Bible

A Little Consistency Please

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By Dr. Lisa W. Davison

I am a fairly open-minded and intelligent person, but one thing has evaded my comprehension for some time now. No one takes the biblical texts more seriously than I do; I’ve spent my life studying, exploring and learning about the bible gaining a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (the 3 languages in which the biblical texts were originally written), so that I do not have to rely on someone else’s translation that is far removed from the extant biblical texts and tarnished by human biases. Granted, my own translations are also influenced by my biases, but I have made it an intentional effort to remove myself from and critique those lenses with which I read the bible. I cannot say the same for all translators; some of whom have claimed that they are merely giving a “literal” translation of the original language (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek) into the target language (in this case English). This is absolutely impossible.

At this point, I must say a word (or more) about this term, “literal”, and all of its derivatives. In my lifetime, I have heard countless, well-meaning people of faith who claim that they believe the bible to be the very words of God; therefore they take/read the bible “literally.” Really? How can a thinking person make that claim with a straight face? If one begins reading at Gen 1:1, it is not very long before this “literal” approach starts falling apart. In what order did God create the world (humans first or last)? How many animals went onto the ark (2 every kind or 7 pairs of some with 1 pair of others)? I could go on and on. In addition to these inconsistencies of the Torah, there are more glaring examples of how folks who claim this “literal” approach fail to be consistent. Ask them if they have sold everything and given it to the poor, as Jesus taught (Luke 18:22, Mat 19:21, & Mark 10:21), and they will quickly tell you that Jesus didn’t mean that “literally,” and they do it with a straight face. Really?

As I once heard Rev. Peter Gomes, former Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister at Harvards Memorial Church, say: “There are no true literalists; there are only selectivists.” This is spot on! All of us, who claim that the biblical texts have some authority/influence in our lives, are SELECTIVISTS. We select which texts we take somewhat “literally” and which are meant to be seen as “metaphorical” or too outdated to be binding in this 21st century world. So, the question must be asked: “How do you make that choice between those texts that are to be taken ‘literally’ and those that must be further interpreted and/or discarded?” The problem I encounter over and over again is that people cannot answer this important question. They cannot tell me why Lev 18:22 is to be taken “literally,” even though this text does not say what they want it to say, but Luke 18:22 should not be taken “literally.” They cannot explain why a strange text from the Pauline corpus about some sort of orgiastic behavior is a clear condemnation of same-sex relationships (Rom 1:25-26), but Jesus’ clear condemnation of divorce (Mark 10:1-12; Matt 19:1-9) no longer has the same authority. They cannot tell me why they think 2 commandments (Lev 18:22 & 20:13) from among the 613 commandments in Torah are still binding, while they eat their bacon (Lev 11:7-9) cheeseburgers (Exod 23:19) with abandon and ignore the clear commandment that sassy children should be stoned (Deut 21:18-21). They must intentionally ignore the use of “Sodom & Gomorrah” by Jesus (Matt 10:14-5; Luke 10:10-12), or they would have to acknowledge that even he understood that it was a teaching story against inhospitality not homosexuality. Why do they want to argue that the age of the earth must match the internal (and inconsistent) chronology of the bible, but they do not want their doctors to treat them with only the “medical” knowledge and advancements available in the 2nd century CE?

Why, one might ask, are these people unable to answer my basic question, to provide a consistent hermeneutic1 by which they interpret and apply biblical texts? For many, the answer is simple. They do not want to admit that they only take “literally” those texts that do not step on their own toes or negatively impact their desired lifestyle. I hope they would still agree that the biblical endorsement of slavery (Lev 25:44-46; Eph 6:5- 9; Phil) is no longer justifiable, and surely we are not stoning adulterers (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), otherwise D.C. and Hollywood would be a great deal less crowded. Perhaps their congregations would be as well.

In an effort to be candid, I will share my hermeneutic for reading biblical texts. As a follower of the way of Jesus, I value and recognize the two “greatest commandments” that at least 2 gospels (Matt 22:36-40 & Mark 12:28-34) attribute to Jesus: “Love God with all you are(Deut 6:5) & “Love your neighbor as yourself(Lev 19:18). Every text in the bible must be evaluated with these questions: does it teach me to love God with all that I am and does it teach me to love my neighbor as myself. If the answer is “no,” then I must delve deeply in research to seek an answer as to why this text might be in the bible. If the answer is “yes,” then I must also delve deeply into the exegesis of the passage, so that I do not just bend it to approve of what I do and what I value.

In addition to a consistent hermeneutic, I also weigh biblical texts in light of logic, scientific knowledge, and contemporary contexts. Do I believe that evil spirits cause human diseases? No, so I do not go to an exorcist or priest when I have a headache, fever, or other signs of illness. I would say that the same is true for many of the well- meaning folks I have been describing. So, I wonder why, if they are thoughtful people on other topics, they do not apply the same level of thought to the issue of same-sex relationships? I would welcome that conversation, that honesty, but I’m still waiting for someone to offer that opportunity.

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1 “Hermeneutic” refers to the interpretative framework that one uses in interpreting and determining the applicability of biblical texts. In biblical studies, we seek to have a consistent hermeneutic, meaning we evaluate all biblical texts through this framework. 

I Wasn't Born This Way

By Colton Lott

 

I was riding in the car with my brother, Chase, a few weeks ago when I asked him, “Does it ever both you that I’m so liberal?”

Before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he replied quickly and decisively, “Yes!”

My heart broke a bit because I never intended to be a polarizing force nor did I ever try to be part of the “fringe.” I’ve become fairly lefty-loosey in my thinking, which is tolerable in the rest of the world but down right heretical in my home-base of rural Oklahoma.

