Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Resources for The Revelation

I was asked by the church where I teach to do a series on The Revelation and its been fun but exhausting. I've tried to dig up as much info as I can on the historical context. I've been asked by several people about the good resources, so here are the ones that I've thought have had some useful and interesting stuff:

  • Imperial Cult and Commerce in John's Apocalypse; J. Nelson Kraybill
  • Invitation to the Book of Revelation; Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza
  • Joy in our Weakness; Marva J. Dawn
  • The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse & Greco-Asian Culture, Roland H. Worth, Jr.
  • Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John
  • Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor
  • Interpretation Commentary: Revelation; Eugene Boring
  • The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation; G.K. Beale
  • The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation; Craig S. Keener
I've also had the good fortune to be a near a library that is up to accredited seminary standards, so I had access to journals such as Biblical Archeology and Interpretation. If you know of any good resource materials, let me know.


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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dialogue, part 2 of many

Scot McKnight beat me to the table talking about the art of conversation, so rather than trying to beat him I'll just join him. This blog entry is on the ingredients of a good conversation. This is a lost art, and maybe getter lost-er as technology insinuates itself into the cooking.

I would add two items as necessary ingredients to make a great tasting, zesty conversation (to keep the metaphor going):

1. Curiosity
Scot almost mentions this but his ingredients are on the side of what you want to add rather than actually focusing on the person sitting on the couch opposite you sipping their latte. In fact, I think without this interest in learning about the other person, it is really just a stage for you, and that smacks more of performance than conversation.

2. Probing Questions
Curiosity and questions go together like salt and pepper. Good questions show a depth of your own understanding while at the same time learning more about the person across from you. I believe that true wisdom is rarely found in a lecture; it is found in the asking.

What do you believe is needed for a great conversation?


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Monday, January 29, 2007

Prayer for Disturbance

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new Earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love."

—Sir Francis Drake, explorer and naval pioneer during the Elizabethan era


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"I'll take that pizza right there..."

Do you ever find yourself lost in thought and just end up on autopilot, doing whatever without really realizing what you are doing? Apparently, my autopilot isn't always so smart (maybe it's why I didn't become a pilot).

Over the holidays Nancy and I were heading to a friend's house in Virginia who just had knee surgery. When I called on the cell phone in the car to tell him we were coming over that night we asked if we could bring dinner. He said that he would call in an order and we discussed whether we should have Chinese food or pizza. I hung up the phone and continued on our way.

In the shopping mall near his house, both the pizza store and the Chinese take-out were close to each other, but I was intent on getting into the pizza store. I rushed in and asked the guy behind the counter if a pizza order was ready. He asked me what the name was and I responded, "I'm not sure if he used my name or his." He asked me what the order was, and again I responded, "I'm not sure what he called in." The guy behind the counter said that someone called in an order fifteen minutes ago and it was ready. I said, "I'll take it." And I did - paid for it and ran out the door.

Maybe you have figured it out, but I didn't till I got to my friend's house - he had called in a Chinese food order. I ran back to the Chinese food joint to pick up the order and on the way back in I saw someone going into the pizza place. I took the long and less conspicuous way back to the car.

We had plenty to eat that night and yes, the pizza was very good.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prophetic Words

Prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail” (April 16, 1963)

"But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust. Maybe again I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?"

Of all the controversies that are raging through the churches, this one has to be the most important and greatest challenge that the church is facing - irrelevance. Many have circled the wagons, grown comfortable, or just satisfied with the way things are.

Organized religion won't save the world. We somehow have to come to grasp that. MLK's words are not just prophetic, it's happening. People are watching and so many are saying "So what", and not just those standing outside the church but those on the inside trying to remember why they are supposed to be loyal to this organization.

Status Quo needs to be a dirty phrase, something avoided at all costs. It is sometimes so hard to realize that we don't have all that we need that we don't even realize that we are drinking from a lukewarm, dirty fountain (Rev 3:14-22). We need to be a thirsty people who are drinking their full from the eternal source, so much so that it spills out onto a dry world that is clamoring for something more.


