Friday, August 29, 2014

Going all "Old Testament" vs. going all "New Testament"

A certain mega-church pastor once spoke from the pulpit his desire to go "all Old Testament" on some people who disagreed with him. The Old Testament (OT) is associated with an eye for eye, tooth for tooth justice as well as genocidal invasions. It's ostensibly blessed by God, but the teachings of Jesus, that contradict or overrule those approaches to enemies (them, the others, the outsiders) make so much of the Old Testament seem barbaric. And, in fact, it was barbaric. One defense of the barbaric OT is that the evidence of the ancient near east (ANE) shows a place even more barbaric than the Israelite culture. Regardless, there is the theology of love that also coexists with the barbaric. These verses are the ones the later prophets pick up on. Even some of the Apocrypha (the inter-testamental books) picks up on these as well. And it's these verses that Jesus focuses on.

Loving our neighbor is a diamond in the rough Old Testament, but it gets buried in the surroundings of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, don't leave anything alive, running neighbors through with spears, raping guests, etc. Jesus elevates this diamond. He buys the field to own the diamond. the field is only the means to get to the diamond. Jesus says all the scriptures point to him. The early church took this very seriously and, like Paul did in his epistles, re-framed everything in the Old Testament in light of Jesus and his teaching. For example, violence against enemy nations was re-framed as violence against our internal faults, the things that keep us from the promised land of fellowship with God.

Jesus and the early church subsumed the Old Testament into the good news. Indeed, what Jesus indicated, what Paul began, what the church fathers brought to fruition, is the incorporation of the Old into the New. To go "all Old Testament" according to Jesus and the early church is to go "all New Testament" once the OT is viewed through the lens of Jesus. To assert God's support for violent justice against enemies today by appealing to the OT, is to view the OT without the fulfillment of the OT in Jesus. Before Jesus, the OT is like a black and white television, after Jesus, the OT becomes colorized and in three dimensions. Nothing in the OT should be appealed to by Jesus' followers without reference to Jesus' re-framing of the whole thing. Jesus changes everything. To speak about going OT on others, as distinct from going NT on them, is to miss the significance of Jesus.

Jesus changes everything.

Monday, August 25, 2014

empathy and culpability

This week I realized that my capacity for empathy is greatest when those who are hurting are the farthest removed from me. My sense of empathy can be debilitating at times. The murder of Michael Brown in Fergusen, Missouri, among many recent black victims of police violence has bummed me out. But all I've done with my sadness is retweet, write a blog, and pray. The situation in Gaza, same thing, including writing a blog. The Islamist fanatics in northern Iraq, same thing, the blog. I haven't really considered myself an empathetic guy until recently. I think I go through phases, then I harden up. It's very difficult to stay soft hearted, hopeful, and open-handed after a few weeks of evil in the news.

As I processed some of these thoughts with my wife, she reminded me that my empathy can be sparse at times at home. As I rode my bike home today, I wondered how it is possible for me to be so empathetic to those at a distance and not so much to those near. I think it has to do with my degree of guilt. The pain of those far away is simple. The pain of those near me is complicated, because I played a part in causing it. And if I am to blame, I need to defend myself, explaining away the extenuating circumstances that exonerate me, and shift the blame to those who are hurting.

At that point in my thinking, the scales fell from my eyes, so to speak. We are all doing this around the world. Some white Americans don't want to hear about white privilege. Some want to blame Mike Brown for jaywalking or shoplifting. Some want to talk about how the black community should be happy it's not the 1920's or the 1850's when the pain and injustice could have been even worse. They can't believe blacks are still complaining.

Israel with the most modern military technology in the region is defended by those who claim the fanatics on the reservation called Gaza have only themselves to blame. It's the same claim used to justify the genocide perpetuated in American history against Native Americans. God has given the land to us new folks and your pain of being resettled and dehumanized is not our problem. If only they would quit being upset about being dehumanized. Plus they are causing a great deal of stress here.

I am certain there are racist cops in Ferguson who are wonderful people, great to their families, and a positive contributor to their small slice of community, church, little league, charity. I am certain there are many wonderful Israelis. I am certain there are wonderful Palestinians. I am certain there are great family guys fighting for ISIL. There were great guys who fought for the Third Reich. The thing is we are capable of so much good and simultaneously so much evil. We can in equal measure bring joy and pain.

As a family man, now married twenty years, I'm still learning the most redemptive response to a cry of pain I cause is to own it and apologize for it. Defensiveness slows down healing. All the good things we do, do not replace an apology, an ownership of the pain causing, repentance and contrition.

This goes for megachurch pastors as well. Not every person crying "Ouch" is a demonic distraction. If our first presumption when people cry out is they are overreacting or pretending or whining instead of concern for their pain, we've lost touch with our common humanity. Jesus, the supposed God of most Americans, taught that to love our neighbor is to love him, to serve those in need it so serve him, to absorb their swings of anger is to emulate his sacrifice as humanity attacked him on Calvary.

It's hard to stay soft hearted, compassionate, and open handed. It's what I'm called to do. It's the path of irrationality. Self-preservation is rational. Love for our enemy is irrational. Sometimes loving our neighbor is irrational as well. But love changes the world for the better. Forgiveness changes the world for the better, see Rwanda and South Africa. Repentance changes the world for the better. Inclusion, no longer speaking of them but only speaking of us, changes the world for better. Irrationality changes the world for the better.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

murder in Ferguson Mo.

I can't look away from the Twitter updates on Ferguson. I retweet so many non-white voices, especially of those in Ferguson. Racism is a huge issue in this murder of a young man, Michael Brown, by a white police office, Darren Wilson. Racism in America is systemic, institutionalized, generational, justified, and denied by many of those who benefit from it. It's a matter of the heart and society can only react to it, not pre-act.

But the imbalance of power can be ameliorated. As many are pointing out, the militarization of local police forces has changed the relationship with the communities they are supposed to be serving and protecting. Deadly force is a short-sighted "method" of service and protection.

What if police officers were peace officers, and like many departments around the world, were not permitted to carry fire arms? Either they could have a separate team that can be called in for back up, much like England does, or they have to unlock weapons from their vehicles, so that in the heat of the moment, the moments are extended so the heat can dissipate.

Thus a racist, bully police officer would not have the quick opportunity to shoot a tall jaywalking adolescent. Thus, peace officers would have to engage residents and seek cooperation with a smaller imbalance of power. During the civil rights era, groups (see article 1 and 2) around Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers believed openly carrying their sidearms, as their constitutionally protected right, would also adjust the power disparity. But this escalated tensions rather than diminished them. Hence, King got rid of his own pistol and chose to de-escalate the arms race.

Legally, a cop might exhibit restraint if he knows massive negative consequences will fall on him when he kills a citizen for no reason. Hopefully the police departments in Furgeson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY will protect their citizens from cops who have gone rogue, and have placed themselves above constitutionally protected due process.

Dear God, please deliver us from evil.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

your enemies

Jesus says many difficult things in his famous Sermon on the Mount, recorded by Matthew in the 5th chapter of his gospel.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfection is hard. How do we love enemies who behead children and attempt genocide? How do we love a government that has little regard for "collateral damage"? How do we love neighbors who use their own women and children as shields, hoping for them to be collaterally damaged? Christians have a hard time with this. Even the professionals do. Father Dwight Longenecker, whose book I reviewed last year, has a hard time. Blessings on him for taking down an earlier post which more directly chose the route of all who seek to justify killing, dehumanization.

