Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reading for Revival Week Seven-Continually Questioning

I am a person of faith. But faith is just that--it implies confidence in the unseen. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is part of my heart, my mind, probably my DNA in a way, because I have walked in that way of faith all of my life--but it is still the unseen.

Yaweh, scripture says, is the Creator of heaven and earth with authority to ask for committment from his creatures. How does that claim reconcile with what we do see-the natural world as observed by modern science?

Francis Collins, the leader of the international Human Genome Project worked for over ten years to uncover the DNA sequence, all of the DNA of our species—the hereditary code of life. In his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, he writes about his discovery of the human genome in tandem with a discussion of his coming to faith in God. This book is a great read for someone in an earnest quest for faith wrestling with questions relating to science and faith. I appreciate this statement from his book,

“To examine the complexity of life and our own origins on this planet, we must dig deep into the fascinating revelations about the nature of living things wrought by the current revolution in paleontology, molecular biology, and genomics. A believer need not fear that this investigation will dethrone the divine; if God is truly Almighty, He will hardly be threatened by our puny efforts to understand the workings of His natural world. And as seekers, we may well discover from science many interesting answers to the question “How does life work?” What we cannot discover, through science alone, are the answers to the questions, “Why is there life anyway?” and “Why am I here?”

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins, Free Press, New York, 2006
Sell your shirt and buy it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reading for Revival Week Six: Awesome, Irksome Exodus

A 21st Century American suburbanite examines ancient mayhem and majesty...

If this is the first time you have checked this blog lately--let me explain what I am doing. I am reading through the Bible this year using the plan posted on the upper right hand of the blog. Once a week I am posting a set of reactions to at least one section of reading.

This week, I have concentrated my writing on Exodus.

Chapter 18
Jethro, father-in-law to Moses, an ancient Peter Drucker or Stephen Covey, gives leadership advice to Moses, who empowers his appointees to handle disputes, bringing only the most difficult to him. Moses, receives recognition for listening to his father-in-law.

Chapter 19

The Lord wants the Israelites, the house of Jacob, to recognize how he has borne them “on eagle’s wings” to himself. God considers all of the earth his possession, but he treasures the idea that the Israelites will be a priestly kingdom. He wasn’t singling out the people of Israel for their own benefit, though he was pleased to give them blessings—but he was doing all of this to make them bridge the gap between men and God. It was once explained to me like this—in a world rife with violence and worship of many types, God intended through Israel to shape a nation that would bring Christ. These creatures of God, newly redeemed from slavery were given the law to create out of the ethical chaos of the ancient world a community to bring light to the world.

Chapter 20

I told my son, Chris, our family ethicist and theologian, that I can see much of the law given on Sinai as wonderful.

The Big Ten

First of all, the same force that brought these thousands of slaves freedom from the most powerful empire on the earth, demands unrivaled devotion from the people.

Secondly, for all the treeness of Genesis and the emphasis on the giving of the land, this God makes it very clear that there would be no veneration of things earthy or animal-like. I read a thoughtful discussion of this perspective in Christopher J.H. Wright’s Walking the Ways of the LORD. There is not a kind of New Age, Jungian kind of attachment to the earth, or the veneration of trees, animals, moon, sun, stars, or other objects called upon by some religions. For the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the land is the place upon which the LORD does his acts of grace and love. It is the God himself, the Creator of all things who demands worship. He delivered the children of Israel in order to prepare a nation to be priestly to the entire world. He gave them a land, upon which they could become a nation, acting out his will. He gives them sun by day, the moon by night for sustenance and guidance. He is giving them this law to help shape a community that can model what a just God would want from his people. So to make an object of veneration offends this God who loves his creatures, delivers them, and provides for them.

Third,, the LORD is personal and relational, and finds it offensive to ignore or misuse him in anyway—so the language and life lived before him should in no way mock or make light of his godness, his creative power, his redemptive actions, his provision and care. Perhaps because there were so many objects of worship in the world at the time, the LORD wants to be clearly understood, and he wants his name to be known precisely for what he truly is—creator, sustainer, redeemer, protector, and not anything less than the most powerful force in the universe. For this name is to be honored—not trivialized or trifled with—by poor conduct or any kind of scornful talk.

Next, the Sabbath, with its guarantee of rest for all—wives, children, servants, animals, even resident aliens—according to Wright, is much more than simply a way to catch up on rest and to worship. Because it is a command to be applied across all of society, it is a significant factor in establishing social justice and protection for all. This could inspire even the peripatetic citizens of modern Atlanta. There are few among us who take an entire day to devote to worship, family, and respecting the needs of all. I would also like to note that for all of the anti-alien sentiment around, we probably should take note that in the most basic moral code given by the God most modern Atlantans call God, he demands equal protection for aliens. Further, the reading of Exodus demands that the people of Israel always care for the alien remembering that they themselves were once aliens and strangers in a strange land—and God took care of them.

