The Very Queer Christmas Story.

This post first appeared in December 2013

christmas-nativity-painting

queer (kwîr)
adj. queer·er, queer·est
1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange: a queer situation.
2. Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric. See Synonyms at strange.
3. Of a questionable nature or character; suspicious.
4. Slang Fake; counterfeit.
5. Feeling slightly ill; queasy.
6. Offensive Slang Homosexual.
7. Usage Problem Of or relating to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgendered people.
n.
1. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a homosexual person.
2. Usage Problem A lesbian, gay male, bisexual, or transgendered person.
tr.v. queered, queer·ing, queers Slang
1. To ruin or thwart: “might try to queer the Games with anything from troop movements . . . to a bomb attack” (Newsweek).
2. To put (someone) in a bad position.

Last week, I got caught up in a thread on Facebook regarding the religious liberty supposedly being withheld from Phil Robertson . I was really struck how a few, some even being pastors, had such am odd sense of how inappropriate Robertson’s comments were. They seemed perfectly happy to defend him, when in reality Christian theology and Jesus himself would demand the exact opposite. Funny for me too, thinking of this happening in the week prior to when we celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Christian Savior.

Christmas is truly a queer holiday when you stop and think about it. Everything about it is peculiar, odd and out of the ordinary. These things ought to lead a Christian to be even more humbled, but doesn’t seem to work that way. Some seem so self-assured and even cocky- as if they have all of the answers. For me the holiday and the religious significance comes from the opposite. The queerness of Christmas is that it calls us to take everything we are so sure about and turn it upside down, and consider the possibility that there is something totally outside our realm of understanding to see and grasp. But so often, this Christmas story is taken as if it is so well known. Nothing new in it, nothing unexpected, and to me that is such a shame. The real power of the holiday is lost to these people.

There truly is no historical basis for the Christmas Story. No records of a census, or an inn with no rooms or even the birth of a baby. No record of wise men’s travels, angels or any other aspect of the tale. We know that it could not have happened in December too. And yet, in spite of this lack of supporting material, we as a whole culture treat it as fact. I don’t mean to question that either. No real point. In fact the value of the holiday comes from the fact that believers believe, regardless. But there is so much more to this holiday when we start to grasp how queer it really is.

We can’t easily see the world through the eyes of women and men in the actual days in which Jesus was supposedly born, but what if we tried? In some ways it would share similarities to our own time. Imagine for a brief moment what Mary must have faced, as others found she was pregnant and unmarried. How alone and isolated she may have been. How misunderstood, how ashamed she may have felt. All of those people would have felt so assured of their condemnation of her- they had their own religious texts to prove and judge her with. Imagine Joseph who had spent his whole life believing how things were supposed to go, and here, he finds himself becoming betrothed to a woman already with child. How queer! How out of the ordinary to be sure. Joseph, Mary and baby were perhaps the first non-traditional family. Even without joking that Jesus had two daddies, you have to see this as odd. All of the people around Joseph and Mary would have.

Imagine Mary, whose experience was unlike pretty much every other woman she knew. How might she have felt and what did she do to hold onto what she knew in her heart was real for her? It isn’t hard to sort out what Jewish Law says about pregnancy outside of marriage. Isn’t it conceivable that she would have experienced comments and disdain similar to what Robertson expressed about homosexuals? He used scripture, just as Hebrew scripture would have been used against her, yes? Yet, today we praise her for knowing in her heart was was real for her and her destiny. Even as some criticize gays and lesbians for speaking their truth.

At the heart of the Christmas Story is the essence of how God creates and places God’s Self (AKA Love) into the midst of the human experience. It doesn’t happen based on the status quo, nor by some way recognized by the masses. It happens in the most amazing, and unexplainable ways. It happens in queer ways.

Our failure today, to even pause of contemplate the birth in real time is a symptom of the failure of Christianity, and why most humans are so lost. Indeed why most Christians act in ways that are so utterly unchristian. Stop and think about it for a minute. Consider everything that Jesus’ ministry and journey was all about, and what are the good Christians hyper about? Poverty, inequality, lack of human dignity- none of these even raise an eyebrow, but mention allowing two persons who love each other to get married, and the whole world is now crumbling for some Christians.

