Wisdom and Minnesota Nice

Hey’all, I’m reblogging these from the Bethel blog.  Besides, this buys me time to write other stuff.  K’cool!

Since I would imagine that most Bethel students, faculty, and staff are born-and-raised Minnesotans, the idea of “Minnesota Nice” comes as a given. We Minnesotans appreciate politeness, not making a fuss about things, slowing down to let another driver merge into our lane, and our self-deprecating humor. For those outside of the North Star State, this behavior comes off as annoying, obnoxious, or—at worst— passive-aggressive.

The crowning achievement of Minnesota Nice

Still, it takes no small amount of intercultural competence to understand how Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans can come to understand and appreciate each other while we’re here. In fact, it takes no small amount of wisdom for us to learn how to live with and love one another. These talents, intercultural competence and wisdom, are skills the Bethel community deeply values.

Some suggest that Minnesota Nice is influenced by an implicit code of conduct for Scandinavian culture as being summarized in these tenets:

“Don’t think that you are special.”

“Don’t think that you are good at anything.”

“Don’t think that you can teach us anything.”

For the Minnesotan, we are shaped by society to think that we are not more special than anyone else, not better than anyone else, and not to stir up the status quo. Thus, Minnesota Nice “doesn’t have all that much to do with being nice. It’s more about keeping up appearances, about keeping the social order, about keeping people in their place.” At best this is meant to foster harmony in community; at worst it truly is a passive-aggressive judgment of persons and their worth in a community. Ouch!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m really proud of my Minnesota Nice, especially the whole avoiding-conflict-at-all-costs part. But, I wonder if we actually stir up conflict in the way we avoid it.  Consider Proverbs 15:1 (please-thank-you):

“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” – NET Bible

Nice wisdom, absolutely; but I wonder if at times we Minnesotans think we’re giving a ‘gentle response’ when really it’s a passive-aggressive response. This proverb is about meeting conflict head on, not aboutavoiding conflict, and certainly not about frustrating conflict through passive-aggressive behavior. In this sense, a ‘gentle’ a.k.a. passive-aggressive response can indeed stir up wrath.

Dearly beloved, allow me to suggest a few pieces of wisdom for moving forward in living with and loving one another in the land of Minnesota nice.  First, to the Minnesotans: recognize the strengths and setbacks of our culture. Accept and acknowledge our cultural penchant towards passive-aggressiveness, but don’t be ashamed of it.  For the non-Minnesotans: think about how you can integrate culturally while you are here. Learn the culture and share your own. And remember, a harsh word will certainly stir up the wrath of a Minnesotan (but they probably won’t let you know it).

And finally, some words to both: learn to accept each other’s culture, especially the differences.  Meet each other halfway as a means of understanding and relating to one another.  In conflict be aware of culture, because a harsh word (whether aggressive or passive-aggressive) will stir up wrath, but a gentle, sincere, and honest response will turn anger away.

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A Queer Kairos

A kairos moment are those moments when the time is ‘just right’ for something new to happen, for a great change to shake us out of our sleep, to shake our foundations, and to open our eyes to a new reality before us. It seems to be that—at least for Minnesotans—we are in some sort of a kairos moment.

First, on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, Minnesotans came out against the proposed amendment of defining marriage as between one man and one woman. On Tuesday, May 14th, 2013, Minnesota became the 12th state to approve same-sex marriage. It seems to be—at least to me—that we are joining into a larger kairos moment that is sweeping our nation: the movement of increasing acceptance and embrace of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.

As much as I am an idealist, I am pragmatic enough to realize that there is still much work to be done, and there are many places where discrimination and persecution are rampant and inbred within the fabric of society (even here in Minnesota…).  We still have a ways to go. But there are still glimpses of those kairos moments, or kairoi; and there was one big one just recently: the closing of Exodus International and the apology of Alan Chambers.

