Friday, December 31, 2010
My conservative Christian friend clarified what he meant in the following way: "It just makes more sense to go to a place of worship that believes the way we do. After all, we don't expect a Buddhist to go to a Muslim house of worship or a Hindu to go to a Catholic church." So, for my friend, finding a "home" before finding a church means arriving at Christian beliefs before you join a church. "Home" means the beliefs one chooses to accept, or the beliefs one finds that one has.
I identify with this, in a sense. Back when Anne Rice was leaving the church, Christian friends of mine were posting articles saying that she should stay in the church---that church is where a Christian grows. But I wondered: Why should she attend and support (with her time and money) an institution whose beliefs she does not accept? For her, the Catholic Church is homophobic, for example. Why should she support that institution and help perpetuate its influence, when she does not like what she believes to be the consequences of that influence? It just appears that some Christians want us to commit an act of terrorism against who we truly are, by going through motions in which we pretend to be something that we're not.
But my conservative Christian friend would say that Anne Rice shouldn't go to church, for her home is not in the beliefs of that church. I can picture conservative Christians then saying that it's fine for Anne Rice not to go to church, just so long as she makes no claim to being a Christian, but I think that God should be the judge of who is a Christian and who is not, not conservative Christians. Why should they have a monopoly on the definition of Christian, anyway?
My conservative Christian friend highlights why I'd have a difficult time in a conservative Christian church: because I'd have a hard time hearing its message on a weekly basis, or supporting an institution that believes things that don't sit well with me. If I were to listen to the manipulatory, dogmatic messages of conservative Christianity week in and week out, I would be sick to my stomach!
At the same time, I do find that I can listen to certain Christian conservative sermons on a weekly basis, without vomiting, that is. I would probably still enjoy going to Redeemer and listening to Tim Keller each week, if I lived in New York City. For my weekly quiet times, I listen to Calvary Chapel sermons. Why do I enjoy these Christian conservative messages? I think one reason is that they don't always go with the Christian conservative flow. Tim Keller, Jon Courson, and others I enjoy hearing don't proclaim a message of "God is a Republican," for example. Back when Christians were lining up to see the Passion of the Christ, Tim Keller remarked that he had not seen the film. He wasn't saying "You have to support this film, or you're not a true believer," or some nonsense like that.
Second, the conservative Christian preachers whom I enjoy hearing offer practical insights on how to live life. They're not just about believing in certain doctrines, but they try to show how faith can lead to a positive life. When they talk about doctrines, they discuss them in terms of their practicality. Tim Keller, for instance, said that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is a community of love (or something like that), meaning that God didn't create us because he needed us to compendate for his own loneliness or insecurity, for God received love before he made us---from the other members of the Godhead. That promotes love among believers, and it means that God loves us because he really loves us, not because God has something to gain from the deal.
And so, even though conservative Christianity is not my "home," I can still identify with some things that conservative Christians have to say.
I recently posted Russell Miller's post, Beyond livid, on an online forum, and a conservative Christian friend of mine astutely responded: "Sometimes, we need to find a home before we find a church."
That's a pretty thought-provoking statement, and I find that to be true in my own life. Of course, I have a home---and I'm loved within it---so I don't want to give the impression that I'm discontent with my family. I love my family. But where my Christian friend's comment resonates with me is as follows: I've found that, in order to fit in within the church, it helps if I have a sense of inner peace and security. Otherwise, I tend to repel people rather than draw them to me. And I'm not writing this as a sermon to others, telling them that they should have inner peace in order to draw others to them. I don't have a lot of inner peace, even as I write this post. I'm better nowadays than I was a few years ago, mind you, but I still don't have the inner peace to walk into a church, feel comfortable, ingratiate myself among the "right" people, and actually BELONG!
But shouldn't church be like a home? Don't churches advertise themselves as such when they proclaim that they are hospitals for sinners---which means that we should feel free to come to church just as we are? But even my conservative Christian friend seems to acknowledge that home and church are two different entities. Church requires me to do certain things in order to fit in. Home is where I fit in already, just by being part of the family. When I go home to be with my family, I know that I'm at home. When I go to church, I don't feel as if I'm at home.
But Christians talk like Christians should automatically feel at home among other Christians. They act like there's some automatic bond between two Christians, just because they happen to believe in the same doctrines. They assume that two Christians are part of the same family, and see each other as such. Going back to the founder of Christianity, there are times when Jesus encourages his disciples to place him above their earthly families---and Jesus even redefines his family as those who do the will of God.
I have a hard time feeling a bond with Christians on account of a common belief (even in the days when I had that belief, or at least held it more strongly than I do today), or viewing Christians as my family. My family loves me and accepts me, regardless of what I do or what I do or don't believe. Christians accept me if I believe and behave as they do. So pardon me if I love my earthly family more than my Christian brothers and sisters!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
I want to feature a quote from Russell Miller's post, The Gift of Christmas. This quote has shed light on why I feel the way that I do when it comes to certain Christians:
"And what I have always found to be lacking in any Church environment I have gone to is the lack of sacrifice. I am a very hurting and troubled person, and used to be way more hurting and troubled. And when I got to church, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was at least expecting to see the love of God – that which is not human, that which sacrifices, that which forgives and loves regardless and unconditionally. I was not raised in a church that had this love, and no church that I had found since had this love. In fact, I went to some of the most frigid and conditional churches I could find, and finally I gave up, assuming this love was not to be found.
"And I became an atheist."
Russell is no longer an atheist, and he is also friends with one loving Christian. But I appreciate his point. Why do Christians get under my skin? After all, they're human, just like I am. I know that I'm far from perfect. Who am I to give somebody else a poor grade?
Granted, Christians are not perfect. But they claim to have an edge that non-Christians lack, namely, the Holy Spirit, which supernaturally transforms them into people who produce the fruit of the Spirit---love, joy, peace, etc. There are people who feel that Christians are pretty smug to claim that they have a moral edge that non-Christians do not have, especially when Christians aren't necessarily better than anyone else when it comes to how they live their lives.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
"For the low, low price of acting like this [(i.e., speaking Christianese)], I could worm my way into a Church. No one would know – except, maybe, those who know me best, such as Mark. But most wouldn’t know. They would assume that I was 'one of the fold', and would probably welcome me with open arms. And I would soon have more people to do things with than I knew what to do with. Maybe mostly religious events, after all, who would ever do anything with me socially, voluntarily. But they might call me brother. And all I would have to do would be to bow my head, and say the right words when necessary, and act humble and use a great deal of my formidable experience to come up with interesting points about the gospel. And they would think I was led by the spirit. And maybe I would find a good Christian woman (and maybe not, but still), and finally get married and have a family.
"That is all dangling in front of me right now, just out of my reach. And I could reach up and grab it, if I wanted. The price of entry is my soul."
At the same time, let me say this: there is a sense in which I have felt more accepted by conservative evangelicals, than I do by liberal Christians. For instance, if I post something on Christian Mingle, which is rather conservative, people will respond. I still have friends from that community, even though some of them realize that I no longer share the same views that they hold. By contrast, if I post something on a liberal Christian site, I often don't get a response. Maybe they view my comments from a standpoint of "Been there, done that." Perhaps they see me as overly militant---only this time, I'm militant in an anti-evangelical direction. Even liberal Christians are big on love, and I can easily come across as someone who has a huge chip on his shoulder. So I feel more comfortable reading what liberal Christians have to say; but I feel slightly more accepted by conservative Christians.
I may not be able to publish comments over the next few days, for I'm in the process of moving from Cincinnati to New York. But I'll get to them! Thanks for your patience.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Could the Servant Songs be a legend that contains ideals? Cook discusses those sorts of legends in other cultures, such as that of the Aztecs. They stress self-sacrifice. For Cook, in Isaiah 53, the self-sacrifice of the Servant shocks Israel out of her selfishness and challanges the tendency of people to objectify others based on their "worth." The speakers of Isaiah 53 acknowledge that they considered the Servant to be worthless, and yet they have now changed their mind, in response to the Servant's death.
