Class, Week 5: Loving the Law?

If there is any part of the Old Testament less liked than the uncomfortable stories about God-ordained genocide and child sacrifice, it’s the law. It has all the theologically squirm-inducing components (stone your rebellious children; if your wife has a daughter, she is unclean for twice as long as if she has a son) minus the easy-to-read plot.

While I’m still kicking around the idea that perhaps the stories about God are simply not accurate representations – historiography, not history – the law is harder because these are supposed to be the words of God himself, not just words about God. And there’s some stuff in there that is difficult to understand, uncomfortable to read or, perhaps worse, been used to spread hatred and violence against women, gays and minorities in the name of God.

But perhaps the law is something else. Perhaps it’s a code of ethics calling us to social justice, morality and deeper relationship with God and others. After all, Jesus himself summed up the entirety of the law in just two commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

My professor opened his discussion of the law yesterday with the above clip from Episode 7 of Firefly, in which Shepherd Book tells River, “You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

The implication: We can’t fix the Bible; we can only let it fix us.

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Guardian Angels

I had a post all set to write this morning, and then I saw this one from Richard Beck:

I think every Christ-following church should start talking to their youth groups, saying unambiguously: We want you to be a wall of protection for kids like Jamey. Seek out and protect–emotionally and socially–every weird, weak, nerdy, lonely, queer kid at your school. We don’t care if they are a goth, or a druggy, or a queer. Doesn’t matter. Protect these kids. Churches should train their youth groups to be angels of protection, teaching them to find these kids and say, “Hey, I love you. Jesus loves you. So no one’s going to bully you. Not on my watch. Come sit with me at lunch.” That’s what I think. I think every Christ-following church should start Guardian Angel programs like this, teaching their kids to stick up for kids like Jamey. Not with violence. But with welcome and solidarity. Because it’s hard to bully a group. So let’s welcome these kids into a halo of protection and friendship.

That’s what I think Christians should be doing to change our public schools. We shouldn’t be fighting battles over stuff like school prayer. Because you know what I think God thinks about our battles regarding school prayer? I think God is shouting from the heavens, “Why don’t you shut the hell up about school prayer and start sticking up for Jamey?”

And if you think my language is strong, sensitive reader, know that I’m just paraphrasing the prophets. Read how the prophets speak about prayer, song, and worship when the People of God allow injustice at the gates. You want God in our public schools? So do I. But guess what? God is already inside our public schools. Standing by kids like Jamey.

Read the whole thing.

Lost in the American Church

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight has started a new book discussion, this time about You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church … and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.

Everyone has their own pet theories about why young people are leaving the church, and they usually happen to line up exactly with their own beliefs about how the church should function. In the not-so-recent past, I would have said people are leaving the church because it’s not judgmental enough. Don’t laugh. I might not have said it in quite those terms (probably something more like presenting a stark choice about the realities of heaven and hell), but that’s what I would have thought.

Kinnaman’s theory is probably a little bit sounder. According to McKnight, Kinnaman finds three overriding traits of modern young people, and as a self-described modern young person, I think these sound right:

  1. Access: Immediate, pervasive ability to access information, which means gatekeepers are increasingly irrelevant.
  2. Alienation: Families are less close-knit while at the same time adulthood is harder to achieve (I would add a large part of this is probably because the economic conditions are worse for young people than for anyone else in the country), which leads to skepticism of traditional institutions.
  3. Authority: “There is a profound skepticism of authority,” including that of Christianity and the church.
Here’s the thing though: None of these things should be dangerous for the church.

Class, Week 4: The Unfair God

The other day in class (or maybe it was two weeks ago), my professor noted that in the Old Testament intro class he took as a grad student, a classmate at the end of the semester announced that because of the things he had learned there, he could no longer be a Christian.

My professor told the story to encourage us to come to him or make it known if the things we are learning about the nature of the text of the Old Testament cause us to doubt, but he added: “If you’re going to lose your faith, do it over something more worthwhile, like the problem of suffering in the world or because people in the church are jerks.”

It was a light touch, but a true one. Because, if anything, learning about the human fingerprints all over the Old Testament has freed me to appreciate God’s message in the text more. At the beginning of class, you might recall, I described the OT as a “crazy uncle” who embarrasses me in public and for whom I have to apologize later.

As I’ve said before, learning that the Bible is not a pristine book handed down immaculately from God to humanity, but rather a messy collection of legends, stories, laws and theology written down many centuries after they are supposed to have taken place, has freed me to look at the broader truths of the story. I don’t have to defend this ugly passage about murdering infants or that unscientific reference to the foundations of the earth and the waters of the deep.

