Here Comes January: A Spoken Word Reflecting On 2010

Here's a Spoken Word I just wrote titled "Here Comes January". It is a both a reflection on the events of 2010 (for a list see HERE) and a lookin' forward to those of 2011. Enjoy!


Remove Your Kia Optima Console

Recently, a credit card of mine slid into the console of the 2004 Kia Optima that I drive. I tried and tried to fish for the card to pull it back up through the crack it fell through but I must admit, I failed miserably. Still, I didn't give up. I came back in and tried to see if anyone else had posted directions for how to remove the console. Sad to say, I found nothing. However, my wife had the idea of moving a little inserted box underneath the armrest, so, I tried that. Voila! It worked. So, for those of you who have lost things in the console with the hopes of retrieving them, to save you some time and energy, I've made a short slideshow showing you exactly how to do it.

(Note: The slideshow may take a few moments to load. Also, click on the picture to zoom-in and then, use the right arrow on your keyboard to scroll through the photos in order)

Kalamazoo Cant Write"

A few years back, I lived in the very cool, artsy city of Kalamazoo, MI. I really like "K-zoo" or "Kazoo" because it has a lot for kids to do and is very family-friendly. Several years ago, K-zoo's public school system actually launched an initiative called "The Kalamazoo Promise". The "Promise" offers full-tuition scholarships to students who graduate from a K-zoo public school and wish to go to a college within the state. You can read more about it HERE. As a former native of K-zoo and as one who still has friends and family there, I was a bit embarrassed this weekend when I returned and noticed a few places of business who had major grammar-fails on their signs. Following are three photos I snapped in a couple of days, which illustrate my point:

In the photos of both Culver's and the school, we see the misuse of apostrophes. In the Culver's picture, the word "Todays" should have an apostrophe, while in the photo of the school sign, "Holiday's" should not have an apostrophe. (The fact that the Prairie Ridge Elementary School secretary did this should be quite embarrassing to not only to him or her as well as the principal, but also to the students and parents.) In the Vermeulen's sign, we see two grammatical errors in the slogan, which reads, "You'll like the look... You'll love the price". The first is the use of the ellipsis (the three dots), which in terms of grammar, when connected directly to another thought or phrase, indicates that something has been omitted. So, the viewer of the sign is left wondering, "Okay Vermeulen's, what is it that you are not telling me? What is it you are leaving out?" Then, at the end of the ellipsis, there is a space between the last dot and the beginning of the first letter of the next word. Grammatically speaking, there should be no space between the last dot and the next word. It is just a conjecture but perhaps the store's poor grammar had something to do with their shutting down. Then again, maybe not.

So, my dear friends of Kalamazoo, before purchasing a sign to post in front of your place of business, be sure you know how to use apostrophes, ellipses and commas. By the way, did you notice the missing apostrophe in the title of this post? What about the unnecessary closed quotation mark that has no opening one to match it? If you did, you might just be getting better!


A Christmas Gift From Greg Boyd

So, I just visited with an old friend and half-way through the meeting, he gave me a surprise gift (thanks Tim), which was actually a gift passed on to him by another friend of mine (thank you CJG!!!), who herself is a great friend with Greg Boyd. The gift was Boyd's new book The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution. You can read more about it HERE. Now, the book itself would have been cool enough. But...it had a personalized note in it from Boyd to me, which only sweetened the deal that much more. So, thank you CJG and you too, Greg! I really look forward to digging into this one.

Awkward Academics: An End-Year Confession

As 2010 comes to a close and 2011 lies on the brink of the future, I find myself reflecting a lot on the past 12 months of my life. I've had a tough year in many ways. I've struggled on many fronts. I've learned a lot about myself, about what I need to work on, where I need healing, how I need to proceed in the future in dealing with certain issues, etc. In short, I'm a total work-in-progress. Add to that the following confession: I'm afraid of becoming what I call an "Awkward Academic"! I illustrate this with the picture of The Office's Michael Scott lecturing at "The Temp" Ryan's Business College. In that episode, Scott just bombs because he totally cannot relate to people. His social skills are just terrible, as are his teaching skills!

You know what I'm talking about don't you? The teacher or professor or researcher who thrives in the academic world but struggles in every other area at life. I fear becoming the educator who lights up when standing at the head of classroom but is unable to hold a one-on-one conversation with folks. I fear becoming the instructor who comes to life when sitting on a debate panel or in front of a t.v. camera but lacks the ability to be sensitive to how people perceive me and therefore fails to have any type of fruitful relationship or ministry with/to them. I fear being a widely published author or esteemed presenter only to not be able to "get" jokes or always take myself and others too seriously. I fear these things! I do not want to be the "Awkward Academic"!

But I must admit something else too: The further I get into the academic world, the tougher it is to tame my conversational approaches to people. Let me explain. The academic world is its own culture. In fact, there are many sub-cultures in the academic world. The sub-culture that I am a part of, the culture that I spend the largest amount of my professional time in is in the field of biblical studies. In this field, there is every type of personality imaginable. But in this world, to "make it" you are expected to produce good research, be a good writer, offer good publications, be a sound presenter, have good debate skills, etc.

This spring, I will have presented over 20 academic papers at academic conferences. All of these conferences have similar protocol and expectations. Here's how it typically works: 1) I spend time researching and writing a paper that will make a new contribution to the field of biblical studies; 2) This means that I will have to challenge old ways of thinking and offer new insights; 3) This means that somewhere along the way, I will disagree with people and likewise, they will disagree with me; 4) After I present my paper, I expect that people will challenge me and try to knock the knees out from under my research or to try to poke holes in it; 5) Knowing that I will be challenged by whomever is there, I know that I am going to have to defend myself and debate; 6) I know, however, that this debate will typically not cause strife between myself and whomever challenges me; 7) In fact, I know that when they challenge me (and my work), they are only trying to make me a better researcher, presenter, etc. This is the world I spend the majority of my time in. A world where debating and challenging is the main thrust of discourse.