At the end of the essay, Cook refers to Albert Schweitzer, who "gave up his missionary chair to become a missionary physician." Cook states that Schweitzer was having a profound effect upon society by so doing:
"By abandoning his prestigious career for a ministry of healing in Lambarene, Schweitzer envisioned himself making reparation for the harm Europe had inflicted on Africa. His personal self-sacrifice had a profound spiritual influence on his generation, since, learning of his work, his contemporaries came better to appreciate their complicity and guilt in colonialism's evils. By working this transforming effect on those whom he represented back at home, Schweitzer's other-centeredness exemplified the sacrificial ideals of Isa 53. His selflessness generated renewal and intimacy among the world's peoples" (page 124).
For some reason, while reading this, I thought about what Tony Campolo and Philip Yancey said about Henri Nouwen. I heard Campolo speak at Harvard, and he told the story about how Nouwen got tired of being "Dr. Nouwen" at prestigious universities, and so he went to Latin America to help the poor. Nouwen wrote a book expressing his thanks to those he helped, entitled Gracias. Philip Yancey, in one of his books, talks about how Nouwen took care of a man with a disability. Yancey thought that this was a waste of Nouwen's talents, for Nouwen was a brilliant man. But Nouwen told Yancey that he---Nouwen---was the one who was blessed to take care of the man with the disability.
I think that it's good to serve. I get a cozy feeling when I think back to the days when Christianity was so basic in my life---when it was about service. Maybe it can be that way again. But I doubt that I'll serve at the same level of Albert Schweitzer and Henri Nouwen. I'd have a hard time getting by without my Internet, my TV, my books, etc.
Regarding Cook's essay, I'd like to think that Second Isaiah---or whoever wrote the Servant Songs (since some believe that they were incorporated into Second Isaiah at a later date)---had some figure in mind---that he believed that the Servant was a real person. The Servant Songs talk about the Servant restoring Israel and bringing God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Did the author of the Servant Songs see this as a mission for every Israelite? Or did he have in mind a specific person whom he hoped would accomplish this?
Monday, December 27, 2010
1. Harvey's essay argues that there are many parallels between the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-II Kings) and stories in the Tetrateuch (Genesis-Numbers). He says that there is likewise a parallel between Joseph in Genesis and Jehoiachin at the end of II Kings, who is exalted in Babylonian exile. Harvey views this as a sign of hope for the exiles: in the same way that the Exodus occurred long after the exaltation of Joseph in Egypt, so would the Israelites return from Babylonian captivity after the death of Jehoiachin. And, indeed, II Kings 25:20 says that the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a weekly allowance for as long as Jehoiachin lived, indicating that at least part of the Deuteronomistic History was addressing a situation after the death of Jehoiachin.
Harvey probably views Jehoiachin as a historical person, for (if I'm not mistaken) there is archaeological evidence that he was in Babylon. And yet, the Deuteronomist's description of Jehoiachin and his significance can be literary---patterned after a literary figure (Joseph). This is important because there are scholars who try to create a wedge between the historical and the literary, as if what is literary cannot be historical. Christ mythers argue, for example, that, because Jesus in the Gospels resembles Horus, Jesus wasn't a historical person. And the list goes on. But can a historical person be described in a literary manner, or patterned after literary characters?
I was thinking about that this Christmas. The "birth story" of Jesus in Matthew contains elements that we find in other stories: a king tries to kill a bunch of kids to get rid of a promised deliverer, a star heralds the birth of said redeemer, etc. This brings to mind Josephus' telling of the Exodus story, among other legends. That may be why there are people who don't believe that the birth story in Matthew is historical. But does similarity to legend rule out historicity? I'm not sure. That may depend on a case-by-case basis. It's one thing for Jehoiachin to be exalted in Babylon, and for that to be described in terms of the story of Joseph; it's another thing for a story to contain a number of typical scenes that appear in other legends. The former looks less contrived than the latter, if you know what I mean.
2. One of Meade's arguments is that "The non-closure of the Old Testament, the conception of heavenly books, and the literary genre of testament were the vehicles by which the post-apostolic authors of the New Testament (e.g., the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Revelation) could begin to articulate a doctrine of new, Christian Scripture, and to develop a hermeneutic to interpret these texts" (320). Meade contends that the canon of the Hebrew Bible was officially closed (presumably by the rabbis) in response to Christianity. And there were apocalyptic books in the Second Temple Period which were popping up, claiming to be divine revelation. There are books in the New Testament that fit this genre.
People have asked: Did the New Testament authors believe that they were writing sacred Scripture? Maybe Paul did not think that he was doing so, but his writings were considered to be Scripture in the second century, as books such as the pastorals and II Peter demonstrate (for II Peter considers Paul's writings to be Scripture). The author of Revelation, on the other hand, probably believed that he was writing a divinely-inspired document.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
One thing that's amazing: I've often felt reluctant to move. I was happy to move right after I graduated from high school, both because I didn't enjoy high school that much, and also because my family had its share of drama. (I love them, and I enjoyed visiting them on my breaks from college, or even on weekends. But they had their share of drama!) But, starting with my time at DePauw University, I wasn't too eager to move.
At DePauw, I enjoyed JC, a Christian group that drew lots of people and had fantastic praise-and-worship. When I was in Massachussetts going to Harvard, I didn't find anything like JC, but I attended a church that was warm and friendly, and that fed me with good Caribbean food. When I was in New York, I attended Redeemer and the New York Metro Adventist Forum. I was hesitant to leave New York because I doubted that any preacher could top Tim Keller, or that I could find a church as open and as intellectual as the New York Metro Adventist Forum. When I was in Cincinnati, however, I made friends in a twelve-step recovery group, and I went to Latin mass, where I learned new things.
I have often been hesitant to leave my old life behind to start a new life. But I started my new life. It wasn't exactly like the old life that I was leaving behind, and yet it was still good, in its own way.
I'm not sure to what extent I will miss Latin mass. I felt a bit of agoraphobia about going to church this morning, maybe because I haven't gone for the past three weeks, even on Christmas. Today, we had bald Tom Bosley priest, and, quite frankly, I wasn't following his homily all that well. I couldn't get what he was driving at. He lamented that only thirty per cent of Catholics believe that the bread and the wine literally become the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. To be honest, I really don't give a rip.
Some of the literature that I read in church was good, though. The bulletin talked about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt from Herod, and it asked if Joseph was able to find work. It said that this family survived because it put its trust in God. This resonated with me, for I hope that I find some job in New York, so that I can start paying off my student loan debt.
The bulletin also said that today is the Feast of the Holy Family, which "celebrates how the humanity of Jesus (including his entire family life) has brought saving significance into the daily rhythms of our human family life." This is also relevant to where I am now, for, soon, I'll be living with people: my Mom and her husband. I haven't lived with people for some time, so this will take some getting used to---on the part of me, and probably also on the part of my Mom and her husband. When I became a Christian---which was in my sophomore year of high school---I tried to become a better family member: to serve around the house, to ignore my sister's taunts, etc. But I learned that I really had to be proactive in keeping up that sort of behavior, for it to last. And, over the years, my tolerance for people has decreased.
I'm not sure if I any longer view my family life in terms of spirituality. In New York, if I'm asked to serve around the house, then I will serve, for that's the least that I can do; it won't be a matter of me acting like Jesus before my family, as if I can even do that. If I have issues, I hope that I'll be able to express them in a rational manner. I may have to have some time outside of the house, as I attend twelve-step meetings, or see a therapist. I may also need quite a bit of down-time by myself. There was a time when I lived with people---several years ago---and I can do so again.
That said, I doubt I'll be writing another blog post today about The Bible As a Human Witness to Divine Revelation. I'll save that for tomorrow morning. See you then!
My Mom's husband will be coming this week to help me to move. I'll be moving from Cincinnati to upstate New York. Consequently, there will probably be a few days in which I won't have a blog post. But don't despair, dear readers! I'll resume blogging when I can!
The essay that I read today was Robert C. Fennell's "In the Bosom of the Beloved Disciple: The Fourth Gospel's Narrative Openness to Readers." In the Gospel of John, there are references to the disciple Jesus loved. Many believe that this disciple was John, the traditional author of the book. A few hold that it's Lazarus, since, in John 11:36, the Jews remark that Jesus must have loved Lazarus.