As I thought of how Chase and I became separated by a political cavern, I wanted to retrace my steps. I previously scorned folks who embraced their socio-poli-religious tribe, and now I can be identified with a moniker. How did this happen? Why was it that I developed ways of thinking, speaking, voting, and living that gained me the title of “one of those liberals?” I wasn’t born to think a certain way, and for the most part I wasn’t raised to be this way. Somehow, I developed and evolved into a card-carrying lefty that annoyed my brother, worried my paternal grandmother, and delighted my father, because he now had a sparring partner. Why did I carry reusable shopping bags much to my brother’s annoyance? Why was I giving a theological and biblical explanation of embracing same-sex marriage to his friends over their “man-meal?” Why did I stop using masculine pronouns for God, even though saying “Godself” is clunky, strikingly out of place in the milieu in which I am living, and generally considered overkill here?

Some of this evolution is due to my education. I went to a small, liberal arts college, and even though “liberal arts” refers to the breadth of academic disciplines and not to a political position, there is a good chance one can discover the fine art of being a liberal in such an environment. Some of it was other members of my family, and as I’ve written before, my maternal grandmother had a profound effect on my thinking at a young age. But even though she was left of center, she was one of a few in my family.

When I dig as deeply as I can into myself, the biggest reasons that I grew into who I am is because of my faith and my experiences in churches with thoughtful clergy. I carry those silly bags into the local grocery store because God’s creation is beautiful, and it was God that crafted humanity for the care of that creation. I go to the Local Grocery Store, and avoid Big Box Stores whenever possible, because I believe God calls us to be generous, that we shouldn’t glean our pennies off the backs of producers and workers—that a worker is worthy of their hire and deserves to live a full life for a full day’s work.[i] I speak about communities that have been afflicted by prejudice by those with privilege because that is what I read Jesus doing in the gospels. My faith was taught to me through a church and by ministers that value education, deep reflection, and taking the Biblical narrative serious.

It would be a woeful oversight to say that “Jesus made me liberal,” because there are quite a few that claim “Jesus made me conservative.” But my experience, wrapped in my family, my civic community, my faith community, my educators, and the travels and journeys I have taken along the way color the way I read the Bible, and in turn the holy texts have colored the way that I see each of these influences in my life.

I’m sorry, Chase, that I have grown into that which is aggravating, silly, or in your opinion, wrong. Just please know that I am trying to follow Christ in the way I know best because of who I’ve become. I don’t think, act, vote, preach, or believe this way in spite of Jesus, but because of Jesus. Although we disagree, and we do so frequently, know that at the core of these conversations we both have a heart that so desperately wants to help others…to be and share good news, good news which saved both of us, albeit we understand this in vastly different ways. Even though it can be uncomfortable, we manifest God’s love in our own distinct way. In love much is the same and we don’t have to call it liberal or conservative; we can simply call it love, be thankful for it, and take comfort that it perpetually exists between us.

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[i] Chase, who reviewed this post before I published it, told me that in our hometown the Big Box Store pays more per hour than the Local Grocery Store. While I would still question buying practices and misuse of power, there is something to be said about challenging presuppositions and being forced to live in a world of economic grayscale. 

Father who art on Earth...

By J.C. Mitchell

Father’s Day is approaching. I know because my wife asked me what I want for father’s day.  My response was to ask “is that this or next Sunday?”  Too often Father’s Day seems like an afterthought, and honestly that is fine, and seeing the physical and social pressures that are placed upon mothers in our culture, I honestly think we should do Mother’s Day at least twice a year--perhaps we add the 4th Sunday of Lent to align with Ireland and Nigeria.  It is true that fathers on television have been generally portrayed as clowns and idiots, and often the butt of jokes, but being paid more than women and other perks of being male overrides this petty complaint of how fathers are portrayed in the media. 

So what do we celebrate, besides our grills and hammocks, on this upcoming Sunday? Well I am not really sure, so I went to the Bible to get more confused.  The fathers in the Hebrew Bible ranged greatly with some very questionable behaviors, and the Gospels did not shine more light on the subject, except for Joseph--a man willing to be a father to one born to his virgin wife.  Talk about a step-dad stepping up, despite great cultural pressures to shun her.  But Papa Joe was not featured during Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps he stayed at home to make some money or maybe he died, but we are certain he raised one fine man.

One thing Joseph does make clear: a father is not simply one that impregnates someone.  Of course we know that, but what makes one a father?

I believe it is a loving one who aches when his child aches.  What makes it different than a mother I don’t know, but I myself only know that of having parents and being a father. 

In the almost seven years of being a father I may not have figured it all out, but I have figured out why Jesus’ best model of a father is termed the prodigal son, although to many are renaming it (I believe properly) as the forgiving father.  My son has not asked for his inheritance (and if he should that would be a great laugh), nor has he prodigally spent money, but I have found great wisdom in this story.

I do not write simply of the forgiveness he displayed to the son that wasted money.  I cannot imagine not being able to forgive my son and forgiving is definitely part of being a father. This generous forgiveness is certainly a metaphor for the Divine Father, for as Jesus says this is the nature of God’s perfection.   However, when the feast is going on, the elder son returns from the field angry and jealous.  This is exactly why I feel this scene with the elder son is where Jesus is hinting at us earthly fathers: this father just welcomed the other brother home with great compassion and celebration, should not the other son in a perfect family taken his father’s lead?  Of course, it gets real with this rivalry and jealousy.   

The father responds with, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours…” and this has become key for me.  While I do not appreciate my bed being claimed at 1 am, I know it is not simply about the physical things that are his as well as mine, but all of me is accessible to him at all times even if he doesn’t realize it.  We don’t know if the elder son went into the party understanding the love offered by the father, or stormed off in a huff (or a myriad of other options).  But we know that the father understood that everything that was his was also his children’s, and it was given even before it was asked.  It is not the son, it is father who loves like a mother hen, who teaches me about being a Papa.

