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An Abusive Relationship With G-d

This weekend Mark Driscoll, pastor of the NW mega-church Mars Hill, came right out and said exactly what he thinks that g-d thinks about you…”G-d hates you“.  Watch here (quote starts @ 4:25)…

Those who know me might be surprised by this, but I have a slight problem with that.  It isn’t just that I find his approach rough or his words lacking in tact, even though I certainly do.  My criticism goes beyond the shocking phrases he spews with such malice in this video.  If you have an hour, man he loves to hear himself talk, you can watch the full sermon here.

In the full sermon, Mark goes to great lengths to explain to us how evil we are.  He thinks it is incredibly important that we all realize just how sh*tty we really are and how much his g-d righteously despises everything about us.  We must come to the realization that g-d’s wrath is boiling over and his “justice” eagerly calls out for our blood.  Mark thinks saying all that is okay because it highlights just how great g-d’s “love” is when he finds a way to redirect his wrath onto a substitutionary scapegoat.  The only way we could possibly understand the love of g-d is if it comes in contrast to wrath-filled hatred and the threat of eternal torture performed by our beloved.

Forgive me for being as blunt as Driscoll usually is, but Mark’s gospel is bullsh*t.  I usually wouldn’t be so forceful in this venue, but this kind of theology is severely psychologically and spiritually dangerous.  His message, given with authority to an audience of over 10K, paints g-d with the following characteristics:

  • Jealous & Possessive
  • Controlling
  • Sets Unattainable Standards
  • Manipulative
  • Prone to Mood Swings
  • Conflicting Actions and Words – Like saying he loves the world then eternally tortures most of it
  • Punishes For Not Meeting Unreasonable Expectations
  • Disrespectful – devalues who you are
  • Historically Violent

The real problem here is that these are the warning signs psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have identified of abusive relationships.  The analogy of a husband and wife are often used by Christians to symbolize our relationship with g-d.   If Mark Driscoll’s g-d is like our husband, then we are the victims of domestic abuse.  His g-d tells us that we are worthless according to his standards.  We weren’t able to live up to the rules that he made for us, as a result his anger is boiling over. Every time we fail to reach perfection seething words escape through our holy spouse’s clenched teeth promising, “One of these days…one of these days my wrath will reign down on you with unrelenting fury.”

Maybe one day we might work up the courage to respond to such threats by saying, “Remember when I did that thing you asked me to do yesterday, did that not mean anything to you?”.  He, of course, would respond with an open hand raised and impatience in his tone, “Unless you do everything perfectly, whatever good you think you do is complete and utter garbage!”.

After such an interaction we might cower before him and ask “I really do try to be a good person.  You wouldn’t really hurt me just because I fail sometimes, would y…”.  A booming growl cuts off our words, “I AM THE DESTROYER OF SODOM, OF GOMORRAH, OF UZZAH, OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, OF THE WORLD IN THE FLOOD! DO YOU THINK FOR A MOMENT I WOULD TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY?”  His voice lowers a few decibels as he continues, “I’ll tell you what, because I am such a merciful and generous g-d I might spare you from my righteous punishment…I could torture and kill somebody who is innocent instead.  You should feel like crap, you made me do it.  You made me torture Jesus, you made me kill him…his blood is on your hands. Live with that guilt for the rest of your existence. Now get down on your knees!  Tell me how horrible and sinful you are.  Acknowledge before me and everybody else that you are nothing without me…a complete waste of human existence.  Say that you deserve my unending torment as retribution for your inability to be perfect, then beg for forgiveness.  Vow to change your disgusting ways.  Admit that it was all your fault that a righteous man died.  SAY IT OR BURN!”

As his voice crescendos, we find ourselves instinctively whimpering the confessions we were instructed to say. As we do, he continues, “Good…now realize what has happened here.  I must love you incredibly to even accept trash like you into my presence.  I ferociously despise you, but my love is greater than my hate…which is saying a lot.  Can you see that?”

“Yes sir” we murmur without making eye contact.

“Very well.  Then perhaps I might be able to do something useful with you.  Go and tell others that they too are worthless sinners.  My wrath burns against them as well, but perhaps they might be able to work out a deal like I graciously extended to you…because if I can forgive and love a P.O.S. like you surely I can do it for anybody.”