Fennell doesn't seem to believe that the apostle John wrote the Gospel that bears his name, for how could a Galilean fisherman produce such a beautiful work? But Fennell doesn't view the "disciple Jesus loved" as fiction, either, for the end of the Gospel tries to address a common belief that the disciple would not die. When a writing attempts to counter an embarrassing situation, then there's a good chance that the embarrassing situation is historical, for why would anyone create embarrassment? Consequently, there most likely was a "disciple Jesus loved" whom a Christian community expected not to die, but who did die.
Fennell also says that the Gospel of John contains some signs that it contains historical material, such as the disciples counting 153 fish in John 21:11.
But Fennell wonders: why does the Gospel of John refer to this particular disciple anonymously, even as it refers to other disciples by name? Fennell concludes that, while the disciple Jesus loved was probably a historical person, the author of the Gospel refers to him anonymously so that he can stand for every believer. The reader is invited to enter into a special relationship with the living Jesus, the same sort that John had. This goes beyond merely accepting dogmas.
I have three reactions to Fennell's essay, based on my experiences in the wild world of religion:
1. I remember a minister---it may have been Charles Groce or Bill Watson in the Church of God (International)---who said that John refers to himself as the "disciple Jesus loved" because he was too humble to use his name. I guess that's one explanation. But I can understand why Joyce Meyer gets kind of annoyed with the disciple Jesus loved (as I barely recall from a sermon that she gave). He was cozying up to Jesus, like he was sappy and was kissing up. Moreover, to add some of my issues, why does he refer to himself as the disciple Jesus loved? Didn't Jesus love the other disciples, too? And why does the Gospel stress that the disciple Jesus loved beat Peter to Jesus' empty tomb? That doesn't sound too humble, does it, assuming that this disciple is the author of the Gospel of John (which John 21:24 appears to imply)?
2. At Harvard Divinity School, N.T. Wright said that there are a lot of ideas about why there are 153 fish in John 21:11. There are allegories and theological explanations, etc. But Wright remarked that few consider that maybe the Gospel says there were 153 fish because the disciples counted them and that's how many there were! That statement got a chuckle from the class, much of which was conservative, for N.T. Wright was affirming the historicity of the Gospel of John. Okay. But why does the Gospel mention that there were 153 fish? Just because it happened? There were plenty of things that happened, that the author probably did not deem significant enough to mention in the Gospel. Why mention the 153 fish?
3. Knowing the risen Jesus. I wonder why Christians are so dogmatic that they "know" God. I'm not saying they don't and I do. I just wonder how anyone can claim to know God. Even if there is a God (and I believe that there is), we're interacting with a conception that we have in our own minds, which is largely shaped by us. How can anyone be so bold and presumptuous as to claim that he or she knows this being who is invisible to us? I know that the Bible talks a lot about knowing God, but, quite frankly, hurling proof-texts at me to shut down my question doesn't accomplish much. What's it even mean to know God? Does that mean that a Christian's opinions are the same as God's? I know Christians who act this way! They hate Muslims, and they know God, and so God must hate Muslims. Sorry. I don't buy that.
I'll be writing a few more blog posts today. I'll be going to church this morning, after a three-week hiatus (due to my studying for my comps, which were on Mondays for the past three weeks). Consequently, I'll write about something in the church service that stood out to me. I may also read another essay in The Bible As Human Witness to Divine Revelation, and blog about that. In between of my writing and reading and maybe watching TV, I'll be doing some radical apartment-cleaning, to make my apartment fit for the next person who lives there (and, hopefully, to get back my security deposit). Stay tuned!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
V 4 is interesting. The KJV renders it, "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." Scholar Peter Craigie's paraphrase of this verse is: "You can tremble with anger and rage, but don't sin by doing anything! You can speak your words within your hearts, but don't speak them out loud! Lie still and silent upon your beds, where you can do no harm."
I like Craigie's paraphrase because I think it's unrealistic for me to try to get rid of my anger, or to feel guilty because I'm angry. But I can choose not to act on my anger. And, paradoxically, once I accept my anger, my anger becomes defused. For a similar scenario, see Elizabeth's post,The Bible Does Not Interpret Us, We Interpret The Bible (And A Little Tidbit About Loneliness).
But the Septuagint offers a slightly different twist in its rendition of Psalm 4:4. It says (in my translation): "Be angry, and sin not; speak in your hearts and on your beds be stabbed." The Brenton translation of the Septuagint says this is saying that the wicked should feel "compunction" about their angry thoughts. Maybe there's wisdom in this, too. There are times when I just have to put a halt to my angry thoughts---either by thinking about positive things, or by talking to God about my anger (which can take quite a bit of time, but it's worth the effort).
What's interesting is that Ephesians 4:26---the part about being angry and sinning not---is actually a quotation of Psalm 4:4. I wonder if the part in Ephesians 4:26 about not letting the sun go down on your wrath is an allusion (in some manner) to Psalm 4:4: we deal with wrath on our beds, at the end of the day. Of course, I don't know when people in the ancient world went to bed. Before sunset? That's pretty early!
I also enjoyed Keil-Delitzsch's comments on v 7, which affirms that God put joy in the Psalmist's heart, more than in the time that their corn and wine increased. Keil-Delitzsch tie this to the story of David's flight from Absalom. David and his men had to receive their provisions by stealth, or, more accurately, David relied on the generosity of his friends (II Samuel 17:26-29). Keil-Delitzsch speculate that David talked about his enemies' corn and wine increasing during the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a harvest festival. Here was Absalom and his allies, in the city of Jerusalem, enjoying the bounty of the land, without worry about where they would receive their provisions. And here was David, exiled from the city, rendered dependent upon the generosity of others. But David still has joy because of his faith in God.
Of course, many scholars don't relate this Psalm to David's flight from Absalom. They may interpret v 7 to mean that the poor Psalmist is talking about his rich oppressors, for the oppression by the rich of the not-so-rich is a theme that occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. Consequently, Psalm 4 can be a general Psalm, not one written by David for his specific situation.
I admire the Psalmist finding joy in the midst of his suffering. I don't like it, however, when Christians impose on me some legalistic requirement that I have to have joy, according to their standards, or when they put on some phony happy-happy facade to show how much better they are than others because they're joyful. Or, if they really are joyful, I wish they'd cut the not-so-joyful people some slack, rather than judging them.
But here's the paradox: when I read the Psalms, I encounter prayers that are honest about anger and grief. When I encounter Christians, I see a lot of happy-happy facades. I find more reality in the Bible than I do among Christians. Or let me say this: I identify more with the Bible than I do with Christians.
But to arrive at a state of joy that rises above the bad circumstances around me? I certainly do wish for that!
Friday, December 24, 2010
I have two responses to this. First of all, I'll be put into uncomfortable situations anyway, even if I don't go to church. That's just life. And, in the midst of the jungle that is called life, why can't I be around people who are supportive, rather than people who put me and others down with manipulative guilt-trips?
Second, even those who say that we should go to church to learn to love people unconditionally don't love people unconditionally! So going to church hasn't accomplished the goal that they say it's supposed to accomplish.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I like this video, at least partly. I like that it lambastes Christian cliquishness and judgmentalism. It also offers a reason that at least some people look for love in all the wrong places.
But here's what I don't like about it:
1. Why's the video assume that everybody is thinking about Christians and the church---as if everyone deep-down actually wants to be a Christian? Granted, I've seen a spiritual hunger---even for Christianity---among all sorts of people: partiers, people abused and trampled down by life, etc. But there are many people on the face of the earth who don't look to the church to meet their needs, or even conceive that Christianity is an answer to their problems. I think of something that BryanL said under my post, 9/11: A Time for Reflection, in response to a pastor's claim that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson gave Christianity a bad name as a result of their comments on 9/11:
"You know I think Christians overestimate how much non-Christians actually pay attention to them. Even people like Pat Robertson and the other well known public figures who are sometimes controversial don't get all that much attention either.
"We often hear about how the world's eyes are on the church and they're wondering what it's going to do about this or that or what it's gonna say but overall I don't think the world really cares or that they really think the church is one voice and one body nor that particular figures represent the church (except maybe the Pope but then many people also think Catholicism and Christianity are actually different religions)."
2. Suppose the lady in the video goes to church. Would she be that much better off? Someone commented regarding this video:
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Paul in Galatians 3:8 applies Genesis 12:3 to Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, though whom the Gentiles would be blessed. When I was first exposed to the method of reading the writings of the Hebrew Bible in light of their contexts, not later Christian interpretations, I wondered how I should interpret Genesis 12:3. How would Abraham bless the nations? Some translations took the niphal in Genesis 12:3, nivrechu, as "bless themselves." In that case, how would the nations bless themselves?
