Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Wineskin

In the beginning was the God concept. 
And that concept was wrong because "no one has ever seen God."[1] 

And the God concept became like a wineskin and was filled with ideas about what God was like. 

And the wineskin was ancient and deeply held and human beings hated and killed the "other" to protect it.

The wineskin was not God but instead was full of the lies we tell about him. But we only lie because we live in darkness but oh how we love our wineskin.

But suddenly someone saw God[2] and he knew that the wineskins were dry, rotting, and worthless.

And many of good intent tried to put this One into the wineskin, and thought we succeeded. But in so doing only spread the lies now to the One lest the wineskin should burst as it could only contain lies and not The Truth.

And we poured wrath from our wineskins and said:
"Away with the foreigner, let's build a wall."

And the One said: " I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."

And we poured wrath from our wineskins and said:
"Death and vengeance to our enemies!"

And the one said: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you"

And our wineskins, which should now be strained, we only held more tightly.

And we poured wrath from our wineskins and said:
"God will judge us because of those 'others' and we must stand against them!"

And the one said: "the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others." "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone..."

" the people of Sodom and its nearby villages were never as sinful as you. They were arrogant and spoiled; they had everything they needed and still refused to help the poor and needy. They thought they were better than everyone else..."

And we poured wrath from our wineskins and said:
"Crucify HIM!"

And the One said:
"Father forgive them; they don't know what they are doing!"

[1] John 1:18
[2] John 1:18b

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Those Gay Romans

What follows is rooted in a distillation of some insights put forward by Douglas Campbell in his thesis: The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. I believe Campbell's work will overturn the tables of post reformation theology much as Jesus overturned the tables of the money lenders in the temple.

Recently Romans 1:18-32 has been a commonly sited verse within the new testament used to attack gays (as it were) and "Christians" are jumping all over it to justify their condemnation of same-sex attraction, marriage and resistance to extending to them constitutional rights.

When you look at how these texts are structured this is all the more tragic because these brothers and sisters are in fact falling for a false gospel being promoted by a false teacher and this is the problem Paul is attacking and that is what I intend to show here.

Preliminary points:
a) The letter to the Romans is not a doctrinal letter but an occasional letter as are all of Paul's authentic works. This excludes 1 & 2 Timothy as they are of unknown origin but are certainly not of Pauline authorship, a point undisputed by scholars.
b) Paul has proclaimed his calling as "the apostle to the gentiles".
c) Paul finds himself (in many of his letters) having to either defend his gospel against or otherwise refute false teachers preaching false "gospels".
d) Many believe these false teachers to be from the Jerusalem church and we should NOT downplay Paul's bitter dispute with Peter in Antioch. This was a sign of significant divisions between Jewish believers and church leadership and their gentile counterparts. These are divisions in the early church that should not be dismissed or taken lightly.

Twice in Romans (1:18-32 & 3:1-9) Paul uses the Greek rhetorical device of prosopopeia. This is where he accurately, lest his argument against it be discredited, lays out his adversary's position in relative detail in order to appropriately address it in rebuttal.
The reason Paul sends letters with a "carrier" (aside from the fact of very low literacy rate at the time) is that this person was with Paul when he wrote the letter and upon arrival performed the letter as a lector so that the change in voice would be clear. Even without this benefit it is still discernible in this text. I personally found it more difficult to notice the beginning of the division precisely because of the fact the incorrect reading of the text had become "normalized" from having spent 25 years within the protestant tradition where Paul is understood by reformation era justification theories. 

This distinction becomes very clear when Paul begins his rebuttal in Romans 2:1 of the false teachers argument put forward in Ch1 vs. 18-32. If ever one has gone away from reading Paul and thought; "He just might have some sort of personality disorder" it is because his use of these grammatical structures and diatribe go unrecognized.

Paul's rebuttal beginning in Rom. 2:1: 

"So do you think that you can judge those other people? You are wrong. You too are guilty of sin. You judge them, but you do the same things they do. So when you judge them, you are really condemning yourself.2 God judges all who do such things, and we know his judgment is right.3 And since you do the same things as those people you judge, surely you understand that God will punish you too. How could you think you would be able to escape his judgment?"

In 3:9 he is again turning the false teacher's accusing finger around addressing the false apostle's next argument, laid out in 3:1-9. I'm taking a bit of liberty here for the sake of making a contemporary connection. 

Rom 3:9 So are we Jews [heterosexual American Christians] better than other people? No, we have already said that those who are Jews [heterosexual American Christians], as well as those who are not [heterosexual American Christians] Jews, are the same. They are all guilty of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say, "There is no one doing what is right, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands. There is no one who is trying to be with God. 12 They have all turned away from him, and now they are of no use to anyone. There is no one who does good, not even one." 13 "Their words come from mouths that are like open graves. They use their lying tongues to deceive others." "Their words are like the poison of snakes." 14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and angry words." 15 "They are always ready to kill someone. 16 Everywhere they go they cause trouble and ruin. 17 They don't know how to live in peace." 18 "They have no fear or respect for God." 

