Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 5

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 5. See part one, two, three, and four to catch up.

Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part 5 will look at another angle of this theme, that not everything Christian is in the Bible you have today.

Dear Johnboy (that is my younger self)

I am going to write you a short summary of this post then put all the technical stuff afterwards to see what I am talking about.

The way the author of Hebrews uses the Greek translation of the New Testament, especially where it disagrees with the Hebrew version is an example of New Testament authors using a different OT text source than you do. Most Protestant translations today use the Masoretic Text as the basis of the OT translations. You learned that the OT we have today is so reliable because the Masorete community had so many rules for copying texts. Then you learned the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea scrolls confirms how good the Masoretic text is because of their agreement. What you didn't know is the early church scholar Origen collected six different Hebrew texts with similarities and differences. What you didn't know is the Masoretic texts we have are younger than the NT texts we have. What you didn't know is the Qumram community that kept the Dead Sea scrolls also had multiple versions of Jeremiah, a version similar to the Greek OT and another similar to the Masoretic text. The point is the Greek and Masoretic texts are very similar but have key differences, especially in Psalm 40, which Hebrews 10 references. When Hebrews references the Greek version, it makes sense that Jesus had a body prepared for him, when he came into the world, to serve as the sacrifice for mankind, not an open ear.

Despite the fact that the New Testament author of Hebrews chose the Greek version as the one God wanted to predict Jesus' mission, most of the western church chooses to ignore that, and translate from the Masoretic text, thank St. Jerome.

What you didn't know is that Psalm 29 is a modified Canaanite song. This is not a secret among Evangelical scholars, but it changes what we mean when we speak of Old Testament inspiration by God. However, it does not have to threaten anything about the message of that Psalm.

What it does mean is the psalmist was able to take something made by worshippers of other gods and modify it to worship God. What it does mean is the Old Testament was never as static as you were taught. What it does mean is those extra Old Testament books found in the Greek Old Testament are still full of allegories of Jesus, and mined for great spiritual benefit by the early church. It means that when you eventually read the Apocrypha with healthy skepticism, it opens up an avenue to also read the rest of the Old Testament. When you see some stories from the Apocrypha show up in the gospels (a woman married 7 times, a problem posed by the Sadducees to Jesus, is a main character in the book of Tobit) you realize that not all pre-Jesus stories are doctrinal for the Christian, but give context for the Jesus story. When you realize Jude references an apocalyptic story about Moses' body in his short epistle, it does not mean it is a doctrinal issue the Christian needs to affirm, but it serves a bigger purpose.

My previous letter shows Jesus doing some Old Testament criticism. Today's letter shows other New Testament authors doing the same, picking and choosing what to use and what to negate. Reading the extra books in the Septuagint as the Eastern churches and Roman Catholic churches do will bring you into a bigger story that contributes to the good news of Jesus. Not everything Biblical is Christian, and not everything Christian is limited to the Masoretic Hebrew text. Most things in the Old Testament still serve as preparation for Jesus' new kingdom, even when they get the fully revealed kingdom wrong.

The next letter shows the church thrashed this out in the New Testament book of Acts.

------------Technical stuff-----------------------------------------

Did you ever look up the cross reference from Hebrews 10?
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, "See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)." 8 When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
Here is one example of how the first is abolished. The author of Hebrews is referencing Psalm 40. I'll quote the verses, as translated from the Hebrew by the New Revised Standard Version.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
7 Then I said, "Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Did the Psalmist write God opened his ear or prepared him a body? In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, Psalm 40 is translated much like the Hebrews author's quotation.
40:6 Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and [sacrifice] for sin thou didst not require.
 40:7 Then I said, Behold, I come: in the volume of the book it is written concerning me,
 40:8 I desired to do thy will, O my God, and thy law in the midst of mine heart.
Because Hebrew was no longer the popular language of Jewish people a few centuries before Jesus showed up, Jewish scholars in Alexandria produced a Greek translation. Entire books and academic studies are devoted to the use of the Greek Septuagint versus the use of the Hebrew Old Testament in the New Testament.