At Harvard Divinity School, Gary Anderson presented the interpretation that "bless themselves" in Genesis 22:18 (I think that was the reference he cited, but it could have been Genesis 12:3) means that the nations would see how blessed Abraham is and wish the same sort of blessings upon themselves: May we be as blessed as Abraham's seed.
In Judaism, I've encountered Jews who view Genesis 12:3 as a sort of mission statement for them to do good to others and to demonstrate the character of God. I think of Jewish musician Debbie Friedman's song, "Lech Lecha," which includes the line, "and you shall be a blessing, and you shall be a blessing, and you shall be a blessing, lech lecha."
When I first attempted to read Genesis 12:3 from a contextual standpoint---reading Genesis in light of Genesis, rather than Christian interpretations---I thought that maybe the passage was saying that the Gentiles would be drawn to God when they saw Abraham's character, or God's blessing upon Abraham and his seed. But I had a couple of problems with this view. First of all, it wasn't explicitly stated in Genesis. And, second, I wondered if the Hebrew Bible contained the message that Israel existed primarily to bring the Gentiles to God. Granted, there are plenty of passages about Gentiles acknowledging the greatness of God---and I guess that Second Isaiah leans in that direction. But I just wondered if Judaism had the same missionary impulse that evangelical Christians possess.
My colleague at Hebrew Union College, Ben Noonan, has an article in Hebrew Studies 51 (2010), entitled "Abraham, Blessing, and the Nations." Ben knocks down plenty of sacred cows. He disputes the notion that nivrechu in Genesis 12:3 means "bless themselves," by looking at the use of the niphal in the Hebrew Bible. He also disagrees with the view that the hitpael in Genesis 22:18 and 26:4 has to mean that the nations will pronounce a blessing on themselves when they see the prosperity of Abraham's seed---wishing to be as prosperous as the Israelites. He takes a look at the other places in the Hebrew Bible that use the hitpael of b-r-k (Deuteronomy 29:19; Psalm 72:17; Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 4:2), and he concludes that, in Genesis 22:18 and 26:4, the message is that the nations will bring divine blessings upon themselves by doing good to Abraham's seed. They won't just pronounce divine blessings upon themselves by wishing to have the same prosperity as Abraham's seed, but they will actually contribute to their own blessing by doing good to God's people. After all, God promises in Genesis 12:3 to bless those who bless Abram, and to curse those who curse him.
And, throughout Genesis, God blesses nations through Abraham's seed, as Ben documents. Abraham delivers nations from oppressive kings (Genesis 14). Laban is blessed by God on account of Jacob (Genesis 30:27-30). Joseph saves Egypt and the world from death due to famine. (Ben uses some of these examples, but not others; he also refers to other examples.) Perhaps the whole idea of the nations being blessed and blessing themselves in Genesis was to highlight the importance of Abraham and his seed: they would have such an influence on the world, that nations would be blessed or cursed through them. How God treats the nations would be based on how the nations treated Israel.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I say this because my Mom said "Whew" when she read my blog about my last comp, but now's not the time to say "Whew." I have no idea where I stand right now on them. And who knows when I will know? I hope I don't come across as snippy here. I just don't feel all that secure right now.
Plus, I'm just not sleepy. I slept well last night because I wanted a brief escape from having to worry about my comps. Now that they're over, I can't sleep. So worry is keeping me awake, and yet, paradoxically, so is a lack of worry---if that makes any sense.
I'm trying to read a book for fun right now, in the aftermath of my comps---The Christian and the Pharisee, by Dr. R.T. Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen. It's basically a series of letters between Kendall, a Christian, and Rosen, an Orthodox Jew. I'm having a hard time with the book. For one, Kendall makes no apologies about wanting Rosen to become a Christian, which turns me off, for I wonder why Kendall thinks that his worldview is the only way to see the world. There are different ways to interpret the Hebrew Bible, and that's one reason that there are different religions---Judaism, Christianity, Christianity's sects, etc. Kendall also expresses bafflement when Rosen says that Jews don't think accepting the Messiah is all that important. Um, hello, Christianity is different from Judaism, Dr. Kendall: what Christianity stresses as important ("believing" in the Messiah) is not necessarily what Judaism chooses to stress!
But I'm having a hard time following Rosen, at times. In the letter of his that I read today, he said that Jews enter the World to Come---the good afterlife---through obedience to the Torah. But I wish he elaborated more on the rabbinic belief that the intermediate Jews (those who aren't righteous or wicked) will go through a period of cleansing in Gehenna, a view I find rather cozy. Maybe he'll get into that. So far, all he said was that Jews have different ideas on hell and purgatory. So this is a case of me wanting him to say something a certain way, and he chooses to say something else. You'd think that this would make him interesting---he's baffling my expectations. But that's where the paradox is: I'm having a hard time getting intellectual stimulation out of this book.
Something I like about the book, though: both sides aren't extreme Zionists who believe in "Israel, right or wrong." They're for peace, and they criticize Christian Zionism.
I see snow outside. It would be nice if I could get a day off from work tomorrow, so that I can sleep and take it easy. But my school only closes when it's REALLY bad outside. That's how it was when I was a kid: all the other schools were closing when there was a blizzard outside, but not the school system that I attended.
I'm sorry if I offended anyone in this post. Have a good evening, or day, if many of you read this during the day-time.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
But I enjoyed some of the applications of Psalm 3 to David's flight from Absalom. In the medieval work, Midrash on the Psalms, Psalm 3:3 is put into the mouths of David's enemies, Doeg and Ahithophel. According to this interpretation, Doeg and Ahithophel are saying that God will not deliver David because David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. The midrashist says that, indeed, God agrees with the view of Doeg and Ahithophel that God will not deliver an adulterer, for Leviticus 20:10 states that an adulterer shall be put to death. But God is still David's shield on account of the merits of his ancestors.
This passage appeals to me, and yet it also rubs me the wrong way. I like its concept of grace: we deserve death, and yet we can still be assured of God's love for us, as well as God's grace. I know that I am far from being a good Christian. On what basis can I be assured that God will take care of me, even though there may be Christians who would assert that God would have nothing to do with a backslider like me? I trust in God's love and grace, which are not based on my performance.
But "cheap grace" means that God gives a free pass to Christians to be jerks and yet to have God's approval, just because they belong to God. That's what rubs me the wrong way.
I was thinking some about these issues last night as I watched the movie, Agora. Agora is about Hypatia of Alexandria, a female philosopher who lived in fourth century C.E. Alexandria, a city in Egypt. Hypatia was murdered by fanatical Christians, who were incited by the Christian leader, Cyril of Alexandria.
Fourth century Alexandria was a place of strife among pagans, Christians, and Jews, who attacked and killed one another. The Christians believed that God was on their side because they were God's people, the ones who accepted the Son of God. The pagans thought that the gods were on their side, and that they were upholding the honor of their gods when they confronted the Christians, who defiled the gods' statues. The movie depicts the Jews as fairly tolerant, for the Jews only attack the Christians after they were attacked first, and they urge the Christians to remember that Jesus was a Jew. But the Jews, too, believe that they are God's chosen people.
In the movie, Hypatia of Alexandria tries to rise above the partisanship. She speaks out in opposition when the pagans are about to slaughter the Christians, or when her father is about to whip a Christian slave; but she also opposes Cyril's incitement of Christians against the Jews. Her former pupil, Orestes, also tries to put the well-being of all of the citizens of Alexandria above the partisan factions, even after he converts to Christianity to gain political power. In real life, Orestes probably wasn't a pupil of Hypatia, but, as prefect, he did seek to form bonds with the pagans and the Jews, which angered Cyril.
Which is more important: being a part of the right faction? Or pursuing peace, as Hypatia and Orestes did?
In a poignant scene in the movie, two Christians are having a conversation about Jesus and forgiveness. One is Davus, the former slave of Hypatia. (Davus did not exist in real life.) The other is Ammonius. Davus says that perhaps the Christians should forgive the Jews for recently killing a group of Christians, just as Jesus forgave the Jews on the cross. Ammonius responds that Jesus was God, whereas the Christians are mere humans. Another Christian rebukes Davus for comparing himself to Jesus.
