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Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 58 (Jedi Jehu)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 24-26 readings]

In Acts, Paul is spreading the word through southern Europe, but avoiding Asia. Acts 16:6 ("Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from peaching the word in the province of Asia.") From the OT readings, we have an epic struggle for control of the Holy Land. There are at least three national actors. Judah, Israel and Aram. The tragedy of seige warfare is illustrated in 2 King 6:24-31's discussion of women eating their own children.

Elisha, who seems to be well regarded by kings of all three nations, sends a servant on a secret mission to annoint the new king of Israel, Jehu. Jehu's army rides up on the evil King Joram using what reads to me like the Jedi mind trick. So the king sent out a second horseman. When he came to them he said, "This is what the king says:
When the lookout standing on the tower in Jezreel saw Jehu's troops approaching, he called out, "I see some troops coming."
"Get a horseman," Joram ordered. "Send him to meet them and ask, 'Do you come in peace?' "

The horseman rode off to meet Jehu and said, "This is what the king says: 'Do you come in peace?' "
"What do you have to do with peace?" Jehu replied. "Fall in behind me."
The lookout reported, "The messenger has reached them, but he isn't coming back."

So the king sent out a second horseman. When he came to them he said, "This is what the king says: 'Do you come in peace?' "
Jehu replied, "What do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me."

The lookout reported, "He has reached them, but he isn't coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a madman."

"Hitch up my chariot," Joram ordered. And when it was hitched up, Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah rode out, each in his own chariot, to meet Jehu. They met him at the plot of ground that had belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite. When Joram saw Jehu he asked, "Have you come in peace, Jehu?"
"How can there be peace," Jehu replied, "as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?"
Jehu then kills the king with an arrow as he's trying to get away. Once inside the city, Jezebel is all dolled up and calls to him from a window, presumably trying to use some mind tricks of her own, but Jehu tells her guards to "throw her down to me," which means throw her to her death. They do; she dies. Then dogs eat her body.

Should we be letting our children read this book?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 57 (Freedom)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 21-23 readings]

The title of today's post is from Jonathan Franzen's book of the same title, which I finished earlier tonight. Franzen's book explores the ordinary lives of suburbanites who, once free from various things that are holding them down--parent child relationships, marriage vows, social convention, etc.--find generally find themselves no more happy than they were before. The book is full of settling on half-fulfilled expectations, largely as a result of how overgrown the expectations are.

I'd like to compare this to a Psalm 139 from today's readings. It isn't that long, but I don't want to take up the space here. So click here and come back. How do these phrases strike the modern reader?
You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Not necessarily good, right? Kind of suffocating. For me, that has always been at least a second response to these verses. Of course they are written as comfort. I suspect that many people would read this Psalm exclusively in terms of comfort.

On the third hand, I am not sure that the human race has completely adapted to its freedom. Many of us want freedom as individuals, but maybe we don't have the tools yet to cope with it. And that seems to be the point of Franzen's book. Of course, that doesn't mean that the freedom is bad; it just means that perhaps more evolution is required.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 56 (Authorized To Ask)

[reaction to One Year Bible June 19-20 readings]

In today's reading from Acts we come across at least the second mini-statement of beliefs, or basically a quick telling of the history of Israel. In part, Paul explains that from David's "descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised." Also, Paul notes that "God raised [Jesus] from the dead" and while even David's bodies decays, "the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay." Earlier in Acts, we get a similar listing of articles of faith. This time from Peter who taught, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." Also, Peter points out that Jesus "was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact."

What strikes me about these passages is how decidedly non-trinitarian they are. In Peter's passage he refers to "this man" and they both talk about Jesus coming from David, and God raising Jesus. Peter's remarks come just after finishing the Gospel of John which seems to contradict this notion of Christ as separate from God by beginning with these, well, these words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1.

Now there are believers today who accept Jesus as important, or even savior, but who do not believe in the idea of trinity. Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, resurrected and will come again to judge the world. Mormons believe Jesus is the Son of God, quite literally. But neither group accepts the idea that Jesus is God. Also, some of my ultra liberal friends have rejected this idea that Jesus is God.

I've only picked out one scripture from John, but look for yourself if you don't believe me, it clearly asserts that Jesus and God are one. For those of us who do not have the benefit of a superseding text to the New Testament, i.e., the Quran or the Book of Mormon, I submit that such contradictory passages authorize us to ask questions about the nature of Jesus. They almost require us to.

I'm going to send this to my favorite Mormons & Muslims in hopes that they can provide some insight on their views of the Trinity and what they think of John's Gospel. (Is it corrupted? Is it misunderstood?) As for the super liberals, they just chose not to believe the bits that are inconvenient. ;)

UPDATE: I've received a couple of personal messages from Mormon brothers and sisters pointing out that John also affirms Jesus as a separate being from God in Chapter 17 when Jesus prays to God. How can one pray to oneself? They promise to comment more fully when the rigors of private practice let up a bit. I hope they do!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 55 (Joy)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 16-18 readings]

I've titled this reading Joy, not just because I'm caught up on my readings again, but because I really did experience Joy reading these passages on the way home. First, after wading through one crappy king of Judah followed by a king of Israel, we get to Elijah! We have the story of him providing for the widow, her son and himself, despite the contrary indication of the "real" world. And just to let you know you are getting a break from the listing of slaughters followed by worshiping idols, at the end he raises a child from the dead. Elijah.

