Tuesday, April 30, 2013

the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 1

I started writing this today and it turned into one of my dissertation length posts. I'm trying to be a nicer blogger, so I'm breaking it into chunks.

I was listening to today's lectionary reading while riding my bicycle into work and got hung up on this passage.
Psalm 68
19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.
20 Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
21 Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.
22 The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea,
23 that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share.”

This Psalm has plenty of nice things and encouraging things in this Psalm, but the last two verses put in God's mouth do not agree with what Jesus taught about loving our enemies. I have two directions to go with this dilemma.

  1. David was wrong to attribute this to God.
  2. This is symbolic language, not to be understood literally.

I'm open to #1 because #2 has just as many problems in my thinking. This topic touches on my problems with Joshua's genocidal conquest narratives, see a collection of my blogs here. I've been puzzling over this concept of God's violence here on the blog for several years now, soon after I started it. Both options are in play for me in Joshua's case as well. Additionally, another sub-option shows up in Joshua, two or more editors inserting contradictory information. I call it a sub-option because it's related to #1 above, that the human stain colors the entire Bible. David writes violently, with similar imagery earlier in the Jewish hymn book.
Psalm 58 
9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns— whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.
10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
I'm aware that I live a privileged life. My degree of violation by others is nowhere near what people in David's time and even today have experienced. Yet even on the cross, after the most severe of violations, Jesus does not quote this Psalm. He goes to David's 22nd Psalm, which focuses on his feelings of despair and abandonment, then moves to hope and worship. Finally, Jesus, who mentioned he could call down a heavenly army to deliver him at any time, prayed that God would forgive those who killed him, not strike them down.

If you are a believer, what approach do you take to these passages?

Monday, April 29, 2013

why is "penny wise, pound foolish" such a hackneyed expression?

"Penny wise, pound foolish," was first written in a book in the 1600's by the British author Robert Burton. It's an idiom that means one chooses tiny gains over expensive losses, usually seen over time. For example, I could choose not to put money in my retirement account, so that I can go out to dine more often now, but I will miss out on, not only on dining out at all when I'm too old to work, but also, more likely, affording more important living expenses. A similar idiom, "cutting off your nose to spite your face," is related. It is an even older expression, meaning to overreact to a problem and create long term damage to a short term situation. If my allergies are really bad, although I may wish to cut off my nose, I know that doing so, to ease my immediate discomfort, would make my life even more miserable.

It seems to me, that many of my fellow citizens, are not aware of the wisdom in these idioms.

I know I am long-winded so I'm trying to keep this short.

Some citizens do not think that social programs benefit them directly, and only help lazy people who are gaming the system. So those politicians who advocate for these programs are accused of communism, socialism, collectivism and other words, whose definitions are not even understood by those who speak them. But those social programs will actually save them money over the decades. Those programs might even be of use in their own lives if circumstances beyond their control should arise. Here is a recent article about how the very expensive prison system has replaced the much more efficient mental health system.

It's difficult for politicians to advocate for economic positions that will not benefit their constituents before the next election cycle. It's even harder if the position assists the poor. I understand why politicians often resort to exaggeration, of not outright lying, to assuage a penny wise voting bloc.

It seems to me, that the voting bloc, in general, which tend to vote in the best interests of others, are often linked with godlessness. Yet their actions look more like the wisdom of the greatest religious teacher in history, who said, the 2nd greatest command of God is to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. That teacher claims that the way we treat the neediest in our society is the way we treat God himself. One of his original followers wrote, I'll show you my beliefs by what I do, even devils believe in God.

In answer to the question in the title of this post, it's an overused expression because we humans in general, have such a hard time thinking past today, so we keep choosing short term gains and long term losses. We are fools.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

book response: God's Gay Agenda by Turnbull (2012)

Even if you are Christian who is not even open to considering the full inclusion of homosexuals into the life of your church, you can still learn something from Pastor Sandra Turnbull's book, God's Gay Agenda. Why can you learn something from this book? The author is informed. She loves the Bible. She loves Jesus. She sees the fields as "white unto the harvest."