The other aspect of the Christmas Story which is so queer is that it is a fully manufactured piece of fiction. Even if there was a Mary, Joseph and virgin birth. It couldn’t have happened in December for example. That the story is manufactured doesn’t make it less real or less meaningful, but it ought to remind us that so many of our judgements about what should and shouldn’t be are also manufactured. They are constructions too, and we as a whole choose which constructs we will accept and which we will not. We can even grasp the need for construction if we stop and consider how impossible it would be to place into simple words the magnificence of God’s injection into humans’ lives. Where we ought to be in such utter awe, we treat it as a simple children’s tale. If we really believe that God can do such things, we would all need to be beside ourselves with fear and trembling.

Almost no one would have believed Mary, Joseph and those who were witness to whatever miracle  happened. But a few would have. A few had enough Faith to recognize what was possible outside of the status quo.

If the power of that miracle is to continue to change the world, then today, we have to be willing to let go of our fears, expectations and judgements and have Faith in what might be possible. We must be willing to grasp and embrace the queerness of the Christmas Story.

New Series: The Bible and Homosexuality

John BoswellBeginning June 1st, I’m starting a new series and invite my blog readers to join me in a book study and discussion regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality. Issues surrounding Gay Rights and the morality of same-sex marriage as well as homosexuality itself will remain front page news as more and more US States accept same-sex marriage, and everyone who cares about this Justice issue ought to be able to converse about what the Bible does and doesn’t say, even those who do not believe in the importance of the Bible.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage and the general acceptance of the LGBT Community, claim that what the Bible says is crystal clear, but there is scholarly work done that sheds different light on the subject. John Boswell’s seminal work, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century” calls into question many of the ideas scholars and theologians have had about the subject. His book is not the easiest read, full of footnotes and written with a depth that allows it to be considered solid scholarship. But it is a valuable read none the less. So, get a copy of the book, and join me! Each week or so, I’ll post as I read through the book, cover to cover, exploring Boswell’s ideas. Read with me, or merely join the discussion offering your comments each week to my blog posts.

One might say, that what the Bible says is irrelevant given that here in the US, the Constitution is the basis of our laws and civil culture. But 100% of the vitriol and opposition to the full respect and equality for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer persons is rooted in and supported by the use of this ancient text. We can expect the opposition to remain vocal, loud, and will grow only more hostile as same-sex marriage gets accepted everywhere. But full respect, inclusion, and equality is not a done deal here in the United States, and across the globe, there are many places more hostile towards LGBTQ folks. Our ability to counter the opposition is essential.

I’ll be using an electronic ebook from the University of Chicago Press. The book is available from them as a paperback, or as a download. It is also available for rent from your local library as well as purchase from other sources. You may be like me and have an original copy on the bookshelf as well. Get it down and read along with me.

Boswell died too soon, and I don’t believe anyone has really followed his lead in this area of scholarship. I won’t simply take his word as if he is definitely correct and thousands of years of the status quo are simply wrong in their understanding, but asking why Boswell has arrived at his conclusions and how they differ from traditional ideas will be the basis of discussion.

Are you ready for this series? I hope so! Summer is a perfect time to sit back with a book,so I hope you will choose this one and read along. Then each week participate in our discussion here about what I’ve read.

 

The basis of Christianity and Scott Lively.

Earlier, I wrote about evangelical pastor, Scott Lively who is in court facing charges of crimes against humanity. The Liberty Counsel, who is defending him claims:

The suit is a direct attempt to silence Rev. Lively and intimidate other pastors against teaching the Biblical position on homosexuality. Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said, “This lawsuit against Rev. Scott Lively is a gross attempt to use a vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues. This suit should cause everyone to be concerned, because it a direct threat against freedom of speech.”

However, Scott Lively’s involvement in Uganda is seen as foundational to what has been deemed the Ugandan, “Kill the Gays” bill, where a person suspected of being gay can be punished with the death penalty.

The point I want to draw here is for Christians and non-believers alike. I believe this case encapsulates very clearly  the problem Christianity is facing, and individuals like Scott Lively are destroying Christianity as they distort the very basis of the Faith tradition.  