I've often criticized Christianity for imposing standards on people that are too high: for requiring us to like others, when we as human beings will naturally have resentments; for telling us that we cannot lust, when sexual desire is a part of who we are; etc. When people throw "What would Jesus do?" in my face, my response is "I'm not Jesus---I'm just an imperfect human being!" But the maxim of "nobody's perfect" should never become an excuse for us to hurt somebody else. I cannot be perfect, but I hope that my religion will encourage me to become more loving, compassionate, and forgiving. There should be standards.
So I have problems with the notion that God punishes one group's sins, while he doesn't take another group's sins as seriously. Is that what Psalm 3 is saying? Psalm 3 appears to be saying that God will punish the Psalmist's enemies. We'd all like to think that God will punish our enemies, but our enemies are people, too. I shouldn't hope that God will hurt those who dislike me, for there are people who may curse me because they feel that I dislike them. And yet, it's understandable that David wanted for God to weaken those who were trying to kill him. But David himself killed someone. Did he get a free pass because he was one of God's favorites? Of course, God punished him, and so he didn't get a completely free pass. But God was on David's side. Was this because David was one of God's favorites, or because he was repentant, or for another reason?
Personally, I hope to get to the point where I don't see life as "us versus them," as if God takes sides. I hope to be more like Hypatia and Orestes, who affirmed the value of all of humanity, or Davus, who drew from his faith tradition to become more forgiving, not less so.
Friday, December 17, 2010
The gist of the plot is this: a "man" named Andre Linoge has come to the island in Maine and is causing trouble. First, he killed an old lady. Then, once he was arrested and was behind bars, he used his magic to make the residents of the island do things, such as commit suicide or kill each other. He also knows about the weaknesses and moral faults of the residents. He knows that the constable cheated on a test to get through college, that the mayor slept with a prostitute while his mom was dying, that three guys beat up a guy for being too effeminate, etc. Linoge's line is "Give me what I want, and I will go away."
Throughout the series, we're wondering what exactly Linoge wants, and then we learn: Andre Linoge has lived for thousands of years, but he is now dying, and so he wants a child so he can pass on his knowledge to someone. Some rule bars Linoge from just taking what he wants, and so he needs for the islanders to give him this child. And yet, Linoge is able to punish the islanders if they don't give him what he wants. He can make them walk into the sea and die, as he made the people of Roanoake disappear centuries earlier. Moreover, a part of Linoge is flying in the air with the kids, as he holds their hands; if the islanders don't give him what he wants, then he will drop the kids, and they will die.
The islanders vote to give Linoge what he wants, but there is one dissenter: the town constable, played by Tim Daly. The constable encourages the islanders to trust in God and in each other, and he speculates that Linoge may be like a storm, which will soon pass. But the islanders give in to their own fears, for they believe that Linoge can cause more damage if he's not appeased.
Trusting in God is a theme that appears in many of Stephen King's books and movies, whether we're talking about the Stand, or Desperation. In the miniseries, The Tommyknockers, the grandpa prays to God for help. The book and the miniseries for It don't really have God, per se, but they talk about the value of community (in this case, the "Loser's Club") in banding together to overcome evil, plus there is some supernatural force bringing the "Loser's Club" together. I often was comforted by Stephen King's reference to trusting in God in the midst of evil, for the existence of evil (in the natural and the supernatural realms) drives me to God.
That said, I wonder what would have happened had the islanders told Linoge to take a hike.
Another point: As I said, Linoge liked to point out the moral failings of the islanders. In the book, Hollywood's Stephen King, Tony Magistrale says that the point of this is so that Linoge can show the island's inhabitants that they are really no better than he is, that they have no right to claim moral superiority to him. That raises a question: Can we confront evil when we have evil within us? I hope that we can, but hopefully we can do so with some humility.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Someone posted the following yesterday:
“Somebody I knew would always say that they wanted to be just a street sweeper in Heaven, that they didn’t need to to have any lofty position.
“Years later, he thought about that and realized that:
“a) The street sweeper position is probably the… hardest job in heaven (cleaning up after everything, basically you bow to the will of all)
“b) That’s probably God’s position in heaven, as if he is leader by example, he’s more then likely the janitor.”
In college, I saw a play called “Mappa Mundi,” which included a portrayal of Bible stories in Genesis. God was sitting on his throne with a smug look on his face, creating the world “for his pleasure.” Something about that picture of God rubbed me the wrong way. But that poster presents a picture that is more appealing to me: God is in heaven serving others. That makes sense. If God wants us to serve others, doesn’t that imply that he does so himself?
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
And yet, there are times when Jonathan does wrong with the "stuff." In the episode "The Secret," Jonathan used his super-strength to rough up some bullies who were taking a guy's lunch. God then took Jonathan up to heaven to stand trial. And, in the episode in which Ed Asner plays an angel named Harold, Harold uses supernatural powers in an inappropriate manner: he gives people what they want in a supernatural way, rather than doing what he's supposed to do, namely, make people come together to solve the problem. For example, Harold turns water in a fire-hydrant into wine for the homeless, when he's supposed to make people care about homelessness.
There are times when, in the same episode, we hear Jonathan say that God doesn't give the "stuff" to an angel to do something that God doesn't like, and yet also see an angel using the stuff inappropriately. I don't think the writers of the show are so inept as to put a blatant contradiction into the same episode. I think that the answer to my confusion is in the pilot. God gave Jonathan some bikes to use in a nursing home facility, but that was a mistake because suspicious Mark was wondering where Jonathan got the bikes, and he was questioning every local bike dealership to find out. Jonathan concluded that the bikes were a mistake, but God gave them to Jonathan in a supernatural manner because he figured that Jonathan will only learn through making mistakes.
That could also be why God allowed Jonathan and Harold to use the stuff in an inappropriate manner: so they could learn. And yet, Jonathan realizes he can't take the stuff for granted, for it comes from God.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
The translation took some time, and the writing of the essays was like composing a five-hour blog post. At least it was with the way I was writing them! I was happy to be out of there! Whereas, last week, the eight hours went by fast, this week, they went by slowly, and I felt as if I had to spend all the time I could to do the question justice, or to hit points where I was inadequate, or just to arrive at something cogent to SAY!
I think my essay would have been better had I memorized the entire Hebrew Bible, or if reading Hebrew was as easy for me as reading English. But I made due with what knowledge I had while taking the test.
What I learned today is that taking this particular comp is not impossible. Challenging, but not impossible. I'll know that if I have to take it over again, or at least parts of it.
My next comp is the Greco-Roman one, and it worries me.
But I'll keep you all posted!
I'd love to go back to bed and sleep. But, if I have to take my comp today (as dreadful as that prospect is), at least I can get it out of the way for some time, and then I can go to work tomorrow. Also, while Hebrew Bible stuff is interesting, I'm tired of looking at the same material over and over. Encountering stuff that I didn't know so well scares me too!
I want to get back to reading this stuff for fun!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
In terms of translation, I'm relying on the fact that I have read a lot of biblical texts in Hebrew for my weekly quiet time, and for my study. I've done the Pentateuch. I've done Joshua-II Kings. I've done Ecclesiastes and (I think) the Song of Solomon. I did Isaiah. I'm a little weak, however, on other prophets and the Book of Proverbs. For many chapters of Proverbs, it's not easy to translate a passage by looking at context, for the chapters contain sentences that follow each other and really don't have much to do with each other. My professor once said that, in Proverbs, it's hard to determine what one sentence means in relation to another, whereas, in Job, it's hard to determine what one word means in relation to another. I guess that's why I won't be tested on Job!
Today's burn-out may come as I try to iron out all the different beliefs on the composition and sources of the Pentateuch, which can become a headache. I decided to take my comp with this professor because I wanted to learn the scholarly spectrum when it comes to the Hebrew Bible. I find different approaches to be interesting. Today, my study of them may lead to burn-out and panic attack! Or I may find what I discovered last week while I was working through the Mishnah tractate on vows (Nedarim): I'm actually interested in what I'm reading, but I'm stressed at having to know it for a test the next day!
