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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Project Complete - Final Thoughts

Just some random musings before I leave this.

I think the One Year Bible is a good tool. NIV is a conservative translation, and I did have issues with choices the editors made, which means I probably would have had issues with other choices if I had noticed them. But most editorial choices are not ideologically driven, and it is readable. The format is the big advantage. It is good to be able to keep track of your progress. More importantly, there is variety particularly when you are slogging through tedious portions.

Four months was too fast. It is not that the volume of reading was so bad. The problem is that there would often been four or five things I wanted to think about more deeply but didn't have time to do that in one day. Also, it would have been good to explore context a bit more.

Taking time to reflect on what I had just read was invaluable. I am really glad I decided to blog about it. I would recommend others to either do the same, or to keep a personal journal or whatever.

Okay, so I am 40 years old. I completed my little mini-reading program. I am ready to tackle the ten year reading program for the Great Books and hopefully take some serious steps this to get healthier. It is like a new decade's resolution.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Project Complete - Why It Matters

It helps no one, including oneself, to ignore inconvenient facts. That's true whether one is analyzing a client's case or evaluating a New Year's resolution's chance of success. Accordingly, I started with the last two posts. Despite these concerns, the Bible remains important, even precious to me.

It is a great work of Western Civilization. In January, I'm going to start reading the Great Books of Western Civilization. There are reasons to read these books, even if modern works or non-western works are "better," and those reasons apply to the Bible. They provide reference points for other works. Themes developed there have found their way into the fabric of our culture. See, e.g., I'm not my brothers keeper, I wash my hands of it, the writing is on the wall.

It is a source of authority to for roughly two billion people. A part of what I want to do as a Christian is to motivate others and to advocate for justice. The Bible provides a common language that might otherwise be unavailable to me. It also provides certain starting points. For example, even Bill O'Reilly recently conceded that no reasonable person could deny the need to help those who can't help themselves.

It provides a connection to my spiritual predecessors. To be sure, the religion I practice is distinct from that practiced by the semitic people inhabiting a region just north of Egypt on the Mediterranean 3000 years ago. Nonetheless, my faith has evolved from theirs. And, while reading a scholarly work can provide intellectual context, the Bible provides a more human context. It is one thing to know that spiritual purity was important to the Hebrews, it is another to read hundreds of rules dealing with the topic. It is the difference between reading someone's obituary and reading someone's journal.

Parts of it are intellectually stimulating. I have had marvelous discussions focused on good and evil as presented in the story of Deborah. My dad has several books devoted to issues raised in Job. And there is plenty of other grist for the mental mill.

Parts of it are moving. This is where I get back some of the stuff that I have had to admit is not squarely located within the text. Reading of Jesus' treatment of the outcast speaks to me in a way that motivates me to strive for equality. It inspires me to fight for justice for those society condemns. Another reader will find within the Scripture a celebration of life as the ultimate gift from God and be moved to fight for maintaining it always and particularly at the extremes. And that's okay with me. It is okay that the Bible inspires us both, but differently. It is still a source of inspiration for me.

Project Complete - What's There I Wish Wasn't

The title of this post is a problem for many, and I recognize that. For good or ill, it is how I feel. There are some things in the Bible that I wish were not. Elsewhere I have discussed ways to handle these difficult passages. But here, I just want to come clean about some troubling themes.

Do not tolerate other religions. With the major exception of the ministry of Jesus, the Bible is full of hatred for other religions. Embracing other religions is the reason for the exile. True Christians are not only to reject other religions, but other version of the faith. And, violence is authorized. To be fair, it is usually violence that comes from YHWH.

Women and men are not equal. There are more exceptions here. Not just the ministry of Jesus, e.g., Deborah, Priscilla & Aquilla. Nonetheless, women are treated very poorly by the Bible. Mistreatment of women may be the single greatest injustice our world faces today and it sucks the Bible has so much that supports it.

Support cultural norms. The writers of the Bible, naturally enough I suppose, have trouble distinguishing what is their response to God in their lives from what is just a cultural norm. The result is that loving your neighbor, obeying your master, and not wearing clothes with mixed fibers are all in there. This is troubling because some of the norms that come in, but also because it makes it difficult to avoid just throwing out everything you don't like.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Project Complete - What's Not There

Many people use the Bible to support rather than to shape their views. As a litigator and sometimes appellate attorney, using authority to support my view, or more precisely my client's view, is my occupation. But just as an overzealous attorney can stretch the meaning of a Supreme Court case to the breaking point, so can Christians stretch claims based on the Bible. Here are my thoughts, starting at home.

The message of the prophets was that Israel was falling into ruin because it failed to take care of the poor. Exaggeration. The prophets did say things like this, but those verses were buried under a pile of verses about worshipping idols or more often, generic accusations of taking on the ways of foreign nations.

The kingdom of God/Heaven is a way of life not a far away place. More debatable than I thought. I have not run a tally, but I believe a solid majority of the references attributed to Jesus support this view. Nonetheless, I came across many that support the castle in the sky version. And from reading Paul, it seems that there was a pretty hot debate over exactly what it meant.

The Bible forbids gay marriage. Extreme exaggeration. While the references to justice for the poor are dwarfed by other material that no longer seems relevant, references to gay sex are dwarfed by references to justice for the poor. Not only are there relatively few references to gay sex, those references typically fall in lists of cultural behaviors that Christians have long since abandoned. And of course, gay sex is not the same thing as gay marriage. To beef up the profile of gay sex prohibitions, some Christians try to include stories about a crowd of men raping a couple of angels and prohibitions on sexual immorality into the list. Rape is obviously wrong for its own reasons, and claiming sex with a committed partner is an example of sexual immorality is classic circular reasoning. Gay marriage wasn't an issue 2000 years ago, and, not surprisingly, the Bible has nothing directly to say about it.

The Bible forbids abortion. Untrue. I have heard this claim made before, and I had it in my mind as I was reading. Are there verses that suggest life begins before birth? Yes, but there are also verses that say that life begins with taking breath. Passages that attribute extraordinary power to God, for example, sufficient to know someone in the womb, hardly establish the idea that life begins at conception. (Is it beyond God's power to know someone before he or she is conceived?) Furthermore, there are laws that explicitly treat causing a miscarriage differently from murder. Finally, there is nothing about intentionally terminating a pregnancy. Unlike gay marriage, I find this perplexing. Surely the women of ancient Israel knew how to terminate pregnancies. But for whatever the reason, the Bible says nothing directly and very little indirectly about it.

The Bible supports separation of Church and State. Untrue. Let's end at home. Jesus' trickery with "give to Caesar" was dodging his detractor's question and replacing it with what he wanted to talk about. The Old Testament is all about how to have a Godly kingdom. The New Testament is about how to run a society, sometimes in secret, within an oppressive empire, but nonetheless in compliance with God's law. I did not see any foundation of the First Amendment in the Bible.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Project Complete - Overall Reflection

I finished my four-month read through of the Bible on Christmas Day. As a program note for the blog, it resulted in more material being published than I have published in any other four month period, and I suspect that casually interested readers of the blog had more JimII than they could use on a daily basis. Accordingly, I encourage those who are interested to read some of the old posts and share your thoughts. I am pretty good about responding, giving us at least three exchanges toward a conversation.