The militants of ISIS are no longer men, they are animals, or demon wolves (Longenecker's toned  down term). Same thing goes with Boko Haram in Nigeria. It helps that these two groups, as well as Hamas share the same religion. Islam is the cause of this wickedness, not human nature. Christians don't do this. Christians in Nigeria aren't committing atrocities against Muslims. They are undisciplined soldiers.

In World War 2, the Japanese weren't humans, they were the yellow peril. They were caricatured in the press. They also committed genocide in China. See my book response on The Rape of Nanking. Yet on August 9th, 1945, the United States dropped their second plutonium bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Christianity since the 1500s, killing around 70,000 human beings, including the Cathedral full of worshippers in St. Mary's, or Urakami.

In WW2, the Germans weren't humans either. Just as they dehumanized Jews and Slavs, justifying in their minds the wholesale slaughter of fellow human beings, the Allies, dehumanized them as well. In the classic book Ordinary Men, about how local Germans dehumanized themselves as they dehumanized others, we learn the same thing we learned from the Rape of Nanking, "the veneer of civilization is exceedingly thin." I finished another book recently about the Eastern Front, but from a German soldier's perspective, the memoir called, Adventures in my Youth: A German Soldier on the Eastern Front 1941-45 by Armin Scheiderbauer. Last year I read a memoir by a Russian fighter pilot on the same front, Over Fields of Fire: Flying the Sturmovik in Action on the Eastern Front 1942-45 (Soviet Memories of War) by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova. Both the Nazi and the Communist happen to be human beings. Certainly the stories do not recount any atrocities they might have committed, but they were not automatons nor demon possessed dogs. The recent German mini-series, Generation War (now on Netflix) tries to make, dramatically, the same point.

Many of those who participated in atrocities during the war became essential allies to the victors shortly after the war. Those who had killed in the name of ideology resumed lives of non-killing. They returned to their families. They started new families. Although the reasons were mostly political, the Allies, driven by the United States treated most of their formerly dehumanized enemies with grace. They were invested in. They were trusted. They were given clean slates. Justice did not happen for most.

It is possible to love your enemies. As a follower of Jesus, it is my calling. The early church saint Tertullian wrote, "To love friends is the custom of all people, but to love enemies is customary only for Christians."

Yes, the Islamic militants are slaughtering hundreds or thousands of people, some of whom are Christian. Yes, the Israeli Defense Force is killing hundreds of women and children in Palestine. Yes, the Christian Germany killed 20 million humans. Yes, the Christian America killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Yes the Christian America killed thousands of civilians in Iraq, maybe more in Afghanistan. The body count for the United States goes back hundreds of years. Consider this article and book. By sheer body count, one might say Christianity is the problem. But that's simplistic, isn't it?

Is the problem ideology, fundamentalism, religion? Or is the problem humanity? What is the solution? Not dehumanization. Forgiveness and generosity has worked in the past. Is it possible to have a government that responds with an open hand instead of a closed fist?

In response to 2000 lives taken on 9/11/01 we have given up another 8000 lives of soldiers, 52,000 wounded and $4 trillion paid out (but the costs for the wounded extend for decades and the financing for this war will continue extend for decades as well.) We can't afford justice. Pretty soon, the only option we will be able to afford is the one Jesus proscribes, forgiveness.

Maybe we should revisit the path of rehabilitation.

Maybe Jesus has been right all along.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Elisha the Israeli prophet and excessive force

Elijah was a great prophet in Israel's history. After he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, his successor, Elisha, steps into the role and does even more miraculous things. Many of his miracles are recapitulated a thousand years later in the ministry of Jesus: lepers are healed, children are raised from the dead, multitudes are fed from a small amount. But there is one supernatural story that Jesus did not emulate.
2 Kings 2:23-24  He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”  And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (ESV)
In my religious tribe, American Christian fundagelicalism, I never read any criticisms of Elisha in the commentaries I read, or the websites offering answers to hard questions. Google's front page hits to the topic of Elisha and the bears will offer defenses of Elisha and God in this story. The defenses are along the lines of, God was defending his prophet from a gang of (idol worshipping) young men who wanted to kill him.
It seems to me, rather, as a gadfly in my tribe, that Elisha was in the wrong in his response to these kids. Jesus was surrounded by a mob who wanted to throw him off a cliff. Luke recounts this story and makes sure Elisha is mentioned in his gospel account. But unlike Elisha, Jesus simply passes through the mob.
Luke 4:27-30 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
Jesus didn't curse anyone. Even as he hung on the cross, a victim of a lynch mob, his request in the name of God the Father was for them to be forgiven.

Elisha was wrong. God is not named as the agent who instigated the bears. There is a correlation, but not a causation established between the curse and the mauling. Sometimes, random things happen, that build up one's reputation. If two bears come out on a mob of 50-60 people and everyone scatters, there's a good chance Elisha is not one of the mauled. He's still a bad example.

However, he's viewed as a positive example in this story by many. He's the underdog in the story. The old guy against the mob of young bullies. They have their numbers but he has God on his side. Elisha uses his direct connection to God to cause disproportionate pain on his opponents. God is cool with that.

Gut Jesus's example is completely different from Elisha's. Jesus goes around telling people to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you. Jesus tells people to love their enemies and not curse them. Jesus is the full revelation of God, not Elisha. Elisha is another messed-up human being with anger issues yet still used by God. Elisha's story of the confrontation with the youths is a story of failure, not of blessing and success. Meeting violence with greater violence is not the way of Jesus.

In the past couple weeks, the militarily superior Israeli Defense Force has received under 40 casualties while delivering 20 fold more in return, not just guerrillas either, but mothers and children, graphic link. This is the way of Elisha. This is not the way of Jesus. And I'm deeply disturbed, but not surprised, that many leaders in my religious tribe of fundagelicals think Jesus supports Israel's abuse of power.

What if the way to lasting peace is the way of forgiveness and generosity? The way of vindictive, overwhelming force only sets up the next outbreak, see Germany after World War 1. The way of open handed generosity to enemies leads to mutual prosperity, see Japan and Germany after World War 2. The way of Jesus is of forgiveness and generosity.

For more thoughts on Gaza and Israel check out these links.
The only two sides of any human conflict for Christians who love their enemies by Morgan Guyton.
Israel, Gaza and the Fatal Spirit of Versailles by Juan Cole

Sunday, July 13, 2014

book response: The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage by Mark Achtemeier

All Christians wrestle with applying Jesus' second highest commandment, the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. The conservative church in the United States, has felt this is overruled by other passages in the Bible when it comes to homosexuals among them and outside. But some of us within the conservative church have challenged that hermenuetic. Mark Achtemeier is one respectable voice within the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) who used to argue within the church nationally against full inclusion but has repented of this stance and now wants to help the church become fully inclusive of homosexuals. He uses all the familiar tools, methodologies and principles of conservative Bible scholarship to assuage those who cannot fathom how full inclusion is possible in his new book.

