Monday, August 29, 2011

Elderly Protesting

I'm kind of obsessed with elderly (or at least old-er people) who protest.

I admit, I google image them.

But look at these people?! Don't you just want to be their friend?

Cause I do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Adam & Eve, Or Why No One Would Be Shocked If We Could Read From Left to Right

Adam and Eve weren't real people.


The Bible tells us so.

Let me back up.

Recently published by NPR, this article discusses the Evangelical trend of late in "not believing" Adam and Eve were real people. Evidence cited relies heavily on science (mapping the human genome and evolution) to which the rest of the world (non-literalist, non-Evangelicals) says, "Duh."

I too say, "duh," but I don't need to be a scientist or take a biology class or even read scientific articles or to know that.

All I have to do is read left to right.

And so do you.

Which means that anyone completing, I don't know, how about the second grade, should be able to tell biblical literalists that Adam and Eve aren't read people. Because "the Bible tells me so."

Here's why. Get out your Bible.

Genesis Chapter One starts off with a void and then we get some order and God makes a bunch of stuff in a fairly systematic way, it's even ordered systematically: Day One... light... it was good. Day Two... sky... it was good. Day Three... seas and plants... it was good. Etc. You get the picture. And the pictures of Days 1-6 were probably hanging up all over your Sunday School classroom as a kid. Super.

Fast forward (Day Four: sun & stars, Day Five: animals & birds) to Day Six when God creates humanity. I'll go ahead and cite this directly instead of just summarizing so we're all on the same page...

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Okay, Day six, God created humanity (italics mine): male and female it says (i.e. both genders) at the same time. Hmm. Cool. Day Six: humanity. And while we don't know how many men and how many women, humanity is definitely plural. And just to make sure we get it, the text says, "Men and Women God created them."

(P.S. This will be an general overview of Genesis 1-4 for the purposes stated above; if you're wondering about stuff like "let us make humankind in our image" that will require another blog. Or hire me to come speak, teach or lecture on the topic of Creation or Genesis at your church, school, or convention!)

Day 7: God takes a nap (that's a Pittman paraphrase).

Then Genesis 2:1 says, "Thus the heaven's and the earth were finished..." and the reader recognizes the story drawing to a close. God takes a breather (It's exhausting being that powerful - have you seen Harry Potter?!). And it's a good - pardon me - very good story.

But then in Genesis 2:4 we read, "These are the generations of the heaven and earth when they were created." Okay, I know, the reader thinks. I just read that.

But then a new story starts. Or starts over maybe.

And all of the sudden we're back at the beginning when nothing existed and we find ourself reading, yep, you guessed it, a second creation story.

Again, to let you read the text directly...

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So we appear to have started over. And the chronology of this creation story doesn't match the first one. Remember the first one? Really organized, right? (Day One: light, Day Two: sky, Day Three: vegetation, Day Four: celestial beings, Day Five: living creatures, Day Six: humanity). Well this second creation account tells the story a little differently. If we had to ascribe an order (though the text doesn't lend itself well to that) it might be: 1. Water (Streams & Rivers) 2. A Man 3. Trees and then here's the rest of the text

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LordGod caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

So we add 4. Animals 5. A Woman to our list.

Wow. That sounds nothing like the first creation story we just read. I mean there are some similarities; God is in both stories, trees and animals are in both stories, people are in both stories, but that's about where the similarities end.

And my two lists... Day 1-6 (From Genesis 1:1-2:4) and Events 1-5 (From Genesis 2:4-22) are neither in the same order, or (based on what God says) created for the same reasons.

How do I know this? Because I can read from left to right.

Please note that I have thrown in nothing that the average 2nd grade reader could not tell you.

