Thursday, April 24, 2014

Colbert in and out of character

Slate has collected six videos of Colbert out of character here;
surprising they didn't include the 60 Minutes episode.

Also: note there is a Wikipedia page for both:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

signs of Kingdom life in Godhaunted NYC? please add comments

I learned so much from my students..

(isn't that how it's supposed to work?
I love how Leonard Sweet, when introducing former students of his, says something like, "This is Ted, we studied together in the nineties."...Not, "I was Ted's professor in seminary.") "students" in

 "Theology of the City/Urban Ministry"  at Latin American Bible Institute-Fresno/Sanger Extension).

I was disappointed we never got to take a more "urban" field trip than to downtown Fresno. 
All things considered, I would have chosen New York City.
(I'm always asking the question that folks once asked me every day).

And for the soundtrack to us coming out of the tunnel and into Manhattan, would of course be the
chilling scream of Peter Gabriel in the intro to Genesis' "Back in New York City."

Practice it now, class:

I found it amazing that only a couple years ago, the total Google returns of "theology of New York
 City" was ZERO (until my post). Wow, I just checked the results...someone chime in, please..

 NYC has taken a bad rap as spiritually dead/bankrupt.  Yet check out the winner of the
"America's most saintly city"  !!

All that to say, either below in the comments, or on the Facebook mirror of this post,
I would love to hear

a)What signs of  Kingdom  life do you see in NYC?

b)Name some specific churches, ministries, Kingdom

 outposts, house churches etc that you know of there..

               Erasmus: "the city  is a huge monastery."


life lesson at the toll booth

A story I often tell to illustrate...well, all kinds of things, but mostly a "centered set":

In between high school and college, I was a toll collector on the Connecticut Turnpike.
I had some amazing bosses and co-workers (I have to tag Sts. Raymond Powers and Al Meliso).

We would alternate which side of the highway we worked on..
...but the catch: on a given day, it would .be easy to temporarily forget which side you were on.

Two questions we got all the time:

From westbound motorists: "How far to Providence?"
Of course, we had the answer memorized: "Ninety miles."

From eastbound motorists: "How far to New York City"?
We didn't have to think about the answer: "Seventy miles"

(Note: on the East Coast, people gauge trips by miles, here on the Left Coast, we answer in time estimates)

One random day, a motorist asked "How far to New York City?"

I was honored to help.  I smiled and responded: "Seventy miles"

"Thank you, " the driver cheerfully responded.

But a few seconds later, I tried in vain to shout out what I had just realized:

"But you're going the wrong way!"

Liza Silka: singing in tongues

illustration by Victo Ngai
article here.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Polkinghorne on Trinitarian theology as Theory of Everything

As a quantum physicist, I have been concerned with how that subject's veiled account of created reality might influence theology's understanding of God's relationship to the physical universe. Yet I have also wanted to make clear, as opportunity offered, that the central source of my own belief in God does not lie in such matters. Rather, it is to be found in my encounter with the figure of Jesus Christ, as I meet him in Scripture, in the Church and in the sacraments. For me, it is Trinitarian belief that is truly persuasive belief. Of course, that belief is much more complex than the simple recognition of the Mind of God behind the order of nature, just as modern quantum theory is more complex than Max Planck's original idea that energy comes in packets. Yet, Trinitarian belief is complex in ways that seem to me to be necessary to match the depth of experience and insight recorded in the Bible, and continued in the ongoing life of the Church.

I...make  what some of my scientific colleagues might think was an over-audacious claim, that a deeply intellectual satisfying candidate for the title of a true "Theory of Everything" is in fact provided by Trinitarian theology.

The exercise on which I... engage is somewhat similar to that which an earlier age might have been called the search for 'vestiges of the Trinity'. Of course, I am not claiming that the earth is full of entities stamped 'Made by the Holy Trinity'. God's work of creation is rather more subtle than that. What I shall claim is not that we can infer the Trinity from nature, but that there are aspects of our scientific understanding of the universe that become more deeply intelligible to us if they are viewed in a Trinitarian perspective. It seems to me that it would be perplexing for the Christian believer if no such indications could be found, but I also acknowledge that they will not prove to be of so unambiguous a kind as to force the minds of everyone necessarily into seeing things the way that I do. It is to be expected that God is neither totally hidden nor totally manifested in the works of creation.  -John Polkinghorne, Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality, pp. xiii, 61.HT Alan Bevere

the video raises a few questions/observations/comments

what are yours?