The last dig hurt.  For a moment we think to ourselves, “maybe we could just leave, find somebody who didn’t make such threats, find somebody who didn’t set unreasonable expectations, who loved us for us and not despite of us”  As quickly as the thought occurred, fear pulls it back.  If we run he will catch us and we will surely be punished.  If there is one thing we know about g-d, he will follow through with his violent threats…Mark Driscoll told us he would.

UPDATE

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Bad Theology, Christianity, Hate, Love, Theology, Wrath

 

Literal Hell?

How dare anybody contend that biblical teachings regarding hell are metaphorical…

 
 

Snowglobe

When I was a child, snowglobes captured my imagination.  Though the figures inside may have been lifeless plastic, in my mind they were real people.  I could hear the children giggling as they slid down a snowy hill in the tiniest toboggan you would ever see.  Their parents would call to them over a white picket fence from the front porch of a perfect home. Through the windows you could see a delicious holiday meal; the scent of baked turkey floating through the air.

Suddenly, at the tip of my hand, a flurry of snow would threaten the happy scene.  Surely they would be frightened at the blizzard that endangered their happy holiday.  I would watch intently to gauge their reaction… To my amazement, they would always weather the storm with profound grace, regardless of its intensity.

My admiration for the pocket-size people grew with each moment of observation.  As they became more and more real in my imagination, I began to ask questions.  Could they hear me speaking as a gazed through the glassy dome that separated my world from theirs?  Did they know I was watching them?  If I invited them out of their bubble would they choose to breach the barrier?  If they wished, I would invite them to ride in my shirt pocket or sit on my shoulder as I served as a tour guide to everything that was in my life.  I would show them my bedroom where I slept, the house where I lived, the school where I learned, and the yard where I played.  I would to introduce them to my friends, my brother, my sister, my dad and my mom.  Perhaps the everyday people, places and things in my life would be new and fascinating to these little people; after all, until recently their universe fit within a dome with a 4 inch diameter.

By now you may be wondering why I’m reminiscing about childhood snowglobe fantasies during the summer months.  Bad pizza?  No… A mild Arizona heat stroke? It is 105 today, but that’s not it either. The reason: my wife and I are expecting a new baby girl in a few short weeks.  Again I find my imagination consumed by the little person just out of reach.  I wonder if she can hear me when I speak. I wonder if she knows when I’m watching her play and squirm in her momma’s womb.  Though our two worlds are separate now, soon they will merge.  And when she breaches that barrier, I will be her dedicated tour guide to the home where we’ll live and the everyday places and things of our life.  I can’t wait until she sees the sweet smile of her gorgeous mother.  I look forward, with fondness, to the day she meets her fun-loving and passionate brother.  I will introduce her with pride to her grandmas & grandpas, aunts & uncles, cousins, and all of our friends.

Most of all, I just want to have our new daughter in my life and to hold her in my arms.  This time, though, I don’t only imagine the everyday people, places, and things will be new and fascinating for this special little person.  I am also quite confident that they will all take on fresh significance and allure for me when our baby is in my world.  Until then, I suppose I will continue to impatiently watch and wait from the outside gazing in.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Birth, Childhood, Parenting

 

Of Gentiles and Homosexuals

In the first century a division emerged in the early Christian church.  As we are well aware, Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews.  He taught about the Jewish G-d, and claimed to be His Son.  His followers believed he was the Jewish Messiah.  It seemed destined that Christianity was destined to be a sect of Judaism. Christians were to celebrate the same holidays, follow the same Mosaic laws found in the Torah, and insist new converts become Jews through the traditional conversion rituals.  However, all that changed on a rooftop in a town called Joppa.

The story is told in Acts 10.  You can read the full story for yourself here.  I’ll condense it here for those of you who are too lazy to click on the link 😉  In the account Peter has a vision.  In said vision he sees a smorgasbord from heaven descend right before his eyes.  The buffet was filled the delicious delights like bacon, ham, Philistine National® hot dogs, clams, shrimp, lobster, etc.  It contained every delectable dish that, according to the Torah, was impure and unclean.  A voice calls to Peter from heaven telling him to eat the feast that has been set before him.  Peter, being a good Jew, attempts to correct G-d’s mistake.  Apparently G-d had forgotten that he commanded his chosen people never to eat such animals in His holy, infallible and eternally applicable scripture.  G-d assures Peter he is quite serious…three times.

