From the Northern Rockies

An assortment of things today while qb’s on the road.


If you’re traveling to Twin Falls, ID, and need a Diet DP fix, you can find a 32-oz fountain version inside the McDonald’s at 42.59234 N, 114.4612 W.  The quality of the DDP is above average among the fountain class.

HOWEVER:  that’s not true of the drive-thru version, which tastes as if the hose was switched with the root beer’s hose.  Ugh.  And the McDonald’s further south, in the middle of town, tastes like root beer, too.

The McDonald’s in the Boise airport carries it, too, and it’s about average quality.


Here’s an iPhone shot of the Snake River canyon, looking upstream from the Highway 93 bridge between I-84 and Twin Falls.  I think Evel Knievel tried his jump somewhere near here.


Highway 93 bridge, just north of Twin Falls, ID
Highway 93 bridge, just north of Twin Falls, ID












It has now been nearly 24 years since qb first came to Idaho as a member of the Heber Hotshots to fight the Savage Creek and French Creek fires near Burgdorf Hot Springs in the Payette National Forest.  We spent two weeks here, camped along the Salmon River by day, cutting line by night, and when God decided it was time to put out the French Creek fire, qb spent a glorious last day in a tent under the fir/spruce canopy, listening to Merle Haggard tunes with rain pelting the fly.

Oh, and a day or two back and forth to the hospital in Grangeville for bronchitis.  Not nearly so much fun.


Whoever came up with the metaphor “drinking from a firehose” must have been thinking about N. T. Wright.  qb’s dalliances with seminary at ACU forced him to grapple with the questions about the timing of various components of both the Hebrew Bible and the so-called New Testament, especially concerning redaction criticism of the Gospels, with this specific question being prominent:  were the Gospels written before or after Titus’ destruction of the Temple in 70CE, and in what order?  Among the four Evangelists and the traditions that took their names, and the “secular” historians like Josephus, who had what as a source?

So, Wright, dealing with the apocalyptic content of Mark 13:

It is often said that this passage (together with Luke 19.42-4) reflects Josephus’ description of the actual fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and must therefore have been composed after that time.  In fact, as has often been pointed out, there is good reason to doubt this [sic].  There are many striking features of Josephus’ account of the siege (pestilence, cannibalism, and fire) which have no echo in the synoptic tradition; conversely, some features of the synoptic predictions, notably those to do with the fate of the inhabitants, have no counterpart in Josephus.  So, too, we do not need Josephus, or indeed even the archaeologists, to inform us that the stones of the city and Temple were not, in fact, all demolished; the evidence of our own eyes will do well enough.  It is far more plausible to regard the details of the passage as extrapolations from ancient biblical prophecy [which Wright has painstakingly laid out in previous sections -qb] than to read them as lame and inaccurate attempts to turn history, after the event, into pseudo-prophecy.  (Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 348-9)


Which brings me to another lament, sort of.  Wright has thoroughly wrecked my facile, uncritical, hyperspiritualized understanding of Jesus’ ministry, teaching, and intent.  Now, whenever I consider a parable, a healing, or one of Jesus’ monologues, I find that I have utterly abandoned the evangelical orthodoxies, for example, about Jesus “coming” (Gk. parousia) being the “second coming” and the “end of the space-time universe” that ushers in a blissful eternity in “heaven.”  As Wright makes clear, Jesus’ primary focus was the imminent arrival of the Romans to crush Jerusalem and her Temple once and for all as a symbol of God’s judgment on the false Israels conceived by the various groups (Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, etc.).  

(This is truly a phenomenal book.)

All that’s OK; I don’t mind having my pet orthodoxies challenged and deconstructed.  But it does complicate my life and, if I am not careful (which I seldom am), the lives of others:

1.  How do I listen respectfully to utter nonsense – relentless, premillennial pap – from the pulpit at a church where I already feel like a fish out of water?  Right now, I keep my mouth shut and listen, but it’s a sham.  If I hear the term “Rapture” one more time, I think I’ll scream!

2.  How do I participate and contribute well to Gospel studies with dearly beloved friends with whom I now share precious few assumptions about the origin, intent, nature, and possible range of meanings of what the Evangelists have written?  Right now, I try to keep my mouth shut, with only modest success.  

Just the other day, I found myself calling James 5 into question.  James says that prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and we typically characterize James 5 as a series of divine promises, inspired, directly from the hand of God himself.  We know from our experience that sometimes, God chooses not to heal despite our most ardent prayers.  And others respond – well meaning, no doubt – that the deceased is now “healed” because he is no longer suffering.  But a straightforward reading of James 5 – as straightforward a kind of writing as we’ll find in the New Testament – says nothing about that.  James does not spiritualize healing; he means it in concrete terms, just as a prayer for wisdom will find God ready to grant it, earlier in the same book.  WHAT ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT OUR ORTHODOX UNDERSTANDING OF JAMES?  WAS HE SERIOUS, OR WAS HE REALLY A POLLYANNA?

And then I turn to my left, and a dear friend is looking at me with his head cocked and his eyebrow severely raised, as if to say:  what the hell are you talking about?


He lost his son as an infant.  


I knew that, but it never occurred to me as I went off on my little snit.


And I’m almost ashamed to keep writing now that I’ve typed that.  But I’ve turned broadside, so I might as well keep standing.


Of course, the silver lining in all of this is that my focus on Jesus is more intense than ever.  All else is being stripped away.  And I really do get the sensations sometimes of being theologically naked, exposed, like a freshman inductee before a crowd of upperclassmyn.

And then, praxis:  living life as a disciple of Jesus does not require me (does it?) to spend too much time worrying about those few hours per week spent in corporate study.  I should, perhaps, enjoy them for the wonderful fellowship that they are and not get too wrapped around the axle about the rest of it.

So, thanks, Bishop Wright, I guess.


3 thoughts on “From the Northern Rockies

  1. qb,

    Encountering Jesus without the religious and academic pieties (as Wright enables us) is, minimally, unsettling and generally humbling. Years ago, when I first began Chaplaincy, I was holding a Bible study with some Vietnam combat Vets and I made a nice, kind of Jesus self-help remark. Something like: “Trust Jesus and you’ll manage your problems.” One of the Vets–a skinny guy, veins buldging in his neck, sunken blue eyes that had witnessed too much death and torture–screamed in anger: “You and your Jesus don’t know shit.” The Vet was right. I knew only enough to make Jesus my mascot. Hard to have Him as my Master. (Even though his yoke is easy and his burden light?) Years later, I stumbled on (was led to?) these lines by Czeslaw Milosz: “A weak human mercy walks in the corridors of hospitals and is like a half-thawed winter./While I, who am I, a believer, dancing before the All-Holy?”

    Sorry, qb, but along with the wonderful fellowship is the fire of God’s love that is true–and God’s indignation at our folly, stupidity, and hard arrogance. Who are we to seek after the Living God? We have no choice but to choose to do faith and sanctity alone–and together. It hurts to wrestle the Man by the brook. But, oh God! What a blessing to dance crippled!


  2. qb,

    I must admit that initially I was incensed by your position. I believe I even stated something to the effect of “I have nothing else to hold on to. I have to believe that God “healed” my son by taking him.”

    After reflecting on my own “spiritual” status at that time, I can easily recognize that my prayers were not offered up in what I would now consider faith. I was going through the motions; afterall, praying in those times is what people do, right? However, my faith, in what I would conisder its infancy, was not well founded or substantial. For the past 9 years (almost), I have hung my hat on the fact that God healed my son the only way he could.

    Well, that’s a bunch of hooey and we all know it.

    What the experience has now done for me, is reveal the painful inadequacies in my faith both then and now. I have come a long way on this journey toward a deeper understanding of our God… and yet, I have a long way to go.

    Rest assured that your “little snit”, as you called it, has served a purpose. I must continue on this journey. I must stay the course and not rely on my assumptions about our God.


  3. B, I had no business coming anywhere near that holy ground. But now that I’ve knocked the china off the shelves, the whole thing has to be faced, and I’ve got to sweep up.

    That your son is safely and eternally in the hands of God is not really in question. And obedient faith – even as tiny as a mustard seed, dammit – is worth more than all the priestly piety we can pull together from among the more (ahem) mature. Jesus himself was said to have claimed as much. Any ordinary schmoe who came to Jesus with so much as a tattered shred of faith was welcomed with open arms into the upside-down kingdom Jesus was inaugurating. You have no apologies to make for your prayers, such as they were.

    The nagging question is this one: why does a straightforward reading of a straightforward personality – James, half-brother of Jesus (I suppose) – ring so hollow when struck by the bitter club of experience? The dissonance here has *got* to be the reason evangelicals have spiritualized James. We cannot bear the thought that James 5 might not be the final word on the matter. We fear that we’re sacrificing a soteriologically non-negotiable faith commitment (“the Bible is inerrant”) if we let that camel’s nose under the tent. But reality – real life, the life we actually live and experience – is unyielding in its counterclaims to James 5.

    So the ball is in God’s court, and I think it’s safe to assume that he will finally show his cards, sometime.

    In the meantime, the ball is also squarely in my court. Willard lets C. S. Lewis do the talking:

    “He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

    It borders on deism. But the alternative is too facile; it makes clumsy, implausible excuses for a god who presumably can speak for himself if he desires. Somewhere, here, is faith that rests on things unseen and untouched.

    So I hope I have not caused you undue pain and hardship. In the meantime, I appreciate your forgiving spirit. I deserved much less.


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