What Jesus’ Genealogies Mean For Modern Christians

Recently Jesus’ genealogies (Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38) came up in a discussion with some colleagues. Someone remarked, “Why talk about them? What do Jesus’ genealogies have to do with me as a modern Christian?” This fits a pattern you have probably seen in your church or study group. How often have you been in a Bible study or Sunday school and either groaned at the idea of reading a genealogy or, more likely, just simply skipped it for the reading? Have you ever questioned the relevance of genealogies for your own faith?

The genealogies of Jesus are quite telling. Ancient Christians reading or hearing the Gospels would have picked up on their importance. The Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy ties Jesus to important Jewish figures, while the Gospel of Luke links Jesus back to Adam. The popular scholarly theory is that Matthew’s Gospel was circulated to a Jewish audience, whereas Luke’s to a Gentile audience.

What I would argue though is that the genealogies are vital to a modern Christian faith. Not so much in that the genealogies contain spiritual truths, though the differences between the two versions are interesting. The genealogies are crucial to modern faith because they confront Christians with a difficult truth: Not everything in the Bible was meant for you.

While it might seem shocking on first read, most Christians would likely agree with that last statement. Even the most ardent literalist would read through lists of tribes, genealogies, and others in the Bible with a slightly more disinterested eye as compared to Jesus’ teachings, the actions of well-known characters of the Old Testament, or even the legal material. Is it because genealogies are dry and uninteresting? Or is it because they are not in a narrative structure and lack the aforementioned spiritual truths? Why is it, precisely we dismiss them?

If the genealogies were important for the ancient world, but are not deemed applicable to the modern Christian, then what else in the Bible meets the same criteria? More importantly, how do Christians establish the standard by which biblical passages are judged in terms of their relevance to modern faith?

Here is another example that shows the same problem. Leviticus 11 contains several examples of clean animals that are acceptable to consume and unclean animals that the Israelites were not to eat. Without going too in depth with a historical and theological analysis, it is safe to say that most Christians ignore these passages today, specifically regarding pork. However, in the debate surrounding LGBT+ rights, Leviticus 18:22 is constantly referenced and pointed to as a source of divine authority on the matter. For Christians, what separates these two passages? The laws, as far as the Bible is concerned, are on equal footing, yet at some point, we have allowed certain passages to take precedence over others. As Christians, we should grapple with this. What source provides the authority that permits certain passages to be ignored and others to seep into American political life?

Is there divine influence in which parts of the Bible speak to us today? I believe so. However, I also know that nearly any sentiment or aspect of faith that one grounds in the Bible can also be countered by another passage in the Bible. Like so much of Christianity, as much as we focus on God, so much of our history is rooted in the decisions and interpretations of humans. No, Jesus’ genealogies are probably not relevant for your faith (unless you are a first year seminary student furiously writing an essay for an exam). What is relevant for modern faith is the extremely difficult task of constantly asking what is relevant for modern faith. It is not easy and being consistent with your beliefs and interpretations is also equally difficult. But if you want to follow the Bible, erring on the side of love is always a wise choice. Love is always relevant to modern faith.

Posted in Religion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Last Jedi – A Reaction (Spoilers)





The famous music hit. “Directed by Rian Johnson” appeared on the screen. It was over. I had just witnessed the newest Star Wars movie. For the first time watching a Star Wars film, I really did not know how to feel about it. I liked it enough, but it left me with an odd feeling that I could not describe for the rest of the day. A few hours after seeing the movie, the feeling dawned on me and I realized something about this movie. But first, let’s see what we’re working with here.

First, the nitpicks. My personal biggest letdown of the movie was Snoke. I was looking forward to seeing Snoke expanded after The Force Awakens did an incredible job of setting up this character. He was a puppet master in The Force Awakens and that film hinted at a larger role to play. Unfortunately, he was taken out easily and rather early in The Last Jedi. It diminished his perceived power and leaves the audience to wonder “Who was that guy,” and more importantly, “Why should I even care that he is dead?”

The fake-out death of Leia also did not work. Seeing her use the force like Superman regaining consciousness in outer space just did not sit well with me. I, like so many, am interested to see how Episode IX handles her with the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher.

What did work for me was the further development of the new characters. I think the core of Rey, Finn, and Poe are a solid trio and growing into fully formed characters. The new characters and locations where great and I loved the almost heist feel of this movie.