In any case, I'll be studying and incorporating prayer into my day. I probably won't be able to publish comments until tomorrow evening, when I'll be done with my Hebrew Bible comp---so don't think I'm snubbing you if your comment doesn't appear for a while.
I'll probably let you all know tomorrow how my comp went! God bless.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Many historical-critics of the Bible have seen Psalm 2 as part of an ancient coronation ceremony for an ascending Davidic king. Foreign vassals of Israel (perhaps Edom and Moab, who rebel from Israel in the Hebrew Bible) are seeking to break the bonds of their Israelite captors. But God proclaims that the Davidic king is his son, and that, if the Davidic king asks, God will give him the nations, the ends of the earth. The Psalm exhorts the nations to serve the LORD with fear. We see these sorts of views in other ancient Near Eastern nations: that the king is a son of a god, the hope that he will rule over the earth, etc.
Maybe this was the sort of view that led to imperialism in the ancient world: I, the king, am the son of a god, and so I am entitled to the entire world. The Israelites didn't have a vast empire, as did Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, at certain times in their histories. Israel mostly conquered her neighbors, such as Edom and Moab. But did the Israelites dream of possessing the entire world? We see throughout Isaiah the hope that Israel would be supreme over the nations. Isaiah 49:23, for example, which pops up in discussions about the meaning of Psalm 2:12 (which exhorts the nations to "kiss the son," or "kiss the ground," or "accept discipline," or "kiss in purity," or "kiss grain," or "be nourished by grain," or "be armed with purity"---there are many understandings of this verse!), talks about kings of other nations licking the dust of Israel's feet.
Some commentators whom I read didn't really buy into the notion that Psalm 2 is expressing hope that the Davidic king would rule the entire world. They said that the Psalm means that, since YHWH owns the entire world, and since the Davidic king is YHWH's representative, in a sense, the Davidic king owns the entire world! Maybe not officially---Israel probably couldn't tell Babylon to cough up tribute---but the God of Israel could use his influence over creation and the affairs of humanity to benefit his beloved nation, Israel.
These are the views of historical-critics who believe that the Psalm is pre-exilic and concerns an actual Davidic monarchy. There are other scholars who think that the Psalm is exilic or post-exilic and reflects Israel's messianic hopes. Even those who think that the Psalm was pre-exilic, however, acknowledge that the Psalm at some point may have gained messianic connotations in the minds of those who heard it. In the Book of Psalms as a whole, we encounter Psalms that refer to Israel's exile and the destruction of the Davidic monarchy (Psalms 89, 137). That means that Israel was either in her exilic or post-exilic period when the Psalms were collected into a book. Why preserve Psalm 2 in that process of collection, when it was about a Davidic monarchy whose time had passed? Because there were Jews in the post-exilic period who were hoping that God would restore the Davidic monarchy, in the person of the Messiah; then, the nations would serve the LORD with fear (unless God destroyed them).
The New Testament applies Psalm 2 to Jesus Christ. In Acts 4:25-26, Herod and Pilate uniting against Jesus is interpreted in light of Psalm 2 (or, in one ancient version of the New Testament, Psalm 1, for the version apparently considers Psalms 1-2 to be one Psalm). The idea seems to be that the kings of the earth are rebelling against the very authority of God and of his son; Psalm 2 is interpreted much more broadly than as a couple of vassals rebelling against Israel. Psalm 2:7's "You are my son" appears throughout the New Testament (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). And when did Jesus become God's begotten son? Was it at his baptism (which is when God quotes Psalm 2:7 in Matthew 3:17)? His resurrection (which is what Paul is talking about in Acts 13:33, when he quotes Psalm 2:7)? Was Jesus God's begotten son even before he came to earth as a human being (perhaps the view of Hebrews, but we also see it in John and Paul)?
And then, in Revelation, the part of Psalm 2 about smashing the nations is applied to the coming rule of Jesus Christ, which he will share with overcoming believers (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
On which note, I like what the fourth century Christian thinker Theodore of Mopsuestia said about God smashing the nations as if they're a potter's vessel: "he smashes them not to ruin and waste them, but to reshape them." You can fix clay vessels.
Psalm 2 is rather nationalistic, in that it reflects Israel's hopes that she will be the dominant nation in the earth. Actually, I can understand why Moab and Edom rebelled, considering David's brutality towards the Moabites in II Samuel 8:2. At the same time, Moab was brutal towards Israel in the Pentateuch and the Book of Judges. Or were those stories Israelite propaganda that was used to justify Israel's rule over Moab?
Psalm 2 is nationalistic, but it also expresses a view that YHWH is to be the God of all nations. In Psalm 2, that implies Israel's dominance. In Christianity, however, Gentiles are invited to become a part of Israel, and so the promise of dominion becomes universal---for Jewish and Gentile believers both; but Christianity's application of Psalm 2 to the church has historically entailed its devaluation of Israel as God's covenant people.
I guess that, at the very least, I can draw hope from Psalm 2 that God will defeat the evil rulers of the world. Many preachers have applied the part of Psalm 2 about breaking the bonds asunder to those who don't want the rule of God in their lives. Personally, I'm all for moral law, but I think Christianity tries to force me into a perfectionistic mold, and I can't live up to that.
But I respect the hope that Psalm 2 has given to Jews and Christians through the ages.
Friday, December 10, 2010
In terms of what I'll get next from Netflix, I don't know. I had a taste for Bonanza today as I was sorting cards at work, the reason being that, on Monday night, I watched the Highway to Heaven episode that had Lorne Greene. It was interesting to see him interact with Michael Landon in his (Michael Landon's) maturity, since Michael played his son, naive Little Joe, on Bonanza.
Or I may get Disk 2 of Season 3 of Dexter, assuming it's even available. It had "Long Wait" next to it the last time that I checked my Netflix queue, but that was over a week ago.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
This makes me happy. Right now, I'm not happy so much because I'll have access to books for my dissertation. That happiness will come after I pass my comps and actually start writing my dissertation. Rather, I'm happy because I get to take some HUC books with me when I go to New York.
This has been important to me because of a book I have checked out for my weekly quiet time on the Book of Psalms. The book is William Braude's Midrash on the Psalms, which is a two-volume compendium of medieval Jewish midrashim on the Psalms. I only have volume 1 checked out, but I'll check out volume 2 soon. Before I learned that I could conduct library business by mail, I looked on Amazon to see if I could get the books, but they were WAY too expensive for me (or probably most people). Now, I can take the books with me.
My reading of the midrashim on Psalm 1 last Saturday really made my weekly quiet time interesting. It was a bright spot in my study of Psalm 1. My expectation (based on my experience) is that the Psalms can get pretty repetitive and boring. I hope I turn out to be wrong on this and to see new things in the Psalms, but this is my current impression. And so I enjoy the way that midrashim on the Psalms arrive at creative interpretations, as they apply the Psalms to different things.
Once I knew that I could take library books with me to New York and return them by mail, I checked out another book: Theodore of Mopsuestia's comments on Psalms 1-81. Theodore of Mopsuestia was a Christian thinker from the fourth century who belonged to the Antioch School of biblical interpretation: this school tried to arrive at literal, historical meanings of biblical texts, as they understood "literal" and "historical." Consequently, the Psalms were related to David, and passages in the prophets were applied to the Maccabees; the School of Antioch didn't try to force everything in the Hebrew Bible into a christological grid, irrespective of the biblical writings' contexts. But they did say that things in the Hebrew Bible could be a type of Jesus, while also having meaning in their own contexts.
I'm looking forward to reading this book, though I expect that someone else will request it, in which case I'd have to return it. I don't know this for sure, but I'm saying it because it strikes me as a hot book! But that's why I should also look at other options (i.e., libraries in New York, or in my alma maters, etc.).
One more point: I'm happy that I'll have access to the HUC library in upstate New York. But I'll miss looking at books in the HUC library, only for one of the books to grab me and say "Read me! Read me!" But I'll have other settings for that.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I wasn't sure how to interpret this. Was her view on God similar to that of Harold Kushner, who argues that God cannot heal? In When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Kushner says that God is like a parent who cannot fix our broken toy: he would if he could, since he is good, but he can't.
Or was Elizabeth saying that, for her personally, God was not a healer but was a savior and one who brought her enlightenment? In this scenario, God may heal people of diseases, but God doesn't always do so. God did not remove Paul's thorn in the flesh, for example, because God wanted to teach Paul to rely on God's strength amidst his weakness.