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Do Something About This, Part 2

From Revolution, by Barna, p. 32. Regarding Faith-Based Conversation:

  • The typical churched believer will die without leading a single person to a lifesaving knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • At any given time, a majority of believers do not have a specific person in mind for whom they are praying in the hope that the person will be saved.
  • Most churched Christians believe that since they are not gifted in evangelism, such outreach is not a significant
  • responsibility of theirs.
It really is not anything more than having real relationships, making a friend, with someone outside of your faith experience. That's it.

Why do you think this is such a terrifying experience for most people?


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Broken World

I substitute teach occasionally to bring in a paycheck while we are in job limbo. It's not the most glamorous job, but I try to focus on the kids who are obviously struggling. Some days that seems to be most of the kids. Not too long ago I overheard one of the kids mention to the others that his dad was in prison. The kids started up a conversation about the people in their lives who are in prison - these are elementary students. When there was at one occasion a small group of five of the kids, I asked them how many had close relatives who had been in prison. Here are the stats:

  • Four of five had someone closely related, no further than cousin, in prison
  • Two of the five had a father who was or in prison currently
  • A different one had a mother who had been in prison
  • Most had brothers or cousins who were currently in prison
They were great kids; some struggled with following the rules, but none of them truly wanted to be in trouble.

It just makes me ache thinking about it. Percentages tell us that unless some event that is truly transformative, or someone, comes into their lives, they will repeat that behavior.

I don't know that we can truly "fix" anything; certainly not without God's help. But we need a community of people that sees something beautiful in the pieces that are laying all around us.


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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reality Church - coming to a blog near you

Dan Kimball had a wonderful blog post on the life cycle of a disgruntled church goer. You know you've been there, don't act like you haven't...

Which part did you find the most humorous (mostly because it's true)?


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Prayer for Love

Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, show patience, empathy and love.

-- Anonymous source


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Review of "Revolution" by Barna

In Revolution, Barna seems like a kid that just saw the largest banana split in the world sitting in the dining room which he didn't know existed. He has been watching the normal church organization for a while and has come to the conclusion that it is, well, normal. And that just ain't good enough. But there is that banana split in that room I just found...

Got to agree with him there. If I want a normal organization, I'll go work for a business that makes widgets that I like. If I want an organization that is great, I'll find a non-profit that is truly making a difference in the world. I, and apparently Barna as well, want the miraculous, life-changing church that Christ died for. Barna seems to think it might take a miracle to find one that is operating under the traditional form of church life.

Maybe you've heard me say this recently, but the stats I heard about the "normal" church were staggering and eye opening, and made me think about what we should expect from the church. Len Sweet (forgive me Dr. Sweet if I misquote you somehow), at the Zoe Conference a number of years ago, provided these stats: 75% of churches have reached a plateau or are losing numbers, 23% are growing from the transfers from the dying churches (see previous percentage), and only 2% are making a real difference in people's lives. That isn't to say that the normal church isn't doing some good stuff, it just isn't inspiring great things from the majority.

Barna believes that the best spiritual things happening at this moment are from people he calls Revolutionaries who have decided to take their spiritual development into their own hands. But, really, isn't that the way it has always been? Haven't the people who have decided that they are not going to blame whatever organization for their ills and to do something great have always been around? I'm not sure why this is different from any other time. So let me save you some time, if you haven't already figured this out - YOU are responsible for your own spiritual life adventure. Don't blame me, don't even blame your local church, and definitely don't blame Barna.

The shocker apparently is that the church has a hard time organizing Revolutionaries.

Well, the people who are usually good at organizing generally aren't too revolutionary minded, and the people who are off exploring and living adventures aren't too often interested in organizing. I guess the hard news is that we want it all in the local church, and we want it run like a well-oiled machine.

I have to say that my recent experiences probably dulled the book down for me. I have friends who are simple, or home, church planters and I love what they are trying to do. We know people who aren't necessarily absolutely loyal for all their spiritual development to one local church body (all those with me, raise your hand). And I love the people who are developing conversations with anyone who will talk to them because they have thrown away the notion that we can live on isolated islands. My recent conclusion = the church is at its best when the winds of the Spirit are blowing through and we are doing our best to go with it, using our gifts and abilities with mercy and grace; that will 90% of the time look chaotic but boy will it be fun (if you don't mind chaotic).

