Friday, October 17, 2008

David and Bathsheba

It's that time again. Time that I got another story completed. I need to say I realize that the Taj Mahal is not a palace but a tomb (Lady R said I needed to put that disclaimer in). And Bathsheba means possibly the 7th daughter.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Flinging things and thinking ships

Today, I decided to take some time and actually "study" the Bible rather than just reading it and getting a nice little thought for the day.

Every since seminary I've been wanting to really nail down the Hebrew from both Jonah and Ruth. Learning two languages in the last three years has sort of put a damper on keeping up the Hebrew (and Greek). In fact, it still is and will be until we get back to the States some time next year. And for the record, I do not believe you need to know one iota of Greek or one jot of Hebrew to read and completely understand the Bible. For me, I just enjoy "studying" the Bible in this way. It certainly is not needful/necessary. As the French say, "C'est juste mon truc" (It's just my thing).

In Jonah 1:4, the Lord is said to have "sent out," "hurl," or "flung," a great storm on the sea. I get this image of this really big hurricane, and God is so much bigger than it, that he can fling it onto the sea. I just like the word "fling," or "hurl," for a storm sent by God onto the sea.

In the same verse, the ship that the sailors were on is said to have been on the verge of breaking up. Literally, we have the ship "thinking about," "planning," or "considering" breaking up. Granted, we know that the ancient Hebrews (those who wrote and those experiencing the storm on the ship) did not believe that ships had a brain and was thinking. But the use of personification grabs the reader's attention. The ship "considering breaking up" shows how close the ship was actually was in being destroyed. It literally was on the very verge of it.

The point. God hurls storms and ships think. That's a pretty cool ship and an even cooler God.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Job fights back

Started reading the book of Job again.

I like how he, in his most trying time, still defends himself. Job has just lost everything. His three friends have just come over to "to sympathize with him and comfort him," and "they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great."

If they had stopped there, they would have acted appropriately. But Eliphaz thought, like so many, that he needed to preach Job a little sermon. He starts out (ch 4) by reminding Job how Job used to be an encourager to others. But now Job is not toughing it out as he has encouraged others to do. In fact, it has to be Job's fault for his misery.

But Job returns the discourse: He does not want (or need) a sermon; he's looking for understanding. And his "friends" are scared of trouble. In addition, Job did not want a problem solver.

Things could easily change in a moment's notice. I am not in the storm of life today. Tomorrow I maybe, we just never know. But from this vantage point of being outside of trouble and having been in a "situation" within the last year, I can say "sermons" are not the medicine for a hurting soul. No matter how true the content of the sermon may be, the timing of its delivery is so important. It may just need to wait. Besides, usually the "preacher" does not have all the facts anyway to compose his "message."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

El Shaddai, El Shaddai El-elyon Adonai

I appreciate the attempt of the author of this hymn to worship God using one of the many Hebrew names for him in the Bible.

If you were to examine the long and sometimes controversial history of the event where God was being called "El," and Amy Grant's live version, you might be intrigued by the results. It is not my purpose to go into all that story here. But I do find the name "El" (and it's derivatives) fascinating. And here's why...

When God is talking to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3, he says that he is revealing himself as YHWH but that he had revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as "El Shadday." (orאֵל־שַׁדַּי)

Many have sought to find out exactly what El Shaddai means, and they have come up with "God of the mountain," "God of many breasts," "God Almighty," and a few others. Mettinger follows the path of "the one of the mountain," and like most who do go down that path offers the similarity between the Hebrew word and an Akkadian word (shadu) as evidence. I am not arguing either for or against this view. I am simply exploring it along side Mettinger.