I don't know. I was touched by how Elizabeth said that she has learned to value each and every day, and how she's looking forward to being reunited with her son, who died in an accident years ago. I'm also touched by how John Edwards was by her side in her last moments. He did her wrong as a husband, but he and she are still family.
There were good things that came out of this tragedy, I suppose. There were lessons that Elizabeth learned, and she taught them to us. Broken relationships were mended somewhat. But I have problems with the notion that God would orchestrate or permit this tragedy to bring about such good things. Cancer is horrible.
In any case, R.I.P., Elizabeth Edwards.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I seriously wondered if God would bless me on these test, when I've been questioning Christianity a lot over the past few years. But that's just been me being honest. I've also wondered if God would answer my prayer to pass the tests---primarily so my loved ones and I won't have to pay the huge fee next semester that registering for comps entails. I wonder this after reading Ecclesiastes, which seems to say that God just lets things go: God doesn't always intervene to set things right in the lives of people. I don't even need to read Ecclesiastes to feel this way, for I can observe it when I look at the world!
But I can pray. And I try to find comfort in the idea that God loves me, regardless of how I do on my comps.
Not that I've heard any news about the first one. These are just my reflections.
Monday, December 6, 2010
This morning, I thought that my comp would start at 8 a.m., but it actually started at 9. That gave me an extra hour to study. And that was an hour of quality study.
I'm not sure how I did on this comp. I was expecting this to be the easiest one, but, believe me, it was no joke! I took the full eight hours on it. I think that the first four hours were spent on translating. I could make sense of the passages. Some questions I answered well, some, I hope I answered them well! I wonder what the next two comps will be like.
Believe it or not, those eight hours actually flew. I wondered before I took the test how I could take a test for eight straight hours. I was told that, when I'm taking it, I'll feel that I don't have enough time. That's the way it was for me today. I wasn't dithering or day-dreaming or taking breaks through any of it (except for that one restroom break): I was working.
I doubt that I'll have to take the whole thing over, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'd have to take a few sections over. I'll have to see!
Now, on to study for my next comp!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
2. I'm listening to Joel Osteen right now, and he's talking about how we should carry ourselves with confidence. I do this better now than I did in the past. My voice doesn't tremble as much when I'm in people's presence, and I look people in the eye more often. But I still tend to mumble, rather than speaking to others in a clear, audible voice. People still say "What?" after I speak. Also, there are some groups in which I am comfortable, and some groups in which I'm not, and I tend not to manifest confidence in the latter situations. My twelve-step group helps me to have more confidence than I used to have. Because I go to a meeting most mornings, I feel a little more confidence around people in the afternoon. It's like I've been gently eased into the day through my meeting. And the meetings are positive. I generally leave them with hope rather than despair.
Joel is speaking against the attitude of apologizing for one's existence. I often have this sort of attitude. But I don't know how I can believe that I'm fun to be around, when there have been people who have disliked me. I don't know how I can believe that I'm competent in job situations, when there are job situations in which I wasn't competent. Something I really like about my library job is that I do most things right, however. But the battle to have self-esteem is still a challenge.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I disagree with Psalm 1 if it is saying that a person's meditation on the Torah will lead to everything clicking in his life. Lately, I've been wondering, as I look back in retrospect: where did I get the idea that prayer and Bible study would lead inexorably to a good life? I mean, that was often my hope. On the first day of almost every school year, I would read my Bible and conduct a regiment of prayer, hoping that this would lead me to become a popular, successful person. Many people would recognize that holing oneself up in a dorm room, reading the Bible, was not a path to popularity. But I thought that, somehow, it would be.
Moreover, I've often assumed that believing the right doctrines would lead me to a better life. I was a fundamentalist, and I felt alienated from the liberal Christians around me, who had high status in the Christian community and in academia. And so I embraced liberal Christianity, but that only alienated the influential conservative Christians. I then became a fundamentalist again, expecting for God to lead me to a nice-looking Christian lady and to make me an influential winner of souls, as well as someone who could counsel other Christians with my wisdom of gold. But that didn't work, for even my fellow Christians thought that I was simply spouting a bunch of pious cliches.
Nowadays, I'm not sure what I am. There are people who probably believe that I spout cliches---only, this time, they are liberal or free-thinking cliches that people have undoubtedly heard elsewhere. My liberalism and spiritual burn-out most likely don't make me attractive to conservative Christian ladies, and liberal Christians are too socially conscious to listen to my complaining. I guess what I've found is that, insofar as I get along with people, it has little to do with what doctrines I happen to hold. Rather, it has to do with being friendly, with greeting people by name, and with being interested in what is going on in their lives. Having wit and wisdom goes a long way, too, but I don't have much of that, so I need to capitalize on what I can do rather than worry about what I can't do. Being friendly is a spiritual activity, in a sense, since I'm imitating God, who himself is friendly. But I'm not carrying around the hidden agenda of converting people to a set of doctrines, nor do I beat myself up when people don't like me (or, at least, I try not to do so), as if I need for people to like me in order to feel that my relationship with God is solid.
But where did I get the idea that prayer and Bible study would lead to a good life? From passages like Psalm 1, and also from other Christians, who talked about how God was blessing them in their lives. I still pray nowadays, because that helps me to cope. Do I meditate on the Bible? In a sense, but, to be honest, thinking about the dark passages of the Bible (blood, judgment, wrath, etc.) does not exactly make me happy. What I try to do is meditate on good principles---valuing all people as human beings, not judging others, etc.---without making the perfect the enemy of the good (i.e., saying that I have to be friends with all people and have warm feelings toward them).
In addition, I'm not exactly binary in my thinking, as is the author of Psalm 1, who divides the world into good people and evil people. I think that life is much more complex than that, and that all of us have a mixture of good and evil within us. I read and heard Christian commenters who concluded from Psalm 1 that the wicked are "worthless," and that God pays intimate attention to the deeds of the righteous, while the deeds of the wicked will perish. But I try not to believe that any human being on the face of the earth is "worthless," as if good deeds make a person valuable, whereas a lack of good deeds or the presence of bad deeds depreciates a person's innate value. How could I love anybody if I carried around that attitude within me? My opinion is that God loves everyone and hopes that all people will do the right thing.
I listened to a sermon by David Hocking called "The Problem of Counsel" (click here to access it). I both liked and disliked it. What I liked was that he encouraged us not to put ourselves on some spiritual hill-top when we are counseling people, but rather to realize that we, too, could make the same mistakes that others make. This is the opposite of a binary sort of thinking that separates the world into good and bad people, for it recognizes that we are all weak, and yet capable of good things.
But I disliked how Hawking was telling us that we can only see a therapist who is a Christian. I disagree with this as a blanket-rule, for non-Christians have wisdom about how we should treat people---what works, what doesn't work, what is right, what is wrong. As long as non-Christian therapists are not hostile to religion and do not encourage worldliness (i.e., I heard of one therapist who counseled a husband and a wife to date other people, which I deem to be inappropriate), then I can work with them as a Christian believer (or whatever kind of believer I am these days). Psalm 1 appears to assume that one is either a pious God-fearer or a reprobate human being. That may have been the experience of that Psalm's author, but it's not my experience.
And yet, Psalm 1 has wisdom, which isn't surprising, as it's been labelled a "wisdom Psalm" by scholars. Like Psalm 1, even non-Christian institutions and psychologists tell us that we should cultivate good influences in our life---people, places, and things that encourage us to do good rather than bad. Their motive for saying this is not really religious, but simply that they recognize that doing bad can cause damage---to oneself, to others, and to society. In a sense, the world does run according to a certain order, as wisdom literature teaches us. And yet, that order is not an absolute, to recall the views of Qoheleth.
Friday, December 3, 2010
I've been realizing something as I've gone through my old tests and papers for my past rabbinics classes, in preparation for my comps: I knew a lot more Bible back then than I do now! Or, more accurately, I knew a lot more Torah. Why? Because, back when I was taking those classes, I was going through the Pentateuch for my weekly quiet times. My weekly quiet times helped my academics. For the past couple of years, however, I've been going through Joshua-II Kings, and, recently, I studied Ecclesiastes. My weekly quiet times haven't had a huge impact on my course work for a while, largely because I haven't been taking courses.