What I was looking for in the book was what Barna does best, show the sociological make-up of the people and groups that he mentions but never really discusses. Instead, Barna tries to write a Christian Living book that references these Revolutionaires. If all this is new to you, the book is a good primer. If you know a little about what is going on, then you won't learn much new about these groups and just check out the appendix for resources. Barna - I know you are excited about this new(?) direction, but I would rather learn more about the groups themselves in a book such as this. Keep it up!


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Dialogue, part 1 of many

Scott McKnight had a post recently on dialogue in which he explores reasons why people just don't want to talk about issues. Recently Nancy and I had a great experience that reinforced that dialogue is such a great tool; but that isn't the right word. Dialogue is an absolutely necessary part of community.

We encountered both types of people - those who backed off from a real conversation when it became obvious that there were different points of view and those people who wanted to learn and share. When the ISSUE arose and you could tell that someone wanted to not talk about it, you could just feel the wall being built right at that moment when the ISSUE now existed but wasn't being discussed. Even when small talk happened later, that elephant was parading back and forth wearing colors and waving flags, or whatever those large annoying elephants do that exist in relationships.

And then there were those who saw something different and you could see the sparkle of curiosity - what is going on here? And a connection was being built because two people wanted to explore the world as another human being saw it, regardless of whether they agreed completely or not.

Let me say quickly that both groups of people that we met were wonderful people who were sincere. But one group had fear, they had a worry that somehow, through a conversation, something bad might happen. That fear led one or two to run to their grapevine to talk to others who had the same fear. A few of the bravest, and those who did the biblical thing, came and asked me personally about the issue.

I just don't want to live a life of fear. And we have absolutely nothing to lose, or fear, in good deep conversation. I love Christ for his ability to talk to anyone, including those people who were the sworn enemies of his nation, the religious experts, those lowly people who shouldn't have an opinion, and anyone else and to explore where people were at in their lives.

If it is true that the unexamined life is not worth living, then we need people in our lives who will help us explore it through brave dialogue.

How are the conversations around you? How deep are people really going? Why do you think people avoid talking?


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Great Resolution

I was listening to the Dec 31, 2006, sermon from Erwin McManus in which he had one of the greatest New Year's Resolutions that I have heard:

Make a friend with someone crazy.

Meaning, make a friend with someone different than you. Really DIFFERENT. Like, if you are a democrat, find a republican or a green party or whatever, just something different. If you are reserved and shy, find someone outgoing and crazy. If you like movies, find someone who likes the opera.

Expand your world. Don't be boring and only hang out with people just like you who only affirm the ruts that you are making in this journey. Sure, you feel comfortable with them and its easy to hide from your insecurities, but just think about the possibilities it might open in your life.

Here's the best thing that it might do - get you to understand that people can be different and that's ok, that we were created as wonderful individuals that are all equal.

You, and I, need to be able to love people and be inclusive for those that no more deserve it than the fact that they just are. God loves you, and you certainly have your loose-ends.


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Do Something About This, Part 1

Regarding Worship...

  • The biweekly attendance at worship services is, by believers' own admission, generally the only time they worship God.
  • Eight out of every ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God, or experienced a connection with Him, during the worship service.
  • Half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered into the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him during the past year.
  • Only one out of every four churched believers says that when they worship God, they expect Him to be the primary beneficiary of their worship. (Most people say they expect to get the most from the experience.)
From "Revolution" page 31-32 by Barna.

I have to agree with Barna in this book. It's time to stop being the "better church" than the one down the road because we have a better performance. It sometimes feels like we are in a competition with the churches around us. This shouldn't be about being the better Walmart to draw the same customers, it's should be about changing the world.

Questions need to be asked.


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


"We are not strangers to ourselves, we just pretend to be."

A line from the book "Odd Thomas." Ok, so I know it is not the most scholarly book, it is one of my airport books I picked up for the holiday travels.

That line really struck me. Do we really know who we are?

Sometimes I think, Yeah, in those rare moments of quietness and stillness when the reflection kicks in we really do. I've had those moments in which I think about who I am, really, and ponder the things that I think I take for granted. It is in those moments that I think that I am closest to God because I always come to the conclusion that I can't do it alone, I need people and I need God, that this is a big, lonely universe otherwise.

