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Measure for Measure

Archive for the category “in the Bible”

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #4: Love and Life

The first section of Chapter 4 has advice on “how to live in order to please God”. Most people today are not interested in “how to live in order to please God” which is probably why they find it weird that some people are. But some people are.

The Thessalonians were. There is a repeated phrase in this passage. Paul tells them that they are living “in order to please God” but urges them to do this “more and more”. The same “more and more” recurs when Paul encourages them to “love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” which they are doing – but he wants them to do it “more and more”.

This passage says that they are totally on the right lines, but they should ramp it up a bit and do what they are doing “more and more”.

So, what is that? How can one “live in order to please God”? I despise bullet points, but I think it’s about to happen:

  • be sanctified
  • avoid sexual immorality
  • learn to control your own body
  • don’t wrong or take advantage of others in this context

Christians sometimes get accused of having an unhealthy interest in the morality of issues pertaining to sex – but those things are not the issue at the heart of the issue.

The first real issue is holiness; that is the goal of the believer. (Or is should be.)

Secondly, there is a concern about the issue of consent and the wellbeing of other people.

Christians should live considered lives, moral lives – not out-a-control spontaneous and selfish lives. The self is for God – and the self should not take advantage of others.

Paul moves on from sex to love; he does not conflate the two.

He praises the Thessalonians for their love for each other and the extended church – and he urges them to do this “more and more” and then he gives his not-rocket-science life-advice:

 “… make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands…”

I think this is great. I love the clash between “ambition” and “quiet life”. If you think of an ambitious person, you don’t imagine they would be happy with a quiet life; a quiet life doesn’t have that bigger and better vibe you’d expect. Paul himself isn’t having much of a quiet life when he is giving this advice, running into opposition every time he opens his mouth. Minding your own business is also an interesting one – and an important one. The Christians are told how they have to live to please God; it does not say that they have to tell other people how to live. Their own business (apart from their literal businesses) was to be sanctified and to love people. To “work with your hands” is also important; no scrounging! He continues:

“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

This links back to Paul and the team working while they stayed with the Thessalonians; Christians should not be a burden to people; there should be a work ethic.

When Christians try to figure out what God’s will is for them, I think verses like this are great. You can shut your eyes real tight, pray real hard and look for an exciting global mission – but if there isn’t a distinct calling, one should have the humility to take the advice of Paul in this verse about ambition.

The Thessalonians were to get on with living well. The rest of the letter talks about what they were expecting to happen – in terms of death and the end times – which perhaps explains why Paul was having to instruct them on how to live settled daily lives in the meantime.

For Christians, then, to live to please God involves behaving oneself, working hard and getting on with contributing to stability in society while taking others into account. Sounds like a good idea.

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1 Thessalonians Thoughts #3: Reassurance

A theme in Chapter 3 is reassurance. When persecution came, Paul and his team:

“…sent Timothy…to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.”

Timothy’s role was to reassure the Thessalonians that persecution was to be expected and was not an indicator of failure.

Paul himself was in need of reassurance as he:

“…was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.”

Timothy’s report reassures Paul:

“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.”

Paul is relieved and refreshed because the Thessalonians had not been “unsettled” by the trials being suffered:

“For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.”

This letter gives the sense that, superficially, Paul’s ministry looked as if it was going horribly wrong. Chapter 2 verse 1 has the claim, “You know … that our visit to you was not without results” or  “was not a failure.”

There is the sense that it looked like a failure, but that this was not important.

I suppose if you join a movement or jump on a bandwagon and then the ringleaders get carted off to prison, you might think twice about the wisdom of being tarred with their brush.

When one part of the church was being persecuted, it needed to know that the rest of the church was remaining faithful, so that they could “really live”.

When things look as if they are going horribly wrong, maybe they aren’t. But when it looks that way, the rest of the church should remain faithful so that those persecuted can “really live”, despite their circumstances.