As I said though, this is more of a reaction rather than a review. So how did I feel about this movie? The Last Jedi is the most thematically complex of all the Star Wars movies. After the buildup to find Luke Skywalker in the previous film, we find him in TLJ a broken down man, asking questions of Rey what good did the Jedi play after all and what value is there in being a legend. That is one of the greatest strengths of this movie. It not only asks itself and thus the audience to look at the value of those we’ve placed on pedestals, but also looks back at the entire Star Wars saga and asks where do we go from here? That leads to something that I wonder if the film intended to do. The Last Jedi has managed to, as Kylo says, “let the past die.”

That is the feeling I was encountering after watching this movie. It was the feeling that the past of Star Wars, the Skywalker family drama, Empire vs. Rebellion, was over. But rather than ending in a good guys have prevailed way (Return of the Jedi), the rich universe this franchise has created is still open and will move forward. This is the film that looks back at our nostalgia of Star Wars and says, “You have played your part. Now is the time to bow out gracefully and let the changes sweep over the franchise.”

Maybe even more broadly speaking, Rian Johnson has managed to take the nostalgia craze of the last ten years and say it is time to move forward. The return of franchises in films for millennials and Gen X’ers, Transformers, Indiana Jones, etc… they all brought back the memories and feelings of the original material. The Last Jedi though takes it that to the next crucial step. It is time to move forward. Much as Luke asks Rey what it means to be a legend, perhaps we should ask what does it mean to hold on to our childhood heroes and franchises?

On a personal level, I don’t know if The Last Jedi will become my favorite Star Wars film, but at this point, I can honestly say it is the most important Star Wars film. The universe we’ve witnessed from the first film, from the time we were kids, now truly feels wide open. The fate of a galaxy no longer hangs on the actions of a single family, but now hope has been placed in anyone who is willing to fight for what is right. For a rebellion. I am beyond excited to see where the franchise goes from here.

Posted in Life, Movies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rethinking “Jesus Alone”


If I walk into a church and the first thing I see is a coffee shop… I’m leaving. After I get my mocha of course.

On a serious note, what is it about spirituality and a faith that connects with people? How does that belief play itself out; creating a moral code that person lives his or her life by in accordance with the spiritually driven values?

For modern American Christianity especially, I’ve perceived a driving mantra for the new millennium Christian: Jesus alone. No, this is not a new feature in the religion but I see it more frequently. This driving point of “you only need Jesus” seems to be championed by more modern churches (the mega, the non-denominational, what have you). This makes sense. In an effort to create a new approach to Christianity, it follows that the method would be “Jesus alone,” with little to no connection to other Christian traditions and heritages. The premise is that “religion,” in some form or fashion, has gotten in the way with a person’s personal relationship with Christ, thus this theology encourages the believer to push away traditional notions of “religion” and simply follow Jesus. If that is your approach and your source of spiritual fulfillment, I am not going to judge, criticize, or knock it, but merely ask questions of it.

A few months ago, I read part of a book by an author that I will not reveal, to be published by a major publisher. The theme of the book is just what I’ve been discussing here, the idea that all you need is Jesus. One chapter in particular focused on the idea that “religion” had overtaken the love of Jesus and “religion” is just full of rules that get in the way of a real relationship. Sound familiar? It should, because you hear this from many Christian platforms. Incidentally, don’t bother looking for this book because it was never released. Prior to its publication, it was revealed that the author had engaged in some pretty awful behavior that he was not up front about, so the book was pulled.

I hone in on this author for a reason. He was (based on his bio and look) the typical “hipster” cool pastor. No formal training or education in religion, just a magnetic personality that managed to obtain followers. Yes, there goes Andrew again, being an educational elitist. I know it is a delicate balance: I’m not going to disparage someone for not having training in divinity because then I would be imposing my concept of spirituality on someone else, a practice I am trying to eliminate!

What a lot of Christians miss with the whole religion and “rules” thing is that millions of people find spiritual fulfillment in this way of life. It is not a burden to follow religious edicts, but rather a joy. This is how that spirituality is expressed. Even more troubling, the churches and pastors that push this ideology that rules and practices are bad or devoid of meaning are digging into the anti-Semitic heritage of Christianity, whether they mean to or not. Christianity has traditionally looked at Judaism as a religion more concerned with rules and regulations, rather than faith. The assumption has been that Jews must observe these rules in order to obtain salvation. This is a complete misunderstanding of both the Torah and Judaism as “salvation” is not linked to following Torah and Torah is a gift of God.