He writes, "The result of this encounter with the Bible has been a growing conviction that the church’s condemnation of same-gender relationships is a tragic and destructive misinterpretation of the Bible’s message. Moreover it is a misinterpretation precisely because this so-called “traditional” teaching ignores classical principles of scriptural interpretation that date back centuries in the history of the church."

Conservative readers should know that he did not write this because he came out of the closet himself, nor because a family member became gay. He writes this as someone who used to write position papers for the PCUSA defending non-inclusive ecclesiology. Although he is not gay himself, his encounters with gay seminarians challenged his presumptions.

He asks, "I also started to wonder what kind of God we were dealing with if the traditional condemnations of homosexuality really did reflect the will of God. These questions arose as I realized that people like Kristi did not choose their same-sex orientation, nor did they have the ability to embrace a lifelong discipline of celibate singleness."

Ex-gay therapy has done more damage than good. Exorcisms of homosexual demons are even worse. This is not to deny that some people have experienced changed orientations, but it's not common. So for those believers who are homosexual, who have tried for years to pray the gay away unsuccessfully, who love Jesus and his church, who seek marriage, what options does the church have for them?

He looks at history and shows how the church has changed its strongly held positions before, despite the proof texts, from slavery in the United States to John Calvin's wrestling with usury prohibitions and economics in Geneva. He looks at the Bible's positive intentions for marriage. He also looks at the seven clobber passages that are used to condemn homosexuals. He calls them fragments, because he shows that when these passages are read in their Biblical, literary, and cultural contexts, they condemn violence and oppression, which completely agrees with the Golden Rule Jesus calls us to honor.

He wants the church to see homosexuals with new eyes and the passages historically used against them in fuller dimensions, dimensions that in actuality do not condemn the same gendered attractions of our fellow human beings. This is a "safe" book to read for conservatives who are willing to listen to a different viewpoint from a fellow conservative believer. I wish my brothers and sisters would all read it, at least to understand how inclusiveness can be apprehended biblically.

I received this as a complimentary copy from NetGalley for my unbiased review.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Defending the needy or not

At my job's weekly Bible study we've been going through  a year long Bible survey, and this week we discussed Jeremiah. We only read the first five chapters of Jeremiah and the middle chapter of Lamentations, but God is hot from the beginning, 1:14-15 That is because an evil out of the north will indeed begin spilling onto the people of this land. Watch now, as I summon the clans and kingdoms of the north to march against Judah, rule with power at the very gates of Jerusalem, press in on every side, and vanquish all the cities of Judah. It's all gas and no brake. God is upset over two issues, idols and treatment of the needy.

  1.  Idolatry 1:16 I will declare My sentence for their wicked crimes. My own people have abandoned Me, burning incense to other gods and bowing down to handmade idols
  2. Treatment of the poor 5:26-29 Lurking among My own people are the wicked who watch and wait, preying on the less fortunate. Like hunters who set traps for birds, they ensnare people for their own benefit. Like a cage full of noisy birds, their homes are filled with screeching lies. This is how they have become so rich and important—because others fell for their lies. This is how they have grown so fat and polished. Their evil deeds know no boundaries. They do not take the side of the orphaned to help them prosper. They do not seek justice for the poor; Should I not punish them for these atrocities? Against a nation like this, should I not avenge Myself?

Previous to chapter 5 God reviews how the nation was enslaved, poor and oppressed, and he was the only God who took interest in them and delivered them. But by Jeremiah's time, the nation forgot her low status and her God. His response is to turn them over to what they want. If they want to turn from him, he would turn from them. When he turned from them, his protection over this little nation, was also removed, leaving them easy prey for the bigger nations around them, nations he had formerly protected them from. Yet God kept pleading for them to turn back to him. Turning back meant leaving the idolatry and taking care of the needy in their midst.

After the Babylonian exile, idolatry ceased being an issue for the Jewish people. Nehemiah and Ezra don't mention it. But when John the Baptist comes on the scene right before Jesus, his calls for repentance are about money.
Luke 3:9-14 John the Baptist: God wants you to bear fruit! If you don’t produce good fruit, then you’ll be chopped down like a fruitless tree and made into firewood. God’s ax is taking aim and ready to swing!
 People:  What shall we do to perform works from changed lives?
 John the Baptist:  The person who has two shirts must share with the person who has none. And the person with food must share with the one in need.
Some tax collectors were among those in the crowd seeking baptism.
Tax Collectors: Teacher, what kind of fruit is God looking for from us?
John the Baptist: Stop overcharging people. Only collect what you must turn over to the Romans.
Soldiers: What about us? What should we do to show true change?
John the Baptist: Don’t extort money from people by throwing around your power or making false accusations, and be content with your pay.
I'm reading Luke personally, and he has a focus on Jesus's teaching about the poor. The beatitudes he records in chapter 6 have a more earthly, even economic, focus.
20 Jesus: All you who are poor, you are blessed for the kingdom of God belongs to you.
21 All you who are hungry now, you are blessed for your hunger will be satisfied. All you who weep now, you are blessed for you shall laugh!
22 When people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and write you off as evil on account of the Son of Man, you are blessed.
23 When these things happen, rejoice! Jump for joy! Then you have a great reward in heaven For at that moment, you are experiencing what the ancient prophets did when they were similarly treated by the ancestors of your detractors.
24 All you who are rich now, you are in danger for you have received your comfort in full.
25 All you who are full now, you are in danger for you shall be hungry. All you who laugh now, you are in danger for you shall grieve and cry.
26 And when everyone speaks well of you, you are in danger for their ancestors spoke well of the false prophets too.
A couple chapters later Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of how to be a good neighbor. In Luke 10. The climax of the story talks about money a bit.
35 The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn't enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36 Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers? Scholar: 37 The one who showed mercy to him. Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan.
I think Jesus agrees with Jeremiah, taking care of the poor and needy is a priority of God's. It's his priority because God is merciful to us. Yet the richer we become, in general, the less generous we become as well. We want to hold on to what we have with ever increasing grip, enjoying the security of our wealth, ignoring, blaming, and despising those in need around us. Forgetting our histories with God as Israel did. Jesus wants us to be open handed.
Luke 12:31 Since you don’t need to worry—about security and safety, about food and clothing—then pursue God’s kingdom first and foremost, and these other things will come to you as well. 32 My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom. 33 That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor. You can have a different kind of savings plan: one that never depreciates, one that never defaults, one that can’t be plundered by crooks or destroyed by natural calamities. 34 Your treasure will be stored in the heavens, and since your treasure is there, your heart will be lodged there as well.
An open hand receives and gives with ease. An open hand holds everything, a closed hand only holds what can fit in that little space. The closed hand gets a swat to open it back up.

Help me Lord to be generous to the poor and protective of the needy around me. My neighbors. You, Jesus, in disguise. (Matthew 25:40)

update: I just read Randy Alcorn's blog on John Wesley's example of life long giving and it's great.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tornado alley housing

I wrote about jumbo straw bale houses in 2013 as possible upgrades in housing after massive tornado destruction. I think straw bale housing is a great idea in the Midwest where straw is an abundant resource. For the homes destroyed further south, cement housing is possible, but it is an intensive carbon-emitting construction material. However, as I've written about before, gabions, stones in wire mesh, would be a great natural material with strength. You can look at Pinterest to see many beautiful applications of gabions in home construction. I've pondered ideas on insulating them before.

