Tuesday, January 21, 2014

the phrase"my pastor" is bad enough...'my Pastor" is worse

Jamal (left)  has  a great blog; and a great organic church family. Here  below is a photo of his entire "church" (click this, and click again,  to enlarge the photo;  story of this  photo he calls a  rare beauty at this link):
Here's a popular post of Javal's  to wrestle with.  Note: I always struggle when people talk about "their pastor."  I find it telling that Jamal capitalizes the "p" in the phrase, even though that is grammatically incorrect.  We have somehow made the unbiblical (better yet, "not found in the Bible") phrase theologically correct...and many use it in the grammatically incorrect form (I'm sure Jamal's usage is just a typo, considering his theological orientation, and that he types it correctly once).  What have we done?

Parenting Adults Is Harder For The Same Reason That Church Leadership Is Non-Hierarchical....Most parents with adult children that I have talked to have found out (the easy way or the hard way) that it takes more than an appeal to hierarchy to lead them. Don’t believe me? Try telling your 25 year old son or daughter that he or she cannot get up from the dinner table until they eat all of their lima beans. If they try to defy your command, tell them you are their parent, and the Bible says children are supposed to obey their parents. (That is an appeal to hierarchy) Let me know how that works out for you.

Obviously, that is a ridiculous example, but you get the point. At this point in their lives, you want them to be governed by something internal. This is a picture of life in the kingdom. Before Pentecost, the people of God were not grafted into His Son. They had to be governed by an external law. After God’s people were grafted into the Son at Pentecost, they were now governed by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. According to Galatians 5:18, those who operate by this indwelling Spirit cannot operate under the law. When we are governed by the Spirit of Christ and of life, we no longer need to be governed by the law of sin and death.

As I mentioned, this greatly affects leadership in the kingdom of God. We can see this radical shift from Law based leadership to kingdom based leadership in Jesus’ own statement about kingdom leadership:

But do not be called Rabbi; for one is your teacher, and you are all brothers…Do not be called leaders, for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (Matthew 23:8, 10)

This was a profoundly radical teaching on leadership in Jesus’ day, and it is still radical. This goes against the world’s system of leadership, and that includes the world’s religious system of leadership as well. Notice the reason behind the new understanding of leadership. It is because ‘ALL’ are brothers, and there is only one leader who stands as head over them. That is Christ. This removes the possibility of human hierarchy. (I told you it was a radical teaching by Jesus)
Although Jesus’ teaching about kingdom leadership should be the grid and filter through which we understand all the other passages in the New Testament regarding church leadership, this has unfortunately not been the case. I speak from experience as a Bible college graduate and as a former institutional Pastor. What I was taught completely ignored & contradicted the heart and spirit behind Jesus’ teaching on kingdom leadership in Matthew 23:8-12. Instead, I was taught to emphasize passages of scripture that seemed to suggest hierarchical church leadership in the absence of the framework that Jesus laid down in Matthew 23:8-12...

...I am always amazed when I talk to people at large Mega Church institutions that refer to the man who preaches to them behind the pulpit weekly as their ‘Pastor’. Sometimes I ask them if they know the person personally. Nine times out of ten, the answer is “No, not really”. Most institutional ‘Pastors’ are busy people. Most have never shared a meal with their ‘Pastor’. Most have not spent a significant amount of time with them. There is simply no personal relationship there. It is all formal. When I ask them: “On what basis is that guy who stands behind the pulpit week in and week out your pastor?” I usually get a response that goes back to title, not relationship like Jesus demonstrated and taught in John 10:14.

I could say much more about all of that, but you get the point. If you want to control a large group of people, you simply teach people to submit to titles, offices, and positions. This is what governments do, this is what employers do, and this is what the institutional church system does as well. In the kingdom, however, it is much different. Jesus appeals to His relational knowledge of us, and us of Him.