And then there are times when I think we're always delusional, where perception is reality and most people's perceptions are shaped by some pretty strange stuff. Does he really think that about himself? Does she really not see what she is doing when she acts that way? I ask those questions not only looking out at these strange human creatures around me, but also when I look in the mirror.

Self reflection is a strange gift. I suppose I have to throw it in the "gift" category because it does provide the potential for improving. Potential.

So what do you think? Do we really know ourselves, and pretend otherwise because what we see is not a beautiful painting (maybe more like a monkey with a paintbrush)?


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Thursday, January 11, 2007


Ok, so I know that sometimes I get a little serious, so here is something on the lighter side. This if for all those whose laughter is contagious, and I've definitely known a few...


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nothing says "I hate you" like

a note left on a windshield saying, "You're going to hell and you're going to burn in a lake of fire."

Which is what was left on a man's car because he had a bumper sticker that identified him as an atheist. The incident is described in the article "Bible Belt Atheists Keep Their Views Under Wraps".

The people interviewed and surveyed for the article talk about fear when thinking of the religious people around them. "Nobody's your friend when you're an atheist" was one comment.

The people who leave such notes and who engender such a fear, for anyone, may be religious but they do not follow Christ.

It brings to mind the skits from Saturday Night Live of Dana Carvey hosting a show as Enid Strict, the Church Lady, who would berate people for their mistakes. According to Wikipedia, Carvey said he based the character on women he knew from his church growing up, who would keep track of his and others' attendance. I'm not really surprised that he could easily come up with a role model for the character.

I could go on about this for pages. Distinction and separation are marks of this broken world. Love and unity, despite our differences, must be from God because it seems so hard for us to do.

How do you know when you will run across a mature Christian? By their love, by their love...


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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


We all have doubts. Well, ok, I met one person who said that she never had doubts. For the other 99.99%, it is hard to express them out loud. Here is a note from a friend who has the courage to say them out loud and is struggling to find his way.

Just to make it clear, the following comments are not my own, and I take no responsibility for quotes, references, or his interpretation of what people are saying or thinking. What I do commend is honestly asking questions and searching for answers. I received his permission to publish this in my blog, and I hope that he sincerely finds his way back to Christ as the Answer.

What would you say to him?

"I am responding to a few questions. Do I think that Jesus claimed to be God? No. Of course I can't prove that he did not. The closest we can get to Jesus is the Gospels. I do not believe the miracles. I doubt most of the sayings as well. I embrace the moral teaching, and I would even if it did not belong to Jesus. Where it comes from is not really the issue for me. Concerning Lewis' apologetics, this particular argument of his is disappointing. He's a better thinker than this. Jesus could have been mistaken. Or since we don't have an autobiography, he may never have claimed anything so grand as what is often attributed to him. The argument that there are only three possibilities is intellectually dishonest [Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or legit]. Anyway, even if Jesus were a liar, that would not mean that everything attributed to him were false. Joseph Smith was almost certainly a liar, but he said many good things. Buddha was not Lord, although some of his followers claimed it for him almost immediately, yet many of his moral teachings are very similar to those of Jesus.

"Concerning Paul's theology: Paul's theology cannot be incorrect from the Christian perspective. His writings were canonized by Christians. Did the Ebionites (an early Jewish sect) canonize Paul? I don't know. I think that the Evangelical read of Paul is poor, but it has been a common read since Luther. I accept the New Perspective on Paul, which you can read about on wikipedia. Furthermore, I imagine that Paul, like many other first century Christians were more concerned with one becoming like Christ--that is the salvation, not simply some place in distant time. Actually, C.S. Lewis picks up on this a little in his writings--a good literary critic would. I do believe that Paul was wrong. I do not see that Christians are morally empowered compared to, say, Buddhist, or any other group that takes morality seriously. I wish it were otherwise. There should be a light in this world.

"Why would I want to be shaped by Christian writers, Hebrew prophets? I think we all chose to be shaped by people, ideas, institutions that we do not completely agree with. Why does religion have to be different? Even Christians will admit to taking certain passages in scripture more seriously than others, while dismissing some outright. We like one preacher, but disagree with him on some issues, still he shapes us. We like a philosopher, writer, artist despite her differing religious beliefs, and she influences us, perhaps quite a bit. Augustine was influenced by Plato, Paul by the Stoics, Aquinas by Aristotle. I guess my question is, if I see something valuable here, why should I not want to be influenced by it?