Taking a step back from the project, I see my faith as having three distinct sources. One of them is the Bible. This project obviously most helped me focus on that aspect. Another is the Church, which includes tradition and fellow Christians. As a free church Protestant, the role of tradition is probably less than it would be in a more liturgical denomination, or one that pre-dates the formation of the Bible. But, my faith has nonetheless been shaped by what the Church teaches, dramatically so if you include lessons from fellow Christians. The final influence is personal revelation. For me, that is overwhelmingly the result of rational analysis, although I have experienced moments that I seem profoundly different from intellectual excercise. Are these moments best described as emotional, spiritual, hormone induced? I don't know. But they shape my faith as well. I bring that up at this point because no matter what I say or think about the Bible, it is probably the least significant influence on my faith. And, I think that is true of most Christians, even though many will not admit it.

Which leads me where I want to begin in my specific global response to the project. I want to write one post on what I think people seem to get wrong about the Bible. In other words, what do people with an agenda say is in the Bible that really is not, or is in the Bible, but not very prominently. I also want to write a post about things in the Bible that are harmful, and ways that I believe it has been and can be used as a tool of evil. Finally, I want to write a post about what I get out of the Bible, and why I think it is a worthwhile source of faith.

That should keep me occupied this week.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Last Day ("The" Wedding)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 28-31 readings]

A fairly common metaphor throughout the prophets, including Revelation, is that of the people being the bride of Christ or YHWH. From today's readings, Malachi offers, this in noting Israel's failing, "Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god." And of course, the glorious conclusion to John's Revelation prominently features the church as the bride of Christ.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."
There is much wrapped up in this idea. Committment, fidelity, mutual support, consideration. Of course, that is just my modern idea of marriage, right? Well, not so fast. Proverbs ends with a list of characteristics of a good wife. It begins, "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." And, she is not just kept in the kitchen: "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night." It closes with, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Entire poem here.

This is a good place to end my reading. The end of Revelation completes the notion that the early Christians had. Yes, their world was full of torment, but they had faith in what Jesus taught them that it would be better some day. Likewise, the ending of Proverbs reminds me us of the role Judaism was to play in everyday life, no just theological and abstract questions.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 112 (Connections)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 25-27 readings]

I've been paying attention to the Old Testament references found in Revelation that connect it to the old prophets. However, in chpater 16 we have some verses that are reminds us of phrases that would later be included in the Gospels.
They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.” And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!”
Interestingly, one of the final Psalms also includes some end of the world stuff. Psalm 144
5 Open the heavens, Lord, and come down.
Touch the mountains so they billow smoke.
6 Hurl your lightning bolts and scatter your enemies!
Shoot your arrows and confuse them!
7 Reach down from heaven and rescue me;
rescue me from deep waters,
from the power of my enemies.
8 Their mouths are full of lies;
they swear to tell the truth, but they lie instead.
Also, we get some more cities are whores metaphors that we've all come to know and love. The prostitute metaphor in Revelation is actually pretty tame by comparison to that in Isaiah and Ezekiel. Of course, here the whore is Rome not Jerusalem. And, we learn in chapter 18 that not only Rome, but all the leaders that worked with Rome will be destroyed before it is all over.

Day 111 (Dueling Revelations)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 21-24 readings]

The prophet Zechariah is writing during the time of Darius of Persia, which is after the Hebrew exiles have returned and are rebuilding the temple. John the Revelator is writing during the time of Nero of Rome, which is after that temple has been destroyed and lots of people are being killed for being Christian. Their revelations, thus have a different tone. Here are two examples. They both talk about four colored horses. In Zechariah the horses are pulling chariots and bringing the Spirit of God to the four directions of the compass, while in Revelation the four horses are carrying riders who bring misery to the earth. (And then they end up in Notre Dame's backfield which seems weird.)

They also both predict the coming of the God to live with us, or God's son to live with us. Here is what Zechariah has to say in chapter 2.
10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
Revelation 12 has a slightly darker take on things.

In which world do modern Christians live? Is it the world that is filled with hope and possibility, or one with hope tempered by the reality of trial and tribulation directly before us?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Maps and Timelines

I think Matt Dick provided this link to me first. It is interesting to review having just read about Israel's various exiles, but it is also important to consider when we talk about how the fighting in the Middle East has been going on forever. It seems the biggest reason for that is that it is in, you know, the middle. Click and below and come back to comment on how crazy this illustration is.

Maps of War.

And here is a timeline of the Books of the Bible that is pretty cool.

TIME LINE

Day 110 (Sad Songs of Zion)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 17-20 readings]

Minor prophets in today's readings include Nahum (anti-Nineveh); Habakkuk (anti-Babylon); Zephaniah (anti-world); and Haggai (pro-Temple rebuild). I describe the first three as "anti" because they basically contain poetic verse envision the destruction by God of the indicated entity. I found this from Habakkuk interesting. He described Babylon thusly:
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
How much differently would those occupied by U.S. forces describe us? Even dow to a people whose own strength is their god, it seems like it may fit us. I think the dispair associated with being the target of such forces explains much of the deep longing for a God of righteous anger to come and settle scores. The psalmist put it more gently with,
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
One of my favorite songs from Godspell uses this Psalm. On the Willows.

It is really interesting coming back to Revelation after having read the rest of the Bible so recently. I made a run at Revelation a few years ago. The link sends you to my posts on it and the later posts on other end times scriptures. I basically concluded it just didn't speak to me. But now, I first off see it as something of a triumph of the art form. The imagery is even more compelling than that in Ezekiel. Also, the prediction isn't about individual nations, but about the whole world. You destroy our temple and hunt us down? Fine, says the Revelator, our God will take over the whole world! I don't know, some points for chutzpah, yes?

Here is what I read this morning from Revelation.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 109 (Deja Vu Again)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 13-16 readings]

In OT I covered Obadiah, Jonah and Micah this morning. Obadiah is like a mini-Jermiah that only deals with Edom and Israel/Judah, in other words the nations descended from Isaac. It is just an interesting grouping. Jonah is out of place. It is a fable like Job; it just has a prophet as a main character. Nonetheless, it has some interesting stuff about fairness in it. I recommend clicking on the link and giving it a quick read. Finally, we get to Michah. Here's what I use Micah for: And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. It is a fair quote that includes most of Micah 6:8. And indeed Micah has other nice scriptures, such as this description of the last days.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Compare with Joel 3:10 ("Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, 'I am strong!'") The thing about Micah, and frankly all the prophets, is that while they absolutely do talk about justice for the poor and doing what is right, and that is more important than giving sacrifices or acting holy, they also are really concerned with worshiping only YHWH. Sometimes political liberals can get carried away with emphasizing only the former. Or at least one political liberal can.

As for Revelation, I noticed significant similaries between Isaiah & Ezekiel and Revelation. Consider this first Ezekiel 1:10, then Isaiah 6:2-3. Their faces looked like this:
Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.|| Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Now consider Revelation 4:7-8.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,'
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation, is a New Testament Prophesy. And in case you didn't get it, he kicks the trippy parts off with some pretty direct citations to the old masters. Nice.

