Happy Samhain!

Is there any holiday more fraught with danger for the Christian than Halloween?

It’s the devil’s holiday, right? If you’re like me, you grew up seldom if ever trick-or-treating but spending plenty of Halloween nights in church, enjoying “fall festival” – or whatever euphemism was in vogue at the time. There were certainly no Halloween decorations or other such festive holiday garb. We carved a pumpkin once or twice, which only tells me my parents just weren’t hard-core enough in their Halloween opposition.

And, sure, there’s a point to which Halloween has been used to glorify the darker side of human nature – horror-movie marathons, witches, black cats, an overall embrace of the macabre – and I can see why that would turn off a lot of Christians. But it’s worth pointing out that any holiday is only as evil as you make it out to be. Is watching horror movies Halloween night worse than spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on trinkets and in obeisance to to the commercialism of Christmas? Maybe. But I’d have to think about it.

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Friday Psalm IV: 126

A cheerful psalm this week:

1 When the LORD changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
it was like we had been dreaming.
2 Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them!”
3 Yes, the LORD has done great things for us,
and we are overjoyed.
4 LORD, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
5 Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
6 Let those who go out, crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts, carrying bales of grain!

That’s the Common English Bible. The NIV is a little more poetic, especially in Verse 1:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.

I love that line, “we were like those who dreamed.”

Santa Claus and the Bible

As we raise our children, one of my mantras is that we’re not really into lying to them.

So that means we don’t plan to do the Santa Claus thing.

Now, I love the Santa Claus story – how he represents the generosity and charity we should exhibit at Christmas and all year long – and we plan to share all of that with our daughters, but he’s not real, so acting like he is doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems a step or two beyond the usual playing along with our kids’ active imaginations – the kind of fiction in which we happily, and healthily, engage nearly every day.

Of course, that means we will also have to teach the importance of not destroying the Christmas of some poor classmate who does believe in the existence of Santa Claus. We’ll see how that goes – my experience with little girls is that they are not well-equipped for keeping such information private – but if we’re successful, we’ll also have taught the importance of discretion and tact when confronted with people who disagree with their worldview.

Which brings me to the Bible.

Continue reading Santa Claus and the Bible

Chaos, Creation and Midterms

Believe it or not, it’s the middle of the semester. That means midterm time, and on Thursday I turned in our take-home, open-book, open-notes midterm. The assignment essentially was to write an essay about what we’d learned in class and through our readings so far, but the prompt was more than a page long. Good times!

It occurred to me, however, that as a summary of what I’ve learned thus far, it might be worth posting here as a helpful summary of things we’ve discussed – and the things I’ve learned that I didn’t have the time or memory to post about. I’ve edited it a little, mostly to remove parenthetical citations, which are important to the professor but wouldn’t have much relevance to you without some sort of bibliography. Also, I added some links, where appropriate and some bolding for emphasis to make it easier to get through.

The prompt boils down to this basic assignment: A friend walks up to you and says, “Why should I study the Old Testament? I believe it’s the inspired word of God, and I know the stories we learn as kids, so why should I bother learning anything else?”

My answer:

Continue reading Chaos, Creation and Midterms

Friday Psalm III: Psalm 74

This week’s psalm is 74, allegedly by Asaph, but not really, as it describes events occurring after his death, specifically the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.

I think it’s hard for us to understand what a horrific event this was. Maybe it would be akin to some foreign nation ransacking our country and burning Washington, D.C. to the ground. Enough of us view America as protected by God that the comparison could be apt. But, unlike America, Israel actually had reason to believe God was protecting them and, further, they assumed he would never abandon Jerusalem, the home of his temple. For the country to be leveled, Jerusalem sacked and the temple destroyed would have been shattering, notwithstanding the subsequent deportation of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens hundreds of miles to Babylon.

Needless to say, Psalm 74, written in this context, asks God some hard questions:

1 God, why have you abandoned us forever?
Why does your anger smolder at the sheep of your own pasture?
Continue reading Friday Psalm III: Psalm 74

What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 2

Last time we discussed the problem of the Old Testament’s genocide passages, particularly the ones found in Joshua and 1 Samuel. I summarized the dilemma these verses pose like this:

Either they are accurate, rendering meaningless our definitions of goodness, love and mercy, or they are in some important way false, in which case their “usefulness” has largely been found by those seeking to turn their fictional violence into reality. Further, the second option would also mean the Bible’s own description of God’s thoughts and actions is, in some places, wrong, which opens a whole new set of questions.

