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History | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus Garvey

9/11–What Does It Mean to Remember?

I was lecturing yesterday in one of my American history classes and we came to the Spanish/American War. This brought us to the call to “Remember the Maine”. Now most of us don’t remember the Maine much less know what that slogan is referencing…this brings up the question that seems so apropos on this anniversary of tragedy…”What does it mean to remember?”

What are you remembering or recalling when you ponder the events of 9/11? What rituals do you go through on the  anniversary of a death? What do they mean?

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I’m sharing an excellent video for those of you brave enough to dig into some abstract, historical themes – it is about 45 minutes so beware. Jay Winters (Guest lecturing in John Merriman’s class) elaborates on the changes in the way we remember things…the rituals, creeds, myths, sites and artifacts since World War I. The inconceivable, universal devastation that comes out of WWI (and is seen in moments such as the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, 9/11 etc.) was so unprecedented that we must frame it in some psychological matrix. If we do not deal with the terror of the Somme, Auschwitz or the Twin Towers we are subject to hysteria and crippling fear. These spiritual, cultural, political, personal rituals give us the stability to function in a world that is completely unstable.

Remembering WWI

Ernest Becker wrote in is Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, that we participate in “transference” when we ascribe special meaning to people, things or events as a way to control them. When we participate in forms of remembrance are we fetishizing aspects of life? Do we remember 9/11 to tell ourselves “never forget” or “never again”? The great memorials of WWI were erected to say “never again” – Woodrow Wilson called it the “War to End All Wars”. We know that didn’t work so well…our memorials are incapable of protecting us from the uncertainty of the future and the inevitability of death? Becker calls this “transference heroics” or “safe heroism” – meaning we fill our world with fetish objects (memorials, flags, etc.) to buffer the overwhelming, awesome reality of the universe. But the call to “never forget” calls us to something much deeper and somber.

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Remembering can be so much more than a mechanism for dealing with neurosis. I happened to read Deuteronomy 8 this morning…the whole chapter is focused on “remembering”! Look at verse two: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Characters of Scripture are told over and over again to erect memorials or altars that they might remember something significant that has happened in that place. Clearly remembering or memorials are not bad, but are we using them as objects of transference to coop with unbelievable dread or do they call us to remember timeless truths that point us forward?

How are you remembering 9/11 today?

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The Treasures of My Childhood

So my brother delivered a box of goodies from my Dad’s old house that he found out in a shed. I forgot about many of these things…it was quite enjoyable going through the box…hopefully you will enjoy a few of these too. Here are some of the gems I found inside:

My student license (circa 1998)

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Some Tinytoons removable tattoos

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Movie ticket stubs from the AV Mall before it was a Cinemark – some of which included Twister, Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and That Thing You Do

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A box FULL of Kool-Aid points

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Some Winter 1994 Olympic Pins

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A whole bunch of awesome toys: He-Man, Mask, Thundercats, Dukes of Hazard, Micro-Machines, Ninja Turtles…sadly no Starwars…I went and found all of those about 15 years ago and sold them to buy some music gear…foolishness

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4 Rugrats watches (one of which was still working!)

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A Disneyland map from before Toontown was build

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A few Pogs

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Theological Baggage: Building a Missional Theology from the Ground Up

What would a new Missional Theology from the ground up look like?

 

So often in Christian circles we attempt to hit the reset button and “get back to basics” (this is where the idea of reformation and the word ‘fundamentalism’ both come from). The problem is by ‘reforming’ what exists we often carry a lot of baggage with us when rebuilding what we just destroyed. Take for an example the Bible. The Authorized, or King James Version is one of the most flawed and poorly translated in the English language. Yet, much like a Hand bell Choir or Cantada that once was a relevant expression of worship but refuses to die after it’s time, the KJV has amazing staying power. Did you no that the KJV has been revised 20 times!

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The following versions are all revisions of the original:
· Revised Version

· American Version

· Revised Standard Version

· American Standard Version

· New Revised Standard Version

· New American Standard Version

· King James Version II (KJII) (renamed to Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)

· King James for the 21st Century (KJ21)

· King James 2000 (KJ2000)

· The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) (formerly named King James II)

· Modern King James Version (MKJV)

· New King James Version (NKJV)

· Revised Authorized Version (RAV) (British edition of the NKJV)

· Revised King James New Testament (RKJV)

· The Third Millennium Bible (TMB)

· Updated King James Version (UKJV)

 

Beyond these revisions we see other ghosts of the past clinging to the present

·       “New” versions of the Bible…the NIV or TNIV for example…the KJV is taken into account and often deferred to in matters of translation.

·       We have the additive of chapter and verse and occasional pericope headings.

·       The tradition reading of Revelation 22:18-19 and closing of the canon.

These simple “baggages” carry tremendous theological and ecclesiological significance. This is simply one area to explore.