Day 108 (Status Update)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 9-12 readings]

We cover two prophets in today's readings. First Joel, and then Amos. Joel seems to take place while in exile. Chapter 1, verse six says, "A nation has invaded my land," past tense. (Emphasis mine) So, Joel is all about how God has not given up on the people, and if they return to him, he will have their back.

Amos, contains many versus like 2:7 explaining that God has not turned back God's wrath because Israel has "trample[d] on the heads of the poor." But it also has plenty of condemnation for worshiping false gods. Chapter 5:21-24 jumps out at me, but that is because my daughter read in during the last children's Sunday. I worked with her on intonation and gesturing and she did a marvelous job. The tip that really worked for her was this. I said, the thing is, Israel has been unfaithful to God. So imagine a Taylor Swift song about a boy he cheats on her, but then tries to make it better by bringer her gifts. With that inspiration, Kate nailed it. Imagine God as a 13 year old girl, speaking with head bobs and dismissive hand gestures.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!


I'm realizing this post is getting long, but I want to really look at the boring beginning to Revelation. It begins by characterizing the different churches. Ephesus is a fundamentally good church, but not as good as it once was. Get back to your former glory says John the Revelator. Smyrna is a good church that John recognizes is made up of poor folks. Keep the faith, he says. Pergamum, on the other hand, is not really doing so great. Although, note that John is so upset about eat food given to idols given Paul's decision that such behavior is okay as long as it doesn't become a stumbling block for others. Thyatira, well, not so good. Evidently men are committing adultery with this so-called prophetess. [fn1] The folks at Sardis are a bunch of fakers, and John the Revelator knows it. Wake up! If Sardis is lazy, Philadelphia appears to be overly timid. Finally, reminiscent of King's letter from a Birmingham jail, the worst of all it appears are those who are lukewarm. In Laodicea, they evidently stand for nothing, perhaps because they are too comfortable.

I go through this in part to demonstrate that Revelation had a specific audience, just like Paul's letters. When coupled when Rev. 1:1 noting that this is the revelation of would soon take place, it seems to really challenge the idea that this is a book about the end of the world in a literal fashion. It seems much more likely that it is just like the book it mimics--Ezekiel--in predicting political doom and gloom, but at the same time encouraging folks to keep the faith.

[fn1] Interesting that this use of adultery is not the property crime of adultery that some have speculated was used in Biblical time. That is, that adultery is the crime of having sex with another man's wife because that woman belongs to the other man. If a man has sex with a single women, therefore, it can't be adultery. Here it seems to match the modern understanding of the word.

Day 107 (Not Rev. Yet)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 5-8 readings]

This is basically the interlude before we start Revelation. Today's readings contain all of Hosea. Hosea is unique in that it kicks off with a discussion of Hosea's personal life. God tells Hosea to, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” He does so, and then names his children after the all the crap that was about to be unleashed on Israel. Much of Hosea is like other prophets, although I would say you get to hope quicker.

The letter of John contain more of the same from the Epistles. That is, don't be immoral, but don't hate anyone either. And if you hate someone, you have missed the point of the gospel. We also get to the very short letter of Jude. It comes off a little paranoid with this: [C]ertain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (1:4) I think it also reveals the tension between leaving the law of Moses, but not wanting to become completely unrestrained. Today, we all know lots of nonreligious people that are moral; then, perhaps it was different.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 106 (Number Trouble)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 30 - Dec. 4 readings]

Today's readings include the apocalyptic half of Daniel and a portion of the First Letter of John. The Letter of John is an interesting mix of sayings that are a big part of my faith, such as, "God is Love" (4:8), "God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us," and (4:12), "let us not love with words or tongue but actions in truth" (3:18). I believe it also contains the first reference to antichrist that I've read (2:18). It is interesting because John makes it clear that everyone has heard of the antichrist and he will be here very soon. The last major theme from the First Letter of John is that you can tell who is "in the light" or "knows Jesus Christ" by the fact that such people love their brothers. Anyone who hates his brother, does not know Jesus Christ. It's an aggressive formulation.

The readings from Daniel are challenging, and contain temptation to be over analyzed. The temptation comes from an abundance of very specific numbers. Daniel has a vision that says the new sanctuary will be reconsecrated in "2300 evening and mornings" (8:14); that "the desolation of Jerusalem will last 70 years" (9:2); "From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One the rule, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.'" (9:25). Now, when you read the actual numbers, and the quote at the end of Daniel when he is told "close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end," (12:4), it would be clear that these events are represented in the book itself as having already happened. But these type of things just make it so tempting to find a secret. One way to stretch these time lines out is to use the notion, found in the psalms for example, that a day is like a year to God. Obviously, so ridiculous to pull these unrelated scriptures together, but what can you do? It is unfortunately the source of so much nonsense. Indeed adding together the life spans of the ancients to date the earth is another example of this. It is ironic that the scientific notion that quantifying data gives power to it would be imported into the faith by the anti-science crowd.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 105 (Why Believe?)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 25-29]

Today's readings conclude the letters from Peter and include what I believe to be the non-apocalyptic portions of Daniel. The first portion of Daniel is a major departure from the prophets I have been reading. Rather than a book of prophesy, it begins with an extended Narrative. Like Esther and Joseph, Daniel finds himself a servant to a foreign monarch. And like his Hebrew predecessors he finds favor with the Monarch. The Book provides one very compelling reason to believe in, and by that I mean to be loyal to and to honor the relationship with, God. That reason is, he works miracles. For example, Daniel and his companions grew strong despite being vegetarians, perhaps more miraculously, he saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of the furnance and, as we all know, Daniel himself from the lion's den. As a little cultural intersection, we get the expression "the writing is on the wall" from this story of Daniel letting Belshazzar know that he had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. I actually prefer the Johnny Cash version, here.

Peter offers more subtle reasons. First, they "did not follow cleverly invented stories when [they] told you about the power and ocming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses o fhis majesty." 2 Peter 1:16. Also, the Second Coming will happen, and "[t]he Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9. So, God wants you to repent, and also, such repentance will/may bring about the Second Coming. Also, faith is the first step in a process that can permanently deliver you from sin as follows:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
This last one is the closest to why I believe. But, I think there are others who believe for other reasons listed, and probably some not listed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 104 (Deja Vu)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 22-24 readings]

Today I finished Ezekiel. Toward the end it took a strangely detailed turn. The prophet described a vision of a new temple is striking detail. I reminded me of the description of the temple built by Solomon. I wonder if these were actually plans for the Second Temple. Also, it ended with a discussion of how to divide land when the tribes of Israel, all of them, return to the promised land. It also identified one clan of the Levites, those from Zadok, as the only ones authorized to be priests in the new temple. Very similar to the Levitical laws, it detailed sacrifice rituals, purity requirements, etc. And of course, I now can read Revelation as almost a parody of Ezekiel, even down to the new temple revealed in a vision. I guess that's foreshadowing.