Exodus International is a ministry that works with Christians to help them “surrender their sexual struggles to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”[1]  As part of this effort, Exodus International has worked with persons struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA), homosexual orientation, and gay identity (in future posts, I will explicate on these definitions). One method of addressing these struggles has been through the controversial technique of reparative therapy, which assumes that one can change their sexuality, their orientation, or at least remove their attractions. However, as we have come to learn through stories and controversies, this method does not work (or, at least in the way Exodus wants it to).  Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, had already ‘come out’ about his “ongoing same-sex attractions,” but in an open letter to “members of the LGBTQ Community,” Alan has put forth an honest apology.[2]  Alan has apologized for the “pain and hurt” experienced, for the “shame and guilt” felt when SSA would not go away, and for the reparative therapy placed used upon and against persons.  In the end, Alan has offered a promising and hopeful way forward:

“Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.”

Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in-between and out-between: here is a glimpse of what part of this kairos moment will look like. We can hope for more—such as an eschatological vision of full acceptance and embrace of the LGBTQ community—but what a great starting point!  We have here the hope of the end of an era of exclusion and the dawn of an era of embrace.

In light of this, I will now begin to publish my musings on queer theology.  Over the last year, I have done considerable work in this area, and now I want to share it with y’all. So, in the coming weeks or months, I am looking forward to the beginning of a constructive dialog on the future of the Christian faith and the LGBTQ community.  My prayer for both is that they may all be one.

I don’t expect many readers to agree with me. You may not agree that we are in a kairos moment, and you may not agree with me even using that kind of language.  But you know what? That’s great!  All I ask is that we can respectful conversation about this.  I know you have your convictions as much as I do; I just ask that we keep our hands open rather than clenched shut.

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A Funny Thing Happened at Spyhouse

Second worst book cover ever.  If you want to see the most worst cover, look at Volume 2.

Second worst book cover ever. If you want to see the most worst cover, look at Volume 2.

Whenever I am out for coffee and working on homework, I make an effort to not show the titles of books that I’m reading.  In this case, I was reading “Readings in Christian Ethics,” as well as “The Moral Quest.”  I don’t like to show what I’m reading for two reasons, one reason being selfish and the other less selfish.  First, I don’t show because I don’t want to strike up conversations.  I’m here to study primarily, and have conversation secondly. Sure, this may defeat the original intent of the coffeehouse, a place of social gathering, but hey, I can’t get work done unless I’m in a public place.  The other reason is that, because I am generally reading Christian material, I want to respect others who are here and not broadcast my literature.  I don’t want people to think I am here to evangelize them. I like what I study, and of course I want people to know about what I’m studying, but I don’t want to shove it in their faces. I see plenty of people do that, people who bring their Bibles and leave them wide open, with highlighter marks plaguing the pages, inviting others into a conversation about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So, here I am, headphones in, listening to the Smiths, book covers down, and an interesting thing happens. I notice someone in my periphery. I turn and see someone is beckoning me to listen.  I take out my headphones, and a brief conversation begins.

Woman: Excuse me, can you give me two dollars for a cup of coffee?

Me: No, sorry, I can’t.

Woman: Can you buy something for me?

Me: No, sorry, I can’t.

Woman: Huh, interesting…

She walks away, and I’m left bitterly confused. What was so interesting about that?  Do you think she saw that I was reading a book about Christianity, and thought that I’d give her money, as my Christian ethical duty?  But how could she, since she couldn’t see my book?

On average, $5.00.

On average, $5.00.

This bugged me for a while.  I started thinking through all of the scenarios about what could have happened. I could have explained to her the irony of her situation. Why would you be in a coffeeshop if you had no money to spend? I’ve had homeless people come up to me here and do this, but she didn’t seem homeless. And besides, she just wanted coffee right?

And then I start imagining about all the people around me listening in on me explaining to her why I can’t give her money.  They start to notice my books on Christian ethics, and are as curious as she as to why I won’t give freely to those who ask.  I envision myself stumbling over my words, stumbling over my theology, stumbling over my ethics, as I try to explain the reason for my decision.