So, take me out of that culture and put me into another one and there is bound to be some struggle. When you spend your life in a culture of argumentation, which I think is VERY healthy and necessary, and then step into another culture, it is often hard to turn off a lot of the other stuff; there is carry-over. Let me give you an example or two of how this can be problematic. Let's say I spend 10 hours on a Monday studying and researching and writing, etc. I spend my whole day debating with commentators and other researchers, etc. about the Bible or how some passage is supposed to be translated or exegeted. Then, at the end of my day, I stop studying and login to Facebook where someone wrongly, I think, cites the passage (e.g. out of context, etc.) on their status. So, I say something on their wall. More than likely, I am going to say it too aggressively or forcefully or something like that. Probably I will come off as arrogant or intimidating, etc. In short, I become the "Awkward Academic".

Or, here's another scenario. Let's say I spend 80 hours in the week studying the Bible. Then, on Sunday morning I go to church or on Sunday night to a Bible study. In each of those venues, I hear what I perceive to be someone ripping the verse or passage out of context. All week long I have been conditioned to challenge arguments or debate with scholars, etc. So, unwittingly, I do the same thing in one of these settings. Perhaps I confront the preacher afterwards or write an email to him/her. Or in the Bible study I challenge what the leader says.

The fact is, it is quite hard to transition out of one world or culture and into another, where the expectations for discourse are often so different. So, what I hope to work on in the future is how to make that transition more smooth and less rocky. In 2011, I don't want to get closer to being the "Awkward Academic" than I already am. However, I also don't want to downplay education or slack off. Nor do I want to be totally unapproachable by those who might have less education, etc. I just want to be normal, approachable, civil, humble, hospitable and compassionate. That is not to say that I will not speak truth, cave-in to pressures, etc. It just means that I want to find a healthy balance and a good way to transition. That's all.


Christmas Commercialism As A Good Thing?

It is this time of year when I often hear folks lamenting (especially preachers!!!) over how "commercialized" Christmas has become. On the one hand, folks want to complain that the "reason for the season" has been forgotten, but on the other hand, they get right out in the mix with everyone else and shop. But I wonder if, instead of whining or putting on guilt-trips, we could finally just say that the commercialism can be quite a good thing?!?

If we go back and look at the story of St. Nicholas himself, a bishop of Myra in 40 CE, we find that the feast / festival or holiday that has come to be associated with him, has always carried a sense of gift-making, gift-buying and/or gift-giving. The spirit in which St. Nick (or Sinterklaas in Dutch and now Santa Claus in English) and his giving charades are celebrated today is not all a bad thing. I mean, on the one hand, we are boosting the economy when we get gifts (that is, if we buy them), which can be a good thing. I think, however, that the real problem arises when the focus is on "getting" gifts instead of "giving" them. A healthy middle ground kind of anticipates participating in both; this is a good, satisfying, communal practice!

Putting the thought into making or getting gifts can be very rewarding to both the giver and getter. This is not to say that one MUST give presents to others. It is, however, to suggest that commercialism isn't a demon that we must exorcise from the holiday in the name of pseudo-piety; in fact, it has always been a part of the festivities! Even for St. Nicholas, who, while a very serious man (probably not as jolly as we're prone to thinking), giving because God gave is central to the holy day we celebrate. Yes, Jesus is "the reason for the season" but our giving should be done in the spirit that we give because God gave first. And if giving takes buying or making, that's just fine; again, commercialism isn't always antithetical to religious faith. If giving simply means being present, that is, giving the gift of presence, then that is fine too! However, maybe we should be a little more cautious about how caustic we often are during Christmas about shopping and gift-giving. Besides, we don't condemn people for shopping throughout the other 11 months of the year! Sure, if we do all of this shopping during Christmas while ignoring everything else, that is problematic. But if we are doing it with the right motives, then there should be no real problem with it. This is not to say that people should spend beyond their means or shop just because they can, it is to say, however, that when we spend, we should do so with a sense of economic justice. Just as well, many should try to be a lot less hypocritical for, if they do not want to give gifts that is their choice but they should not condemn or patronize others, especially those with pure motives!


How Do You Tell Your Kids Santa Isn't Real?

The question posed in the title of this post is an interesting one. Many times, when people ponder this question, they are also asking something like "How do I tell my kids the truth about Santa?" or "Is it wrong for my Christian kids to celebrate a Christmas that has Santa included in it?" For me, however, I think the question raised in this post's title is a good starting place for all such questions.

This year at Christmastime, my daughter is 3 and 1/2 years old. For the first time, she's beginning to associate Santa with the holiday. Just as well, my wife and I have already started to tell her the truth about Santa. The truth is: Santa was real but no longer exists! However, the truth is, a man named Saint Nicholas, the person on whom our modern day Santa Claus is really based, did exist at one time and to be sure, was real! Saint Nicholas of Myra was a bishop around 4 CE. He was known for both his seriousness and his practice of giving gifts, especially to those in need.

So, when we tell our daughter about Santa, to avoid confusion, we just tell her the truth, the truth that he lived long ago and now, a lot of people, people who are friends of Santa and who dress like him, are doing what he used to do, namely, giving gifts. And we tell her that we give gifts too, just like Santa, because God gave us a gift, the gift of Jesus. And Jesus gave us a gift too, the gift of His love and the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit gave us the present of spiritual gifts and a connection to God. And really, this is a lot for a kid to take in but it is not completely over their heads. Even my daughter can grasp some of these basic things.

So, we have no trouble letting Santa be a part of our Christmas, however, we don't pretend that Santa himself is still alive. We don't have our daughter "ask Santa for things". But if we were to take her to say, a mall and let her sit on Santa's lap, we wouldn't have a problem if she told that "friend of Santa" the things she likes or might like to have. Also, we have no problem with singing the songs or watching the movies / cartoons or even embracing some of the fun mythological embellishments of the holiday. Some of those things help a child's imagination. For example, talking about Santa living in a far-off place, well, there's no problem with that because as it stands, where Santa lived was far-off. Or talking about Rudolph or the North Pole, the more mythic elements of the story, those are not problematic either. Again, I defer to the value of imagination here. But when it comes right down to it, we have no problem telling our kids that the reindeer were added to the story, as was the North Pole, etc.