The Epistle reading is from 1 Peter. In some ways, it is very similar to Paul's letters. It emphasizes self-control and obedience to authority. But it also starts of with this to blow a hole in my fledgling theory that bodily Resurrection was a replacement for the absence of a Second Coming in the life time of the early church members.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
That's not to say there weren't competing ideas. There absolutely were as is evident in Paul's comments about false teachers and by various disagreements among even the authors that made it into the Canon. But, the self-evident explanation I posed in my Mature Audiences Only post seems challenged by this.

Peter also has some nice stuff your mom told you, like, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse ou of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (2:12) The best revenge is to live a good life, right? Most significant for me is Peter's discription of salvation. "[Y]ou were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers." (1:18) This is what I think salvation is all about. Being saved from an empty life.

Day 103 (Works)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 17-21 readings]

Today's readings include the entire letter of James, and the most famous chapter Ezekiel. The latter is so famous it's a song, YouTube version. In Ezekiel 14, like end of Isaiah and Jeremiah, we get a peak at some hope with the famous vision of the dry bones, once Ezekiel prophesies to them as instructed by YHWH, come back to life.

James is probably my favorite letter so far. James says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (1:22) Also, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (1:27). In political terms, that would be fiscally liberal, socially conservative. On the idea of faith or works, James says, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (2:17) Finally, the letter supports not giving up on people by concluding, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (5:19)

Day 102 (Faith)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 12-17]

The giant selection is two fold. First, I want to catch up so that I can have a shot of finishing on Christmas. Second, Ezekiel has had a run of really boring lists of all the nations God is going to smite. Finally, I wanted to finish Hebrews.

In this reading, chapter 11 of Hebrews illuminates faith, one of the most important concepts in Christianity. The chapter lists all that was accomplished through faith. I emphasize accomplished because the point is that faith is not simply believing something that is hard to believe. It is about trusting in something and that gives one courage to do that which is good.

Faith involves trusting in God as you would a Good Shepherd. Indeed, there is a break in the ugliness of Ezekiel's prophesy to talk about knowing God through his love, as a Good Shepherd, in Ezekiel 34. It closes with this, "Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’” And again, as Hebrews says, "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 101 (NC-17)

[reaction OYB's Nov. 9-11 readings]

Today's reactions is for mature audiences only.


First, Ezekiel has just flipped out with his Israel is a whore motif. He tells the story of a parable about these two prostitutes, Oholah and Oholibah. In the parable, "Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem." Ezekiel 23:4. A bit later, describing how badly the women betrayed God, he writes this, "Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." Ezekiel 23:19-20. One, there are not that many passages in the Bible that I think people would really be upset to have their children read, but this and the rest of chapter 23 probably fits the bill. Two, this stuff actually bugs me. It is hard to read it as not promoting violence against women at some point. Metaphor after metaphor of Israel as a women being attacked.

Second, Hebrews caused me to continue my suspicion that initially Christians like Paul were looking for a Second Coming, and when it didn't happen, the Christians who said Jesus had already returned won the argument, and that view was supported in the Gospels. In Hebrews, the author explains, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Hebrews 9:27-28. So, this is weird because it seems to not be aware of Jesus' return in the resurrection. Furthermore, we have the earlier quoted condemnation from Second Timothy for false teachers. "Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." 2 Tim. 2:17-18. And, you might think that the resurrection discussed there was the resurrection of the dead along with Jesus. But, remember from Matthew 27:52-52 that when the Gospel writers about resurrection it included the dead. When Jesus was crucified, "[t]he tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." So, obviously a heresy, right? But I really wonder. It also answers the question of why the Gospel writers would have Jesus says that they would see his return in the lifetime of those listening.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 100A (Personal Responsibility)

[supplemental reaction to Day 100 readings]

Ezekiel 18:30 says, "Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall."

Although personal responsibility is certainly found elsewhere in the Old Testament, it often with mythical characters--e.g., Adam & Eve--or with particularly significant people--e.g., Moses or David. Furthermore, Ezekiel's words seem particularly significant as the royalty are being shipped off to Babylon.

This is the subject of the entire eighteenth chapter, and earlier, the prophet tells the listerners that even Noah, Daniel and Job could have only saved themselves, not their family. Context.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 100 (Metaphors Gone Wild)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 3-8 readings]

Working my way through Ezekiel I came across chapter 16, which is another extended metaphor of Judah as an unfaithful woman. Remember the following is talking about an unfaithful nation
. . . therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see you stark naked. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring on you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. Then I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you stark naked. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.
Seriously? I don' know. I suppose this was necessary to get Ezekiel's point across.

The other extended metaphor, at least I think it's a metaphor, is this idea from Hebrews that Jesus is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. First, the author assumes we all know the story about the order of Mechizedek. Here are the brief mentions of Mechizedek in Genesis and Psalm. The Genesis story is after Abraham saves Lots bacon again and the Psalm is describing the descendant of David. The author of Hebrews actually makes several logical steps based on the "fact" that Jesus is a high priest of the Mechizedek order, concluding that this means that the new covenant is superior to the old one. See, e.g. chapter 7. Weird.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 99 (High Priest Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 2-4 readings]

Let me begin with an interesting contrast between Ezekiel & Hebrews. In the middle of prophesies of doom, Ezekiel lays out some pretty clear guidance on the believer's duty to help both the unbeliever and the backslider. By constrast, in Hebrews, the author believes there is no hope for one who has been in the faith and left it. Ez. 3:16-21; Heb. 6:4-6.

Maybe it is because I just discussed the Dickens' book with my daughter last night, but chapter 8 of Ezekiel strikes me as A Christmas Carol meets Revelation.

The title of today's post comes from Hebrews. Chapter 5, versus 1-10 claims that Jesus is specifically, "a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek," quoting Psalm 110. Hebrews is thick with theology, and at this point, I cannot say whether this should be taken as a metaphor, like Good Shepherd, for example, or more literally.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Paul

So, I've finished Paul's letters and my opinion of Paul has improved. What! A liberal something positive to say about Paul? Yeah, in fact, Paul gives us permission to be inspired and find the Gospel ourselves. Paul makes it clear that those who go no further than the law are as inslaved as those who succumb to sin. And, I agree with Paul, not only in advocating self-control, but in the areas of self-control. Sexual immorality can be a disaster for people. Drunkeness can ruin lives. Hell, gluttony is doing a pretty good number on America today.

Of course, Paul wasn't writing treatises on morality as much as advice to specific congregations. Hence, there is a fair bit of cultural bias in his writing. His letters reveal weakness of his own. But, I have no problem taking Paul's advice for what it is. Paul was a passionate church leader, who like me, never saw Jesus. His letters are thus valuable to me.

Day 98 (Misc.)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 29 - Nov. 1 readings]

I have finished the Pauline Epistles and the Book of Lamentations today. I also started Hebrews and Ezekiel. I will be with these two books for at least a few days, which will be nice since I've been passing through the shorter letters so quickly. After these two, its short letters and short prophets and, ug, Revelation.

I'm not sure why Philemon is included in the Canon. Not that it is offensive, its implicit acceptance of slavery notwithstanding, but I don't know what it adds.

Lamentations is generally completes the arch started by Jeremiah, which leads right up to exile. This work gives a window into the suffering of exile. Also, and this is probably way less significant than I'm making it, we have two more references to familial cannibalism:
Look, LORD, and consider:
Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?
* * *
With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.
2:20; 4:10. So, did this actually happen!?