I think back to all my education, to all my reading and theorizing and theologizing.  I think about each of our moral responsibilities to each other, our obligations to ourselves, and our pursuit of “righteousness.” I think of the irony of a Christian spending money daily on not just coffee, but the availability to study, to use internet, to be in a warm building, while others have no access to such fortunes.

empty coffee cupWell, I notice that the woman solicited someone else to get her coffee. But not only coffee, she started ordering other things, like croissants and donuts.  She takes her bag of goodies and her small coffee and leaves the shop.  The woman who paid for her is left dumbfounded, awkward, and confused. I am left dumbfounded, awkward, and confused. And yet, here I return to my reading about Christian ethics, as I finish my cup of coffee and publish this post.  Maybe I’ll spend another $1.25 for a refill.

 

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What If Jesus Wanted This? Reflections on the Holiday Season

C3680_cutoutSo, I’m in a car, riding up to a cabin, when we pass by a wonderful yard display concerning the holiday season. Sure, I have seen better, but this one did a valiant effort.  They had everything: Santa with reindeer pulling his sleigh, lights, cameras, actions, and a Nativity scene.  It was the Nativity scene, all is its plasticized placidity, that particularly caught my attention.  Here, I thought to myself: “What would Jesus think of all of this? What would Jesus think of all of this pomp and circumstance dedicated to him on a day that, in all likelihood, isn’t even his birthday?”

But, then I thought, what if Jesus wanted all of this?

What if Jesus was like any other person; who wanted to be recognized, who wanted to be special, who wanted to be big? What if, as a child, he had those dreams that I’m sure we all have, those dreams of reaching for the stars to pluck one out so we can take its place (or something along those lines…)?  What if he, like everyone else, just wants to be better than what they are now?

And what if he actually set out to accomplish that?  What if he, coming upon his dreaded 30th birthday, finally left his father’s carpentry business to make a man of himself?  Sure, his mother must be just sobbing at this point, to finally lose her baby that she had been holding onto decade after decade, but I’m sure his dad is thankful to finally be rid of him. Perhaps he’s a little jealous that he never got the same chance he did. Maybe he’s too cynical to think his son will amount to anything, and he’ll surely come crawling back after he’s had his heyday in the big city.

But Jesus goes on, and he starts hanging out with some pretty radical (and mostly crazy) people, who start teaching him about all the evil that Rome is doing to the Jewish community, as well as all the evil that the Jewish community is doing to itself.  He learns about all of the terrible social injustices done in the name of empire, and he learns about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He’s getting worked up, oh boy is he getting worked up, and now he is pissed, so pissed that he wants to go and do something.

Holy_FamilyHe starts to rise up the ranks of his posse, and is becoming a pretty smart and influential figure.  They do some small time revolutionary stuff, like vandalizing forts and firing spitballs at the Sanhedrin, but then one day, this guy Jesus gets an idea: “What if there’s more to this? What if I could be greater?  What if I could be the best? What if I could defeat Rome and bring a new awakening to all of Israel? To all of the world?  What if it’s me?”

So, he starts to nurse this thought, and it doesn’t help that his brother-and-law thinks he’s the savior of the world, or that other people think he is either.  He likes this, he’s rolling with it, and more and more people start gathering around him.  He starts to teach some cool stuff, and then he starts to do some amazing stuff, like healing people and…stuff. This catches him by surprise as much as everyone else, but he does his best to keep it cool, and show that he is in charge.  “Maybe I am the Messiah” slowly turns into “I am the Messiah,” and Jesus turns his gaze towards Jerusalem, the heart of the beast, for a grand showdown against Judaism and Rome, all in one fell swoop.

He gets there, and the shit just hits the fan at full force.  The people are going nuts. The authorities are pissed as hell.  The religious leaders are foaming at the mouth. And Jesus is going around town doing his thing. He climbs to a high place among the throngs of the people, and declares that he will destroy the Temple, the Jewish religious system, Rome, and the whole damn world itself!

Later that night he throws a party with his friends where he gloats about the future glories of his new world order. But later that night, while out for a cigarette, he gets arrested.  He is put before the very authorities he was lambasting earlier, and while he’s nervous, he remains defiant.  But it gets worse, he’s found guilty of “hooliganism,” and he’s beat the ‘eph’ up, and sentenced to death.