We don't think that the story of St. Nick is contrary to the story of Christ, instead, we see it as complimentary. If our child grows up knowing the truth about Santa as opposed only to knowing the myth, well, then she is in a better place for that because she may not have to endure the "heartbreak" of finding out that a mythological figure she believed in really didn't exist. This could even damage a kid's imagination and / or faith down the road. The fact is, Santa did exist and for us, that is something worth sharing. And really, it only compliments the story of Jesus, which really doesn't make it hard at all. Probably, the toughest part is explaining that St. Nick "lived a long time ago" but isn't "living" today. That, then, brings up the issue of death, which is something much harder to wrap explain to a kid than anything about a fictitious man (who, in America has had his identity totally made-over by the Coca-Cola company) who is making a list and checking it twice!

Is It Emmanuel or Immanuel?

At Christmastime especially, it is not uncommon to hear Jesus being referred to as Emmanuel. Or wait, is it Immanuel? Christmas cards say it, parishoners and carolers sing it, preachers wax eloquent on it, churches are named after it, but...How is it really spelled?

Well, the question isn't really "How is it "spelled?", the question is "How is it transliterated in English?" Because it is a name, we transliterate. Transliteration is not the same as translation. Whereas translation is a "meaning for meaning" equivalent, transliteration is merely a "letter for letter" equivalent. So, that's what we're going for...a letter for letter equivalent.

There are three verses, then, in the Bible where the name is used. Two of those are in Hebrew (Isa 7.14 and 8.8) and one of them is in Greek (Mt 1.23). In Isaiah, we find a Hebrew compound used: (עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל) ʿimmānû + ʾēl (immanu means "with / together with", while El means "God"). In Greek we have the single word (Ἐμμανουήλ) Emmanouḗl. Notice that in the Hebrew we have the ayin with the subscripted hireq. It is for this reason that we use an "I" when we transliterate the name. In Greek, we have the rough breathing mark followed by the capital Epsilon, giving us the transliteration that begins with an "E". The LXX (Septuagint) transliterates the Hebrew this way also.

So, back to the question then: "How is this name transliterated in English?" To that we must say, "It depends on whether or not you're following the Hebrew or Greek! The Hebrew transliterates with an "I" while the Greek does so with an "E". So really, they're both right! (However, Jesus himself is only mentioned in the NT, so, technically, one could also say that the "E" spelling when referring to Jesus is a little more accurate, that is, if you accept that that NT was originally written in Greek.) But still, if you can tell people which one you're using and why at the Christmas party or gathering, they just might be impressed! And if you forget...send 'em here!


Another Digital Nativity

In addition to yesterday's post, here's another creative re-telling of the nativity in a modern context passed on to me by my father-in-law:


Mary & Joseph: A Social Network Christmas

So, if Mary & Joseph were alive today and the incarnation was going to happen today, if God were going to send His Son today to the West, to be incarnate among us today, just how would that happen? Would God contextualize himself among us? Here's one way it might look :)



The Gift Of Resentment

For a while now, I have been dwelling on the concept of resentment. To be sure, resentment has been a major topic of philosophical debate throughout the years. On the one side, some have suggested that resentment is valuable, while on the other side it has been demonized and set up as the antithesis of forgiveness. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that, like many of our emotions, feelings of resentment can be both good and healthy. Of course, to many this may sound completely odd. I mean, in Western culture, much of whose bedrock is built on Graeco-Roman philosophy and over-simplistic Judaeo-Christian readings of scripture, we grow up hearing "Do not harbor resentment (with the implication that it is either unhealthy physically or spiritually)" or "You have to let go of your resentment so you can move on". But are such statements really true?

For example, is it really the case that holding on to resentment is unhealthy either in the spiritual or physical spheres? I would think not. Certainly, there can be unhealthy amounts and types of resentment but that does not make all resentment bad or out-of-bounds. We all know that some types of anger (righteous) and levels (controlled or prevented from violent action) are good and healthy. Just as well, we know that things like jealousy, doubt and fear, which are all often demonized right alongside resentment and anger, can also be good and healthy, especially emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes they even provide us with the motivation to finally act ,to do something!

Among philosophers like Avery, Strawson, Walker and others, the misguided connecting of resentment to desire for revenge is also strongly challenged. Indeed, Margaret Walker's point that resentment seeks assurance from offenders that they can be trusted again is an incredibly healthy view, in my opinion. After Auschwitz, it seems to me that holding on to resentment until trust surfaces is not only the opposite of spiritual and/or moral maturity but in many ways, the very essence of it! As a Christian who believes in social advocacy and justice, having this view that I do allows me to make sense of many of the theodicy-like situations, whether big or small, major or mundane, that still take place on the world stage as well as in our personal relationships and local communities.

For example, in seeing the value in a type of resentment that refuses to quit until trust can be established, social and relational ills such as manipulation, abuse, being taken advantage of, etc. can all be avoided. I think that when we talk about forgiveness, this MUST be borne in mind. How many pastors or laypersons have convinced the beaten wife to stay in the house or marriage? How many church folk have overlooked the mistreatment of children? How many ministers have been at a loss for words when they were confronted with manipulation in relationships among their congregants? That loss for words, that not knowing what to say is not merely awkward, it is sad! We should be able to say without hesitance in such situations, "Let's get you out of that situation right now, if and when trust surfaces again--and it may not!--we'll start working on forgiving and perhaps reconciling, for now, however, let's go!" The point is: Forgiveness is not a trump card OVER resentment. Resentment is NOT evil. Resentment does NOT hold us back. Resentment is something of an innate emotion that helps protect us, that keeps us safe, that demands justice, that demands respect and that challenges abusers and manipulators.

Thus, when we say the Lord's Prayer from week-to-week and get to the line about "forgiving our debtors / transgressors" let us not forget how intimately that phrase is connected to the next one "as You (God) forgive our debts / transgressions". God doesn't like cheap grace and really, wants nothing to do with it. God's forgiveness isn't cheap. And maybe, just maybe, God really doesn't forgive until he knows that trust is available. Yes, we want instant forgiveness just like we want instant everything else. But can we really sin all week long with the knowledge that on a sunday morning we can also cheapen grace? I think not! Maybe God holds a healthy amount of resentment towards humans, again, waiting until trust surfaces. I know that many will hate this view and that it will, as I said, make many uncomfortable. Without a doubt, we want an easy, my-way-right-away kind of Christianity, a type of faith that offers immediate, on-the-spot whatever I want from God. Yet, that is nothing more than manipulation and well, I'm at the point where I think I can say confidently, "God resents that"! And because that is the case, maybe the feelings of resentment we have are not so off-base or out-of-bounds but rather, right on-target. If so, then we might just call this resentment a healthy gift from God!