When Peter comes out of the vision, he hears a knock at the door.  It’s a couple gentiles, inviting him to the house of their gentile master, Cornelius.  Peter starts to get the point of the vision.  Apparently the vision wasn’t as much about discarding Jewish dietary traditions as it was about moving past the exclusivism of his religion, which has traditionally rejected non-Jews.  So Peter goes with them, and once he arrives at Cornelius’s house he makes this declaration:  “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But G-d has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

One might imagine how the conservative Christians of the day would respond to Peter’s new-found leniency on issues of Jewishness of G-d’s followers and on the Mosaic Law.  They would likely complain that Peter was teaching a doctrine that was unscriptural. They would accuse him of leading others into sin by encouraging them to pick and choose which parts of the law they would follow and what parts they would ignore.  Surely he just accepted the gentiles because it made him feel good.  They would, of course, say that Peter was denying the absolute truth and authority of G-d’s Word and in so doing was denying G-d himself.

Although it’s of little doubt this debate occurred in the early church, Peter and many other early church apostles pressed forward.  Their love for the gentiles and confidence that G-d did not and would not exclude them caused them to persist despite challenges of the more conservative crowd.  Before long other Christians began to accept the gentiles, then other leaders like Paul and Barnabas followed in their footsteps.  The movement proved to be as unstoppable as an avalanche.  The global, primarily gentile, face of Christianity emerged out of that one vision on that one rooftop, in Joppa nearly 2000 years ago.

From time to time the church takes another inclusive step in this worthy tradition.  In our past, minority races were once put in subservient roles in our churches.  Today such racial discrimination is abhorred by almost all Christians.   There was once a time where women were to remain silent in church and were not allowed to hold any authority over a man.  Although not yet quite as successful as the transition away from racism, sexism is fast becoming a thing of the past in our faith.
'Albany Gay Pride Parade 2008' photo (c) 2008, Tim Schapker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A new movement is afoot in today’s Christianity.  Many christians are now tiring of holding homosexuals at arm’s length.  The preconceived notion that they are an abomination, that they are immoral, that they are not worthy of G-d’s love is losing popularity.  Of course the fundamentalists will pull out their bibles as if they were weapons and attempt to brow beat our acceptance of and love for the LGBT community back into submission. They will proclaim the corruption and impurity of gay people.  They will insist that because they are gay, they must be rejected by G-d.

When they do, I hope that we respond in the manner Peter did when he faced the same criticism: “Brothers, you know that some time ago G-d made a choice among you that LGBT people* might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. G-d, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test G-d by putting on the necks of the LGTB community* a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”  – Acts 15:7-11

*My word replacement, LGBT for Gentile.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Christianity, Emerging Church, LGBT

 

Apocalypse 1.0

In our childhood most of us were told a grand tale.  It was filled with excitement, adventure, a hero, a big boat, and all kinds of fluffy animals. There was once a man who was favored by God, his name was Noah.  He was chosen to build a large ark to save his family and the animal kingdom from a flood.  With God on his side there was never much doubt that he would succeed…and he does.  At the end of the story God shows Noah and his family a rainbow as a sign that such a flood will never happen again.

As children we accept the Noah story in much the same way that we accept Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Our focus lies solely on the characters and the moral lessons contained therein.  Our approach changes as we move into our adult lives though.  We tend to view the story either through the lens of skepticism or of literal dogmatism.  Dogmatic belief structures will insist that every word of the Noah story is literally true; historically, scientifically, and spiritually.  If a story is literal, than every seemingly unimportant or implied part of the story will also be entirely true and accurate; using miracles (events that fall outside the realm of natural possibility) to explain away any inconsistencies or impossibilities.  It is almost impossible to debate the scientific merits of a biblical story with a dogmatic person since there’s a willingness to insert miracles into a story to back-up their preconceived beliefs.

Skeptics, on the other hand, will rebut the dogmatic telling of the Noah narrative by asserting that it cannot possibly be true based on scientific evidence.  Biology, geology, physics, husbandry, zoology, and logic all seem to be at odds with the literal approach. The unfortunate side effect for many skeptics will be an all out abandonment of the narrative.  While I definitely feel the same temptation, I also seek to find a compromise with my former dogmatic self.  I believe there is some common ground, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

In addition to all the normal skeptical arguments against literal interpretations of Noah & the Ark, I wish to add one of my own.  I would frame this as a moral argument against literalism.  While science and logic can often be dismissed by inserting a miracle, moral inconsistencies cannot.  As I mentioned earlier, every detail of a literal story, no matter how small or understated in the text is still true.  This is particularly important in the Noah story.  The text of the narrative does little to explain the perspective of the damned, those who were killed in the flood.  There is no detail in the story of offenses actually committed or of individuals that were actually responsible for committing them.  There is only general statements that the “people had corrupted their ways” and that “the earth was filled with violence”.