And yet.

Perhaps it’s my own literalist baggage, but I still struggle with exactly how much leeway God gave the Old Testament authors, whomever they were. After all, this is God’s Word, right? “God-breathed and useful,” according to the author of 2 Timothy.

So we should expect the Old Testament to give us a reasonably accurate view of the character of God, shouldn’t we? Surely, God wouldn’t allow that part to get screwed up. I can get on board with the idea that he probably isn’t interested in breaking the news about biological evolution to ancient Israelites who wouldn’t understand it, and that their own experience with exile and return colored their view of the law and holiness, so I understand that we can safely view a lot of the Pentateuch through those lenses.

But, let’s face it, God in the Old Testament is not just vengeful, he is unfair.

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Friday Psalm: Declaring the Glory of God

Friday mornings are tough. It’s the day after class, the end of the week, and I’m usually faced with the prospect of a late night covering high school football. So usually I’m tired, and I don’t really feel like blogging.

Therefore, I’m going to try out my first semipermanent feature for all seven of you out there reading this: the Friday psalm.

One of our class requirements is a psalm prayer journal, in which we write about a psalm, assigned by the professor, every day for a week. With me doing my journal in the mornings and class on Thursday afternoons, that means Friday morning is the debut of a new psalm for the next week. Why not share it with you? Perhaps you’ll get something out of it, too.

This week’s psalm is Psalm 19.

I won’t post the whole thing (you can click the link above), but here is an excerpt I like:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.  Continue reading

Summit Day 2: Books, Celebrity and a Dash of Polygamy

I almost wrote a book once.

Back in my previous life as a journalist, I was the lead reporter for our newspaper on the sensational raid by Texas Child Protective Services of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound south of Eldorado (pronounced with a long “a,” if you’re not from the area). Hundreds of children were removed.

It was the largest such action ever taken in the history of the United States, it was based on a hoax phone call, and it was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court weeks later, but it resulted in convictions and long prison terms for several men who had taken child brides, and ultimately a life sentence for the sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

Anyway, I was around for the first year of that process, which was crazy and intense and, for a couple of weeks anyway, the focus of national media attention. Suddenly, two or three of us reporters for the li’l ol’ San Angelo Standard-Times were competing with the likes of CNN, the Salt Lake Tribune, The Associated Press and even The New York Times for stories and interviews (and winning, I might add).

So, I figured, a lot of people seem to be interested in this, and someone should write a book, and why not me?

But it’s hard to write a book. Writing 2,000 words for a Sunday in-depth news story? No problem.

Finding an agent and carving aside time once a week to produce a manuscript of indeterminate length? Problem.

With kids and other responsibilities, including switching jobs and ultimately changing cities, pressing in, I ended up abandoning the project. But I still think there’s a book in me, probably not about that, but about something, though I have no idea what.

All that to say, I have great respect for those who actually have written books, especially ones I’ve heard of, and especially especially ones I and other people I know have heard of. I’m kind of in awe of people who have done that, actually.

And when those people write books that, if not precisely change my life, at least solidify and confirm that the direction it’s taking is the right one? Well, that’s even cooler.

And so it was pretty awesome to meet Rachel Held Evans yesterday.

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Summit, Day 1: The Toxic Process

It’s Summit here on campus, which means three days of lectures and classes about pretty much any Bible-related topic you can imagine. The organizers have done a better job recently – certainly better than when I was an undergrad – of making the event more interesting to students and younger attendees, and as a result some real superstars of Christianity (oxymoron?) have been on stage, or soon will be. People like Shane Claiborne last year and Rachel Held Evans and alumnus Max Lucado this year.

Yesterday, however, it was Barron Jones’ turn. Jones preaches is a former minister (see correction in the comments) at Laurel Street Church of Christ in San Antonio, and he had some thought-provoking comments on the nature of the church and its involvement with politics.

“The church has formed an unholy and ungodly alliance with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We are the fools who go along for the ride.”

For those on the right, he launched a volley of inflammatory comments:

“Some of you white people are afraid the president is a black man,” he said. “And you say, ‘Oh no, I just don’t like his politics.’ Please. That’s like saying, ‘I have two black friends, so there’s no way I can be racist. I’ve been to a black church once.'”

“The dead babies are dead, and unfortunately it’s legal to kill them in this country, but the dead babies are gone. What are you going to do for the live ones? … I see a lot more excitement in our churches for hiring preachers and paving parking lots than feeding orphans. What if the church shut up about abortion and every Christian family adopted a foster child in the name of Jesus Christ?”

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