SBL Paper Accepted (Central States)

I just received word that my paper for the annual 2011 Central States Society of Biblical Literature conference was accepted. I believe this will be my 20th paper at a scholarly conference, which is pretty cool! Anyway, it was welcomed into the "Paul" section and is titled "'The Vacillation' as the Occasion: 2 Corinthians, Epistle of a Two-Faced Apostle?" Here's the abstract: The occasion of 2 Corinthians has been a matter of scholarly debate for centuries. Certainly, the epistle itself reveals Paul as defending himself against numerous charges, one of which is "the vacillation" (1:17). This paper argues that by situating the concepts of consistency-inconsistency in their ancient contexts, using the sociological tenets of "facework" and taking into consideration the theme of "face" throughout the letter, new light can be shed on the circumstances surrounding the occasion of 2 Corinthians."


Spring Semester TA-ing and TI-ing

So, it is now official, this spring I will be a TA (Teaching Assistant, which mainly means grading papers and being available to students) for Dr. Ben Witherington. Also, my application for a TI position (Teaching Intern, which consists of delivering 7 of 13 class lectures, grading and being available to students) to work with Dr. Fred Long was accepted, which means I have been hired to work with him. I'm super excited about these opportunities. For Dr. Witherington, I'll be working with the NT520 class (NT Theology) and with Dr. Long, I'll be instructing in the BS505 class (Intro to Biblical Studies / NT) and assisting with NT634 (Exegesis of Galatians) and NT901 (NT Research Methods).

Jesus Says, "The Poor Don't Deserve Christmas"

This is on-point, check it out (if the video doesn't load right away, click the center of it and it will begin):


SBL Student Survey

As many of you may know, there has been considerable conversation about new policies regarding students and student paper presentations at the SBL Annual Meetings. The Student Advisory Board (SAB) has been collecting feedback for a response to be sent to the SBL Executive Council. As part of this response, we would like to include the results of a short survey gauging your responses to these new policies. This will allow us who are on the SAB to present hard data alongside written feedback. If you can, please take just a couple of minutes and fill out this survey. (Click the image-link to the left and the survey will open in a new window.)


Halcomb's Interactive Amharic Alphabet

Well, since my interest in both Ethiopia and Ethiopic Studies continues to grow, I figured that it was about time to start learning to read Amharic. Interestingly, when I spent the past summer in Ethiopia, I picked up on spoken / conversational Amharic pretty well. However, if I ever hope to get to Ge'ez and other Ethiopic languages, I figured it'd be best to start with Amharic. To kick it off, here's a nifty little study aid I created, which I've appropriately titled "Halcomb's Interactive Amharic Alphabet." Of course, there are 33 markings in the Amharic alphabet and each of those, with their separate 7 vowel points combine to form a complete alphabet of 231 primary markings / letters. Then, there are variations off of these, which I will not go into now. Anyway, I thought I'd share this with you all, just in case one day, you might have an interest. Besides, if you try to do what I'm doing, that is, learning one row of letters per day, you'll pretty much have the alphabet down in a month, which will at least allow you to be able to move with some skill through a lexicon. Anyway, here you go, enjoy:

Halcomb's Interactive Amharic Alphabet
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Do You Have Some Questions About The Bible?


This Week In (Virtual) Prayer: Pt. 1

                                  M   T   W   Th   F   S   Su

(Click the title of the prayer to visit the site)


The Advent Rap

Here's a fun little project I spent a couple hours writing and recording tonight. Ahhh, it's refreshing writing something like this, which is a bit of a step away from the typical scholarly research papers I do. Anyway, give it a listen and let me know what you think.

If you liked this, you might also like my Advent: A Spoken Word Poem

Jesus' Birth In Context: 12 Posts of Christmas

Here is a compilation of pasts posts here on Pisteuomen dealling with Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Most of these are from a series titled "Jesus' Birth In Context". I have also listed some back posts from last Christmas. So, here's a list of twelve posts dealing with the birth of Jesus and the Infancy Narrative(s). Enjoy.

* God-man Talk At Christmas: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 7
* Was Mary Scandalous? Was She Raped?: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 6
* The Magi: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 5
* Was Jesus' Birth Unique?: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 4
* A Miraculous Conception?: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 3
* Jesus & Prophecy: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 2
* Born Of A Virgin?: Jesus' Birth In Context, Pt. 1

* Jesus' Genealogy At Christmastime
* Why December 25th?

* Rethinking "The Inn": Christmas Tradition Vs. Scripture, Pt. 3
* Was Jesus Born In A Cave? Christmas Tradition Vs. Scripture, Pt. 2
* Erroneous Christmas Carols: Christmas Tradition Vs. Scripture, Pt. 1

Call For Papers: Mark's Gospel In Mediterranean Context

I am pleased to announce the "Call for Papers" for this year's session "Mark's Gospel in Mediterranean Context" which will be held in Cincinnati, OH at the annual Stone-Campbell Journal Conference. If you have an interest in Mark's Gospel and the socio-cultural context that intersects with it, submit your title and abstract to the email address listed on the flyer to the left (michael dot halcomb at asburyseminary dot edu). In addition to our wonderful session on Mark's Gospel this year, three wonderful keynote speakers will also be speaking on the topic of the "Extraordinary" that is, "The Body, Demons, and Miracles." This year's keynote speakers are: Luke Timothy Johnson (Emory University), who will present "The Body and Resurrection in Corinthians: The Ontological Body and the Social Body", Loren Stuckenbruck (Princeton Theological Seminary), who will speak on "Demonology in the Synoptic Gospels" and Barry Blackburn (Atlanta Christian College), who will address the topic of "The Miracles of Jesus Viewed From Above". See more HERE.


Virtual Prayers Revamped

Hey friends, when you get a minute, head over to my totally revamped, flip-book, journal-style website called Virtual Prayers. You can check it out by click HERE or the image-link to the left.