Post by Rexanne Collins.

video of a funny art museum docent we met in San Francisco

Video below....(or click here)

Daniel Karastai on the apophatic city

Daniel Karastai:
...In reading this theological landscape of the {New Orleans} Quarter there are two basic conclusions I come to: One, the Quarter is the Enlightenment dichotomy between sacred and secular reified. Two, separating the cathedral from the public square by making it a scenic backdrop was intentional:
"The original city’s layout is almost a textbook example of the Enlightenment mania for balance, order, and clarity.  The men who envisioned and designed New Orleans were fired by utopian ambition" (Powel 2012, 60).
Sometimes I feel like myself and many other Christians that I know are stuck standing on the steps – some sort of middle ground between the domains of the sacred and secular which seem to be colliding into each other. It’s as if the doors to the cathedral have been forced open where in one ear we can hear the congregation praying the Eucharist prayer “Lord I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof. Just say the word and my soul shall be healed,” and in the other the noise and music from outside can be heard with remarkable clarity. I feel that all the balance the architects of this great city tried to create has dramatically shifted. Something has changed...  Link

"Your church is hard to find! "Good!"

Excerpt from a great article by Lee Wyatt:

The Submerging Church, as I see it, is radically subversive, relentlessly incarnational, and ruthlessly hospitable. It dives deeply into everyday life, sharing it with others, while at the same time questioning and critiquing the conditions of that life we share. Since this community lives from its center, the risen Jesus Christ, its boundaries are porous and permeable with arms outstretched to everyone who encounters it.
Here are some characteristics of the Submerging Church:

  • first, it is hard to find because it is small and spread throughout the community;
  • second, it is difficult to join because “membership” is relational and based on a shared journey towards the center;
  • thirdly, it is culturally atheistic, that is, not committed to a cultural Christ or his civil religion;
  • fourth, it is more like yeast (which though small permeates the whole) than a beast (a mega-church prominent in the community);
  • fifth, it finds its “niche” with those at the margins and their experiences, which generates the “lens” through which it views and responds to the world; and
  • finally, it focuses on “inner-tainment” (life with God) rather than entertainment.
The core content of the Submerging Church comes from:
  • first, being a Kingdom Outpost rather than a religious institution;
  • second, following a Cruciform Jesus rather a Cultural Christ;
  • third, living by a Holy Script (Bible) rather than a cultural script;
  • fourth, being centered on a bath and a meal rather than programs;
  • fifth, seeking justice for all (especially the poor) instead of good for “just us”; and
  • sixth, sharing “communitas” rather than just fellowship (Google it!).
  •                                      Lee Wyatt, full article 

comments on this from Facebook here

salvage the sermon...or not. what are the options?

Salvage the sermon, for the end is near  byJames Wilt

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What would Bono read? "Invisible" and two Spanish mystics

image source
If you know the U2 song, "Invisible," how do you NOT hear it when you read this section of  Yovel's The Other Within:The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity:

"the simplistic mysticism of the Alumbrados was superseded by the mystical theology of the Converso monk Francisco Osuna.  Osunsa's follower, Saint Teresa of Avila, became the greatest mystic of Spain, and her own disciple and partner, Saint John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz), is Spain's towering mystical poet.
The mystical theology was opposed to the prevailing scholastic theology.  God was not an object of knowledge--certainly not the kind of dogmatic knowledge promulgated by the ruling scholastic schools--but of love, and ultimately, union.  To reach God the soul must sink deeply into itself and  be purified of all thoughts of created things.  The lover of God must be free of sensation, desire and rational reasoning; she or he must transcend all particular forms of life, thought, and wish, and plunge in silent concentration into that "dark night of the soul"  (the title of Juan de la Cruz's best known poetic collection), from which God alone might respond to his love.  Ceremonies and vocal prayers are equally of little use.  What matters is the heart; and the heart, in order to find its religious intensity and depth, must be liberated from external distractions like speech and ritual.
Yes, Osuna insisted, this does not lead to nothingness, but rather to supreme being and totality.  Our thinking nothing is also thinking all. for in it we think nondiscursively of Him who by wonderous eminence is everything."  -Yovel, p. 255
The line I am trainspotting here in U2's "Invisible" is one of the following (the actual lyric is debated; it's a new song and no official lyrics are available):

  • "I don't think about you that much..unless I stop to think at all"
  • "I don't even think about you that much...unless I stop to think it all"
  • "I don't think about you that much...unless I start to think at all"
  • "I don't even think about you that much..unless I start  to think it all"

See  Invisible - U2 Lyrics from @U2, listen up and decide for yourself..