There has to be a better way to build in tornado country that is as affordable as stick construction, but much safer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Numbers 5: Literally bizarre, metaphorically clear

I read through Numbers 5 the other morning and was not bothered this time by the bizarre adultery ritual. I'm not bothered by it, because I see it as metaphor for the ancient people of Israel. I put the entire section at the bottom of the post for reference.

The prophet Jeremiah, among other prophets, uses the metaphor of the adulterous wife to describe Israel's relationship with God, who calls himself her husband. The curse is not unlike the curses Israel threatens itself with in the subsequent book of Deuteronomy. The swollen abdomen aspect of the curse in verses 21 and 22 is a picture of starvation that Jerusalem did encounter several times when under siege due to God's judgment for their idoloatry (infidelity to God, adultery). The biggest clue of allegory to me is in verse 23, where the curses are written down then scraped off the scroll into the cup of bitter water. Jeremiah and John's Apocalypse both refer to the cup of God's wrath. One other aspect is that this law does not have a provision for a wife who thinks she has been cheated on. Only God can be the ever faithful husband.

In my opinion, this provision in Numbers has to be about the spiritual relationship between God and Israel and not about civil law in Israel. This is a relief to me, because, as literal law, this is repugnant literal law which seems more like voodoo than something of the one true God fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

11 The Lord spoke to Moses: 12 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and behaves unfaithfully toward him, 13 and a man has sexual relations with her without her husband knowing it, and it is hidden that she has defiled herself, since there was no witness against her, nor was she caught— 14 and if jealous feelings come over him and he becomes suspicious of his wife, when she is defiled; or if jealous feelings come over him and he becomes suspicious of his wife, when she is not defiled— 15 then the man must bring his wife to the priest, and he must bring the offering required for her, one tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he must not pour olive oil on it or put frankincense on it, because it is a grain offering of suspicion, a grain offering for remembering, for bringing iniquity to remembrance. 16 “‘Then the priest will bring her near and have her stand before the Lord. 

17 The priest will then take holy water in a pottery jar, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle, and put it into the water. 18 Then the priest will have the woman stand before the Lord, uncover the woman’s head, and put the grain offering for remembering in her hands, which is the grain offering of suspicion. The priest will hold in his hand the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest will put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you, and if you have not gone astray and become defiled while under your husband’s authority, may you be free from this bitter water that brings a curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had sexual relations with you….” 21 Then the priest will put the woman under the oath of the curse and will say to her, “The Lord make you an attested curse among your people, if the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your abdomen swell; 22 and this water that causes the curse will go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh rot.” Then the woman must say, “Amen, amen.”
 23 “‘Then the priest will write these curses on a scroll and then scrape them off into the bitter water. 24 He will make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and the water that brings a curse will enter her to produce bitterness. 25 The priest will take the grain offering of suspicion from the woman’s hand, wave the grain offering before the Lord, and bring it to the altar. 26 Then the priest will take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial portion, burn it on the altar, and afterward make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and behaved unfaithfully toward her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter her to produce bitterness—her abdomen will swell, her thigh will fall away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself, and is clean, then she will be free of ill effects and will be able to bear children. 

 29 “‘This is the law for cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when jealous feelings come over a man and he becomes suspicious of his wife; then he must have the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest will carry out all this law upon her. 31 Then the man will be free from iniquity, but that woman will bear the consequences of her iniquity.’” Numbers 5:11-31 NET

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Flies in the ointment

Snippets of a letter to a younger church leader...

I facilitate a Bible study at work and I really enjoy it. Today, we studied Ecclesiastes, and 10:1 speaks to why [insert famous Christian televangelist]'s good deeds are overlooked by his strident anti-gay legislation posturing, One dead fly makes the perfumer’s ointment give off a rancid stench, so a little folly can outweigh much wisdom.

I used to think that if I learned the original languages I could get a better understanding of the things that were highly valued in our fundamentalism yet contrary to popular opinion, science, and research. I took 2 years of NT Greek and a year of Hebrew. I can still read the Greek but not the Hebrew anymore. But that knowledge, although good, showed me that the original language is not the end zone. Context is huge. See my brief study on a verse of Paul's. Historical studies are huge. Genre is huge. Text critical studies are huge as well. So I keep reading and learning. But the more I learn, the less I know. A couple evangelical text critical books I mentioned before showed me how influenced by culture and events our Bible is.

Currid teaches OT at RTS and is not an enemy of fundamentalism. But I learned from him that one of the Psalms is a rewrite of a Canaanite song to Baal, among other things. I learned from Sailhammer that the longer version of Jeremiah in the LXX is the older version and the newer Hebrew version modifies verses in light of developments after the LXX was completed. The new Noah movie has more to do with Book of Enoch than Genesis, but Enoch is so popular in the 1st century that Jude and reference it. Parts of the ancient church in the Horn of Africa recognize Enoch as canonical today.

I enjoy reading history. I also am intrigued how the church has accommodated the Bible to culture/science. I just read this quote today from Luther. 
Scripture . . . simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed . . . in the firmament of the heaven (below and above which are the waters) . . . The bodies of the stars, like that of the sun, are round, and they are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire. . . We Christians must, therefore, be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension (like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens), we must believe them . . . rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis, J. Pelikan, ed.(St. Louis: Concordia, 1958 [1536]), 30, 42-3; my italics). 

To me, that's no different from what I would hear from Answers in Genesis. They may be beautiful people, but their science is completely wrong. But I had to read outside of my fundamentalist tribe to learn that.

I just read Mark Noll's book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, in which he shows how American evangelicals argued forcefully for the Biblical justification for slavery with NT proof texts, The rest of the church in Europe had turned their backs to it, mostly based on big picture biblical themes instead of proof texts. Now we have evangelical organizations that seek to help slaves escape and would never apply Paul's teaching that escaped slaves should return to servitude. Paul was right then, in that specific context, but it's wrong now. 
My childhood church did not enforce women's head coverings, though it was expected. But Paul commands it. It meant something then that it does not mean now. 

So friend did try to go straight with prayer and white knuckling it. He had Christian girlfriends, but the gay did not go away. I think the unreasonable expectation for him to stop being gay was a big contributor to his loss of faith. I also do not read anywhere in the Bible that one can't be saved if they are gay. It's not a salvation issue. I no longer think it's a sin issue either. I think promiscuity is sinful, but not intimacy in a marriage. Adam and Eve is the ideal, but in our broken world, not all Adam's are attracted to Eves. Nor all those gay Adams, possibly the eunuchs Jesus refers to as those made from birth, gifted with celibacy. So let's celebrate life long commitments in marriage.

"But if  the church embraces gays we'll be conforming to the world and God won't like us anymore." I don't like slippery slope arguments. There is always someone else who thinks your position is too far down the slope already. There are still geocentrist christians today. Catholics think we protestants slipped down this slope for leaving the Holy, Catholic church. Orthodox think the Catholics slipped away too. Rethinking and re-framing the discussion is not a slippery slope, it's hermeneutics. The Bible does this with itself. Jesus does it too. But he affirms one thing above all else, love. That's one of the things I can still say I know, We are called to love one another. 

