I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Abstraction Solution

The last solution for handling scriptures like these is what I will call abstraction. A nice basic example is to compare Exodus 21:23-25, But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise., with Luke 6:29, If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. At first, these seem to contradict each other, until you realize that the old testament law calls for restraint. You can only take so much retribution against those who have wronged you.

I prefer to analyze scripture in this way. What was the author saying? What was the author's world like when he or she wrote these words? Where is the presence of God in what the author has to say? I like to do things this way because it allows me to suck the holy marrow even from scriptures that might at first seem like useless bones to me. I also like this treatment of scripture because it is how I try to treat all passages.

It is not without its pitfalls. Any student of statutory construction will tell you that cases rested on constitutional law often turn on how abstract a view one is willing to take. There is of course a temptation to just abstract away everything difficult.

Which leads me to the notion that Scripture is best interpreted while in contemplative prayer, or for the non-theist readers, in times of quiet introspection. Better to let your mind and heart explore the meaning than to try to interpret with the eyes of a litigator pressing for one interpretation over the other. I've long recognized that it is invalid to open the Bible and search for support for my arguments. I always find plenty of support, but so does everyone else. If the Bible is to be a guide, we have to tune our hearts to be guided by it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Containment Solution

A second option is to cut these scriptures out of the Bible. We can decide that these scriptures don't apply to us. First off, the most extreme example of this is to declare that the Bible does not have authority. This is true of non-Christians, but I submit there could be Christians who would hold this position. Being Christian means following Jesus, and one can do that through what one has inherited through the church tradition. As a Protestant from the revivalist movement, I sort of forget that sometimes.

Next, and more what I'm thinking of on this topic, is deciding not to acknowledge certain section of scripture. You can't just ignore the Old Testament, for example. Jesus depended on the Law & the Prophets, and made it clear he came to complete not abolish the law. (Well, or more properly the Gospel author's report he made that clear.) The OT also has many important stories in it. It has the 10 commandments. Finally, the New Testament has plenty of the same stuff we want to get rid of.

Perhaps certain portions of the Bible are too old. Perhaps they were only intended to apply to the Hebrews or to the Church at Corinth. The real problem here is having integrity. It is hardly a solution to say, "Well, obviously slavery is wrong, so scriptures accommodating slavery are inapplicable." That means you get no guidance from the Bible at all, which presumably those who employ this sub-answer C are trying to avoid.

A friend has suggested giving less authority to cultural components of the scripture. This is significantly more subtle than just ignoring the bits you don't like. Love your enemies, isn't cultural, while don't get divorced is. What about give to the poor, though?

The containment solution is what I have employed most of my life. I make the words of Jesus in the Gospels as the only thing I have to follow. I don't know that I'm so uncomfortable with that, but it isn't easy to defend. I am worried about integrity, and it is hard to jive with Jesus' words mentioned above. Also, it means you lose any benefit from giant swaths of scripture.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mark's Ending: REAX

Sometimes I get really thoughtful comments to posts that have sort of scrolled off the page. I think it is a shame because folks might be interested in them but have no reason to monitor comments for such things. One example was recently added by James Snapp to my Mark's Ending post.

I commend James's comment to anyone interested in the history of the Bible. He provides a link to links that will let you look at pictures of ancient biblical texts and examines much of the source material that scholars use to come to their conclusions about authenticity.

It is also good reading if you have a new holy book that you claim to be less corrupted than the Christian bible (i.e. the Book of Mormon or the Koran) because it is pretty shocking how much filling in had to be employed to get that bound volume of letters and narratives some of us have on our shelves.

My biggest problem with James is that he is sometimes a Jr. and sometime a II, which makes me not trust him.

Difficult-to-Accept-but-Do-It Solution

It is too late to choose the ignorance option, so let's investigate the idea that hard as it may be, we should follow the guidance from Exodus and Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

You receive a phone call from your sister. She is hysterical. Her husband has gotten into trouble with his gambling again, and this time, to raise the money he worked out an arrangement where your fifteen year old niece was sent to a buddy of his in Fakistan. The guy is an American he knew from when they were in Iraq together. It is unclear whether your niece will be forced to "marry" the guy or the guy's son. Your sister says that her husband told her that the guy would not harm their daughter and that it was the only way for him to raise the money.