Mettinger makes note of the study of Albrecht Alt which challenged the conclusions made by another German OT scholar Julius Wellhausen. Wellhausen had assumed that the text of the patriarchs was a description of the faith of Israel during the monarchy. Alt investigated the term "God of the Fathers" (Der Gott der Väter) and noticed that this designation treats God as "nameless,(he's just the God of so-and-so)" and "site less." The deity is not defined by a certain geographical location. Therefore, wherever so-and-so goes so does his God. This lead Alt to assume that the term "God of the Fathers" was used for a nomadic people. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a term defining the one (the deity) that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (i.e. the fathers) had put their faith in. Mettinger adds, "If this presumption is correct, then we would have in 'the God of the fathers' an example of interplay between way of life and understanding of God, evidence to the effect that the understanding of God evolves in conjunction with the challenges presented by life itself." (Mettinger, 55)

Is it not true that we write worship songs to reflect our personal understanding of God in our personal life experience?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Context

Lady R is always telling me "Life is Context." She's pretty good at reading a situation accurately because she's a great at determining meaning from the context.

I think we could take a similar approach when reading the Bible.

I've just finished one of my favorite books, In Search of God by Tryggve N.D. Mettinger. This is the first time I've read it all the way through although I was first introduced to the book in seminary. Our Hebrew professor had us read a portion of it about Job, and I was intrigued by the concept of God fighting chaos monsters (namely Leviathan and Behemoth). This started my journey towards my thesis.

Mettinger offers some thought provoking ideas of how to interpret the names of God throughout the history of the Hebrews in a Ancient Near East context. I'd like to share some his ideas on this. So, look out for those posts in the future.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Are Causes hamartia?

I went to church on Sunday.

I went to a, what looked to me like a younger tamer version of, Woodstock festival on Saturday.

I found some interesting differences between the two events. Now the "Woodstock"-like festival was a local Celtic festival celebrating a huge mark for, we'll say, local Celtic studies. So obviously, it was nothing like the French church service. Those differences are evident but we might as well mention them anyway. The festival was lively with lots of music, lots of dancing, lots of beer and local cider, lots of people, and lots of fun all culminating in one weekend. The church service happens every weekend with the same few people, little music (well there is more music than anything else), little enthusiasm, little interaction, and overall little benefit.

But the differences I saw were over the importance of incorporating social justice into the lives of those in attendance. Let me try to illustrate this. All over the church I see signs encouraging people to get involved in social justice causes mainly by buying commerce equitable (fair trade or the French site) products. One gets the feeling that if you buy fair trade you are being a good Christian. OK, fine. I have no problem with fair trade (except in some cases with cotton but that's another post).

At the Celtic festival I found a booth where people were selling various products and people ready to get you involved in making sure everyone gets a fair trade around the world (ohh, except Coke, and they are evil just because they are). I've even had the chance to talk to one of the more outspoken advocates of fair trade; I happened to be near her when I ordered a glass of that Satanic brew.

These are two institutions having the same goal; involvement in a cause for the betterment of humanity. But are these two groups being properly involved in the greatest good? What's the importance or even motivation to be more involved in social justice? I thought about this during the sermon when I heard the French version of Matthew 6:33 where righteousness in French is rendered justice. That may satisfy Christians who need a biblical mandate to get them more interested in social justices. But for others, they are motivated to get involved as a result of being affected by something even bigger than the cause of the day. However, if the Christian thinks that being more socially active ensures that he is a good Christian, then he has missed the mark. I am not saying social justice is not something good for a Christian. Sure it is. If you have seen the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce, you have seen an example of how getting involved in social justice projects can have a huge impact on those around you. I am saying that, for a Christian, being involved in any cause without being connected to an even higher goal is missing the mark. He's simply getting involved to look good and possibly for selfish reasons.

The same is true for our earthy friends who put all their energies into their "causes," whether it be fair trade or something else. All of us want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. So, often social causes are a way to participate in something larger than ourselves. Stopping AIDS in Africa, promoting recycling, bring attention to child abuse, or buying fair trade products are all great in and of themselves. When one is involved in a project with others for a common goal, one can have this bigger-than-me feeling fulfilled. But it's not enough. Sure, one may be remembered as a great philanthropist and have a huge commemorative statue erected on their behalf. People may look to this one as an example, but the mark has been missed. It's been missed, in my humble opinion, because righting wrongs in society is the indirect result of people being in touch with the greatest good, God. Otherwise, we all become idol worshipers missing the Creator himself and helping others for pure self promotion.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Who is building whom a house?