That's where I'm at. Love. It defeats fear. Slippery slope arguments are usually about fear. Love is about tending wounds. Gays are wounded in our culture and by the conservative church. I share so many links on Twitter from gay people, because I think it is extremely important for conservative Christians to hear gay voices and gay perspectives. The gay agenda is to be treated like a human being. When we, as religious clubs, make it unnecessarily harder for some people to come to Jesus, or be part of our club, we add flies to the perfume. When all we have to say in our" compassion" is our gratefulness that we don't struggle in their way, we are no better than the Pharisee who thanked God he wasn't a tax collector. Gay people are today's gentiles in the church. As Ken Wilson, a Vineyard pastor in Ann Arbor recently described it, we can have a church posture towards gays of "welcome and wanted." We have an opportunity to bind or loose. I think the way of love is to loose them.

Feel free, if you want, to ask me lots of questions if any of this intrigues you. Most likely I will point to books I read and gay voices, who need to be heard directly and not interpreted by opponents. Here are some of the gay christian blogs I read, Sacred Tension, Crumbs from the Communion Table, A Queer Calling, Dance Like No One is Watching, and Grace Rivers. I follow on Twitter some of the same and more. Click for that list. As far as I read, none of the bloggers are in gay marriages or gay sexual relationships, which means they won't contaminate any conservative readers with gay sex cooties.
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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Fear not.

I had a tough time sleeping when I was a kid. I wasn't afraid of the dark, but I did not like the quiet of night. My issues were more than being a light sleeper, one easily disturbed. No, I found it hard to rest because I was always vigilant. I feared burglars.

I grew up in a two bedroom apartment on the 1st floor of a two story, 4 unit building off the state highway between a school bus station across the street and a forest that surrounded the town's reservoir. I lived there until we moved to another part of town when I was 13. The woods were such a great place to play and explore. However, when I was small, I heard adults talking about burglars, in our apartment complex. Somehow, I learned about rapists too, maybe from that episode of Little House on the Prairie. My dad worked swing shifts so for a week or two every month he was not home at night. Maybe when he was home I felt more secure and slept better. I don't remember. I do remember many little noises. Before I knew about the settling of houses, the shuffle of mice, and the force of wind, I laid in bed trying to determine if the noises were coming from a man slowly moving around my home, seeking to harm me, my little brother, and my mom. I was paralyzed in my bed. Fear froze me. Self-control froze me. I did not want to make any of my own noises to attract the attention of the criminal just outside my door.

I listened. I planned - can I throw my blanket over his head? can I hurl one of my brother's toys at his eye to give us time to escape? I prayed a little as well. I grew up believing in Jesus. I'm sure he heard my prayers. Eventually, I always fell back to sleep. The noises never stopped. My tolerance for them did though.

I'm a scientist now. One of the things I account for in my experiments is noise. When I inject samples, my mass spectrometer detects many peaks, but I only care for peaks that are at least three times bigger than all that static. If I chased down every peak in the noise, the static, the background, I would not get anything done, and I have so much to do at my job.

As an adult, in America, in the conservative, evangelical branch of Jesus' church, I learned to fear again. I was taught from the Bible to not fear. However, there were many exceptions. I didn't need to fear for money or job security or safety. But I should be vigilant for those who would steal my faith - Catholics, liberals, Democrats, the gay agenda, those with different understandings of Jesus and of the Bible. I was constantly on the lookout for wolves in sheeps' clothing. If a sheep made an abundant living off of other sheep, he wasn't a wolf. If a sheep asked to be treated as an equal, she was really a wolf, undermining the authority of scripture. I've decided to stop being afraid. I've decided to see what happens if I actually trust Jesus and his command not to worry about all this stuff.

I'm not very good at it though. I still worry about my kids. I worry about my bills. But at least I'm not worrying about crappy government, stupid Supreme Court decisions, evolution in our schools, or the gay agenda. I'm trying to live by a few rules. Love God. Love my neighbor. Fear not. I'd like to add "judge not" to my list, but I'm such a judgmental person. I used to judge the liberals, now I judge the conservatives. If I get the love my neighbor part right, I think the judging issue goes away.

Jesus talks about thieves. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. John 10:10 Cultural paranoia did not give me abundant life. It robbed me of sleep. Fear deprived me of peace as a kid and it did the same for me as an adult. The antidote to fear is love. John the Beloved Apostle wrote in his little epistle, perfect love casts out fear, 1 John 4:18. I want to live in love.

Who are the wolves? Fear peddlers. Sheep eaters.
Who will protect us? The good shepherd.*

* I am not saying burglars shouldn't be reported to the police, or that wolves should be given free reign. It's not judgmental to report what a wolf did. There is nothing wrong with sheep baaaa-ing loudly on the internet calling attention to wolves. Baaaa - that pastor slandered me and it hurt. Baaaa- that pastor protected the person who molested me. Baaa - that pastor has the richest lifestyle of anyone in the congregation. Baaaa - that pastor copied my words and called them his own and made money off of it. Baaaa.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why is the church attractive to women?

Last December I wrote a blog post on this same topic titled, Why is the church not attractive to men? The only reason I'm writing another post is I listened to another podcast yesterday wherein the male preacher was complaining about the feminization of the church. He rattled off a few statistics that seemed bad to him, but sounded good to me. One such statistic is Christianity is the only world religion that attracts more women than men. His other remark is feminism started in the church then spread to the culture, not the other way around. Men don't like all this female stuff, including feelings for God, non-Biblical language about having a personal relationship with Jesus, and popular worship music today sounding like Jesus-my-prom-date ballads.

If Christianity is indeed the only world religion that has more women adherents than men, and I have no idea if that's true or not, could it be from the New Testament's own subversive assertion that our gender and class and ethnicity fade away when our identity is in Christ, see Galatians 3:28? Could it be that the New Testament church was subverting the patriarchy from the beginning when one it's apostles was a woman named Junia, Romans 16:7? Could it be that Jesus's message to the oppressed, the weak and the downtrodden would have less support among the privileged? Could it be the result of the church's outreach to the weak and needy, women and children, widows and orphans?

Certainly the Bible has it's share of passages of patriarchy, but they exist alongside of, and in dialogue with passages that subvert the patriarchy. The church definitely has its problems with patriarchy as well. However, where there are strong branches of patriarchy they often coexist in the same neighborhoods with branches that reject patriarchy. For every Catholic church on the street, throughout the world, there are a couple Pentecostal storefronts, half of which are started by and led by women.

I can't speak to why other world religions attract more men, if they really do. Nevertheless, for all it's problems, there are so many, Christianity may be like democracy as described by Sir Winston Churchill, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Is all religion the source of all the world's evils? That depends on whether materialism is acknowledged as a religion. Christianity evolves which is it's strength. What is orthodox today was liberal or intolerable in the church's past. The early church did not baptize soldiers until they quit. The American church defended the ownership of slaves. Much of the church does not officially accept homosexuals into full communion unless they are celibate today.