Just then, your niece beeps in on the call waiting. She is in the bathroom at the airport about to leave for Fakistan. Her dad's buddy ordered her to talk to no one. She doesn't know whether she can call the police or not. She wants to know whether she should obey this guy or call the police.
Okay, so I am assuming that all who read this would tell the girl to call the police, the sister to divorce the husband and call the police, and maybe make a telephone call to the authorities themselves. But, of course, there are other hypotheticals in which we would do X,Y & Z, despite knowing that the conduct is wrong. And give ourselves a pass saying that no one is perfect.

So, how close a call is this? How sure are you that it would be wrong to advise the girl to obey her new master and tell your sister that it sounds like her husband did everything in accordance with God's law?

It is not a close call for me. I am 100% positive that what I've suggested most readers would do is the right thing to do. It is what God would have us do. But I'm only one person. I'd be interested to hear other opinions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Should We Christians Handle These Words?

Below are two examples of passages in the Bible that are difficult for modern Christians to deal with. The first is from Ex. 21:7-11 and the second is from Eph. 6:5-9. I've provided a little more context than you would get if someone was just playing pure gotcha with the verses, but the context only helps a little.
"If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.
And from the Apostle Paul:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
How about some multiple choice:
A. Not read the Bible so you don't have to know that it contains such scriptures.
B. See this scripture as authoritative, and although it is a hard scripture to obey, recognize that it is God's law nonetheless.
C. Find some way to make these scriptures not apply, either by rejecting the authority of the Bible altogether or rejecting certain portions of it.
D. Find some general truth that will serve as guidance, although admitting you do not follow the letter of the Biblical law.

Perhaps we can explore the pro's and con's of each approach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Good Standard

Reflecting on Mike L's comment below, I think it is good to ask oneself before supporting a particular government initiative, "Is this important enough that I am willing to compell citizens, with threat of force from the authorities, to financially support it?"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Raise My Taxes, Please!

State taxes and federal taxes are different. For one thing, the federal government can choose to deficit spend and raise taxes once the economy is humming again. The bigger difference, however, is that state taxes support uncontroversial programs that we desperately need. Maybe you think the feds should not support the National Endowment for the Arts or Strategic Missile Defense. But does anyone think we should not fund our schools, our roads, or our police? In the last week, I have heard my mother come home talking about teachers at her school losing their jobs. I have learned that the court system will move even more slowly as a result of budget cuts. And I have learned that the state can no longer respond to certain categories of reported child abuse because our coffers are empty.

April is child abuse prevention month, which makes this last item particularly worthy of attention today. Not only have the reductions caused us to investigate fewer reports of abuse, reunification programs and parent education programs have been gutted. Maybe President Obama should continue to hold off rolling back the Bush tax cuts, but at the state level, raise my taxes, please.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

When we were children

The remarkable thing about this photograph is that Pat & I were actually younger than this at some point in our life. It is more than a little shocking.

I think Facebook has the potential to be quite a time suck.

What I Think Mark Said

I don't think the author of Mark accidentally left off a description of Jesus walking on Earth after the resurrection. I don't think that any more than I think the author of Mark accidentally left off a virgin birth story. I think the point of Mark is this: Jesus was right, Jesus won, you should follow Jesus. Don't follow the violent revolutionaries, don't follow the organized church, and don't follow Rome.

This reading compells you to ask what does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to take his path over the path of the organized church, the secular government, and the violent revolutionaries? Mark does not have a Sermon on the Mount or on the Plain. (Neat Chart Comparison here.) Mark then is talking about Jesus' work with the crowds. Healing and teaching and caring for the poor and challenging the authorities.

Mark was Dad's favorite Gospel. Knowing Dad's less than academic approach to the world, I wondered if it was because it was short. As I learned more, I thought perhaps it was because Dad was so opposed to the liturgical, he was a bare bones Disciple and Mark is a bare bones Gospel. As I read it today, it is crystal clear. Dad brought refugees to this country; he started food banks; he started discussion groups to heal racial tensions. Oh yeah, and he loved to question authority.