1 Thessalonians Thoughts #2: Relationships

In chapter 2, Paul continues to explore the relationship between his mission team and this church in Thessalonica. He reflects on the methods and the motives he had when engaging with this group.

Paul characterises the relationships between the team and the church using imagery based on other relationships, including family relationships.

Firstly he claims:

“as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”

So Paul is claiming that they could have simply taken charge and been able to call the shots, but they were like “young children”. What are young children like? Playful? Wanting to learn? Innocent? Dependent? Kind of a weird image to use when he’s supposed to be the big-hitter of an apostle. But I suppose that’s his point.

The imagery then switches to another relationship:

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.”

How does a nursing mother care for her children? If it is to do with the nursing part, the main thing is the availability and the attention of the mother. And it is sacrificial; it is characterised by the need of the child and for the child’s benefit and growth. Presumably, Paul is making reference to some kind of 24/7 policy for giving the Thessalonians what they needed – allowing himself to be drained of his knowledge and teaching for the betterment of the people. And this is motivated by love.

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

I have always liked this quote – “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. It makes me think of Christian life at its best, when people have integrity and share time – rather than hit-and-run evangelism. Paul goes on to describe another important feature of ministry as it should be:

“Surely you remember… our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”

While they were on their mission trip, they paid their own way; they did not impose on Jason of Thessalonica financially.

Here comes another relationship simile:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…

So, Paul and the team have gone from being like little children to being nursing mothers and now they have arrived at fatherhood in an image of ideal parenting.

There is one more relationship image in this chapter:

when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought…

(Caveat: my own Bible’s version just says “when we were torn away from you” – so I am not sure if the translator just got over-excited with the family imagery going on in this chapter and decided to run with it– or if there were connotations of being an orphan floating around the words of the original text. So I may very well be reading too much into this.)

Paul claims he was “orphaned” metaphorically – perhaps a link back to being like little children – children that want to be with their primary carer above everyone else – in distress when they have to be left behind or, in Paul’s case, to be elsewhere.

Paul clearly sees the church in Thessalonica to be part of his family – a family bound together with interdependence, love and a desire to be together. It is interesting to note the variety of roles he saw himself and his team in – as a father, a mother and a child – and also conveying the distress of separation from them.

What’s your role in your family? I suppose that most of us have multiple roles – I am a mum, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin – it depends which relationship is in play at any given point. And in the church – do we feel like “brothers and sisters” as (I haven’t quoted here but) Paul keeps saying (although I suspect the “and sisters” are editorial but I don’t know)?

How much does your church feel/operate like a family? And who are you in it? (I’m just… the kind of relative you have to explain to your friends, once out of earshot…)

Racing ambitiously through Philippians, hoping to hone hope…

So far in my exploration of ambition, I have concluded that it is important to be content with what you have. It is also ‘a good thing’; to have ambitions that help other people; selfish ambitions are ultimately destructive.

All along I have been hoping to get to the Apostle Paul and in particular in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. What has he got to say to them about ambition?

The first hope mentioned is this:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…”

This is a hope for others – and a hope for their good. I like the setting the bar high in the “abound more and more” in terms of knowledge and insight for them. He wants them to be able to figure out good ambitions and plans with perfection as a goal – “pure and blameless”. There’s a high bar to aim for!

Here is a perfect balance of the egotistical and the egalitarian fighting within Paul:

“… I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…”

Here he talks about what he wants personally, perhaps selfishly – that he has had enough and wants to die and enjoy heaven – but he can see that his role is to be egalitarian.

He then goes on to instruct the recipients of the letter to do the same:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Which is what he has just done himself – but he is not saying they should follow his example:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”

Again we have this idea of a tension between one’s own ambition and the service of others. Paul holds up Jesus as the ideal model to follow, encouraging the recipients to take on “the nature of a servant” of others.