In the church that Jesus envisioned, and in the case of my soon to be 18 year old daughter, true leadership will have to depend on something much more profound than title or hierarchy, however.....   Link, see full post by Jamal:  Parenting Adults Is Harder &; Why Your ‘Pastor’ May Not Really Be Your ‘Pastor’

Related, see

as the sign of highest personal respect, call me by my first name

also post tagged "role of the pastor"

Saint Nikolai the Serb

Ht, Joel Miller: see his post,

What we can learn from Nikolai the Serb,

for context.
Documentary below:

impossible to forgive yourself

Someone will tell you, “You have to be able to forgive yourself.” But that isn’t possible. What is possible is to open your hands without fear, so The Other can blow your sins away. - Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands, p. 22  , read thew hole page here;
HT  Morgan Guyton

"assaulting someone's theology..is discrediting their entire existence"

Stehen Mattson:

".. when we assault someone’s theology, or belief system, or worldview, we’re holistically attacking everything about them: their family, friends, upbringing, culture, politics, education, religion, and life experiences. We’re discrediting their entire existence!": LINK, see context

"the price of being biblical is to constantly return to the Bible": NT Wright as irritant

Tim Gombis (great blogger) links this from  Alister McGrath on the topic of N.T.Wright:

Wright’s project is like a gadfly to evangelical theology.  It is an irritant, a stimulus, that demands we reexamine our ways of thinking and interpreting Scripture, particularly Paul’s writings, to see whether we have fallen into settled and lazy ways of thinking that, in the end, fail to do justice to the New Testament.  A favorite slogan of later-Reformation writers was that the Reformed church must be ecclesia semper reformanda—that is, a church that is always reforming itself.  Reformation, rightly understood, is not a once-for-all event whose ideas are to be set in stone but an ongoing process of reexamination and reconsideration, forced upon us by the priority of the biblical text over our provisional interpretations of that text.  Wright obliges us to read the New Testament again and to take the profound risk of allowing our most settled ideas to be challenged in the light of the biblical witness.  The price of being biblical is to constantly return to the Bible, sometimes with anticipation and at other times with trepidation, in that our present ideas may find themselves rendered questionable.  It is a price that I, for one, am glad to pay.
From “Reality, Symbol & History: Theological Reflections on N. T. Wright’s Portrayal of Jesus,” in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (ed. Carey C. Newman; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), 178-79.  LINK

naked prayer :"it's gonna work this time.."

Any serious fan know there are nights when a  U2 concert is                off the charts..
                                     ...and there are some nights when it just isn't    going off.
                                      (Though on one of the off nights, the concert is still better than anyone else's).

I have been to gigs in the

 former  (within ten seconds, I knew my life would never be the same, and that I would still be living off that concert three decades later)


 latter  (within ten seconds, I knew Sacramento 2001 was going to be one of those nights) categories...and one in between.

Often, Bono talks about "The Spirit is in the house,"  or  "God walking through the room.."
 when it (It) hits.
Call it anointing if you will.........Bono knows the term
(see "Bono explaining rhema and anointing to Rolling Stone").

One classic concert fans talk about is Edmonton 1997.

It;s not unusual as the song "One" winds toward the close, Bono makes an executive decision about whether or not to do an extended ending (what's been well called the "naked prayer" section), and gestures to the band the decision.

Sometimes it means, "Let's give it a shot. I'm not sure God is gonna walk through, but let's see."
Sometimes it means, "God's about to move.  Let's move with the movement."

You can catch from the gesture here that it's the second case in Edmonton.

You can catch the go-ahead nods at 15:49 (Though surprisingly subdued).