Consider, where in the New Testament, the foundation of Christianity, do we find anything that would suggest the death penalty (perpetrated by the Government) for gay people? If faith in the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis of Christianity, there is no way to see Scott Lively’s missionary work and its result as connected to Christianity.

The battle against homosexuality by so-called Christians is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and not in Jesus Christ in any way. For Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, the basis for the fight against homosexuality and same-sex marriage is in the Book of Genesis.

Bauer said that the court dismissed the “consent of the governed” and “rejected thousands of years of Judeo-Christian understanding” in their rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8. “It seems as though America is on the verge of criminalizing the Book of Genesis,”

10 CommandmentsNow, I respect anyone’s right to their own religious perspective, but that is limited to how they choose to live their own life. The desire to force others to live by their beliefs goes far beyond and can not be misconstrued as “Christian” in any way.

As a general whole, Christianity is declining with fewer and fewer self-identifying as Christians except in growing third-world areas like Africa where this misguided and non-Christlike brand of legalist propaganda is being used to manipulate and control people. For real Christians who seek a personal salvation in Christ, it is time to wake up and recognize how hate-mongers are killing Christianity by a hate-filled focus.

Theologians have for centuries discussed to relationship of the Old and New Testaments. Jesus himself is quoted as talking about how the “Law and the Prophets” are affected by his “new” teachings. And the Early Church is documented as struggling with the role of Hebrew Laws for Gentile Christians and believers as a whole. In some regard, this is nothing new. What is new however, is the dramatic decline of Christians. Will Christianity survive abuses of Faith by individuals like Lively and Bauer, or will they lead to the Fall of a Faith doctrine that grew from hope and the belief in eternal life?

Note:

Critics are likely to point out that there is New Testament Scripture that supposedly condemns homosexuals. Id ask those individuals to consider:

  • Read the New Testament in the original language in which it was written.  There is no word for homosexual to be found there. The English term “homosexual” is a mistranslation of several other terms and they describe very specific same-sex sexual practices, not homosexuality in general, and most certainly not Gay people we we understand what Gay means today.
  • It can be argued that Paul cites that arsenokoitai and malakoi will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It in no way suggests that individuals have a right to tell others what they can or can not do, or whom they can or can not love.
  • Remember, Paul wasn’t right about everything. He was one man expressing his ideas, nothing more. Really.

 

 

Luke 12:51

Last week, the Archdiocese of San Francisco raised a stir when it appropriated the HRC’s effort to turn Facebook red in awareness of the US Supreme Court’s hearing of two Same-sex marriage cases. Any real activist worth his or her weight has to recognize it was a stroke of real genius, although for anyone on the pro-equality side, frustrating and infuriating nonetheless. It is activism 101 to try and appropriate the media tools being used against you, and that is part of what happened here.

But there is another aspect to this that I want to focus on today, and one I hope pro-equality Christians take up and dialogue about as the struggle for Full Equality continues.

Luke 12:51
The Archdiocese graphic

 

HRC_Equals

HRC Equals in Red

Aside from the PR “win” accomplished by the Catholic Church, what does this really mean and is the Church’s exegesis of the scripture right on the money? Here is Luke 12:51 as found in the KJV:

51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:

52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

Now, I don’t personally believe that theological arguments matter when it comes to Marriage Equality, and I won’t change my mind there until the Church comes out and condemns all who divorce, wear mixed cloths, eat shell fish, and a host of other abominations that can be found within their Holy Bible. Marriage Equality is a Civil issue pertaining to the Government’s ability to issue marriage licenses, and the unfair discrimination that stops same-sex couples from being treated fairly by a secular government.

But since the only opposition to Marriage Equality is based upon the far-fetched notion that the Church owns the definition of Marriage, theological perspectives become applicable. Let’s use the NIV translation as it seems more modern as well as straightforward.