Another example that Paul holds up is his protégé Timothy:

“I have no one else like him who takes an interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

I think the implication here is that the interests of Jesus Christ that Paul refers to are concerned with the “welfare” of the Philippians. Paul seems to find that this “nature of a servant” is hard to come by in people. People generally are selfish.

Paul then comes to a great crescendo in his letter when he writes about his great ambition. The passage begins:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Here Paul has clearly had his world and value system turned upside down. He has given up everything material and found it to be worth it, in exchange for “the surpassing worth knowing Christ Jesus”. He continues with a clear statement of his ambition:

“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

His ambition is clear in “I want to know Christ” – but then he separates out the strands of that ambition and what it would mean for him – and as ambitions go, it is certainly mixed! On the plus side, he hopes for power and life. On the down side he also hopes to suffer and approach death like Christ.

Is this a selfish ambition? He wants power and resurrection. It cannot be selfish, surely, to suffer and die? And anyway, he had already concluded that although he would rather die and experience a resurrection – he is sacrificing this, for the time being, for the welfare of the Philippians.

I really like the next section. It has imagery of reaching sporting/athletic goals:

…forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

He sounds very focused, with his hopes set high. He sounds like a runner who can see the finish line a way out in front – and he wants to win – he is ambitious – straining and pressing on.

There is an interesting contrast that he makes with the ambitions that clash with this idealistic and extreme worldview. I think he is still talking about people who technically are followers of his faith, but who set a poor example:

“… Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”

Paul then rounds off his letter with his claim to have:

 “…learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

What do I learn from Paul, in terms of ambition?

He did not look to himself for inner strength – he looked to God for strength to  reach the goals set by God. He had the bar set extremely high – beyond his human strength.

He encouraged his readers to look beyond earthly, physical, materialistic life to greater ideas:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

He followed the example of Christ’s selflessness and was encouraged by Timothy’s attitude of service.

So, to answer my original question a few posts ago: Ambition – nice or horrible?

Selfish ambition is horrible.

Ambitions that drive us on to lives of service and virtue are nice.

Discontentedness is horrible.

Contentment and altruism are nice.

Complexity and the Kingdom of God

Justin Welby to be confirmed as Archbishop of ...

Justin Welby to be confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury at St Paul’s (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

The Welby versus Wonga story took an unexpected twist when it transpired that the church, while resolving to put Wonga out of business was, at the same time, one of its investors, albeit by a circuitous route.

At least there was some Matthew 6:3 going on; clearly the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.

And Archbishop Welby was rightly irritated and embarrassed by what the other hand was doing.

He spoke of the complexity of dealing with the world according to strict principles. As the BBC put it:

“….he said it is difficult to decide exactly which businesses are unethical, giving hypothetical examples of a clothes company which makes socks for the military or a hotel which provides pornography through the TVs in its rooms.”

Welby was quoted as saying:

“If you exclude any contact with anything that directly or indirectly at any point gets you anywhere bad, you can’t do anything at all.”

What’s an archbishop to do?

Rather than be paralysed by a lack of a fitting utopia in which to operate, you have to make the best of it.

And I think that’s biblical enough.

It reminds me of this image of the net:

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age.

Matthew 13 vs 47-49

Similarly:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Matthew 13 vs 24-30

These two images of the Kingdom of God show that how we live now is not perfect. There is good corrupted by bad – and this mix cannot be separated just now. But there is a day of reckoning in these images – a day of sorting; a day of clarity comes after the day of complexity.

I hope Justin Welby continues to look for ways to respond to the needs of English society, and that he isn’t dragged down by wading through the treacle that the media will try to put in his way. There are no blanket solutions for social and ethical problems – that are free from other, as yet undiscovered problems.

But we have to try and make the best of it for now.

Do as I do, not as I say… maybe…. something…

Sunday Prayers

Sunday Prayers (Photo credit: Steven Leith)

A fellow blogger concluded a post the other day:

“Difficult as it is, we each have to follow our own conscience, and respect others who must do the same.”