The early church fathers also used the Septuagint to find the allegories of Jesus. The Eastern Orthodox churches have continued in this tradition. The Western church led by Saint Jerome, translated the Bible, Old and New into the common Latin, and produced the Latin Vulgate, using several sources, Greek and Hebrew and Origen's critical text containing six Hebrew versions of the Old Testament side by side. The Vulgate version of Psalm 40 aligns with the Hebrew version.

Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate also include the intertestamental books called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. The early church fathers mined these books as well, as they were part of the Septuagint, for allegorical references to Jesus. Here is a short Catholic defense of including the Deuterocanonical books in our Bible reading.

The Bible was not dropped down from heaven in the complete version we read in English today. The Old Testament is a book that argues with itself and which Jesus disagrees with himself. As the Hebrews 10 passage says, the establishment of the second abolishes the first, not everything, just anything that disagrees with the new nation Jesus is establishing, the nation based on love.

*Many of the links are to wikipedia. But the more difficult concepts can be explored by investing the time and money into a couple books. Who wrote the Bible? by Friedman and Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 4

This is part four of the series Not everything Biblical is Christian. See part one, two and three to catch up.

Dear Johnboy (that is my younger self)

The previous letter shows God's position on punishment changes from the Ten Commandments era to Ezekiel's era yet in the New Testament Jesus is presented as unchanging. In the first letter, I pointed to the New Testament's assertions that Jesus is the full revelation of God and what was obscure in the Old Testament is clarified in, with, by and through Jesus.

Jesus interacted with the Old Testament in surprising ways. It shocked his original audience and still shocks today. One of the most shocking things he does is disagree with Moses, even when the teachings presented in the five books of Moses are presented as coming directly from God. Here is what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I highlighted verse 38 because Jesus talks of this command as if it were an oral tradition. Verse 43 does not refer to anything in the Old Testament, so it probably was oral tradition, but verse 38 shows up three times in the books of Moses. Here they are with additional context.

After Moses collects the 10 commandments from God on the mountain, in Exodus 20, God has some extra instructions.
Exodus 21:1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:...22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
God is given credit for this legal principle. It's one of justice and not mercy. It's not a bad principle. If I injure someone they can take back in restitution no more than the damage I caused. The principle seems directed towards restitution instead of punishment. Legal restraint is a good thing. However, some of the other laws in chapter 21 are less enlightened.

This principle reappears, in God's voice in Leviticus, when a young man cursed God's name. He was taken into custody until Moses could ask God what to do about it. According to Moses, blasphemy is a capital offense. (Jesus was accused of blasphemy by his enemies and nearly stoned to death himself.) Then God riffs on the legal principle again. The enlightened aspect is the same rules apply to foreigners as well as Israelites.
Leviticus 24:13 The Lord said to Moses, saying: 14 Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him. 16 One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. 17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. 18 Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. 19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. 21 One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. 22 You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. 23 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; and they took the blasphemer outside the camp, and stoned him to death. The people of Israel did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The legal principle shows up for the last time in the last of the books of Moses. This book is mostly a very long sermon by Moses. In the context of a false witness in a legal case, Moses says his punishment is that which he sought against the falsely accused.
Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
The legal principle is fair, but the lack of pity is tough for me. I find the end of verse 15 interesting because we have collected three witnesses to this Biblical principle. Thus it is established, except Jesus does not consider it settled. 38 "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. Jesus does not say, "I know Moses said such and such." Nor did he say, "Even though God said this, as God I'm repealing it." As far as Jesus is concerned, this was a saying his crowd heard, the same way he describes the other (non-Biblical) saying in verse 43.

Is Jesus saying that God is not responsible for this legal principle? Is he saying God was falsely credited for this legal principle? It's not a bad principle. But Jesus has a new kingdom with principles that are counter-intuitive. And Jesus is God. When Jesus/God encounters in John 8 a woman guilty of a capital offense, adultery, he did show pity, not just for her but for her accusers as well.