I haven't mentioned that the word for "God" used all the way through Genesis 1:1-2:4 is "Elohim" or that in Genesis 2:5 the word for God changes to "Yahweh" which is used for the remainder of the chapter and several of the following chapters. Neither have I told you that the groups of Israelites who used these separate words for God lived hundreds of years apart. Neither have I mentioned that the group of people who called God "Elohim" were priests who loved order and systematized theology and probably would have read the first Genesis account in worship kind of like you recite the Lord's Prayer or the Apostle's Creed. Neither have I told you that the people group who called God "Yahweh" lived during the exile when all the things God promised them like a land and a people and a Temple (remember Abraham and those promises a little later in Genesis?) are all gone and they have to find God somewhere else. Lo and behold, they find God in their hearts! God was with them all along! God is not in a land or living in a Temple, God is with us - hallelujah! So in the creation story they write, God is with Adam and Eve on the earth. God walks. God talks. God makes a mud pie. God is "immanent." God is with the people.

I didn't tell you all the things I would have told you if I was teaching a class on Genesis 1-2. All you had to do was read the Bible yourself, from left to right. TWO STORIES. And any literate second grader could have told you that.

So what does it mean then when NPR reports that Evangelicals can "no longer believe the Genesis account?" "No longer believe it?" I want to ask. "Why not?" If the people who put the book of Genesis together (And no, Moses didn't write the Torah i.e. Genesis thru Deuteronomy. That'd be pretty miraculous considering he dies in Deuteronomy. Again, please put two and two together by reading left to right) intentionally put two creation stories right next to each other, then maybe the point of the story(ies) is not the literal how (order of creation, how long it took, etc.) the world was created.

And if that's not the point then we need to ask some new questions.

Like, "What do the creation stories teach me about God?" "What do they teach me about God's relationship with men and women? What do they teach me about how I should treat the world God created? What do they teach me about the purpose of existence?" In which case, based on what you answer these questions with, the statement "no longer believe the Genesis account" takes on new meaning. Do I "believe" what the Genesis creation stories teach me about God? Well, they teach me that God was so powerful that merely speaking a word made life come into existence (1st creation story), they teach me that God loves me so much that God got down in the dirt and created me with His own hands (2nd creation story)! They teach me that God is sovereign, powerful, and kind of freaking awesome (1st creation story) but not so cool that God can't come on down here to earth and be with me and talk through things with me (2nd creation story). Do I believe Adam and Eve were real people? No. Do I believe the Genesis accounts? Yes.

But maybe you don't. Okay, so let's keep going. I call this section "Further Proof That Adam & Eve Don't Exist Thanks to My Ability to Read From Right to Left."

So according to the second creation story which keeps going (it's several chapters long), Adam and Eve get pregnant and have a son. Aw... so sweet. And then they have another son. And we begin to read about the first nuclear family. Super. I just love it when people get married and have babies and live happily ever after.

Except this family doesn't. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head even in a family who's parents got to freakin' walk and talk with God Herself in the God (except God is described as male in Genesis 2, but I like to be inclusive). These two kids, Cain and Able are like PKs on steroids. And one thing leads to another and Cain murders his brother, Able.

And tries to pretend like it doesn't happen.

I'll let you read it for yourself...

Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

God, being God, knows exactly what happened, but here in this story God tries to give Cain a little grace and let him fess up to what he did. He doesn't. So God calls him out on it. And then, realizing that you can't hide from God, Cain starts to freak out. "My punishment is more than I can bear! I'll be a vagrant, I'll be like those men who stand with a cardboard sign underneath I35. It'll be awful. And anyone who meets me may kill me!" Yes, this is a very flawed world we live in where eye for an eye is still the preferred road toward reconciliation. But that's not the point. The point is, anyone who meets me might kill me... anyone who meets me... anyone. Anyone? If we take this creation story by itself (i.e. skip Genesis One) and if we read it literally, then anyone is only Cain's parents, right? A literalist has to say that anyone would be only Mom and Dad, Eve and Adam. But that's obviously not who Cain is referring to. He speaks of being exiled and being afraid that his past, his story, will follow him and people won't want a murderer living among them. His life is in danger from other people in the world.


And here's the second major setback for literalists. If they can find someway to get past two creation stories, now they have to get past Four people becoming three people becoming lots of people populating other cities.

And a second grader could tell you either the author didn't know what she was writing, or there's some other point to the story.

