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And it is as much agreeable to an established course and order of nature, that since Adam, the head of mankind, the root of that great tree with many branches springing from it, was deprived of original righteousness, the branches should come forth without it. . . . Grace is introduced among the race of man by a new establishment; not on the ground of God’s original establishment, as the head of the natural world, and author of the first creation; but by a constitution of a vastly higher kind; wherein Christ is made the root of the tree, whose branches are his spiritual seed, and he is the head of the new creation.

— Jonathan Edwards,

 

From Blog: https://gospelofthetrees.net/Edwards

 

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I want to teach my students how to write their stories this week. I have no clue how because I’ve only written a couple myself, and never consistently. I don’t have a process.

Thus, Google: how to write a short story

The first step: write the story.

The Rose in a Glass Jar

I woke up before anyone else, and stole down the stairs towards the kitchen as quiet as a mouse so as not to wake my sister or parents. Once in the kitchen, I found an empty pasta sauce glass jar and filled it with water, about a little less than halfway up the jar, and took a pair of scissors from the drawer and quietly made my way outside to the front yard.

Out next to the concrete driveway, the rose bushes sat up like school children eagerly raising their red, orange, and pink hands to answer. There were red, orange sherbet, and pink salmon roses. I walked around the bushes, inspecting each one carefully, looking for a flower generous enough for my purposes. The red ones were too small and stingy. The orange ones shone brilliantly but were already withering in these hot days. But after a while, I found a light pink rose still dripping with the morning dew, but mature and open enough. I took out my kitchen shears, snipped the unassuming flower, and stored it away in my glass jar. I placed the jar in my backpack, carefully putting it between my binders and notebooks to keep it upright on its journey to school.

I came to school too early. School didn’t start until 8, but I left around 7 because I was too excited and nervous to wait any longer at home. Instead of going to my homeroom, I went straight over to Mr. Ross’s portable, sitting on the rubberized ramp in the morning cold, waiting for her to come by.

[insert flashback about meeting Peggy here – church, pretty girl, silk skirt, tall, on the DACA swim team, etc. etc.talk about your general fear of talking to pretty girls, etc.]

Peggy finally came. When she saw me, I think I saw fear come across her face. I reacted, too, made a barely audible “hello”, and she brushed right past me and scurried into the security of Mr. Ross’s portable where her friends and classmates huddled from the cold. I had missed my shot.

But she never came, or at least I didn’t see her come. Donald, however, my good pal who  wore Donald Duck shirts, did come by. He was in Peggy’s homeroom. Too excited to keep my secret treasure to myself, I motioned him over to check out the goods inside my bag. He was confused, but I asked him to take that cold, hard glass jar holding the beautiful and warm pink rose to Peggy. As he walked into the room towards Peggy, I saw him hand over the glass pink jar over to her. She received it, and I thought I saw a smile curve from her lips.

Answer the following question: 

1. What is one thing about your particular time and place (setting) that is unique to your generation? What does it say about your generation? (I’ll give you an example from my generation)

Kevin: “the problem with technology is that it makes us all selfish and anti-social. We don’t know how to communicate with each other anymore. All we see and look at are our instagram photos but we don’t actually know the person”.

Sitting directly across from Kevin, Kelly is swiping through her Instagram, with earbuds plugged in and completely immersed in the picture her finger has happened to land on at the moment. She is completely unaware of Kevin’s comment. She is completely unaware of Kevin. She is completely unaware of herself. 

Kevin has finished. He looks on at Kelly and her phone. 

Deejay: Facts! That is true. Like, all we care about is keeping up with the people we see on our screens and how good they look. If the girl has a huge ass and big tits, then we wanna look like that because they are getting all the likes, they are making all the money, they are getting all the followers and attention.

5 minutes pass by. Deejay is now holding her phone up to her blue face glowing and waving with each swipe.  

“Salamaleykum!”

My boys have entered the room with their familiar Muslim greeting.

“Waleykumasalam!”, I return.

I somewhat reluctantly pry my hands away from my keyboard and my tasks ready to shake hands or bump fists with each of them. It reminds me of my time in T-Stan where I would shake every man’s hand in the room before sitting down. Muslim culture, as if I could write about it in such generalized terms, is ritualistic and polite.

They are polite but also great jokesters.

“Mr. Hsieh said that he doesn’t want to see your face!” shouts Hm to the trailing gang of boys. Ham arm bars Hm into submission for this remark while R looks on and laughs jovially. I take a nervous glance at the roughhousing in case dormant emotions flare and get out of hand. So far, it’s still all smiles.

