Scripture

On Scripture: God's Return Policy

Debates on immigration in the United States continue to move in the default direction of North/South.  As such, the prominent debating points often direct public attention to the U.S./Mexico border fence and the Latina/o community. By sleight-of-hand, many in the mainstream media tend to recast a centuries-old U.S. immigration experience as a Latina/o problem. 

Unlike the variety of migration stories in the Bible, the forces creating migration for many Latina/o families are closely tied to the issues of power and hyper-consumerism. Often as a last resort do immigrant families enter the northbound currents of low-wage laborers that, as Bishop Minerva Carcaño describes, feed “the economic machine in this country.”

Being Like Deborah

Since the establishment of The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987 and J.I. Packer’s 1991 article “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters” in Christianity Today, there’s been a resurgence of traditionalist theology among some American churches. Instead of advocating “male headship,” they now promote “complementarianism.” Instead of portraying women as intrinsically “serving, subordinate, and supportive,” they now advocate “biblical womanhood.” But it’s the same patriarchal heresy, just with new language.

Rachel Held Evans, a Tennessee-based evangelical Christian raised in conservative Christian churches, decided to turn the tables. She vowed to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master is the often-hilarious, engaging, well-researched, deadly serious result.  (You can read all about her adventures at rachelheldevans.com). Former Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley, a student at Yale Divinity School, interviewed Evans in August 2012.

Betsy Shirley: So how does a nice, liberated woman like you find herself covering her head and calling her husband “master”?

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Reconciling Faith and (Social) Science

Biblical literalism, and the corresponding idea of the inerrancy of scripture, has been bumping up against the sciences for a long time.

Way back in the Renaissance, the church insisted that the Bible taught that the sun revolved around the earth, and charged Galileo with heresy for claiming otherwise. Today, the debate between the Bible and natural science continues, most notably in the evolution/creation debate.

While discussions of religion and science usually revolve around conflicts with natural science, I'd like to propose that the place we really should be placing our attention is the relationship between faith and the social sciences.

As our understanding of all science grows, it becomes harder and harder to maintain the position of biblical literalism without seeming absurd.

Maybe we haven't all heard the thunder clap yet, but the lightning bolt struck a while ago. We are going to have to adjust our reading of the Bible to coincide with a modern scientific understanding of the universe. In broad strokes, that shift has already happened.

Dynamics of Ordinary Time

Listening to the scriptures requires a gentle determination to remove the filters that tend, in our religious culture, to allow in only what serves individual solace or personal edification. The scriptures probe the realities of power, how it is cornered, monopolized, deployed, lost, and regained at every level—in societies, in institutions, in families—as well as in the dynamics of our own lives. Even the best Bible study groups and sermons often surrender to the bias exerted unconsciously by our own individual neediness. Perhaps a conscious policy is needed to heed the word of God as it dissects the social body, lays bare its anatomy, and reveals its diseases. This approach may have a greater impact on our personal lives than conventional piety.

Far from reducing the spirituality of our engagement with scripture, learning its hermeneutic of power is likely to intensify our appreciation of its relevance to our own immediate issues and needs. As persons, we internalize and encapsulate the forces at work on a larger scale in a struggling world. God is wholly present as redemptive, suffering, hope-engendering love at every level of existence—from the inner dynamics of the soul to couples, families, neighborhoods, nations, the planet, and the entire universe. One of the most ancient religious instincts of humanity gave rise to the concept of the human person as a microcosm, a world in miniature. Scripture’s word is addressed to us in our unique personhood, and to the churches, communities, and nations in which we are embedded.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C.

[ July 1 ]
'Thou Shalt Share'
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 30;
2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

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With God Some Things Never Change

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II. Photo via the author's website.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II. Photo via the author's website.

The better way says, if we follow God’s religious values we can use global technology, green economy, and targeted economic and infrastructure investment, total access to education, and creative job creation strategies to address the ugly realities of poverty. If we follow the enduring ethic of love we can beat our swords of racism into the plows that will till the new soil of brotherhood and sisterhood

If we see the poor as our neighbors, if we remember we are our brother’s keeper, then we shall put the poor, rather than the wealthy, at the center of our agenda.

If we hold on to God’s values, the sick shall have good health care. The environment shall be protected. The injustices of our judicial systems shall be made just. We shall respect the dignity of all people. We can love all people. We can see all people as God’s creations.

We can use our resources to develop our minds and economy, rather than build bombs, missiles, and weapons of human destruction.

Do we want to keep pressing toward God’s vision?  Values are once again the question of our times.

Do we want a just, wholesome society, or do we want to go backwards? This is the question before us. And I believe that at this festival there is still somebody who wants what God wants. Somebody who understands there are some things with God that never change

There are still some prophetic people that have not bowed, who as a matter of faith know that Love is better than hate. Hope is better than despair. Community is better than division.