 



Read the Bible Like a Texan, Y'all

By Mike Skinner

We’ve tried to tell y’all for a long time: everything is better in Texas… even the Bible.

In fact, in recent months I’ve repeatedly found myself giving the following advice:

to read the Bible faithfully, read it like a Texan.

Why, you ask, would anyone ever want to do that?  Because a deficiency in the English language, combined with an already-present tendency towards individualism, has created an unhealthy distortion of the Christian faith.  Luckily, Texans have already solved this problem with one of our favorite words: y’all.

You see, English has a pronoun problem.  The original languages of the Bible had specific forms for “you plural” (second person plural pronouns), but unfortunately modern English lacks such a distinction.  This is why many regions (not only Texas!) have attempted to fix this shortcoming in their own unique ways.  In fact, the New York Times recently came out with a fun interactive quiz on geographical dialects: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk.

The result is that many times the word “you” in our English translations is not actually meant to refer to an individual, but to a local community of believers.  Texan John Dryer attracted attention this past summer for creating a “Texas Bible (plugin)” which converts all the instances of “you – plural” in the Bible into “y’all” (see the graphic below).  Dryer even did the math, concluding that “there are at least 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Hebrew Bible and 2,022 in the Greek) with you plural translated as English “you” which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.”

This becomes a problem for the many English readers of the Bible who have been trained in the radical individualism so common to Western culture.  For many, the idea that it might be vitally important to belong to a Christian community is simply incoherent.  Nicholas Perrin once correctly observed that far too many Christians see the church as an informal gathering of Jesus’ mutual Facebook friends – there is little that connects them beyond the coincidence that they happen to have a relationship with the same person.  But this “Jesus and Me” faith is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, a truth which is better grasped when we pay closer attention to the use of plural pronouns.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is a great example: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  At first glance, these verses seem to be emphasizing the individuality of the Christian faith.  am where God dwells.  am filled with the Holy Spirit.  But a translation sensitive to the original languages would note that these are plural pronouns that should read: “Don’t you all know that you all (plural) are God’s temple (singular) and that God’s Spirit dwells in you all (plural)… For God’s temple (singular) is holy, and you all (plural) are that temple (singular).”

This significantly impacts how we should interpret this verse.  As Richards & O’Brien point out in Chapter 4 (Captain of My Soul: Individualism and Collectivism) of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible:

“We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards.  In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular.  Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy Spirit.”  God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around.  Together we make the dwelling for the Spirit.”

It is a local community of believers where God is found and where His Spirit is available to experience.  We might not like it or understand it, but apparently the Church is God’s plan to mediate his power and presence to the world.  Frankly, it’s remarkable that Paul is so confident about this truth as he writes specifically to the Corinthian church.  The church in Corinth was “Church-Gone-Wild XXX”  – they were immersed in factions, debauchery, and sexual immorality.  Yet, warts and all, their community was where God had chosen to dwell in a powerful and immediate way.   What if we dared to believe that the same is true of our local faith-families?  You might not have always read the Bible as a Texan, but hopefully you’ll start as soon as you can.


Mike Skinner has spent the last eight years inspiring, challenging, and encouraging Christian audiences of all sorts. He attended school at Houston Baptist University where he graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Christianity & Biblical Studies. He then went on to receive a Master of Arts in Theological Studies in 2013. He has served as the Lead Pastor at First Colony Christian Church for the past six years, as a High School Bible teacher at Fort Bend Christian Academy for the past four years, and as an itinerant speaker at various Christian events. In his free time, Mike enjoys reading, playing basketball, and cheering on the Houston Rockets.

Superiority: the Terrible Stumbling Stone.


By: JC Mitchell

Paul knew there was only one God.  He understood that meat bought from a pagan temple, and thus the animal, was offered to a made-up god.  Paul was clear in a letter to the Corinthians (specifically 1 Corinthians 8:1-13) that it would be confusing to those who grew up associating the sacrifices to the worship of these gods.  Paul even claims it wiser if he kept a vegetarian diet so no one could possibly be confused.

Today our meat is found in the supermarket wrapped in plastic and it is not associated with worship.  However, we in the mainline church ignore Paul’s profound warning.  It is not during the potlucks this problem occurs, but when those have an attitude of superiority.  
Paul wrote about how he knew he could enjoy meat from the pagan temples (and probably even pork), for he knew it had nothing to do with worship of any god.  Paul knew very well that these temples were no more than a butcher’s shop, but instead of insisting a new follower learn this fact, he was quite aware it could be easily misunderstood and thus become a stumbling stone to new followers.

So what does it mean?  I turn to Marcus Borg, who sadly passed away last week, to remind us that when we read Paul’s epistles, it is our own understanding that is in question, not Paul’s:

When we read Paul, we are reading somebody else’s mail—and unless we know the situation being addressed, his letters can be quite opaque...It is wise to remember that when we are reading letters never intended for us, any problems of understanding are ours and not theirs. (Marcus J. Borg, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon)

Oh right, we should be careful applying the knowledge of Paul’s words for today.  There is no longer a problem of a world order that Christianity is in competition, for Christianity is a dominate force in this contemporary world.  There is no risk of one’s dinner having been slaughtered in honor of a god or Caesar.   I am therefore writing about the feeling of superiority, and not any specific theological dogma.  Both so called progressive and conservative Christians seem to yell out they know the answer, with superiority.  
We need to be avoiding all possible stumbling stones, but more importantly that air of superiority, for it only suggests a right and wrong way to believe.  For as Borg points out, “Christianity's goal is not escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better” (Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored), and we know that will be best achieved with questions and love over smugness and superiority: the terrible stumbling stone.  