           Then at  16:23ff  the passionate"Hear me coming, Lord..."  section

                                 ...and the speechless "Wow" at 17:21: 

7 Hand Gestures That Make You Look Like a Real Intellectual

  article and explanation here

Boggie: Parfum--a real fake music video


Dove Evolution and Michael Jackson's face

Subverting Abercrombie And Fitch: Image, Exclusion and Homelessness

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes: Malcolm Gladwell

Read Gladwell's original chapter  

here (pp 77-89)

full chapter may also be here

chapter with some pages missing here

Audio interview on this topic here

summary here

Excerpts here
Summary here
Rebuttal here
and  see videos below.
  One minute preview:
 Complete presentation:


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

a biblical post about being biblical by not calling anything "biblical"

Remember the "Christian is a lousy adjective" article?

In a similar vein, hear Rachel Held Evans (in "A Year of Biblical Womanhood"), suggest that the Bible (or "biblical")  shouldn't be an adjective, either:

The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives.
The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, proverbs and poetry, philosophy and prophecies, written and assembled over thousands of years in contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever-unfolding story of God’s interaction with humanity.”
When we turn the Bible  into an adjective, and stick in front of another loaded word (like “womanhood,” “politics,” “economics,” “marriage”  and even "equality") , we tend to ignore or even downplay the parts of the Bible that don't fit our tastes.  In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible's cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.  p. 294

A few pages later:

And I believe that my calling, as a Christian, is the same as that of any other follower of Jesus. My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. Jesus himself said that the rest of Scripture can be rendered down into these two commands. If love was Jesus’ definition of “biblical,” then perhaps it should be mine.

Basically the same section in a CNN article:
My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’


Paul's rhetorical education

 Here is an abstract of, and link to the full document of, Ryan Schellenberg's dissertation.
It might be read alongside Brian Dodd's diss.
I am so glad he included some challenges to prevailing view's re: prosopeion  AND utilized Sapir!

Note: it later became this book 

by Ryan Scott Schellenberg

Although it would be an exaggeration to speak of a consensus, a majority of scholars
now sees Paul as a man of relatively high social status. Most often cited as evidence for such
status is Paul’s putative education in formal rhetorical theory. The prevailing logic consists
of two propositions: First,
Paul’s letters can be analyzed according to the dictates of Greco-Roman rhetoric; therefore, Paul must have been well educated in rhetoric. Second, rhetorical education was available only among the wealthy elite; therefore, Paul
must have been brought up in such circles.
A number of scholars have observed that such argumentation fails to consider the
extent to which rhetorical ability exists independently of formal education. But despite this
general observation, there has been no attempt to determine whether the specific rhetorical
competencies to which Paul’s letters attest admit of informal acquisition. In this study, I use
insights from comparative rhetoric and sociolinguistics to get methodological leverage on
this problem and thus to reevaluate the evidence for Paul’s rhetorical education. Using 2 Cor10–13 
as a test case, I demonstrate that Paul’s use of rhetoric provides no evidence of formal
education; on the contrary, his persuasive strategies are instances of informal 
After undertaking a history of scholarship in part 1, in part 2 I reassess recent claims
of Paul’s conformity with formal rhetorical conventions in 2 Cor 10–13.
Here I demonstra that many alleged parallels derive from misleading treatment of the
rhetorical sources and
cannot be sustained. Convincing parallels are few
—I isolate four and rather general;
nevertheless, they do merit further explanation.
I seek to provide such explanation in part 3 by offering a basic theory of informal rhetoric and it
s acquisition, and demonstrating the use,by speakers with no knowledge of formal rhetorical theory, of precisely those rhetorical eatures found both in Paul and in the ancient rhetorical sources.
Finally, in part 4, I begin a redescription of Paul’s persuasive voice: Paul’s prose style, his self
-description in 2Cor 10:10 and 11:6, and his “foolish boasting" reveal him to be a speaker both abject and
defiant.  LINK, full dissertation
cannot be sustained. Convincing parallels are few
I isolate four
and rather general;
nevertheless, they do merit further explanation.
I seek to provide such explanation in part 3
by offering a basic theory of informal rhetoric and it
s acquisition, and demonstrating the use,
by speakers with no knowledge of formal rhetorical theory, of precisely those rhetorical
features found both in Paul and in the ancient rhetorical sources.
Finally, in part 4, I begin a
redescription of Paul’s pers
uasive voice: Paul’s prose style, his self
description in
10:10 and 11:6, and his “foolish boastin

"a cautionary tale for anyone challenging the (economic) authority of the Temple courts"

Bill O' Reilly (and Martin Dugard)'s  #1 book,  "Killing Jesus"  is presented as history and an accurate account of not only how Jesus died, but also the way he lived and how his message has affected the world"; they are also  clear it is "not a religious book,"  and includes  no resurrection (!).