51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

This seems like such an odd scripture for the Church to raise given what the Holy Bible tells us about the ministry of Jesus. He spoke out in so many ways against the institutionalized “Church” of his time, the Hebrew Temple and Priests. He spoke out and acted out, if we are to believe Matthew 21:12  , against the status quo and what we are led to believe he saw as a hierarchical abuse of Faith and Power. Luke plays an important part in Liberation Theology, as Jesus in Luke seems especially concerned with the poor and underserved. This seems counter to the Church’s stance demanding submission to the status quo  and their control over our bodies and our relationships.

But I think there is another side to this which isn’t really theological at all. Jesus, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love s now being “framed” by the Church as being about division instead of Peace; Confrontation instead of Love at a time when the notion of Love is swaying public opinion towards Marriage Equality. Why can’t two people who love each other be married everyone is now asking? The Catholic Church looks to separate the idea of Jesus as Lord of Love, and Love as the basis of marriage.

On the other hand, the Church’s action is very telling. This issue- Marriage Equality appears to be the line they are drawing in the sand as one step too far across the line. Odd, really, given that Divorce is so clearly condemned in the Bible, but the Church never fought it so hard. Marriage Equality is the dividing entity, much as Jesus called himself the one of division.

via Luke 12:51-53 KJV – Suppose ye that I am come to give peace – Bible Gateway.

Some thoughts on some thoughts on gay marriage

Tom Holmes, a pastor writes some great commentary in the linked post below, and I encourage everyone to read it. But there are a few points I want to draw attention to. As I read his thoughts, I am struck by what seems like a path be respectful and fair to various viewpoints on the issue of homosexuality. I applaud the effort, but in doing so, a few things get missed that deserve mention.

Now many people relieve the tension between the two by dismissing one side or the other. That is to say, the Bible has this one wrong or they affirm their belief that the authority of the Bible always trumps our limited experience.What I want to encourage you to do is to find some way to tolerate living in the tension. For those who condemn homosexual behavior on the basis of Scripture, talk to – no, better yet listen to – the stories of at least five LGBTs. Hear how they struggled to come to terms with a sexual orientation they never wanted. Better yet, find a healthy same-sex couple which is raising kids and see if you can observe anything except mainstream child-raising behavior.

The Bible vs Homosexuality

Holme’s comments suggests that there are two options when it comes to Biblical teachings about homosexuality: either one accepts the “authority of the Bible,” or one believes “experience trumps Scripture and the church.” I would contend that there is another option that Holmes misses. Too often Scripture is treated as if it is words and meaning that have been set in stone and the meaning is crystal clear, and this just isn’t so, especially when it comes to relating to gay people today. He believes that “what little the bible does say… is all negative.” I personally don’t agree with that at all. Just look at the story of Jonathan and David or that of Ruth and Naomi. In neither case are the story characters identified as “gay” but that doesn’t negate how these are powerful stories of same-sex love, commitment, and devotion. And these qualities are exactly what make the gay people and the gay couples Holmes speaks about what they are. In my opinion, the Bible is as pro same-sex love as it is pro opposite-sex love. In fact, some scholars believe that Jesus himself blessed a gay couple.

Given that we are talking about Christianity, I’ll limit my review of the negative stuff to the New Testament where we find one passage in Romans that appears to be highly condemning of gay people or homosexuality. But the reality is that what we read as “homosexual” in modern English texts is not a direct translation from the original Greek. There is no one single word for homosexual in Greek, and the translation of two distinct Greek terms into one English term is inaccurate and not applicable to what today, we mean when we talk about gay and lesbian people. Yet Holmes like many, treat the modern English as if it is exactly what was written thousands of years ago in now-dead languages.

We know so much about the historical path that has led to what today we call the Bible. We know that there are stories in it that could not have happened as written, and there is text that today we totally ignore, such as Paul’s commentary on women speaking in church. Yet, when it comes to homosexuality, for some reason there seems to be no room for interpretation or correction. Here, Holmes fails the very same-sex couples that he encourages other pastors to meet and get to know.

