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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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Fear not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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