I'm not buying it (literally, as in the book, or much of its thesis), but it is fascinating that they at least get--even though the section is largely misguided--the cruciality of the temple encounter and economic  issues ("the bankers and the preachers nailed him to the cross," , as U2, covering Woody Guthrie, once sang..in another song  of Jesus' death without resurrection, though such may be hinted at) issues

...But here the authors’ disavowal of faith leads them to conclude that money – not claims about God or Judaism – is the real reason the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus killed. In interrupting the money flow by overturning the tables in the Temple, “Jesus has committed a grave offense,” and Annas, father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas, desires to eliminate Jesus as “a cautionary tale for anyone who considers challenging the authority of the Temple courts.”

In the Gospel according to Bill O’Reilly, then, the trial of Jesus for blasphemy – a religious charge if there ever was one – is ultimately a front for protecting the position of the high priest’s family and the Temple’s money supply from a God-centered rabbi who spent three years preaching the Kingdom of God while insinuating that he was God’s Son. 

The historical Jesus remains undiscovered in Killing Jesus, and for good reason. By removing faith from the history, the authors have also removed much of the evidence for a comprehensive understanding of Jesus. O’Reilly notes that “[t]he Pharisees believe in miracles but not in Jesus.” Perhaps someday history will believe in faith and not only in itself.  link


Pope Francis Cleans House At Vatican Bank With New Cardinals As Advisors

The Edge was there when they crucified my Lord

Here 's a very rare live version of  U2's "When Loves Comes to Town"(from "Outside Broadcast".
See the whole crazy broadcast it all here).

I love how Bono can give away his best God lines (voice of God in "Unknown Caller," Scripture in "Miracle Drug" etc.).  The classic verse in this song...
I was there when they crucified my Lord

I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword

I threw the dice when the pierced his side

But I've seen love conquer the great divide
...was  originally sung by guest B.B. King (Watch his wonderful "Mighty heavy lyrics for such a young man" comment in below video...at the 3:33 mark, hmm))..  But in the "Outside Broadcast" concert--in the absence of B.B.-- the Edge gets to preach it..

George C. Scott's three-minute lecture on Calvinism

(profanity alert)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Eucharistic Liturgy in Ancient House Churches

The Eucharistic Liturgy in Ancient House Churches by Vincent Martini:

Many evangelical groups today are proposing that we abandon “traditional” models of “being the Church,” and instead replace that stodginess with what is presumably a more “New Testament” model: that of the “house church” or “cell church.” Essentially, they are promoting that the local Church be a de-centralized assembly, meeting in the homes of various individuals, proportionally scattered throughout a city. The presumption is that this is the “Biblical” model for both fellowship and discipleship, being derived from the New Testament itself.

While we certainly read of “house Churches” in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:11,16; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15), typically being the homes of wealthy individuals with enough room for a large assembly of people, the house/cell churches of today do not actually resemble the worship or piety associated with these New Testament prototypes. Beyond this, the house Churches of the New Testament eventually developed into the basilicas of the post-Constantine Roman empire, when the faith was no longer forced “underground” as the result of periods of sporadic, imperial persecution. The same elements present in the earlier house Churches found their way into the more established basilicas and temples of the 4th century and beyond; they were just given a newer and freer context.
Two distinct features of the most ancient house churches — and in fact, of the most ancient churches that archaeology has unveiled, period — are that of the baptistry and the place of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
When discussing the Eucharistic controversy at ... continued