Again, I didn't point out that the early Israelites were shepherds and in a battle between shepherds and farmers (if you are the shepherd and you're telling the story) who would you say God would favor (i.e. who's offering would God like the most). Neither did I point out that the first few chapters of Genesis reflect lots of similar etiological explanations (Why don't snakes have legs? Why is childbirth painful? Why do we raise sheep? Why do people speak lots of different languages? Where did the rainbow come from? Etc.) Neither did I mention that there are several other very similar creation stories pre-dating the second creation story with slight variances. And I didn't mention that the slight variances the Israelites probably put on those stories - and retelling them as their own - have major theological significance (ex: in the Babylonian creation myth, humanity was created to be servants to the gods - the Israelites re-tell the story claiming humanity was created at the climax of God's creative genius and God called us very good). I didn't do any cultural exegesis of the text or delve into the Hebrew language or anything. I just read from left to right. And that's all anyone has to do to understand that the people who put the Bible together (inspired by God) didn't mean for Adam and Eve to be read as real people. They didn't put these stories next to each other for us to choose to triumph one over the other. And they didn't mean for them to be scientific evidence of the creation of the world.

Are you with me?

So when NPR quotes Fuzale Rana as saying "I think this is going to be a pivotal point in Church history because what rests at the very heart of this debate is whether or not key ideas within Christianity are ultimately true or not," I'd have to ask, what do you mean by true? Because the truth I ascertain from these two creation accounts and their subsequent stories is not how the world was literally created. That truth isn't even offered. Unless of course you're referring to how the world was created in a different way... i.e.... how it was created in love, in tenderness, in a very colorful, creative way. And if that's what you mean by truth, then NO, I don't think science is a threat to key ideas within Christianity. Because it isn't science's job to interpret events, only we can do that. And through storytelling and imagination, the early religious leaders put together the stories their people had collected about the beginning of the world and beyond, and finally in written form, these stories were passed on and on and on and eventually to us.

So let's do these ancient texts the service of reading them. From left to right. And over and over again. And let's stop talking about whether or not the earth was created in 6 days and whether or not Adam and Eve were real people. Their stories are real in our hearts and our minds as we do our best to walk with God here and now.

And that, indeed is very good.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Three Times Over, Five Times Over, Ten Times Over...

Texts: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124

The text for today told in the first and second chapter of Exodus is the story of a paranoid political leader, and his three attempts to stave off his fear. It is also the beginning of a story of yet another political leader and his ten attempts to give hope to the people of God.

This is a story about fear and a story about hope.

But before we jump right in, let’s remember where we are. It’s always important to remember where you are. I remember where I was the last time I was with you. It was over a year ago in the spring of 2010 when the air was cooler and the grass was greener and water was still served in restaurants. J And while the weather was more pleasant, your pastor had just resigned, so you were starting a new chapter of your own story here at Sanctuary and I was asked to come and preach and help you tell it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in just a few months I too would resign from my job across town at the church where I was ministering. And now over a year later, I’m back here with you, and I remember where you were then and what I was on the brink of, and now it is later and we are both ready for something new.

So to remember where the Hebrew people were, let’s go back to the beginning. Not the very beginning – we can skip Creation and Adam and Eve and other fanciful stories with towers and floods and whatnot. Let’s start with what scholars consider recorded history with the story of a man named Abraham in the land of Canaan.

He was the first of the Judeo-Christian Patriarchs and we meet Abraham late in life. After a visit from some angels and quite an ordeal with his wife Sarah and his servant Hagar and then some more angels and a bunch of promises from God, Abraham finally fathers Isaac: the son of the covenant. After a troubled childhood (that’ll happen when your father says God told him to kill you) Isaac grows up and marries his cousin Rebecca and with her fathers twin sons. Jacob is the younger of the twin boys, and after marrying the love of his life (and her sister), Jacob actually wrestles with God in the desert and lives to tell about it. And those are our patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their counterparts: Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.

Just as Jacob had a favorite wife, Rachel, so he also had a favorite son, Joseph, which is always a family recipe for disaster. And Joseph was a cocky little so n so and wasted no time reminding his brothers that Dad loved him the most. Pushing the limits of sibling rivalry, Joseph’s brothers sell him into Egyptian slavery, and following quite a surprising series of events including job promotions followed by stints in jail and a propensity for correctly interpreting dreams, Joseph is eventually appointed chief political advisor to the Pharaoh!