This tiny gang is comprised of two Yemeni boys and one Afghan. While their cultures are completely different, they all share much in common to keep them together: they are fleeing the violence of their countries and are adjusting to their new homes, cultures and languages; they all have left family to be with family here in the states; they all work at their respective convenience stores; they all attend mosque and observe their Muslim traditions; and last, they are all my students.

Their exit is just as hasty as their greetings.

“Y’allah! Let’s go!” bellows H. H is always the first to call them away to make further rounds around the school. The other two linger a while longer making small talk with me or with other students in my classroom, but they move on quick enough.

And as they usher themselves out of my class after this greeting ritual, I am suddenly reminded of my own ragtag gang of Asian Christian friends from church. I remember the night that we formed our little gang after youth group one evening. We huddled in the corner of the parking lot, speaking of plans to hang out, do stuff, and…do more stuff. We eventually went on a senior trip and initiated ourselves into the college world by downing shots of vodka and soda before going off to college. We played lots of video games and played lots of poker.

More importantly, for me, anyway, was a solid group of dudes who understood me in contrast to the very elite and white classmates I encountered at my high school. Without this little gang, I would have been very lonely and isolated indeed. With them I felt included, attached, and strengthened. I could confess who I liked to someone. I could joke around with someone. I could share my struggles with someone. It was our gang.

And as I see these tiny band of Muslim brothers, I am glad that they’ve found people to share in this little corner of this tumultuous world. I’m hoping that they’re doing and saying the same things that I did when I was young. The group might not last forever (mine didn’t) but it was there when I needed it most. I pray it’s the same for them.

I easily become upset with my students when I feel they aren’t giving me their best. I feel like I put my 100% into them, why can’t they return the favor? My more jaded or “realistic” colleagues often like telling me to not work harder than the kids, but whenever I hear that I scoff inside. Is it harder to be a kid or a parent? Which one takes more work? Obviously the adult must bear the responsibility to raise the young. And, we are the adults in the room.

I understand the need and desire to draw lines and create boundaries. I get that an average teacher is better than a burnt out one. Still, when I see teachers playing movies or giving tests just because it’s Friday or some other nonsensical reason, I get upset. You can show a movie at a competitive high school – the students can take that kind of break and not feel the repercussions of that irresponsible decision. But at a school like ours with a population like ours – everyone is playing catch up and it’s impossible to not feel as if a day spent on movies or shitty lessons is a major setback for the students.

Anyways, I went on an unexpected rant on other teachers. As I was saying, however, the original problem remains that students just aren’t giving me what I think is their “best”  even after clearly explaining to them my expectations. It’s disappointing. It’s also infuriating because I feel I put so much of myself into them and get so little in return.

I laid out to my students my exact expectations for their journals and vocabulary due today – and really, only 3 or 4 students took my guidance to heart, whereas the rest just missed the mark completely. At the end of the week, on my Friday afternoon when most other teachers have left, I instead sit at my desk brewing a bitter cup of frustration with each page I turned. That frustration will cool into disappointment, and disappointment into despair and hopelessness.What is my impact on them, and their futures? I imagine my students frolicking across their stage receiving their watered down diplomas, sent off into the world with their bright, vague ideas about what they’ll do, what they’ll achieve. They’ll get smashed by a system that knows nor cares nothing about their vague dreams and ambitions. They’ll end up in that cycle, that circuit of poverty of moving place to place uncertain about the most basic things. And they’ll bring that same uncertainty with them to their own families. And so on and so forth. The circuit.

One student, N, however, brought me out of my self-consuming fatalism. Her simple, childlike prose awakened in me a renewed faith in students. In the ashen heaps of laziness, distraction, idleness, and sensationalism, she shines with a humble gleam of bright aspiration. She brought back into focus the fact that she and all her classmates possessed lives outside of the classroom. She didn’t know that she could do that with her writing. But a child’s simplicity can break down all barriers. Here’s her journal entry for “Learning the Game”, written and turned in on 3/15/2019:

I think the chapter ‘Learning the Game’ was a reflexion for me. Francisco was so tired after work and he did not want to work. When he talked about how the other children was talking about their vacations, he felt sad because he is going to work. I understand him. From four years to fourteen years old I never went to another city or place for vacation. We did not have enough money for vacations. I felt sad, too, like Francisco. But when I talked with my abuelitos about that, they asked: “where do you want to go?” I said: “I want to go to the beach”. The next day my abuelitos and my tia bought a little pool for me. That happened when I was five years old. That day was so special for me. I felt like I was at the beach. Haha! 🙂 

Thank you, N. for helping me see some light today.