Advent: A Spoken Word Poem

Here is a brief little "Spoken Word" that I wrote for Advent 2010. (*Update: I have also added an audio-only version below*)

(Audio version)


HelpKorah Surpasses 10,000 Visits

Today is a special day for several reasons, two of which have to do with Ethiopia. First, exactly one year ago today, my wife and I brought home our son Silas, whom we adopted from Ethiopia. So, it is a sort of Homecoming Day for us. Second, it was this week last year that I first started designing the HelpKorah organization and site. As many of you may recall, NOTHING could be found on the internet prior to this date one year ago related to Korah. Now, if you google it you will find tons of material. That is because many people have started going there! Praise God. So, on this day, I am thankful for all of these things and I want to thank all of you have been and continue to be supportive of me, my family, HelpKorah and the people of Korah. Thank you so much!


The Advent Challenge

This year, my New Years Resolution was going to be to journal / blog a prayer every day for 365 days. Well, I don't want to wait another month! So, I figured, what better time to start than with the season of Advent? Today, then, I am reviving my online prayer place "Virtual Prayers". I am going to do my best to write a prayer about seeking God's presence for an entire year. I would challenge others of you out there to join me in this spiritual journey whether through reading my offerings or, journaling online yourselves. In fact, I'll just go ahead and call this "The Advent Challenge". I think it would be an extraordinary thing to have a few folks to do this with. So, if you're interested, email me or leave a comment here. For now, head over to Virtual Prayers and see today's entry: When Painting Advent.


Is Rebuilding Noah's Ark A Waste Of Money?

Whenever the young earth creationists of Answers in Genesis are mentioned these days, especially the organization's front-man, Ken Ham, it is quite easy to find a mud slinging event somewhere nearby. In fact, many so-called Christians have treated Ken Ham in quite un-Christian ways. While I definitely do not agree with everything Ken Ham says and while I purposefully distance myself from many of the interpretive moves that AIG espouses, I also purposefully distance myself from those who go out of their way to beat him down. As a resident of Kentucky and as someone who visited the AIG campus both prior to its opening and even afterwards, I can say that many of the rumors about the creation museum and its founder are slanted, biased and/or often unfounded.

So, it really is no surprise to me that with the announcement of Ham's latest project, the arrogance and pseudo-piety of many so-called Christians has once again surfaced. This new project titled "The Ark Encounter" is supposed to be a theme park / petting zoo based on the story of Noah's Ark. The Ark itself will be life-size (meeting the biblical dimensions) and many of the animals will, of course, be real (in addition to models). Interestingly, this Ark, as of now, is probably going to be built in my small hometown, Grant County, Kentucky. In some ways, I feel like this gives me a way to address the matter from a different angle.

As someone who grew up in this quite rural area--I can remember when the entire city had one stoplight!!!--I am very familiar with its people, culture and struggles. I know of this place's problems and am more than familiar with its lack of opportunity. I know the people of the trailer-parks and low-income houses. I know the people who have sold and done drugs and I know the people who have been spoiled by wealthy families. I know of the rigid conservatism that many practice and the hatred towards Christianity that many hold. When I was in high school, I had two friends who were locked up for burning down several churches! I know this place.

Because I know this place and because I know these people, I think I can speak more pointedly and accurately about the issue than many others. One of the major critiques that I want to address therefore, is the challenge from folks that this is a waste of money. Indeed, many have suggested that this money could go to help the poor or to fight poverty or to some other similar social justice activity or event. Such remarks are often only proof that within that person there is an inward Judas at work, not a Holy Spirit with real, sincere concern! But the truth is, this new theme park will, before it is ever completed, when it is completed and long after it is completed, fight poverty.

Indeed, it will pay thousands of construction workers who will build it, neighboring restaurants and hotels, etc. In turn, this will provide jobs for many locals. It will also stimulate the economy not only in KY but in Grant County also. Once it is completed, it will bring in millions of visitors every year. This will help keep jobs secured. In the long-run, many people will have stable incomes, lives, homes, etc. This job is, in many ways, a social justice project. No, it is not a temporary handout. No, it is not a donation. What it is, however, is a job creator, economy booster and discussion starter.

If "The Ark Encounter" can deliver what it promises in terms of jobs and economic boosts, then I am all for it. There is not going to be a form that one must assent to before entering, which says that they must agree with Answers in Genesis before they leave. No, folks are still welcome to disagree with AIG's views afterwards. However, if this theme park can bring the Bible directly into contact with our modern lives, can help its stories come to life, can get people thinking and talking about the Bible and can advance outreach, then it is a good thing. I find it such a shame that being only a stone's throw away from the Ohio River, which houses gambling boats, that many Christians would be fine with those types of theme parks / events and then turn around and be highly critical of this one. Whereas gambling boats tend to rip people off and destroy lives, this one seeks to do quite the opposite. Anyway, I think that on many levels, this project is a good idea.

For those living in Kentucky and especially Grant County, this could be a great economic reviver. So, if you are a Christian, before you go slinging mud, I would highly encourage you to watch the press conference below (in 3 parts) and to make an informed judgment based on what I've said above and what is said in those videos. If you have any thoughts, comments or ideas, please, feel free to get the discussion going here on Pisteuomen.


The Common Writer

The one who has
A Masters of Divinity
Has mastered Divinity not
And the one who has
Mastered the pen
Eventually becomes a blot

For the writer’s words
Outlive the writer, yes
The page is their home to dwell
Made up of many letters
And old recycled characters
It’s really Time’s story to tell

-T. Michael W. Halcomb, Dec. 2010
Inspired by George Steiner’s “Uncommon Reader”


Theological Language Sites Surpass 10,000

Thanks to everyone who has made use of and encouraged me about the theological language sites I've created. This year at SBL, I was amazed by all the comments I received about those sites and very, very grateful for all of the positive feedback. So, keep spreading the word. Remember, there are six sites: Getting Greek, Getting Hebrew, Getting Aramaic, Getting (Theological) German, Getting (Theological) French and Getting Theological Languages, the last of which is a portal for the other five. Again, hats off to all those who've helped us surpass the 10,000 mark, here's to another 10,000!!!

Checking Facebook In The Afterlife?