Now, the common interpretation from the literal understanding is that every person, and by “every” we mean E-V-E-R-Y person, was wholly corrupt and violent; with the obvious exception of Noah & fam.  Literalists will make a claim that god is completely justified in killing every violent or corrupt person.  Therefore they seek to assert that this was a moral extermination.  However, unless this is a time unlike any other in all of history, there were children and babies (born and unborn) in the world.  When literalists say that every person was full of corruption and violence, they are saying this about babies.  Certainly this is in full conflict with many of their modern and concurrent opinions on abortion and the value of the unborn child.  Either an unborn child is innocent or it is evil/corrupt, one cannot have it both ways.  If we choose to believe that unborn children, babies, toddlers, and kids are innocent, then god killed innocents in the literal story of Noah.  Here, we identify a major and fatal moral flaw in literalism.

In addition to the moral flaw of killing innocents, for Christians the literal telling of the story is in direct contradiction to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the story of Noah, god has neither grace nor forgiveness for the sinner.  There is no warning given to the wicked people of the day, there is no call to “repent”, there is no message of love or salvation or forgiveness for them…there is only death and destruction.  A G-d of love, peace, and forgiveness surely would have given them a chance.  There is no opportunity for salvation for the sinner.  Now, a literalist may point out that the god of the story does save Noah & his family…but remember that there were (according to population estimates of the approx time) around 8-10 million people on the earth.  So god saves, what, like 8 people but kills literally a million times more.  Clearly this is a god who kills, not the G-d who saves.  Jesus, of course, tells a completely different story.  He proclaims that G-d saves the sinner, not that he kills them.  If we are literalists, we must choose between the god of Noah or the G-d of Jesus.

But does Jesus really speak of a different G-d than the author of the Noah narrative?  If we abandon literalism, then I believe he does.  If you have moment read the story again:  Genesis 6,7,8.  Note the points of emphasis and the points that the author seemingly glazes over with little care or attention.  There is really very little of the actual text that deals with the wicked people; explaining exactly how violent/corrupt they were or why they had to be killed.  The bulk of the text is spent discussing G-d’s interaction with Noah, the plans they formed together, the details of saving the lives of many animals and his family, and the saving grace of G-d on a simple man who was willing to put his trust in Him.

If we read the story as a piece of symbolic literature, flooding the earth and the elimination of the wicked seem to be plot devices supporting the story of salvation.  It’s a powerful story, originating from an author (or more probably group of authors).  When an author tells a story, he has a purpose. The best stories, those that maintain prominence throughout the ages, tell of a truth that surpasses reality (and literalism).  I believe this is the case for the story of Noah.

Imagine with me the author(s) of this epic. Most historians maintain that the narrative of Noah and the Ark (put aside Utnapishtim for now) emerged during the time of Jewish captivity in Babylon (6th Century BCE).  (For more about authorship check this out)  Ancient Jews were seemingly always at war with the surrounding tribes and civilizations.  Violence and corruption were a perpetual part of their story. Time and time again the Jews found themselves conquered and enslaved by other nations…ones who did not worship nor revere the one true G-d.  It seems quite easy to empathize with the distraught author of the Noah epic.  He looks around at the world and sees constant inequity.  The heathens prosper while the people of G-d, the blameless and righteous ones, suffer.  Surely it would be better for G-d to destroy the world; if only we could just start over with only His chosen people.  One has to be in a pretty hopeless situation to desire an apocalypse; slavery and exile in an ancient foreign land seem like good reasons to wish that it would all just come to an end.   It’s in this distressed state of mind that our author begins the story.

As we now move through our metaphorical tale, we see faith and hope emerge.  G-d speaks to his chosen. He reminds them that he has not forgotten their faithfulness.  He gives them a plan, one in which they can overcome the hopelessness of this present age; trading it for a hope in a brighter future.  G-d offers to replace a fallen world full of wickedness for a chance at a fresh start, a new beginning.  Imagine having the hope of a new life, the chance to be born again to the world afresh.