Fifth, having children give honor—care, respect, protection—to their parents—thus preserving the life of the elderly and modeling this for the next generation would certainly lead to long life for people in such a society. I do not think this command means you have to do every little thing your parents ever want you to do, no matter what your age. It is a construct to give to families permanence and protection for each generation.

The first few of the Ten Commandments are not difficult to understand. The next few—you shall not murder, steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, or covet can clearly be comprehended by our 2010 minds. There is certainly much to consider about these commandments, but let’s skip them for now and go past them to the next level of laws given by Moses.

A cursory look at the conditions of slavery mentioned in the laws given after the Big Ten make all of the so-called Biblical justifications of the slavery sounded a century or so earlier by Americans a sham. At least in Exodus it was more like indentured servant hood with protections for the slave and eventual freedom.

Many of the laws given—the what to do if someone does such and such to you—have been explained to me in a helpful way—they were given to LIMIT retribution for wrongs done by one to another. In other words, if someone gouges out your eye—you don’t get to KILL them—your retribution is limited to a consequence commiserate to loss you have sustained. Not a pretty consequence—but in a lawless society—a limit to violence.

On the other hand

I told my son, Chris, our family ethicist and theologian, that I can see much of the law given on Sinai as downright disturbing.

For a middle class American woman in the 21st Century, some of the commands given after the Decalogue seem brutal.

For example, although dealing with a recalcitrant child can be frustrating, the idea that a child who curses his parents should be killed is frightening. There a few times when I was growing up that my mom did refer to this practice. She suggested I should feel lucky to have the limited consequences I experienced when being a bit sassy.

Joking aside, the idea of a parent killing a rebellious child is barbaric.

On the other hand, I knew a family with a minor child so violent that he made their life a curse. The parents would literally lock their bedroom doors at night, and sometimes take turns staying awake, in fear of the child. The child did things like vivisect animals. In our society we might call the police to protect us from such a nightmare. Was this command a civil response to the violent, dangerous child—perhaps even an adult child?

Reading through these laws shows some that seem to have a reasonable, perhaps contemporary equivalent and others that seem beyond the pale. I wonder what I should make of these.There is a theme in the scripture that the Law is "holy, just, and good." Some of these does not seem so good if applied to my world.

I ask--can we love, obey, or understand this God by simply reading this text?

Chris to the rescue

Chris, family ethicist and theologian, helped with this crisis of consideration by reminding me that in the practice of Judaism, through the ages, discussions about the meanings of these laws are documented by volumes of points, counter-points, arguments, applications, arguments, and counterpoints. Great rabbinical conversations have pursued these topics and have often left exactly what a contemporary should do with certain laws open to disagreement. It is only in the last few hundred years or so that people have been persuaded that each thing must be examined scientifically and either proven or disproven for veracity and possible application. He got me to thinking that is okay to be quizzical about many points of the law.

Christopher J.H. Wright has also given me some help in reckoning these laws to my life in God today. He gives the idea that we might look for the broad principles of justice built into these laws as a paradigm for our conduct today. A good example is the Sabbath—we may or may not be compelled as modern Christians to observe the Sabbath in the exact way of the Israelites, but we may indeed understand and act upon that significant reality that all in society need time to rest, to worship, to devote to their family. As we exercise influence or power in our world, we would make such provisions for all—regardless of their status in society--to workers, to aliens, and even to animals. Sounds very contemporary. Even challenging.

The Rest of the Story

Much can be said about the rest of the book--including the tabernacle story. I summarize Exodus like this: Exodus exposes his covenant family, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in a world of violence, political confusion, and human uncertainty.Exodus details the sentinel story of the rescue, redemption of the people of Israel--the escape from slavery in Egypt, the passage across the Red Sea on dry land, the destruction of the Egyptian Army and the journey the promised land. Exodus shows the LORD providing basic needs, giving guidance, structure, and a place of beauty for worship.

Here's a Bev paraphrase of several of the laws in Exodus:

When you buy a slave—set him free after six years with no debt.
If a slave comes married; the slave leaves married.

If the master gives him a wife; he goes and the wife and children stay. If he wants to stay with his family—he can become a slave for life.

When you marry off your daughter--If the man takes a second wife—he must still give the first wife food, clothing, and sex. If he does not—she can leave him debt free.

If you kill someone by striking them—you may be put to death. If the death is not premediated, God will provide a sanctuary. Premeditation is the factor that gets the death penalty.

Whomever strikes mother or father—will be put to death.

If one strikes someone and the person recovers—the assailant must pay for time lost and for medical care.

If some strikes a pregnant woman and she miscarries—the assailant must pay what the husband requires—an amount approved by a judge.

Other losses are to be recompensed in a manner limited in direct relation to the loss—eye for eye; tooth for tooth.

Maiming a slave in any way demands the slave be set free with no debt.

Ox gores should not be repeated upon pain of death for the ox and the owner.

Pits devouring others animals will result in a lawsuit.

Repeated ox gores are trouble for the owner of the ox.

You can’t kill an intruder in the daylight without being guilty for their blood. Breaking and entering is NOT a capital crime.