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He shuts down completely. He withdraws into his quiet place, and looks over his whole life.  He thinks back to growing up, to all the good things he had. As he’s walking to the place of his execution, he thinks about his mom, his dad, his friends.  He misses them bad. As he’s being lifted up upon his cross, he thinks about the last few years, and where he could have done better.  He thinks about all the time he wasted, he thinks about all the missed opportunities for work, play, and love.

He looks down from his cross to find few familiar faces.  All those who loved him are gone; all those who believed in him have fled.  He is alone, he has failed.

He looks up to heaven and curses God. “Why did you let this happen?!” “Why did you let me reach too far?!” “Why didn’t you let me be your servant?!”  “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!”

Drawing his eyes down from heaven, he looks out upon the horizon.  In this moment of death, he has a vision. He sees that all that he has done has not been for naught.  He will be remembered for what he did.  He sees his fame being brought to all corners of the earth.  He sees the rise and fall of nations in his name.  He sees the wealth of his disciples, his priests, his kings.  He sees castles and palaces, cathedrals and basilicas, statues and monuments. He sees markets filled with memorabilia of himself: postcards, balloons, trinkets, treasures, and countless other shit.  He sees tacky portraits and light-up plastic figurines, and in his final breath, his mouth draws a smile.

So, we come back to my question: “What if Jesus wanted this?”  I suppose it raises a lot of other questions, some which immediately come to mind are “what difference does Jesus make, then, in the world?” “For what purpose did Jesus die?” “Why do we remember him?”  “What’s the point?” “Why bother?”

And I suppose theology enters the game here to provide answers to these questions, but for now, let us reflect on this.  What would Jesus think of this holiday season?  What if Jesus wanted it this way?  What difference does it make if he did?…

Please feel free to reply back with your thoughts and questions.  I’ll respond later this week with some more of my thoughts as well as with yours.

Merry Christmas, and I mean that in the most sincere way I can. You are all beloved.

16272971-christmas-nativity-scene-2

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Preliminary Notes on a Vom-Bag

Best stock image ever!

Best stock image ever!

Hey’all!  I’ve been wanting to post this for a while, and I just found it.   On my flight back from Chicago, I wanted to do some writing/brainstorming for my thesis, and so I asked the flight attendant for a pen, and got out the barf-bag, and got writing.  This post is the first of many that will be notes concerning my thesis.  I want to have an outlet to express my ideas as I’m working on them, but don’t worry, I’ll try and make them interesting for your reading leisure.  I just thought this would be fun to share.  This is a direct transcription from the vom-bag.  And so, without further ado…

Preliminary Notes on a Vom-bag

Explain thesis as you have to others, exhibiting the passion you demonstrated amidst the fear + anxiety of “it all!”[1]

I am looking at soteriology, the study of salvation, and integrating/synthesizing/correlating existentialism and/with liberation theology.  My primary sources will be Paul Tillich for existentialist theology and Gustavo Gutiérrez for liberation theology.

What is a/the problem in soteriology?

A problem is the overemphasis of the individualistic aspects of salvation with the communalistic aspects (social)

What are my observations of the problem?

1. Individualistic salvation (so many to list) are those that can be or all of the following tenets:

a. Salvation as admittance to heaven.

b. Salvation as “moral” progress.

c. Salvation as…[2]

2. Communalistic/social salvation (social) are those that can be one or all of the following:

a. Salvation as economic/social revolution

b. Salvation as “social” progress

c. Salvation as…

What are some preliminary notes that make this a problem?

Here we see a separation between the individual and the communal.  Why is this bad? It is dualistic. It is disembodied. It forces a “surreptitious” dichotomy (I want to try and make the distinction b/c I’m setting up a dichotomy, and while the dichotomy is a successful dualism, we cannot ignore the similarities between the individualistic emphases and the communal emphases.  So, I am arguing that we have to hold these two in (paradoxical) tension (turbulence, *ineligible*) ha![3]

145354-auryn02

This is the Auryn. Another name for it, which I couldn’t think of at the time, is an “ouroboros.”