As if that's not enough, a few pages later, in an analysis of Teresa's spirituality:

"When the soul is out of itself in the state of union, it suddenly surges into great heights, like a huge tongue of flame bursting from a fire, or a giant eagle kidnapping the soul and flying with it to majestic heights.  This creates an experience of sublimity, leading to sweet, painless suffering during which Teresa remembered herself as "flooded with tears without pain."  Her description suggests that the whole human being, and not only the soul as opposed to the body, attains  elevated existence."  -Yovel,  bold emphases mine

Of course, here is another tie to a key line of "Invisible":

a body in a soul

This line is probably  partially triggered by a known influencer of Bono, C.S. Lewis.

(See a great post on this song  by Tim Neufeld here.  Excerpt: "He often suggests that spirit and flesh are inextricably linked : 'A body in a soul'—really, did he sing that?? Yep. That’s some great theology! Could be the subtitle for a whole course on theology of the human person. 

But, it  also makes one Bono read Teresa as well
                                               ..or Yovel?

¿Quién sabe?

Of course, fans will also note Yovel/s/Teresa's reference  above to elevation, yet another U2 song, based on a mystical prayer technique.

I have wondered about his bedside reading before...See:

We know the B-Man  has read Lewis,
            Eugene Peterson, 
                            Watchman Nee...
                                           and even Smith Wigglesworth..

but how deep does his well go?

Bonus: See Mother Beth's post on "Invisible"  here.
Obviously with a visibly invisible God, there's plenty of good theologizing to be done..

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Elbow: Prophet with a Beer and Beard

I love learning about new music (new to me, anyway) from trusted friends.

Thanks to WPLR New Haven's Stoneman for playing a little funeral-playing combo called U2..
           Thanks to Diane  for introducing me to The Violet Burning..
                       Thanks to my brother for the intro to the77s..

I could go on..

..but today all I can say to Paul Leader is "Wow!"
I am late to the Elbow party, but I am here.

Thanks, St. Paul.  You are man of taste.


Start with Paul's article:

 Prophet With a Beer and a Beard

 Then maybe

Pop Matters: Elbow

 Elbow (band) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Here are some somewhat random YouTube results:


Friday, April 11, 2014

EICD (Elite Institution Cognitive Disorder): Malcolm Gladwell

Colbert the theologian/Colbert and Death of Protestant America

I totally agree with Tim: "Colberts definitely one of my favorite theologians. Seriously."

23 hrs via iOS 

What's wrong with this headline ?

  • Dave Wainscott

"Be all the boxes": no more "linear gospel" and "chemotherapy bulls&$#"

image link
The promo sticker alone sold me....(and the price was right: 95 cents; God loves Rasputin Music store):

  • "One of the year (2007)’s greatest indiepop triumphs” - Guardian Guide 
  • "a holler-along Britpunk gem-a tour-de-force..  Four stars****" -Rolling Stone 
  •  “Be prepared to believe the hype…self-aware, smart and stupendously hooky,  a real life next band worth checking for” - Blender 
  •  “Come Autumn, they will be your favourite band” - NME 
But nothing prepared me for this song:

"Be Safe"
 (lyrics here..language alert)
with guest vocals by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth..

Skip to 28:35 to experience "Be Safe"

The band: three brothers (including a set of twins) called The Cribs 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

megachurch pastor moral failure: a beef about three sacred church cows..and call to blow up them up

Yet another sad story about yet another megachurch pastor's moral failure.
I found one quote interesting, and telling, on several levels:

“You know he did a lot of good,” said Mitch Guetler, a church member. “He helped out a lot of people and I’m just really sad but like he always said up on stage—don’t follow him, follow Christ. So, you know, he’s a sinner like the rest of us and it’s just too bad.  (link)
My observations are not  a judgment on  the pastor or parishioner, but commentary (judgement) on church culture/language/assumed ecclesiology...sacred cows:

1)"up on the stage": Note the irony write large: It's from "up on the stage" that the pastor said "Don't follow me."  Medium=message; medium contradicts sermon.  To paraphrase the EBay Atheist,  "What in the world is a stage doing in a church?"  (See also Ed Stetzer's "It takes more than a stage to create a community:The Problem with Pastors as Rock Stars").