I found myself in a loop of doublethink – both agreeing and disagreeing with this statement in equal measure – so in this post I am trying to thrash out my awkward fence-sitting position.

Imagine someone is going to do something I think is morally wrong. (It happens).

First of all, what is “morally wrong”?

This is where I fall out of line with most people. I think things are wrong when God says they are wrong. I think he gets to decide.

How do we figure out what’s right and wrong? Read it in the bible.

But is the bible not full of wee quibbles and sketchy bits? So what if it is? One can figure out the basic thrust of the kind of behaviour that God is looking for quite easily. That’s not the tricky bit.

The “problem”, if there is one, is that that is not how most people live. They may take the ten commandments as a kind of handy benchmark and may have been raised in a culture that kind of concurs with the main ideas – apart from the theism bits – but how do people that don’t rate God figure out what’s right and wrong?

Again, I think it doesn’t take much common sense to figure out the kind of behaviours that make the world go around more smoothly for everyone. A little bit of utilitarianism; an acknowledgement and management of egoism; poaching “the golden rule” …

But, in my hypothetical scenario, someone wants to do something “wrong”. Maybe it is something selfish – they want to take someone else’s husband; they want to break in to someone’s house and take all their gear; they plan to  lie under oath; they buy pirate DVDs; they become violent….

These things happen in life and they are wrong. Plainly.

Should they be prevented from doing it? Sure – they should be prevented – or penalized.

But why? Because God doesn’t like these things?

No.

In this country at least they should be penalized because that’s the way we have set it up. That’s our political system; that’s our justice system, that’s the way we have worked out a practical way to live together. We have decided as a society that these basic rules are pretty helpful.

Little fills me with more horror than a theocracy. People wielding bibles, korans or any holy book as the rule of law.

So saying, I think it is fine if anyone wants to select a holy book as a rule of law for their own life – or if they want to base their morals on a philosopher or a lyricist or a poet or their mother…

People figure out how they want to live and on what basis they want to make their decisions.

I happen to choose the bible. (Obviously, I happen to think that’s the best decision anyone can make. That’s why I made it.)

But in that choice, I want to (ironically?) uphold people’s rights/choices/ability to disagree with me.

If this was a theocracy, we perhaps would all have to have a Sabbath. There would be a zillion by laws to prevent trading – as there have been in the past.

Even today, I could think “It’s wrong to buy things on a Sunday” therefore I may decide not to buy things on a Sunday. But in the same breath, if the humanist man wants to open a shop on a Sunday, employ people on a Sunday, provide people with bread and milk and the Sunday Times – why should he not? He thinks there is no God- so where would his motivation be to keep a Sabbath?

I would rather be in a country where a Christian is free to keep a Sabbath if they want and a humanist is free to make a living, than to live in a country where people are coerced into living religious lives, or keeping religions laws about which they have no conviction.

The example under analysis on the other blog is abortion. I could believe abortion is wrong. Were I pregnant, I could decide not to have one, and that would be a way of living out my religious conviction. Should I be likely to die if an abortion was not carried out, I could choose to refuse treatment and to die, therefore in a further way keeping faithful to my belief.

But should we heap this kind of outworking of faith onto a person without faith? Or with a different faith?

At the heart of arguments around abortion, I always come back to the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan goes out of his way to help the man who has been beaten. He does more than he is morally required to do.

If you were to argue that someone has a right to have an abortion, you could acknowledge that the Samaritan had the right to walk by and leave the man dying – it was no real concern of his – surely his example shows that it is better to follow through and see the person to who you may owe nothing, the person who may be your enemy – to see that person set up with a future without you as in the parable. I hope the parallel with abortion is apparent?

But for the humanist, for the atheist – what is the sense in funneling them down religious laws and practices?

With the topic of abortion, comes the sidestep into murder – and if a society condones abortion it condones murder by the back door?