This brings up the touchy feely complaint against the church. Jesus was totally fine with the adolescent apostle John cuddling with him.
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved . 24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake . 25 He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it ? John 13 
Personally, I have never had dinner with one of my guy friends and snuggled up with him. Maybe this level of physical intimacy is normal or acceptable in Jesus and John's culture. Maybe this did not actually happen, but written by John for allegorical purposes. Some think John was gay. Whatever it is, it's not the celebrated American masculinity. Has the critic read David's Psalms? Quite a few of them sound like God-my-prom-date ballads. The things criticized by those who are alarmed by the femininity of the church, which is frequently referred to as Christ's bride, are things found in the Bible itself. If the consequence of that is privileged men are not interested, that is not a problem to be solved by hiding these passages from them, nor by promoting violent patriarchal passages against these.

Remember, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, Luke 19:10. Jesus is for losers.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

St. Paul says we should put passion to death. Really?

Some months I pick a short passage from the Bible to meditate on every morning. Last month I tried to marinate in Colossians 3:5-15. Verse 12 is a beautiful call to a life of love.
12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Paul sets up this idea of putting on a new life with a putting off, a putting to death of a different life, which begins in verse 5.
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
The first few weeks of reading this passage, I focused on the positives in this passage, but towards the end of the month I noticed the third thing Paul asks me to put off, passion. In my culture, passion is esteemed. We are encouraged throughout our lives to find our passion and make a career for them. In church we sing songs encouraging our passion for God. There are even annual evangelical conferences named Passion. Is Paul really saying passion is ungodly?

Before I survey how the Bible translators have responded, I think it's important to zoom out of my American, western culture. In Asian cultures, passion is not a good thing. The Buddha has had tremendous influence on the East. He would have no disagreement with Paul's statement. In fact it is attributed to him this saying, The hunger of passions is the greatest disease. Paul, writes as a Middle Easterner, someone who grew up in the intersection between East and West. It's not a surprise then that after Paul, many Christians took this admonition literally. Justin Martyr wrote, "To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty." The Catholic Church teaching on marriage teaches that sexual passion in marriage is something that is out of place when separated from fecundity, making babies.
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
One sect of the church, the Waldensians, thought intercourse in marriage without the hope of pregnancy was wrong. The Roman Catholic church opposed this teaching. The early church, and the church sects with direct ties to the early church, the Catholic and Orthodox churches still highly value virginity, taking Paul's admonition in his first letter to Corinth that not touching a woman is better. Like Paul, they also recognize not everyone has this gift of celibacy, and marriage is better than burning with passion. (1 Cor. 7). Passion - there's that word again.

Hopefully, my readers will see that some cultures and churches and sects can fully embrace Paul's command to put to death passion. One of Paul's own solutions for that is to get married. Now I want to show how English Bible translators have handled Paul's command. Here is a link to a big list.

Instead of passion some Bibles say, lust, evil passions, inordinate affection, lustful passion, vile passions, inordinate affection, unnatural lust, unholy desire, and lechery. Paul uses a simple and common greek word, pathos. It's not the word used by him in 1 Cor.7:9 either. His greek word is just about burning. Translators add "passion" for their readers. Although it's a common word, it only appears three times in the Greek New Testament. The context of the passages may justify words other than "passion" by itself, but what is "plain reader" of the Bible supposed to do? How is Colossians 3:5 to be literally read? As I tried to show above, it can be and has been literally read differently across eras and cultures. My American evangelical culture values passion. We are encouraged to be passionate in our vocations, in our worship of God and in our marriages. I am perfectly fine with that.

Does our culture and era affect how we read scripture? That should be obvious. Is there only one way to read the Bible? I think certain parts have much less wiggle room than others. The ecumenical councils of the early church locked down a couple things. The three person of the Trinity. The full divinity and humanity of Jesus. Salvation by grace. Despite the firmness of the worldwide and faithful church on these topics, the space for vigorous discussion and debate is still plenty large. Yet we still manage to have huge fights about things other than these topics.

I am guilty of doing this as well. I'm trying to do better. Let love be a uniter instead of looking for what divides us.

At one time, the church felt the earth's center in the universe was not negotiable. Some still think the Catholic church compromised when they admitted Galileo was right. If these groups still exist, I don't think Darwin's theory will ever be received by all of the church. The influential early American philosopher/theologian, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves till the day he died without any sense of guilt thrown his way by abolitionists. Some well-known Christians today defend American slavery since the Bible permitted it! The offices in church allowed to women is still an issue of serious contention, though not pertaining to the main creeds of the church. Have these people faithfully read the Bible? I can't judge their faithfulness. I think their interpretations are wrong though. They think I'm wrong. Can I fellowship with them though? I have. I will, in heaven. When I commune with the church, our agreement is on Jesus, God and Savior. Everything else is gravy, some of it is chaff. Some churches focus much more on the gravy than on the meal. Some gravy varieties are more appealing to me than others.

I hold some inclusive interpretations of the Bible because I am trying to read the Bible with a hermeneutic of love because God is love because Jesus changes everything. I seek to be open-handed and generous. I can think of many worse things to be known for. I'd like to be known as someone passionate for a culture of love.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oh the things my mind retains

Last night, on the eve of my 44th birthday, my mind drifted towards a very old, but very vivid memory. I remember being a youngster in the backseat of my grandparents' car at a drive-in. I think it was the long closed Waterford drive-in. This memory drifts by regularly in the flotsam of my mind, so I've considered it many times. I figured I was about six years old. I also think my grandparents had expected me to be asleep by the time of the 2nd movie. I don't remember what the first movie was. I only remember the end of this movie in my memory.

I got out of bed and thought I'd see what Google could do for me. I searched for "70's movie, guy crucified on a box car." The clip on YouTube has enough screaming in it to wake a toddler.

Yeah, that image is a bit much for a youngster to digest and forget.

Google came through. Boxcar Bertha is a Martin Scorcese movie before he hit his stride and became famous starring David Carradine. Many reviewers mention it being an exploitation movie with plenty of violence and sex. The biggest shock to me last night was learning this movie came out in 1972. I was two years old! I saw my first crucifixion before I ever graduated to Sunday School. I had no grid to process what I saw. Yet I remember it so vividly to this day, nearly 42 years later.

Yesterday, the Tumblerbot asked me what my earliest memory is. Until last night, I thought it was when I was around 3 running to the bathroom before I had an accident and I did not make it. It had to be potty training age. I remember playing outside with a friend and ignoring my body's signals until it was a crisis. I remember running and knowing I wasn't going to make it. I remember the release and then the memory ends. At least, as a toddler, I had a grid for messing myself.

I want to warn all of you who have the privilege of being around very small children. They miss nothing. So give them an abundance of safety and love, in words and images and actions.
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Boxcar Bertha
Boxcar Bertha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

energy and heat from your roof

I first saw this today at Inhabitat's blog. I have seen roofs with panels that heat water. I have seen solar panels on roofs. But now SolTech Energy in Sweden figured out how to combine them. The thin film solar panels are laid on the roof. Then the glass tiles are laid over them. The glass tiles heat up air that is used to heat water, which is stored, and available for heating and domestic water use. This idea is so cool.
This is their schematic.
Here is their finished product.
Glass tiles can't be cheap, and the roof would need extra strength to support it all, but the awesomeness of the whole thing cannot be beat.

It turns out an American company in New Jersey named Englert has developed a similar system with thin laminated solar panels on a standing seam metal roof with the glycol/water piped underneath the roof.