Starting Hebrews and Ezekiel is also nice because it is a fresh voice. Ezekiel starts our Revelation style trippy. I remember watching a TV show that suggested that Ezekiel had actually seen a space craft land. Read for yourself (Ezekiel 1); its not a completely insane notion--although, obviously mostly silly.

Hebrews is also much tighter and less pragmatic than Paul's letters. I tried to quickly find the best theories on who wrote Hebrews and unfortunately, I once again learned who dominates the internet on biblical questions. Spoiler alert, it ain't theologians. Even fundamentalists sites actually acknowledge that some people think Hebrews wasn't written by Paul. Uh, reading it on the bus without a commentary makes it pretty clear it isn't Paul, particularly after reading one letter after another for several days. Anti-intellectuals are annoying.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Day 97 (Jeremiah Wrap Up)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 26-28 readings]

Today I finished Jeremiah. First point, compare the final paragraph of Second Kings and that of Jeremiah, here. Jeremiah spends a decent amount of time predicting the destruction of everyone under the sun. Like Isaiah, he goes through and specifically discusses what will happen to all of the people around Israel/Judah. It seems to me that Jeremiah spends more time focussing on the difference between the royality and the ordinary people.

Today I also finished (and started) Paul's letter to Titus. This letter just really focusses on being polite and self-controlled. It is actually pretty hard to justify even that rather tame advice with the ministry of Jesus reported in the Gospels. It also includes this advice:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:9-11. I might have to quarrel with this law.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Day 96 (Dangerous Conclusions)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 22-25 readings]

Today's readings include Jeremiah speaking to the remnant of Judah left behind after the exile. It sounds like the twist will be the promise land is left for the regular people. "But Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, wo owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields." (39:10) "When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard . . . they all came back to the land of Judah." (40:11-12) But then, it appears the remnant decides to head to Egypt following the murder of their leader, and God is not happy. (42:19-20) Once in Egypt they succumb to the ways of the foreign land, and thus, Jermiah treats us to long passages about how God will destroy the Egyptians, the Moabites (no love for Ruth, I guess), the Ammonites (at first but then they come back) and the Edomites. Quite specifically, Jeremiah 46:25 says, "The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh." I point this out for my friend Matt who has directed me from time to time to authors speculating that the ties between Israel & Egypt are stronger than we might think, including some cultural borrowing. Amon--per Wikipedia--was the king of Egyptian gods whose dominance border on monotheism wherein other gods were seen as manifestations of Amon-Ra. Interesting.

In Second Timothy, Paul suggests dealing with competiting theologies more gently. "Those who oppose [God's servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2:25-26) But, most strange is the reason Paul believes folks like Hymeneaus and Philetus have "wandered away from the truth." "They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." (1:18)(emphasis added). Was Paul's talk of the Second Coming in the Epistle transformed into the resurrection stories in the Gospels? Probably not. Amon-Ra is also probably not the origin of YHWH. Seriously, these ideas are both probably wrong, and may illustrate the danger of reading the Bible without the aid of commentary.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Day 95 (Paul's no Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 18-21 readings]

Today's readings in Timothy remind me of something important, Paul was doing something different from Jesus. I don't mean adverse to, I just mean different from. In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, we learn about how "overseers," bishops maybe, and deacons are supposed to behave and who is qualified to hold such offices. Similarly, in chapter 5, verses 17-20, we learn about how to treat church elders. Link. Jesus doesn't talk about church structure at all. He had no interest in it.

Another difference is that today's scripture has Paul's famous suggestion that Timothy "[s]top drinking only water, and use a little wine because of [his] stomach and [his] frequent illnesses." 1 Tim. 5:23. What is interesting about this to me is that Paul railed against drunkenness all the time. Self-control is a MAJOR component to Paul's gospel. But unlike Jesus--who was always saying stuff like, it's not enough to not commit adultry, don't even look at another man's wife; it's not enough to love your neighbor, love your enemy; let the dead bury the dead; and what not--Paul is clearly pragmatic in his approach.

More on wine, is this interesting tale from Jeremiah about a group of people who were rewarded for being faithful not to God, but to their forefathers in abstaining from drink.

Day 94 (Jeremiah's no Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 15-17 readings]

While reading stories about Moses and Elijah, for example, one is often struck by how much the Gospels represent Jesus as a new incarnation of these heroes. In today's readings, it struck me how un-Christlike Jeremiah's stories are at time. First, he says this about people who would have him killed:
But you, LORD, know
all their plots to kill me.
Do not forgive their crimes
or blot out their sins from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
deal with them in the time of your anger.
Um, not exactly "forgive them for they know not what they do." Then there is the story of Jeremiah trying to pull this stunt where he walks around town with a yoke to get everyone to get back in line, only to lose his debate--something that never happened to Jesus--against an opposing prophet and then God killed the guy for him.

Jeremiah selection here.

More evidence of conflicting views of Jesus' ministry is found in the first chapter of First Timothy.

Finally, 1 Timothy 2:9-13 contains more Pauline misogyny, including this dandy, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet." I know of churches that take this requirement from Paul quite literally while almost completely ignoring the mountains of scripture requiring justice for the poor. That is almost as curious as Paul's woman hating. (By the way, I wonder if Priscilla and Aquilla would be okay with this passage.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Day 93 (False Prophets)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 12-14]

The Epistle are going to start flying by now. It appears that the Thessalonians were pretty good kids. Paul was concerned about them being deceived by false prophets. 2 Thes. 2. Curiously similar, Jeremiah is warning the people of Judah not to allow false prophets give them false hope. Jer. 23:16-32. It appears some folks were saying that Christ had already returned, and others were saying that Judah had survived.

Some gruesome cannibalism references shared between Kings and Jeremiah here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Day 92 (Same but Different II)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 9-11 readings]

First, Jeremiah is a little confusing on the question of hope. For example, in some parts God actually tells Jeremiah not even to try praying for these miserable Israelites. Even if Samuel and Moses were there it would not be enough. Jer. 15. Then in other places Jeremiah compares the looming doom to putting metal in a forge or labor pains.

The same-but-different comes from comparing 1 Corinthians 7 to Jeremiah 16. In both passages, the author is warning people that this is not the time to change things. In both cases it is based on the coming of a new world order. Of course, the major difference is that Paul is anticipating the new world, while Jeremiah dreads it.

Oh, and Jeremiah 9:20 says, "Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament." Question: Is Teach Your Daughters How To Wail a Toni Morrison book? If not, don't you think it should be?

Day 91 (Same but Different)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 6-8 readings]

Consider these two ideas. First from Jeremiah, "'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.'" Second from Colossians,
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature,[a] not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Notice that neither thinks one is saved by being physically circumcised. The difference is Jeremiah finds it necessary but not sufficient, while Paul thinks it is unnecessary. Nonetheless, both writers provide the notion that adherence to ritual and tradition is not the main point.