If you follow the belief that all need is Jesus, I’m glad you have a spirituality and a Christianity that speaks to you. This isn’t a call to abandon that, just a suggestion that I try to push with everything: really spend time self-evaluating what it is you believe and why you believe it. Many of the churches that push for “Jesus only” may shun the concept of religion, but in reality, they are merely creating their own. Think about how similar these churches are: from their “hip” stage setup that resembles more of a rock concert than a traditional church, to the coffee shop in the lobby (where I’m willing to bet first time visitors get a free cup of coffee!), to the countless small groups designed for every facet of life. Religion and practice exist within this environment, the only difference is that they try to go by different names.

If having a “Jesus alone” approach to your faith works for you, I’m happy for you. Just know that 1) The church you attend is probably engaging in all the trappings of “religion,” you just don’t recognize them because they look different from what are accustomed to and 2) don’t criticize those who stick to what you deem to be a “religious” code because that is how that person experiences their spirituality. You most likely won’t find me in a church with this ideology, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time. On the upside, at least I’ll enjoy my free cup of coffee.

Posted in Religion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Learned By Giving Up Video Games


Last July, I made a snap decision one evening. I am a man of many hobbies and interests and my mind typically runs at 100 miles an hour, sometimes in the wrong direction. I decided that afternoon that my Xbox 360 had dominated far too much of my time. Sure, in July of 2016 it wasn’t the newest gaming system around. But I found myself constantly roaming the digital landscape of sandbox games like GTA IV, GTA V, Red Dead Redemption, and others. This is not a knock against video games, my God they are fun! But they are also, and I believe this, addicting and dulling to the senses. If you are under a certain age, that last sentence made me sound like Grandpa knocking any form of entertainment more advance than the Nickelodeon, and if you are over a certain age, you’re wondering why a grown man with a wife, career, and mortgage even plays video games.

I decided that video games were taking up too much of my time. It wasn’t the fact that I was spending too many hours a day on video games. What I realized was how much I was missing out on other things while mindlessly playing. Like I said, I have a ton of interests and hobbies and more productive ones were being neglected.

What made it truly click for me on why I should give up playing videogames was how little I got out of playing them. When I play guitar, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve either improved my playing, written a new riff, figured out a song, etc. When I spend my time reading, I’m either engrossed in a piece of fiction, learning about a historical figure, or learning something in general. Even the simple act of writing a blog post such as this improves my writing and allows me to share my thoughts with the world.

Video games have a bad give-to-take ratio. For me, working on music is a good ratio. I put in a lot of work on a song and I am rewarded by the satisfaction of having figured out a song or written a new one. Watching movies (one of my favorite activities) is similar. I watch a movie and appreciate art direction, characters, plot, etc. Even better, maybe a film makes me think about something in a new way.

In a video game, what did I truly get out of it? Even if you play the mission in say an open world game, what did completing missions actually bring? Honestly, absolutely nothing. I decided the only thing to do would be to unplug the Xbox and see what would happen. This was July 2016 and I didn’t hold an Xbox controller until February 2017 (this was a momentary lapse back into addiction that, thankfully, only lasted a week. The Xbox is resting comfortably again in the closet).

What did I learn? Simply put, I learned how to better spend my downtime. I was reading a lot more, which is saying something because I consider myself a fairly avid reader. I began picking up the guitar more regularly and found myself working on new material. Overall, my entire creativity improved, my movie viewings increased, and even my dreams became more vivid. I was actively engaged in the creative process and entertainment, not passively playing a game.

I’m not saying this approach is for everyone. If you are an introvert, this is not a call to go out and mingle with all kinds of people. If group activities are not your thing, then do not seek out group activities. Find something you can do in solitude that will expand your mind and fill your sense of accomplishment more than an electronic medium. Take up cooking, drawing, or art. Pick up a musical instrument. Start a new TV show or watch some classic movies. Read a book, take up walking, gardening, coffee brewing, beer making, or even bootlegging. One of the goals I wanted to accomplish this year was to listen to two new albums every week. Give that a try! My point is that I found I wasn’t getting out of video games what I was putting into it, and I have been able to think of plenty of other things to do.

I’ll end with the following. Without sounding too televangelist-y, what takes up time in your life that leaves you feeling empty? Are you like me and it is the video games that do you in? If you don’t want to give up a counterproductive activity, then might I suggest setting it aside for three days and doing something else instead? If it works and you feel great, then keep going! If not, well, at least it was an experiment. Game over.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 In Review: Books


One of the great joys during my day is any time I able to sit down and read. Whether I have a few spare moments on lunch, an early Saturday morning, or a few minutes before bed, I always try to do a little reading every day. I made a commitment to myself some time ago to spend downtime on bettering myself and nurturing positive hobbies, and reading is one such hobby. Maybe one day, I’ll post about my love of reading and the various kinds of books that I enjoy. In the meantime, I am stealing my friend Gordon’s idea and posting a list of the books I read last year. It was a fairly lite year in terms of the number of titles read. To be clear, this is a list of books that I completed in 2016. I still have a few more that I am working on. Those will make a 2017 list. Here are the books I read in 2016 with my brief comments. Note: These are in chronological order, from earliest in the year to the latest.