"I appreciate your questions. It helps me think through this, and I hope, keeps me honest. Whatever you think, know that this period of my life has been very difficult for me. Like you said Luke, I never imagined I would be where I am today. More than most, I think, I had dedicated my life to faith in Christ. As you know, I have always had a deep desire for truth regardless of consequence, and little loyalty to any group/ideology above that. There has always been a tension between my quest for truth and my devotion to Christianity. Right now, the tension between them is greater than ever.

"I think that's the thing that's the most difficult for most people to understand, and the most difficult thing for me. I spend a lot of time talking with my profs and fellow students. They all think my questions are good. They don't have anything that even looks like an answer; they believe because they are loyal. That's their admission. If they had grown up believing anything else, they would probably be loyal to that too. I don't understand it. I do not think it is a character flaw, its normal.

"I still think that Christianity could be a good thing for the world. Whatever I think, it is natural for humans to be religious. We want there to be a meaning to life, and we interpret cause and affect in some pretty strange ways. The Christian story suggests that their is value to being human, and that all humans share that value. I wonder if you can believe that without believing in the God who grants it. Many Christians believe in the God, but not really in the value, whatever they say. Many non-Christians do place value in humanity, so I suppose that it can happen. Does the religion help? I think it does. Some of the most amazing people in the world were inspired by Christianity, although some of them were not Christian. We think of Mother Teresa, of course, and St. Francis. Bono comes to mind. So does Albert Sweitzer, and Mohandas Ghandi, neither would be called Christian by our standards. If Sweitzer can be called Christian, I guess I can too. Somehow, I think that's a disservice to Christianity. If one doesn't believe in the Resurrection, they are something else."


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thank you, Lord, for always answering prayer...

Thank you, Lord, for always answering prayer, but not indulging my every petty, private give me. Thank you for winnowing and refining, vetoing and delaying, refusing and revising. Thank you for being God and never less, for freeing me for wide horizons, for protecting me from my limited vision and wayward will. Thank you for foiling my every effort to unseat you and make myself king. Thank you for keeping it safe for me to pray.

--Gerhard E. Frost
From Seasons of a Lifetime: A Treasury of Meditations (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989, p. 118)


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Interview With A Psychic, Part 2

I scheduled an interview with Diane Miller, Fortune Teller, for Friday, June 18, 2005. As I pulled into her driveway on the south side of Abilene, I was a bit surprised. I suppose, without thinking about it, I had envisioned a dark place with shadows of the occult guarding the entrance, such as dream-weavers and magic symbols. Instead, I was maneuvering around knee-high statues of the Virgin Mary on the sidewalk outside the front door.

Before I had even stepped foot into the house, my foundations for what was the occult had already been shaken. The pop culture image of the gypsy from another world staring into the crystal ball turned out to be the Catholic Latino in the house down the street.

The short, older lady who answered the door turned out to be Diane Miller. She had a deep voice and was very pleasant. She invited me in and asked for a few moments as she finished another session. The front door opened into a long living room that ran from left to right. On the left side of the room were several couches, a TV, and a two-year old little boy watching cartoons. There were trinkets and figurines on shelves all around the room, and many statues and murals of Jesus and Saints everywhere you looked. There was even a small statue of Jesus on the TV. I wonder if it helped with reception.

I sat down on a couch as Diane went to the other side of the room, which was a little deeper as it projected out into the front yard. She went into a corner of that room which I could not see, but I could hear her talking to another woman. The conversation lasted about five more minutes, and from what I could hear, it sounded more like a counseling session than a description of the future.

When the session was done, I saw the woman, fresh from learning her fortune, round the corner. She was a Hispanic lady probably in her middle thirties. She said goodbye to Diane and that she would work on it until the next session – another hunch that Diane’s “gifts” function more as therapist than gypsy.

After Diane showed the other lady out the door, she came over and asked why I was there. I told her I was the student that set up the appointment for an interview and she said we could sit anywhere, and proceeded to plop down on the other end of the couch. The first thing she said, while I was taking out my notepad, was a very matter-of-fact “I don’t have anything to hide,” a phrase apparently very important for her as she would repeat it several times throughout the morning.