Peace is better than war. Good of the whole is better than whims of a few. God wants everybody — red, yellow, black, brown and white taken care of. God wants true community, more togetherness … not more separateness. God wants justice, always has, always will.

Because with God some things never change.

Biblical Add-Ons, Edits & Agendas: A Challenge to Literalism?

IMAGE BY hfng/SHUTTERSTOCK.
IMAGE BY hfng/SHUTTERSTOCK.

After reading my post about Randy Wolford, the snake-handling pastor, died from a venomous snakebite, fellow God's Politics blogger Tim Suttle sent me a link to his own post on the subject. Suttle’s angle was different, and I found it fascinating.

Basically, he contends that the verses in Mark that Wolford and others use to justify handling snakes as an act of worship (among other bizarre practices) should not ever have made it into the Bible to begin with. His article cites what he calls a “nerdy academic journal article” from Bible scholar Robert H. Stein. In it, Stein notes a few reasons why the text in Mark chapter 16 beyond verse 8 should never have been included in the Bible.

First, there have been older copies of the manuscripts from which Mark was produced that stop at Mark 16:8. In addition, there’s the historical agreement among scholars that scribes (the guys who copied the texts by hand) did have a propensity for adding to the documents they copied but seldom, if ever, deleted anything. There’s also the fact that ancient scholars whose commentaries on Mark have been found do not mention these verses at all, as well as the agreement among many Biblical scholars that the tone of those verse suggests a different author wrote them.

When a System Demands Our Allegiance Away from Christ

Image by antoniomas / Shutterstock.com.
Image by antoniomas / Shutterstock.com.

When I am faced with dishonesty and fraud on a systemic scale, I ask my questions of God. But I am continually directed back to humanity itself to find the origins of injustice.

So what can we do to end injustice?

The Washington Post reported on the massive falsification of documents by banks:

“Employees at major banks who churned out fraudulent foreclosure documents, forged signatures, made up fake job titles and falsely notarized paperwork often did so at the behest of their superiors, according to a federal investigation released Tuesday....

"‘I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question: How could so many people have participated in this misconduct?’ David Montoya, HUD inspector general, said in a statement. ‘The answer: simple greed.’”

Is God Dead?

Face of Jesus from an old cemetery statue. Photo by Brasiliao/Shutterstock.com.
Face of Jesus from an old cemetery statue. Photo by Brasiliao/Shutterstock.com.

There was a movement back in the 1960s that many of us only have read about, while others vividly remember. Philosophers and theologians explored what was labeled the “Death of God” movement. Interest in the subject has re-emerged particularly as of late because William Hamilton, one of the more prominent voices in the Death of God movement, diedlast week  at age 87.

The movement inspired TIME Magazine’s now-famous cover (seen here) in 1966, raising the question in the public forum: Is God Dead? The cover has since been listed by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Ten Covers that Shook the World.”

Hamilton’s faith was shaken during his teenage years when three of his friends were making a homemade pipe bomb. The project went wrong and detonated, killing two of the three boys.

The two killed were Christians. The lone survivor, an atheist.

Hamilton’s crisis of faith centered around a theological concept known as theodicy, which explores the question: why do bad things happen to good people? More specifically, why does misfortune seem to befall the faithful, while those lacking faith enjoy what seems to be a providential hall pass?

Lost in Translation: Eugene Peterson and His 'Message'

Eugene Peterson. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Eugene Peterson at the Q Practices gathering in NYC this week. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Eugene Peterson has written more than 30 books on theology and the life of faith in his 80 years, but he is perhaps best known for the one book he didn’t write: The Bible.

Peterson’s “para-translation” of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, was published over a span of nine years, from 1993 to 2002. And even a decade after its completion, critics still are debating the merits and missteps of his translation of Holy Writ into idiomatic, sometimes colloquial, modern English.  To date there are more than 15 million copies of The Message in print.

During the two-day Q Practices gathering in New York City this week, Peterson talked about the epic translation project he says he still can’t believe he actually managed to complete.

“I didn’t feel it was anything special when I was doing it,” Peterson said. “I can’t believe I did this. Reading it now I think, ‘How did I do this?’ It truly was a work of the Holy Spirit.”

Foreclosure Resistance: A Prayer

Foreclosure image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-32385181/sto
Foreclosure image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-32385181/stock-photo-home-for-sale-price...)

The question is, are we listening? For God, who hears the prayers of God's people, is calling us to listen as well. God's justice is a collective project.

But when we listen, we hear stories of oppression, corruption, and injustice, in the face of honesty and hard work. But listening is not enough. When we listen, God calls us from the quiet of prayer to be a healing presence in the world.

"She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." - Proverbs 31:27

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