Within the last year or so, I have noticed a trend that I not only find odd but a bit troubling too: R.I.P. messages on Facebook. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the loving spirit in which people leave the deceased messages. I mean, I've visited many grave sites in my lifetime and have left flowers on the grave of my loved ones. Yet, never did the thought cross my mind that my loved ones saw the gesture and rejoiced over it; I always knew that it was more for us than them. This was something we did to remember them or to honor their memory. We did not go to the grave site and talk to the headstone thinking that the person could actually hear us. No, we went, put down the flowers as a family memorial and then spent time reminiscing with one another (those physically present) about our deceased loved one.

So, when I see people leaving R.I.P. messages to their loved ones on Facebook, as I said, I am a bit dumbfounded. Why are people doing this? Do they really think that their loved ones are checking their Facebook wall in the afterlife? If so, then why isn't the loved one updating their status, liking comments or leaving replies? What is this gesture all about? Besides this, it is clear that EVERY person believes their family member or friend is in "heaven" reading their Facebook messages because nobody's loved one could ever go to hell, right? I find in all of this a very odd and bothersome theology. From weird ideas about communicating with the deceased to having the latest social media in the netherworld, I am troubled. Even more, I must ask my Christian brothers and sisters a question: What theological or scriptural basis do you have for leaving R.I.P. messages on Facebook?

Even temporarily putting aside the question of whether or not people go to some spiritual place such as heaven or hell as soon as they die, I must also ask: Have you let technology and media shape your theology more than scripture and the traditions of the church? Over the course of the last few years, several friends have died. Unfailingly, when this happens, their Facebook pages remain up and people begin posting on their wall, as if the one who has passed can actually read what is being said. The same has happened with celebrity deaths and their Facebook or Twitter accounts. All of this has made me pause and ask, What in the world is going on? Are Christians on a slippery slope to unfounded beliefs, which are being ingrained in them by the media and technology of their day? If so, what must we do about it? I hope to think through and write more about this in the near future but for now, I am curious as to what others think? You can go ahead and leave a message on Pisteuomen or my Facebook account because as of now, I'm still alive and can read your messages, heck, I can even respond to them, so, let's talk.

Keywords: Facebook in heaven? Facebook in hell?


Heading To SBL (Society of Biblical Literature)

This year looks like it will be a good conference.  I'm excited for the large student group from  Asbury that's headed down and the many from our  institution who are presenting, presiding or  paneling. If you see me around and you know me, be sure to say hello. If you see me around and don't know me, feel free to introduce yourself. Hope everyone's conferencing goes well. Safe travels to the A-T-L.


Asbury Loses A Beloved Professor: Dr. Robert A. Traina

One of Wesleyanism's most beloved and formative exegetes, a mover and shaker in the field of biblical studies, methodism and among the community of Asbury Theological Seminary, Robert A. Traina passed away this week. While Traina was known among many for his influential teachings / works on Methodical Bible Study, it is probably fair to say that his reach extended far beyond those who ever met him. Indeed, Traina's IBS (Inductive Bible Study) methodology has influenced generations of great scholars and has infiltrated the core of many seminary curricula.

Many of my current professors such as David Bauer, Joe Dongell, Fred Long and Lawson Stone have sat at the feet of Traina and all of them have influenced me greatly. The maxim that we all stand upon the shoulders of others is certainly true! Lawson Stone tells a great story about his time at Yale University studying with Brevard Childs. He says that Childs always kept a copy of Traina's work handy and that in fact, it may be the case that Childs is responsible for wearing out every copy of Traina's work that Yale owned! Again, this man's influence is far greater than we may ever know.

So, here at Asbury we celebrate the life of an influential man, part of whose intellectual and spiritual legacy we all belong to. And while I only got to meet Traina once, which was last year, I do want his loved ones to know how much he is appreciated by the Asbury community. Below is Traina's obituary, which is followed by a short write-up from Asbury Seminary:

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TRAINA Dr. Robert A, 89, widower of Jane Odell Traina, died Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at his residence in Wilmore, KY. Born in Chicago, IL he was the son of the late Angelo and Argia Giovanonni Traina. He was a professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and member of the New York Conference of The United Methodist Church. He received the following degrees: AA from Spring Arbor University; BA from Seattle Pacific University; STB and STM from Biblical Seminary; and PhD from Drew University. Survivors include a son, Bob E. (Glenna) Traina; two daughters, Jan (Len) Wofford, Judy (Marty) Seitz; seven grandchildren; five great grandchildren; three sisters, Norma Mayhle, Rose Anderson and Vi (Dave) Corey; and two brothers, Don Traina and Ed (LaVerne) Traina. A graveside service will be held 10:30am Sat at Blue Grass Memorial Gardens by Dr. David Bauer. Burial will follow for family only. Visitation will be 6-9pm Fri at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home, Harrodsburg Rd. A celebration of life will be held at 3:30pm Sat at Estes Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary.

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Dr. Robert Traina, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies and for nearly ten years Dean of the Seminary and Vice President for Academic Administration, died Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, surrounded by family. Services are presently being planned; a memorial service is tentatively scheduled for late Saturday afternoon in Estes Chapel.

Dr. Traina became a faculty member in 1966 and went on to become Dean of Faculty from 1967 until 1975 when he returned to the classroom. He retired in 1988.

In the recently published book, The Story of Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. David Bauer says, “As academic dean of the largest institution of theological education in Wesleyanism, Dr. Traina did more than any other one person to shape the educational philosophy and curricular goals during what were perhaps Asbury’s most formative years."

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For other posts on Traina, see HERE and HERE.


FREE Greek New Testament From SBL

With the annual meeting of the SBL fast approaching (it starts next weekend!), the Society has decided to give away its hot-off-the-press Greek New Testament for FREE. Conveniently dubbed the SBLGNT, here are a couple of snapshots of the .xml and .txt versions:

(click to zoom-in on images)

You can download the SBLGNT and its apparatus as .txt, .xml, .osis, .sword and logos 4 files HERE.


Witherington Films Jesus Special With The BBC

This news just out from ATS, my doctoral supervisor Ben Witherington has just filmed a special that will air in April. Here's the dl:

Dr. Ben Witherington, Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies has just returned from Jerusalem where he was filming a Jesus special for the BBC called The Jesus Quest, to be aired next April. His book The Christology of Jesus was named one of the top five books on the historical Jesus in the most recent issue of Christianity Today.