Unfortunately, Joseph’s brothers are still back in Canaan where there is a terrible drought and subsequent famine, but in Egypt where Joseph works, food has been rationed and provisions are plentiful. Eventually Joseph’s brothers and their extensive families make the move to Egypt where they are accepted not only into the Welfare system, but forgiveness accompanies food from Pharaoh’s number two whom they are humbled to learn is their long lost brother.

What a story. And of course, reunited and relocated in Egypt the now huge family (that started with just Abraham and Sarah in the desert) lives happily ever after…


Until we turn from the final page of Genesis to the first page of Exodus and discover that a couple hundred years later the current Pharaoh, Rameses the Second, has never heard of some advisor named Joseph who worked for his late great-grandfather, nor does he care, because Joseph’s family has grown and now Rameses’ got a huge city-group of unhappy foreigners… living off his land… right near the border… right next to the main political highway. Rameses is nervous. And as politicians’ first priority tends to be self-preservation, Rameses decides something needs to be done. The minority is becoming the majority, and if these Hebrews were ever to gain any sort of political clout, Pharaoh would be in real trouble. So he devises a plan.

Plan A: give the Hebrews a much harder work load, so their spirits as well as their bodies will become downtrodden and weak. Good plan. Rameses appoints taskmasters to govern the Hebrews’ working conditions and hires architects to design the great monuments. Brilliant. It’s a win/win for Rameses. Plan A is set in motion.

But oppression doesn’t stop people from carrying out natural human tendencies when they’re off the clock. If anything, it makes the embrace of a loved one even more essential! Pharaoh’s plan backfires and the first baby boomer generation is born.

So Rameses devises Plan B: hire two Hebrew midwives to kill every male born to the Hebrew women. Fewer men means less chance for organized rebellion, while still keeping enough women around to ensure slaves. And for some reason, Pharaoh thought this would be a viable option. I don’t know why he thought that two Hebrew women would kill anyone’s infant let alone the babies born to their own neighbors’ -their own people! - but perhaps Rameses figured that with enough money or enough threats, these women would have no problem carrying out his orders.

But they did have a problem with it. And their reverence for God surpassed their reverence for Pharaoh. Apparently so did their sense of morality. Not only do the midwives continue assisting in births and refrain from killing the newborns, but they flat out lie to Pharaoh about it devising the best story they can muster! “O great Pharaoh, divine ruler of Egypt, have you seen the Hebrew women?... They’re huge! You’ve got them working just as hard as the men out there in Goshen and quite frankly by the time we receive word that a woman’s water has broken, that kid is already out and napping and the women are back in the fields!”

And for a politician who already sees other races and ethnicities as essentially different from his own, Pharaoh believes them, so he puts together Plan C.

Plan C: Pharaoh turns again to his own Egyptian people and orders them to kill any Hebrew baby boy that they see anywhere in Egypt. Kill him by throwing him in the Nile. Because enough is enough. The Hebrews are growing too numerous, the threat is too great, enough is enough.

Enough is enough.

Now Pharaoh knows he will win because throwing the boys in the Nile not only ensures their physical death, but their spiritual death too. One tradition of Egyptian theology embraced by royalty and wealthier Egyptians taught that when a person died, their spirit circled the world and then returned to their properly preserved body where it would help the body to live eternally. This of course explains the Egyptians extreme care in mummification and in placing provisions and modes of transportation in burial tombs. So when Pharaoh throws those babies in the river, he assures that the spirits of those newborns would have nothing to return to which, in Pharaoh’s eyes, secured his safety not only for now but also for the hereafter.

Enough is enough.

Fear wins. Cultural diversity loses. And an already oppressed people now become victims of genocide.

Egyptian politics circa 1500 B.C.

Oh how we’ve matured in 3500 years.

… Except for the Crusades issued by the church at the turn of the first millennium, which claimed the lives of millions of non-Catholics.

… Oh and except for the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks sparking the First World War.