As I asked about her special gifts, it was still a surprise to hear from her that she was a good Catholic. I was still reserving a small part of my mind that all the outside evidence possibly belonged to others in the family. Growing up in the Christian faith, I had seen people looking to other sources for help with future decisions, but it was all under the table. You used the Ouiji board late at night with a few close friends. You laughed out loud at the horoscope reading, but quietly considered how it might impact your day. You knew people had their palms read or called the psychic hotline, but it was never public news. It was quite shocking to hear someone proudly proclaiming that she and her family were good Christians and her ministry was reading the future.

She told me that at a very young age she knew she was different. Her grandmother took her under her wing to show her what to do. She was told that her ability to read the future was a gift from God and that she was to use it to help people. Diane does not know how it works; she leaves that one up to God. She is positive that she does not connect to spirits or the dead. It seems to be more of an interconnectedness of life. The palms of your hands and the cards just help channel her gift.

I do not believe it would do much good to tell her that the Catholic church condemns Tarot card reading or that the Bible condemns fortune-telling (Lev. 20:27 and Deut. 18:10-12). I suppose an apologist for Diane would point out that those condemned actions dealt with practitioners of false faiths and mediums consulting spiritual powers, whereas Diane’s gift comes from God. While I do not believe that Diane fits under the category of prophet, people have been gifted from God to see into the future. She is quick to point out that she only helps people, and in the name of God. Many of those she helps are poor, and she is obviously not in it for the money. She sees it as her ministry.

Diane was vehement against those who try to gain advantage from others instead of helping them. She went on at some length against someone else in town who “pretends” to see into someone’s future but is really only interested in the money. Diane believes in caring enough to meet with them over time, rather than a one-shot deal. She also believes that to truly help someone it must be done in person. Psychic hotlines are phonies in her mind.

People come to Diane for help with everyday life issues. Money, job decisions, and especially relationships are issues that people struggle with constantly. It was fascinating to talk with her about the integration of something she believed was supernatural and her faith. Her special “gift” worked for her and her clients and she was using it for good, thus it was incorporated into her belief structure.
I struggle now with how I would approach Diane about using her “gifts.” She has an intuitive gift of counseling and has the desire to really help people in their struggles. Could she do the same thing that she has always done, without using palms and cards as crutches? We have Christian counselors that help people “see” the decisions they need to make, only they have a degree hanging on the wall to show their credentials. I wonder if the palms and cards are the old-world way of some who want to help others show their “credentials.”

At the same time, I realize that occult practices can lead into spiritual powers that are not of God and can result into forms of bondage. At the very least, people can learn to rely on the fortune-telling as a way of dealing with life rather than relying on God and trusting in Him. If people are looking for a way to remove suffering and hardship rather than looking for the cause and how it can shape us, we are short-circuiting a process that can lead us closer to God. But that happens to many of us without the “crystal ball.” Credit cards are the mediums of the materialistic.

So how is Diane different than the Hebrew priests who used the ephod to help David with a problem? David needed help to decide a course of action, and the priest basically rolled dice and left the results to God (1 Sam. 23:1-6). The apostles drew straws to decide whom to add to the leadership (Acts 1:23-26). Is the importance placed on who is consulted for help? We pray for help, and sometimes even listen for an answer. Our stories tell us that many times God answered in dreams and visions.
In Diane’s belief system, she is the priestess using the equivalent of the Urim and Thummim. It is a heritage she learned from her Romanian grandmother and has now passed down to her daughter. I do not want to discourage Diane from being a priestess and would encourage her to continue to help others. In another conversation, I would suggest to Diane to stop using those tools that are linked to occult practices, and go directly to God for help in guiding people to good decisions in life. Listen to their problems, pray to God for discernment, and counsel with the goal of leading them to God, who is the source of fulfillment and comfort.

It was fascinating to step into this world that was just on the edge of my own. Once again, it proved that my assumptions about an arena of life in which I rarely visited were mostly misconceptions. It proved again that people are desperate for answers in their every day lives, and will go to the people who seem to provide solutions. While I hope that Diane and the people she is helping learn to put the occult to the side, I also need to search my own life for crutches that keep me from leaning on God for help.