If anything describes how fundamentalist Christians have positioned themselves in our culture today it is verses 13-18.

Paul was the consummate egalitarian in regard to his gospel. With Jesus he views the only law that has meaning is the law of faith expressed through love.

Further, the arguments in 1:18-32 can be found in the apocryphal work Wisdom of Solomon books 12 and 13 and is a form of standard anti-gentile discourse. Paul, being educated in both classical Greek and the Jewish rabbinic tradition, does not hesitate at tearing apart this assault as a false gospel. So even if the grammatical construction wasn't here (which it is) as the "apostle to the gentiles" it would make little sense for him to go against his own gospel and beat his Greek hearers over the head.

Many have claimed that those who champion grace and "tolerance" are suffering from "itching ears" syndrome. Just hearing what their itching ears what to hear and ignoring rectitude but that argument is empty. Grace, peace, love, acceptance, "tolerance" are decidedly NOT what we want to hear as self-righteous human beings. We want to hear is exactly what Jesus DENIED his hearers in his first public sermon in Nazareth when quoting from the book of Isaiah everything BUT the final part of Ch 61 verses 1&2. This enraged his hearers as these passages were a well known statement of the hope of Israel. These passages might have been held up a football games much like John 3:16 is today and it is also why they tried to throw him off a cliff.

Isa 61:1 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed and to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus conveniently (and deliberately I propose) leaves out: "and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;" Notice the connection between the day of vengeance (against our enemies-whoever "they" are) as being a "comfort" to the mourners. 

This is the sickness of human sin and this is what itching ears really want to hear!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Apocalypse How

With this morning's study I was skimming the surface of apocalyptic as worldview and the concomitant historical and social context. The apocalyptic rose in the period beginning around the Babylonian exile of the Jewish elite around 570BCE to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans around 70CE. This directly influences the thought, language, and literature throughout this era. The cultural zeitgeist of apocalypticism and subsequent literature is one marked by the themes of crisis, secret knowledge, and a dispensational or periodized perspective.

What I find particularly interesting is that within rabbinic tradition following the destruction of Jerusalem the apocalyptic view fell out of favor and was rejected as a way of continued framing of cultural identity and understanding of their world. It only survived and proliferated because of the fledgling movement known then as "the way" which was the early followers of  the ethic of Jesus. They had taken interest in and appropriated it, obviously modified using more ethereal elements as it continued to frame their worldview. It is in this sense these ideas never had a true "Christian" origin.

Recently, within the stream of a seven year long theological discourse, and before beginning this overview, I had put forward the idea that the only reason that the strange language and beliefs unique to the ancient apocalyptic era still exist within the sub-culture of religion is because of it being mishandled by the reformers. So this is only partly true in that its roots go back much further. The hope within the second temple era seemed to be inextricably linked to an apocalyptic expression of messiah as a deus ex machina of violent redemption. That simply never was to be and was subversively redefined by the ethic and self-giving life and death of Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem brought with it the deconstruction of the apocalyptic worldview from within Jewish rabbinical thought.

This new movement-followers of the way-was able to grasp-albeit in limited ways-the subversive aspect of the hope yet they did not critique and leave behind the apocalyptic cultural bias as did the more scholarly rabbinical groups. So apparently it seems then that those deeply knowledgeable of and acculturated to the Jewish "way" missed the subversive appearing of messiah while the multicultural-and largely illiterate-adopters of "the way" of Jesus were able to grasp this subversity yet were still adrift within a world of cultural ideas and hopes framed almost entirely by folklore and superstition.

This simply shows why there is need for a fully orbed faith. A faith that never turns its eyes and mind from reality in favor of embracing cultural or religious sub-cultural delusions. What is sometimes obvious to those who make a habit of broad study is missed by those who merely do devotions-by definition the antithesis of study-and participate in religious culture at large. Yet those participants can if not careful find themselves first on the margins, then at the center, of irrelevancy by not getting the mind in the game and working things out.

It doesn't require much thought to question whether something is true or not. An entirely more engaging question is to ask: "How is it true?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

God Has a Face

I came across this phrase while reading Brian Zahnd's book "A Farewell to Mars." God has a face. Later the next day that phrase came rushing back into my mind as a string of thoughts on just what that might mean from several perspectives.

Anyone who has been within a Christian religious subculture for any significant time may be familiar with the verse from Hebrews, 1:3 where it states: "...[Jesus] is the reflection of God's glory and the exact likeness of his being..." I think we may really miss the absolute depth of this statement about God. Too often we get caught up in "religious-ese" and somehow mystify this simple statement that, in plain terms, puts a face on God. And that face is Jesus.

God has a face. I was thinking about a new crew member scheduled to come on the boat. All I had was a name from the crew dispatch email sent earlier in the day. The name seemed familiar. When mentioning it to other crew members they were like: "Yea, you remember, he used to ride with us a few years ago. Well that still didn't help my comprehension and I said, "Yea, the name seems familiar but I can't put a face to it."