As much as there is selfishness in decisions, or ignorance or infinite other reasons – does society do as much as it can – do believers do as much as they can to fix society to protect the unborn child?

What if unmarried mothers were supported? What if they didn’t feel that their delivering the child would ruin their life? What if there were other options?….,

And I find myself thinking: every case is different. Every case is complex. I have no doubt that God thinks abortion is “wrong” – but humans are riddled with sin – always falling short, cobbling together life as best we can. There are dilemmas and difficulties and cases and situations that don’t fit into any neat policy we have.

We should all be swept away, we are all “wrong”. But we live in a time of grace with a rainbow over us.

So, when deciding whether I, or society should make people adhere to various moral laws, does it depend what the thing is? Does abortion go in a “grey and complex” area? What about child abuse? Murder? Rape?

Should people be made to follow my religions laws that rule against these things? Yes  – but not because they are my religious laws.

People should be made to refrain from acts of abuse and violence because that’s what we have decided, as a secular state. Sure, we will have decided to outlaw these acts because of the religious heritage of many voters – but that is not why all people – Christian, Muslim, humanist, all faiths and none – should keep the laws.

Imagine there is a golf club and it is in the constitution that you have to wear long trousers. If you want to be a part of that club – you need to cover your legs. It may be that for some members, they cover their legs for religious reasons in the same club. What if there is a new member who doesn’t want to cover their legs? Do you give them a verse from a holy book and say that it is immodest to have your knees out? No. You show them the minutes of the AGM when the dress code was decided.

In a democracy, people will, in practical life, act according to their conscience. As a society, we all chip in and share laws that help us to work together. To expect some people to keep certain laws because of religious beliefs they do not share makes no sense to me.

I am happy that we are free here to be Christian, Muslim or atheist and to live according to our own codes. I am happy that the mixed bag of wordviews has, over centuries, generated a secular structure for law-making that we can hold each other accountable to, no matter how the individual lives with their conscience.

At the same time, I think we “should” all live to please God.

But without a belief in God, that isn’t going to happen – and living a religious life without love and faith is “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 

The following passage outlines how Christians should live in secular society. The readers are encouraged to live in their secular world as active citizens, but to “live as God’s slaves” within that. Respect for others is also stated, as is proper honour for the emperor (with whom I am sure they would disagree).

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” From 1 Peter chapter 2

So, do I have to follow my own conscience while respecting others who must do the same?

I suppose so.

Back on familiar territory, but is it the Promised Land? #E100

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the E100 we are well into the New Testament now. It is as if it has gone from black and white into colour. Everything seems more three dimensional and familiar and every story so far is very well known.

The last swathe of the E100 in the Old Testament was to do with the exile in Babylon. I felt that there was a whole chunk missing, when Ezra and Nehemiah bring the people back and bring back temple worship.

The Old Testament seems to be a cycle of hope and failure. It seems that God tells the people what to do, and then they plan to, but don’t. Then they find themselves far from God and then they decide to have another go at living God’s way and then forget that that was the plan. And so on.

In the New Testament it was interesting to read “The Sermon on the Mount” with the Old Testament as a backdrop. It was as if the people had got it wrong on two fronts. In one way, they had taken the Law too far. On the other, they hadn’t taken it far enough.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revisits the themes contained in the Ten Commandments and then takes the spirit of the command to its full extent. So, although the “Law” was not to kill, Jesus stretches that to mean that one should not hate/be in conflict. The Law required justice to be done, but Jesus took it further and demanded mercy to be one’s instinctive response.

So, I liked to see that parallel between the Old and the New. There was the feeling that the people had missed the point of the Law. They had started to obsess over it, rather than catching the vision of human life, worship and social interaction that was within the Law.

There is a problem with the Sermon on the Mount, though. Jesus says:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now that’s a toughie. This was said in the context of loving one another – even one’s enemies.

