Friday, April 28, 2017

Babel-ON



Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.  And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.  And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” 
But YHWH came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And YHWH said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  SoYHWH scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.  Therefore its name is called Babel, because there YHWH confused the language of all the earth; and from there  YHWH scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
Gen. 11:1-9


That picture at the top is a Ziggurat...an ancient staircase of sorts.  This here is another picture of a Ziggurat with U.S. soldiers on a sight seeing tour.  They are fairly common in the Syria, Iraq and Iran.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  But they all have in common is that back in the day, the ancients were trying to create a "Sacred Space" for their gods.  All Ziggurats were next to or on top of temples.  There is a debate as to wether the staircase was for folks to go up to the gods, or for the gods to come down. (Most are pretty sure it was for the local god to come down)


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It's been a tough week for my Dad.  He had knee surgery on Monday, and has been in a lot of pain ever since.  I had to go to my folk's place after work on Monday to help lift him out of a chair and into his walker.  I've never seen him look so week.

Yesterday and the day before, I had to babysit him while my Mom and sister were out.  He's getting better fast, but is still in pain.  He also hasn't pooped in 7 days now. (TMI!!!!!) I'm concerned that when he does, we'll need to have him squatting in the garden, due to the amount of compost he is sure to expel.

At any rate, since I had to babysit, I brought along my Jewish study bible to read.  I'm determined to read through the entire Old Testament eventually.  I can't wait until I hit Leviticus and Numbers.  That's sure to be a hoot. 😑😑😑

What I like about this study bible is how much thorough commentary there is in it.  My NIV study bible is fairly watered down for my tastes.  They don't want to say anything controversial, and it's clear that they try to find an uncomfortable consensus.  It ends up being like Garth Brooks' music.  Finding solace in the lowest common denominator, and all wishy-washy.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading about the Tower of Babel, and the Rabbinic commentary on it.  Supposedly, all humans spoke the same language at that time...or at least in this area. (Depends on how much of a Fundie you are.) But what's interesting if you are paying any attention at all, is that only 2 sentences before the beginning of this story, in the account of the Table of Nations from Noah's family line it clearly says, "These are the descendants of Shem according to their clans and languages, by their lands, according to their nations." (Get. 10:31) In fact, jump back to 10:5, and it says, "each with it's language."

So right before the beginning of the story of the Tower of Bable, the bible says that their were all these other languages being spoken.  Someone hostile to Scripture would point out this glaring contradiction and laugh.  Actually, they should laugh...and I'll tell you why in a minute.

So, blatant contradiction????  I mean, it's a bit unlikely that whoever was writing this down didn't notice those other sentences.  So what's going on?!?!?



This is one of those instances 
where linguistic and culture context 
need to be reaffirmed as being of central performance.  


In other words, the bible doesn't get it wrong.  
It's WE who so often get the bible wrong.

For starters, we have to remember who the Old Testament was written to, and why.  The O.T.s final form was completed during the time of Israel's exile in Babylon and within a few generations after that.  It was NOT written to 21st Century Americans any more than it was written to 18th Century Japan.

It was written for us, because it's God's word.  But it wasn't written to us.  So what ever you do, don't try and read our modern concepts of science, history, journalism and what not, into a culture that had no knowledge of or cared about those sorts of things.

If you try and read our concepts into this ancient text, you'll end up with "Name it & claim it" prosperity preaching or Young Earth Creationism.



Okay, so here's why you should laugh at this story.  It was meant to be funny.  Near as I can tell this is a satire of the Babylonians...an ancient version, anyway.


There's actually a LOT of humor in the bible.  It's easy for it to get lost in translation.  So that's another reason to stick to as much cultural context as possible.  Here's one for ya.  Most people don't know it, but the book of Jonah is actually a comedy...a bit like Alice down the Rabbit hole.  Try reading it that way some time, and you will pick up on the comedy themes in it.


If you've ever watched a skit on SNL or Key & Peele, you know what a satire is.  Are those skits meant to be an actual historical account?  Of course not.  But they're REAL!

There are a whole lot of digs at the Babylonians in the O.T.  Starting with the ancient Hebrew's alternative creation story.  Remember, the Babylonians conquered and exiled the Jews.  Now, this conquered people are getting a little payback.

The center of this story is the motivation for the building of this tower.  It wasn't to honor any god or gods.  It was meant to honor the people building it!  "To make a name for ourselves." A major no-no!

The humor comes when YHWH actually takes a look to see what's going on.  He actually has to come down out of heaven to even see this thing.  "Oooooh, look eeeeeeeeet's so tiny." (Say that with a high pitched voice.) Then he even brings the sarcasm about how if these folks can pull this off, YHWH is in big trouble.  So he grabs his divine council, heads on down and drops a bomb on their tongues using only his thought.