I also got a chance to read about one of my favorite themes, speaking truth to power when Elijah is greeted with "Is that you, you troubler of Israel," and then proceeds to literally bring the thunder. Elijah II.

But, the real joy comes from Acts. It is the story of Peter and Cornelius found in Acts 10. Both Peter and Cornelius are visited by messengers from God constructing their meeting. Peter has this famous vision:
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Now, listen, this is not just about not eating Kosher. To read it that way would be as stupid as reading Christ's called to be born again as meaning you need to crawl back into your mother's womb. And what I mean by that, in both cases, the text reveals the metaphorical meaning. Even the sometimes thick headed Peter realized the broader meaning once he met up with all the Gentiles hungry for the Spirit, saying, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Acts 10:27. And again, saying,"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." Acts 10:35-37. Did you hear that? All of the purity that the Levitical law was worried about, not only did Jesus shun it by example, but eventually Peter understood it was a bunch of garbage. Nice. Cf. purity post.

Day 54 (Out of Africa)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 12-14 readings]

Today's readings have some great stuff. Rehoboam and Jeroboam go at it as Solomon's kingdom falls apart--punishment for having wives of different religions and allowing them to worship their "detestable" gods in Israel. Also, we have Paul's road to Damascus experience.

The other thing we have are stories showing the great reach of the earthly kingdom Solomon is bringing about and the faithful kingdom that the Apostle's are working on. We have readings today that show both reached into Africa. First, the Queen of Sheeba came to visit Solomon and found him even more impressive than what her servants had reported. 1 Kings 10:1-13. Next, we have the apostle Philip bringing the good new to an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading Isaiah. Acts 8:26-40.

I have faint memories of these stories, but wonder if they play a more prominent role in African churches. While at the Regional Assembly of Disciples Churches in Arizona, I learned that the country with the largest population of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) members is Congo. There are 800,000 members in Congo, 100,000 more than in the United States.

Boundaries

I am a life-long member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There is a general church that represents everyone in my denomination. There is a regional church that represents members of my denomination in Arizona. And, of course, there is a local church that I attend at 15303 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert, Arizona. (Weekly services Sundays at 9 & 11 am and Thursdays at 7 pm, in case you're interested.) The middle group, my regional church, passed three resolutions over the weekend. It resolved to (1) encourage churches to fight global warming, (2) to encourage churches to promote hospitality, particularly toward Hispanic immigrants, and (3) to denounce Arizona's law that targets those who unlawfully entered the United States.

I supported each of these. I greatly respect people who strongly opposed the third measure. The vote for the first two was overwhelmingly in favor; for the third it was close enough to require a standing vote-meaning we had to count the aye's and nay's. Is it right for a church to denounce the passage of a law?

Lets clear some brush right away. Separation of Church and State is primarily related to the prohibition of government support for religions. It may apply as an American value but it doesn't apply as a legal concept. Similarly, churches are limited in their ability to advocate the election or defeat of individuals, but much less so ballot measures, and not at all political ideas. See, e.g., the church's pronounced opposition to abortion, and sadly to a much lesser degree war and capital punishment.

So, this action did not violate the First Amendment, nor jeopardize the church's tax-exempt status (which arguably DOES violate the First Amendment) but there is more to the discussion than that. Is it dangerous for churches to use their position in the political arena? I think it is, but nonetheless, there are times when being mindful of that danger churches must act.

In Arizona, many of us are personally aware of the fear struck in the hearts of the least of these by this law. A law that may never take affect; a law that frankly gave very little new power to the police. It is hard to read about Jesus marching into Jerusalem to challenge the powers that be and to read about the martyr Stephen and conclude that in the interest of politeness, we can remain silent on such issues.

It requires me to recognize, however, that those who oppose abortion in the name of their faith are equally right to raise this opinion. I don't find that view supported in Scripture and to the extent it is supported by church tradition it evidence of the oppression of women. But that is my reading, and my opinion is no more valuable than that of the anti-choice activists.

Ultimately, I believe that if the church does not speak to the issues of the day, it is worthless, like salt that has lost its saltiness, it should be discarded.

Day 53 (Icons)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 9-11 readings]

Today's readings have two iconic images from their respective testaments. From the Old Testament the temple and from the New Testament a martyr. Solomon does what his father could not do, and builds the temple. 1 Kings 5-8. Stephen his stoned to death because of his courageous profession of faith, which includes a bit of a retelling of the history of the people of Israel. Acts 7. Confession: I sort of skim the specifics about the Temple, not unlike my skimming of the excruciating detail of the Tabernacle.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 52 (Biblical Government)

[reaction to One Year Bible's June 6-8 readings]

The Old Testament readings provide some insight into the Old Testament suggestion for government: Benevolent Dictator. The scripture includes some of the necessary structure. 1 Kings 4:1-15

The New Testament readings give its suggestion: Benevolent Communism. Indeed, they deal with some structural issues early on. Acts 4:32-36, 6:1-6.

Unfortunately, there was definitely "violence inherent in the system" for both systems. When Solomon takes over after David we are treated to a killing spree to consolidate power that would make the Sopranos proud. The early church relied on God to do their dirty work. 1 Kings 2:26-46, Acts 5:1-11.

As someone who has run a couple of stewardship campaigns (that's church for pledge drive) I can tell you that pledge more or God will strike you down is a tool I've yet to employ.