What does this have to do with the issue in the previous letter? Did God change his mind between the Ten Commandments and Ezekiel? Maybe not, if not everything in the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Cs, is of God. Maybe not, if the Mosaic death penalties are also overruled by Jesus. These things are certainly essential to the story of Jesus and his new kingdom, but as foils to the new laws of the new kingdom, the laws of love. Not everything Biblical is Christian. 

Not everything spoken by God's prophets are necessarily correct. Look at this short story from 1 Kings 13.
16 The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’” 18 The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) 19 So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 20 While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 21 He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. 22 You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”
The old prophet got God wrong. But then he channeled God correctly. And the prophecy against the young prophet was fulfilled. Not everything a prophet says as the voice of God is actually from God. The Bible itself shows this. Jesus seems to take this position on some of the important things Moses said as well.

Johnboy, you are not obligated to believe everything in the Bible about God actually represents Jesus. Just because it comes from a prophet, even the kind honored in the Bible, doesn't mean Jesus agrees with it. Because, not everything Biblical is Christian.

The next letter will get a little more technical, continuing in this theme and it's flip side, the Bible does not contain everything Christian.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 3

This is part 3 of the series Not everything Biblical is Christian. See part 1 and part 2 to catch up.

Dear John (that is my younger self)

Some Bible verses threw you for a loop when you read the Bible with equal authority front to back. You weren't able to resolve tensions like this one, so you shelved it in your brain, hoping that one day, before the afterlife, the back office would come up with something.

Your older self may have something, but let's look at one those Bible difficulties. It's in the 10 commandments. They show up twice in the Bible, in Exodus 20, shortly after the escape from Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5, forty years later, before the people enter the promised land.

The second commandment, forbidding graven images (idols), comes with a threat and a promise, a stick and a carrot.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God promises to punish grand children and great grand children for the sins of their ancestors, but bless the descendants to a thousand generations those who love him and obey these commandments. He says it again in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5:8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

To be honest, that is a raw deal for a kid, whose great grandpa did not care for God or his commandments. It's how punishment works in North Korea. I have heard this softened by Bible teachers who point out that family dysfunction does seem to perpetuate. For example, alcoholism runs in families, so does domestic violence. But that defense of this part of the commandment disregards the active, not passive, intentionality of God.

Why is God and North Korean tyranny alike? But then they are not. In fact, God changed his mind on this whole thing. He does that a few times in the Bible, this is one of those examples. It's a little longer to provide more context. It seems that God is not changing his mind, but blaming his people for this idea that children should expect punishment for their parents' sins.

Ezekiel 18:18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity. 19 Yet you say, "Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?" When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. 21 But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? 24 But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. 25 Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Someone's way is unfair back in the 2nd commandment, and Ezekiel has God saying it's not him and he thinks that descendant punishment stuff is stupid. He also is saying the righteous don't accumulate sin credits to cash in later on. It's not a game or a quid pro quo transaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus this way, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

It's a difficult collection of verses Johnboy. If Jesus is the same across the ages, and if he and God the Father are united as the triune God, why did he say one thing to Moses and a very different thing to Ezekiel? Why did he, through 'Zeke, give his people grief (telling them they totally got it wrong) for believing the thing they learned from the ten rules he gave them through Mo'?

I have an idea. I think the brain cells in the back room have something worth your younger brain's consideration. It is based on the example of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 where he pulls an Ezekiel. I will discuss it in the next post, part 4, as this one got too long.

Bonus material.
Has anyone else noticed the reason for keeping the Sabbath also changed between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5? Did God forget? Did he change his mind again?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 2

Dear John of years ago (I'm talking to younger fundagelical self), as you know Jesus is famous even outside of Christianity for his Beatitudes. Here is Matthew's version from the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Among many other reasons, it's noteworthy for it's celebration and esteem of those behaviors that are not typically rewarded or successful in this life. This is exactly Jesus' point. These are behaviors and attitudes that pay dividends into the future, into the life. It's certainly idyllic and utopic, exactly what heaven should be, and Jesus wants his heavenly kingdom to start on earth. It's not like these postures of the heart are repulsive, but they are not keys to success in our dog eat dog world.