 

Don't Box Christ this Xmas!

By: J.C. Mitchell

I must admit I love both Christmasses.  Yes, both secular and religious.  I love the celebration of the incarnation: Emmanuel, God with us.  I preach about the Light breaking into the world and the return of The Christ.  We celebrate this festival because of the resurrection, and even more specifically to undermine the Gnostic idea that the incarnation did not happen.  Ironically I find those that are trying to keep the Christ in Christmas actually uphold Jesus the baby as a magic baby bringing salvation, despite the four Gospels (and even Paul) making it clear it was the Passion and Resurrection that did that, not simply his Birth. 

I spend little time worrying or fighting with those Christians that do not know their history, don’t really know the Bible, and reject careful and respected academia, who keep saying we should keep the Christ in Christmas and freak out when we use the common short hand for Christ, “X.”  There is much to do preparing for Santa, baking cookies, watching Christmas specials that have a great message but little to do with Jesus.  This is just as much Christmas, or perhaps even more important. 

I have friends of other faiths that share Holiday Cards.  I know many who never darken the door of the church who will be celebrating Christmas.  Yes, consumerism will invade this wonderful celebration, but tell me when it does not in our current culture.  What I do see are people starting conversations in public.  I see people giving more.  I find there is an emphasis on love, family, and friends.  The sense is we do desire Peace on Earth, and this time in the Northern Hemisphere when it is getting so dark, we all seem to dream it together.  But then some Christians, while not criticizing the consumerism, criticize Rudolph, Frosty, and the Jolly Ol’ Santa and have a hissy fit you said Happy Holidays. 

I would remind them that the Baby they claim to worship said, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” (Mark 9:40) and generally he told us to love one another, before there was anything called Christianity or the Church. 

So when you see a meme or hear someone say Keep the Christ in Christmas, ask yourself (but ask them if it’s safe to do so) should we be in the business of containing Christ?  Is not the Anointed One capable of using the world to fulfil the mission of Love and Peace for everyone? 

The Christ will not be contained by any church or religion.  As Anthony Barlett pens,

[Jesus] reinvents compassion as infinite modality, making it boundless, without structural limit. And when this example is raised up in the deathlessness of resurrection it is stabilized ontologically, as a final truth of being. It thus becomes an enduring human possibility, able to embed itself in the neural pathways of humans who look to him in faith as a true and living realization of the human.

Let us Xians follow the one that teaches us compassion by living that compassion to everyone, no matter what they believe or have done to us or our friends.  Let us be perfect like The Divine One as Jesus explains, “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”(Matthew 45b). 

God bless us, everyone. –Tiny Tim Cratchit

Bartlett, Anthony (2011-03-16). Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New (p. 148). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

 The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

Educating Ourselves on Racism

By Rev. Mindi

Once again, I am going to make an assumption that most of the readers of this blog are white.

Once again, I am going to raise the issue that we need to educate ourselves (read: white congregations) on racism in America, that racism is still alive and well, and that we white Christians need to listen.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri go to show us that racial profiling and anti-blackness are systemic. This is not just the beliefs of a few racists in a town far away. This is a systemic way of thinking that infiltrates our education, economic and prison systems. You probably have heard about the school-to-prisons pipeline before.

Black leaders have been using Twitter and other social media to inform the public about what really is happening in Ferguson and what is continuing to happen. The hashtag #FergusonSyllabus has been an excellent and eye-opening tool to learn how to talk about systemic police violence towards black individuals. The resources being shared across the country include historic resources about slavery and Jim Crow, personal experiences of black women and black men, the history of police violence in the United States, and continued discourse in civil rights.

Our mainly-white congregations need to be using these resources too. First, clergy and lay leaders need to familiarize themselves with recent history and see that the latest events of police violence are part of a systemic history of violence towards black people in the United States. We need to understand ourselves and then bring this to our congregation, in Sunday School and in the pulpit.

Secondly, our congregations need to become involved in anti-racist work. Partnering with local organizations already doing this work is key. Find other churches to connect with as well. But do this after you have done the educational piece first.

Thirdly, listen. Hear all the stories that are often not front-page news. Listen to your community members. It is easy for us to ignore stories and reports when they don’t affect us. I know that I still fall short and fail to listen when I hear stories that affect my neighbors of color.

Fourthly, remember your Scriptures. Remember the stories of Joseph in prison, the Hebrew people in slavery, the exile and return. Remember Daniel and the Hebrew children. Remember Jesus. How does the Gospel speak in these times? Who does the Bible call us to listen to?

Don’t let this fade away as Ferguson fades from the news. Take up the challenge to remember Ferguson, to remember Michael Brown and keep his family in your prayers, and to work for justice for all.

#YesAllWomen

By Rev. Mindi

In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, this time in Santa Barbara, the hashtag #YesAllWomen popped up on Twitter. Because while this was another mass shooting, this time the motive was quite clear from the beginning: the shooter’s hatred of women.

This isn’t mental illness. And while the shooter may have had a mental illness, it does not go hand-in-hand with his motives. Misogyny is not a mental illness. Misogyny is a direct result of patriarchy. Women must be controlled, despised, scapegoated and blamed.

Of course, the backlash started almost immediately with “not all men.” We women know that. We know that not all men hate women—but the minute we start to dismiss it we have lost the voice of women. All women have experienced sexism. All women have experienced fear. All women have been marginalized, oppressed, and in some ways have experienced violence or the repercussions of it. The fact that the woman who began the hashtag has now removed her Twitter account due to the threats against her is proof enough.

