Rhyme and Reason: Christ and Jonah

Originally published in Disciple Magazine, December 2013. Part 1 of 5

Perhaps no section of Scripture is as familiar to today’s Christians and yet poorly understood and overlooked as the story of Jonah. If you grew up in American evangelicalism, you may have heard one sermon on Jonah for every 15 Sunday school lessons (who can deny that the whole bit about the great fish rivets children’s attention?). Even then, most of those lessons focused on Jonah as an example, exhorting us to learn from his mistakes by listening to God and obeying His will. This is in no way incorrect exposition, but it is incomplete. As a result, one of the clearest pictures of God’s redemptive plan for mankind (Jew and Gentile alike) in the Old Testament goes unnoticed by many. In the scope of Christian history, this hasn’t usually been the case, as many great theologians have written extensively on the book. 

The Sign of Jonah
Of course, Jesus knew Jonah and his story, and pointed out to the Jewish leaders its significance and its prophecy. While they were in the physical presence of the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, they kept demanding signs and wonders from Him to “prove” His identity. They had already seen many signs, but each time they had witnessed a miracle from Jesus, they accused Him of blasphemy or called Him a devil—e.g., when he healed the paralytic (Matt 9:1-8), when He healed the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8-21), and when He cast out a demon (Matt. 12:22-29), to name a few instances.

When they came again to ask for another demonstration, the Lord knew their hearts, and answered them with a condemning exposition of Jonah: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster,” so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here’” (Matt. 12:38-42). Continue reading

Into the Woods: Conasauga Lake and Grassy Mountain

Location is everything.

Chattanooga is where it is because of the conveniences of transportation. It’s where the Tennessee River cuts through the wall of the Cumberland Plateau, and the city built up around this natural intersection between boats and rails during the early industrial era. That made it quite the prize during the war between the states, and it’s the crossroads of the South even still—a 2.5 hour drive or less from Atlanta, Knoxville, Birmingham, and Nashville. Much of the traffic between the Southeast and the Midwest passes through here, giving us more traffic woes than a city of this size warrants. Two of the top 10 largest trucking corporations in the U.S. are headquartered here, and we’re still known around the world for a catchy tune about a train ride.

All of that to say, living here makes getting other places a fairly easy proposition, so much so that a drive over to the western edge of the Appalachians for a day hike isn’t much trouble at all. On clear days from certain vantage points around town, you can make out the profile of Big Frog, Cowpen Mountain, and Grassy Mountain shooting up from the valley floor about 40 miles to the east. They are the westernmost “real mountains” (+/- 4,000 ft. above sea level) in the country until you get to the Black Hills.  Continue reading

Deleted Scene: Brutus Bemoans

Every month, it so happens, has an Ides.
Each one’s days come and go just like tides.
Why, among all, do we act as though March
Alone has a keystone in its arch?
Of course! Blame Caesar’s untimely demise,
Or smarmy  Antony’s over-dramatic cries.
I don’t buy for a moment
That filthy soothsayers foment.
For me, this foul murder is chalked up to boredom;
That late winter tedium was what floored him.
Before spring had found its full greenth,
We made quite a mess on the fifteenth.
Now he’s the hero, his death Rome’s acme,
While I hang my head, waiting for someone to whack me.

Caesar's Ghost

Whose Home, Whose History?

I’ve spent a good deal of time in recent years contemplating the bloodguilt of America’s treatment of her native people, from wars to removal and beyond. In Chattanooga, this ought to be impossible to ignore. So many of our place names (Chattanooga itself, Chickamauga, Ooltewah, Sequatchie, Catoosa, even Tennessee) were given before a white foot ever came to this area.

And yet, we do a good job of ignoring it.

I live five minutes from the home of the last Cherokee chief before removal. A scant hundred yards from the library branch where I’m typing right now is an historic cemetery, all that remains from a huge mission (named in honor of the great David Brainerd) to the Cherokee that was shuttered in 1838 at the start of the Trail of Tears. Both of these sites are in limited repair, at best, and neither is visited by more than a handful of people any given week. The numerous Civil War sites around here are incredible to behold, with impressive monuments and reenactments to keep the past ever alive before us. We’d rather not remember the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and others we so unceremoniously evicted, though.

This is just a musing, but I have to believe examining our past in this regard will come up in my work in a big way. And its something I want to be sure my children understand and wrestle with (growing up, as they are, on land obtained by high legal crimes).

For now, here are a few pictures of the Brainerd Mission Cemetery I took just a couple of hours ago. What are we losing when we forget. Certainly less than the Cherokee lost, and therein is the problem.

Continue reading