Let me know what you think?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I know you all have probably got this in your email box, but it applies to me so I'd thought I'd put my version here.

There is this rock. It's a massive rock. God says push on the rock. You push on the rock and after a while you ask God, "What are you doing?"

God says, "Don't worry about moving the rock, if I had wanted it moved I would have moved it myself. I never intended for you to move it, I just wanted you to push."

You ask, "But to what end?"

God answers, "The purpose was to build your muscles for the next task ahead of you."

BTW This is not another Sisyphus lesson. We can talk about that if you wish, but I put it here to say what it says. And I don't think it says God has willed us to fatalism.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Protestant vs Catholic

I think I have figured out the main difference between Protestants and Catholics. I must preface my answer by saying these observations are localised. This is just what I have observed from my interaction with Protestants and Catholic in this tiny part of France I live in.


Yep. I go into a Catholic church and I see a ton of paintings or sculptors depicting some scene of the sacred. Tons of symbols everywhere. Even the mass is a symbol. The robes the priests wear are symbolic. The Scripture is read. The homily spoken. The songs sung. Granted, there is usually an order of service (that's to help us outsiders follow along or for those who are not used to coming to church often). But by and large the faithful have it all memorized. Afterwards, everyone exits the doors and finds their way back home or some other Sunday afternoon activity.

At the Protestants. The walls are white (or at least plain). You might see a cross up front somewhere. The service is usually routine. You sing from a book a couple of songs. You pray out loud or silently (this is one oral part of the service). You sing again from the hymnal. You sit down and "turn in your Bibles" to Book Chapter Verse and hear a sermon usually read for a literate audience. While you are trying to pay attention to the 3 to 5 points (outlining is highly literate skill), you notice the only vestments on the walls are things written, like a verse or two. Afterwards, you get plenty of oral interaction. People usually come up to you and give you kisses and talk to you for a minute or so.

I wonder if the reason Protestantism is not more widespread in France is because they are trying to appeal to the mind instead of the heart. Who knows? I say let's learn from each other. The Protestants can learn how art can help us engage in worship, and the Catholics can learn how to fellowship better.

Friday, March 07, 2008

I call it story time

I've thought about starting something new here at CL. Story Time. It's a time you sit back and hear a story being told. But this is not just a passive activity. Ideally, this would just be oral. No reading or writing but that's a little hard in this format. duh!!

To participate, after you have heard the story, you answer 5 questions.

1. What did you like about the story?
2. What shocked or surprised you about the story?
3. What does the story say about humans?
4. What does the story say about God (if anything)?
5. What does one do with the story?

I'll leave my responses in the comment section. Enjoy!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Michener's God

James Michener was a writer who did extensive research on whatever topic he was writing. I was introduced to Michener during a summer class I took in Israel, and I picked up his The Source to see through his eyes how archeology can inform us about the past.

If you have read his Hawaii, you know Michener does not treat "Christians" with great kindness. Still, he has a lot to teach us about his view of God.

I present to you the theory of the evolution of God (religion) with special relation to the evolution of the Hebrew religion (or monotheism) to which he as well as many other scholars hold. My source is his Source.

I guess we start with "apelike man from Africa...looking for a time when gods have not yet been called forth by hunger of man." This could have been about 12 000 years ago. Eventually, "man" began to walk upright (already having developed the capacity for language) and hunt for food. While the males were hunting the women were gathering wheat from away and learning to plant it closer to their primitive lodging.

Humans have moved into the arena of naming spirits and forces but have yet to develop "placating ceremonies." Crops depend on the sun and rain. There is an "I-It" relationship to the natural world and spirit world. There is "an impersonal spirit but inanimate."