What are people meant to do with a command to “Be perfect”? Do we think, “Fine, no problem: ta-dah!” and become perfect? I think that if you are told to be perfect, perhaps a more likely response it to think, “Well, that can’t happen.” It certainly provokes a small voice of humility within, if nothing else.

There is an interesting Old-New bit in Matthew 3 when John the Baptist is preaching. He is speaking to the teachers of the Law:

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

It seems that from John the Baptist’s preaching, the direct descendancy from Abraham is not enough to be in line for the inheritances and fulfilled promises that God made to Abraham.  It seems that the faithlessness of the people  – the missing the point of the Law – has invalidated their claim. John the Baptist is being controversial here by suggesting that the inheritors could be the stones – presumably meaning that the inheritors could be anyone from anywhere – assuming that they “got” the idea – the idea that Jesus then elaborated on during the Sermon on the Mount and through other acts and utterances.

So I am interested to see how it works out in the rest of the life of Jesus part of the bible. I am not sure, but it seems to me as if the Promised Land bit came and went – ending with the exile, despite the return – and the New Testament goes *sharp intake of breath * metaphorical – and the Promised Land is not really to do with the physical place that the Israelites were promised, but is to do with whoever catches hold of the spirit of the Law, in the way that Jesus describes and actually lives it. Then, they are living in a “promised land”, which perhaps (?) I don’t know – is that what is referred to as “The Kingdom of God”, which is when you live wherever you are, in whatever actual political landscape you do, with God as your King – obeying him within the spirit of the Law as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount?

So, does anyone know – is The Kingdom of God the metaphorical equivalent of The Promised Land?

Getting back from getting away from it all

We were away up north for a week and suffered from a serious lack of 3G and Wifi coverage. I suppose it was good therapy: no need to check my phone every five minutes. Not that there is a need, as such, in real life. On the plus side I got around to reading “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood which I had been failing to get around to for a few years.

In place of wifi, I had nature in spectacular form. The Cairngorms were looking amazing – I am sure the skiers couldn’t believe their luck. Brilliant blue sky and snow. It was a bit sub-zero, though – but perfect weather for running – and the “Old Logging” path was great for that. At the chalet we had pine trees and a squirrel and plenty of wee rabbits too. And we went to see the Ospreys at the RSPB place as well, seeing EJ and Odin and their domestic wrangling in the nest. I’ve just had a look at the Osprey blog and it seems that their tiff has escalated….

I managed to keep up with the E100 though. I think it appeals to my Pharisee nature to keep up the daily reading despite the holidays. We have finished the Old Testament readings and today was the first of the New.

The Old Testament now seems kind of different to me than it did before. All of the one-off “big” bible stories now have more of a context for me and are incidents in a bigger narrative – and that has been potentially revolutionary in my reflections. In response I bought and read Amy Orr Ewing’s “Why Trust the Bible?” The first few chapters were excellent. She managed to put all my thoughts about truth and postmodernism far more clearly than I have ever managed. It is always encouraging to find someone who thinks things you have thought, independently.

She then has a good section on the history of the physical bible – the fragments and parchments. Normally I find this kind of “evidence” neither here nor there – in a matter of faith it makes little difference. But she managed to keep it interesting.

The book then dipped a bit for me and became a bit… I dunno… parochial/narrow. Admittedly, with that title, she is trying to be persuasive – but the academic argument kind of gave way to weaker and more unhelpfully biased arguments. And the chapter on sexuality was jarring as she referred to a since-discredited study – so I found my skin crawling at that section – but still – I am looking forward to reading her other book “Is it real?” as I find her style academic yet accessible in the main.

So, we’re back. Looking forward to visiting my favourite blogs again 🙂

 

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Out of Sync at Easter #E100

I will NOT post about the weather. Suffice to say it is not especially… seasonal.

Just like my E100 readings (which I will post about).