Beatitudes are not new with Jesus. They sprinkled in the poetry and prophetic books of the Old Testament and in some of the inter-testamental books. In the Sermon on the Mount they are concentrated by Jesus. In contrast to these hopeful aspirational blessings, one of the Psalms has this,
Psalm 137:8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
But John, cheer up, you don't have to defend verses like this. You don't have to claim David wrote this under a prophetic inspiration from God, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the ensuing lament, as some do online. You don't have to soften this as righteous longings for justice written hyperbolically. You can appreciate the deeper searching of the early church theologian Origen, who sought the allegorical meaning in this passage, a hatred of his own sin. Origen saw a similarity between this bombastic beatitude and Jesus' own prescription for dealing with sin, in the same Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 
Jesus is provocative and Origen follows Jesus' lead here and applies it to Psalm 137 and focuses inward. If only all members of the church would look inward instead of outward and find justification for all sorts of wickedness literally acted out in the world. Recently, a popular American Christian magazine published an article online, in response to the threats of fundamentalist Muslim terror groups, proposing 3 options for Muslims in American, deportation, sterilization, or genocide. Conversion was not considered an option as the Bible literally reads, in that author's opinion, that the Arabs are under a curse and incapable of conversion. It's horrifying that Jesus' opinion does not rate with that author. I'll talk more about this later on in this series.

The simplest response to this Psalmist's so-called blessing is to say it's not Christian. It contradicts the direct teaching of Jesus. In fact it contradicts Proverbs 24:17. It's biblical, but it's not Christian. Contradiction is a harsh word for fundagelicals like yourself. In softer, non-threatening terms it is part of a conversation within the Bible, between its human authors, with their God. It's only in the full revelation of Jesus do we know for certain, what we suspected all along, this is not approved by Jesus. Unlike the easily recognized snake in the garden of Eden, this one slipped in at the end of a song of lament. It's part of the story, but it's not from Jesus.

Next time I will look at one or two places where Jesus explicitly disapproves parts of the Old Testament.

For further  research about this Psalm please consider these links.

  • Another blogger gives much up front consideration of fundagelical apologetics for this verse and still says, "this is worse than catharsis and in contradiction with other parts of the Bible" referencing C.S. Lewis own struggles with the imprecatory Psalms. 

  • Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, former pastor of Barack Obama spoke from this Psalm shortly after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. He says it as the shocking cycle of violence that needs to be stepped out of and away from, by trusting Jesus and the extremely high risk, but even higher reward Jesus promises. 

  • Old Testament theologian, Julia M. O'Brien writes: "Historically, interpreters disturbed by passages like this have tried to 'fix' them. The church father Origen, for example, read the psalm allegorically: when Psalm 137 says happy are those who bash the enemy’s infants against the rocks, he claimed that it meant to dash your sins against the rocks of reason." Her blog on violence in the Bible is wonderful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 1

I am beginning a series here called, Not everything Biblical is Christian. I need to identify the key terms, "Biblical" and "Christian" and my intended audience, the younger me an American Fundagelical.

Fundagelicals are the conservative wing of American Evangelicalism, the tribe I grew up in and still belong to. I know some of the most generous, compassionate people on this planet among my tribe. I have learned generosity and compassion from them. But I also know fear among my tribe, fear of other tribes, of other political tribes, of the end times, of being raptured while still a virgin, even fear of God. I have been learning the truth of perfect love which displaces all fear. I wish my younger self began learning that much earlier.