I'm still hoping that my weekly quiet times will help me in my academics. I'll be studying the Book of Psalms for my weekly quiet times, and that may help me on my Hebrew Bible comp.
On another note: For my blog, I'm thinking of blogging about my past weekly quiet times---at some point. I have notebooks that contain my notes on chapters of Scripture, and I may draw from them to write posts. Granted, I've done my weekly quiet times differently over the years. Nowadays, my approach is much more scholarly, and it draws on more sources than my earlier studies of Scripture did. And so what you may get in those posts is me commenting on where I was in the old days in terms of my Scriptural study. That sounds somewhat narcissistic, I know, but maybe I'll also be able to share some edifying insights.
I'm not making any promises, but this is just an idea that I have.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I considered this movie a waste of both my time and my money. It was unrealistic. For example, Rock's opponent continually said, "God bless America, and nobody else," something no candidate for public office would say. Granted, no show or movie is totally realistic, but I prefer for what I see to be somewhat believable, even when it's a comedy.
But I was thinking some about the Left Behind series this morning. In the book and the movie of Tribulation Force, a Jewish scholar, Tsion Ben-Judah, publically announces the results of his studies of the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. His conclusion is that the Messiah is none other than Jesus Christ. (On a side note: I preferred how Nicolae Carpathia---the Antichrist---responded to Ben-Judah's announcement in the book as opposed to the movie. In the movie, Carpathia is outraged, for he expected Ben-Judah to announce that Carpathia was the Messiah. In the book, by contrast, Carpathia dismisses the news. "People have been saying Jesus was the Messiah for centuries," Carpathia says, which is not an exact quote. "I would have been more interested had Ben-Judah said that he---Ben-Judah---was the Messiah.")
In my opinion, Ben-Judah's announcement and its worldwide renown are as unrealistic as the candidate in Head of State saying "God bless America, and nobody else." Why? Because people have different interpretations of these so-called "prophecies" that Christians apply to Jesus. Many historical-critics have said that they related to their original historical contexts. Non-Christian Jews offer their own interpretations of these passages. Many would dispute that all of these "prophecies" even predict a Messiah, let alone a Messiah in the far-off future. I doubt that, in the real world, Ben Judah's announcement would be given a worldwide platform, or that it would have been uncontested. Plenty of people would have said, "Wait a minute---here is a better way to interpret these passages."
But Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins probably see the world as a place in which people share presuppositions of biblical interpretation. Granted, they recognize that there are different forms of Christianity---after all, in their books, evangelicals get raptured, whereas mainline Protestants do not; the pope gets raptured because he was moving the Catholic Church in a Protestant direction on the issue of justification. But my impression is that Lahaye and Jenkins think that anyone who actually believes in the Bible would interpret it as they (Lahaye and Jenkins) see it---not in all areas, but at least on the issue of whether the Hebrew Bible points to Jesus Christ. For them, the truth and the evidence are obvious to anyone who looks at them with an open-mind. The fact that people can interpret evidence in other, more compelling ways does not appear to dawn on them.
That's just my impression.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Personally, I don't toss out the "Those who do not learn the lessons of history" cliche, as happy as I was that my professors shot down those who thought they were being so smart by repeating it. Some things do consistently work or don't work, whatever context you may look at. People are different in various historical contexts, but there are some things in human nature that remain constant (e.g., greed, lust, some altruism, etc.).
But here's my professor's answer for why we should study history: because it is so fun! Yes it is, even though I've often struggled in college-level history classes.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
"A friend told me that one of the things she's looking for in a guy is that 'he must love the Lord.' Whereas I'm looking for a girl who knows she's loved by God."
I struggle both to love the Lord and also to know that I'm loved by God. But I still like this comment because I get sick of reading the same thing over and over again on Christian dating profiles. "Ooooh, I want a man who is on fire for God!" But what do you expect? The dating game is salvation by works: I have to prove my worth to somebody else. How much grace is truly in it?
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
This afternoon, I was reading somebody’s testimony about her journey from the occult into Seventh-Day Adventism. While I do not hold to her beliefs, I clicked “like” on her testimony because, in general, I like to read people’s testimonies, regardless of where they’re coming from or going to.
I’ve read or heard a variety of testimonies. One book I liked to read off-and-on was Jesus for Jews, a Jews for Jesus book compiled by the daughter of Moshe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus. Jay Sekulow’s testimony is in there, and this was before he became a right-wing celebrity. This book was about Jews who became Christians.
But I also read the other side—Jewish Christians who converted to Orthodox Judaism. The counter-missionary group, Jews for Judaism, had such stories on its web-site. I also enjoyed ex-fundamentalist sites, such as Walk Away, or Ex-tian (I think that’s what it was called). I’ve read one lady’s testimony about her departure from Seventh-Day Adventism and her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Moreover, in recovery groups, I’ve heard people give “leads,” which are essentially their story about how they got into recovery.
I wonder what these testimonies have in common. A lot of times, people have tried to say that the primary push for a person to convert to something is emotional. Conservative Christians have said that those who leave Christianity for atheism do so because they want to live any way they please, or because they’ve been hurt by Christians. Atheists have said that people become theists because they’re looking for a crutch, or community, or hope and meaning in life.
I don’t deny that there’s an emotional factor in conversions. For example, atheists and Orthodox Jews have expressed more than intellectual disagreement with the evangelical belief that non-Christians will be tormented in hell forever and ever: they’ve expressed disgust. I once read a Jewish Christian’s testimony about his conversion to Orthodox Judaism: he said that he was seeking a deeper connection with his people, the Jews. Jews who convert to Christianity or Messianic Judaism, by contrast, have testified that they feel a deeper connection to their Jewish heritage as a result of their acceptance of Jesus. There are probably as many reasons for conversion as there are people, and any generalization I make doesn’t do the issue of conversion complete justice.
When I read or hear people’s conversion stories, I notice a quest for wholeness. But what stands out to me even more is their quest for truth. People abandon one set of beliefs and embrace another because they conclude that their former beliefs are false, whereas their new beliefs are true. In this case, their reasons for converting are intellectual. When a Jewish Christian compares the Hebrew Bible with Christian interpretations of it, and concludes that Christians have not been faithful to the Hebrew Bible’s meaning, he may decide to become part of a belief system that he believes is faithful: Judaism. Someone with a general belief that the Bible is true may choose a denomination that appears to correspond with what she believes the Bible is saying, whether that denomination is Adventism or Roman Catholicism, or something else. A fundamentalist may notice contradictions in the Bible and conclude that the Bible is human (not divine) in origin, and so he becomes an atheist. An atheist may be convinced by Christian apologetics, feeling that Christianity presents the most sensible explanation for how the universe and life came to be, and for how the Christian movement got started and grew, despite persecution. In all of these cases, there is a quest for truth, although the quests may have different presuppositions.
In recovery communities, however, I don’t see so much a modernist quest for truth, but rather an experiential quest: recoverers know that their addiction has landed them into pretty bad places, and so they seek a better life. They notice that people who do the twelve steps have that better life, and so they do what those people do. At times, I may hear a recoverer use arguments for the existence of God—such as the cosmological argument, or the argument from design. But, in many cases, they choose to believe in a higher power because that has worked for people they know, and they notice that it works for them, too. I notice this sort of approach in testimonies by people who become Buddhists: for them, Buddhism presents an outlook that helps them in their lives. My understanding is that Buddhism doesn’t make heavy-handed doctrinal claims about God—the Buddha even said that he didn’t know how the universe began. But if offers an outlook that helps people to rise above their inner demons (i.e., jealousy, hate, etc.), cope with the transient nature of life, and achieve a quality of living. Some people taste this, and they like its consequences: that makes it true to them.
Granted, I also hear conversion stories from people who aren’t interested in truth claims, but in what appeals to them personally or meets their needs. In this case, it’s like preferring one restaurant over another: it’s a matter of personal taste, rather than what is true or false. I’m somewhat like this, though my current religious beliefs also overlap with how I characterized the recoverer’s quest for truth in the above paragraph. But many of the testimonies I’ve heard are by people who approach issues in a modernist intellectual manner, probably because they’re by people who were at some point in fundamentalism, which has a modernist outlook.