In soteriology, the balance and tension between ind + comm, and yet yet I want to subvert this idea of balance b/c I want to argue even if we talk about the two, we cannot choose one and only one.  We surely start from one, and may even emphasize one over the other, but, we must not risk the emphasis becoming a primacy of one over the other. If there is I may use an anatheologism,[4] I would say that these loci mutually inclusive loci of salvation work as a perichoretic progression, as an Auryn,[5] each snake head devouring each other. But perhaps that is a poor metaphor. The best metaphors I can come up w/ to describe this phenomenon, and a necessary phenomenon at that, are two.

A)   It is the self that finds itself and comes to knowledge, acceptance, and love of self, that goes out from oneself and into the other,[6]


[1] The fear and anxiety referring to the depressing times during my time in Chicago.

[2] I like how I say there are so many to list, and yet I only list two.  Hey, I was running out of time on my flight!

[3] We entered into turbulence, and so my handwriting got illegible, which apparently I thought was funny enough to write “ha!”

[4] Think of an “anachronism,” but in this case, using a theological term out of its context.

[5] As per usual, I have to throw in a The Neverending Story reference…

[6] Right when I get to the good part, it’s time to land…  Oh well, I will finish these thoughts.  Why?  Well, because I have to.

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What I Learned on my Mid-November Vacation – Part 2

Oh hey!  Here’s some more stuff I reflected/ing on!

4. “Why do people talk, when they have nothing to say?!”

Does anyone really care what this guy thinks?

At theological conferences, I unfortunately feel this way often.  There are papers that people write, that are well written and well argued, thoroughly researched, but they just don’t say anything! You may say: “well, of course they say something; there are words and stuff!” But does what they say really mean anything?  Again, you may also say: “well, of course it means something! Everything has meaning!” But let me posit this to you: what is the point of writing something, something meaningful, if it doesn’t do anything.  By “do,” I mean at the very least impact readers of all sorts, and at the most, changes the world.

Academics and scholars run the risk of isolating themselves in their own towers, and tragically all that they produce tends to speak to only themselves or to their inner theological circle. I am convinced that any work in theology should only be done if it can speak to everyone.  Sure, translation is needed from the heavy academic and theological language to the vernacular, but I think it’s tragic that the academy is discovering and learning all this amazing stuff and keeping it to itself, intentionally or unintentionally.  As an academic and scholar, I want my work to matter, and so I work hard to be able to translate it and have it make sense to all people.  If I fail at this, let me know, because I care deeply about this. Don’t let me stay in the ivory tower with the Queen of Sciences: true theology is done on the ground (see this blog post for more on ivory towers).

5. Insecurity’s a bitch

Poster “child” of insecurity…

To be honest, I was really depressed during my time in Chi-town. Not only did I leave Mpls in a bad funk, but being at the conference was at times very difficult.  Here I was, surrounded by brilliant people from brilliant institutions, and immediately all of my insecurities flared up. As many of you know, as those insecurities flare up one descends dramatically into very negative self-talk. Examples may include: I’ll never be like these people…I’m a failure; I’ve failed at life…I’m stupid…I can’t do this; I should just give up.  I took a lot of time to sit by myself and write out my thoughts, just to see what I was thinking and to reason with myself. When I get down like this, my immediate instinct is to find someone to unload everything on.  However, I realized this weekend that, in the end, I ‘alone’ (not fully alone, because I trust in God through prayer, even though that can be difficult in negative times) must interact with these negative feelings to overcome them, or at least embrace them…

6. The intense surreal beauty of the other.

Now, if you thought my “mythonomy” comments were controversial, hold on to your butts!  I went to a luncheon that had a lot of GLBT scholars at it, and among them were two people, one of whom I assumed is a Male-to-Female transsexual and the other I assume to be a Female-to-Male transsexual. While they were a table away from me, the ensuing discussion at the luncheon consisted of discussing what scholarship looks like from minority perspectives. It was a very edifying discussion.

