faith, from the larger universe of relationships. Other cultures, high-context cultures, create conflicts few Americans face. For example, Dietrich Boenhoffer was excecuted towards the end of WW II for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He lamented, "I am the citizen of a totalitarian country, and the subject of a totalitarian God." In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Boenhoffer wrote, "When Jesus bids a man 'Come and follow Me,' he bids him 'Come and die.'" 

When worlds collide. What do you do when your girlfriend from back home shows up on campus, and encounters your local girlfriend? How do you resolve the tug of competing and irreconcilable allegiances?

This is an old issue. People who catch crabs dump them in a basket without a lid. If one crab tries to escape, you see, the others pull it back down into the community. In certain inner-city American neighborhoods, a studious student is reviled and ostracized for "acting white." For aspiring to do more, to "be better" than, his peers. 

This form of group loyalty can be extremely toxic. Suppose your community, like Hitler's Germany, is on a collision course with an unpleasant destiny? Suppose your Soviet future depends upon your willingness to join the Young Pioneers, wearing the red scarf and proclaiming your atheism? 

Let's look at how Paul encouraged the new believers in Salonika, who were facing exactly this issue:

    1Th 2:14 Çünkü kardeşler, siz Tanrı'nın Yahudiye'de bulunan ve Mesih İsa'ya bağlı olan kiliselerini örnek aldınız. Onların Yahudiler'den çektiği sıkıntıların aynısını siz de kendi yurttaşlarınızdan çektiniz. 
    1Th 2:15-16 Rab İsa'yı ve peygamberleri öldüren, bize de zulmeden Yahudiler'dir. Öteki uluslardan olanlarla konuşmamızı ve böylece onların kurtulmasını engellemekle Tanrı'nın hoşnutsuzluğuna yol açıyor ve bütün insanlara karşı geliyorlar. Böylece durmadan günahlarına günah katıyorlar. Sonunda Tanrı'nın gazabına uğradılar. 

Talk about toxic! That old Antolian sage Aesop told the story of The Manger Dog. This foul brute lay down in the ox's manger, resting on straw it could not eat, and keeping the hungry ox from its dinner. The Jewish people not only discarded God's King, but worked overtime to keep the other nations from enjoying that which they disdained. 

Yet, even as Israel, and the Roman Empire, careened on their courses towards oblivion, a "third race," neither Jewish nor Gentile, although composed of folks from both communities, was quietly rising up. Some of the crabs were getting away from a date with the pot of boiling water. Even today, people are coming to shelter under the aegis of the Eternal King, Jesus, giving up their entire world, and finding a new home, a new family, a new community.

Salonika 1 -- a happening place

Winston Churchill, that maker of memorable phrases, described the tragedy of the Balkans thus: "a place that produces more history than can be consumed locally." Salonika has always been a happening place, to use the old hippy phrase. It's at the grinding edge of multiple cultures. In the late 19th century, Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, began his military education there. 

I'm still working on a dissertation that examines Atatürk's Nutuk (Six Day Speech). It's a persuasive document, that uses all three of the primary colors of discourse Aristotle analyzed so tediously in his handbook on Rhetoric. There is logos, the appeal to rationality. There is pathos, the appeal to the emotions. Most convincing, however, is ethos -- the attraction of the speaker's character. Atatürk strode through history as a larger-than-life figure, who earned the right to shape his nation's destiny by his heroic deeds. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, is said to travel with a "reality-distortion sphere." When he turns it on, those around him find themselve fascinated by his compelling vision. Atatürk apparently had the same effect on those around him. To this day, traffic stops once a year as a grateful nation remembers the month, day, hour, and minute of his death. 

As Paul begins to address the new Christians in Salonika, he appeals to ethos:

    1Th 1:5 Çünkü yaydığımız Müjde size yalnız sözle değil, kudretle, Kutsal Ruh'la ve büyük güvenle ulaştı. Nitekim aranızdayken sizin yararınıza nasıl yaşadığımızı bilirsiniz. 
Let's look at a few words:

  • yalnız sözle değil -- not only / with words / not
  • kudretle -- but with power
  • Kutsal Ruh'la -- and with the Holy Spirit
  • ve büyük güvenle -- and / great / assurance, confidence with
  • Nitekim -- because
  • aranızdayken -- while we were among
  • sizin yararınıza -- you / next to we were
  • nasıl yaşadığımızı bilirsiniz. -- how / our lives (were lived) / you know.
Paul had just been thoroughly beaten at his last place of ministry, Philippi. Yet his courage in proclaiming his good news in Salonika had raised up an energetic congregation that also became examples to the surrounding cities. Heros beget heros. Nobility inspires nobility. Modern Turkey is largely the shadow of one man's life. The Christian message owes much to the life and work and heroism of Paul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I hope to do justice to this dynamic little book on my next trek through Incil. One thing that impressed me this time, though -- the newsletter network that Paul participated in was his generation's equivalent of our LinkedIn. This new social network has been called "FaceBook for grownups," and is a remarkable way to connect to people and places you've worked with in ages past. Paul wrote to the church at Collossae from prision. He had never been their personally, but he knew people who knew people, and was known to be a reliable source of inspired, and inspiring, advice.