The Shema in Deuteronomy 5:4–9 was a fundamental Jewish affirmation. The Hebrew word Shema means, "Hear you." Jesus quoted it in Mark 12:28–30:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' "
Mary is venerated as the Mother of God who bore Jesus as the result of a miraculous virgin birth (and immaculate conception?). I disagree! I believe that Mary bore Jesus as a result of her marriage to Joseph by which she then bore the younger brothers and sisters of Jesus named in the Gospels. Paul wrote: "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who are under the law, so we might receive adoption...." Galatians 4.4-5
I believe that Mary and Joseph had a human and holy marriage with sex expressing the human yearning for partnership — sharing of love, joy, life with intense pleasure! Judaism long taught that part of celebrating Sabbat is having sex! They had the holy responsibility to lead and teach and show their son, Jesus, the basis for what we call Christian partnering.
This I believe for these reasons: my theological study with insightful teachers decades ago and continued reading, study, and two experiences: The first experience is my soulmate’s and my growing partnership sharing of life, love, work, parenting, and sex. We learned and grew in give-and-take of relationships. A second experience is my life and work as a social worker with many differing people and groups in varied situations. People often organize to work together. A community organizer, without dominating, enables people to express their concerns and share them and find tactics to enhance their situation. Similarly, in Jesus' teaching we see people's concerns and feelings. I believe because of the partnership he experienced in his parents Jesus welcomed women and men, sick and well, Jews and gentiles, against the dominance culture and patriarchal tyranny of his time.
To probe further read The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler.
Myth has two meanings: what is untrue, and what cannot be put into words. Try explaining love in words without gestures, poetry, song, pictures, sculpture! Try explaining ecstasy. Try explaining God in literal, cold words. Love, ecstasy, God are profound and deep and true; are they beyond words?
Martha Graham was asked after a dance she choreographed what she was trying to say; she answered, “If I could tell you, I wouldn’t have to dance it.” That is myth!
To probe further read The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler.
Is God all powerful — able to do anything? Knowing everything? Being everywhere? Those who say yes then say any other view means God is not God. So said the Greek philosophers, but not the Bible. The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible have many views of God; they often say God chooses roles that are not all powerful or knowing. God is imaged as a mother and a father long before Jesus — with the love and the limits of a parent. My wife and I were never all powerful over our kids! And we chose to limit our control as they grew: we wisely chose not to be dictator parents! I believe that the One we cannot grasp also chose not to be a dictator parent — with all the frustration and anger that causes! When the Bible speaks of God as angry, it may be the writer's reflecting on human feelings.
Carey Ellen Walsh in her Exquisite Desire, page 53, part of a chapter that is terrific insights into reading the Bible so it begins "to jump alive, firecrackers of insight."
Her insights in that chapter into the limitations of allegory to read and understand the Bible is must reading. She shows why and how allegorical views arose and that they are foreign to the Hebrew Bible's way of feeling and thinking.
Allegory sees meaning in details, while the Bible's own view sees those details as part of a whole quilt of many colors and patterns. In Jesus' parables, for example, the message is in a how a boss runs a harvest, while the details such as the "denarius" was enough for a family to live for a day. Is the boss concerned that the late comers receive enough for their families (Matt 20.1–16)? See the book Parables as Subversive Speech by William R. Herzog or The Parables of Jesus by Luise Schottroff.
Richard Rohr's Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality is an excellent doorway into the Bible as a pathway — three steps forward two back — into the heart of the One who invites us and welcomes us. Also explore Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation: www.cacradicalgrace.org .
