“See thou hurt not the oil and the thigh”

Reading Genesis 32 this morning, I was bewildered, as I am every time I reach a passage which is not immediately nourishing to my soul. My convictions about the meaning of Scripture can be summed thusly: Everything written is about Christ and for the church. There’s more to it than that, of course. I don’t want to be found guilty of squeezing Scripture in a headlock until it blesses me the way I wish, regardless of its intent or original meaning. So, having established the grammatical-historical-literary whats-it of the text, I always ask myself how this text is about Christ, and how it is for me and the saints.

As far as I can tell, this is necessarily typological. Jonah is a type of Christ, the whale a type of the grave, the spitting out a type of resurrection, and Ninevah a type of those who hear and believe, right? Right.

Now Genesis 32. Jacob wrestles with a man long into the night, and when the man sees he can’t win, he touches Jacob’s hip and cripples him. Then he asks to be let go because day has broken, and as everyone knows, dawn is when all fighting with the supernatural must cease. Jacob refuses to let go unless the man blesses him, and so the man gives Jacob a new name: Israel, “he strives with God.” So Jacob lets him go, and now Jews don’t eat the sinew on the thigh. And pray with me. Every head bowed and every eye closed, if you’ve never accepted Jesus into your heart…

No really, what is going on? I still don’t know for sure, but I think that last part gives an insight into typology that I’d like to chase down. Genesis 32:32 says “Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socked of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.” Jacob’s thigh is present in some sense in every thigh, and every time butchering day comes around, the Jews are reminded again that their nation is founded on the faithfulness of their God not to destroy stubborn Jacob.

This is a function of all those stories told in the Old Testament, a function of the earthiness of Scripture. For those with eyes to see, every thigh is Jacob’s thigh, every meal a Paschal feast, every lamb the lamb of God, every tree a cross, every Lord’s Day the Day of the Lord. We know this principle which McClendon calls the “This is That” instinctively, which is why brides wear white, why some people never wear funeral clothes twice. What is it that Lewis says? “Every bush (could we but perceive it), a Burning Bush.” The holy things of God are earthy to make the things of earth holy.

All Time Favs: Discworld


So, I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make.

I’ve been tracking my reading for the year, and as of July 18th, when I left for my vacation, I had read 42 books, and- here’s the embarrassing part- 26 of them were Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. If you aren’t familiar with the Discworld series, it’s an incredibly funny fantasy series which parodies basically everything- Tolkien, ancient Near-East creation myths, Hollywood, British-French relations- everything.

Anyway, I love Pratchett, and you should too. So, as hard as it is for me to choose, here are my favorite Discworld books, in no particular order:

1) Moving Pictures– The citizens of the Discworld’s largest and oldest city, Ankh-Morpork, start making moving pictures with the help of the alchemists, and they flock to the site of an old city, Holy Wood, to start turning out blockbusters. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s pretty characteristic of Pratchett that toward the end of the book there’s a scene with a fifty-foot woman hauling a gibbering ape up the side of a tower.

2) Witches Abroad– The witches of Lancre- Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick- are out to rescue a young Cinderella-figure in a far-away land from her fairy godmother. Lots of twists along the way.

3) Wyrd Sisters– Again with the witches (don’t worry though- Granny Weatherwax doesn’t hold with the occult)- this is basically Macbeth told from the point of view of the witches. Hilarious.

4) Guards! Guards!– Back in Ankh-Morpork, this book follows the captain of the city’s Night Watch, Sam Vimes, and his incompetent men through political intrigue, plotting, petite dragons and large women. In fact, as I think about it, this one might be my all-time favorite, if only because of the interaction between Vimes and one Lady Sybil Ramkin.

5) Jingo– As an island mysteriously emerges in the Circle Sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, political tensions heighten. In order to stop a war, now-Commander Sam Vimes must follow a suspected Assassin across the sea while his bungling men, Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs (whom Pratchett describes as “disqualified from the human race for shoving”), are forced to accompany the Patrician on a slightly wetter excursion.

6) Going Postal– After Albert Spangler, longtime thief and con-artist, is hanged in Ankh-Morpork for a lifetime of villainy, he is surprised to wake up in the Oblong Office of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari. Vetinari offers Spangler a new life as the Postmaster General of the Royal Mail, an office that has with it a surprising amount of excitement and danger. Of all the characters on the Disc, Spangler (real name Moist Von Lipwig) might be my favorite.

7) The Fifth Elephant– Commander of the City Watch Sam Vimes is up again, only this time he is being sent by the Patrician as a diplomat to Uberwald, a  vast and thickly-forested region which was for years united under the Unholy Empire and only recently broke up into a number of small satellite kingdoms. Vimes does not enjoy the Old Country, however, particularly that time when he ends up hanging from a tree branch by the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya while werewolves circle hungrily below. I think I have read this one five or ten times.