As far as aesthetics go, the glass tiles look so much better. But you get what you pay for.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another New England compatible alternative house construction idea

New England has an abundance of trees, rocks and sand. The sand comes from glacial till, back when the glaciers spread over this area and bulldozed everything down to the granite. As they melted, ground down rocks and sand were left behind. Sand is abundant in these parts. How can it be used for home construction though? By itself, it can be a great wall, but not in a cold climate, because it does not insulate. Bagged sand is a great way to build walls between frames. But without clay and lots of muscle it won't form a strong earth bag house or a rammed earth home. Small bags can be used to build walls, as is being done in South Africa and Israel by Ecosteps. Big bags in gabions can do the trick as well. As I've struggled with this issue before, I thought I would have to settle with a foam insulation. But there is a new option available, mushroom insulation. The Long Island packaging company Ecovative Design has expanded their concept from protecting fragile packages to insulating homes with dead mycelium. They even insulated a tiny house this way as a demonstration, affectionately titled the Mushroom Tiny House. Like any other insulation, sheathing protects it from the elements. It might be kind of cool looking on some interior walls to leave it as is. Thus my proposal is a mushroom sandwich with sand, or stone, providing strength and thermal mass in the middle between insulating slices of mushroom.

This is Ecovative's picture comparing their product to foam. Oil + foam expansion or mycelium + agricultural waste.
I wonder if a roof could be insulated this way as well?

Now, all I need is land, a building permit, money, and time...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jesus changes everything in the Bible

In Jesus' sermon on the mount, as written by Matthew in the 5th-7th chapters of his gospel, he teaches many counter-intuitive, even heavenly, ideals. One of those is about non-retaliation and extending love even to our enemies.
Matthew 5:38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard of justice and punishment: take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say this, don’t fight against the one who is working evil against you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, you are to turn and offer him your left cheek. 40 If someone connives to get your shirt, give him your jacket as well. 41 If someone forces you to walk with him for a mile, walk with him for two instead. 42 If someone asks you for something, give it to him. If someone wants to borrow something from you, do not turn away. 43 You have been taught to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you— 45 in so doing, you become children of your Father in heaven. He, after all, loves each of us—good and evil, kind and cruel. He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner. 46 It is easy to love those who love you—even a tax collector can love those who love him. 47 And it is easy to greet your friends—even outsiders do that! 48 But you are called to something higher: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (The Voice)
This teaching forces Christians to wrestle with many things in the Old Testament, like what I read this morning, in my daily lectionary reading, Psalm 149.
1 Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints.
2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.
5 Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand,
7 To execute vengeance on the nations, And punishments on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings with chains, And their nobles with fetters of iron;
9 To execute on them the written judgment— This honor have all His saints. Praise the Lord!
The mood certainly gets weird from the middle of verse 6 on. I'm sure even most devout Jews these days aren't taking this verse very literally. But maybe the Maccabee family did when they overthrew the Greek rulers who defiled their temple in Jerusalem. Did the Crusaders find comfort in this verse as they set out to kill the infidels? I'm sure some Jews as well as Christians even today take this hymn of worship literally to some degree or other. Maybe they consider the two-edged sword figurative for an AR-15 rifle. Here is the evangelical/fundamentalist dilemma. In the 2nd epistle to Timothy is written a key verse for inerrantists,
2 Tim. 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...
The key question for me is this Psalm one of the scriptures inspired by God? In the gospels, Jesus says when we see him, we see God. Jesus says he only tells us what he hears from God. Jesus tells us he only does what God tells him to do. So if one part of the Bible is in contradiction with what Jesus teaches, it makes sense to me to assume that part is not inspired by God. The turn in v.6 of Psalm 149 is a clear example to me, of the intersection of the humanity and the divinity in the Bible.

In yesterday's post, on the chaff of American evangelical Christianity, I wrote that this blending of human and divine in the Bible is obvious, but I had joined my tribe, in it's devotion to inerrancy, to affirm the divinity of these parts that even Jesus does not agree with. If I call it figurative, can I claim it inerrant when the author does not seem to be speaking figuratively? If I call it the Psalmist's honest expression, is it inerrant if it is not inspired by God? Did God really say this through the Psalmist? Uh-oh. Now I'm speaking like the Satanic snake in the Garden of Eden...Did God really say...? The question is extremely important and it is not demonic. Did God really command Moses and Joshua to wage war genocidally? Did God approve of Ezra's order for Jews married to Gentiles to divorce them and send away their wives and half-Jewish children? Did God tell Moses the proper way for Jewish soldiers to force captured women to be their wives? Are these things of God, who Jesus fully represents?

When Jesus is my lens for examining the Bible, I am no longer threatened by those ugly passages. Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever as Hebrews 13:8 asserts then I can believe he had nothing to do with the 2nd half of Psalm 149 or the even more violent Psalm 137. Letting go of inerrancy and using the Jesus lens is how I have begun to make peace with the texts of terror in the Bible.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

American evangelical chaff

I am an american evangelical raised in the fundamentalist strain of the faith. I had the book, The Fundamentals, for awhile, but I never read it. Lately, some of the sacred cows I used to defend vigorously, have lost their luster. This isn't new for me. I no longer think, like I told a poor girl in my high school youth group that listening to Pink Floyd means no salvation for her soul. I am an idiot. Now I like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, too. But I elevated chaff to wheat. Miscellany to necessary. Dust to Must. Like then, so now, things I presumed gold looks more like pyrite. I don't like feeling foolish. But I am a fool, and, I feel I need to document my change in thinking. I do think I'm really learning to trust God's constant refrain in the Bible, "Fear not." There are three issues I've stopped fearing.

Number One:
When I went to the Christian liberal arts college my freshman year, I was somewhat scandalized, really scandalized, but then really liberated, when my class had no time for young earth creationism or flood geology. I have swung around that pole of creation/evolution for a long time. I'm a biologist. I love science. I love biology. I've read the fundamentalist books defending a literal seven day, recent creation and I've read evangelical books saying that the evidence for an old earth and evolution are not threats to the faith. I even read the Intelligent Design books, thinking it might be a middle way. But lately, I've been reading outside my Christian subculture. Right now I am reading Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind by Richard Fortey, and it is excellent. The British naturalist is not an exciting writer. He writes like a scientist. In this book, he looks at some of living creatures that have deep roots in the fossil record, such as horseshoe crabs and velvet worms. This summer I read a short book, The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood by David R. Montgomery. One benefit of these books for the general audience instead of the christian fundamentalists is that I can borrow them from the local library. I did buy and will soon read Four Views on the Historical Adam. When I'm not reading books like these I'm reading blogs by Christians that explain the evidence for evolution and contrast the issues that young earthers and worldwide flooders can't explain, while still loving Jesus and not becoming devil worshippers. I like the Biologos blog, Science and the Sacred, for straight up science, I like Naturalis Historia, and for an intersection of theology and evolution, Musings on Science and Theology. The third blogger chooses to remain anonymous. I suspect that is because coming out as an old earther evolutionist could have career consequences. There aren't any career consequences for me. It is low risk for me to be public in my belief that young earth creationism is evangelical chaff. The wind has blown it away. It was never nutritious anyway.