In my more naive and younger years, older and wiser Christians often warned me and my fellow youngish believers about the need to stay steadfast in both faith and the faith community. They relayed stories of their once devout friends who lost their faith,  deserted the church, and became atheists and agnostics after leaving their frenzied communities.

I heard their stories but never really thought much about them as I was to ensconced in my own Christian bubble to take their cautionary tales seriously. In my naivete, I was skeptical and wondered how and why someone would leave something so good.

But, as an older (but hardly wiser) Christian now, I can understand better my former mentors’ warnings. I, too, have seen my own once-devout friends turn to the left and the right from the path until they no longer desired to turn back at all.

Some of them had a slow descent – after leaving the college fellowship they had a hard time finding or recreating another vibrant community, and, after enough time outside of the circle they found out that there wasn’t much belief left after all. College fellowship was all a subconscious charade of playing to the crowd to feel the warmth, affection, and acceptance of a wholesome community. That community now ineluctably vanished, what remained was not faith but loneliness-turned-bitter. Whether that bitterness is directed towards the deserted church or God is hard to know, but practically speaking is irrelevant anyway as they go about their lives without both community and God.

Others experienced a spiritual reckoning. A life event – a death, an “ungodly” choice, a relationship with a nonbeliever – repelled the once-supportive community into the outer orbits until they no longer lingered around. The individual made a decision that seemed to contradict the community’s core beliefs, and thus the community imposed a quiet excommunication. The isolated individual is now left to deal with the unintended but natural consequence of a choice made against the community. He must brave the world without them, and, worse, he must even fight them and their admonishments to repent.

Both of these scenarios leave the once-believer cold and somewhat bitter about their experiences. They cause people to doubt not only the authenticity of their former communities but also their personal faith in God.

For me, when certain sheep flee the flock, those left behind are wondering if they are actually feasting on the greener pasture. Most of the people who I know who have left or have turned from the community were leaders in my college fellowship, and not of the boastful or fake kind. They were sincere in their faith. They were dedicate to discipleship of the younger freshmen. They sought accountability and fellowship.

They also made individual decisions that did not square with our community’s ideals.

I must admit that my friends’ decisions made me wonder about the validity of their faith so many years back. We who are still in community feel disoriented and betrayed by an individual’s decision to assert his agency over what we would deem a breach of contract with the community and God. It’s difficult to maintain a friendship, a closeness, with a person who effectively made a choice that you would not have made because of your faith commitments.

For both parties, it’s a slow and often bitter path forward. Neither side is willing to give in, as it would violate their core beliefs about life and themselves. As a result, fellowship is broken.

It’s a type of trial for both sides. And James exhorts us to pray deeply and to consider such struggles with joy as well. Joy, because, at the end of these trials we shall gain perseverance, and perseverance will lead to wisdom. This wisdom will help us see God again.

I’ve been fixated on the term “righteousness” for the past couple of days. It’s because I’m reading and rereading and trying to memorize Romans 3:18-21:

For now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and The Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction –

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness a the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

It’s a good passage. In contrast to the former futile ways of attaining “righteousness” through the Law, now faith in Christ is the ultimate way (and has always been the ultimate way a la Abraham in Ch 4) to right standing before God.

Commentators such as Ladd and Rutledge emphasize the weakness in English translation of the word “Dikaiosyne” or “righteousness”. Righteousness actually stems from the same word family as justice, justifier, just, justification – still, Rutledge claims that to list all of them with the Latin word Just – doesn’t capture the meaning of the word. However, changing the English into greek, one can see the relation:

For now the dikaiosyne (righteousness) of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and The Prophets bear witness to it – the dikaiosyne (righteousness) of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction –

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God are diakosy’d (justified) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s dikaiosyne (righteousness), because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his dikaiosyne (righteousness) a the present time, so that he might be dikaios (just) and the dikaiosynta (justifier) of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

Whereas in the English we break the concept into two words – righteousness and a variant on justice – the Greek shows that it’s all one concept in its root: diakos. Strong’s concordance’s 3rd entry states,

“preeminently, of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in heart or life; in this sense Christ alone can be called”.

SO – through faith, our way of thinking, feeling, and acting is conformed to the will of God. In other words, transformation.

But Paul is a Jewish scholar and writer using Greek terms. So what is the Hebrew concept that informs the Greek one?

It’s actually pretty hard to pin down what kind of Hebrew Paul was thinking about because people think that he was using the LXX which translates the Hebrew words sedeq and sedeqa into dikaious which is further translated into the Latin Vulgate “iusticia”.