Arsonists shall make full restitution.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

If you lend to the poor, you should not charge them interest.

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in Egypt.

A significant part of your wealth over the years should be managed so that the poor may share in it. You should manage your fields so that the wild animals will be able eat as well.

An important part of the Sabbath is the opportunity not just for you to rest, but for your servants and animals to rest. Included in this day of rest are the resident aliens who need to be refreshed as well.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Reading for Revival Week Five-Proverbs

Paraphrase of Proverbs 3...
If you want to know the divine,
if you want to see God,
if you long to understand this world and your own life,
shout it.

Shout it the way you may shout curses when frustrated. You may at times call out for God to condemn whatever you hate or find frustrating-from the trivial to the catastrophic. You say oh my God in response to the trivial and the catastrophic. Why don’t you cry out--oh my God--reveal real meaning in life to me. Give me insight! Help me understand nature, understand others, understand myself. Help me understand why live goes the way it goes.

Say it aloud, the way you may usually wage your curses and complaints.

You work day and night to possess houses and cars and clothes and status. Put that type of effort into the pursuit of God. You may examine consumer guides, search the internet, interview friends and strangers looking for the best of everything from toasters, to colleges, to doctors, to car deals. You seek these treasures with intelligence and passion. Seek for understanding of God and the life he desires for us with that kind of passion and intellectual commitment and you will find yourself holding unimaginable, indestructible possessions.

Give to the LORD before you do anything else with your money. Those who are thoughtful in this way with their money—who purpose and plan and are generous to others—will often be observed to have plenty.

Being shaped by good principles; understanding the consequences of good and bad behavior makes you into a person of strength in character. This is the nature of God’s discipline—not punishment and vengeance against your weaknesses, but a kind of loving teaching—the way a good parent teaches a child. A parent doesn’t fail to correct and lead a child deeply loved, but will provide the child with guidance and boundaries—yielding a wise and productive life for the child and joy to the parent.

Wisdom is better than wealth. It may not seem that way, but you know you may possess great wealth but lack happiness and peace.

The LORD’s wisdom—intelligence, creativity, power, and order— expresses itself in creation—in the skies, in the rain, in the sea, in the morning dew. Don’t fail to see this—this insight will emanate from within, will be displayed as fine jewelry around your neck; it will give confidence to your steps, and keep you from tripping up on the road of life.

What may happen in your life if you pursue the wisdom that comes for the LORD? When you are in a quiet place sitting, sans TV, IPod, and conversation of others—you will not be anxious but can calmly reflect. When you are in bed—you will sleep with the sweetness that you are in good stead with others and with God—because your actions and words have been laced with wisdom. You may not feel the same kind of panic others feel when things go wrong, because your heart and mind have been at one accord with the Creator and with ethical and spiritual guidance he affords.

How might this accumulation of wisdom be played out in your conduct? Do not fail to pay back those who have loaned money to you when you are capable of paying. Be certain to give to others promptly when you have the means to provide something they need. Honor the trust of your neighbors; never knowingly harm them in any way. Don’t pick fights with others—especially when someone has done no harm to you. Don’t wistfully look at thugs, gang members, or others who use violence to gain power and do not imitate them on any level—in spite of the wealth they accumulate. Remember the use of violence, quarrelsomeness, and greed in any form is a perversion of God’s great desire for his people. When you walk in fiscal responsibility, in honesty, in peace, doing kindness to your neighbors, you walk in the ways of LORD and will sense that he is speaking his wise insight into your life.

In the big picture of life, where wickedness abides so does the curse of the LORD and where there is this kind of upright living—the blessings of the LORD become part of daily existence.

If you are in the frame of mind in which you scorn the LORD—you may experience the negativity, cynicism, and cruelty often born of scorn. He favors humility over sarcasm and cynicism. Stubborn, foolish ways—that ignore his presence in nature and ignore his ethical path may find its followers experiencing disgrace. Building your life in recognition of the LORD’s ways establishes a kind wealth that outlasts calamity and allows you to pass on the true wealth of an honorable life to the next generation.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Reading for Revival Weak

Reading for Revival Week Five

How about weak five? The last several days find me weak from frustrations unrelated to reading. There is the temptation to let this slip—which I will not do. I will not do it because some friends and my very sweet mom are keeping up with the readings. Accountability helps.

It reminds me of when I ran with Jo Kite in the mornings in York, Nebraska. I told her I would be out there to run at 6:00 AM at 25 degrees. I could not skip out.

When it comes to reading the Bible—I have long thought it is not that we have the obligation or rule that we should read regularly—to fail to read and study is living below our privilege.

I take it for granted that I have the faculties to read and study. I take it for granted that I have many copies and versions of the text at my fingertips. I take it for granted that I have the freedom of religion. I take for granted the awesome nature of the kingdom of God.

From The Message, Matthew 13

Why Tell Stories?

The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?"

He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won't have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.

"But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. Matthew 13:11-17

I want to embrace my chance.

Peter said in his first letter:
The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah's Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this.”
I Peter 1:10-11