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Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11 Repeat

This is what I wrote a couple of years ago. Still seems pretty touching to me. Here is 2007.

James was 7 on September 11. He knows about it, but doesn't remember it. Pat's cousin was in the Trade Towers during the first attack, at the beginning of the Clinton administration. Her companion went into the buildings after the attacks on 9/11 to rescue people and, in the process, lost his life. James confessed that he felt awkward about these stories because it just doesn't feel like a big deal to him--he wished that it felt like more of a big deal, but it just doesn't. Likewise, Pat obviously wanted James to at least know his family connection to what happened. Not unlike mourning the death of a loved one, maybe the most difficult part to deal with national tragedy is that everyone does so in a different way.

Day Eleven (How Great Is Our God!)

I passed a landmark today in that I completed the readings for January and have started on February. So, roughly 1/12 of the way through and on track.

For today, I read parting of the Red Sea and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

These stories are very much about God and Jesus. They celebrate the nature of the deity. First we learn that main character in the current story is the same as the entity from an earlier story. In Exodus, we learn that the God of Moses is the God of Abraham. First here is how English readers get Exodus 6:2-4, "God also said to Moses, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD. I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens." Of course, that could more carefully be rendered "God also said to Moses, "I am YHWH. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens."

In Matthew, we get our typical dose of evidence that Jesus is the one about whom all the prophets were speaking, we have an earlier famous story of Peter's good confession, Matt. 6:13-20, but which closes with "Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ." Now, the most straight read of that is that Jesus wasn't yet ready for everyone to know about his special position, but dare I point out that this scripture also "explains" why Jesus never said to anyone while he was alive that he was the Messiah?

Next were learn that YHWH and Jesus are truly awesome. More powerful that Pharaoh's gods in the case of YHWH:
Who among the gods is like you O YHWH?
Who is like--
majestic holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them.
In the case of Jesus, more powerful than the Pharisees or church leaders, he overturns their tables and scatters them from the Temple, and Caesar by marching into Jerusalem.

Moses is in for a long tough road. The Israelites complain constantly. Christ's path is shorter a more violent.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day Ten (Marriage)

It is not hard to find a discussion about what the Bible says about men having sex with other men. But what does the Bible say about marriage? Today's readings from Proverbs and Matthew both touched on it. Under the heading "Warning against Adultery" we are provided with the following wisdom:
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
Prov. 5:15-23. I think that is mostly about having a good marriage, but it does warn against adultery. In the Gospel, the whole discussion is in the context of divorce.
Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Matt. 19:1-12.

I think we have a fairly consistent idea of the ideal Hebrew marriage[FN1]. You are blessed if you stay with the wife of your youth. It is a blessing if her breasts continue to do it for you and you neither share her with others, nor have sex with the wive's of others. Coming at it from the negative, you should not divorce you wife, unless she cheats on you. This is, according to Matthew's author according to Jesus, the way God intended it.

This discusion of the ideal, is an interesting contrast to the reality I've been reading in Genesis. Although the Patriarchs were God's chosen people, they did not live up to this ideal, at all. They had multiple wives, they traded in their old wives for new ones when they didn't think they would have kids. They sent wives away. They visited prostitutes.

I don't think this is a contradiction, however. I think there is a point here that there can be an ideal, but if someone doesn't fit into the ideal, that doesn't mean they aren't capable of having a relationship with God. Which is good, because none of us are capable of the ideal. And, I suppose this is a good place to recognize that the real ideal, is to "rencounce marriage because of the kingdom of heaven," but not everyone can do that.

For more on this topic, please read Rita Nakashima Brock's amazing piece for the Huffington Post here. Dr. Brock was the keynote speaker at Chalice Christian Justice Ministries' Called to Equality Symposium last year. She opened my eyes to the ambiguity within the Scripture regarding marriage. This piece for the Huffington Post explores it wonderfully.

[FN1] I do not necessarily share the Hebrews' view on what is ideal. I don't think a marriage between people of the same sex or a marriage of someone to someone other than the wife of his youth is less than ideal. But, I think it is hard to argue that the authors of Proverbs and Matthew feel this way.