Later on, I was walking through the corridors of McCormick Place when I saw both of them, sitting very close together, tucked away in a corner of the immense convention center.  As I walked by, I couldn’t help but stare; I was struck by what I can only describe as the intense surreal beauty of the two of them together.  I don’t know if they were a couple, and I suppose that wouldn’t matter, but to see both of them sitting there together, removed from everyone else, stirred up something in me.  There was something in me that wanted to go up to them and proclaim to them “You are loved! You are beautiful! You are prized! You are the Kingdom of God!”

Is there anything more to say?

Wow, what does that mean?! Well, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was best seen in those that were casted out by the religious authorities, the so-called “sinners.”  I felt that these two, sitting alone, but together, in the midst of the largest theological gathering in the country, were the most prized people at the conference.  I left the convention center with an overwhelming conviction that above all things, above all theological work, I wanted to be a gentle and loving spirit to all those on the outside and at the margins.  I feel this to be a very holy and special call, and if that’s all that I did for the rest of my life, I would be satisfied.  So, as I continue in theological work (as I so far intend to do), I still want to be above all else a gentle loving spirit, a spirit that reflects the love of Jesus, the love of the Christ, the love of God, to all.

Well, those are my reflections! We’ll see you in Baltimore for the 2013 Annual Meeting!

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What I Learned on my Mid-November Vacation – Part 1

I spent his weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Religion in Chicago.  I figured that, considering I have not posted a blog post in near forever, I ought to reflect on my time there.  I have a lot of reflections, so I will split this blog in twain. So, without further ado, what I learned on my Mid-November Vacation, Part 1:

1. I’m studying something that matters and is pretty cool.

What an awesome picture of Tillich! Ha!

So, I’m writing my thesis on Paul Tillich (my man) and Gustavo Gutiérrez (once I read more of him, I’m sure he’ll be my man too). While at AAR, I went to several Tillich talks, one of which was on investigating the early and later Tillich and his idea of history.  At the end of the paper, Jean Richard of Université Laval wrote on how many will like the later Tillich who are more spiritually and mystically driven, whereas others (like Jean) will like the early Tillich who are more social justice driven.  This tension reflects exactly the issue my thesis is addressing.  So, it’s sweet to see that people are thinking and caring about similar things.  Sweeeeeet.

2. Friends matter way more than academic colleagues.

I couldn’t resist.

Instead of going to another Tillich seminar, I had a long lunch with my good friends Maria Francesca French and Thorsten Moritz, and my new friend Holly Beers. Instead of going to a scholar’s reception, I had Friendsgiving at my friend’s place where I was staying.  In both circumstances, I had some of the best interactions and conversations during the whole trip. Not only did I talk about my thesis and theological passions (which people were genuinely interested and fascinated), but we just had a good time together. Now if only friends could pay me a salary to do that…

3. I coined a new word: mythonomy.

Wow, I was lucky to find a picture of them together. Thanks Derek Ouellette!

I went to a ‘conversation’ between Scot McKnight and N.T. (Tom) Wright.  Scot presented his paper “Kingdom as Church, Church as Kingdom: An Examination of an Old Dichotomy,” where he talked about how the kingdom and church are generally interchangeable.  He also talked a lot about “King Jesus” and the kingdom life.  Now, maybe this is because I’ve been studying a lot of Tillich (well, of course it is!), but I was taken aback by the intense evangelical language he was using.  I felt he was taking the idea of the kingdom and the concept of Jesus as king so literally, it almost seemed ingenuous and strained.  And then the word came to me: mythonomy.

Tillich often talks about autonomy (self-law, or the universal law of reason within all people), heteronomy ( strange-law, or a law foreign to humanity’s nature and being. Tillich talks about how ecclesiastical rules and norms are heteronomous), and theonomy (God-law, or autonomy that “is aware of its divine ground.”[1]

Thus, a mythonomy is myth-law; it is a normative rule of law based in a myth or story (keep in mind myth does not necessarily mean fiction).  It is what we understand as an all-encompassing meta-narrative.  How this relates to Scot’s talk is this: is it legitimate to use a Christological symbol such as king, or even Kingdom of God, as a normative standard for all Christian life and conduct.  At first blush we might want to say yes, but let me rephrase the question: ought we to take Biblical symbols and concepts literally and directly apply them to our contemporary lives, or are to be inspired by the Biblical symbols and concepts, interpreting and/or reauthoring them to correspond to our contemporary lives, and more italicized words?  This is a heavy and controversial topic which will need much more thinking, but I like the direction of the discourse. I do have planned a blog series on myth, but that’s another story for another time. Eek!