Rethinking Halloween: A Christian Viewpoint (RePost)

It's not uncommon these days in North America to find some Christian somewhere who makes it their agenda to moderate and critique holidays. Currently, this can be illustrated by a simple perusing of Godtube.com, where a ridiculous debate is going on between those who call themselves believers. Some think it is okay to celebrate Halloween and others do not. Those who do not, as you might expect, label those who do as "un-Christian", "satanic", "worldly", "secular", etc. I can't help but laugh on the one hand and be heart-broken on the other. Clearly, too many people who act as though they are holier-than-thou, are over-zealous and under-informed. Their logic isn't even clear most of the time!

So, how does one who calls themselves a Christian counter people who act too pious? Well, the place to begin is to rethink Halloween. In fact, it might not even be "re" thinking as much as "thinking in the first place". For example, it is helpful to know that Halloween doesn't have its origins in a secular holiday, no, it can be traced back to Christian roots; it was a Christian holiday celebrated by the Celts (e.g. All Saints' / Souls' Day or Hallow's Eve)--even though the Celts were considered by many to be barbaric. Even more than that, and perhaps, more importantly, it goes back to the end-of-summer Celtic celebration called Samhain, an agricultural festival. This was the time when people would soak up the "light" and prepare for the "dark" winter months. It was a time to celebrate agricultural fruits and goods before the harsh winter came and killed everything. Hmm, so, it was more about life than death in some ways, right? Yes!

So, the over-zealous evangelists who argue that this is a satanic ritual, a celebration of death, etc., need to chill out a bit. I sense that many Christians have a problem with all of the ghoulish attire on the one hand and the supposed celebration of death on the other. Well, as for the ghoulish attire, we may recall that in earlier centuries, the Church actually used ghouls and whatnot to ward off evil spirits. Many modern church buildings still have gargoyles on them. As for the celebration of death, I think too many people have over-played this whole idea. I mean, those of us who have lost loved ones, there are certain times of year and certain things we do to commemorate their memory: We think of them, look at pictures, share stories, go to graveyards, etc. None of this is considered evil, satanic or un-Christian.

On a similar note, some suggest that by celebrating death we are nullifying the resurrection. This is simply not true. First of all, Christians commemorate Christ's death (and resurrection) in communion; Christ Himself bade us to do this. Second of all, to remember the deceased is clearly not the same thing as worshipping them or celebrating death itself. It is this point that I feel many are missing. In missing this point, one Christian accuses another and everything just becomes ridiculous or, no joke intended, even "evil" and "nasty" and "ghoulish".

In the 19th century, when Halloween migrated to North America from Europe, it was not a "devilish" holiday still. For example, the whole custom of "jack-o-lanterns", a pumpkin with a candle inside, was meant to resemble the soul of a lost one who might be waiting in purgatory. It was meant as a reminder to pray for that person or to simply, remember them. But it was also meant to be a symbol of celebration, of celebrating that person's life on earth. So, people would be merry and jolly and walk through the streets singing, sometimes even with bands. Often, this turned into a type of parade. Still, the custom existed that, if you have a jack-o-latnern on your porch, it was not just a memorabilia thing, it was a "message" too; a message to others that your loved one might need prayer or that you might need help appeasing God with gifts for that person's soul. So, people began leaving gifts, nickels, dimes, quarters, etc. next to the pumpkins.

As time progressed, people, usually youths, began stealing these monies (which kind of became an expectation after a while) and run to the stores to buy treats and candies. Now, it's not too big of a step from this "thieving" to marauding and causing trouble--eventually, that's exactly what began to happen! Today, that's what much of Halloween has come to stand for and symbolize: pranks, danger, stealing, causing trouble, marauding, etc. And if there is anything to be against as a Christian, when it comes to Halloween, these types of things are it!

In a world where holidays have become increasingly domesticated (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.), it seems as though Halloween is the one night, the one holiday, where youths can go out, act crazy and try to subvert the holiday norm(s)! This too, should give us pause! Not only should it give us pause for negative reasons but maybe positive ones too: Maybe we should stop watering down and domesticating all of our meaningful holidays!

So, in the end, there is no good reason for Christians to call each other names or to accuse persons of satanic or whatever. Just as well, there is no reason that Christian children should not be able to go out for candy, dress up and have fun. There is nothing evil about this. I would also say that our kids do not have to be "evangelistic" and dress up as Bible characters, etc. (but we must ask, is there even one character other than Jesus Christ himself in the Bible who is really worth emulating?). One last thought: Perhaps this holiday which is so often associated with darkness and evil, brings out the darkness and evil that reside in the hearts of many who call themselves believers. Yes, the name calling, the slandering, the hatred, etc. is all evil and it is all illogical. In my view, Halloween can be a profitable holiday, if for nothing else, to subvert those types of attitudes, a subversion done with merriment and tasty candy!


Dear Scripture

Dear Scripture,

I want you to know that I appreciate you. Some scoff at you and judge you by your cover and some remain perplexed. I know you've been beat down and used up but I also know how beautifully you read. I know you intimately. I know your history, you've told me a thousands times. You have your highs and lows and still, I have your name written on me. We go well together most of the time.

You are well-traveled, well-spoken and your whispher has rippled and echoed through the earth. Your storied soul is a picturesque geography of integrity and your narrative world ebbs and flows, rises and falls and has its own accent and inflection. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were from the hills of Kentucky.

Do you realize how much people talk about you? At schools, churches, on bridges, in prisons, on cardboard...And do you realize the power you wield? It's not just God's hands that you rest. And its not just your friends that stake a claim on you or say they really know you when they don't. I just think you should know about these kinds of things; you have a right to know, after all! Besides, friends don't keep secrets.

How is it that you maintain your composure? Your sophistication? Your persistence? And how is it that you are still a voice for so many, even as your voice keeps getting muzzled? I know I'm asking a lot of questions and maybe you don't have all of the answers...or do you? Regardless, I just want to thank you for your brutal honesty, it has made me a better man. And I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for your unfailing presence, even when the going has gotten tough. I hope this letter finds you well and as always, we'll talk soon.