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Now let us imagine the possibilities when we unhitch our theological wagon from some of these dead horses. A Missional Theology built from the ground up would have Scripture as a foundational building block – but how do we approach that Scripture? As a living word…breathing, moving, relevant for today. As a rigid reference anchoring us not only to the historical narrative, but the cultural mores and contextual theology of that history as well.

 

I suggest the way we begin building this theology with an overhaul of our exegetical approach to scripture (much needs to be thought on, said and written over this change). Beyond that I can think of several tensions that currently exist that, when addresses (not fixed) will allow the church to begin the work of theological, missiological construction.

 

The tension between the Word of God and God Speaking

One of the greatest sins in many evangelical circles is a worship of Scripture. I can recall a Sunday school teacher berating me as a child for dropping a Bible on the ground (on accident none the less). “This is God with us” he told me. REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Without the work of God’s Spirit in and through us, the words inside a Bible are worthless…that is right – worthless. Understanding God solely within the context of Scripture limits our theology from being fresh and creative for today. Take Abraham and Melchizedek – Where was Scripture instructing Abraham to act? The openness to God’s voice in the context of his setting guided his mission(s).

The tension between the universal and the local

“One holy, catholic and apostolic church” usually means that even Protestants tend to think in universal terms. That what is the call and mission for a particular time and place should apply to all Christians, in all times and all places. However, if we take missiology seriously – the mission becomes more and less important at the same time. More important because it is driving the church, less important because it is now disposable.

The tension between stable and spontaneous

Most denominations are built for stability…but we are not called to stability…we are called to effectiveness. The most effective way to be missional is responsiveness – i.e. it is hard to turn the titanic fast. Mike Breen refers to responsiveness as keeping your vehicles “light weight, low maintenance.” I remember hearing John Wimber talk about leaving the Anaheim Vineyard in response to the suggestions that in his absence the church might die. He simply said: “Maybe it should” – that seems like kingdom thinking from the ground up.

The tension between the one and the many

Most will agree, the church exists (at least in part) to equip the people of God for the work of God. Yet, our structure, no matter how many times we reform it, no matter how Protestant we are, comes back to a faulty exegesis of the Petrine text. You may be saying “I don’t think Jesus intended to build THE CHURCH on Peter, that’s not what that means”, but then we must look at our own staffs, leadership structure and pipelines. Is God intending to build the local church on the back of one charismatic person? A ground up Theology of Mission will be have as its manifestation an ecclesiology that reflects the apostolic impulse to replicate the model of leadership in the many of the congregation.

The tensions between the chicken and the egg

In the beginning of any systematic theology we have to wrestle with the ontological nature of the divine/human connection. A missional theology from the ground up starts with a self awareness, a primal self reflection and scrutiny that leaves room for God to approach us. To assume that we must understand and encounter God first is anthropomorphic and a product of Christendom…a relic from a faux Pax-Theocracy. The majority of modern theology is built on the fallacy of: Understand, Apply, Belong. A new paradigm inverts this: Belong, Apply, Understand.


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Of course there are so many other tensions and arenas to explore for a fresh theology of mission – I am looking forward to hearing from some much sharper minds than myself at the Missio Alliance Gathering this April…wanna join me?

Parents and the Generational Struggle in Film

Let me start by admitting, I do not get to go the movies often due to my work schedule and my 3 children under 5. However, the few movies I have seen over the last year have, in many instances, had a resounding theme: We Must Struggle to Understand and Often Overcome Our Parents and Parental Figures.
This theme stood out in extraordinary fashion when it rebuffed the motifs of romance in two classically “romantic” sub-genres: 007 films and Disney Princess fantasies.

Skyfall: This was excellent…possibly my favorite of any Bond film ever! One of the reasons why is the plot and the lack of trite, meaningless romance. Bond had a small fling in the first half of the film, but it was so periphial that you could completely augment it and the film would read the same. Instead it focused on an internal familial struggle between Bond, his estranged brother figure and M…who is clearly a mother figure to the orphan/hero. This was not so subtle given the line (in reference to M) “mommy has been very bad” (this film could have been titled “M is for Mother”).

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Brave: Not quite the hit Tangled was, but I still loved this movie. Completely void of a love interest or a real villain. This was the story of a daughter wrestling with herself, her family and her future.

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Arthur Christmas: Brilliant! A three way, tri-generational struggle for power, style and values. Son, Father and Grandfather sacrificially fighting for their vision of Christmas and their role as Santa – this movie spoke to me way beyond what I was expecting.

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I could go on and draw connections from other films of the past year and point out that Finding Nemo was even rereleased this year, but the three examples provide sufficient evidence.

Here is the question – are we seeing a renewed sense of generational conflict? Is the gap widening between young and old? Or is this a coincidence?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject as well as other film illustrations you are thinking of.