I have three more points to make, which I will on Wednesday!


[1] Tillich, A Complete History of Christian Thought, II:27. In http://darashpress.com/articles/paul-tillich-and-biblical-theonomy#fntext_13. This is a great article that explains Tillich terms.

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What is “the Bible?”

All right.  We left off on an ambiguous note.  I threw you some errors and contradictions in the Bible, and then said it doesn’t matter.  I talked about how we are all on pursuits of truth, and we use the Bible as part of our pursuit.  The issues, however, are what sort of truth are we looking for, what sort of truth do we need, and what does the Bible actually give us?  So, what then is the Bible? How would I define it?

In an elusive way (which is always a pursuit I enjoy), I want to first talk about what it is not.  

A quiz on the Bible is not due Friday.

First (and the last post began to illustrate this), I don’t think the Bible is a science or history book. I don’t think it is a textbook like the ones used in education – a book of facts. However, I do believe the stories of the Bible were constructed in real time and in real places, and so refer to real times and real places.  This does not mean, though, that the purpose of the Bible is to be an historical record of events or used to educate its readers on scientific facts.  True, the Bible is very useful, and should be used in teaching, among other things (2 Timothy 3:16 for those who want more Bible verses).  However, I don’t think what the authors (or God) intended with Scripture is for it to be studied, memorized, and tested on.  Western education, in all of its forms, from pragmatism to reconstructionism, is absolutely foreign to the minds of the original authors of the books of the Bible.  When we read the Bible, we ought not read it outside of its context; we ought not to read it as a tome of knowledge universally accessible from every location and time.  Rather, we need to step into the worlds conceived and constructed by the authors.  These worlds are radically different from our own, and the people are radically different from ourselves.

The Bible is not the Necronomicon.

Second (and this point should be interesting), I don’t think the Bible is a spell book. “Well, certainly John,” you say, “the Bible forbids against witchcraft and the like.”  Astute observation sir or ma’am, but let me pose this question to you: “Are you guilty of using it as a spell tome, as a way to get what you want?”  Have you taken the promises to Israel out of their context and applied them to your own?  Have you prayed Biblical prayers in order to get a special blessing from God out of them? (Bonus points to whoever guesses what Scriptural scenarios I have in mind)   What I mean by all this taunting is that I don’t think the Bible is meant to be something that we get things out of; I don’t think it is a “how-to” step-by-step guide in how to live (and live awesomely!). Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe the Bible is absolutely necessary in the spiritual formation of its readers. I do believe that we learn about life and how to live from the Bible, but we don’t do it by adhering to laws, prohibitions, and how-to guides that we draw out from the Bible.  Does not the Bible itself warn against that, against the legalism that plagued the religious communities that held and hold these writings sacred (look it up, it’s there)? It’s astounding to me how we take the Bible, which talks about what life with God looks like, and systematize it into a list of how to please God. The Bible does not teach us incantations used to win God’s favor. Full stop.

Well, compared to the other two examples, the Bible is more like this.

So, what is the Bible? Ultimately, it is a story book. In many ways, it is like any other story in that it is a work that invites its reader into the world it has created.  It has characters that inspire us, plots that capture us up in their cadence, and themes that speak to our very existence. Thus, we can experience the story of the Bible in the same ways as we experience other stories: as portals into imaginations.  And yet, I do acknowledge that there is something special about the Bible (after all, I wouldn’t be a Christian without it), but it’s not a something special that automatically makes it better or superior or more authoritative because of how it’s a fact book or a spell book. The Bible is a story  (are stories) about God. It’s God’s story, as human authors have come to witness God’s revelation of Godself throughout history. The Bible is also a story (are stories) about people, and how they have encountered and related to God throughout history.  It’s messy, it’s scary, it’s confusing, it’s elusive, but the encounter we have with God (and ourselves) in God’s story is beautiful, intimate, inviting, and special. In fact, the Bible is stories of God and humanity together, in concert with one another and in crisis with one another.  The Bible invites us into its stories as we live our stories in real time and with the stories of others, especially God’s stories.