(no such thing as) Gay Marriage

I am really disappointed that Holmes titles his post, and places the perspective on gay marriage and on homosexuality. First, there is no such thing as gay marriage as if it were different than other marriage. Same-sex couples seek the civil rights that a civil marriage license provides to opposite sex couples. Thats all, and why most times the more appropriate way to talk about it is to call it Marriage Equality. With marriage equality, same-sex couples simply wish to be treated equal by the civil government, which issues marriage licenses. In this regard, it really doesn’t matter what religious leaders or lay persons think, nor does marriage equality mean that churches must accept same-sex couples. It is nice when they do, and there are denominations and congregations very open and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bi, and trans persons.

Second, Holmes post teats homosexuality as if it is a thing. Much like some pastors talk about “the homosexual lifestyle.” This is fallacious.

Many years ago, Copernicus discovered and have the courage to say that the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth- an idea thought at the time to be anti-Biblical. Indeed, the Church forced Galileo to retract his truth and he lived under house arrest until hits death. Today’s dispute over sexual orientation may someday appear quite similar, as we learn more about complex biology and the true nature of orientation, attraction, and behavior. It took the Church 350 years to realize that Galileo had it right. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take the Religious that long to come to terms with accepting that sexual orientation is fluid and ranges from exclusively heterosexual, to exclusively homosexual, and the entire spectrum is normal and natural and a part of Creation.

 

 

 

via Some thoughts on gay marriage.

God’s Wrath? Tornadoes Damage Midwest Towns

Saw a tweet  that llinked to the attached post, and the tweet was titled, God’s Wrath.

God and God’s wrath are commonly used as either warning or proof that [fill in the blank] whiuch is happening culturally, is opposed by God. Often these same Bible thumpers point to stories like Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of God using His wrath. Here’s the thing. This is a win/win for the Bible thumpers. They can point to anythibng and say it is proopf of whatever, because there is no real way to refute it. God doesn’t speak from the sky and say, “No, that is just the Weather.” So, fior the thumpers, it is a perfect waepon to use and fear mongering technique. If the devastation happens to them, it tells them that they aren’t fighting hard enough for God’s Will. If the devastation happens to others, it is proof that God hates whoever was devastated.

The problem is it paints a picture of a God, no sane person wants rto worship or trust. That God who can devastate anyone, no matter how hard you are trying to be a good Christian, is a pretty mean and unjust God. Additionally, it is a picture of God that can not be reconciled with  New Testament theology. Either Christians believe in the God of the New Testament, or they really aren’t Christians at all. That N.T. God sacrificed His Son so that all human beings have eternal life. The N.T. God is one who places self-sacrifice and forgiveness above all else. The N.T. God is one of unconditional love, and a God that does unbelievable things like virgin births and resurrections. It is a God that displays power through surrender and compassion.

This is why Christianity is fighting so hard to survive, and thinking people are leaving Religion inb droves, because the God these folks claim to believe in is not the same God of their Faith heritage.

The storm killed five people and injured more than two dozen in and around Woodward, a town about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, but it was the only tornado that caused fatalities. Many of the touchdowns raked harmlessly across isolated stretches of rural Kansas, and though communities in Iowa and Kansas were hit, residents and officials credited days of urgent warnings from forecasters for saving lives.

via Tornadoes Damage Midwest Towns, Residents Struggling To Recover.

Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal?

The linked post is especially interesting in the articulation of the passages about homosexuality in Leviticus:

So we sought to contribute another perspective that we believe can be helpful on this subject. The text identifies male homosexual acts by the technical term to’ebah, translated in English here as “an offensive thing” or in older translations as “an abomination.” This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of the contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts.

The question is: Is this term to’ebah an absolute, meaning that an act that is a to’ebah is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative — meaning that something that is a to’ebah to one person may not be offensive to another, or something that is a to’ebah in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a to’ebah in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another — in which case the law may change as people’s perceptions change?

When one examines all the occurrences of this technical term in the Hebrew Bible, one finds that elsewhere the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that, if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they’re cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (to’ebah) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians don’t eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (to’ebah) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and don’t find it offensive. See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (to’ebah) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.

 

The authors have written a book, and this post is both a response to a critique, as well as an explanation. I think this is a book, I’d enjoy reading and will be looking for it.