Number 2:
I did read the conservative evangelical book from the 70's, The Battle for the Bible, by Howard Lindsell. Around the same time this book came out, a group of evangelical leaders got together and formulated the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Inerrancy has become a conservative evangelical shibboleth. I used to support it. However, in the past few months I've read a few books, three by evangelicals, that, in my view, show that inerrancy can mean whatever it wants, as long as the author bows to it. The four recent books are Is God a Moral Monster?, Against the Gods, Who wrote the Bible?, and The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation. The last one is a beast. I'm also glad I read the third one before reading the last one so I can know what topics are ignored in such a massive book. However, that massive book did demonstrate the evolution (see what I did there) of the text of the Old Testament. I have waiting for me on my Kindle Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. When I'm not reading big books on Bibilical textual criticism, I benefit from a few bloggers as well, each consider themselves evangelical as well: Peter Enns, Roger Olson, and Michael Heiser. Shaking off inerrancy as chaff does not take away from the Bible as the word of God, because Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a massive backstory for Jesus always regarding highly the life of faith, like Abraham, (see The Meaning of the Pentateuch). The book is a mingling of the human and the divine with expected consequences. The shiny parts that look like Jesus, divine, the ugly parts that don't look like Jesus, not divine. Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, among others, have been making a strong case for viewing the entire Bible from the revelation of Jesus in the gospels. Jesus is the surprise ending that reframes everything that came before. Thus, inerrancy, I've realized, is chaff. It claimed way too much, promised way too much, and can't engage numerous problems with the text without redefining itself to meaninglessness.

None of these things are creedal issues. These are topics to talk about. They are tribal issues things that show what slice we want to belong. I'm an outlier in my tribe, but I haven't stepped outside of earliest formulations of Christianity, which were concerned with the Triune God and fully human and fully divine Jesus. The third item is also not creedal, but it sure gets people's hackles up.

In high school, I prayed with one of my gay friends to entrust his life to Jesus. But Jesus did not un-gay him. After college, in the early 90's I volunteered a couple nights a week at a free AIDS test clinic. I wanted to be the hands of Jesus to those who feared for their lives. I also learned in the 90's, in my evangelical world, that people could pray the gay away or have therapy to undo their bad relationship with their fathers. This year, the biggest evangelical ex-gay ministry folded, admitting that those two things do not happen. Three other books I've read in the past couple years by conservative Christians say the same thing: The end of Sexual Identity, Washed and Waiting, and Homosexuality and the Christian. This past spring I also reviewed a great book God's Gay Agenda by an evangelical who formerly served with YWAM, who now pastors a small church, and is a lesbian with a wife. This book engages the Bible head on and makes a strong case that the conservative, anti-gay, evangelical culture is missing something in translation, both in language but also in context. At some point I will buy Bible, Gender, Sexuality for more in depth Biblical re-assessment of this issue. I think Christians can disagree over their understanding of homosexuality and sin from the Bible, yet still be siblings in the faith. Just like I think Christians can listen to Pink Floyd without threatening their salvation. Homosexuality is an issue I have wrestled with in over 130 posts on this blog. As I wrestled, reasoned, read, listened, and tried to understand, I'm now at the point where I think it is chaff. It's not essential. It's not creedal. It's not something I need to worry about. What I do need to worry about is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I need to love my gay neighbors as much as my white, conservative, straight, married, Christian neighbors. One way I can love my gay brothers and sisters is to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to reveal to them the path they pursue, either towards a life of celibacy or a life of companionship and marriage. I don't think excluding them, and making conditions on my acceptance of them is loving. Jesus saves them, not me. I think full inclusion of my gay brothers and sisters in church is an Acts 10 opportunity for the church. Just as the full inclusion of women into leadership is as well. I used to not think these things. I need to give everyone who still thinks like I did as much grace as I need.

I argue a lot on the internet. I don't like that feature of me so much. I'm not interested in arguing these things. I like reading and sharing what I've learned. I like encouraging those who might disagree with me to read the books I read and arrive at their own conclusions from more than the dozen paragraphs here. Be warned though, the more I've learned, the less I know. I titled this "American evangelical chaff" because I don't think these issues are historic, worldwide, orthodox church issues, the first two especially, the third I'm waiting on ancient church data to consider. Suggestions are welcome.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advent, Joseph, Love, God

Betrayal is the worst, and as far as Joseph knew, Mary had betrayed him. His fiance was pregnant. He had brutal, legal options available to him in this patriarchal society they lived in, yet he chose the least likely one, the one of generosity and love.

As Matthew tells it,
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Matthew 1
He didn't choose his rights, he chose peace. God chose something greater though. God had not only chosen Mary, he had chosen Joseph as well. Matthew continues the story,
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph encountered a divine messenger. God wanted him to know that Mary was telling the truth. Her conception was a miracle wrought by Him. Furthermore, Joseph was to stick with the original, pre-conception wedding plan.

The story only gets more chaotic from this point though. He proceeds to marry a pregnant gal, voluntarily taking on disgrace. No wonder they never moved back into the neighborhood. They did have to move, which might have been a relief, but the timing was poor. Mary was pretty late in the pregnancy, "great with child," when politics intervened and he had to register for the census in his hometown, Bethlehem, an hour away, by car. Seventy miles is a long trip on foot or donkey. When they finally arrive, he can't find a place to settle down or have a baby. Perhaps his family in town was not happy to have the disgraced couple stay with them.

God, who had spoken to both parents, and told them of great plans of the child, a new king for their nation, wasn't talking to them anymore. They had faith because of what they had experienced of God, they had hope, based on what He had told them, but He was silent. As Luke tells it,
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2
The journey, the "lodging," if not guided by God directly, was an empty canvas for Joseph to fill in.  He painted with love. Soon afterwards, as Matthew tells it, another messenger from God tells them to flee to Egypt. Again, Joseph is left to fill in the blanks, for who knows how long, until it was time to return to Israel. When he did, another dream message tells him to move to Galilee, where they settle. Galilee is not a well regarded area. Again, Joseph chooses the way of shame, based on dreams from God. He trusts God. He has great hopes for his son. He loves his family.

Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Why is love superior? Later on in the early church, John the Beloved writes, twice, in his first letter, "God is love," 1 John 4:8, 16. I've been pondering lately why God is not ever equated to faith or hope. I understand faith to be based on my past experiences. I understand hope to be my approach to the future. But love is for the present. Love is what I am to do NOW.

Like Joseph, I have had dreams and encounters with God. Like Joseph, I have a desire for a better future. Like Joseph, the canvas given to me is not a paint by numbers type. It has large blank spaces. But if I fill it with love, I fill it with God. He may be quiet in my life now. But I can fill this now with love, and be a messenger of His, for someone else. When I a present with love, I am representing God.

In John's final vision, I remember doing Greek translation and getting thrown off at a frequent phrase. God is described as the one who is, the one who was, and the one yet to come. I always thought that last phrase would be the one who "will be", but it's not.
Revelation 1:4 Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come...Rev. 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God—the one who is, and who was, and who is still to come—the All-Powerful! 
The highlight for me is He is the God, firstly, WHO IS. He is present. He is love. We know the back story. We have glimpses of the future. In between, right now, we have love. The baby Jesus is God's loving gift of himself.

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.

Since perfect love casts out fear, we know why those angels keep saying at Advent, "FEAR NOT," because love arrived.

Merry Christmas. Fear not. Live in love, even when betrayed.