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Interview With A Psychic, Part 1

One of my graduate projects was to interview or research some form of folk religion. I had never before gone to a person professing to be a psychic or spoken with one (at least, as far as I knew since I'm not psychic). This was a chance to talk to someone that honestly believes that they have some power to see things that other people cannot see.

In a future post I will talk about some of the lessons that I learned from this interview. But in this post, I'll just give you the transcript and get your impressions. Disclaimer: I do not endorse going to see Diane Miller or any other psychic, nor do I claim to believe everything that she said - it is just an interview!

I called Diane and asked her if she could provide an interview for a school project. In her deep raspy voice, she said "Come over at 2:00p." I wasn't sure what to expect, but it sure wasn't what I actually saw: statues of Mary all over the front lawn and porch. She let me in her front door and I watched cartoons with a grandkid while she finished her session with another lady.

Transcript of interview on June 16, 2005, with Diane Miller, fortune teller, 1925 Butternut Street, Abilene, Texas 79602, 325-672-0115.

DM What is this for, school or what?
JV Yes, ma’am, this is for my school. I am doing a research paper on different religions and on different ways that people view spirituality and the spiritual world.
DM Oh, OK. [pause while she answers the phone] Sorry, that was my granddaughter.
JV What do you feel your gifts are?
DM My gift, what I do, I believe that God gave them to me. You see, I’m Catholic. Some of my kids are Christian. I don’t have anything against that because we are all Christian, no matter what, Ok? So what I do, I think this is what God gave me to help people and to guide them in the future.
JV Wonderful. How does your gift work?
DM I read the palms and I read the Tarots.
JV Ok. How can you read the future through the palms and the Tarots?
DM It shows! It shows in the lines in your palms. Like in these lines here [motions toward the palm of her right hand], that is where the future is, right in there. But you have to read both palms to really let them know what this palm says and what’s the next thing in there. So that’s what it is.
JV Wonderful. Do you believe it’s a special gift for you or that anyone can do it?
DM Yeah. Well, there is a lot of people, I’ll be honest with you, there’s a lot of people they do it for money, they swindle people out of money, and all that, like the ones on the psychic lines and all that. The first thing, you can’t read for nobody over the phone. There’s no way you can do it. Those people have to be present in front of you for you to hold their hands, then you can read for them. So that’s what I’m talking about.
JV Ok. Where do your readings come from? I know some people say they read gifts through contacts with spiritual beings. Is yours just a gift?
DM Just a gift. I don’t contact dead ones or anything like that. No.
JV Ok. How does that work? Is God the one who makes it work?
DM Yes.
JV God imprints the future in the palms and the cards. He’s the one that makes the cards work?
DM Yes.
JV And the cards, how do the cards work?
DM Ok. Here’s the deal. When I was a little girl I knew I had something, Ok? And I asked my Grandma what was going on with me and she told me that gift that I’m getting from heaven, from God, Ok, but for me to use it in good, not to use it in bad ways. So when I look at the cards, that’s when I see what the future holds for them.
JV Ok. How do the cards work? How do the cards know?
DM That, you’re gonna have to ask God about that. ‘Cause all I know is I set them on the table and they just open up and just tell me what the people are and what to tell them what their future holds.
JV You just do it and somehow it works and you’re not sure how.
DM Yeah, exactly.
JV Ok. How do people use this for bad? Are there people out there? I know you’re supposed to use it for good.
DM Good. Yeah.
JV Are there ways you could use it for bad? Are there people out there using a similar gift in bad ways?
DM Yeah. I don’t, ok, but there is a lot that do.
JV Ok. And then how do you feel about what happens people die?
DM Now that you brought that up that’s another thing a lot of people is scared to come to a fortune teller; that’s the way I’m gonna put it, Ok? They’re afraid to come to a fortune teller and to have their palms read or the cards ‘cause you might tell them when they’re gonna die or something. But the cards never tell them when they’re gonna die, but if somebody did pass away already the cards or the palms will tell them that they lost somebody in their family. Yeah.
JV What are the most common things people come to ask you about?
DM Jobs, love affairs, money, and to get their life on the right track.
JV What do you think is the number one thing they ask about?
DM Mostly love.
JV Mostly love. So it’s mostly everyday type concerns that they’re wondering?