  • Luke Skywalker Can’t Read by Ryan Britt – Britt writes some humorous, if not forgettable, essays on various aspects of nerd pop culture. To be fair, it has been a year since I read this book, so some of his details and points are a little fuzzy for me. Still, it was an interesting read and worth a check-out from the library.
  • Zen in The Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – A wonderfully written collection that is part history and part “how-to” for writing. Bradbury entertains and informs. He will always be one of the greats and this was one of my favorites this year.
  • The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins – I think this one came to the attention of a lot of people last year, especially through the movie (which I have yet to see). I don’t read thrillers too often, but I found this one entertaining enough. I think it is hyped a little beyond its quality and uniqueness, but certainly worth a read.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – I know bookworms will bemoan what movies to do their favorite pieces of fiction, but I am here to say that Blade Runner is better than its source material, i.e. this novel. It honestly did not grab me as much as the film does (which I have been a fan of for several years), but it was good to go back and read the source material. I have been told by friends that Dick has many other great novels and this is just not one of his best.
  • Will You Please Be Quiet Please? By Raymond Carver – This was an interesting collection of short stories with slices of American life. Good writing and great characters.
  • The Horror of It All by Adam Rockoff – I do enjoy reading books about movies, especially horror movies. That might be the reason why I found this one to be so-so. I did not gain any new insights into the genre nor hear any new arguments, just more-or-less of the same for anyone that reads about horror films.
  • Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura – This one gets tricky. It is essentially a love letter to and analysis of Endo’s Silence. I appreciated this book for its brief look at Christianity in Japan, but honestly, it could have gone through the editorial process a little longer. It was all over the place and the author’s purpose seemed lost at times.
  • Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty by Dan Jones – I both loved this book and was let down by this book. I loved it because it gave a great historical analysis of how and why the Magna Carta came into existence. Also, it began with the great premise that modern political discourse has blown Magna Carta out of proportion in terms of what it created and what it did not create. However, it let me know down because by the final chapter, the one where the real analysis should have come in on how its modern influence, the author just ran out of steam. Still, a great work on the history of the famed document.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – I’ve loved the story and various film adaptations for years, so I thought it was time to read the novella. Short and sweet, it was a great spooky story that is perfect for Halloween.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Again, mysteries are not my typical genre of choice with reading, but I decided to give one of the masters a try. She did not disappoint. An absolute page turner of a story with an genius-level crafted ending, this was my favorite book that I read in 2016. An all-time classic and a must read for all.
  • A Year Without Purchase by Scott Dannemiller – This began with so much promise, but I think the author took a 100 page idea and stretched it into a 200 page book. The idea of not buying anything (with certain caveats) for an entire year was intriguing, but the premise fell short for me. Some reviewers have gone as far as to call it white people in suburbia problems, but I think it was still an interesting premise. My takeaway was that perhaps we are too quick as society to discard unused/broken items, or alternatively, seek out new items when suitable counterparts already exist in our homes.


What books did you read last year that really grabbed or disappointed you? What are your reading goals for 2017? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear your take!



Posted in Books, Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Please Reign Over Me: The Bible, Trees, and the Problem of Power

For years, in both an academic setting and in other writings, I have railed against the misuse of the Bible. I see it used as a moral justification to deny humans basic rights by taking ancient passages out of context and I have watched as those who claim to live their lives by it ignore the difficult passages for which any modern reader should grapple. For this post, I am going to approach things differently. Instead of looking at a biblical passage historically, I am going to argue how it applies to today’s world, using a very specific situation. If I were giving this as a speech, I believe it would be called a sermon.

I am going to give a cautionary warning based on a passage in the book of Judges. If you are not familiar with it, let me provide some quick context for the book of Judges. It is a collection of several independent stories that chronicles the tribulations during Israel’s tribal period. This is a time in which they had been led into the Promised Land by Joshua, but before the establishment of the monarchy.

In Judges 9, Abimelech (literally “My father is King”) goes to the city-state of Shechem after the death of his father Jerubbabaal (also known as Gideon). Abimelech approaches his mother’s family, likely a ruling class, and asks which would be better: For all seventy of Jerubbabaal’s sons to rule or just one. They respond one, and Abimelech kills all his brothers on his father’s side, save for the youngest, named Jotham, who escapes. Abimelech is made king by the elders of Shechem.

