Friday, September 24, 2010


Paul, the apostle: Called, not converted

The idea that Paul was "called" rather than converted is exciting to me because it helps some things make more sense.

That puts Paul in the line of Old Testament prophets whose aim was to correct or redirect Israel/the Israelites/Judaism back to God's first intentions for them as the firstfruits, but just the firstfruits, of the Promise of Abraham to become the father of all nations; it helps tie Paul's emphasis on community more directly to Sinai and the law's emphasis on neighborliness and "love God and love neighbor as yourself."

It helps explain the earliest conceptions of the Jesus movement as a new expression of, or new direction (or a return to an old expression of, or redirection) of Judaism, and not a new religion.

It reduces the need to "explain" how Paul was not a Christian but can be said, but only by people looking back to him, to have been the "founder of Christianity."

It helps make the Hebrew Bible much more relevant to me personally to see the Jesus movement more as a prophetic movement within Judaism in which Gentiles have been enveloped rather than as a "break" with Judaism or as "Part 2" of the story.


Monday, September 20, 2010


What is justice? What guides your ethical choices?

From an online discussion board for my seminary class, Contemporary Issues and Biblical Intrerpretation (an upper-level Hebrew Bible class).

What is justice?

What guides your ethical choices.

It's a discussion board (one of two for classes, which is the main reason I don't blog much right now), but these are just my contributions:

On justice ...
At the society level, I guess I'd say that justice is a moving target, but it consists of people trying to maintain a balance among liberty, order and equity among themselves and their communities and deliberate associations.

At the community level, I'd say justice seeks an environment where different groups of people have the freedom to define themselves and seek their own destinies using their own sets of norms, without encroaching on the liberties of those within the group or the freedom and rights of other groups to establish or recognize their own norms for individual members.

At the individual level, I'd say justice is closer to prevailing when laws, or rules or customs of my communities and society are applied to me and my communities without denying me either my rights as a free person or ignoring my responsibilities as a member of my communities and societies -- and the same for others.

Boy, that's awful thick, I know.

Oh, and on an economic note: Justice is closer to prevailing when more people have at least enough -- of whatever, food, other resources for living and for seeking success in life (however that is defined), regardless of the social delivery systems, be it this theory of economics or that one, or this form of government or that one.

On ethical choices ...

Funny that on the notion of "justice," I thought from the outside in, from society to communities to individuals. On notions of ethics, I do the opposite. Justice, to me, is something outside of myself; ethics starts with me -- but with me informed by the environment in which I grew up and it's notions of right and wrong.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in a small town, and I think I slipped in just under the fundamentalist wire. My earliest experiences in church were the late '60s and early '70s. (I'm 46). And what I got from the pulpit, and from Sunday school, and from my extended family who also were part of that church, was good old-fashioned l-o-v-e, Love.

God loves me. Jesus loves me. Somehow Jesus helps me get to where I can hang out with God. And so, they said, I should love others. The first verses from the Bible that really sunk in for me were Romans 8: 38-39: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That truly was the foundation of my Christian education. It's fairly fearless.

It kept me in the face of peer pressure, distant from the resurging Klan, of all things, when in the late '70s-early-'80s David Duke was making his hateful noise -- but titillating some of us Southern boys who hadn't learned yet to tell the difference between regional history and family heritage and the historic evil of slavery. I rejected it because I could not square those kinds of things with what I had heard from the pulpit, and in Sunday school.

It made me a bleeding heart, a liberal, in the '80s in college when the country and its government turned so conservative and selfish. It got me in trouble in the '90s, when an unwillingness to judge the behaviors of others caused me to stop using judgment for myself, which led to some poor decisions. It remained in me, latent, as an "unchurched" man, until 2005, when a combination of things came together to awaken in me a love for others that had grown dormant from 20 years of seeing people as characters in news stories (a self-defense mechanism of sorts) rather than real people.

And it informs my thinking now, as I sort through what it means to be a biblically literate midlife seminarian liberal/progressive/whatever Christian amid Christians who are mostly biblically illiterate and intolerant of others -- the exact opposite of what I get from the Gospel and what I rertained from my own earliest exposure to it. Can't live with 'em; can't shoot 'em.

All of which is to say: Love God, love others, love myself, is where I do try to start when making ethical decisions. Of course, the devil, so to speak, is in the details, and so it's usually a matter of balancing conflcting values (within myself, I mean), rather than a clear-cut decision.

I end with this, from Frederick Buechner, as a possible way to demonstrate Christian ethics in an extreme example:

"Principles are what people have instead of God. To be a Christian means among other things to be willing if necessary to sacrifice even your highest principles for God's or your neighbor's sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick up a baseball bat if there's no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child."

On justice versus love ...

So, I’m reading “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and read this passage this morning. It’s a good juxtaposition of “justice” and love. It’s Kazantzakis’s version of the story of the Centurion of Capernaum (Matt 8: 5-13, Luke 7: 1-10, John 4: 46-54) and the healing of his servant/son/slave, which Kazantazakis depicts, actually, as a daughter.

The centurion complains that his daughter’s paralysis is “unjust.” (I’ve italicized the parts I think are salient to my point).


“No just!” Jesus contradicted him. “Father and son are of the same root. Together they rise to heaven, together they descend to hell. If you strike one, both are wounded; if one makes a mistake, both are punished. You, centurion, hunt and kill us, and the God of Israel strikes down your daughter with paralysis.”

“Son of the Carpenter, those are heavy words. I happened once to hear you speak in Nazareth, and your words then seemed sweeter than what would be suitable for a Roman. But now ...”

“Then the kingdom of heaven was talking, now the end of the world. Since the day you heard me, centurion, the Just Judge seated himself on his throne, opened his ledgers, and called for Justice, who came, sword in hand, and stood next to him.”

"Is yours, then, one more God who goes no further than justice?” shouted the exasperated centurion. “Is that where he stops? What then was the new message of love you proclaimed last summer in Galilee? My daughter doesn’t need God’s justice; she needs his love. That’s why I’ve moved every stone in Israel to find you. Love — do you hear? Love, not justice.”

“Merciless loveless centurion of Rome: who puts these words into your savage mouth?

“Suffering, and my love for my child. I seek a God who will cure my child, so that I may believe in him.” ...


Justice speaks to systems, or groups of people, I think. Love starts with the emptying of oneself in the admission of need, and continues with the emptying of oneself for another or others.

Now, the $64 million question: Could self-emptying love, the love of a Creator emptying His/Herself, the self-emptying love of Christ, ever be the basis of justice in any community or society? Probably only within the "community of the beloved," if even there, which would make the church so different from the greater society it would be constantly at odds with it.


Saturday, September 11, 2010


Piles of scales

I'm gonna have to vacuum up all these scales falling from my eyes as I read "Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church," by Walter Brueggeman.



Saturday, September 04, 2010


Seminary, year 2, week 1, day 6


I can't do anything but go to work and go to school and do homework.

She can't do anything hardly, in keeping the house.

I don't care, and can revert to bachelorhood thinking.

She does care.

I barely had time to do my own laundry, keep the dishes washed, the litter box cleaned and the cats and dog fed. Now I don't have time to iron my shirts for work, hardly.



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