Now, through understanding the metaphor of apocalypse, we can see Jesus’ message in a story.  We no longer need to read Noah’s story as an exclusive, violent, and frightening historical account of a wrathful god.  We now see a narrative of redemption and reclamation. It encourages us that the world doesn’t need to stay the way this it is; that it isn’t hopeless.  We can have faith in something better than today, we can strive to be a part of making the earth a better place.  We can become positive agents of apocalypse in a world without hope. If we persist, if we do not give up, the evils of our age may one day be washed away by a powerful, cleansing flood.

How does this metaphorical interpretation of the story of Noah’s Ark jive with you?  If it is an appropriate interpretation what does it have to say about the John’s apocalypse in Revelation?

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Theology

 

King Nebuchadnezzar and The Pledge of Allegiance

From time to time the Pledge of Allegiance’s controversial “under God” clause surfaces in public dialogue. Recently, NBC ran a montage during the U.S. Open featuring the Pledge.  The phrase “under God” was edited out.  To nobody’s surprise the Christian right flipped out.  Immediately social networks were flooded with Christians shaming NBC for the omission.  NBC officially apologized for the omission, twice.  Leave it to my brethren to live Christ’s teaching by refusing to forgive them.  A perfect example is found on the Christian Post: NBC Pledge of Allegiance Apology ‘Too Little, Too Late;’ Christians Demand Explanation.

The message Christians have sent to the rest of the country is clear.  Anybody who chooses to make a pledge to our nation without the specification of swearing by our God will be publicly shamed and alienated.  Once the process of alienation has begun, even if an “offender” were to apologize, there will be no mercy.  If you choose not to validate our beliefs in the form of public oath, we will take your personal religious beliefs as an “attack” on our faith and will label you an enemy of Christianity, our nation, and of God himself.

Now there is a defense that “God” is a generic word for a deity, so it isn’t necessarily speaking of the Christian God.  Might sound like a reasonable defense as far as other religions go…but then there are these conflicting facts:

  • Christians created the language in private religious groups before it was accepted into official use.
  • It was birthed in its public form in an actual Christian sermon, given in a Christian church, when witnessed by a newly Christian president in 1954.
  • A Christian majority Congress passed the amending resolution in 1954.
  • The only consistent public defenses for the clause has come from Christians.
  • In cases like the afore-mentioned, it is the Christians who embark on public campaigns to berate the “offender”.

There is not, to my knowledge, any reasonable defense of requiring atheists or agnostics to recite a national pledge containing a religious clause.  In cases where there is no “requirement” to recite the clause…just try leaving it out, as NBC did, and see how the Christians respond.  Could you imagine if a Muslim American substituted the Arabic word “allah” or “الله” for our english word “god”?  It is the exact equivalent, just in a different language, so I’m sure the Family Research Council would be fine with that, right?  Imagine if a Hindu said “gods” instead of “God” since they are not monotheistic.  Would the religious right be alright with that?  It’s obvious that the Christians who lobby for and defend this language are absolutely seeking a pledge made to and sworn by their Christian God.  Make no mistake, the same people lobbying for “under God” in the Pledge are the same ones who believe there should be no separation between church and state and that America is a “Christian nation”.

Ok, so where is my metaphor…I should stay true to the theme of the blog so here it is:

Excerpt from Daniel 3
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”…At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. …Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Many of us know the rest of the story. They don’t bow, Nebbie has them thrown into the oven, they don’t die and walk through the flames with God.  One one level, this story is one of the many “our God is better than your Gods” stories found in the Old Testament; but on another level this story is about religious freedom and standing up to the tyranny of theocracy.  Ask yourself if this story would lose its power and meaning if we swapped some of the religious identities.  What if we moved the story from Babylon to Jerusalem, and the leader was a Jewish king burning religious minorities alive.  Would that be morally superior just because they were doing it in the name of the “right” God?  I would contend it is not.  Or perhaps move the story to America, in our time.  Should a Christian majority in a democracy be permitted to force religious minorities to follow their religious laws and force them to make pledges of allegiance to their God?  Should we be proud that we are have become more civilized and have swapped a furnace for ostracizing a person or group for not sharing our religious beliefs?  This story, as well as the historical record, should have taught us that when religious leaders govern minority faiths (or non-believers) it tends to end in oppression.  This absolutely holds true for Christianity; but it also holds for Islam and I would say includes an atheism that forces its belief structure on others as well.