At this point in the story, Jotham approaches the elders and tells them the following parable:

“The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ The olive tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?’ So, all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Judges 9:8-16, NRSV).

Those who create realize that taking a position of power means they compromise their craft. Alternatively, those who truly do not contribute to the benefit of humans seek power. The olive tree, fig tree, and grape vine contribute to betterment by producing goods that people need. Yet, the bramble (or thorn bush), not only wants assuredness that the others want it to rule, but suggests they take refuge in its shade. This is of course absurd, as what little shade the plant may produce would be useless, as one would have to navigate the thorns to even use what little shade was provided. According to the Cultural Background Study Bible (Zondervan Press), it is possible that the text is referring to a type of thorn bush (Christ Thorn, or Ziziphus spina-Christi) that does provide shade, however I think the suggestion of shade from a thorn bush is more sarcastic in this instance. Finally, the bramble threatens to have fire consume the Cedars of Lebanon, a large tree that does provide immense shade.

The fable in this passage is not only wary of power, but those who seek it. The thorn bush in this story lacks the usefulness of the other trees and should its own legitimacy be questioned, threatens to destroy a valuable tree. The self-confidence inherent in the fruit-producing tree is absent in the thorn bush, replaced instead by insecurity.

Perhaps at the end the true folly lies with those who ask others to rule over them. If we actively seek for others to make decisions for us and to dictate how one conducts his or her own life, then we are simply opening the door for the power-hungry. Instead, we should focus on our own abilities and the innovation of individuals, rather than hoping a ruling body will solve the problems of society.

At the end of the chapter, Abimelech meets a gruesome end. A woman drops a large stone on his head during a siege, at which point he asks his armor bearer to bring him a sword so he can take his own life, rather than having been killed by a woman. The ending is fitting. Abimelech gained power through violence and violence ended his reign. While I do not think the modern political climate will come to stones dropping from towers, the parable of the trees and the story of Abimelech serves as a cautionary tale for us all. Be cautious of those who seek power.

Posted in Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Official Book and Your Official Book: What’s Missing In TN’s Bible Push

“The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.” This is the text in Senate Bill 1108. This begs a few questions. Which “Holy Bible?” Which translation? NRSV, CEB, KJV, The Message? Will we only accept the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek originals, or will there be room for the Latin Vulgate? Will the Apocrypha be included?

If you are unfamiliar with some of the concepts listed above, do not worry. However, if you are a lawmaker seeking to make the “Holy Bible” the official book of Tennessee, or simply a person supporting this bill, then you need to consider a few issues. To be frank, the entire notion of making the “Holy Bible” the official book demonstrates a simplistic, dismissive, and quite honestly, uninformed point of view. It should be widely understood that there are many different versions of the Bible, and not every group that identifies as Christian accepts all the books of “the Bible.”

For me, we do not even need to get to the debate of how non-Christians would feel with such a declaration. This should, I would hope, be obvious to anyone. Then one could launch into the typical church and state debates, religious freedom, etc. Those are all well and fine, but they also miss the fundamental problem that I have outlined here: Politicians and the general public, typically, do not possess knowledge of the Bible. Many people certainly are familiar with the Bible. It is widely read in Tennessee. But in my experience, people that approach the Bible from a specific faith point of view will not venture outside of that world view, unless prompted (i.e. a course on the Bible in an academic setting). Understanding some of the circumstances surrounding the Bible, both modern and ancient, provides an appreciation for the complexity of the text, one that is lost with the simple idea that there is only one Bible.

I’ll end with this: I agree with the conservatives that a Bible course should be offered in schools. Where I am likely to draw their ire is in the fact that it needs to be taught from a critical, academic point of view. This approach does not put forth a faith agenda, but merely demonstrates to the students how scholars have approached the Bible. I know this is dangerous as it leaves the student to make up his or her mind regarding their own faith and the role in which the Bible plays in that faith. As someone who has studied the Bible for years and has debated countless times with people who lean more towards biblical literalism, I do understand the apprehension to the critical study of the Bible, because it typically ends up contradicting their own beliefs regarding the text. While “liberals” and “conservatives” continue to battle for dominance, both sides remain locked in a one-dimensional view of a complex book that is typically informed from second hand knowledge rather than one’s own research or self-reflection. Then again, nuanced arguments never were a politician’s strong suit.

Posted in Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment