Friday, July 27, 2007

Sins, Dietary and Otherwise

With regard to my previous post, I just wanted to add a note as an aside (and for the sake of Grandmere Mimi) that I do believe MP was being facetious when he said Jesus died on the cross for our dietary sins. Not that those sins are in any way minor, oh no no no. It's just that, and do correct me if I'm wrong here, MP, I don't think he buys into that whole Anselm's theory of Atonement dealio. It smacks of medieval feudal society logic and as acceptable as that model may have seemed, oh 900 years ago, I don't think MP cottons to that theology.

The atonement model of God is vengeful, angry, manipulative, feudal--downright masochistic. This is not the God Jesus described. This model of what Jesus was about destroys Jesus' notion of God. It leaves us bereft of the God who welcomes back prodigal sons with fatted lambs and banquets, the God who counts the hairs on our heads and feeds the sparrows in the sky. The loving God who, when asked for bread does not give a stone, is surely not the God who sends a son to be killed in some kind of blood sacrifice designed to appease a divine ego.

God did not want Jesus crucified. People did. God wanted to provide a model of the God-life in our midst.

Jesus' suffering was a very human thing. The people, the system, the world turned against him. And can't we all relate to that? That feeling, that pain? It is not so much the crucifixion and death of Jesus that can inform our lives, but the suffering which preceded it. It is the suffering of Christ that instructs and gives insight. Sooner or later we all find suffering in our lives--we all have "a cross to bear." Jesus shows us a choice: we can walk through our Golgothas as he did, with faith, understanding, and awareness of God's providence for us as we go, or we can stumble our way through, bitter and alientated from the very moments that, like his, can bring us to our glory.

"To say 'I believe in Jesus Christ who suffered' is to say that I believe that suffering is not destruction, and may, in fact, be the defining glory of our lives." ~Joan Chittister

"Freely I steal, freely I give." ~MadPriest

Update: Fatted lambs?! Whoops! Bad metaphor! Bad!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

I May Be Lame, But MadPriest Is Not

Typical. I've been letting my partner do all the heavy lifting again.

And he's right, of course. Hopeful promises won't save our planet from human destruction; but they will relieve God from having to take responsibility for hurricane season. Ecology and the environment, the health of the planet and it's many species, these are just the sort of issues that should be important to all.

And in typical Missy fashion I'm taking the easy way out. MadPriest has posted an essay that addresses Genesis 9:4-6 better than I ever could. Here is a brief excerpt, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing:

The image of paradise versus the fallen world is a constant throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. It is used by the writers metaphorically in both their mythology ( eg. Genesis ) and their prophecy. When Isaiah wants to communicate the nature of a paradise beyond human comprehension he uses the imagery of the peaceable kingdom where the lion lies down with the lamb. Christ brings about the Kingdom of God. As Christians we are expected to live as if the Kingdom is already with us, and if we take seriously Isaiah’s prophecy of the Kingdom we must adopt the practices of it that are possible here and now. We have the ability, denied presently to our animal companions, to choose not to kill other creatures. When we choose such a way we are choosing the way of the Kingdom. This answers the second argument, that Jesus was not a vegetarian. To be fully incarnate, Christ entered the context of human life at the point of his arrival on earth. This context was one of a meat eating society. However, this is no longer the necessary context and it is now possible to live a more Kingdom based paradigm. I believe that on Christ’s return he will live in the new context and that it is our duty, as Christians, to help bring this evolution about.

What is needed is a new understanding of the term, ‘dominion’ based upon the Hebrew scriptures rather than Platonic Greek thought. In the Old Testament the line between animals and humans, in respect of their organic and spiritual attributes, is not as wide as it came to be perceived after the influence of Greek thinking upon our religion. God cares for all his creation equally, no matter how unique his relationship with humanity is. Secondly, all living things are perceived as having a soul, as life is equivalent to soul in the Hebrew scriptures. Therefore, Job comes to understand that the secret of God’s mysterious ways can be found, in part, within the universality of all life;

"But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the soul of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” ( Job. 12: 7 - 10 )
I could almost give up meat. Except an occasional steak. And bacon. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Genesis 9:7-17

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."

12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."

17 So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."

Regarding the first little bit, "be fruitful and multiply," note that it is redundant -- God already said this a few verses back. In any case, it doesn't seem to mean anything very profound in context. Remember we're pretending there are only eight people in the world right now. (Yeah, unlike Cain and Abel, Noah's three sons do have wives and therefore don't need a separate act of creation to carry out the instruction. But incest is required in the second generation, a little problem Genesis just ignores.) So obviously they need to build up the population. It doesn't say to do it without limit, but people read into the Bible whatever they want to read, so some Catholic theologians have argued that this condemns contraception, and other people have said it means we should try to make the human population as large as possible. (What's the difference, the Rapture is coming anyway.) Sorry folks, I really don't see it.

As for the stuff about the covenant is also redundant (viz Genesis 8:21-22), which tells me that we are getting two versions of the same story here. I've already commented on that, but what is new here is the rainbow. The rainbow must have appeared as wondrous to ancient people as it does to us. A few weeks ago I was at my aunt's house on the north shore of the Long Island Sound, and we saw a spectacular full double rainbow that touched the water on both ends. It was impressive enough that I can certainly see why people thought it must be a message from God, and a warm and friendly one at that.

To me, it's no less wonderful a sight because I know why it happens: that light has wavelike properties, that the colors we see correspond to different wavelengths of light, that white light from the sun is composed of a range of wavelengths, that light slows down when it passes through water droplets in the atmosphere, and in the process the colors within sunlight spread apart and we perceive the rainbow. Isaac Newton figured that out in his laboratory, by using his reason to design experiments and deduce explanations for their results.

The Bible is wrong, of course. Rainbows existed for billions of years before humans came along, existed throughout our time on the earth, including before the flood, which never happened anyway, and will probably still exist long after we are gone. So they aren't in any way a message from God particularly to us. But they are an astonishing and beautiful fact of creation.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Genesis 9:4-6

4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

To me, this is a good example of how the Bible can be sufficiently confusing, ambiguous, and self-contradictory that people of faith through the ages have come to markedly different conclusions about what it means and how we are to behave. Remember that God declared that Cain should not be put to death for murdering his brother -- and yet here he seems to proclaim the death penalty for murder. Later, we will see him commanding the Hebrews to massacre conquered people. The contemporary Catholic Church maintains that capital punishment is contrary to Christian morality. (Although they seem little interested, if at all, in pursuing this goal politically, while they are obsessed with abortion, mentioned nowhere in the Bible, and homosexuality.) While God here insists on the death penalty for murder, later he will himself proclaim the death penalty for homosexuality, and for gathering sticks on the sabbath. Presumably the people who carry out those instructions will have "shed the blood of man," but that must be alright with God after all. I'm all confused.

Now, the part about not eating meat that has its lifeblood in it is also hard for us to understand at such a great distance in time. Does it mean that we must not eat animals that are still alive? One has the image of hunters slicing flesh off a dying beast and devouring it raw. Did people used to do that? Perhaps. Or maybe we should take this as the Talmudic scholars did, to mean that slaughtered animals must be drained of blood before they are butchered. The first interpretation would be an injunction against cruelty, but the second turns out to be the opposite. Many people consider kosher (and halal) slaughtering, in which animals are shackled, hung upside down, and their throats cut to let the blood run out, to be cruel.

I have a rather different perspective on all this. I consider it unethical to raise domesticated animals for meat in the first place.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Doing Theology with Genesis 9:1-3

I can talk about stewardship. I'm pretty good at that. Genesis 9:1-3 is a call to stewardship.

A literal approach to the Bible is very--well I think we've already covered this--childish. If I were teaching the Bible to very young children we might focus on creation and Noah's ark because that's where they are. They like animal stories. And doing so helps build a familiarity with the stories in the Bible. And this is where young children are developmentally. You plant a seed. You water it and keep it in the window; rows of styrofoam cups. You watch them sprout and grow. You start a few at home in case some kid's seed doesn't germinate. You talk about the life cycle. You talk about being kind to animals and pets. The idea you want them to remember, if they remember anything at all, is that God created everything and everyone; that God loves them individually and all of creation as well; and that we have to take care of all of creation and each other. These ideas seem to naturally flow from each other in my mind.

But these are the challenges to a Catholic understanding of the Bible. When you start at the beginning, you don't know you're supposed to already know the end and interpret everything in light of the whole. Let's start then, with two principles to guide us:
The Bible is BOTH the word of God and the word of human beings. I suppose a literal way of looking at it has Matthew going into some trance and the Holy Spirit possessing him and moving the pen. Puh-lease. God uses as authors human beings with all of their human limitations. (Jesus is the incarnational model of the word, fully God and fully human.)
The Bible is not a single book but a collection of books, a library, an anthology. A biblical passage is biblical ONLY in the Bible. Take it out of its context and it becomes something else, like a liturgical reading, a proof for my point of argumentation, etc.

So where does the concept of Stewardship come from? In the Bible? Well, all over the place. Stewardship is the Judeo-Christian concept that we have been blessed by God and that we are called on to nurture and develop those blessings for our own good and for the good of the human family. Deep down, people of faith know that our talents, our possessions, our money, and even our time do not really belong to us. They are God's property that has been generously entrusted to our care and for which we will be held responsible.

"For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property..." Matthew 15:14 (ack! proof texting!)

So how do you get Stewardship from this passage? Taken in the context of the whole Bible, and even later verses of that chapter, we know God doesn't want us to hurt the earth. God makes his covenent, not just with Noah, but with all of creation.

"Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark." Genesis 9:9-10 (oh no! more proof texting! I must stop this!)

We're called on to serve and protect, to develop and nurture. So if I was going to try to create some theology out of this passage, that's what it would be.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

How to Read the Bible, Part Deux

I've noticed quite a few bloggers in the Jeebus circle are talking about how NOT to read the Bible, and there are some very good points on that subject.

I thought I would tack in a slightly different direction and do a short post once again on "how to" read the Bible.

And what with the rapture coming in just hours, this whole question could be moot by Sunday morning. But okay, assuming you're still here on Sunday and you want to start fighting the good fight, er whatever...

My first recommendation is to not begin with Genesis. Unless you're Cervantes, then it's perfectly okay. But if we are, in fact, talking about the Christian Bible, or one of the versions of it, my suggestion is to begin with Mark.

Why Mark? It was the first Gospel written, completed sometime around the fall of the temple in 70 AD. It is short, coming in at only 16 chapters, and easily completed in one sitting. Reading a book in one sitting can give you the sort of big picture you don't get by looking at random verses. Mark's Gospel is all about action--Jesus is always doing something. Mark uses the Greek word for suddenly, at once, and immediately over and over again. It is used 42 times. It appears only seven times in Matthew and only one time in Luke.

This simple, pictorial style projects the idea that Jesus mission cannot wait. There is no time to pause. And with the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the end of the priesthood--it must have seemed like the end times to those first Christians.

The overall construction of this Gospel leads to the cross. A key moment is at the Gospel's midpoint when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Jesus tells them he will be rejected by religious leaders, killed, only to rise again. His response is ultimately, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."(Mark 8:34) There is no mistaking the real mission of Jesus in this Gospel.

Mark is the most intense of the gospels. Jesus is the paradoxical "Son of Man;" Jesus is the most human in Mark (and most divine in John).

And finally the stark ending, 16:1-8, the Empty Tomb. (Vv 9-20 were added on later according to most scholars.)

So those are the reasons I like Mark. Well, plus it's the New Testament, it's the Gospel. As a Christian, I tend to see the entire Bible through the prism of the Gospels. Not to throw away the Old Testament or other books of the New Testament, but to look at them in light of what Jesus taught.

That cuts through a lot.

One last tag line: All of the stories in the Bible are true; some of them actually happened. That's basically my attitude.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Genesis 9:1-3

1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.

2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.

3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Well, of course it is true. Thanks to our creative intellect and our astonishing, manipulative hands, we do have dominion over all the earth's creatures, we do exploit them all as we wish, and we sure as hell have increased in number and filled the earth.

Only now we're starting to worry that maybe this isn't such a great idea after all, as humans are causing the greatest mass extinction since that asteroid 63 million years ago. Whether or not you give a damn about Amazonian tree frogs and Eastern Cottontails, our rapaciousness is now threatening to backfire on us. The depletion of top soil world wide, and of seafood, along with the pressure to substitute bio-fuels for fossil fuels, is bringing and end to the era of cheap food, and threatening an ever increasing proportion of humanity with chronic hunger and even starvation.

The strain in Judeo-Christian tradition of seeing humanity as master of the biosphere, and also somehow apart from it, is in stark contrast to other religious traditions in which nature and non-human creatures are objects of reverence. Many people nowadays will see this Biblical passage as among the most egregious. I certainly do.