8) Lords and Ladies– Magrat Garlick has married a king and hung up her witch’s hat, while Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg find that being the Mother and the Crone without the Maiden isn’t much fun. But when the Fay come back, it’s no holds barred for queen, witch, and blacksmith alike.

I could go on, actually, but eight is a good number. I think Mustrum Ridcully would approve.


Ends and Means


I am, as might be evident from certain previous posts, a Calvinist. I remain so, even though my good friend David has taken me to the dry cleaners on the issue of limited atonement in the comments of another post concerning that doctrine (David, if you still follow this blog, I’d love to continue that conversation; I’ll get in touch with you).

An important aspect of theology is the discussion of categories, and an important aspect of Calvinist theology is having a category for ends and means. Ends may be thought of (a little simplistically) as things to be accomplished, and means may be thought of as how those things are to be accomplished.

In conversations with people, I’ve always struggled to know how to communicate this in a clear and understandable way, and my friend/boss/pastor Kerry Bender gave an illustration the other day which I think nailed it. Here it is:

Once a little girl was spending the weekend at her grandparents house. When she woke up one morning, she wandered downstairs and into the kitchen to find both her grandparents sitting at a little table while water boiled in a kettle on the stovetop. So the little girl asked her grandfather, “Grandpa, why is the water boiling?”
“Well, sweetheart, when your grandma turned the knob on the stove,  gas started flowing through the burners and was ignited, creating a flame. That flame is transferring energy in the form of heat to the copper kettle, and since copper is a very good conductor, the heat is quickly and efficiently being transferred to the water inside. As that heat is being transferred it’s causing all the little water molecules to heat up and become agitated, and eventually reach a point of such agitation that it has become visible, and that’s why the water is boiling.” With that the little girl’s grandfather sat back in his chair, confident that he had given a solid scientific answer. But the little girl turned to her grandmother and repeated the question: “Grandma, why is the water boiling?”
With an amused look at her husband, the old woman replied, “The water is boiling because we’re having tea.”


What The World Needs To See

Happy May Day!

Last Thursday a few friends from work and I went to see a Twins game. We lost, but that’s not the point.

It was about sixty degrees when I left my house to meet my friends downtown, so I just wore a collared shirt, no jacket. When I arrived at the meet-up, I saw my friend Mourad, a sixty-year old Tunisian man, wearing a jacket and carrying a blanket under his arm.
“What are you thinking? Did you know it is cold tonight?” He berated me. I told him I would be fine, and he said, “Well, you aren’t getting my blanket!”

By the time we found our seats it had already dropped into the forties. At the bottom of the second, this picture was taken:

Notice who has the lion’s share of the blanket.

As this picture was being taken, Mourad said to me, “This is what the world needs to see: a Muslim and a Christian sharing a blanket.” I agree.
Of course, what the world doesn’t need to see is that by the bottom of the fifth I had the blanket all to myself, and it’s still in my room right now. Eh, what the world doesn’t know can’t hurt it.

Thankful for kind Muslims,

Thank You, Dr. Heimlich

Almost eight years ago, the beginning of the summer of 2005. I had just gotten my lifeguarding certification that spring, with the attendant oxygen administration and first aid/CPR certifications. I remember being in line for food at a huge picnic, when not ten feet away from me a woman started screaming. “Help! My baby’s choking!” My first instinct was to go over to her and tell her that I could help, when all of the sudden I froze. Agonizing seconds ticked by. That baby is choking! I said to myself. But I don’t remember what to do! Eventually someone else stepped in to help, and the baby was fine. But I was shaken up. My heart was pounding, adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I felt like a failure.

Last night at work I was standing in at the front desk when a coworker came out of the break room and ran toward me in a panic, making the universal sign for choking. I positioned myself behind her and began performing abdominal thrusts until the food was dislodged. After she recovered, I realized that my heart rate hadn’t even gone up. In fact, I hadn’t even stopped to think about what to do; I just did it.

It’s amazing the difference between those two events. Years of training and countless calls on the ambulance have drilled certain skill-sets into my head. I think there’s a lesson there. If I had to go back and talk to 15-year old Dan Stanley, I would tell him that though the stakes were high that day, he should be comforted by the fact that it takes time to develop automatic responses. I would encourage him to keep on training, because someday the training would pay off.

I think the Christian faith is like that. We who trust in Christ are, right now, becoming what we will someday be (1 John 3:2-3). We are weak yet, but God is working in us that which is pleasing to him, namely, our growth in all things into Christ, who is our Head (Ephesians 4:15). We aren’t perfect in holiness yet. But we are being perfected. And the more that we follow the Spirit in denying the flesh, the more accustomed we will be to following the Spirit and denying the flesh.

So today’s little acts of holiness amid a sea of failure do count. It’s not in vain to deny the flesh this afternoon, even if you do give in tonight. You’re growing up. And that should be encouraging.