… Oh and except for the Holocaust which claimed the lives of over 6 million Jews and ushered in yet another World War…

… Oh and except for the 400,000 dead and over 2 million displaced Darfurians (and still counting) that nobody seems to remember because it’s an election year here in America and it’s much more important to argue about how Adam & Eve should be added to our history books and whether or not two, loving, monogamous (gay) people can get married.

But other than that, we’ve learned well from those who have gone before us.

But I like this story. I like most of the Hebrew Bible, even the hard stuff, the dirty stuff. And it’s gonna get pretty messy here in a couple of chapters. I like this story because in the midst of an ugly Plan B, we meet two women: women with names, women with occupations, and as a reader I am forced to notice, to stumble over the words really, as their story unfolds. And these two women, Shiphrah and Puah become history’s first recorded characters in a case of civil disobedience.[1] Before Socrates, Aquinas or Locke intellectualized a moral law above the governing law,[2] and pre-dating Thoreau’s disapproval of slavery, Ghandi’s defense of the Indians, Bonhoeffer’s grieving of the holocaust, or Rosa Parks and those damn bus rules, Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed Pharaoh and let the Hebrew children live. And with a little imaginative storytelling to cover their tracts, who knows how many lives Shiphrah and Puah saved.

It’s a great story.

And it leads us into an even better one. In the midst of Pharaoh’s terrible genocide, we read about a baby, sentenced to death, but destined for life.

And we meet three more women who will thwart Pharaoh’s plans: a mother, a sister and a daughter. None of them are named (though we later learn the mother is Jochebed and the sister is Miriam), but all are integral to the saving of the child and thus the saving of a people.

As any mother would be desperate to do, this clever woman saves her son via the very means of his impending death. She puts him in the river. Brilliant! Who’s going to look for a beautiful baby boy… alive… in the river? If the story weren’t already couched in such tragedy, the irony would be almost laughable. And away the basket, or arc, flows. Yep, the word translated “basket” is actually the same word, translated arc, that we read about in Noah’s story.[3] Only written in these two texts, an “arc” saves both Noah and baby Moses, but I’m getting ahead of myself because at this point in the story the little guy has yet to be named.

Running alongside the river though, through the cattails, around the rocks, and avoiding the oozing mud (I admit, I picture Missouri’s rivers and ponds when I tell this story), is the sister of the newborn, anxious to see what happens to the arc holding her innocent brother.

As Goshen (where the Hebrews lived) was close to the capital of Egypt at that time, and as the current would have it, that little arc washes up near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter is bathing. Seeing the treasure stuck in the reeds, she opens the arc to find the baby inside and immediately knows what has happened. How could she not? Then from the reeds emerges a young Hebrew girl, potentially punishable for gazing upon an Egyptian princess bathing, but when the girl offers to fetch a nursemaid for the baby, the Pharaoh’s daughter agrees. And typical of nursemaids given to babies adopted by Mesopotamians (according to an ancient legal text such foundlings were adopted and educated to be scribes) the princess offers the mother wages for her services. Pharaoh’s daughter is both compassionate and fair. To find a baby in the reeds and a young girl right beside it with the quick offer of knowing a woman who can nurse the child, it’s not hard to put two and two together. And so, the princess gives the baby back to his real mother for a little while longer (certainly longer than Jochebed would have had him should any other law-abiding Egyptian have come across the newborn) and the princess pays Jochebed for her services. But, as the story must go, after the baby is good and healthy and eating solid foods, he is returned to Pharaoh’s daughter who names him Moses.

“Because I drew him out of the water,” Pharaoh’s daughter says. Which is a play on the Hebrew word “to draw out,” an appropriate interpretation since it is the Israelites who wrote this story. But “Mose” is also a common Egyptian word often used in naming Egyptian royalty meaning “is born.”[4] Because I drew him out of water… he is born. “Mose.” “Is born:” a beautiful pronouncement by a daughter against her father’s law that all “must die.”

It’s a good story. But it might be one that the Israelites had heard before.

Sometime around 2300 B.C. the Legend of Sargon of Akkade was written and it is strikingly similar to the Hebrew story of Moses. It reads:

Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,

My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;

The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.

My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the [Euphrates],

My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.