Usually, at Easter, I would be on my usual Easter theme, having an eavesdrop at the Passover meal, imagining I was a stone at the roadside going into Jerusalem, joining Pilate in his quest for “truth”…

This year I find myself not only wearing a winter coat, I find myself in the book of 2nd Kings in the old testament.

The last summary I posted wound up with Ruth, who was going to turn out to be the grandmother (or thereabouts) of King David.

But before we got to David, we had Samuel who seemed to be the only sensible guy of his generation. Then Samuel went out and anointed David as King, but I think (losing track) this was after he had already anointed Saul as King.

And Saul was the king, but he was only the king because the people had got impatient wanting a King. So David got selected to take over and this then led to an awkward relationship between the King and the Heir.

Luckily for Saul, David (to begin with) was a good guy and didn’t do a Macbeth and murder his way to the top. I think.

So eventually David is the King and it’s all going swimmingly until he decides to break just about all of the ten commandments by getting himself involved with Bathsheba. So, he covets a neighbour’s wife, commits adultery, is deceitful, sort of commits murder, effectively, and then it just all goes horribly wrong in every way imaginable.

However, his son Solomon takes over as King and builds a temple. Hurray!

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, ...

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, as in 1 Kings 6, illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in today’s reading the temple gets completely destroyed by some raiding Babylonians. Like, completely. And they take Judah (?) to Babylon (so that someone can write “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down, yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion” and all that.)

The rest of them go and hide in Egypt.

So, it’s all a bit bleak for the Chosen People in my readings just now.

However, I need to steer this back to Easter, what with it being Easter.

The destruction of the temple reminded me of an image Jesus spoke about when anticipating the events of Easter. This story comes quite early in John’s gospel:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

So, now I am thinking about the symbolism of the original temple that was built in the reign of Solomon – as place to make sacrifices for sin. That way of life was then completely destroyed and removed, and the people were physically taken from the place where they were identifiable as a nation of God’s people.

Now, clearly at some point the temple is going to be rebuilt before the time of Jesus – and the people will have to physically return from Babylon and Egypt? And it’ll take a while to rebuild it to get back to Solomon’s vision.

So I am looking forward to that part of the story – although I can’t see any Ezra and Nehemiah on the reading plan. It has been absolute scandal and carnage for a couple of weeks now. The people in the story could do with some good news.

Ah!

The bible is going in faster than I thought #E100

The E100 is moving on apace – I am more than a quarter through and my head is spinning. I was glad to get past the Exodus and into more unfamiliar waters, or desert, actually.

So, we had the ten commandments, then we got them again, then Joshua took over and crossed the Jordan in the same way Moses crossed the Red Sea – this miraculous crossing seems to get less cultural coverage than the Red Sea one. I wonder why. They set up some stones to mark the crossing  and the fulfilment of the promise of the Promised Land. But archaeologists have never found them. But the writer says they are “here to this day” whenever that was.

Then we have the famous Battle of Jericho, and a lot of carnage.

Then we go into the wild and random book of Judges that should really be made into more movies than it already has been. The Israelites have gone all subjective, postmodern and pluralistic, and so their community goes horribly wrong. Occasionally, someone recaptures the vision and sorts it out for a bit, but they tend to get sucked back into periods of 40 years in metaphorical wildernesses as generation after generation forget about the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the story of the Exodus and the arrival in the Promised Land.

There are some great moments – I want to do a bit of creative writing about Gideon skulking in the wine press and Samson with his fire fox idea, and his marriages and his nagging wives. But this whole phase and book of Judges is pretty much unsavoury. Not to mention the tent peg drive through that fellow’s temple…

Jael and Sisera

Jael and Sisera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was a better moral playing field – although there were some game-rules that were a little odd, from my West of Scotland perspective. Ruth was certainly sticking to her convictions and playing by the rules and then some – going the extra mile and ending up with a wee baby who next week will turn out to be the grandfather, I think, of King David.

Anyway.

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