As a Christian, I have no desire to live under the religious control of the Christian right.  I feel no obligation to take a pledge that affirms their religious ideals.  But let me go further, I have little more desire to live under the religious control of Christians who share my theologies.  If I am unwilling to live under the religious coercion of another faith, than I should absolutely not do such a thing to others.  I don’t feel any just and free society should have the ability to demand religious allegiance; especially in the form of national pledges.  No person should live in fear of religious oppression, whether the “punishment” for unbelief is being brutally executed or publicly shamed and alienated.  No citizen should feel like an outsider or be demoted to second-class status simply because they do not share the same religious convictions with the majority.

So on this Independence Day, I encourage my fellow Christians to lend the strength of our numbers to minority religions, agnostics, and atheists.  I believe that we can show them love by pledging our allegiance to the principles of religious freedom.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Christianity, Emerging Church

 

Milking a Milk Metaphor

Today’s post continues the discussion from the previous couple entries.  If you haven’t read them yet check em’ out:

  1. Two Tales of Two Trees
  2. Pentecost and Two Tales of Two Trees

We’re a bit past the traditional time for Pentecost but I’ll persist once more.  Many of us “laity” in Christianity are familiar with the Acts 2 account of Pentecost, but fewer are aware that it corresponds with the Jewish celebration of Shavuot.  For the Jews, Shavuot is a celebration of the giving of the Torah & the ten commandments.  One interesting part of their tradition is that the holiday meal is composed of primarily dairy dishes.  For the Jewish people the symbolism is quite meaningful.  When the law was first given on Mount Sinai, the people were initially unprepared for the new koshering rules for meat and thus made their first meal after the blessing from the dairy products on hand.

Once I found this it got me thinking about the symbolism of milk in Jewish scriptures.  As I began researching the topic, I found that milk has historically been used as a symbol for the Torah.  Jewish Rabbis usually maintain that Solomon was referring to the Torah when he said “milk and honey are under your tongue” in Song of Solomon.  The Torah is filled with references to Israel as “the land of milk and honey”.  Rabbis have often maintained that the “land of milk and honey” was not only describing a fertile homeland for the Jewish people, but also a land of Torah.  They desired a place where the they would know what God required of them and where they would have the freedom to practice their faith.  The Torah, for them, was that which would nurture and sustain their people as they started a new nation in Israel.

So at this point in my journey through exploring the symbolism of milk as Torah my mind jumped to Hebrews 10 where the writer says: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.”

Sidetrack –> The shadows mentioned in that verse always remind me of the shadows in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave…if you haven’t ever read it, do so.

Back on track –> If we back up to chapter 5 of Hebrews we return again to our metaphor “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” 

So here we have milk being used as a metaphor again, this time in a letter written to Jews who had come to a faith in Christ.  I believe the original readers would have already been quite familiar with the traditional metaphor of milk as Torah.  The language used, with that in mind, takes on a more surprising and challenging meaning.   He extends the metaphor to invoke a picture of infancy or immaturity.

So if we merge the two metaphors of milk as Torah and milk as food for the immature we get this point:  The law, with all of it’s black and white rules and regulations, had a purpose for spiritual training.  There is a turning point though when we reach spiritual maturity.  At that point we are no longer bound to any such religious laws. We gain the freedom to live in a world filled not just with black and white, but one with every color under the sun.  Neither the training period nor the mature existence is innately right or wrong.  But the author does have a bone to pick with some of his readers.  There were (and are) some who went through the tutorials of rules and regulations, but rather than moving on to the freedom provided from a spiritually mature life, they continue to maintain a monochromatic faith.  For an extended biblical dialogue on this concept check out the book of Galatians.  Chapter 2, verse 19 sums up the point nicely: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.”

Although I mentioned the verses from Acts 2 last week I think it would be appropriate to repeat them again, this time with a new context fresh in our minds:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

The symbolic transition from law to Spirit, represented by this story, not only has historical significance but also personal significance for each of us.  Many of us, as individuals, have been taught religion in the form of rules and regulations.  For a period of time, they help to build a sense of morality and character.  However, many of us reach a time when lists of do’s and don’ts become inadequate to express our worldview and our relationship with God.  Times like that require a transition; they require an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Only then can we operate in a mature and colorful faith.

If you’ve experienced this kind of transition let us know what it looked in your life.  Comment below.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Christianity, Emerging Church, Theology

 
 
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