And within the hashtag other conversations have occurred. Often, white women end up dominating the conversation, ignoring the violence of racism within the conversations of patriarchy and feminism. The voices of women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and women who are poor may be ignored or trampled on, or seen as not as important as the “overall” message of violence against all women. But we cannot include all women if we do not include the voices of those who have experienced violence and hate due to race, sexual orientation, transgender, disability or poverty.

It is time—instead of letting another misogynist gone rampant—to allow the voice of women to speak. It’s time to allow the stories that women share to speak for themselves. For all of us to listen to the voices of the girls in Nigeria, the Christian woman in prison in Sudan, the voices of women in our churches who have experienced sexism and violence.

As Christians, where do we speak up for all women? Another hashtag, created by Joelle Colville Hanson, #YesAllBiblicalWomen is a powerful voice about the marginalization and oppression of women in the Bible, in church history, and church life today. There is now a Twitter account @AllBibleWomen that is tweeting the stories of Biblical women along the hashtag that speak out for women from the Bible to church life today. Here are a few examples tweeted out in the last two days:

Sarah: because my husband thought pimping me out was better than other men killing him to take me.

The Daughters of Zelophehad: Because women controlling their own lives was so radical we had to advocate for the laws to change.

Miriam: because I was a prophet and a worship leader, and my role is minimized to sister and singer.

Joanna: Because I was an apostle, but they did not believe me, and did not grant me the title.

Phoebe: Because I smuggled the Epistle to the Romans into the city, but women still can't be action heroes.

Michal: bc I loved/protected a man who "won" me from my father by sexually violating 100 foreign men. Turned he was a rapist and murderer.

 

For more, check out Twitter #YesAllBiblicalWomen @AllBibleWomen, and #YesAllWomen

Let the voice of women, silenced in the Bible, silenced in our churches, and silenced by gunshots, be heard loud and clear. 

Speaking the Language

By Rev. Mindi

“Does she know the Word?” the salesperson asked me. I blinked for a moment again. “Does she read the Bible?”

I understood her the first time, I was just taken back for a moment, remembering another time. Stepping into a commercial Christian bookstore is a timewarp for me, reminders of getting saved at Friday night youth rallies (and more than once), high school Bible study groups and college campus prayer gatherings.  I was also reminded of my brief ministry in the South.

“No,” I replied, “but she wants to start.”  The salesperson put back the awkward bulky study Bible she had pulled down for me when I said I wanted a study Bible, and went instead to a more devotional easy-to-read NIV Bible with softbound cover. Not something I would ever have picked for myself, but this would work for the person I had in mind. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

Sometimes I forget that I ever spoke that language. I grew up in a mainline, progressive church start. In junior high I was already questioning the idea of a male God. I was given a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as a baptism present in 1991, with great study notes. I was already pouring over liberal commentaries in my pastor’s office in high school.

But my church was small, and though we had a youth group that met occasionally, I ended up wandering in and out of the youth group gatherings of my friends. These gatherings were high-energy, had great music, fun games, and a lot of bad theology. At one church we were told if we didn’t have a believer’s baptism it didn’t count; at another if we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit we couldn’t go to heaven; at still another, we were once yelled at and lectured for forty-five minutes about the sin of lust.  Still, despite the bad theology and messages that gave me chills, there was a language I learned that I began to use and incorporate into my faith life.  This language included phrases such as “God is opening a door,” or “the Spirit is moving,” “walking with Jesus," and "Getting right with God."

I’ve lost this language over the years. It was language that was familiar to me and what I used in writing my seminary application essays, but after my first year of seminary it dropped away. I suppose I felt silly thinking of God opening doors for me in an academic setting, where I needed to be rational.  My daily devotional reading that I began when I was thirteen fell away along with my evening prayers. I delved into books and became a scholar. Even my ordination paper, in which I described my faith journey, was empty of this language as I focused on the more heavy topics of eschatology and ecclesiology using wordy theological terms to share what I believed.

But language is woven into my spiritual life and is part of who I am. The language that I learned in those evangelical circles became part of my blood and was waiting to come back to the surface again. But it needed to be authentic. Sometimes, when we lived in the South, those phrases came out so I could fit in.  They weren’t heartfelt and they made me feel like a fraud.

Over time, I have met people who grew up in church but haven’t been part of church for a while. Sometimes they describe themselves as having “fallen away.” While I don’t like to use that phrase for its negative implications, I understand where people are coming from and why they may feel that way.  I met someone now who wants to “get back into the Word.” So I went to the commercial Christian bookstore, knowing there I could find people who would speak the same language.

When I first was going to seminary, I used the language of following where God was leading me, and learning that there was more than one right path. Now, no longer believing there is a path set out, a divine plan for everyone, I find myself coming back to that language of following where God leads—but recognizing that God is leading us all, always, in all things.

I remember once in seminary a professor talking about the old hymns that he grew up with, hymns that spoke of being washed in the blood. What a terrible image! But he found he could still sing the songs. And I find myself coming back to the same place. I can still sing the songs (well, most of them), I can still speak the language, it still is within me though I may filter it differently. I still hear Jesus calling me, I still feel God putting words on my heart, and I still know the Spirit is moving me on this journey of faith.

The Moral Unclean

By Brian Carr

We, as Christians, have a problem with morality.

By this I mean that we think we have issues of morality figured out. We think that we have become the ultimate definers of what it means to be a good and moral person. We think that we have explored the Bible enough that we can make these types of judgments, in completely objective and conscious fashions.

The problem with this is that we really don’t know what defines morality, especially on a universal level. We are also biased in ways that we are not fully aware of, in ways that define the morality of a person based on ideas we are subconsciously carrying with us.

Let’s start with two examples – cleanliness and the idea of negativity dominance.

Have you ever heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness”? It is a phrase said most often by our parents when they were trying to get us to clean our rooms or pickup our toys (for the record, this never worked for my mother). It is also a phrase that does not appear in the bible, and Christians educated on the myths of the bible are often quick to point this out.