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Are there any errors and/or contradictions in the Bible?

One part of my answer to this is the question “What kind of errors?” However, my first gut reaction to this question is: “Sure there are, but what’s the point?”

Lettuce answer the first question: “What kind of errors?” Because we live in an age of information, I decided to look up these errors and contradictions.

The first site, which you can find here, lists all sorts of contradictions and errors. Among my favorite contradictions are those that follow:

God’s Achilles’ heel

Matthew 19:26 – “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.’”

Judges 1:19 – “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

Another one:

2 Samuel 6:23 – “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.”

2 Samuel 21:8 – “But the king took..the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.”

Now, let’s give Michal some credit; she could have had all five sons on the day of her death.

How about some errors?

Leviticus 11:20-21: “All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.” I certainly hope so, because I know of no fowl that walks on four legs.

And speaking of abominations, how about the camel and the hare:

We are abominations.

Deuteronomy 14:7 – “…as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof.”  Hares don’t chew cud, and camels “do divide the “hoof.”

Now, these are silly examples.  This site goes through some 143 contradictions in the Bible and provides explanations for why they may seem like contradictions. Take a look through them; they are thorough.

This brings me to my second point: “Sure there are errors and contradictions in the Bible, but what is the point?”

Why does it matter that there may be errors in the Bible?  It matters (and doesn’t matter) depending on how we see the Bible.  If we see the Bible as a book of facts, if we believe everything in the Bible is a claim to truth, fact, and reality,then yes, I suppose it does matter if there are errors.

Girls! Girls! The Facts of Life.

And yet, we must dispute the very notion of “facts,” whether anything can indeed be verifiable or falsifiable. Sorry readers, but this is where it gets heady.

Some say there are things that are verifiable, some say there are not, and some say there are some that are and some that are not.  But let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that there are things that are verfiable and these things are necessary for developing claims to truth(s), and that these things we know as “facts.”

Now, we seek these “facts” to develop “truth claims,” which we use to construct/develop/emerge descriptions of verifiable realities, philosophies, ethics, politics, and faiths.

Whither we find or identify these “facts?” All sorts of venues of discovery have been argued as sources of these facts. Among them are nature itself, science and its method, human reason, personal experience, powers and authorities, and sacred writings.

Thus, we have come to the issue of the Bible, wherein many/some claim that the Bible is a source of these facts which are used in developing truth claims to reality and all it constitutes.

Is this so?  Is the Bible claiming to describe all of reality through presenting facts as truth claims to this reality?  I don’t think so.  I think the Bible is less than this, but paradoxically more than this.  It is not a fact book, it is so much more.  The truth that we encounter in the Bible is a truth that goes beyond facts and figures.

Then, what becomes of the Bible?  Tune in Wednesday as I answer “What is the Bible and what does it mean to you?”

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Questions from my Sister

This is my little sister.  She is magnificent.  She is my joie de vivre and my raison d’etre.

She is a sophomore at a Christian private high school, and for her religion/theology/whatever it’s called class, she has a weekly assignment where she is posed a theological question and must give her opinion as well as ask someone else their opinion.  Now, as for the other person, who would she choose?

She chose me!  I’m really excited about this because this is a great opportunity for blog material on what I think about specific issues in theology.

Now, we currently have a series going on as well, but that’s a tough series, and in such requires a lot of thought.  I’m not saying this new series won’t require much thought, but it involves quick and concise answers to theological questions.  So, along with the series “Bringing Life to the Dead Places,” we will have “Questions from my Sister” as well.

I was originally thinking about naming this series “Sh*t my Sister Asks,” but I thought that might be a little inappropriate, so, we’ll settle for the lame simple title.

 

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