Your friend,


Was Mark Framed? Killing the Messenger in Mark's Greek Tragedy (Audio)

(NOTE: Due to a certain someone attempting to misuse my lecture, I have since removed it. Sorry!) Here is an audio copy of the lecture I delivered at the conference yesterday. It is titled "Was Mark Framed? Killing the Messenger in Mark's Greek Tragedy". Give it a listen and let me know what you think, I'm hoping to publish this soon in an updated and modified format. (Note: It may take a moment to load. Also, please forgive the poor, lisp-creating quality of audio.)

Citation Info: T. Michael W. Halcomb, “Was Mark Framed? : Killing the Messenger in Mark’s Tragedy,” 5th Annual Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars, Manhattan, KS, October 8-9, 2010.


Bullying Gays, Bullying Christians

From the start, I want folks to know that I write this post as a person who has had close family members and friends who have been and/or are gay. I know the pains and struggles that many of them have faced and still deal with, and I am more than familiar with the sense of rejection that they have experienced, especially from religious folks. I also write this post as a Christian and even more, as a Christian who lives in the midst of the tensions between two groups who often seem to be at loggerheads with one another: the gay community and the evangelical church.

In the wake of the recent suicides carried out by a number of gay teenagers, I have seen several things said or done that I would like to address here. First of all, however, because the phrase "gay bullying" is being used in many headlines, I feel like I need to clarify what "bullying" is (or, at least how I understand and use the term) so that the things I say below are not ripped out of context. For the most part, children themselves associate "bullying" with experiencing aggressive forms of behavior from peers. Adults, however, tend to link bullying with repeated negative actions that inflict or attempt to inflict pain or discomfort on someone. When I speak of bullying here, I define it as unprovoked aggressive acts aimed at a peer with the intent to inflict pain or discomfort upon them.

Now that I have my definition set, there is one other thing that I need to point out. Research has shown (Xin Ma, 2001) that to speak of "bullying" as a one-sided phenomenon is incorrect. In fact, studies have revealed that where bullying is identified, deeper analyses will almost always show that in fact, a "bully-victim cycle" is at work. To put it differently, in a school setting, the student who is most likely to play the part of the bully is the one who just left the counselor's office where he/she received therapy for having been victimized earlier. In short, one who plays the role of a bully has almost always been a recent victim.

This previous point is very important in my opinion because it helps us better understand some of the tension-filled relationship that exists between gays and evangelicals who hold different viewpoints on homosexuality. Let us take for example, the Christian who has shared passages from the Bible to summarize his or her views on why homosexuality is wrong. When they do this, the gay the gay person who disagrees either with the Bible or that interpretation of the Bible, gets defensive. The gay person proceeds to bully the Christian by calling him or her things like "homophobic," "anti-gay," "closed-minded," "ignorant," "old-fashioned," "hateful," "bigot," etc. In this scenario, which is very common in fact, the gay person initially perceived the Christian to be a bully for citing scripture and expressing their disagreement with the gay lifestyle, an act which made them feel victimized. In an act of defense, the gay person then flipped the script and quickly took on the role of the bully by defaming the Christian's character and thereby victimizing him or her. Now that the conversation or argument has started this way, what will continue throughout is the bully-victim cycle. Because this is the case, honest and civil dialogue will be impossible.

And that's just the thing, ground cannot be gained and understanding cannot be reached when the bully-victim cycle is at work. On the one hand, many gay persons feel like Christians are attempting to bully them by passing laws against gay marriage or civil unions. On the other hand, Christians feel like many gay persons are attempting to bully them by passing laws to silence them so that they can no longer express their beliefs. The way forward is not to embrace the bully-victim cycle as the paradigm of choice but rather to realize that different views exist and that such views can be expressed without malevolent intent.

In the case of the teenagers who have recently killed themselves, bullying has been argued to be a factor. While no bully can ever be fully blamed for someone choosing to end their own life, there is certainly truth to the claim that they may have contributed to the stress that led to someone's choice to commit suicide. Again, however, it might benefit us all to ask whether or not the bully-victim cycle was at work in the background of such events. When we do this, it may move us away from merely defaming others and pointing fingers to getting closer to the heart of the matter. Once we to begin ending the cycle is to attempt to find its recent starting point(s).

Certainly, the situation with the teenagers who have recently committed suicide is troubling to hear about. And with the media flocking to the matter and celebrities making videos about it, the emotional roller-coasters that the families were initially on have probably become even more dramatic and/or traumatic. And without a doubt, a lot of finger pointing, name calling, blaming and hating is going on. In such situations it is particularly hard for Christians who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle to offer any support because as soon as they open their mouths or attempt to be pastoral, they get bullied right back. Perhaps another lesson from the Amish on dealings in inter-personal relationships could be learned here too!

All I am really attempting to do in this post is to identify a perceived problem and even inconsistency in this whole matter, namely, the perpetuation of the bully-victim cycle. Many Christians would love to be a healing presence among these grieving families and even gay persons in general but are essentially told that to do so, they must compromise their own viewpoints and beliefs. In other words, they become bullied and victimized for wanting to help. And this extends beyond the homosexuality matter to many other significant issues such as politics, economics or even abortion. For instance, while much is being made over the loss of 9 teenage lives--and yes, it is a big deal--as soon as the Christian who does not support abortion mentions the 4,000 lives of children who will be murdered this week alone in America, they are demonized (again, a form of bullying). Once again, we see the vicious cycle and the inconsistencies that accompany it.

What needs to happen then is a different approach. Persons should not have to compromise their own views in order to gain a hearing or to be respected; these things should be fundamental to any and all human discourse! In the same way that the gay person should not be forced to change their views, neither should the Christian. Civil conversation is possible even where fundamental disagreements exist and occur. Perhaps the relevance of what I've said here has more to do with how to be civil with one another when matters like "gay bullying" come up so that in keeping the dialogue going, negative approaches like the bully-victim cycle are not what we use to steer the conversation down the wrong avenues. At the risk of sounding repetitive, let us remember that we can talk, debate and even disagree civilly, we do NOT have to resort to a bully-victim cycle to try to make our points (for if we do, we will likely not succeed in making a point anyway but rather, only in making enemies).