Oh, and here is some grammmar trivia. Where would you put the quote marks in this passage. By my count it is roughly this, Jeremiah writes, "God said, 'Jeremiah I want you to say to Israel, "The Lord says, 'Israel you are bad and what can you say for yourself, "Oh, God we're sorry!" Why should I believe you?' " ' ".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 90 (Israel, you ignorant slut!)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 2-5 readings]

First, an OT to YT vocabulary connection. Consider Jeremiah 2:20, "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds," and Philippians 4:3, "Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cuse of the gospel." Being yoked to the Gospel or to YHWH are both good. (Fyi, 2010 version of NIV drops yoekfellow in favor of co-worker. Probably better. Little lost, although finding the similar idioms is kind of cool.)

Most of Jeremiah is bashing on Israel. Israel is a theif (Jer. 2:26), a camel or donkey in heat (2:23-25), but mostly a whore. I can't decide what I think about it. I think Jeremiah is conveying the level of betrayal. The intimate nature of it. That said, I'm not sure how well it would fly as a metaphor in modern sermons.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 89 (Life After)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 30 - Oct. 2 readings]

Both Isaiah and Paul were looking for things to get better. Isaiah was still predicting a restoration of the nation of Israel. He expected things to turn around and for the descendants of David to return to their thrones, and in fact enlarge the reign to include the whole world. Isaiah saw the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah sounds like John's Revelation from time to time, writing:
See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For with fire and with his sword
the LORD will execute judgment on all people,
and many will be those slain by the LORD.
Isaiah 66.
Paul writes to the Philippians about another vision of life after.
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Phil. 1. Notice that Paul is undeniably talking about a reward in the afterlife. As surely as Isaiah was talking about a return to worldly power of the Israelites. Similarly, he writes, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Phil. 3.

I think they are both right in that faith in God holds hope for all. I think they were both wrong about how it would be manifest.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 87 & 88 (Isaiah)

[reaction to OYB's OT readings for Sep. 24-29]

In keeping with the last post comparing Christianity to Bhuddism, today's passages from Isaiah remind me of what I know of Islam. First, we get several very clear announcements that not only is the God of Israel (usually also called Jacob by Isaiah) the bestest god, he is the only God. The refrain is, "I am YHWH, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God." Also, in these passages the idols are really called out as being worthless. This is from Isaiah 44:10-11, "Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame." The passage contrasts the false gods, which are made by their adherents, with the real by whom his adherents were made. Islam is not only fiercely monotheistic, but it takes concerns about idols and graven images very serious.

Another source of competition for God was magic. Isaiah doesn't exactly call them fake, but finds them must less worthy than the creator of the universe. The final thing of note for me, is the evolution of God from War God, to only God for Israel, to only real God, seems to have inspired the notion that YHWH is the God for everyone. As it says in the forty-fifth chapter:
22 “Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
24 They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone
are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
will come to him and be put to shame.
25 But all the descendants of Israel
will find deliverance in the LORD
and will make their boast in him."
It interests me that the monotheists had to conclude that God's target was more inclusive in order to transition to the notion that theirs was the only real God. I wonder if there are positive implications to that. Obviously, there are troubling negative impacts.

Day 87 & 88 (Ephesians)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 24-29 readings]
The message from Ephesians reminds me of something I know about Buddhism. As I've mentioned, I read this letter through the lense of Watchman Nee, who was an Eastern influenced Christian and in today's section I read the transition from Sit (accepting God in your life) to Walk (living in accordance with the Way). At Ephesians 4:25 - 5:21 you get a pretty good litnany of what right speech and right action are. The earlier section, the Sit section, is pretty close to right understanding.

In some ways, the rest of Ephesians is even more Bhuddist that the teachings of Jesus. While Jesus taught about giving your money to the poor and upending the social structure, Paul includes maintaining the status quo as a part of how to live into the way. That's not entirely fair, because he directs those in power to be loving and responsible, but he certainly doesn't condone turning over any tables with his famous passage about wives submitting to their husbands and slaves obeying their masters. I say this passage reminds me of Bhuddism because the point is not to endorse the power structure, the point is to say the power structure, which exists in this world, doesn't matter. Like much of what Paul writes, I don't think I so disagree with his sentiment as I disagree with the very, very easily corrupted nature of what he says.

The final bit of the letter to the Ephesians is what Watchman Nee calls the Stand section. Namely, stand up to evil. Again, much of the evolution of my faith over the 10 years or so has revolved around this very idea: Christians must stand up to evil. It is of course, a complicating twist, that much of the evil against which I believe we should stand, Paul has just finished characterized as transiant and unimportant, and stuff best left alone.

As a closing thought, I really can't recommend Sit, Walk, Stand enough. I think it is a beautiful book that speaks to what it means to be a Christian.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Politics of Lies

Isaiah 28:15 says in part, "we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." Isaiah accused the Israelites of finding refuge in lies. I wonder if the same is going on today. Consider the following, fairly unscientific look at American political views by state. The lighter the blue the less people of that state favor using government money to help the poor.
economic left vs. right
Political Maps

Not surprisingly we see that Louisianna, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia typically have people least in favor of these programs. We also regularly hear politicians from the Confederate South decrying big government. Now, this is an old report from the Tax Foundation, but it shows how many dollars per capita a state receives for every dollar per capita that state's citizens pay in federal taxes. 2005 number here. The states listed above receive: $1.78, $2.02, $1.66, $1.01 respectively. Georgia only breaks even. Do the people in these states realize how much they benefit from participating in a federal government?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 86 (Sit)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 21-23 readings]

First, a shout out to my good friend and seminarian Jimmy Gawne for alerting me to this earlier, Matthew misquotes Isaiah in the following passage he uses to introduce John the Baptist:
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
What Isaiah wrote is this, at 40:3:
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Is the voice or the path in the wilderness? Hopefully this is the only translational difficulty Matthew had as a result of using the Septuagint. ;)

More interesting today is beginning the reading of Ephesians. Ephesians is special to me because a friend introduced me to Watchman Nee's reflection on the letter Sit, Walk, Stand, many years ago. The framework developed by Watchman Nee is that Paul's letter instructs us first to sit. To simply accept what God has given us through Grace and his Son Jesus. Then we walk in the way obeying his commandments, and ultimately we stand up to evil. The result is that reading the first two chapters of Ephesians causes me to remember/recognize the idea of grace and the notion that Christians must begin by accepting the beauty of the world in which they live. Also, I read the discussion of predestiny as a call to humility in the recognition that God reaches out to you first. Of course, predestiny is not always used to evoke humility. It is often a destructive idea that causes Christians to feel entitled, better than others. And perhaps most dangerous, it can be used to support reckless behavior. I don't believe that we are without responsibility for our actions. I think that is a corruption of the idea Paul was hoping to convey.

Day 85(for compairson)

[reaction to OYB's Sept. 18-20 readings]

Consider first this excerpt from our primary text:
4 This is what the LORD says to me:

“As a lion growls,
a great lion over its prey—
and though a whole band of shepherds
is called together against it,
it is not frightened by their shouts
or disturbed by their clamor—
so the LORD Almighty will come down
to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.
5 Like birds hovering overhead,
the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
he will shield it and deliver it,
he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.”