This blog notes that the original sense of the Hebrew word thus fades as Greek and then Latin superimposed its forensic and legal aspect of their words onto the Hebrew. Here’s what this blogger writes:

The Old Latin and later Latin Vulgate rendered dikaiosyne by iustitia (“justice”). The legal connotation of this term in Roman Law was superimposed upon the word dikaiosyne  which Paul had employed. The Roman legal understanding of justice was in a distributive sense: to give to each their due, the bestowal of rewards and punishments according to merit. The OT sense of righteousness as grounded in covenantal relationship was weakened, and its place was taken by the courtroom image of the sinner before God’s tribunal. Although righteousness in the OT had a legal aspect, it was that of a litigant being adjudged righteous by God before their enemies. The biblical image of the covenant between God and humanity faded into the background, while the Latin context called to mind stark legal realities of the court. The shift in language from Hebrew to Greek to Latin resulted in an alteration in theological content as the words that were employed either overlaid the earlier meaning or signified something new in the receptor language.

And I just spent about 15 minutes rereading the blog and am dizzy with trying to splice the meaning of righteousness across time and languages. I guess getting at the original intention and meaning of a word isn’t as easy as one would think.

At any rate, for me personally, as I mull over the word righteousness over and over, I noticed in Isaiah 5:1-7 God looks for mishpat (justice) but found mispah (bloodshed) and sedeqah (righteousness) but found seaqah (outcry). And I thought, when God looked at Israel and saw their corruption and their oppression of widows and orphans, he saw unrighteousness and injustice. In the same way, in our day we read the news and look on our streets and see the same picture of gross injustice and destruction all around. There is no sedeqah or mishpat here. And it helps to see this OT passage again to help me recover the societal aspect of the word righteousness as opposed to the individualistic forensic meaning of the word. The common conceptualization of justification is a man in a courtroom before a Judge who is acquitted on account of a substitution by Christ. But this metaphor doesn’t relate at all to the societal image seen in Isaiah 5 where the nation is taken to task. Us in the evangelical world like personal faith, a good thing by and large, but we tend to forget the unjust systems that we have created.

I also think that by remembering this societal aspect I can understand God’s wrath more. He sees the systems we have created, and he is rightfully angry at how disobedient, unrighteous, and rebellious his people are. The broken systems increase the gravity of the situation, whereas the small (but sometimes very large) peccadillos of the individual do not seem to match or justify the wrath of God. One time my pastor in Oakland said, “every time you think of a woman lustfully, every time you reach for that cookie…you are disobedient/sinning/I-don’t-remember-because-he-actually-linked-sin-to-a-cookie. This is the problem with a gospel presentation that is so hyperfocused on the individual – whether it’s presented as poor grades or urine in a glass of water – it makes God seem petty and retributive.

But in the light of mass suffering caused by callous, ignorant, or simply sin-burdened people where girls are enslaved for sex, powerful people cheat the poor, consumers ignore toxic fumes and exploitation of labor for cheap prices, and war strips people of their humanity – I can understand God’s wrath against that sort of unrighteousness. And truly, he would be just in doing so. He would be just to commit genocide on a group.

But upon further review on the blog, this is not how the story ends. The righteousness of God, as interpreted by recent scholars attempting to recover the OT usage of the word, is actually a power of God that saves.

Okay reread a 4th time. The problem with salvation theory is that by using the judicial image of God imputing righteousness to the individual (appear as righteous)  causes problems and eventually leads to a “legal fiction” theory. That is, man’s unrighteousness is “uncured” because he is merely declared righteous even though he is unrighteous. Jesus Christ bailing him out with his blood is a cover without a cure. It’s like a “pass over” but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

E. Kasemann, paints the salvation story with eschatology and cosmic proportion. God’s righteousness is the restoring of the relationship between God and the World, not so much the man in the courtroom. In other words, man’s unrighteousness is associated and linked to the world and that by “having faith” he switches allegiance from the world to Christ which thereby makes him “righteous”. Here’s the blog again:

“The gift itself has the character of power, salvation -creating power” (Käsemann). The gift is never a personal possession separated from the giver. In this way Käsemann captures the eschatological nature of the relationship of God with creation in a forward orientation toward the consummation of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness is faithfulness to the creation, not simply to the individual (cf. Bultmann). God’s sovereignty over the universe is established eschatologically in Jesus. A person within that framework experiences a change in lordship. Johannine and Pauline language now go hand in hand, since by “abiding” in Jesus, believers become what they are.

Still hard to wrap my head around. The strange thing is that none of these discussions include the context of 3:25-26, which is something about the advantage of being a Jew and how it’s a paradox that their unfaithfulness increases God’s faithfulness. In other words, beyond grand and minute theories from the cosmic to the courtroom, the Jewish concern and question gets left behind.