Slavoj Žižek vs Cornel West

It's not quite as epic as  Roe vs. Pritzl.........but it IS Slavoj Žižek vs Cornel West:

A.J. Jacobs: My year of living biblically/Rachel Held Evans: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Amazon: The Year of Living Biblically

One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible



Monday, January 13, 2014

breaking news/conniption fit alert: pope faces same direction as people

I'm so aware of how 
  • church architecture is theology (see posts tagged "architecture)
  •  microphones speak volumes..
  •  small liturgical gestures (literally) matter (semiotically).

I don't know all the pope had in mind..if anything... re: the news below..
but to me, it's no accident (in either sence of the term) and no small prophetic act, that he has started celebrating mass this way.

One priest blogs:

Today the Holy Father, Pope Francis, again celebrated Mass ad orientem, that is, facing Christ, or facing in the same direction as the people. He celebrated on the historic high altar in the Sistine Chapel, during the annual Mass at which the Pope also baptizes a number of children.
This is the second time that Pope Francis has shown that this is a legitimate form of celebration, reinforcing what liturgical law already clearly says – to say nothing of immemorial practice.

I have previously written about this subject here (on the topic of celebrating “facing Christ“) and here (when Pope Francis previously celebrated this way). Also, I would point out this post that Archbishop Gullickson posted on his blog today.
A lot of people have a lot of “baggage” about this topic; if their parish priest started celebrating this way, they would have a conniption fit. Yet Pope Francis shows us, just as Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, et al. did, that this is a legitimate form of celebration. In fact, it is the way that Mass was celebrated for centuries. There is a very meaningful and beautiful theology behind it, and we should accept it as part of the legitimate diversity that exists in the Church.  Link

The previous post by same priest:

Facing Christ

I was on an airplane this evening, and in thinking back on it I am reminded of the absurdity of the idea that a pilot should face his passengers while flying the plane. How could he lead them to their destination safely if he were looking at them instead of where the plane was going?

An image from an old catechism.
Here follow some scattered thoughts…
Recently I read an  continued

Bono and chess

"The reason I like the game chess is because each move has countless repercussions, but you're in charge of them. And it's your ability to see into the future and the effects of the decisions you've made that makes you either a good or not a good chess player. It's not luck.” ― Bono, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas


Bono: Chess, do you play chess?
Dylan: Yeah, I play chess. Are you a chess player?
Bono: I am a chess player.
Dylan: I'm not that good actually.
Bono: I'll challenge you to a game of chess.
Dylan: I don't have it right now actually, I just don't have one on me, but the next time you see me!
Bono: Oh, you can get these little ones you know, that you can carry around.
Dylan: Yeah, I take them on tour all the time, but nobody in the band will play me.
Bono: Really?
Dylan: Yeah, they say it's an ego trip. They say I want to win, I don't want to win, I just like to play.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bjork Explaining Television: You shouldn't let poets lie to you.

Video below, transcript and backstory here


                     "They carried the word ‘brotherhood’ always in the mouth, while they founded terror regimes."
                                                                          - Hannah Arendt, Uber die Revolution, pp. 21; 318
“My theme is seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both.”
That provocative opening line (p.1) of Henry Abelove’s monograph on John Wesley, The Evangelist of Desire, has always elicited from me a smile, as well as a healthy respect for its accurate prediction of the flow of his paper.
In a sense, Abelove’s salvo serves just as fittingly for the thematic intent of this current article, and in turn for the topic of the article itself: the biblical book of Philemon.
My working assumption is that Paul’s quietly subversive letter to Philemon--partly because its “theme is seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both” --may well be the interpretive key and even  kerygma-in-microcosm  of the entire Pauline corpus, theology and worldview.
I do not view this claim as hyperbolic  hubris; though I certainly concede that it is quite a supposition for a book that  for most Christians is barely acknowledged and rarely read; and per many scholars is not  sufficiently lengthy, meaty, or  “theological’ (!)  to merit such a distinguished and distinctive role in the canon.
 If churchgoers have heard anything about this shortest letter of the New Testament, it is likely the “radio orthodoxy” (Brian McLaren’s delightful phrase) view that it is “about” Philemon’s runaway slave, and Paul’s encouragement that Philemon forgive said slave.
That party line may be partly right…and in the end, largely wrong. 