Here are my fundagelical credentials. I grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church and raised my children in a Calvary Chapel. Each sub-tribe is closer to the center than the tribes at large to whom they belong. This means that head coverings on women are not required, though not discouraged either, a woman's voice during the communion service (1) was not approved,  and young earth creationism is the norm. Both of these examples reflect the tension created by a commitment to biblical inerrancy. Inerrancy is a method of biblical interpretation that assumes the Bible in our hands today has minimal errors, only of transmission without affecting any essential doctrines (since it was inspired and preserved by God himself), and it's plain and simple reading is the best way to engage the text.

My intent in this series is not to argue against inerrancy, but to let the Bible disagree with itself where it does but let the author have the final say on these disputes. This series is about a handful of Biblical things I wish I learned, that my children as well had learned, along with the generosity and compassion. I'm not saying I was not taught these things, but some things get overly emphasized which can drown out other really important things.

"Biblical" means that which is derived from the Bible, usually proof texts in my tribe requiring minimal investigation. For example, snakes and donkeys have spoken human language at one time because the Bible records them doing that very thing.

"Christian" is the name for those who follow the way of Jesus, because they believe in him as the once crucified, but subsequently resurrected and glorified only Son of God.

According to John the beloved apostle the Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible. Growing up I heard the two halves of the Christian Bible described as Jesus revealed in New Testament and Jesus concealed in the Old Testament. This completely aligns with the writings of the apostles of Jesus and the method of Old Testament interpretation used by the church fathers. The method of allegory is a rich vein of theology the church has long mined for insights into Jesus from the Old Testament that my tribes have refrained, even though Paul's and Peter's letters are full of allegorical insights from the Old Testament and Jesus himself says the scriptures testify of him. Jesus also tells his disciples when they see him they are seeing the Father. He is the full revelation of God. As God, he gets to ignore, overwrite, reinterpret everything that came before and after him. And Jesus does. Not all verses in the Bible are of God. They are part of the story but they are not God's words.

I have two easily acceptable examples. In the New Testament, when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan, the demonic suggestions in those verses are wrong, and not from God. They are essential to the story, but are not words of truth and light, but of falsehoods and darkness. The temptation is a parallel of a similar story in the beginning of the Old Testament. Another perfect and innocent man, a couple actually, is tested by Satan in the wilderness with false assertions. Those words are false and dark, and resulted in a turning from God, away from truth, light, and life, to selfishness and death. Those are not God's words. They are essential to the story, ultimately to reveal Jesus' recapitulation, successfully resisting temptation, as the progenitor of a new humanity. (2)

The Bible has many obvious lies and falsehoods in it. They are easily seen when put in the mouths of the villains. Some things are not so obvious without the beacon of Jesus to provide the contrast. But I think the ones above are simple, literal, non-contentious examples showing some things in the Bible, Biblical things, are not of God, who is fully revealed in Jesus, are not Christian.

Next time I will look at one non-villainous beatitude, the blessing of the baby killers.

1- Women speaking during the communion service violated one or two literal readings in the New Testament.
2- Jesus' struggle in the wilderness is also a recapitulation of Moses and the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness. Where Moses and the people failed and died before reaching the promised land, Jesus succeeded and is the new Moses who leads a new people to be part of a new kingdom not restricted to land or genetics. I just did some allegory there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book response: The Natural Building Companion by Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton (2012)

I've been familiar for a few years now with the work of the Yestermorrow Design Build School in Vermont for a few years now. What I did not know is the publication of this work, The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction by instructors Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton.

Lucky for me, one of my local libraries had a copy available and I devoured it over the weekend. There is so much to devour, I did skim some parts, but I read intently much of it.

