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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Which, Wert, or Was?

Ever feel overwhelmed by the Bible section of the bookstore?  It’s worse than the military with its litany of acronyms: NIV, NLT, NKJV…how is a girl to choose?  Here’s my brief grouping of translations that will, I hope, simplify the array of options for you.

Think of a spectrum, or a timeline.  On one end, we have translations that are as literal as possible.  It is no small task to achieve literal wording when sentence structure and word order in original languages are often the opposite of English structures.  The upshot of these translations is that they are the most technically accurate.  Examples: KJV, ESV, NASB.
Of these, I prefer the ESV study Bible for its readability and excellent notes.  The Wife of Leisure defaults to ESV.  You might like the KJV for its familiarity if you grew up with it (I still read Luke 2 in KJV to my kids at Christmas), but some of its antiquated language may hinder understanding.

In the middle is a range of translations that attempt to better convey the meaning when a word-for-word expression is less clear.  Some call this “thought-for-thought” translating.  Basically, it avoids the “lost in translation” issue.  My mom notes that, for instance, that in Genesis 43:33, the ESV’s literal wording does not make obvious that Joseph seats his brothers in age order.  The NIV wording, while less literal, communicates this plot twist more clearly.  These may be the easiest to read and understand.  Examples: NIV, NLT. 
I use NIV a lot because it is familiar to me, true to the original, and I’m lazy: it’s the closest copy on hand in my office.

On the far end, we find the paraphrase version.  These try to get the general idea of a phrase or passage and put it into current vernacular.  I would not recommend this as your primary source because they are pretty low on accuracy in some places.  (I’m sure they leave the genealogies alone!)  I know people who like to reference them for fresh perspective while studying a passage in another translation.  Personally, I find it a little gimmicky.  Examples: The Living Bible, The Message.

Sources and Further Reading:
Several comparison charts and examples:

Site for passage-lookup in many versions and languages:

In-depth explanation of Bible translation, comparison of form/function, with charts:

Special thanks to my Dad, who knows lots of stuff.

Friday, April 22, 2011

True Passion

And now... a bit about the REAL Passion Week!

Ever notice how Easter gets a day and Christmas gets a whole month?  I know we can’t debate the comparative importance of the two; chicken, egg, chicken, egg.  But a man lived.  The man died.  The man lived again.  My mind is boggled.  And yet there is as much fanfare for St. Patrick’s Day.  MORE for Mardi Gras.  What’s a mom to do?

Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head ideas I'd like to incorporate in the years to come in the hopes that my kids will enjoy Easter as much as they do Christmas (assuming that the fluttery holiday excitement offers not only memories but a good segue into understanding the magnitude of these days).

  1. Decorate!  If we have lights up in November, we can usher Easter in visually, too.  I like to do an Easter tree: I spray-paint branches white, put them in a huge vase, and hang painted wooden eggs from the branches.  This is just a launching point if I ever hope to rival the wreathes and holly...
  2. Anticipate!  Think Advent calendars.  Some Christian denominations do a better job creating hoopla about the Easter timeline than do others.  Catholics have the Stations of the Cross (Here’s a website that gives you language to simplify these for kids).  Many Christians wind up for Easter with Lent.  I’ve no experience with either of those, but next year I might try making an countdown calendar of my own that highlights the events preceding Easter: the triumphal entry, good Friday, the stuff your pastor highlights, but with little doors and of necessity, chocolate.  Memorize a passage in the preceding weeks; we started Luke 2 in October this past fall; each of the gospels has a passion passage, too.
  3. Make Traditions!  My friend hides a bunny toy around her house each day for weeks, and the kid who finds it gets a prize.  You can tweak this kind of stuff to make it more Jesus, less pastel rodent.
  4. Eat!  Food is the cement that bonds people in holiday joy.  We bake for weeks leading up to Christmas.  There’s plenty to do for Easter, too, and lots of it comes with built-in teaching analogies.  Melt chocolate and peanut butter into bunny and cross-shaped molds for little kids.  Do coconut and chocolate eggs, or those resurrection meringue cookies that come out hollow.  Talk about new life as you dye eggs; just don’t eat the ones that have been sitting out for weeks.
  5. Start at home!  On Christmases of old, my anticipation centered on the gifts more than the church service (although candlelight and cookie exchanges after Christmas Eve services did amp up the fun factor).  For Easter, make a big thing of the baskets.  Even bunnies and chicks, like snowmen and elves, create an atmosphere of festivity appropriate to a celebration.  Sing hymns that will become as heartwarming over the years as Nat King Cole trolling about chestnuts.

What are the things you do to make this day as large in your kids’ minds as it is in yours? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The End of Passion: Part 2 of 2

If you’re very, very clever, you might have deduced that The Wife of Leisure is one result of my theorizing on gifts and passions. 

Dropping my acting agent, having babies who sleep very well during the day, and finishing grad school in a terrible job market left me with a lot of NCIS reruns to watch.  Cookie and I concluded that my eternal purpose was, possibly, not best achieved through mind-numbing Mark Harmon marathons. 

“Write! Sing!” cried Cookie.  And thus a website was born.  (Yes, it’ll hold my music too one fine day.)

What, then, is the end of this pursuit?  If I’ve identified my passions (simple) and found outside corroboration that there is a corresponding talent (less simple), then where does it lead?

This is best addressed in the negative, in what its aim is not.  Its aim is not financial gain, although such is never unappreciated.  Its aim is not success in a worldly sense, or acclaim, which are nice, but have their own ego-pitfalls.  Any of these may be in God’s design to His own end, but I can safely assume God is not interested in me owning Manolo Blahniks or becoming a household name for my own sake.

Most importantly in my field, it’s not about being right.

If you write opinion, you have to substantiate your claims.  You have to sound rational.  You have to have evidence.  But if you write about Bibley stuff, you have to provide evidence not to win the argument or beat down your opponent, but to point to God.

This doesn’t stop me from thinking in terms of money or reputation or self-righteousness.  It means that when I do think this way, it must lead me to pray over my argument.  It should lead us to pray over all our areas of gift/passion convergence—that in their development we should keep our goals on track.

In the end, fulfillment comes when our strategically allotted gifts and desires are polished into a platform on which God is made glorious.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Passion Week: Part 1 of 2

This week approaching Easter is often called Passion Week.  Churches host Passion plays to commemorate, well, the Passion of Christ.  On The Wife of Leisure, I’ll be appropriating that term, and this week, for promoting one of my favorite personal philosophies:

The Convergence of Passions and Talents

We all have passions, and some of them are impractical.  If so, we might bury them and pursue something safe and society-approved.  We might throw ourselves into them and, like Tom Brady, avoid a fate in insurance sales.  We might sit around trying to divine God’s will through our feelings before we make a move.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actress.  I yearned with the fire of a thousand suns.  I wanted to be the kind that is magically discovered while eating a sandwich on a park bench.  That would show that it was God, and not selfish ambition, I thought.  When that didn’t happen, I auditioned.  Then, when I finally got a great role and the film lost its funding, I developed this theory.

In brief: where your passions and talents converge, you have a responsibility to develop those areas so that you are primed and ready to be used by God where He wills.

To do this, you need to view your gifts and your passions objectively.  Ask some honest friends who are not your mother: am I really a great tap-dancer or is this better left a hobby?  Get honest about your motivations: do you love the electric guitar or do you mostly love the applause?  When you think you’ve narrowed things down, develop abilities and pursue opportunity within reason.  If your passions don’t lie in your current occupations, can you take night classes or volunteer in your desired field without quitting your day job just yet? 

I don’t know whether God wants to use me where I am, somewhere else, or both in time.  I do know that God doesn’t hand out passions or gifts arbitrarily or as a cruel joke to frustrate me.  So if I view my talents and desires as responsibilities and develop them to the best of my ability, I create an opportunity for God to be glorified.  If He chooses to use me in a way I didn’t anticipate, I'll still be golden because I'm viewing my life as a tool for His purposes; my skills and passions are not actually about me.  Plus, no matter what happens, I'll grow through this process, and perhaps that is itself part of God’s plan.

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Oldie on Tactical Evangelism

When I most recently visited my parents, they were in the middle of a redecorating job that caused my father’s entire theological lending library to be stacked in boxes in the hall.  (Note: he would not consider it a lending library, largely because of my loose return policy.)  This upheaval unearthed an 11-year-old book that appealed to me mostly because it was short.

“Engaging the Closed Minded” reads a little like an academic paper.  No fluff, straight shots of information and loads of citations in six chapters.  Author Dan Story’s aim is not to present apologetics arguments, although he has written another book to that end and recommends several more in the notes of this book.  “Enaging” is a tactical manual.

Story first establishes this book as pertaining solely to apologetic, versus lifestyle, evangelism.  Once you have the tools, the evidences (yes, you do have to read a lot of other books and study the Bible systematically to get these, but you were going to do that anyway, right?), you need a game plan that prevents you from standing on street corners yelling, “Accept the historicity of Scripture, Sinner!” to passing pedestrians.

This book may not be new (1999) or well known, but it is a concise source of handy ideas.  What are the basic combinations of worldviews and personality types that you may encounter, and how does this affect your approach?  How can you recognize and circumvent peripheral issues and distractions that obstruct a focused discussion?  What is the goal of apologetics (to create a platform for a gospel presentation where one is not yet ripe)? 

Story offers tips for finding common ground from which to launch, for keeping things friendly, for not sabotaging your own witness.  There’s also plenty of space devoted to Socratic Methodology, which I love.  It’s about questioning, shifting the burden of proof, recognizing that most people know next to nothing about the Bible or Christianity, or even the roots of their own assumptions and beliefs.  It’s about just asking questions to help people examine what they think and find where, maybe, they haven’t thought much at all.  It’s not about shoving facts down people’s throats.

In sum, if you’ve a sieve-brain like me, and a stack of apologetics books with wrinkles only in the first chapters, this is a quick and useful read.  It may just inspire me to go back to those evidence charts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Swallowing Lies: Part 5 of 5

Lies of Biblical Proportions 

The Bible is a book of brutal, unmitigated honesty.  God calls his people Saints, but he takes no pains to make them appear as such.  Abram practically delivers up his wife to Pharaoh when he lies about their relationship to save his own skin, and he is to be the father of God’s chosen people (Gen. 12). 

His, like all lies, sounded like a good idea at the time.  But James warns that the tongue “stain[s] the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (3:6b).  If ever you thought a lie was harmless, let James disabuse you of the idea, or let Eve.  A lie can dress itself up like the most succulent fruit, but always destroys in the end.  Sometimes we just need to grow some cojones.  As we wrap up this series, let's summarize this way:

Truth may not free you of every bodily consequence, but it saves the heart from destruction.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Swallowing Lies: Part 4 of 5

And the Grinch Fooled the Child...

In my house growing up, we had a rule that excused lying only when it was about presents.  My mother was the master.  We would try on a sweater in July, marked down to $6.  It would fit beautifully.  We would  beg.  And she would cry, “You selfish girls! Do you need everything in the store?”  Then, as we turned away in shame, she would stuff it in her cart and it would appear under the tree a few months later. 
Surprises were sacred in our home.  But I also remember whispering secrets, which were forbidden, with my brother.  Then when my sister would cry foul, we would claim, “we were talking about your Christmas present. So there.”  Where is the line between hiding the Christmas sweater (my mother would call this more of a deflection, I think), and telling your child a lie?  Or the line between telling them a lie and just letting them believe one? 
Do we tell them Santa is real, or maybe just let them assume?  The lines are never perfectly clear, but how about a divorcee telling stories about the ex to secure the children’s affections, or a guilt-ridden working parent swearing “I’ll be home early” when she knows she probably won’t?  How about some variation of coal-in-your-stocking-if-you-don’t-eat-your-peas threats, or babies-come-from-hugs?  I once overheard a grandmother in a restaurant telling a toddler, “The whole restaurant is out of Coke, so that's why you can't have any more.”  Truly, it’s no fun to be the bad guy, the kill-joy, the stick in the mud, but that's why we’re parents, not buddies.
Even inconsistent discipline can teach profound lessons.  If I tell Songbird that she'll get no dessert for [fill in the irritating thing she's doing], and then later, when she whines, I give her a popsicle, you might say she called my bluff.  And a a lie.
When a parent lies, she is usually thinking more of herself than of her child.  Of avoiding an awkward chat or tough subject, of currying favor.  It is very often a short-run solution of convenience that undermines the fundamental job of parenting, which is a lot more about character than it is about the magic of Christmas or vegetable consumption.  Truthfulness is a trait that must be modeled and developed.  If we are to train up children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), ought not we to be following in that way ourselves?  To offer a child a consistent example of dishonesty in the adult he most respects is to deprive him of the guidance he most needs to become a virtuous adult.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Swallowing Lies: Part 3 of 5

Dishonesty as Character Indicator

Long ago, in another time and political climate, a president perjured himself.  There were two angry camps: the one that called for impeachment, and the one that said that private indiscretion was no one’s business anyway.  But the lies were twofold: they ended on the witness stand, but they started in the bedroom. 

Since than, sex scandals have become the rage among politicians.  The public is still divided; does infidelity reflect on fitness for office, or is there a divide between public and private spheres?  Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  When a politician (or anybody else) carries on an extramarital affair, he is also a person who lies when it is expedient. Who is to know when he will next find it expedient to lie?  In a campaign promise, in a diplomatic exchange, the usual places. 

There are just so darned many places where it would be nice to lie and cheat.  By writing my kid’s paper when his grades are in trouble… By hiding a few choice assets come tax time… By insisting, “I thought it was a 45, sir!”  Once we allow our leaders and ourselves the free pass for extenuating circumstances, we may find that more and more often the circumstances…extenuate.  According to Luke, the way we act in these worst of binds is the best measure of our character.

Thankfully, a tarnished record is also subject to grace.  And since we, with our evil treasures, all fall into Luke's second category, we are to give others the chance to exhibit a change of heart.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” writes Matthew. “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (6:14-15).”  So let’s not chase our Jean Valjeans to their graves.  But forgiveness first requires repentance, so for reasonable inference, a person’s record may be fair game.

The expectation of future deceit, based on a history of past deceit, is a poor start for any term of office, any marriage, any relationship at all.  A heart full of deceit will eventually overflow into action; it is hard to overestimate the power of habitual dishonesty to define a person.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Swallowing Lies: Part 2 of 5

What’s a White Lie Among Friends?

Recap of day one (with exciting capitalizations):  Lies are Sin.  Sin leads to Death.  Transitive property indicates Lies lead to Death.

OK, you say.  But surely there is some call for dishonesty when it spares someone’s feelings?  Didn’t I see the Ugly Baby episode of Seinfeld, you wonder? 

Well, first, let’s not assume our motives are always so pure.  I have a longtime friend who, in grade school, consistently advised me to wear my hair in a ponytail.  As an adult, she admitted to me that she had done that because she was jealous of how my hair looked down!  Might we, as adults, have told a friend not to wear the black dress to the party because WE wanted to wear a black dress to the party?  Yes, even grownups engage in that kind of pettiness and call it “helping.” 

But what if that dress really does make Sally look fat?  What if Claire really shouldn’t audition for American Idol?  I will be the first to agree, the truth can be super awkward.  But the more we pretend the existence of ‘white’ or acceptable lies, the more we create an atmosphere of distrust for ourselves.  

If we know we like to lie a bit, we must assume others lie to us as well.  A little creativity, though, can keep your friendships and your integrity intact.  One of my favorite things about Cookie is that he is completely artless.  He will never tell me I look skinny when I don’t.  He may tell me he thinks I’m beautiful, or something else that is both kind AND true.  But more than a shallow compliment, I appreciate it when he says, “you’d probably feel more confident if we go for a run together.”  It’s practical, it’s encouraging, and it’s true!

In the end, I don’t want to be the fabled emperor, soaking in the praise of subjects who fear to offend, as I walk around looking like a fool.  We’re using these compliments to corroborate the lie we’re telling ourselves; we’re all co-conspirators in a game that prevents us from ever making real changes.  (Moreover, if I know these pants don’t flatter, instead of asking around and forcing people to fumble for a tactful response, I could just face facts and change.)  Mightn’t it be better to know we can trust our friends, even on the awkward subjects?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Swallowing Lies: Part 1 of 5

Culture of Dishonesty

Have you noticed how dishonesty is not just rampant, but has become increasingly acceptable in professional or casual situations?  Oh, we’d never admit to it openly, but a lot of us would justify to ourselves a small lie to the boss about being sick, or the minor misrepresentation of our job/skill/hobby to make it sound a bit more important.  We even say things like, "I hate that I had to lie to her," like maybe if we had no choice, we're less culpable.  Do we have a choice?  And if no one gets hurt, as they say, is it a big deal?
Let’s change the question.  Can the consequences of honesty (losing your job, losing the adulation of others) ever actually justify a lie?  If we identify lying, all lying, white, black, and the spectrum of shades between, as sin, then we can truly weigh the costs.  If you tell your boss where you really were last Tuesday, you may lose your job.  But if you commit sin, Paul says the wages of such is death (Rom 6:23).  A just God wouldn't peg such a heavy penalty on lying if we "just really had to sometimes!"  So, logically, we must have a choice, even when it's a tough one.  And when Paul puts it in these terms, doesn’t losing some credibility look great compared with, oh…eternal torment?