If congregants have seriously studied the text beyond downloaded sermons and popular literature, they may have even run into Callahan’s alternative view (Callahan, 1997) that Philemon’s supposed slave Onesimus was not a slave at all, but literal brother to Philemon.
That take may be half-right; perhaps even dead wrong.
Philemon:  Key and Keynote
Though it sounds counterintuitive to proffer that this tiny epistle holds the veritable key to all of Paul (among the more “obvious” candidates are the majestic narrative of Romans or the comprehensive compendium that is Ephesians), I am at least in good company:  F.F. Bruce (1983), Marcus Bath (2000), and N.T. Wright (2013), to varying degrees and from differing angles, unashamedly assert the same.
Philemon : A Tale of Two Brothers
Though it may appear contrarian and contrary to accepted logic to offer that this letter is actually about a call for two brothers-by-blood to reconcile,   there is no more obvious way to read verse 17 with grammatical and contextual integrity.  Some (Callahan et al) are convinced that in Philemon, the slavery is metaphorical (not the brotherhood, as almost universally assumed), and the brotherhood is literal (not the slavery, as usually assumed).  A surprisingly compelling case for this interpretation can be made; but more likely is the scenario that Philemon and Onesimus are both master/slave and brother/brother. Exegetes as astute as F.F .Bruce (not convinced) and Timothy Gombis (convinced) have weighed in here.

Philemon: Call to Manumission
Though it may feel a stretch for the historical milieu for Paul to be advocating release from slavery (manumission) for Onesimus, I make the case that Paul was prescient and prophetic enough to do just that…albeit between the lines… yet in a way clear and clamant for Philemon to decode and decide upon.

Forgiveness, Radford Reuther suggests (in Pinnock, p, 205) “is not simply a transaction between God and the individual soul that has come to recognize its sinfulness. Politically interpreted, forgiveness means concrete acts of repentance expressed through social struggle to overcome oppression and to create a more just world.” 

As for the “seduction, resistance, cultural consequences of both”?
Paul’s cruciform-shaped approach to leadership, status and power issues necessitates that any correspondence by him inevitably both incarnates (especially in a delightfully intentional choice of literary style  and rhetorical genre) and advocates (via a surprisingly subtle-sneaky  narrative arc) a radically Christocentric and stubbornly kenotic refusal to submit to the seduction of seeing a brother or sister in Christ (let alone sister or brother “in the flesh”) as “the other” or  in any way less important than self.    The cultural consequences--not just for ecclesiology, but for sociological issues such as slavery—are thus significant and sweeping.  “History,” as Walter Wink would have it, “belongs to the intercessors.” 
Bottom line, then?  What is Philemon “about”?
 Paul is writing to Philemon, about Philemon’s fugitive slave Onesimus, who is also  Philemon’s half brother;  he is arguing for unconditional restoration of Onesimus , which includes the “even more than I ask”  release from slavery.  This is all embedded with profound implications for subversion of empire and dismantling of ecclesiological hierarchy. 
In this series of articles, we shall eventually weave all these theses into a tapestry and “contexture” with we believe is faithful to an informed hermeneutic.  We begin with the initially confounding issue of Paul’s literary approach.