I propose that it is in this sense that the entirety of the scriptures need to be viewed. The email - old testament writings - are part of a message that something or someone is coming, but as we know the message is not a complete communication, and in this case not a clear one either. Then we have the testimony of other crew who "remember" him i.e. the new testament. But there is something strikingly more about the face. It is here that we recognize and can then begin to join those things that are connected or belong to this person's story and reject or critique those that are part of some other story even if unsure what that other story is we know that it does not belong to or is a reflection upon the one with the face. It is in the growing cognition of that face that guides us in this process.

Well of course we don't know what the physical face of Jesus looked like so instead we must connect the one with the face with his own words and actions that define him. Those things that by his words and actions most clearly show what he thought important and valuable. There is plenty enough there to critique the content of the original message and also begin to see a mosaic portrait appear that gets us much closer to seeing the God which many of the original messengers all too frequently missed.

We shouldn't blame those early writers for missing the face. There was a great deal of competition. Even if inspired they were still trapped within a world that was primitive, deeply violent and superstitious. A world of ubiquitous fear and death. A world culture filled with sacrificial gods, malevolent to a one, running amok over humanity; if even only in their minds.

There was simply was no one able to represent the face. Humanity wasn't yet capable of grasping... of beholding, such a face in such a world. In spite of all these handicaps we still can find those elements that belong to the story that goes with the face but we must start with the face not the ancient story. It is not anachronistic to read the story this way because the point of the story leads to the climax wherein is revealed the face.  It is the Face which brings some elements together and reveals others as merely false and fallen human imaginings.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Galileo Moment

About a year ago I briefly referenced the story of Galileo's confrontation with the church 'pillars' of his time. In 1633 he was called to account by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. His crime? Science.

Armed with a new telescope Galileo, observing the planets, began to promote with evidence the much earlier theory of Copernicus that the earth and other planets orbited the sun. This was a huge problem because the official church position based on the understanding of the sacred scripture at the time dictated that world and cosmos be understood differently. This inquisition declared such a view of a heliocentric solar system to be heresy. Thus a collision between science and religion.

This inquisition found Galileo suspect of heresy and it was only through a carefully reasoned argument and probably a bit of luck that he wasn't condemned. He was bid his leave with the admonition not to write of or teach his 'heresy'. Of course the church could not be seen as wavering but must have been at least a bit convicted that they could be wrong.

It doesn't take much imagination to observe a principle from this of what I'll call 'A Galileo Moment'. It might state: "Whenever religion and real observable science come into conflict religion must necessarily give way." You might be thinking this is the talk of a crazy person or even a heretic. One reason, among many others, some may feel that way is because of the falsehood that one's understanding of scripture and therefore God = the truth concerning God and scripture.

Let's face it, Galileo was right, the church eventually accepted the truth. This problem  required a new way of viewing the sacred texts. Their methods of reading and comprehending the scriptures were fundamentally wrong. Adjustments were made and were applied to this new knowledge. The danger of not doing this work is to become objectively irrelevant in a world of real things. Then any claim to having "truth" becomes a parody. The position of immovability is really fearful and willful ignorance disguised as a faith.

There are rich contributions from scientist-clerics prior to Galileo's time. Copernicus was such as these. One wonders why the very religious tradition within which such great thinking was produced would turn against those conclusions? I'll leave that question for someone else to think about.

Consider the following juxtaposition:

a) The sheer volume and mass of scientific discovery and progress since the time of these men from at least the early 1600's is mind boggling. Though amazingly much of it has occurred in our lifetimes and is continuing at an exponential rate.

b) The relative non-progress of religious thought over the same time frame. With only few and limited exceptions and no substantive fundamental shifts, or what would most accurately be called 'repentance'. (Some traditions are even retreating back into archaic religion-just check the news from the middle east and in fact all of Europe-though for different reasons).

I believe that in light of the exponential pace in the growth of scientific knowledge, and the relative retardation of religious thought we are fast approaching a Galileo Moment in our own time. There will be a crumbling of walls once thought impregnable.

What is the response of much of our religion in the face of this rapid change? Acquire sand-insert head. We must be able to move away from believing certain ideas about religion and our sacred texts that may ultimately turn out to be, as in the minds of Galileo's interlocutors, superstition. Two primary ways I see this evolution of knowledge working out are:

1) Those who will not repent (change their thinking) will find they have become completely irrelevant to the world and the Kingdom of God within it all the while being deluded into thinking they are part of some sort of remnant or other foolishness. Simultaneously being marginalized while marginalizing the rest of humanity; Failing Jesus' call.
2) Others will concede the reality of what is, i.e. pull their head out of the sand, but they will forsake their faith lamenting that they were all along lied to by their self-proclaimed shepherds; Those who employ "Old MacDonald" theology: Here a verse, There a verse, Everywhere a verse, verse and foolishly try to construct some sort of reasoned model for life. If life's problems were nails this sort of theological thinking would not be a hammer, but a banana.

So what to do? Own your faith. Use your mind. Fear not! It is not thought and reason, but certainty, that is the enemy of faith. Don't be afraid of the journey turned adventure. God is good.