Very true: the Bible isn’t going away, nor is its role or the way it is used by people who believe it to be “the word of God.” So, the more we can understand about it, the better. On the other hand, does this old text really deserve the force given to it? Is it really relevant today, or do those who seek to keep it relevant do so out of their own human motives?

Theologically, what does it say that a God who is al powerful, all knowing, and all loving stopped communicating with human beings some 2000 years ago? How is it that this book is supposed to contain the fullness of the revelation of god’s word?

As we seek to understand the Bible, isn’t it also time to put it into perspective and see it as a history of the faithful (or not so faithful) and their quest to understand the Divine? Is it possible that if we stopped claiming that these translated (sometimes poorly) words from so long ago are the only revelation of the Will of the divine, we might actually start to find the divine?

 

 

 

via Richard Elliott Friedman: Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal?.

Can Fags Doom Nation?

 

There is a photo on my other blog, of one of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) crazies and their signs. I look at it everyday, and it got me thinking about the notion of “Nation” and if it is applicable in any way today. Most any of the Far Right anti-gay Christian Bible thumpers are caught up in the Old Testament using Leviticus mostly to support their self-righteous judgementalism. The WBC stuff comes from the Old Testament too. This is fairly insane given that it misses the whole point for the coming of The Christ, and how the death and resurrection fit into the whole of God’s plan. But that is the subject of another blog post. Here I want to think about this notion of “nation.”

Nation, in the Old Testament sense of the term is best represented by the Hebrew Nation which had 12 tribes. These tribes grow from a family lineage and have a somewhat geographic meaning in that each tribe was settled in one area or another, but the blood lineage is far more important than the geographic organization of the tribes. Nations in this sense means that everyone is alike because to some degree they are related, and most Importantly, all members of the nation are of the same Faith.

That doesn’t sound anything like a modern understanding of a nation where the boundaries are decided along geographic lines, made up of people of many lineages and bloodlines, and where, at least in the sense of our nation, are of no one Faith but represent many Faiths or no faith at all.

It can be argued that God has never destroyed any nation, even in the Old Testament because of sexual orientation. But we can clearly see where God expected all to worship only Him. From the Old Testament perspective, therefore, if anything would doom our nation, it would have more to do with the acceptance and respect for all Faiths including respect for no faith at all.

There is a connection between sexual orientation and the concept of lineage that is worth mentioning. Those who play the Queer Hater card, most always are referring to gay men exclusively when they talk about homosexuality. It is as if lesbians don’t exist or matter. This is because the family linkage of a father to his heirs/ children is all that matters. Even Jacob, the father of the the 12 tribes had 2 wives and 2 concubines who produced these 12 sons and a daughter. Not 13 tribes mind you, but 12 for the 12 sons.

This is an aside, but how about that: 2 wives and 2 concubines! What does that say about the institution of marriage that must never be redefined?

We have nothing in today’s contemporary world that allows us to apply an Old Testament concept of nation in any way that truly make sense. Any attempt to do so, is an attempt to turn back civilization to a time before science, some 3000 or so years ago. Those who wish to do so, are really more interested in perpetuating a culture where women are meaningless except as receptacles for carrying babies, and men and sons are all that matter. How appealing is that?

Post Rapture Thoughts

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The above passage is from the Gospel of Mark, and seemed a fitting passage to talk about following the Rapture which happened yesterday. Sure, I can hear you now. “There was no rapture,” you say. But according to Harold Camping, it was guaranteed, so I’m taking him at his word, and the Rapture happened. It just wasn’t what some believers were expecting. Maybe it wasn’t what any believers were expecting.

In the late ’70’s, I worked for Buckeye Union Insurance Company in Columbus Ohio, and there were many evangelical Christians who worked there. I almost became one of them except that, they told that dancing was a sin, and I couldn’t buy into that. They were always talking about being “in the world, but not of the world.” Yesterday’s Rapture experience speaks to that also. The idea is that believers have been trapped here in this world, and the Rapture signals the Judgement which heralds the coming of the new Kingdom of God.

But given that we are all left here today following the [guaranteed to happen] Rapture, it means one of two things:

  1. There were no worthy people to be raised up, either from the living or the dead.

     

     

  2. The expectation of the coming Judgement and Kingdom of God are all wrong.

     

     

The passage from Mark suggest the second explanation to be the true one (although an easy post could be written about the first). There are a few things we need to understand about the passage from Mark.