6 Return, you Israelites, to the One you have so greatly revolted against. 7 For in that day every one of you will reject the idols of silver and gold your sinful hands have made.
Now this excerpt:
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstacies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!
I'm not sure who would be more pissed off by the comparison, Allen Ginsberg or Isaiah, but reading the poetic bits of Isaiah, which it turns out are not the only parts, reminds me of reading beat poetry. Particularly because I am so far away from the era that is the topic of the poems. All of Howl is here and all of Isaiah 31 is here.

Finishing up Pauls letter to the Galatians, I think it is noteworthy that he speaks as unkindly of the law as he does of sin--saying they both imprison us. Of course, the freedom from the law will not manifest itself in immorality. Just like faith, true freedom will manifest itself in fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5. And, just cause it is often neglected, I noticed author of Proverbs agrees with Paul on the drunkenness bit: Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. 23:19-21.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A little break

I found this on youtube. And decided I just had to share. Susan Werner is amazing.

Day 84 (Meta Reflection)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 15-17 readings]

Right after the American Civil War the Roman Catholic church established the doctrine of papal infallibility. Around the time my great grandmothers were born, some Protestants established something called the Fundamentals, which included the idea that the Bible was inerrant. This movement lead to something strange wherein some Christians treat Paul's words as laws.

This makes the following set of rhetorical questions seem kind of funny: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

Hint, it is by believing. So, is it fair for me to refer to Paul's condemnation of legalism in order to condemn the legalism of Fundamentalists? Isn't that contradictory:even hypocritical? Maybe, but Paul didn't worry about such things. He used the Scripture to justify his anti-law position, explaining, "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

I'm just saying that according to Paul, I can rely on Faith not on Paul's rules to find salvation, which is itself based on the Scriptural support for being against legalism. Clear?

Here's all of Galatians 3.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 83

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 12-14 readings]

No title for today's readings because there were really uninteresting to me. Isaiah is listing the various nations that are going to be destroyed after God's anger with the people of Israel and Judah subsides. So far, it includes Assyria, Babylon, Philistia, Cush and (after peaking at the next reading) Egypt. Perhaps the slight variations at the calamity about to fall upon them was significant to ancient readers, but for me: snooze fest.

The best thing about Second Corinthians is that I finished it today. Paul takes up a tremendous amount of space passive-aggressively comparing himself to "super apostles."

I did reach Galatians, which I preached on not to long ago and which contains some pretty salty talk from Paul. As is clear from the letter to the Corinthians, Paul's is not the only view of the Gospel circulating. How does he feel about competing views? "Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!" Gal. 1:7-8. Well, alright then.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 82 (O Immanuel!)

[reaction to OYB's readings for Sep. 9-11]

Second Corinthians continues to be pretty mundane. Paul is asking for money and bashing the advocates of competing points of view about the nature of Christ's message. Interesting evidence that, at least when Paul was writing, there was no orthodoxy--although, we obviously only get to read about the winning view in the canonized scriptures.

Isaiah, on the other hand, is letting the people of Judah know that things are about to get really, really terrible. But, they should not lose hope because despite how angry God is with them, he will eventually redeem them. Consider these descriptions of days to come from chapters 3:
6 A man will seize one of his brothers
in his father’s house, and say,
“You have a cloak, you be our leader;
take charge of this heap of ruins!”
7 But in that day he will cry out,
“I have no remedy.
I have no food or clothing in my house;
do not make me the leader of the people.”
And in chapter 4 how the wealthy women of Zion will act once they get theirs:
In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, “We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!”
So, I read these as illustrations of how bad it will be. I don't think Isaiah was predicting a specific event as much as he was relating a mood of how things would be. I'm not suggesting a re-interpretation, I'm suggesting that's what Isaiah intended. What about Isaiah 9, which will include some familiar lines. Should this passage be read differently? If they are predictions, did Jesus satisfy them? Does anyone else think that they have heard this scripture read with several verses conveniently deleted, perhaps so it fits in the pageant better?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wisdom Books

So far, I've completed the Books of Moses, the Gospels, the Histories, and now the Wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. These books are valuable because they address the real life of individuals. Even the Psalms, which I've admitted don't always hold my attention, are important because they show how a person can express himself or herself to the Almighty. I don't necessarily agree with all of the proverbs, but I appreciate that they elevate the importance of everyday living. Which is also true of Job on suffering, Ecclesiastes on despair, and Song of Songs on passion.

Going forward I have the prophets and the epistles. There will be some relief in Jonah & Daniel, which I know to be more narrative. However, my expectation is a much more serious theologically heavy climb from here on out.

Day 81 (SEX!)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 6-8 readings]

Today's readings--I guess obviously--include the Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon. It basically a love poem that focuses overwhelmingly on the physical aspects of the "Beloved" and her "Lover". The poem is explicitly lustful, although I'm not sure that the poem alludes to intercourse. For example, we have this from chapter 2:
3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
4 Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
5 Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.
6 His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me.
7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.
I don't know. If you are tasting a guy's fruit does that mean you're having sex, or just making out? Depending on what you want to use this book for it might matter. Similarly, there is nothing to suggest Beloved and Lover (renamed She & He in the more recent NIV translation :-( ) are married. Also, although Beloved talks about Solomon's carriage and warriors it isn't at all clear to me that Lover is Solomon. In fact, I kind of assume he is not.

I take this book first and foremost to acknowledge that sexual passion is a good thing. Sure, we have plenty of stories about how it can be abused and misused. But, nonetheless, almost pure physical lust is okay. (Beloved and Lover do love each other, but more time is spent on her breasts and describing his stag-like nature than on their inner beauty.)

There is also some weirdness in the poem. Beloved goes out looking for Lover twice (something that sort of reminded me of Proust's passage in Swann in Love where Swann desperately seeks the woman he realizes he is in love with), but the second time, this happens in chapter 5:
6 I opened for my beloved,
but my beloved had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure.
I looked for him but did not find him.
I called him but he did not answer.
7 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they bruised me;
they took away my cloak,
those watchmen of the walls!
8 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you—
if you find my beloved,
what will you tell him?
Tell him I am faint with love.
More strange is this toward the very end from Beloved's friends:
8 We have a little sister,
and her breasts are not yet grown.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day she is spoken for?
9 If she is a wall,
we will build towers of silver on her.
If she is a door,
we will enclose her with panels of cedar.
Uh, okay. We know this isn't Beloved since much space has been devoted to her gazelle like breasts. So, not exactly sure what the point of bringing up your sister is. I don't know how Song of Songs compares to "To the Virgins", "Shall I compare thee", or other sexy literary works. I also don't know how it compares to contemporary writings about passion. Maybe something to look into another day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 80 (Wind chasing)

[reaction to OYB's Sep. 2-5 readings]

Another supersized selection so I could get the entire Book of Ecclesiastes in. So, Esther is about situational ethics, and Job is about suffering, and maybe it is just my looming fortieth birthday talking, but it seems Ecclesiastes is about mid-life crisis. The author is identified as "the Teacher" who was a son of king David and also a king in Jerusalem. (That's Solomon for those of you who have not been paying attention.) And despite having everything he could want, not just power and money and--yeah, he said it--a harem, but also wisdom and knowledge, he goes back to the same refrain at least three times: A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. 2:24, see also 5:18; 8:15.