Later, we've moved into an "I-You" (is there any influence from Martin Buber's I-Thou ?)relationship. The human thanks the flood by giving "him" an offering. Therefore, the elements have become personified.

The storm, the wind, the wild boar, and the water will know we mean them no harm if we put a high stone on a rock. They can then see we are not out to hurt them.

A lot more time passes, and we have the Canaanites and their fertility deities like Astarte (Ashtart) called Ashtoreth by the Hebrews, Ishtar by the Babylonians, and Aphrodite by the Greeks. Basically, we go from 1. self-awareness to 2. awareness of the natural world to 3. seeing the need for showing the elements that we are nice people to 4. personifying the elements to 5. placating the evil spirits who may cause us harm to 6. pleasing the fertile spirits/gods for the continuation of our self (both reproducing our own kind and the reproduction of the Earth).

Our monoliths are now established, considered dropped down from the sky by the gods. These stones became special and among the many monoliths erected, certain ones became holy. Trash collected around them and eventually covered most of the rock leaving just the top. This symbol becomes the "father of all gods" or "El," the source of all power.
The rise of monotheism is an attempt to pull all the gods together into one.
I realize that this is a pretty oversimplified explanation of the rise of monotheism. I sort of wanted it that way. To start, I, myself, need a simple way of understanding this process.
But why couldn't there have just been "God?"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I hate philosophy

Trying to clean out my email box and came across a link sent to me almost a year ago. I was asked to comment on it, and it is simply one of those things I put on a back burner and just looked at today. So, my apologies for not commenting on it sooner.

The title is suppose to be a play on words (philo-love & sophia-wisdom). On the other hand, it does express my view on the discipline itself. Even when theology (admittedly a form of philosophy) becomes more about rationality than trying to understand God, I do not enjoy it. It's the feeling, I suppose, a semi-illiterate gets when forced to read a novel. The person might be able to get through it, but not without a heck of a lot of struggle and frustration and an overall sense of apathy. It may simply be an excuse to not dialog about issues brought up by intellects. It may be an unwillingness to do the hard work posed by thinking people. Their questions are valid and sometimes worth the effort to talk about. However, I am not the person that is capable of engaging their minds in talking about highly intellectual stuff.

Well all right then. Now that we have the disclaimer out there, that this is way outside my domain, I will try to interact with this article on the need for skepticism in our (Western) society.

The author, I think, is arguing that postmodernism (defined below) and skepticism should be valued more in today's world. It all begins with multiculturalism, a subject with which I feel I am slightly familiar, having, in my opinion, a pretty good background in pedagogical theory and its usage in the public arena (i.e. my undergrad is in Secondary Education). And as defined, I think I can assent to the idea.

"peaceful coexistence and the mutually-beneficial sharing and disseminating of ideas. "

Now I do think that the ideal mentioned above will have a very hard time ever being achieved, but hey why not have impossible goals. The argument then goes on to say that only in a "secular" realm can this multiculturalism be realized. I think "secular" here means devoid of religion (especially organized and institutional ones).

"Personally, I'd like to see religion wither away as a force in human affairs...Yet that need not prevent us from striving to realize one of the key objectives of Enlightenment thought: the removal of organized religion from politics."

I was under the impression that "religion" was a part of culture? But maybe I got that wrong somewhere. On the one hand Sims (the author) wishes to have a free sharing of ideas between distinct cultures, but then he argues for any religious thoughts to not be included in the exchange. Only the religion of secularism can be exchanged.

Don't get me wrong, if you mean by "secular," the separation of church and state, well then we agree. As to whether a secular state means the best chance for multiculturalism, I am not ready to say I agree or disagree. It could just as well be as not could be. (I would entertain a more in depth look at the Persian Empire to see what might make for a good multicultural atmosphere)

The "cause" of not being able to achieve multiculturalism (defined above) is religious dogmatism. As I understand it, "dogmatism" is insisting that what is thought to be fixed can not be questioned or that

"assumptions [are] claimed to be beyond all possible doubt"

This dogmatism is the arch Nemesis of Skepticism (as a system of thought I guess). In other words, we have the right to question the validity of everything in life (mostly what we don't like). I really don't care if someone wants to go around questioning everything. If that is how someone wants to live their life, I say go for it.