Mark was written in Greek, and the word translated as “kingdom” is basilaea. A better translation is the wealth held in common, or commonwealth. Some scholars talk of this, as the wholeness of God, but it speaks more to a sense of possession than “wholeness” connotes. In this line of thinking, the Sovereign (in a patriarchal sense- the King) has all of an area and the people in that area and all of the resources of it. The King’s role is to care for and maintain that which belongs to the Sovereign- that which is wealth held in common. In this sense, God cares for all, not because they are subservient and have earned God’s care, but because by caring, all- including God, benefits.

The structure of the Basilica come from the same base word, but tends to shift the focus to a literal space with boundaries between the sacred and the profane. The commonwealth of God, is less about a space, but more about the fact that the value comes from the care of the whole.

But the really interesting part of this passage, is the next part.  What is translated as “has come near” is better translated as ” at hand.”

At hand: meaning right here, and right now. It is within reach. I can reach out and touch the commonwealth of God, which the whole of what exists around me. In other words, the whole concept of leaving this world is way off base. We are called to see and touch the commonwealth of God all around us. We are not supposed to separate ourselves from the world but rather touch and seek out the whole of God within the world. By loving the world, and all that is in it; by caring for all that is, we are both interacting with and co-creating the Kingdom of God. Or to use a less patriarchal term, the Kindom of God.

OK, I have to say something about the first statement above- that there were no righteous to be risen up into the clouds. On the one hand, I just don’t believe that, but on the other hand, I do believe that those who see themselves as the righteous, are oftentimes the ones who are the farthest from what God expects and seeks for us to be as followers. This fits well with the teaching attributed to Jesus himself about the coming:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

This passage speaks similarly to the notion of how we care for one another and all that is around us.

OK, you may be saying however, that this passage, as well as others clearly call for a Judgement, and or a Judgement Day. This may or may not be true, I think. It can be that each of us come to our own Judgement day a day of reckoning, rather than in a mass sense.

In reality, I don’t believe the Rapture happened. I don’t believe it will. I think the interpretation of the Bible to suggest there will come such a thing is a misunderstanding and a misuse of what the Bible can do best, which is help us today understand how others before us, sought to seek the fullness of God. It is a history rather than a prediction.

 

Eyes and Teeth

A friend passed this along to me today, via Facebook, and I thought it was interesting to post:

As they read this week’s Torah portion, Jews the world over are likely to come across a particularly harsh lesson in divine reasoning. Instructing Moses about the eternal laws he’s to deliver to the Israelites, God commands a fearful symmetry between punishment and crime. The words he uses have become famous: “an eye for an eye,” the Lord insists, “a tooth for a tooth.”

There’s much evidence to suggest that we could use such a shot of harshness. Everywhere, from American classrooms to American Idol, we see the culture of entitlement: Whether they can actually sing or dance or do math, Americans are certain that they can, ignoring signs to the contrary. In boardrooms and newsrooms and just about anywhere else, delusional souls seek fortune and fame, break the rules, and, all too often, get away with it. In both Wikileaks and the Tea Party, we see the hissing sort of disdain for authority that, at its most extreme, can result in fatalities. An eye for an eye is the antidote to all that; an eye for an eye reminds us, in the bluntest terms imaginable, that we are masters of our own fates, that our actions have consequences, and that rather than hiding in the thicket of excuses and justifications that is so much of our public discourse today we should take responsibility for our decisions and prepare to be judged for our deeds.

I’m not sure where this is in the Torah. a quick search didn’t help me find it, but no matter where the reading resides, it is still worth talking about. Usually it is mentioned in two contexts. As a justification for handing out justice (or entitlement), or in terms of the New Testament scripture, where Jesus speaks against that idea. but I never thought of it as a warning to consider before taking an action against another, what are the consequences that you might face, and when those consequences are realized, do you take responsibility for them, or do you make a slew of excuses.

High Noon – by Liel Leibovitz > Tablet Magazine – A New Read on Jewish Life.