THE LITERARY APPROACH OF PAUL:  Humor, Holy Fool, Prosopeion, and ‘Paradigmatic I”
“I could command you, but I appeal to you ought of love”? 
“Any decision you make will be spontaneous and not forced”? 
“Oh, by the way, you owe me your would” 
Paul’s language and literary approach have been much maligned, yet little understood.  He has been read as being (at best) disingenuous and passive-aggressive, or (at worst) sycophantic and manipulative to a degree that borders on messianic complex.   I believe a third way unpacks the dilemma and makes salient sense of the intuitive embarrassment and discomfort we feel overhearing Paul’s appeal.   In a word: humor.   In several words: a mosaic (and not at all prosaic) humor based loosely (?) on the “holy fool”  tradition and rhetorical device of prosopeion; a holy humor laced liberally with a playful but profound twist of (almost) irony and mimetic self-reference.   All of this is of course at great risk, and presupposes a deep, abiding and adamantine trust between sender and recipient.
Is Paul being authoritarian to a fault, all the while claiming the opposite?   No, St. Paul is smarter…and not smarmier… than that.  He is more humble than he has been given credit for; and decidedly not proud of his own humility.  Per McLuhan, his medium masterfully matches—even equals and incarnates—his message.
On humor in Philemon, consider Marcus Barth:
In contrast to the doctrinal style of Romans;  the irony and sarcasm found in Galatians; to the apologetic, wailing, and aggressive passages of Second Corinthians; and to other idiosyncrasies of other letters, in Philemon the use of contrasts is a sign and means of underlying good humor. Humor is, according to Wilhelm Busch, where one laughs, “in spite of it," even in the face of grave situations.
 The mighty apostle of the omnipotent Lord Christ is a prisoner in Roman hands (w. 1, 9-10) and chooses the role of a beggar before Philemon (vv. 8-9). The child Onesimus was created by a father in chains (v. 10), who was, according to some versions of verse 9, an old man! A pun is made on the name Onesimus ("Useful") in verse 11. God's purpose in permitting separation was to establish eternal union (v. 15). Paul and Philemon are business partners, and Onesimus can substitute for Paul by being the third man in the association (v.17) Philemon is much deeper in debt to Paul than the apostle eventually is to the slave  owner (vv 18-19). Paul hopes confidentially that he will benefit from Philemon — not only materially but by finding rest for his troubled heart (v 20)..... Overflowing obedience is the sum of complete voluntariness (v. 21.) A man whose chances for quick release from prison were less than certain invites himself to a private home for the near future (v. 22).  All or at least a part of these elements can be considered, or are, humorous.
It is not certain whether Paul intended this impression, and whether Philemon was capable and willing to appreciate jokes pertaining to his relationship to Onesimus and to Paul. But together with other earliest hearers and readers of PHM, modern readers are by no means prevented from responding with a smile or a chuckle. The dreadfully serious issue of the slave Onesimus's future is treated  lightly — a fact that reminds of the role of slaves in Greek and Latin comedies. Obviously bitterness is neither the only nor the best way of reacting to grave issues. Indeed, Philemon has a hard choice to make, but the decision-making process is sweetened as much as possible — by humor. (Barth and Blanke, 2000, pp. 118-19)

Paul is acting (literally) oddly, but not obsequiously.  He is flirting with a not-quite full-blown  prosopeion, a technique which is definitely in his repertoire and arsenal (see especially Romans 7); it is deployed here even more covertly than the infamous “I know a man..” of 2 Corinthians 13.
His persuasive approach seems   inspired in part by the prophetic tradition’s use of “holy fool, “which Paul directly affirms in   1 Corinthians 4:10.  Later Christian history finds Eastern Orthodoxy creatively adopting this approach, in  yurodivy , "which is caused neither by mistake nor by feeble-mindedness, but is deliberate, irritating, even provocative.” (Ivanov, 2006, p. 211)  St. Francis was clearly another practitioner, as are Malamattiya Sufis.    I make the case that in postmodern pop culture, persons (and personas) such a Stephen Colbert (“Is he a conservative playing a liberal playing a conservative?)” and U2’s Bono (as Screwtape/MacPhisto) have taken up this torch in ways that are in fact helpful in confirming Paul’s modus in Philemon.  These may be all too easily be discounted as leitmotif-lite, but the remarkable theological sentience and skill of both Colbert and Bono betray a wise and profoundly Christian (hence Pauline) mechanism of adapting “holy foolishness.” 