Note: Reading three days at a time is really too fast to keep up with interesting topics. I'm skipping the Twenty-Third Psalm and the Ten Plagues (River of Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, animal plague, boils, fatal hail, locusts, darkness, death of the first born) which were also in today's reading.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Day Nine (End of Patriarchs)

So, something weird happens Exodus 1:8. We lose track of the line of descendants from Adam. In Genesis we have the first creation story, then we have the second story and the man created there is named Adam. Then, from time to time we have genealogies that catch us up. The Hebrews are descended from Seth (son of Adam & Eve), and Shem (son of Noah and nameless mate), and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob(aka Israel). Up to this point, the siblings have all started other races. Noah's son Ham, who saw his dad drunk and naked, was father of the Cananites. Lot's incest led to the Moabites and the Ammonites. Abraham's oldest, Ishmael, led to the Ismaelites (Arabs), and so on. But after Israel (aka Jacob) not everyone is descended from the hero, Joseph, or his blessed son Ephraim. In fact, David & Jesus descend from Judah. And, the next hero, Moses, is a descendant of Levi. And so, although Matthew and Luke will try to reconstruct a lineage from Adam to Jesus, at this point in my reading things get muddled because Exodus hasn't yet provided a careful list of descendants from Levi for me to follow.

One of the takeaways of these stories for me, is the idea of God always working for the good. Now, that will creep out some of my readers because it sounds too divine intervention like. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. If God is everything and then some (panentheism) then there is something akin to a metaforce for good at work in the world. But, also, analyzing these stories for their values, I think there is an eternal hopefulness to them. And I think all of the awfulness, which probably reads as extra awful to 20th century readers, is important because the Hebrew heroes were no like Hercules or Horus in that they were fundamentally human. Maybe that doesn't hold up because demigods of other myths were also flawed.

Preferential Treatment on the basis of Race, Gender or Age

"No, the Fifteen is twenty-four minutes late, so I don't know when--." I told Pat to hold on as a bus with its identification sign smashed stopped for me at the corner of 15th Ave & Jefferson. The corner where I had been waiting for ten minutes was eerie but not scary. By 8:10 p.m., Jefferson had become a one-way, four lane street, completely empty as far as the eye can see, no cars, no people--nothing. After the driver told me this was the One bus, I confirmed she went to Central Station and sat down. I told Pat not to worry about picking me up; I would call her again once I was on the train. I noted the contrast of me still in my going to court suit and the clearly homeless people riding the bus. At the shelter stop a man boarded with an all day pass. I heard the machine beep to acknowledge the ticket was valid, but the driver said, "Excuse me, sir, I don't mean to be rude, but you didn't pay." "Yes he did," I thought to myself. As he turned to her, she explained, "No, not you, him," gesturing to me. "Oh my gosh," I exclaimed and got up to scan my metro card as the bus moved on to the next stop. She laughed about.

The privileges one enjoys as a middle-aged white guy wearing suit are pretty impressive. What reason do I have to fear the streets at night? Of course the bus driver assumed I had the fare, but was just absent-mindedly boarding without offering it. I wonder if such preferential treatment will be eliminated if Arizona Voters pass Proposition 107. Cross posted on Do Just This.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Day Eight (Transitions)

Today's Genesis story basically finishes off the story of Joseph. Although, it has a bit of a Lord of the Rings ending in that it goes on and on with several blessings being passed out and whatnot. Interestingly, Jacob, who is really named Israel by this time, gives the greater blessing to Ephraim, Joseph's second son. Revenge of the younger child, I suppose. For those keeping score at home, none of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Ephraim are the oldest in their family. Hmm. Neither is David. What do these Hebrews have against responsible productive oldest children. Hmm. Prodigal Son. Hmm.

In Matthew we have some famous stories right in a row. Jesus stills the troubled water, then (after some parables) the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walks on water, then the feeding of the four thousand. What to do with these stories? Perhaps they are straight miracle stories. They demonstrate Jesus' power and maybe they happened as described. That's hard for us to handle having never witnessed anything close to that in our lifetimes. Perhaps they are miraculous explanations for normal things: Jesus' presence was so comforting it seemed the storm went away, Jesus' compelled the hungry followers to be generous and created abundance from scarcity (twice), and--my favorite--Jesus learned how to walk on reeds in the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps, they are stories to show Jesus' greatest, greatest focussed around people, and they did not really happen.

I used to love the second solution--minus the walking on reeds silliness--but have come to wonder if there is any reason for it. The difference between solutions one and three can be subtle. Did it happen? Did the teller think it happened? Did the reader/listener think it happened? As usual, I've mostly got questions.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Day Seven (Kingdom of Heaven)

The Genesis reading for today tells the story of Joseph. An interest hero in my mind because he isn't super strong, or even super wise. His "super power" is the ability to interpret dreams, and evidently run things. While in Egypt he is always put in charge of things, whether Potiphar's house, the jail he is in, or all of Egypt.