Blow up church stages; they are oxmoronic and moronic.


2)"Don’t follow me, follow Christ." It's amazing that people think this is in the Bible when Paul said basically the opposite.  (Don't get me started on folks who bet that "God will never give you more than you can handle" is in the Bible, yet the opposite infinitum, ad nauseum):

"Follow me, as I follow Christ" Paul, 1 Cor 11: 1.

Blow up those  "Don't follow me, I follow Christ" bumper stickers.

Create and sell a new bumper sticker that says,"Follow me because I follow Christ"...and give Brian Dodd all your profits . See Dodd's remarks on this in his important works "The Problem of Paul,"   "Empowered Church Leadership" (click here to read the relevant section)and  his dissertation, "Paul's Paradigmatic 'I': Personal Example as Literary Strategy"

 Paul admitted he was a "normal neurotic"  (Dodd, Problem p. 153), yet was worth following.

3) "he’s a sinner like the rest of us."  Technically, he IS  like the rest of us...but like the rest of us, he's not a sinner."  I said "the rest of us," not "the best of us."  One does not have to be dead, Catholic, or perfect to be a saint.  According to the Bible, one just has to be a Christian.  Even a sucky one like me counts.    Remember that Paul calls even those bad Christians in 1 and 2 Corinthians what they are: "saints."

Blow up those "Just a sinner" T shirts.  How about "just a saint" ?

You are a saint who sometimes sins, not a sinner who sometimes is a saint.

(I hate to argue with saints who think they are also sinners--like Luther and the Sarcastic Lutheran---but see  "kicking butts, hair in a bun, tattoos" and  "i find i relate more to the sinners than i do to the saints"and "Pope Francis, You Had Me at Hello, and Lost Me at Sinner")

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

husbands: head of the house? submit to their wives?

Good article on Ephesians 5 and "mutual submission" by  Sarah Summer here

 See also:

husbands, submit to your wives/pulling down the verb

"wives submit" context

Do Wives Need to Submit to Husbands?"



Happy Rhodes

Happy Rhodes:

Unknown to most, but a world-wide cult following.  Eleven albums; only played once west of Chicago. Lives on a farm in upstate NY.

Four-octave vocal range; often compared to Kate Bush/Annie Lennox;  influenced by Gabriel, Bach (and Switched-On Bach!)' does a medley of Yes covers; not to mention "Space Oddity" and Queen's "Lilly of the Valley."   "O Holy Night" (!)

Happy Rhodes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"Faith Wthout Words" by Carolyn Arends


interview with Phillip Jenkins on Global Church

An Interview with Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History, on Global Christianity (Part 1)


An Interview with Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History (Part 2)In Part 2 of  interview with Dr. Jenkins, we discuss the prosperity gospel and the explosive growth of the global church.

An Interview with Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished History Professor (Part 3) What does the future of the global church look like? Dr. Jenkins explains

Philemon:"full of inside jokes.. the most fun anyone ever had writing while incarcerated..Paul's most absurd paradoxes"

Sarah Ruden, in Paul Among the People (Amazon here; 
Christianity Today article and interview here)  spends some time in the preface; as well as most of Chapter 6, on Philemon.  A worthy read! (Sorry about the formatting below, click the links for a cleaner read; see also Philemon: full of humor?

From the preface:
The letter to full of inside jokes and high-as-a-kite invocations of the transcendent...Paul joyfully mocks the notion that any person placing himself in the hands of God can be limited or degraded in any way that matters.  The letter must represent the most fun anyone ever had writing while incarcerated.

The letter to Philemon may the most explicit demonstration of how, more than anyone else, Paul created the western individual human being, unconditionally precious to God and therefore entitled to the consideration of other human beings.  -page xix, preface, read the whole preface here
From Chapter 6:

But bare forgiveness was radical enough, especially in the main territory of Paul's mission
But bare forgiveness was radical enough, especially in the
main territory of Paul’s mission. There, forgiving a runaway
slave (particularly a runaway who had taken goods with him,
as Onesimus may have done), instead of sending him to hard
labor, branding him, crucifying him, or whipping him to
death, was no small matter, when he had so shockingly
betrayed his household (familia in Latin, from which we have
the obvious derivative). Running away and its punishments
are the stuff of black comedy. The ancients treated such
episodes almost the way we treat sex acts: the details are too
shameful for mainstream literature or polite conversation.
For the Romans as for us, a single-word insult—for them
“runaway”—could invoke adequate disgust on its own.