Brian J. Dodd, at length:
Paul uses large blocks of material containing self-portrayal to ground or add weight to his argument (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9; Gal. 1-2; Phil 3)…Occasionally, Paul’s self-portrayal verges on self-praise, creating a social need to employ accepted literary techniques to mitigate the odium and offence of his self-discussion…While Paul often portrays himself as a technique of argumentation, it is striking that he nowhere transgresses the stigma against self-praise except where he also offsets its offence…
 Against the backdrop of Philemon’s watching community, Paul develops a distinction between commanding and appealing, a feature that is not distinctive to Philemon.  He exploits his right ‘in Christ’ to command (8) only in order to contrast it with his loving appeal (9-10), while crediting Philemon with the sense to  do what is good and right  (14) .

How then do we understand the ambivalence of Paul’s request, since he repeatedly appeals to Philemon’s volition so he may freely choose the right thing (8-9, 14, 17, 20), all the while allowing the undercurrent of his authority to flow freely (21-22)?  The answer may lie in his implied paradigmatic strategy in the letter.  That is, Paul’s ambivalence itself may exemplify the attitude he wants Philemon to adopt in his reshaped relationship with his slave: as Paul refuses to assert the authority he clearly possesses, Philemon is coached in the responsibilities of his newly reformed relationship with Onesimus.  Paul wants to gain Philemon’s consent so that he will freely do what is good, not by compulsion (v.14). By this example, the seed is sown for a new phase of the master’s relationship with his slave. Paul does not compel Philemon to act, thus patterning for him a new style of interaction with his slave-become-brother Onesimus…

...In Philemon, Paul exhibits self-restraint of his authority by explicitly refusing to command as he appeals to Philemon to forgo freely his grievance with Onesimus.  This display of Paul’s self-limitation of his authority is combined with an example of love and generosity to demonstrate paradigmatically the manner in which Philemon is to treat his slave-who-has-become-a-brother.  Though Philemon has the legal right to be harsh with Onesimus, Paul asks Philemon to grant Onesimus the same loving and generous treatment that he would extend to this elder missionary….Paul’s status as an elder and as Christ’s metaphorical prisoner affirms Paul’s authority in the community in the strongest terms, and his repeated emphasis on his imprisonment creates an emotional receptivity to his appeal as a captatio benevolentiae.  Whether or not Philemon would have or should have taken the letter as a suggestion he manumit Onesimus cannot be ascertained, but it may be implies by v. 21: ‘I am confident of your obedience to the things I write, knowing that you will do more than the things I  have asked.’

Thus, by the time of Philemon Paul’s rhetorical use of self-portrayal has blossomed into a full and intricate flower, and the paradigmatic aspects are difficult to extract from their intrinsic relationship with the other aspects of his nuanced epistolary persuasion.  Philemon is the apex of a literary style that is already evident on Paul’s earliest letter.  (Dodd,

Partial Bibliography
Abelove, Henry.   The Evangelist of Desire: John Wesley and the Methodists.  Palo Alto: Stanford, 1992.
Barth, Markus and Blanke, Helmut.  The Letter to Philemon (Eerdmans Critical Commentary).  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Bruce, F.F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (New International Commentary on the New Testament).  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.

Callahan, Allen Dwight. Embassy of Onesimus: The Letter of Paul to Philemon (Nt in Context Commentaries) .  Bloomsbury: T and T Clark, 1997

Dodd , Brian J.  Paul's Paradigmatic "I": Personal Example as Literary Strategy (Library of New Testament Studies)   Sheffield: Sheffield Acadmic Press, 1999.

Pinnock, Sarah K., ed. The Theology of Dorothee Soelle.  Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2003.