Turnbull pastors Glory Tabernacle Christian Center in Long Beach, CA, and holds a Biblical Studies degree from Evangel University and a Master of Arts from the Claremont School of Theology. See more about her at her bio page. She grew up on the missionary field. She tells some of her own story in the beginning of the book. When she joined Youth With a Mission as a young adult, she developed a relationship with another woman on her team. YWAM sent them home. She submitted herself to Christian ungay-me ministry, which didn't work. Eventually, years later, she reconnected with that woman and they are now married. But the lesbian part of her did not change her devotion to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the church, or the great commission. She is still pentecostal. So is her church.

Whether the reader considers her "in sin" or not, it's still worth listening to her wrestle with the clobber passages, those seven key passages that condemn homosexuality. Before she gets to those passages, she shows, very conclusively that natural born eunuchs, in Jesus' words, refer to homosexuals. In the Old Testament, they appear as temple and royal officials. One even rescues Jeremiah. In the New Testament, one brings the gospel to Ethiopia. I can agree with Turnbull that gay people are seen in the Bible as good agents of God's purpose.

Her exegetical efforts in reinterpreting the clobber passages are the best that I have encountered, but I'm not that widely read. In regards to the Leviticus passages, she ties "abomination" to idolatry. There is too much unsaid, too many other passages using the word that are not assessed, for me to agree with her that the Levitical passages are specifically limited to idol worship practices exclusively. In particular, male priests received anal intercourse from worshippers. I also think her analysis of Paul's condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1 was weak. Paul is writing about the effects of idolatry, and he includes male/male homosexuality as one aspect, which would lend itself to temple worship practices, but she can't say woman/woman homosexuality that Paul talks about is also a temple practice.

Simply because I am not persuaded on all counts of her argument, does not mean there isn't much to learn from someone using different lenses than mine to read the scripture. In her discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how it's not a story about homosexuality, but of rape and violence, she notices something in Jesus' discussion that I never saw before.
Here is the biblical account found in Luke 17:28-30 and 34-36: Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. …I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken, and the other left. (KJV) Jesus mentions two men in one bed together quite purposefully.158 To an audience where some would be equating God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexual sex acts, this statement contradicted that myth. Jesus set the record straight by equating eternal life as contingent upon the condition of the individual’s heart. To Jesus, if you were his disciple, it meant that you were living a life of obedience to God. In Jesus’ illustration, one man is clearly a disciple regardless of the fact that he is sleeping in the same bed with another man. What Jesus was communicating is that eternal life is not based upon sexuality, but upon having your heart prepared and ready. Kindle Highlight Loc. 1281-90
Her comment on the footnote is important.
158 Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction And Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Illinois and England: Intervarsity Press, 1974 and 1988), 286. Bible translators deal with Luke 17:34 in various ways because the word “men” is not included in the original Greek text. The Tyndale New Testament Commentary by Leon Morris states that the original Greek text does use the masculine gender in both “one” and “the other.” The traditional reading of Greek would mean that the phrase should be read “two men in one bed” as the King James Version of the Bible translates it. It is interesting that other translators remove the word “men” or just omit the verse completely. Leon Morris concludes that it could mean man and wife however. The Interpreter’s Bible Commentary for the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, Volume VIII, (1952) states on page 304 that “Two in vs. 34 probably means two men, as alternative illustration to two (women) in vs. 35; but the earlier two could mean man and wife.” I don’t think there would be any question as to how to interpret this verse if the subject was not about two men in bed together. 
I never saw that before. I found her observations on what Jesus did not say about eunuchs, although an argument from silence, wroth considering as well.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never spoke about eunuchs in terms of healing, reprogramming, or restoration? In Matthew 19:12 there is no suggestion that a eunuch needs to be fixed, healed, or restored back into society. Remember that Jesus was all too happy to heal the blind, the sick, the oppressed, and to even raise some who were “sleeping” back to the living. But nowhere do we find Jesus healing the eunuch. Rather, to be a eunuch is held up as a model. It is a good thing to be a eunuch. The eunuch, in the context of Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce, is certainly outside of the heterosexual structure of society. Yet according to Jesus, the eunuch life is a model life and a prestigious calling. Kindle Highlight Loc. 1905-10