To show the extremity of what Paul faced in having a run-
away slave land in his lap, I will start with a scene in
Petronius. Imagine what the apostle got used to in the estab-
lished Greco-Roman society he experienced, as when he was
staying with a man wealthy enough to have a guest room, as
Philemon did. Petronius’s story of Trimalchio’s dinner party
is exaggerated and absurd, but the narrator Encolpius pro-
vides the voice of cultured common sense among all of the
pretentious uproar. From him we know that it was good form
for the master to order severe punishment for slaves even in
the case of carelessness and accidents that in any way marred

hospitality. It was also apparently polite for the guests to
intervene, in the spirit of “Oh, no, not on my behalf, please!"..

...To be seen and never heard was not the universal rule.
Some slaves gained status in households and entered into
close relationships with their masters. Cicero’s secretary Tiro
is an example. Some masters, like Seneca, vaunted their
humanity toward slaves. But I submit that slaves were like
pets: good treatment of them was about the masters’ enlight-
enment, never about the slaves’ inherent equality. The mas-
ter was absolutely entitled to keep a slave in line, according
to his own convenience.

....The most subhuman slave was the runaway; his only ties
to society had been the uses that real people could make of
him, and he now forfeited these ties. He was a little like a
raped or adulterous woman, but unlike her he bore all of the
loathing and fury, in this case the extreme loathing and fury
that come when absolute privilege is disappointed.

As a rule, a runaway was simply a lost cause: a far-out out-
law as long as he could sustain it, and a tortured animal or a

carcass when caught. Here is a rare detailed depiction. In
Petronius, characters masquerade as caught runaways after
they realize they have a choice between being recognized and
killed, and becoming objects whose repulsiveness will bar
any other impression from onlookers’ minds. They shave
their heads as part of the disguise, and even after this act has
been reported to the owner of the ship on which they are sail-
ing—haircutting at sea was considered a bad omen—and
they must stand in the middle of an angry crowd that
includes their longtime enemies, their protector still hopes
that their role of degradation will shield their identity..

...Again, who a runaway was—nobody and nothing—tells
us who a slave was: nobody and nothing aside from his use-
fulness. And Aristotle and others indicate that he is inher-
ently that. This is what makes the debate over the letter to
Philemon, concentrating on the question of legal freedom, so
silly. We are not in the ancient Near East, where the people
who were slaves in Egypt become masters in Canaan. Such a
change was not conceivable in the polytheistic Roman
Empire. Had Philemon freed Onesimus, it would not have
turned Onesimus into a full human being. That is what Paul
wants, so he does not ask for the tool that won’t achieve it..
....But as I wrote above, Paul had a much more ambitious
plan than making Onesimus legally free. He wanted to make
him into a human being, and he had a paradigm. As God
chose and loved and guided the Israelites, he had now chosen
and loved and could guide everyone. The grace of God could
make what was subhuman into what was more than human.
It was just a question of knowing it and letting it happen.
The way Paul makes the point in his letter to Philemon is
beyond ingenious. He equates Onesimus with a son and a
brother. He turns what Greco-Roman society saw as the fun-
damental, insurmountable differences between a slave and
his master into an immense joke.

This chapter and previous ones have given some idea of
who the most and the least replaceable people were in the
eyes of the Greeks and Romans. I just want to stress again
how crucial the relationship was between freeborn fathers
and their legitimate sons, and between full freeborn brothers.
Along with the misconstruing of ancient slavery, a huge bar-
rier to modern readers’ getting Philemon is that we can’t,
just from our own experience, see fatherhood and brother-
hood as sacred—they have not been so for hundreds of years..

...Brothers also played important roles in the Greek and
Roman social systems. They were supposed to have close bondsof trust and affection, which were idealized in myth and his-
tory. The archetypal brothers were the gods Castor and
Pollux. In one version of their story, the immortal brother
refuses to accept the death of the mortal one and extracts
from Zeus permission to sacrifice part of his own godhead so
that the two can remain together: they now spend alternate
days on Olympus and in the underworld. In another ending,
they become a constellation, the Twins, or Gemini.