Our next step, then, should probably be to determine which of these contingencies we actually face. Are these stories true or not?

Archaeology should be able to confirm some key details for us because what the Bible describes are significant historical events, the type of which are usually recorded and leave tracks – the death of all the firstborn children of a major empire followed by most of its army and its king in the sea, the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of numerous Canaanite cities by a conquering people.

These all, one would think, would leave at least some trace in the historical record. But they largely do not.

In the case of the plagues and the exodus, there is simply an absence of information. It’s possible the Egyptians simply refused to write about it because there was no way to propagandize it, and it’s possible some sort of exodus occurred but in smaller numbers than the Bible indicates.

But in the case of Joshua and the conquest, there is contradictory evidence, both archaeologically and biblically.

Although there is a city of Jericho, and it did once have walls, the city was already in ruins around the time when Joshua would have been leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Likewise, several cities described as having been burned to the ground by the Israelites show no evidence of ever having been burned (this according to our professor; sorry I don’t have links).

Further, the Bible itself rejects some of the historical claims Joshua makes.

Continue reading What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 2

Lost in the American Church (Again)

When last I posted about the topic of why young people leave the church, I concluded:

But as long as we as Christians are more concerned with the politics of morality and shouting down scientific evidence than we are about feeding the hungry, helping the unemployed or reaching out to the homeless, young people will continue to reject the church. As long as we’re more interested in forwarding emails about Rick Perry than having honest conversations about the issues with which our youth are struggling, we provide them no choice but to find their own way in a world that has plenty of alternatives to offer them.

In the comments, Shawn Smucker pointed me to a link from Barna, which does all the churchy research you could ever want, providing six poll-deduced reasons why the American church is struggling to keep its youth.

Here’s a summary:

Continue reading Lost in the American Church (Again)

Friday Psalm II: Walking Righteously and Lending Money to the Poor

So it’s been three weeks since I said I was going to do a weekly psalm. Sorry about that. Let’s try to get this restarted today with Palm 15, a little five-verse psalm about what it means to walk  with God.

1 Who can live in your tent, LORD?
Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
2 The person who
lives free of blame,
does what is right,
and speaks the truth sincerely;
3 who does no damage with their talk,
does no harm to a friend,
doesn’t insult a neighbor;
4 someone who despises
those who act wickedly,
but who honors those
who honor the LORD;
someone who keeps their promise
even when it hurts;
5 someone who doesn’t lend money
with interest,
who won’t accept a bribe
against any innocent person.
Whoever does these things
will never stumble.

I think it’s interesting how most of these are probably what we would consider standard biblical admonitions: be kind to neighbors, abhor wickedness, honor others and keep your promises. Oh, and don’t lend money with interest.

Continue reading Friday Psalm II: Walking Righteously and Lending Money to the Poor

What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 1

I was looking for a snappy lead for this post and thought about stringing together a series of verses in which God clearly condemns the taking of human life (Genesis 9, for example). So I Googled the phrase, “bible verses about killing.”


Top webpage titles for this search include:

  • “Evil Bible Home Page”
  • “The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses”
  • “The Dark Bible: Atrocities”
  • “An Atheist’s Favourite Bible Verses”

None of these is a pro-Christian website, obviously. And at first blush they seem over the top – but then, after reading some of these verses, I’m not so sure.

Joshua 6: 20-21:

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Joshua 7: 24-26:

Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.

Continue reading What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 1

Celebrity Blog Readers

As mentioned, one of our books for class is Walter Breuggemann’s Praying the Psalms.

Breuggemann’s kind of a big deal in the world of biblical scholarship. He even has his own Wikipedia page, which tells me has has written at least 58 books and “several” Bible commentaries. He’s also a very good writer, and what little I’ve read of him is much different than the usual scholarly work – more accessible and more poetic.

He’s also a fan of this blog.

That’s the only conclusion I can draw from Pages 1-2 of Praying the Psalms:

Continue reading Celebrity Blog Readers