While this specific phrase is not in any of the biblical texts, the concept is central to how Jews understood both sin and the idea of connecting to God. And because this concept was central to the Hebrew Bible, it has naturally rubbed off on Christians, even if we continually attempt to distance ourselves from the “old” testament.

Cleaning rituals were of utmost importance in the Hebrew Bible. Many sins could be dealt with by taking part in cleansing rituals. Many sins could be dealt with by sacrificing a clean animal. Being physically clean was the name of the game for many Jews. This thought also invaded the New Testament (uh-oh!) with Jesus’ death having the power to “wash away sins” and washing believers as “white as snow.”

Spiritually cleanliness was intrinsically tied with physical cleanliness. “So what does this have to do with us now?” you might be asking. “We don’t follow cleansing rituals or sacrifice any animals, clean or unclean!” And you would be right. We may not follow those practices anymore, but we still follow the concept of physical cleanliness having something to do with spiritual cleanliness.

Whether we realize it or not, we still associate being physically dirty with somehow being immoral. I can’t tell you how often I have heard people complain about someone being “under-dressed” at church or “needing a haircut” to look less like a homeless person. We have an idea that in order to be present with God in church, we must be showered, well-manicured, and dressed nicely. I remember reading a study by a pastor who would go into churches dressed and smelling like a homeless man, and he was never greeted warmly or invited back to the church.

When we associate dirtiness with immorality, we want to immediately expel and exclude these dirty people. This is because we subconsciously believe in a concept called negativity dominance. Negativity dominance suggests that when a positive and negative force meet, the negative force will make the positive force negative, rather than the other way around. Part of the Jewish cleansing rituals was a period of isolating yourself from society. This was because of the belief that unclean people could make clean people unclean. So if you had done something to make yourself unclean, you had to get away from others because you were now able to make people unclean simply by your presence. The negative would always be able to ruin the positive. 

This is why the Pharisees would be appalled by Jesus interacting with the unclean people of the society, those who were excluded and on the fringes. The Pharisees assumed that the unclean people would make Jesus unclean. They could not fathom the concept of Jesus being able to clean them simply by HIS presence. Negativity dominance was the norm for the Pharisees. Jesus came to make positivity dominance the new norm.

So what does all of this have to do with Christians being the champions of morality? It shows us that we subconsciously define people’s morality based on something as arbitrary and unimportant as cleanliness. It shows us that we are defining morality based on things that have nothing to do with morality. What other things are we incorrectly attributing to someone’s morality? Before we start to decide whether someone is a good person or not, it is crucial that we first recognize the biases we carry in defining this morality. If not, we are in danger of becoming the Pharisees who exclude Jesus’ ministry and build up boundaries that don’t let God in.

Advent and Anti-Semitism

By Rev. Mindi

And so it happens. As we turn the page on the end of another year in the Revised Common Lectionary, we turn to Advent. Darkness coming out of light. Waiting for the Messiah. And a lot of theologically challenging Advent carols begin to enter our hearing, not to mention this year’s complicated Year A readings from Isaiah.

 

I grew up in a very liberal American Baptist congregation. It was one of the founding churches in the Welcoming and Affirming movement.  When religious liberty was challenged by school sponsored prayer or “motivational speakers” hired by some of the more fundamentalist churches in town to come into the schools and the lure us to their after-school programs, our church stood up for all people, for all religions and for those of no religion or belief in God.  I went to a liberal arts college and studied under professors for whom the conservative Christian body would warn me not to take classes with, and attended a fairly liberal, welcoming church during college.

 

But I was stunned as I sat in my Old Testament class, first semester of seminary, when my professor dared to talk about the Hebrew Scriptures, the passages from the Prophets, especially Isaiah, and talk about early Christians putting Jesus back on the Scriptures when they wrote the Gospels.  How the early Christians went looking for Jesus in the Hebrew texts and found certain passages that they borrowed from to fashion fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah, and that the Jews had other interpretations for those passages, especially the Suffering Servant songs in Isaiah, and the young woman with child in 7:14. I had always, always interpreted those scriptures to be about Jesus. I had never thought of them any other way.  I felt the foundation of my faith crumble out from under me.

 

After coffee with my professor and chatting with other seminary friends, I began to rebuild my faith. I also began to study the scriptures in context. Funny how we chose that one verse in Isaiah 7 about the young woman conceiving and naming her child Immanuel and not the rest of that passage, where the child is to eat curds and honey—never heard of that being Jesus’ early diet, nor the rest of the references to Assyria, nor chapter eight’s references to Immanuel.  In fact, it’s pretty clear that the verses used to prove Jesus as the Messiah by the Gospel writers and early Christians were plucked right out of context.  But as my professor said, there are certain attributes we ascribe to Jesus that the early Christians saw in the Hebrew texts about God, or about the coming Messiah, an idea in Jewish theology that came later.

 

So as I plan my preaching for Advent, I have three options: one, to continue to preach Jesus as predicted by the prophets, and thus risk perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype that somehow the Jews just missed Jesus and we got it right, appropriating the language and ideas from another religion to fit our own; or two, to just preach the Gospels and avoid all references to the Hebrew Scriptures (a very difficult task) and avoid any reference to prediction or prophecy; or three, to tackle this head-on and read them while acknowledging how they have been used in Christian theology and history.

 

I’m going with three. We as Christians need to acknowledge that while we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as our own, we have taken certain Scriptures out of context, misappropriated concepts and ideas about the Messiah and Israel’s future to fit Jesus into a box that was neatly pre-determined by God. We need to look at our hymns that have taken the Scriptures out of context, sometimes even changing the Scripture to fit in rhyme and verse, and replacing “God” with “Jesus.”  We need to acknowledge that this is part of our tradition and history with Advent. Not ignore it, and not go along with it, but to acknowledge, to look to other ways to see Jesus as our Messiah, and to recognize our need to rethink the Advent season and what we teach, sing, and say.