She contends that the third kind of eunuchs that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 19:12 are the church's gay believers. It's a weak contention in my opinion because Jesus speaks of those who make themselves eunuchs. Some translations interpret this as dedicating themselves to celibacy. The second option makes more sense to me. Nevertheless, I do appreciate her observation that Jesus did not heal any homosexuals of their sexual preferences. However, he did heal a centurion's slave, who might have been his male sex slave too. Gay Christians, including Turnbull, point to this as an example of Jesus' not taking an opportunity to condemn homosexuality. I see it as an opportunity missed of not condemning slavery.

As far as the hot topic of gay marriage, Turnbull makes a good point.

It is apparent from the Scriptures that God seems to have stamped His approval upon a variety of types of marriages which were considered “traditional” in biblical history. Besides the polygamous marriages, there existed under God’s blessing the levirate marriages, mixed marriages, slave marriages, and prisoner-of-war marriages. All of these “traditional” marriages would be shunned today in the Church and in most Western societies. Kindle Highlight Loc. 2444-47

This is not a new argument from the gay Christian, but she puts it in very stark terms. "Traditional" and "Biblical" are not helpful terms in these discussions. I'm for civil unions for any couple, regardless of gender. Turnbull's book has many helpful contributions to the church's discussion of homosexuality. She speaks as one who grew up as an insider, but has become an outsider, who wants to bring us back to unity. She models grace, devotion, modesty, and love. Whether we agree with her or not, her contribution to the conversation is valuable.

I received this e-book as a free review copy.
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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

adventures in poor gun rights advocacy

One of my facebook friends posted this to his wall, a forward from a gun rights group.
Right to bear arms only meant muskets like saying your right to free speech was only meant to include olde English spoken in the 1700's.
I'm not sure if this is a strawman or if the author really found a gun restriction advocate who only wants to keep muskets legal. This is the data from which to draw conclusions.

Here is the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution in its Bill of Rights.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I think any gun libertarian would agree that there are some limits to the freedom of their neighbor's speech, especially if he's being slandered by said neighbor. It's called the Harm Principle, as elucidated by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill, from the wiki article on free speech:
In "On Liberty" (1859) John Stuart Mill argued that "...there ought to exist the fullest liberty of 
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered." Mill argues that the fullest liberty of expression is required to push arguments to their logical limits, rather than the limits of social embarrassment. However, Mill also introduced what is known as the harm principle, in placing the following limitation on free expression: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
Some speech is harmful and not covered by the first amendment. I'm free to lie, but I can't lie to sell a product. Well, I can be sued and jailed if I harm enough people, or make enough money.  Enforcement can't be complete, so choices have to be made. I am not free to share state secrets. I am not free to yell "Fire" in a movie theater when there isn't one.

Here is the second amendment.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I think most gun rights advocates agree with restrictions on private ownership of machine guns, rocket launchers, anti-personnel mines, mortars, artillery, grenades, tanks, etc. This is a version of the "no harm" principle. These weapons of modern warfare can kill many people in a short time. The restriction of machine gun ownership has not resulted in a great rise in crime committed by criminals using such weapons, contrary to the gun rights trope that only the criminals will have the illegal weapons.

In summary, the bill of rights did not give us carte blanche when it comes to speech and guns. We are not limited to olde english nor muskets. I'm free to disagree about gun ownership. I'm not free to slander or cheat someone with my freedom. I don't think weapons of mass killing should be in the hands of civilians. Piecemeal restrictions in different states do not work very well because the states work against each other. It's a federal issue, but the federal lawmakers are political cowards. (I used my right to free speech there.) The federal government has reserved for itself the right to make sure the militia is well ordered.The National Guard or the Police are examples of well ordered militias. If you aren't in either of those, you are not in a (legal) militia. If you want to hunt, big ammo clips and semi-automatic weapons are the wrong features. If you want to rebel against your government, you will lose. The government always has bigger guns and more soldiers. The government is not afraid of you. If you are someone who follows Jesus, his apostle, Paul, tells us to submit to our government, not take up arms against it. If you want to protect your person and property, there are non-lethal ways to do it. If you are a follower of Jesus, he has something to say about not protecting our persons and properties in his sermon on the mount. If you want to protect others, let's work together to support a massive reduction in the number of military grade weapons of mass killing in disordered militias.