She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,

She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.

The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.

Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,

Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up…[5]

You can see the similarities… both Moses and Sargon’s parents are lower class, both are birthed in secret, both enclosed in a basket of reeds and bitumen and placed in a river, both retrieved and adopted in kindness.

But there are differences too. Sargon grew to be a great king (so he tells the story), governing people, besieging cities on the sea, and he has a lineage of leaders behind him. And while Moses did govern the Hebrew people while wandering in the wilderness, helping them settle disputes and squabbles, Moses never made it to the promised land. Not only does Moses not get to retire in the land of milk and honey, he doesn’t even get to cross the border.

Because quite frankly, the story of Moses’ birth isn’t the story of an epic hero insofar as Dreamworks or Cecil B. DeMille would like to tell it. It’s a story about God.

It is God who saves Moses and it is God who in just a few chapters will rescue the people from the oppressive Egyptians. I hate to ruin the end of the story for you, but it is God who will harden Pharaoh’s heart, because God knows just how difficult the wilderness journey will be for the Hebrews. They need to know that the God who takes them there is powerful and able to save. It is the Hebrews who need convincing, not Pharaoh, so God sends Pharaoh the plagues and the Egyptians a message of hope ten times over. And they follow Moses out of Egypt.

If the midwives Shiphrah and Puah were still alive, I wonder what they thought as they were crossing the red sea.

Maybe they were thinking what the psalmist penned in chapter 124 read earlier today… “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
as prey to their teeth. 
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
we escaped with our lives.”

Or maybe they were still laughing about how the Pharaoh bought their tall tale. J

Exodus 1 and 2 is a story of fear and it is a story of hope. Three times over, Pharaoh governed through oppression to placate his fear. Ten times over God governed through sovereignty and provision to encourage the Hebrews’ faith.

And in between, five courageous women worked against a priesthood of a Pharaoh, a policy of paranoia, and an edict of death… and a little boy was born. Escaping genocide, he was raised by a princess, cursed with a stutter, and fled Egypt only to be asked by God to return.

Three times over, five times over, ten times over…

Moses “is born.” Is born. Is. Born. And fifteen hundred years later, the great I Am is born amidst a Jewish priesthood of oppression, a Roman policy of paranoia (not peace) and yet another edict of death. “I Am” took flesh and was born a baby but he too escaped, oddly enough, to Egypt, to one of the first places where God said, it is time for my people to be free.

It is time for them to be born again.

And maybe its time for us too.


Ann Pittman

Sanctuary Church in Austin, Tx

August 21, 2011

[1] Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel, by Naham M. Sarna p 25.

[2]" Civil Disobedience - The History Of The Concept

[3] “tebah” or ark. Journey Through the Bible by Rebecca Abts Wright p6.

[4] Understanding the Old Testament by Bernard Anderson p 51.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Le Petit Prince SHOES!

When's the next holiday?! Cause I want these!... (Women's Size 6, Syle II with Navy stitching).

THIS is pair of shoes I initially found that made me drool and commit the sin of coveting...

... but apparently they're made by a Brazillian designer and were released in 08 or
09 so I don't think I have any hope of ever securing a pair (and trust me, I've spent almost 45 minutes on the Internets trying to find them!)

All of this started of course because I was researching Halloween costumes (I'm VERY BEHIND this year). I'm interested in going as She-Ra Warrior Princess of the 1980s cartoon series...

Cindy Lou Who of How the Grinch Stole Christmas circa 2000...

or a feminine version of Le Petit Prince....

However, no such costumes, adult or teen, exist for Le Petit Prince, so I would have to make-shift a costume for myself. Not a problem. But a lot of creative work. And it was in researching what other people have done to make themselves look like the Little Prince that I came across the shoes.


How long 'til Christmas?