 

So rejoice! Advent is almost here. Darkness is coming out of light. We are waiting for Christ to enter our world in a new way and into our lives by remembering Christ’s coming before. But let us not buy into the myths of the past. Let us not continue to appropriate without acknowledging our history of anti-Semitism within the church and our ignoring of our Jewish friends’ interpretation and understanding (and historical context) of these same Scriptures.

Love Rescue Me

By Rev. Mindi

We were crammed in to a four-passenger Cessna, with our baggage in the tail. Four teenagers on their way to Church Camp, two of whom were actually Baptist, one who was Catholic and one who was not raised in church, as far as I knew. Lightest kid sat in the back. I sat next to my fellow churchgoer, and my good friend from high school, my Catholic friend, sat up with the pilot.

The airport in Kodiak, Alaska was built during World War II, and was built precisely because of the amount of fog. The Japanese had invaded the Aleutian Islands and the fear was that they were building up to an invasion of North America through Alaska.  Nonetheless, fifty-plus years after the war, the fog was no longer convenient but a definite problem. The year after this, my brother and friend would try to fly down to Church Camp and be stuck at the Anchorage International Airport for over twenty-four hours due to the fog (it was only the two of them that year, so they got to travel on a real airline).

We had thirteen kids going that summer, and so the seven-passenger Cessna, which had better equipment and was a faster aircraft, had gone ahead of us. Missionary Air was a service in Alaska to help pastors get out to the bush communities, but they also would fly us to church camp for free when we had enough kids that needed to go.  They were able to land.  However, the radar was not working that day at the Kodiak Airport, and the pilot didn’t have the better instruments on this plane.  So we dipped out of the foggy cloud-clover over some rocky island (there are many islands in the Kodiak archipelago), but the pilot made the decision to turn and fly back to the Kenai Peninsula. And as we flew back, about forty-five minutes into the flight, I noticed the pilot kept leaning over and looking down.  “What are you looking at?” I shouted up at him over the roar of the twin-engine Cessna.  “Looking for land,” he shouted back.  At that point, my friend in the front seat began to pray.

It was the first time in my life I thought I might die. Seventeen years old, and even though I had experienced the death of loved ones and had gone to my grandfather’s funeral that spring, it was in that moment, above the white lofty clouds, blue sky and blazing sun, somewhere above the Gulf of Alaska that I thought this might be it.  And it turns out I wasn’t too far off—we started to run out of fuel while landing in Kenai. One engine sputtered out on descent and we had a bit of a bumpy landing. But we landed. We were safe. We were ok.  Later that afternoon we took off for a second attempt after refueling and hearing that the weather had cleared, and had a beautiful trip down to Kodiak, and were later reunited with our other campers that had flown out that morning and those that came from Kodiak on the beautiful, temperate rain-forested Woody Island, where the mist rose out of the trees every morning and you couldn’t see across the two-mile channel to Kodiak Island because of the thick choking fog, but where it burned off every afternoon for a brilliant sunset turning into a gorgeous starscape every night.

Church Camp was the place where my faith sprouted, where I was challenged in my faith and in my very being. I remember every year facing the challenge of, having already been saved, trying to come up with some reason I needed redemption and saving again, because the joyful catharsis of being saved on the last night of Church Camp was something I wanted to experience every single year. Because I was so emotionally vulnerable as a teenager, it was easy to start believing I was a horrible sinner who needed saving, was un-loveable and needed to be loved by God in order for everything to be right. This coming from the one-in-a-million youth for whom D.A.R.E. actually worked for. I never smoked, drank, did drugs or slept around. I was a “good kid.” So therefore, there a) must be something wrong with me that I hadn’t realized and needed to find out so I could be saved, or b) was not interesting to anyone else because I was too good and didn’t need to be saved.  Tough times for this Christian teen.

But it was that last year at camp, just after high school graduation, that changed things for me. Besides my near-death experience (well, it probably wasn’t really, and maybe I just imagined the engine going out as the pilot never admitted that to us though we were all convinced it was) that same week I was at camp a family friend—my age—committed suicide.  After my mom called me and told me, I told my camp counselors, whom I’m pretty sure just thought I was another needy teenager when I became a bit emotional about it (I don’t mean to be flip, but I remember that no one—not the camp counselors or the camp pastor—thought this was a huge thing, that a family friend had taken his own life)—I felt empty. Death was such a final reality and our friend was gone. And there was nothing I or anyone could do to bring him back.


What I really wanted was someone to comfort me, to tell me everything was ok—that I was ok. And as I look back now (“that summer seemed to last forever…” sorry, sidetracked) I realize that I WAS OK. All OF US WERE OK. There was nothing that was so bad that any of us had done. A few there had smoked pot and drank. Some had probably had sex by then. What would have been helpful were some trained counselors to deal with some of the real issues of drug addiction, or at least referrals that way.  But I think what we needed to know the most was that we were not broken people. We were still kids! What had we done that was so awful and horrible? But we were made to think that in order to be whole, to be loved by God, to be accepted, we had to be broken first, and that we had to somehow feel bad about who we were and had been.

I still believe in a God of redemption. I still believe in Jesus as my Savior, Redeemer and Friend. But I no longer believe that Jesus wants me to be emotionally abused and shamed before being able to accept love. There is nothing in the Gospels that says “First, be ashamed of who you are. Second, tell everyone how bad you have been. Third, accept Jesus before you leave camp because you don’t know when else you’ll have the chance to be saved.”  No. What I read of Jesus is him saying immediately, “Your sins are forgiven.”  What I see Jesus doing is accepting people as human beings first and foremost.

