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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?