DM Yeah. And each person has a different reading and they’re all not alike. Yeah.
JV Do you think there are other people out there with your gift that are in other religions? Maybe like a Muslim.
DM There are all kinds of people, OK? There is. See, I don’t like to complain on anybody or to condemn anybody. So, for the fact we do have one here in town.
DM We do have one. She’s only been here for maybe before Christmas. She don’t have a sign, she’s running undercover. But she’ll advertise on the radio, she’ll advertise in the paper - she’s in the paper right now. All she does is the money. That’s all. Several people went to her, and she claims she can read the crystals. She charges people $75. When they go in there she don’t read the crystals. All she tells them, “you’re a good person, you’re an honest person.” Out the door you go. She done took their poor money and gone. She claims she can tell you about your love affair and all that and she don’t. I don’t charge that much. I know there are a lot of poor people here. She charges from $75 to $50.
JV Do you think she’s a sham artist?
DM Yeah. She is. One lady came up here to me about a month ago, she went there ‘cause she’s in the paper advertising. And she went there and she ended up charging the women $150 but the woman didn’t have that much. The woman came to me and asked me. I told her I can’t help you. I said, “if you want your money back, you either go to the cops or go back to her and ask her for the money.” She got $92 from her. Now the lady tries to call her to get her money back and she won’t answer the phone. See what I mean?
JV Right. Are there places or times when your gift works better than others?
DM No.
JV It just always works no matter what.
DM Yeah, exactly.
JV Have you ever had times when you haven’t been able to see into peoples future or have there been times when it hasn’t worked as well?
DM No. It always works. The only thing is I can’t read minds. Nobody can see my future and I can’t see for my kids either, so that’s the only problem I have. I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow for me but I can let somebody else know what they’re gonna receive tomorrow.
JV Ok. What kind of things do you tell people.
DM The past, the present, and the future.
JV Ok. Like what would you say, if someone comes in here and asks you for love advice.
DM We gotta read the cards or we gotta read the palms.
JV And then you…
DM And then we go ahead from there. Yeah.
JV Okay. And you’ll tell them if it works well or if it’s gonna work out or not or if they should leave that person or not.
DM Exactly. Yes. If they have a future with this person they’ll continue; if not they have to go on with their life. Yeah.
JV Wonderful. That’s pretty much all the questions I have. Do you have anything else to add?
DM Nothing. I’m here 24 hours a day. I am.
JV I really appreciate your time.
DM This house here, I’ve been here 30 years.
JV I’m pretty new. In town since January.
DM Where you from?
JV I’m from Washington DC.
DM I’m not sorry I have seen the whole world. A lot of people think I’m Spanish. I’m not Spanish, I’m Romanian. My parents came from Hungary.
JV Is this a gift that runs in your family?
DM Well, yeah it does. But a lot of times. I only have one daughter that reads. I have five kids. The others don’t have it.
JV Does your daughter still practice?
DM Yeah. She’s in Arkansas.
JV Wonderful. Thank you very much
DM You’re welcome.
JV You’ve been very nice.
DM Exactly.
JV One last question: who taught you to read the Tarot cards?
DM My grandmother.


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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


So I hear that resolutions are going out of style, that fewer people these days are actually making resolutions. I imagine some people see it as a sign of being more realistic about their chances of making real, lasting changes, but I see it as a sign of real loss to being human. If change is not possible, if the way things are have no real chance of improving, then you have the idea that you are only being acted upon rather than possessing the chance to change the future, hopefully in a positive way. As Paulo Freire (more on him coming soon) might say, you've gone from a position of being the Subject to the Object, a rather depressing move.

So here are my resolutions for the new year, in the spirit of one who still believes that humanity can be humanizing rather than robotic:

1. Get in better shape
So this one is rather common, maybe even mundane, but I do believe how you treat your body has theological implications.

2. Use more discernment in my relationships
Hey, I don't hear people who are "older" say they wish that they had worked more, or had holed up in a cave by themselves.

3. Live social justice
It's a hot topic right now, but I see far too many people speaking up about it rather than living it. This one may be the hardest of all three. I hope that you will help me think about the implications and sacrifices that may be required...


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