In Roman thinking, the legendary first king Romulus’s
killing of his brother, Remus, was almost like original sin, a
presage of the heinous “fraternal slaughter” in the civil wars:
Romans, people of the same blood, essentially of the same
clan, tragically echoed Romulus’s crime.

Since there was no rule of primogeniture (by which the
eldest son gets most or all of the inheritance) among either
the Greeks or the Romans, brothers were on a fairly equal
footing and were expected to collaborate constantly for the
good of the family. “Brother” could be a metaphor for other
close and equal relationships, but Greeks and Romans never
used the term to create
a sense of closeness and equality out of
division. Christians did, which at the start would have
seemed bizarre. Imagine the impropriety of calling every-
body at an open religious gathering “husbands and wives.” In
fact, a rumor that did much damage to the early church was
that the meetings of “brothers and sisters” involved incest.

A slave was a son of no one. No man could claim him as a child,
and no slave could make a claim on any man as his father. He
could never be sure who his full biological siblings were—
not that, officially, it mattered. But Paul unites all of these
categories in writing of Onesimus, in the most thoroughgo-
ing, absurd set of paradoxes in all of his letters:


Onesimus, though a slave, is Paul’s acknowledged son.
Onesimus, though an adult, has just been born.
Paul, though a prisoner, has begotten a son.
Paul, though physically helpless, is full of joy and
Paul is ecstatic to have begotten a runaway slave.
It is a sacrifice for Paul to send Onesimus back: he self-
ishly wants the services of this runaway slave for him-
self; conversely, he gives away his beloved newborn son.
Paul has wanted Onesimus to remain with him in place
of Philemon, as if a runaway slave could be as much
use to him, and in the same capacities, as the slave’s
Onesimus’s flight must result not in punishment but in
promotion to brotherhood with his master.
Onesimus (“Profitable”) was perhaps unprofitable when
treated as a slave and certainly unprofitable as a run-
away, but will be profitable when treated as a beloved
Onesimus will be profitable not only to his master but
even to Paul.
Onesimus, a runaway slave, must be treated as having
the same value as Paul himself.
nobody here but us bondsmen ·
Paul promises emphatically to pay any monetary dam-
ages, but Philemon will (the reader senses) not take
him up on this.
Philemon will acknowledge and act on all of this of
his own free will, not needing any direct command
or explanation from Paul for this rather devastating-
looking set of policies.
Paul is confident that Philemon will do even more
than he asks, but what is he asking? For Philemon to
make Onesimus his brother in practical terms is
impossible; even if Philemon took the dizzying step of
making him an heir, he could not share with him his
own privileges as a freeborn person (assuming he is
one)—laws forbid it. But even as a figure of speech or
an ideal, what does “brother” mean? It is as if Paul were
writing, “I’m thinking of a big,
number. Guesswhat it is!”
Paul may also be parodying letters of recommendation.
Such letters of Cicero have a similar fulsomeness, and a sim-
ilar confident self-mockery as does the letter to Philemon. A
com mon come-on is along the lines of “I’m ridiculously excited
about this person, but of course you’ll indulge me because of
the valuable relationship between ourselves.” Cicero, like
Paul, takes the whole responsibility and promises wonderful
benefits. But Cicero’s letters of recommendation either ask
for specific things or are about people who will ably figure
out on their own what to do with a new connection. And
Cicero always stresses the personal merits of the subject:
(He plays explicitly on the idea of “Letters of recommendation” in
2Corinthians 3:1)

...Imagine, in this tradition, a prisoner writing on behalf of
a runaway slave and perhaps a thief, who may have no per-
sonal merits whatsoever or may just now be starting to show
some, and who could not normally find hope in anything but
pleas for mercy on his behalf from a man of material power
and influence with whom he has taken shelter. “Comic inver-
sion” just doesn’t cover what is going on in this letter. In
worldly terms, it is like a janitor throwing a party for his dog
and inviting a federal judge.

The solution, the punch line of the joke that is the letter
to Philemon, the climax of this farce, is God. God alone has
the power to make a runaway slave a son and brother, and in
fact to make any mess work out for the good—not that any-
one knows how, but it doesn’t matter. Philemon has only to
surrender to the grace, peace, love, and faith the letter urges,
and the miracle will happen. Paul seems to insist that it is
happening even as he prays for it, and he is goofy with joy:
Philemon cannot say no to him, because God cannot say no.
   -pp. 164-167, whole chapter on PDF here