It's essentially the ancient near-eastern equivalent of someone pointing out to a big, buff muscle guy that his schwanzstucker is barely 3 inches of swinging death. (Okay, crude I know.  But you get the point.)  And that IS funny!

This is why I love the bible so much, especially in it's ancient context.  Sure, they didn't have iPods and what not, but it's the same old same old when it comes to human nature.  We really love to think that we're all that and a bag of chips.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  We have the very same issues today that they had thousands of years ago.

I mean, look at our current President.  A living, breathing pile of anti-social narcissism. "I alone can fix it."  He thinks he's God's gift to America, and far, far too many so-called "Leaders" in the church think so too.  All this from a man who said recently, "Who knew fixing health care would be so difficult?" Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh........

None of us should be all that enamored over our ability to successfully tie our own shoes.  God is no respecter of persons.  He isn't impressed by our ability to build a tall building or create one of those new fangled wireless devices.

Through his creative and sustaining will, this God holds the vastness of the universe together.  Every drop of rain that falls, ever blade of grass that grows, does so by his will.  Building a tower out of bricks isn't going to win you any gold stars next to your name.  Nor is your ability to repeatedly cheat on your wife and get away with it.

I wasn't much into science as a kid.  Now that I'm older and NPR has the podcast and radio show, "Radio Lab," I'm getting more and more into it.  Still, with every scientific discovery of how God goes about his business in the natural world, I realize how much we still don't know.  It makes me wonder if God is sitting on his throne saying something along the lines of, "Well, that took you long enough."

Here, now you can get your "Nerd" on along with me...
http://www.radiolab.org

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The ancient Hebrews were a gutsy bunch.  They were an exiled minority in an Empire that thought it was the baddest boy on the block.  Yet, these ancient Hebrews compiled a library of books that said, A) We are still God's chosen people.  He still loves us. B) This isn't over.  Our God isn't done with us yet.  C) Your tiny little gods are a true joke!  They didn't do anything.  Our God is the real one who created everything.  And D) In fact, you Babylonians are kind of a joke, too.  You might be big and buff, but that tiny schwanzstucker of yours is not impressive!

You have to admit, that's pretty gutsy.
(I suppose it helps when you have the Holy Spirit guiding your writing.)



I guess the ultimate moral of this satire is this; never be arrogant in front of anyone, especially not YHWH.  He might just teach you a lesson.  And apparently, he has no problem using humor to do it.


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord/YHWH require of you?  To act justly and to show mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8


Good advice, that.  
Certainly beats trying to build a stairway to heaven.


Peace

Joe




P.S. For more resources on these sorts of things, recommend this video.  I also HIGHLY recommend John Walton's books, "The Lost World of Adam and Eve," and "The Lost World of Genesis One."  Finally, Dr. Peter Enn's "Genesis for Normal People."




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter & Reality; a Semi-Lament.


"Precious and fragile things, need special handling.  My God, what have we done to you?

We always tried to share, the tenderest of care.  Now look what we have put you through.

Angels with silver wings, shouldn't know suffering.  I wish I could take the pain for you.

If God has a master plan, that only He understands, I hope it's your eyes He's seeing through.

Things get damaged.  Things get broken.  I thought we'd manage.  But words left unspoken, left us so brittle, there was so little left to give."
Depeche Mode

I'm pretty sure that this is the first & only time I've begun a blog post without any Scripture verses.  Hmmmm...

And today is Easter...
and, yes, he HAS risen.


Also, I know I haven't posted in a LONG time.  I had some problems with Blogger, and I am far from being the most technologically proficient guy.  I had a friend help me out.  Thanks to him, things should be running fairly smoothly for me from here on out...at least as far as this online thing goes.

The rest of my life, not so much...

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Let me state for the record that I am a truly terrible Christian.  
In fact, at best I am a "Second Class Christian."

#1. I have been told by certain Charismatic friends that I am disobedient because I have not been "Baptized in the Spirit," with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
#2. I have been told by some Catholics I know that I am in danger of the fires of hell...or at least purgatory, because I have not embraced the true church.
#3. I can be a christian, but I will walk with a spiritual limp because I am not a Calvinist.
#4. I am in error, because I am not a Dispensationalist.
#5. I am a Compromiser & False Teacher, because I have no problem what-so-ever with Evolution and the rest of modern science.

Recently, I've run into more than a few people who are Eastern Orthodox.  In one form or another, they have implied that I am not a part of the true apostolic faith.

It really stinks when you just want to put your faith in the faithfulness of Jesus.
I mean, what kind of Christian does that?


