We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.
Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Inversion is also when an NFL star offensive lineman walks away from a multi-million dollar contract to become a farmer in North Carolina—because of his faith, which calls him to a life of service to those in need. Jason Brown is the man, and what he did was to buy a thousand acre farm near Louisburg, NC, learn farming, and begin to raise crops to give away to food pantries. His motivation is his Christian faith, which inspires him to value service over the prestige and the wealth that comes from being a top-level pro-football player. Read his story (here) and see a video clip of an interview with him (here). Inversion. A powerful biblical theme. Amen.
Friday, November 28, 2014
|Tiarini's Amnon et Tamar|
In both the stories of Bathsheba and Tamar, it is clear that women are treated as the objects of male lust. In both cases, the consequences of that lust are dire—destructive of the women affected as well as the male perpetrators. And in both cases, there was no legal recourse in ancient times to protect Bathsheba from David or Tamar from Amnon. If a man was powerful enough he could do pretty much whatever he wanted with a woman he desired irrespective of her feelings or wishes. This was apparently especially the case with beautiful women, which adds the further insight that feminine beauty in the stories is at best a two-edged sword—not without its own dangers to the attractive woman.
All of this is fodder for feminist reflection. In his commentary on I and II Samuel, The David Story (Norton, 1999), furthermore, Robert Alter comments at the beginning of II Samuel 14 (p. 275) that at several critical moments in the David story enterprising, resourceful women intervene to take the story in new directions. This in a book otherwise dominated by "powerful martial men." Women, that is, are a central part of the David story but exercise their influence in a way clearly different from men. In sum, the stories of women in the Book of Samuel describe both the weakness and the power of women's place in ancient Israelite society and inspire reflection on their place in ours.
Whether or not the ancient writer and redactors of the Book of Samuel intended it to be a commentary on the place of women in society is not really the point. In our context, it is possible to read it that way. One of the core concerns of the Old Testament is justice. Yahweh was a God of justice. When Nathan confronted David (II Samuel 12) that was precisely the point that he made, and it is clear that Bathsheba as well as Uriah were the victims of lustful injustice. Tamar suffered a double injustice (raped and then rejected). While it is important to understand the original intention of the author and the subsidiary intentions of the redactors of this story, it is also important for us to read it with 21st century eyes.
The Book of Samuel, in sum, is inescapably a source for reflection on feminist issues and concerns. Perhaps, unexpectedly. Generally, overlooked. But there it is. Amen.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
- Secularization Is on the Rise
- People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church
- Church going is no longer mainstream
- There is less interest in worship and less loyalty to a single church
- There Is Skepticism about Churches' Contributions to Society
Saturday, November 8, 2014
One obvious response, of course, is that there are relatively few "average readers" of the Bible in mainline churches, esp. of books like I Samuel. Even then, a number of those readers would see the story of David and Goliath as being historical and therefore not necessarily in need of theological parsing. Many others would simply shrug their shoulders thinking that if it is in the Bible then it must be OK. So, why sweat it?
Well, for one thing the story offers an important example of "inversion," the idea that God turns things upside down for the sake of justice and the furthering of the divine will. The paradigmatic story of inversion is the Exodus, a motif and paradigm that is repeated in other places in scripture. More generally, the story of David and Goliath challenges us to appreciate the ways in which our religious fore bearers struggled to understand God's place in their world and lives. We don't necessarily have to agree with their conclusions or feel comfortable with the blood and guts of the killing of Goliath, but their stories force us to rethink our understanding. Brueggemann at least gets us started in our rethinking with his observation that, "The story [of David and Goliath] is also set as a paradigm of bold faith in an arena of fear, threat, and defiance."
Short of chucking the Bible, including David and Goliath, entirely, mainline churches need to make a priority of recovering for the whole church the meaning of even the obscure corners of the Bible. As importantly, mainline congregations need to work overtime at reclaiming a concern for understanding the Bible as a living document. This is not an easy task in our multi-focused, multi-tasking world where anything "old" is treated with suspicion. A daunting task - but an exciting one as well for those who take it on.