Time to sleep. That was fun.

Well, that’s another run in the books. 9 and some miles @ 10:02 (official) pace? I’ll take it. God blessed us with clement weather today. It was a stunning run that took us under the Monterey Cypresses of the Golden Gate park to the sand-dusted roads of the Pacific Coast Highway. The sun shown through brightly through the clouds and on the PCH we saw white waves crashing into the coast. You could see the misty fog blanket the cliffs. Running back I saw bison encaged in the park just grazing peacefully as thousands of runners herded themselves along to the finish line.

It was a good run. I think people had fun and were genuinely challenged. Joe and I were commenting how anticlimactic it felt at the end as we felt we could have pushed further and faster. However, my initial naive enthusiasm was checked by my body’s aches and soreness. People on imessage are commiserating over their aches and pains, which is great. I hope people feel not only challenged but also feel closer to one another after having experienced something together.

Everything today went as well as one could have planned, except, I’m sad we forgot to pray before we ran. I think I was just so jazzed about running 9 miles today that I had completely forgot to ground myself and the group. I hate to give faith and spirituality perfunctory lip service as a quick prayer before lunch or a race would do, but I equally dislike a life devoid of acknowledgment of God.

It’s just hard to do as it feels unnatural in the way of our daily life. We might all pray and read individually, but, as a group, it’s difficult to talk of God without the structure of church and bible studies. But it shouldn’t be like that. We can talk about the things we treasure with such ease as we know others would be interested and relate to them. We can even talk about the manmade side of faith when we discuss some theological point, or church governance, or church activity. But it’s so hard to just talk about God. period. God has really shown me this…My time with God has been that…These moments are reserved for very special times in our lives even if we ever get to those times. It makes me sad that a group can’t talk about it as naturally as they would about thier collective aches and pains after a run.

I wish I could say that even on a personal level I am walking with God closely and personally. I read his words. I flip around through the Bible. I don’t follow a regimented study plan, which is probably bad for my image-casting of God. I seek the comfort and concrete words in the Gospels. I’ll read a Psalm to prep me for the day. I prefer Paul’s theologizing and philosophy as I can more readily understand them. But understanding poetry and prose in the Hebrew scriptures is hard to relate to and therefore less comforting. I am sure I am lacking some integral understanding of God’s character if I continue to do that. I think it would be neat to learn Hebrew and read some passages in Isaiah or Jeremiah to see how the words play off each other.

Anyways. I am glad for the run and for the group. I’m hopeful that people will have warm faces toward one another afterwards. I’m praying for God to show us the meaning of the race, running, our group, and how it all works for the glory of God.

It is not for nothing that mystics and philosophers have often connected the practice of humility to a vision of truth. Bernard of Clairvaux writes: “The way is humility, the goal is truth. The first is the labor, the second the reward.” For Vladimir Jankélévitch, “humility equals truth,” and André Comte-Sponville eloquently defines humility as “loving truth more than oneself.” In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil, whose entire work and life were defined by a profound ontological humility, writes that God “loves that perspective of creation which can only be seen from the point where I am.” But she finds she is in God’s way: “I act as a screen,” she writes. “I must withdraw so that he may see it.” Leaving out Weil’s God for now, we may extend her insight: we always act “as a screen” even to ourselves, we are in our own way. To have a full view and a better grasp, then, we need to “withdraw.” That’s exactly what humility does: it removes us from the picture so that things can reveal themselves. It’s only then that we can be said to be contemplating the world.

https://blog.ayjay.org/counsel-for-preachers-and-other-christians/

Remember Wesley’s words:

Certainly some years ago you were alive to God. You experienced the life and power of religion. And does not God intend, that the trials you meet with, should bring you back to this? You cannot stand still; you know this is impossible. You must go forward or backward. Either you must recover that power, and be a Christian altogether, or in awhile you will have neither power, nor form, inside nor outside.

Extremely opposite both to one and the other, is that aptness to ridicule others, to make them contemptible, by exposing their real or supposed foibles. This I would earnestly advise you to avoid. It hurts yourself. It hurts the hearers. And it greatly hurts those who are so exposed, and tends to make them your enemies. It has also sometimes betrayed you into speaking what was not strictly true. Oh beware of this, above all things; never amplify; never exaggerate any thing. Be rigorous in adhering to truth. Be exemplary therein…. I pray, be exact in this. Be a pattern of truth, sincerity, and godly simplicity.

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarcely ever knew a Preacher read so little. And, perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with daily meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep Preacher without it: any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first, will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life: there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial Preacher. Do justice to your own soul: give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you; and, in particular, yours, &c.

J. WESLEY