If I am lucky enough that God's grace is actually powerful enough to redeem a loser like me, I guess I'll be sitting at the little kid's table in heaven. (That's not such a bad thing.  I'm pretty sure C.S. Lewis will be there with me.)



If I took off my subconscious/emotional/spiritual/"whatever" shirt and showed you my chest and back, you would not see a sculpted work of "buffetude" from some gym work out.  No, what you would see are scars.  Lots and lots of scars. (My Dad told me a month or so ago, that I've seen a lot of pain in this life.  I hadn't thought about it all that much, but he's right.  Mostly in others, but plenty on my own.)

The ugliest and most painful scars that you would see on me are the ones I've been given by my fellow believers.  And they are all over the place on me.


We all have scars.  That's a part of life.  We all carry them in various ways.  Many of us just put on a long sleeve turtleneck sweater in the summer.  Personally, I try to stamp mine into the ground.  It never works.  They're still there.

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As of late, I've been looking for a new church to attend.  Specifically, I'm looking for a church that has a Sunday night service.  I have to work Sunday mornings now, so I don't have a lot of options.  I'm not interested in a Saturday evening service.  I get off really early on Saturdays, so I'd like to fish with my dad or go ride my bicycle.

It's pretty meager pickings trying to find a Sunday night service.

Then there is the problem of ME.  I am a walking, talking, living breathing difficulty.  I've never felt like I truly fit in anywhere.  I'm way too "Contrarian" for my own good.  I'm drawn to controversy, and I love to ask questions. (Christians HATE it when you ask questions!) I thrive on the weird stuff in the bible, and love it when there is stuff there that is either difficult, or impossible to explain.

I HATE simple minded answers!  Towing the party line does not impress me.  All it does is tell me that you are to lazy to think for yourself.  Worse, that you will be completely unprepared to answer the questions of someone who is truly hostile to the bible and the Gospel.  Worst of all, if you are a parent, and you push this nonsense on your kids, don't be surprised when they leave the faith after being confronted with well thought out alternatives, and your simpleminded answers don't have much traction.


Actually, while I'm on this subject, here are two "Easter" themed videos that I really, truly love.  I've read most of Rob Bell's books, and a few by Peter Rollins.  Don't get me wrong, I have some extremely profound differences & disagreements with these guys!!!

But at the same time, I like to get their perspective on things.  They are both thoughtful and highly intelligent.  Plus, I don't really believe that you can know your own opinions properly unless you see it from as many angles as possible, including those you don't see eye to eye with. (And if American christians would stop being so afraid all the time, they might just try that.) Honestly, there is no counter idea/philosophy that has caused my faith in the resurrected Christ to be shaken.

Resurrection: Rob Bell from Rob Bell on Vimeo.



I Deny the Resurrection from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

The last one there, in particular, makes me think about the general lack of any type of social justice movement among American Evangelicals.  Near as I can tell, Jesus put a high premium on how we treat "The Least of These."  But you almost never hear anything from any of the big Evangelical leaders on these issues.  Not much about poverty, racism, sexism, pollution and creation care, and in some cases being down right anti-emigrant & anti-refugee.  They are "Pro-Birth" to be sure, but after that, they give the whole idea over to the Left, and what is more often than not, watered down Liberal theology.

Rob Bell asked WAY too many questions.  We pushed, shoved and kicked him to the door of standard  Evangelicalism.  When he walked out the door, we all stood back and said, "SEE, I told you so."

A friend of mine once noted to me that she had "Kicked him to the curb a long time ago."  My response was, "Yeah, we Christians are known for kicking people to the curb..."


So, with an attitude like mine,
it makes me a bad fit in most American church bodies... 



At the church I used to attend, I had an incident over a year ago.  Apparently, I am amazingly good at offending the feelings of people who have never bothered to even try to get to know me.  Through a truly stupid, yet innocently intended, comment on social media, I really angered a person at my church body.

Again, this person has never, EVER tried to get to know me, even though I went there for 10 years.  They had never said more than a passing "Hi" to me in all that time.  Yet, my comment, which was NOT directed at them, got them so riled that I was tossed out of a position I was in.

Personally, I would have worked for instant reconciliation if I had been a pastor.  Get the two sides together and find understanding and healing.  But that didn't happen.  I got the boot instead.  So I felt humiliated...still do.  And now I have a brand new scar.

I left the church for a while, feeling completely embarrassed.  I started going back a few months later, but it was never the same.  Every time I see this individual, I feel finger nails pulling at the scab.

The best...or worst part, of being gone was the reaction of people who I thought were my friends at this church.  I invested at least 10 years there, trying to develop relationships...and I really, truly tired my best.  I can count on less than one hand, the number of people who tried to call or get in touch with me.