Previously, I explained how making cars illegal because they kill people is, like this argument, also silly. In light of this topic, I also wrote how much more good could be done with the same money that is spent on a firearm. I wondered if there are better options for personal security. Finally, I wrote about how this American Christian reads the words of Jesus in light of my rights and which citizenship is more important.
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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

8th anniversary of the Umblog

Here is what I wrote in my first post on March 24th, 2005,

I've grown up in the church and still remain committed to staying with this ship of fools until we reach the sunset and the welcome reception of Jesus Christ. I hope to point out the pirates on our journey but also give a hand to my fellow fools who might be accused of piracy.

I'm hoping to do this better than I have over the past eight years and 2200 posts.

Jesus Christ Crucifix
Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Monday, April 01, 2013

The evangelical Jefferson Bible

Facebook is a great place to find inspiration for blog posts. Have you seen this false one about General Pershing and Philippino Muslim terrorists? It's totally gruesome.

A [completely not-]True story about General "Black Jack" Pershing.
Born September 13th, 1860 near Laclede, Mississippi
Died July 15th, 1948 in Washington, D.C.
1891 Professor of Military Science and Tactics University of Nebraska
1898 Serves in the Spanish-American War 1901 Awarded rank of Captain
1906 Promoted to rank of Brigadier General 1909 Military Governor of Moro Province, Philippines
1916 Made Major General 1919 Promoted to General of the Armies 1921 Appointed Chief of Staff
1924 Retires from active duty Education: 4 Years-West Point
One important thing to remember is that Muslims detest pork because they believe pigs are filthy animals. Some of them simply refuse to eat it, while others won't even touch pigs at all, nor any of their by-products. To them, eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise and doomed to hell. Just before World War I, there were a number of terrorist attacks against the United States and it's interests by, you guessed it, Muslim extremists. So General Pershing captured 50 of the terrorists and had them tied to posts execution style. He then had his men bring in two pigs and slaughter them in front of the, now horrified, terrorists. The soldiers then soaked their bullets in pigs blood, and proceeded to execute 49 of the terrorists by firing squad. The soldiers then dug a big hole, dumped in the terrorist's bodies and covered them in pig blood, entrails, etc. They let the 50th man go. And for about the next 42 years, there was not a single attack by a muslim fanatic anywhere in the world.

Yeah, I have facebook friends who post crap like this. The worst part is they are fellow believers in Jesus Christ. And I wonder, do they remember what Jesus said? Do they remember the 2nd greatest commandment in his opinion, to love our neighbors as ourselves? Do they remember the sermon on the mount?
Matthew 5:7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy...
9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God...
21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell...
 38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. 43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect...
Matthew 7: 12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Jesus also tells me in Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged." So I need to be careful here.

I do believe justice will come. But I am entrusting that to God. Paul quotes the Old Testament to make this point clear.
Romans 12:19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Evangelicals like to mock the Jefferson Bible. The American founding father Thomas Jefferson liked Jesus, but he was a practical and modern man, so he physically excised the miraculous stuff out his Bible, as well as some other doctrines that he didn't care for. When I read the vicious political statements that my believing brothers and sisters put on their Facebook walls, I wonder if they too have excised the Jesus stuff they find irrational from their Bibles. I agree it is irrational. It's insane. But his teaching has worked. It has changed the world. I recommend reading this short interview in Christianity Today, Brother Andrew's Prophetic Plea: Stop Murdering Terrorists. It's time to live out the red letters in the Bible.
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