My favorite aspect of this book is it's written with a sensitivity to the crazy New England climate. There are so many great ways to build, but what works in California will not work well here. They also differentiate between natural building and green building. Natural building seeks to remain connected to the materials near the build location and minimize the carbon input required to transport a green product. For example, bamboo flooring is a green product, especially when compared to cement, but when the transportation carbon deficit of bamboo is realized in the comparison, a shipment from southeast Asia, across the Pacific, then on rail or truck to New England, cement's CO2 contribution is actually lower. The natural builder also looks to avoid persistent chemicals and plastics, thus turning away from foams and chemicals and turning towards non-volatile and minimally processed materials. In their own business, they use timber frame for the structure, which can be locally harvested and milled, and straw bales for the insulation, which can be harvested in nearby New York State or Quebec. They prefer clay plasters, natural paints, and wide plank floor boards. They are not against blown cellulose and find it the best minimally processed form filling insulation available. They also describe clay slip straw infill and clay slip wood chip infill. I've been intrigued by the wood chip clay slip walls and wrote about them before. The resistance to heat flow, the R-value, is not that great with this system, although they know of a builder who has used this wall system in the NorthEast.

One idea they mentioned, which sounds really cool and has been tried in Canada and Ohio already is the addition of blown cellulose on the outside of the straw bale wall, which brings the whole wall R-value up over 40. This book is full of cool ideas and should be picked up by anyone who sees the need to build differently in our changing world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

cost analysis of American war participation, WW2 and the middle East

If the US did not ally with Stalin (killed 20 million), then the two mass murderers might have destroyed each other. Instead, Eastern Europe went from one totalitarian regime, the Nazis, to another, the USSR for another 40 years. If the US did not ally with China, then the mass murdering regime of Mao (killed 30 million) may never have come to fruition. Mao killed more Chinese than the Japanese ever did.

If the US did not feel the need to seek vengeance on Osama Bin Laden after September 11, 2001, when 3,000 died, then 21,000 Afghan civilians would not have died. If the US did not go after Saddam Hussein and his phantom weapons of mass destruction, then 133,000 Iraqi civilians would not have been killed as a result of our invasion. Additionally, 6,500 American service members and an equal number of military contractors would not have been killed either. The US would not have borrowed, nor lost economic investment and opportunity over the past 13 years to tune of $4 trillion.

Their are other ways to respond to evil and injustice successfully in our western history. Let me quote extensively from the website, Cost of War, where all these links go to.
A Rand report made systematic examination and comparison of 268 groups using terror tactics in the period from 1968 to 2006. It showed that several approaches have been much more effective than military responses at eliminating future attacks. They include criminal justice responses and attempts to address the well-being concerns of both combatants and the broader populace that might support them.
It's possible to use aid and assistance to win the populace over.
The study found that 40 percent of the 268 groups were eliminated through intelligence and policing methods; 43 percent ended their violence as a result of peaceful political accommodation; 10 percent ceased their violent activity because they had achieved their objectives (“victory”) by violence; and only 7 percent were defeated militarily.
Military intervention is the least successful method, but Americans do not want to have their plans interrupted by data from "experts" or limp-wristed pacifists.
Military responses have often created more extensive violent response and terrorism against the civilian population caught between two opposing forces. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have served as an effective recruiting device for new terrorists. For example, contrary to the US government’s rationale that invading Iraq would prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, the country has instead become a laboratory in which militant groups have been able to hone their techniques of propaganda, recruitment, and violence against the most highly trained military in the world. The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq rose precipitously following the 2003 invasion and has not returned to its pre-war level.
Don't Americans get it that when terrorists taunt us online, and we respond just as they hoped, we are following their war plan not ours?
In addition, wars often create the conditions for additional violent conflicts over the new resources and new political alignments created by an initial invasion or occupation. The civil wars and criminal violence that erupted in both Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of this phenomenon.
This was written before the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS.
Now the US government thinks confronting ISIS the same way we confronted al Qaeda in Afghanistan will turn out differently. The odds are against us. But Americans embrace the dystopian young adult novel and wish each other, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

But it's not so utopian to try what Jesus taught, as other nations have done it successfully, to turn the other cheek. This is not a call for withdrawal from the world, but a different way to interact, with more than one tool, a hammer.

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.

But 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 references 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. The first couple in Genesis 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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