It occurs to me that this is the American dilemma--how can you relate to the world when you are not constantly joyful despite having literally everything you want. Our problems are that we eat too much food, have houses that are too big, spend too much time in leasure. Compare to the existence of ancient Hebrews, I really think we have much more in common with Solomon--the harem notwithstanding. And I think his refrain is not a bad one.

This book is also honest in that it, like Job, recognizes that bad things do happen to good people. It also provided important cultural language such as dust to dust and the lyrics for a Byrds song. On, and his catch phrase for things that are meaningless is that it is like chasing the wind, hence, the post title. Also like Job, this book is encapsulated in prose that sort of explain what is going on. These words were likely added by editors, but not NIV editors. Rather, ancient editors.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Careless Reaction to Histories

Folks, my professional obligations are interferring with the time I have to reflect on my readings, particularly bonus reflections like this that cover whole Biblical genres. So here's what I think about 1 Samuel through Esther:

~ I like the variety of situations
~ I think some of the story telling is compelling and thought provoking
~ I like reading about God's people forming a nation under God
~ I like that we don't have the same pressure of "do it this way" that there is in Leviticus et al.

* I think much of it is difficult to relate to: i.e., the reduced value of individual children & women; the lack of familiarity with other cultures of the time.
* I rarely find myself uplifted or inspired by this tales (cf. the passion, the resurrection, even the nativity)


Ultimately, I think there contain important references for Jesus' ministry, they are full of stories on which other writers of western civilization rely, and I'm glad to be able to talk to my pastor about how do we survive this time of exodus. Now to catch my bus!

Day 79 (Finishing Job)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 27 to Sep. 1 readings]

Today's selection is supersized to get to the end of the book of Job. So, throughout the book, Job has been crafting this idea that if he could just make his case to God, he would be found guiltless and be vindicated. Finally, he rests his case, which he has really been making to his friends, with these words from chapter 31:
35 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
37 I would give him an account of my every step;
I would present it to him as to a ruler.)
Just as a note of curiosity, one of the Psalms in my reading for today seems to ask for something similar, but with a much different tone.
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Psalm 42. Anyway, after Job has convinced his friends that he doesn't deserve what God has given him, he has to endure the scorn from some kid, Elihu, which includes these ironic lines, "Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight. Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man!" Yeah, that's what Job deserves is to be tested, like for instance in some game between YHWH and Satan.

Job comes to a close first with Job getting what he has been asking for. YHWH responds, not by declaring that Job was guilty of anything--which the story tells us he was not--but by asking, "Who the hell are you to question me?" Or, more precisely, "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" God Rant. Not exactly comfort. Then we have the super weird ending where everything is alright for Job after after. I was pretty sure this was added later, but Fundamentalists rule internet searching for theology, so I'll have to address this when I have my own books in front of me. In any case, I've never studied Job without people being trouble by this idea. So what, he got new kids, that doesn't replace the ones he lost. The book of Job wonderfully illuminates the problem of evil and unjust suffering. Does it provide any answers?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 78 (With and ONLY with God)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 24-26 readings]

The Bible is full of affirmations of God helping people succeed. The histories, which I need to write a general response to, are full of stories of people going against God and failing. One of today's readings from Proverbs makes it personal, "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD." 21:30. After his friends just don't seem to get it, Job also chooses to highlight some of the bad things that God can do to a person:
13 “To God belong wisdom and power;
counsel and understanding are his.
14 What he tears down cannot be rebuilt;
those he imprisons cannot be released.
15 If he holds back the waters, there is drought;
if he lets them loose, they devastate the land.
16 To him belong strength and insight;
both deceived and deceiver are his.
17 He leads rulers away stripped
and makes fools of judges.
18 He takes off the shackles put on by kings
and ties a loincloth around their waist.
19 He leads priests away stripped
and overthrows officials long established.
20 He silences the lips of trusted advisers
and takes away the discernment of elders.
21 He pours contempt on nobles
and disarms the mighty.
22 He reveals the deep things of darkness
and brings utter darkness into the light.
23 He makes nations great, and destroys them;
he enlarges nations, and disperses them.
24 He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason;
he makes them wander in a trackless waste.
25 They grope in darkness with no light;
he makes them stagger like drunkards
12:13-25. Many of the psalms do this too, but I really think it is valuable to have a character in the Bible dealing with suffering and being angry at God about it. I couldn't pass up this little gem, however, provided by one of Job's friends that details how evil is its own punishment.
12 “Though evil is sweet in his mouth
and he hides it under his tongue,
13 though he cannot bear to let it go
and lets it linger in his mouth,
14 yet his food will turn sour in his stomach;
it will become the venom of serpents within him.
15 He will spit out the riches he swallowed;
God will make his stomach vomit them up.
16 He will suck the poison of serpents;
the fangs of an adder will kill him.
17 He will not enjoy the streams,
the rivers flowing with honey and cream.
20:12-17

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 77 (Sin & Health)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 21-23 readings]

Does your sinfulness cause you to be physically ill. Psalm 38 says maybe it does. The book of Job says sinfulness is at least not the only reason we get sick. Maybe God has a bet with Satan about how much suffering you can take. The fable of Job is so important for everyday living because it strikes out at the notion that all misfortune comes from sin; particularly on the personal level. If it is a literal story, however, it would really call into question exactly how good is our God after all.

Something I noticed for the first time on this reading is how Job's friends really do try to comfort him. After God lets one horrible calamity after another be brought on faithful Job by Satan, his friends
set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
Now, they will eventual suggest this is all Job's fault for something he or his ancestors did. But I think sitting in silence with a friend for 7 days shows real devotion.

Day 76 (Greatest Hits)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 17-20 readings]

After struggling with some advice that at least I question from Paul, today's extended reading includes some of the most memorable bits from Corinthains. From 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Of course, it is actually in the middle of scolding them for having bad table manners. Then we get chapter 12, with the ever popular many-gifts-one-Spirit theme. Could we have planning retreats without this chapter? Finally, a little something that even the pagans will recognize. The Love Chapter. A must read for even the most secular of weddings. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Silliness aside, Paul wrote some important things; some meaningful things. And it is key to remember from time to time.

Today's readings--because I stretched them to four days--also contained the entire book of Esther. Like the book of Job, it is such a compelling tale. Situational ethics galore. How to survive while in exile.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 75 (Subtle Change)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 13-15 readings]

Nehemiah, who is a governor, has overseen the completion of the wall around Jerusalem. Ezra, the preist and scribe, deserves some credit, too. We celebrate with a recitation of the history of the chosen people that does not name a single king of Israel or Judah. Neh. 9:4-38.

Paul writes about food again. The letters to Corinth pre-date his letter to Romans. The major theme is there: "who really cares if you eat food dedicated to idols, just don't make a show of it." Nonetheless, I believe you can see the evolution of his thoughts. Cf. 1 Corin. 10:23-33, Rom. 14

The Book of Nehemiah closes with some chilling racial purity material. Neh. 13:1-3, 23-31. I feel compelled to point out that this rule would have excluded David's great-grandma Ruth, who I suspect he called GG. See e.g., Matt. 1:5, Ruth 1:4.