When I did start going back, most seemed to not notice that I had been gone.  A few did and said things a long the line of, "I was wondering where you were."  Hardly the stuff that gives you confidence and enthusiasm to want to get involved again.


This time around, I told a select handful of people that I wouldn't be coming back due to work.  I told a friend I wanted to see how many people noticed or cared.  So far, nothing.  One pastor, on my last day, said that he wanted to get together and talk about weird stuff in the bible, because he knows I love that stuff.  I told him I would love that and to call me any time, and we could set it up.  He hasn't called.  He won't.



Today, I told a friend that I was looking for in a different church.  I also informed him that unless God told me directly to ever get involved in any kind of formal ministry again, and I did it anyway, I should be confined to the mental ward at HCMC downtown.

I don't know how many decades I have left on the planet, but I would like them to be relatively peaceful.  Working with Christians in a formal capacity is anything but peaceful.  At least that's been my experience.

Of course, all of this could be my fault.  I know I'm wired differently than most folks.  I get that.  I wish that God hadn't designed me to be a Square Peg.  But it's what I am.  I didn't think being a pain in the ass was a spiritual gift.

I simply am a bad fit for most American Christians.
I have to live with that.

____________________


For the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about wether or not you can lose your salvation.  I've also been wondering about all the people I've known over my life, and if they really are Believers.

For most of my life, I've believed in the concept of "Eternal Security."  I.e. "Once saved, always saved," based on the first chapter of Ephesians.  Another way of putting it is that if you leave the faith in one form or another, you were never truly a Believer saved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the first place.

But I question that now.

I've watched many people walk away from the faith.  But I often wonder about those who claim to follow Jesus, yet hold to some of the weirdest shit possible when it comes to the bible and Christianity.

I know one guy...known him since he was a kid.  He grew up in a Christian home, went to  a Christian High School and college.  Talked the talk, etc.

 I don't know what he's up to now, other than being an Air Force officer.  But the last few correspondences that we shared, he was following some crack pot, far-right preacher.  He sent me a 6 page screed on why Jesus wants us to own assault rifles in case we need to overthrow the federal government. (Alrighty then...) Nice to know he's in the military, isn't it?


I also know of others who have really twisted the bible so that they think it's perfectly fine for a man to surgically remove his penis and get falsies implanted.  God clearly made a huge mistake and put him/her in the wrong body...and if you torture the bible long enough, it will agree with you.

For the record, I can totally identify with this impulse.  I might not look it on the outside, but on the inside I am 6'3, with a full head of blonde hair, and rippled abs.  I'm also of Japanese decent.  THE PAIN IS REAL, PEOPLE!!!!

And I could go on and on and on and on and on...

Friends and associates I've known, who have now wandered into some extremely weird corners of the faith.  They are so far out there that I have no idea what they really want other than to have their own thoughts and ideas tickled and affirmed.

It's like Jesus isn't good enough anymore.

We need to have something else.  Something "Religious" to prove our position and make us feel better.  Faith isn't enough!  We need to have some sort of "Works" to live by.

Maybe it's voting for a certain party.  Maybe it's owing guns for Jesus.  Maybe it's encouraging men to wear dresses...even if it doesn't flatter their hips.  Maybe it's telling Jesus that all religions are his equal.  Maybe it's telling Jesus that sin isn't so bad that he shouldn't take it seriously.

WHAT EVER!

And maybe simply isn't me or anyone else being very merciful.

____________________

After all of that, you may be right to ask, "DUDE, why do you even BOTHER with Christians and Christianity?!?!?!?!?!"

A fair question, to be sure.

And I ask myself that A LOT!


What it comes down to has everything to do with Easter.  The reality is that I simply cannot deny the resurrection.  I can't.  It's been almost 2000 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That is LONG before the advent of modern science.

No one can prove it in a test tube or laboratory.  No one can produce a body after all this time.  But I simply cannot deny the resurrection of Jesus.

Why?

Despite the average Christian being an asshole, myself included, the church has survived in spite of itself.  In fact, as religious movements go, the early church should have died off within a generation.  To my knowledge, the early Christians were the only group of people I know of who got absolutely nothing for their troubles.  No wealth, fame or power.  Only torture and death.  Yet they believed in the impossible.  A man, their king, resurrected from the dead.  And they were willing to die for that belief.

The fact also remains, that despite me being a pain in the ass, I have seen over and over and over again the solid evidence in my own life, that this man/king has taken care of me even when/especially when, I really didn't deserve it.



I have my struggles...particularly when it comes to other American Christians.  I get very, very angry and frustrated.  But I haven't lost hope.  Mostly because my hope is NOT in other Christians.  My hope is in Christ.

Every day, I try to keep my faith
in the faithfulness of Christ.

I hope that's good enough.


Why?

Because he HAS risen.


Peace

Joe