I thought about this today because now I live in Seattle and the fog creeps in on my hillside church and parsonage every morning these days, and I’m reminded of Woody Island and how the fog seemed to choke out hope of seeing beyond what was in front of us, but then it would burn off and we’d see the beauty of creation beyond anything we could imagine. Orcas jumping fifty yards off the dock. Sea lions butting up against the pilings. Bald eagles nesting in the trees above Canoe Lake. And the lone red bull (seriously, not making this up) wandering the island, leftover from the days when cattle were ranched there, when the last homesteader left.

I don’t write this to shame my camp counselors, many of whom were just a few years older than me and had the heavy, heavy burden of trying to get kids saved before they went back home. And some of us came from some pretty rotten families. Some came from foster care. Some had been abused by elders. It’s not to say we didn’t need saving—we did.  But that week at camp was what saved us, again and again. A week among the trees, on an island away from everyone else, away from teen pressures, away from the family members who didn’t love us or couldn’t care for us. But I don’t think we were broken.  Perhaps what we needed so desperately to hear was the message of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, simply because we were children, human beings. Not because of our own brokenness, but because of the brokenness of the world. The brokenness of a world in which a teenager took his own life.  The brokenness of a community in which parents abandoned their children. The brokenness of a place in which youth escape these pressures and pain through drug abuse and alcohol.

Maybe we did need saving, but we needed to know that God loved us, and that we weren’t broken, we weren’t damaged goods, we weren’t horrible, sinful people. We were simply children of God.  And I’d like to let my camp counselors off the hook for the job of saving us. I think many of them were trying to figure this all out for themselves as well.

The last day of camp I got up early before breakfast and morning devotions. I snuck my Discman out of my sleeping bag and crept out the door, walking down the path to Lower Inspiration Point, where the sign carved into the tree read, “Be still and know that I am God.”  There was a little peninsula with rotted-out beams in rows for a little outdoor chapel, jutting out into a point in Canoe Lake, and an old driftwood cross erected in front. A tree grew out near the tip of the peninsula, and just beyond the tree was where many kids were baptized over the years, baptized into a temporary community of faith that would be scattered by Saturday.  I sat down on the beam pews and listened to Rattle and Hum by U2, and the song “Love Rescue Me” with Bob Dylan singing came over the headphones:

                Love rescue me

                Come forth and speak to me

                Raise me up and don’t let me fall

                No man is my enemy

                My own hands imprison me

                Love rescue me

                …

                Yea, though I walk

                through the valley of the shadow

                Yea, I will fear no evil

                I have cursed Thy rod and staff

                They no longer comfort me

                Love rescue me

And in that moment as I listened to that song and that album, I kid you not, a bald eagle flew overhead, swooped down and marred the surface of the still lake waters. And I knew that I was being raised up.

The God of Church Camp that said “You must be ashamed. You must regret. You are sinful and unworthy, and you are only worthy if You accept me” was gone. That kind of thinking no longer comforted me.  Instead, this idea of God’s love—God’s love for me because I was me—saved me.

And that love by Jesus is still saving me. I have failed many times as a pastor and a mom and a wife. I have failed as a community leader. I have failed in many ways. But I’m not broken.  I’m not terrible. I’m not damaged goods. I am loved.

  

Lectionary Reflectionary: Syria

By Rev. Mindi

 

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. ~Luke 14:25-33

 

The lectionary isn’t always this timely, but it does seem to happen now and then. As we are on the verge of war with Syria, I wonder if we have truly weighed the cost. Having lived in Oklahoma for almost three years, we came to know many families who had a loved one serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; sadly, I knew many children through the preschool I worked at and later in the public schools whose parent had been killed in action.

Have we truly weighed the cost as a nation considering war? We have seen the bodies of children after the chemical weapons attack; how many more bodies will be added to that from our strikes? For surely we cannot guarantee a school or daycare or homes will not be destroyed. We cannot guarantee more children’s bodies will be added to the pyre. What kind of deterrence will missile strikes make? Or will it just make a new generation of people in another land hate us?

I could go on and on. But Church, we’re the one that needs to weigh the cost:

What are we holding on to when we don’t speak up against war? Fear of rocking the boat? Fear of offending those who have served before?

What is possessing us that we step out of the conversation and instead stick to preaching personal salvation? A false sense of security that we are doing the right thing and not becoming political?

If we truly are to carry our cross—the instrument of death—what is it that we need to put to death to follow Jesus?  Is it our fears? Our need to fit in? Our need to keep the “peace” with the people around us even if it means the silent majority outside of our relationships will suffer?

My mother and stepfather love bumper stickers. My mother has lots of peace-related bumper stickers on her car. She has twice been almost run off the road because of her bumper-sticker statements. Once I was in the car with her and two men yelled from their truck on the highway, showing her their dog tags, and then violently turned their car into her lane. My stepfather, who did two tours in Korea and Vietnam, proudly has "Veterans for Peace" bumper stickers on his truck. He also has had threats, but not quite as severe.   

Peace is not the easy way out. Peace is hard. Peace is the way of the cross, to meet the world's violence with nonviolence. Peace is the way of Jesus, who calls us to put away the sword. 

We need to sit down and weigh the cost—in other words, we have to stop being wishy-washy. Are we going to stand, or are we going to be silent?

Church, we need to stand up and demand that our leaders seek peace. There is still time to call your Senators and Representatives. There is still time to have prayer vigils for peace. There is still time to work with other peacemaking organizations and join up in your local community.

There is still time for peace.  Maybe, just maybe, this time can be different. We can actually weigh the cost of our silence and weigh the cost of war, and say, “no more.”