"Unquestioning belief is rife amongst us, and it always leads to trouble."

In regards to the above statement, I can agree to a certain degree. It's OK to question the Church, God, or whatever, but what if the same critique were made upon Skepticism? Is it right to question, if we should question? Please don't answer, it will spiral this conversation way out. It is only a side note to say, why do we have to question everything including whether we should even be questioning? Can't we have something in our personal lives that is solid, a foundation? If you don't like mine, fine. I probably don't like yours. I'll try not force Jesus on you. Similarly, why is it so important to make seem more ideal your foundation of skepticism? If that's your thing, cool. Be skeptical! But to keep the argument (see above on multiculturalism) alive, my ideas must coexist with those of doubt. Skepticism can't trump belief if we are trying to attain an ideal multicultural. Granted, I am not perfect in this myself.

The next thing in the article is a bit difficult (for the author is responding to criticism he has received over previous statements he's made elsewhere) for me grasp. We get that he's not being nihilistic but relativist, the opposite of fundamentalism. He defines relativism as

"relativism is calling into question the notion of there being an absolute truth - precisely what all those of a fundamentalist disposition claim there is (their version, naturally). Even worse, fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that other views have any validity at all. You can't debate with them - about multiculturalism or anything else."

Maybe I am a fundy after all (see paragraph 2).

Next, we get into postmodernism, which

"challenges authority in its many guises, and questions the assumptions that underpin our value system. "

Side note: If indeed postmodernism exists (and I have never doubted its existence, just its extent especially in America.) this is a great example of its philosophy, and it's how its adherents would view the world.

If applied equally everywhere, this could be of some value. I am not the one to advocate how it should be applied. Basically, postmodern is the freedom to question the structure of modernity. Modernity, for all its advancements in science and technology, has not made humanity any better. Therefore, there is a backlash and frustration over the lack of progress in how human beings (maybe there is something more wrong than just what we can see) treat other human beings. Wars, injustice, poverty, hate, violence etc. all are evidence of Humanity still Gone Wild. The cause; therefore, must be the traditional structures of society (i.e. institutions like church etc etc etc).

You know, the institutional C(c)hurch has really screwed up. You know most governments of the modern (pre- and post- as well) world have made serious errors in regards to actions against humanity. Business (in a free market society even) have exploited its workers. Yes, indeed, bad things have gone on (are still going and will continue to go on) among humans. Look at the story (you don't have to believe in it) of Cain and Abel. In this story from this world view, humans are out to injury in the most heinous ways other humans. No matter the structure, humans are humans; bad people. Yes, yes, yes, I know you know some very nice people, so do I. But can't we agree that humanity in general is more self centered than other centered? If not, why are we even talking about this. The subject itself, seems to me, to indicate that we agree. Changing the structure is not going to change the human.

As Sims goes on, I actually find that I like just a tinge his explanation of his universals. He

" explicitly commit[s] [him]self in 'Fundamentalist World' to what [he] admit[s] could be called 'universal values': 'equality of opportunity, an end to cultural oppression and the tyranny of tradition (religiously inspired or otherwise), and the eradication of discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic group, social position, or sexual preference' "

My favorite is "tyranny of tradition." For some reason, it brings a smile. I am not laughing at Sims. I am thinking this poor man has been abused by "tradition" somehow, and the image is a bit funny for me.

OK. So, I need to finish this. If you have gotten this far, bravo, and I am sorry for having wasted this much of your time already. It has surely taken up more time than I intended.

In conclusion. I would DISagree that we need more doubt and skepticism. What we need is more real belief. I agree we do not need more of the same belief. What we need is to find a structure(s) that will guide us to improve whatever bad situation we find ourselves in or find others in. We need something to believe in!