Friday, August 12, 2011

On Freedom of Religion

On Freedom of Religion, or One Thing the Baptists Got Right.
I had the following conversation on Facebook the other day (names have been omitted)...
And if that's too small for you to read, here's a recap:
FRIEND: We've taken God out of our schools and the the Christian beliefs that this great country was founded are getting pushed more and more out of areas they are needed the most.
ANN: Just because the law won't allow one religion (Christianity) to be the official religion of the public school system doesn't mean God isn't in schools. What if the government decided Hinduism should be the main religion in school and every morning there was a prayer to Krishna over the intercom and little statues with food offerings for them outside the cafeteria? There's a reason we have separation of church and state. If you want your child to attend school where Christianity is overtly practiced then send them to a Christian school. Our founding fathers were indeed Christians, but their theology was more deism and in NO WAY resembles the Christianity (especially the conservative Christianity) of today. Furthermore, they founded America because they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs in England and wanted to create a country where anyone could worship freely... so...
YEARS ago (in blog years it was, like, way back at the beginning of time) I posted an email I wrote to a minister/friend who asked me about the Christian right and why I thought they got it wrong. This was during the re-election of Bush when things were really getting out of hand. I made the following argument about Freedom of Religion:
We live in America, a country that is founded on free rights for everyone. I love this. I hate it though when people call us a "christian nation." We are not a christian nation and perhaps shouldn't be. I know the conservative christians are gasping now, but hear me out. Christian nations don't allow for dialogue among people of different views, christian nations have a history of oppression (the crusades, germany in ww2, england with regard to ireland, etc.) - why would we want to live in a nation like that? God created us with free will - wouldn't he want us to live in a world that allows for that? Plus, in America, I can talk freely with my hindu and muslim and atheist friends about my faith, and they can talk to me about theirs. We can dialogue and discuss what we have in common and what makes us distinct. The Muslim faith is growing across the world and in America. If you have a school where a muslim or a hindu is elected student body president, do you want his prayer to be prayed for your son and all the other students? If you want prayer in school then you better be ready to be more accepting of all types of people and all types of prayers (and time for dialogue to develop!!). But most people wanting prayer in schools want "christian" prayer in schools. They have an oppressive, exclusive agenda. Besides that, look at our models for people who pray. I don't care if George Bush says he prays every day. So did Hitler!!
I pretty much have the same opinion now. Maybe this is because I'm a liberal (so the slurs are slung), but maybe it's because I'm a Baptist.
You see, Baptists were founded on several guiding distinctives among which are the following: priesthood of all believers, autonomy of the local church, soul competency, and separation of Church and State.
Non-Baptists or people not familiar with protestantism may wonder at a couple of these distictives, but "Separation of Church and State," we are all familiar with (or should be - do they still teach that in schools? Cause I'm pretty sure Gov. Perry tried to take it out of Texas textbooks), as it became part of our Bill of Rights, thanks to, you guessed it, Baptist John Leland (though Jefferson received most of the credit).
Here's some other notable Baptist "fighters" from way back when. From the BJC website (the Baptist Joint Committee works in Washington to secure freedom of religion for all people): After establishing the first Baptist church on English soil, Thomas Helwys (1550-1615) authored a seminal treatise on religious liberty, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612), and sent a copy to King James I. In his inscription, he wrote: "The king is a mortal man and not God, and therefore hath no power over the immortal souls of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for them and to set spiritual Lords over them." For his trouble, Helwys, along with his wife, Joan, was severely persecuted. He later died in Newgate Prison.
Wow. Persecuted just because he wanted to do a Baptist church plant? And then he died in prison.
And check out this Baptist... Roger Williams (1603-1689) came from England to Massachusetts Bay in 1631 preaching and teaching "soul freedom" - the notion that faith could not be dictated by any government authority, but must be nurtured freely and expressed directly to God. He advocated a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." The theocrats in Massachusetts were so offended that they kicked Williams out of the colony. He trekked to what would become Rhode Island and founded a city he called "Providence," because he judged that God's providence had directed him there.
And here's where my FRIEND gets it right. While many of the early colonizers fled England because of persecution, many turned right around and began persecuting their neighbors whose (variation of protestantism) faith was different than theirs. Because we never learn. Because history repeats itself. Because the oppressed when he receives power often becomes the oppressor. We demand rights for ourselves and then turn around and trample on the rights of those around us.
Thankfully, Leland, Jefferson and Madison were discerning enough to establish freedom of religion as an essential right due to any man or woman (of course, these rights would be reserved for men and women of the "Caucasian" persuasion, but no one's perfect).
Part of what established who these early Baptists were as advocates and protesters and people who spoke out on behalf of their fellow young Americans was their convictions as Baptists. Articulated by Baptist historian Walter Shurden, Baptists are unique in the Four Freedoms they embrace:

  • Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body
  • Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (subject only to the law where it does not interfere with the religious teachings and practices of the church)
  • Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and biblical study available to the individual
  • Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion; separation of church and state is often called the "civil corollary" of religious freedom
Now you understand why I wonder if I believe in separation of church and state because I'm a freedom-lover or because I'm a Baptist. The big picture: you get to decide your own faith and how to practice it. I can't deny you that right nor can the state.
Awesome. Amen.
On the other hand, this sucks. What Martin Luther set in motions hundreds of years ago when he demanded (among 98 other things) that the common person have access to the Bible herself is the folk religion (arguably the religious right) prevailing in America today. In other words, this not very Biblical "pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, God-helps-those-who-help-themselves, love-your-family-hate-your-enemy, I-can't-tell-you-the-Ten-Commandments-but-by-God-it-better-be-hanging-in-the-courthouse" Christianity modeled by the religious right is a direct result of Luther's insistance that the biblical scholars (who also happened to be horribly corrupt church leaders) get out of the way and let each person meet God where they are. Check out this article on "phantom Biblical passages" where culture has corrupted what the Bible actually says, or doesn't say.
In other words, soul competancy... religious freedom...? They're a double edged sword.
But that's just what the Baptists believed.
So what was the predominant religion of our forefathers? Well, according to Benjamin Franklin's autobiography (thank you Billy Jewell Bible School "Responsible Self" class 1996): My parents had early given me religious Impressions [Roman Catholocism], and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several Points as I found them disputed in the different Books I read I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my Hands.... It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist. Revelation had indeed no weight with me as such; but I entertain'd an Opinion, that tho' certain Actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them; yet probably those Actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own Natures, all the Circumstances of things considered.
You still with me?
And how about Thomas Jefferson? Well, you've probably heard of the Jefferson Bible... Our third president's cut and paste version of the text (explicitly leaving out Jesus' miracles). While I don't have a biography of him on hand, Jefferson's move through religion (he hated the Catholic church, thought clergymen to all be corrupt and rejected most Christian doctrine including the doctrine of the Trinity) was generally based on his belief in Jesus as a Moral Teacher and God a material (not Spirit). In private letters, Jefferson refers to himself as a "Christian" in 1803, "a sect by myself" in 1819, an "Epicurean" later that year, a "Materialist" in 1820 and finally a "Unitarian by myself" in 1825. Most scholars would just classify him as a Diest who liked to cut up his Bible.
Needless to say, he was too liberal (in the true sense of the word - as such I, truth be told, am not) to attend the Episcopal Church of America at that time, let alone Willow Creek or The Potter's House or Saddleback or Salem Lutheran Church or Wasilla Bible Church or Trinity United Church of Christ or Wyatt Park Baptist Church or even First Baptist Church of Austin Texas.
Do I need to go on? John Adams - Unitarian. Alexander Hamilton - Evangelical Presbyterian who tried to start "Christian Welfare Societies" for the poor. James Madison - attended an Epsicopalian church (but most scholars consider him a Deist as well). George Washington - wouldn't take communion and never mentioned Jesus Christ in any of his writings. Considered a Deist but since he left virtually no writings in which he wrote about God, church, theology or religion (twice in his life he commented on a sermon), we don't really know.
So what then, about the founding father's faith do you FRIEND and all other people seeking to get back to those times, is so appealing? The fact that they picked and chose what they wanted to believe despite orthodoxy (although most conservative churches do a similar thing) or the fact that they intellectualized and internalized their faith, brooding over it, writing about it, and wrestling with it? The fact is, they believed that faith should be the choice of the people, paid for by the people and attended freely by the people so much so that they believed it is an essential right afforded to every human being and protected and ensured by the government.
Amen. On Freedom of Religion. And why I think the Baptists got this one right.