The Matthew reading comes from Chapter 13. Here we have a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. In my mind, there are two competing understandings of the kingdom of heaven. One view is that the kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdom of Ceasar. While in Cesaer's kingdom, the poor are on the bottom, in the kingdom of Heaven, the poor are on top. Cesaer's Kingdom is based on power, the kingdom of heaven is rooted in truth. Etc. This view is supported by several of the parables such as the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the sower.

The other view is that the kingdom of heaven is an other worldly kingdom, sort of a post judgment day kingdom that exists after this world is gone. In the former view, one can enter the kingdom of heaven now by following the way, in this view, one can gain admission to the kingdom but it is not yet here. That view is supported by the parable of the wheat and the weeds.

I think the pearl of great price and the land with the treasure equally supports both. An added tension in reading this passages comes from the fact that they were written 30-60 years after Jesus' death. So, what did the authors think Jesus meant when he said the kingdom is close at hand?

Monday, September 06, 2010


I'm reading some interesting fiction as I make my way through the Bible. I finished Willa Cather's Lost Lady and have started Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Something I've noticed is that in the twentieth century literary works are very concerned with the what the characters are thinking and feeling. Much of the story is from the perspective of the characters' thoughts. By contrast, you very rarely get what the Biblical characters are thinking or what they are feeling. For example, you don't have any idea how Abraham feels taking Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed. One irresistibly speculates about what is going on in those minds. Radiolab played a sermon delving into this beautifully. I suspect it is just the nature of Semitic story telling from 500 B.C.E. that the inner monologue isn't a typical device.

Day Six

Today's Genesis reading, 32:13 - 38, covers several shenanigans involving Jacob and his kids--particularly the non-Joseph offspring. What I find curious about these stories is that Judah, from whom Jesus Christ descends, is not a particularly good guy. In fact, the passage from today's reading closes with him deciding not to have the widow of two of his sons burned to death because it turns out that the guy she was servicing in the capacity of prostitute was Judah himself. Nice.

Today's reading from Matthew covers 11:7 through 12:44. Here, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven frequently. As I am reading this, I am trying to fairly evaluate whether the kingdom of heaven refers to something that will come after death, or whether it refers to a transformation of our world. It is a difficult exercise because (1) we are so raised to believe the kingdom of heaven is an afterlife things and (2) today, I so strongly believe it is not an afterlife thing. The apocalyptic feel can easily apply to either interpretation, especially when it is addressed to current powers that be in the church.

The Bible and Masturbation

While working my way through the Bible, I came across a Scripture frequently taken out of context. I thought I would offer it up for consideration. It concerns masturbation.
Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also.
Gen. 38:6-10 I know what you are thinking, "But, Jim, that scripture isn't about masturbation it is about using the pull out method of birth control. And, actually, it isn't even about using the pull out method of birth control--which, for the kids reading this blog is highly, highly discouraged due to its complete lack of effectiveness--but is about using the pull out method of birth control when you have a "duty" to conceive a child with your brother's widow, which I don't think really comes up much these days." Well, you're right. I don't know why I even brought it up.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Day Five

This day's scriptures include the story of Jacob and his dealings with Laban. Laban is his maternal uncle and father of this two wives. Laban is kind of a jerk, but Jacob is not above playing games with Laban. Eventually, Jacob has to head back to the promised land and face his brother Esau, who he tricked out of his birthright. Gen. 28-31:16

In Matthew we have the calling of the twelve disciples. This comes after he has given the Sermon on the Mount and after he has done a lot of healing. The number of healing stories interest me. I recognize that the Bible was written by people, and that the Gospels were written long after Jesus' death. I just can't help but wonder why some many specific healing stories if he didn't bring comfort, in some fashion, to the blind and the lame.

The majority of the Gospel reading for this day focused on the Missionary Discourse in which Jesus tells the twelve how to conduct themselves when out spreading the Good News. First, Jesus makes it clear to whom the message is to be delivered, ""Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel." Matt. 10:5-6. The disciples are to heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, just like Jesus, but they are not to put up with people who want to argue. "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town." Id. at 14. Jesus warns his followers to expect trouble from the authorities and then closes with this little number from versus 32-39:
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

"a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I don't mind telling you this is some rough stuff. On the easy side, Jesus is telling his disciples that this is going to be a tough journey. Don't expect people to just accept the Gospel of love and hope. On the rough side, it starts to sound like a cult. But, I guess that is the point. The Gospel of love is in fact a radical idea and people can be expected to react to it as such.