"…it is possible to trace how Muhammad's revolutionary message of moral accountability and social egalitarianism was gradually reinterpreted by his successors into competing ideologies of rigid legalism and uncompromising orthodoxy, which fractured the Muslim community and widened the gap between mainstream, or Sunni, Islam and its two major sectarian movements, Shi'ism and Sufism…(Colonialism) forced the entire Muslim community to reconsider the role of faith in modern society. While some Muslims pushed for the creation of an indigenous Islamic Enlightenment by eagerly developing Islamic alternatives to Western secular notions of democracy, others advocated separation from Western cultural ideals in favor of the complete 'Islamization' of society.…"
—Reza Aslan No god but God (pp. xixf) is an excellent source on Islam
People who believe exclusivist claims feel most threatened by scholars who question verses or sayings in the Bible. To understand how and why scholars of the original Greek (and Hebrew for the Jewish Scriptures) can question the authenticity of verses, see the readable best seller, Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman, and especially his personal Introduction (pp. 1–16), or for a deeper study The Five Gospels: the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert W. Funk et al).
While I was in seminary, a friend saw me in the library and signaled for me to follow him, where he showed me a copy of an old manuscript of the Bible he was studying, and pointed out the scribe's way of writing Greek that was a "shorthand" way of more quickly writing two Greek letters that were frequently together. Charles, who knew I also studied Greek, told me how he had decoded the originally illegible Greek. Ehrman in his Misquoting Jesus shares many ways in which scribes copying manuscripts changed the Biblical text. Note that we have no originals of any parts of the Bible, but only copies of copies. The scholars' decoding and analysis is truly helpful. Provocative insights come from people such as the analytical psychologist Carl G. Jung.
An excellent book on the interaction of culture and Paul's churches is In Search of Paul by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed.
Funerals must serve the needs of the family of the one who died. Many communities have groups to help people with funerals. The one in Austin, Texas, surveys funeral homes and cemeteries regularly and publishes comparative costs and what they cover. We as consumers have many choices. To find these local groups contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance. If you have a clergy person to talk with, you may find further help. When a family in my care had a death, I offered to accompany the family to the funeral home if they thought my being with them would help.
The writer of Mark uses as few words as he can as he rushes through his Gospel, so it is remarkable that he adds the word ‘green’ — that helps us visualize the scene.
Mark 6:30–44, 8:1–10 is the earliest witness that has parallels in Matthew 14.13–21, 15.32–39 and Luke 9.10–17; see also John 6.1–14.
Mark 6:3 (= Matthew 13:55–56): "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?"
Quoted from Claudia Davis: "As I have matured in my faith — often being forced to do so through new experiences — I have come to a new relationship with God, who is both mother and father to me and so much more.…"
— Abortion My Choice, God's Grace: Christian women tell their stories edited by Anne Eggebroten.
One of my favorites:
See writings of Rumi and the contemporary Sufi Kabir Helminski.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous has this outline and examples of the private, personal, analysis of step 4 in three columns:
Claims that homosexual acts are sins are based on two passages in Leviticus, where mixing breeds of animals, blending fabrics (as wool/Dacron), tattoos among dozens of acts are equally serious sins (Lev. 20:13, 19:19, 27–28) and we are required to eat Kosher. Referring to Kosher, Jesus said Mark 7:14–15 that prompted Mark to add, "Thus he declared all foods clean." Peter had a comparable vision and insight in Acts 10:9–16. What is the meaning of this "new testament" for homosexuals?
The writers of Leviticus knew nothing about homosexuality, which was not studied until the 19th century. To claim that we must believe homosexual acts are sins because the Bible says so requires that we also believe disease is caused by demons, the earth is flat, has four corners, and is the center of the universe. Face it, we know more accurate truth now about cosmology and illness as well as about sexuality than did Bible writers.
See my comments about homosexual rights and lefts.
The devil, called by a variety of names, appears often in the Bible as the cause of sin, but consider Jesus' words to Simon Peter. In response to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "You are the Messiah." Jesus then foretold his sufferings, and Peter rebuked him. Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (Mark 8:29–33)
Perhaps the devil really is in us!
Are you saved because you believe in certain propositions, such as the virgin birth or physical resurrection? Or are you a Christian because you are being a neighbor to those around you — are helping persons? These two different views of the Christian religion are both supported by the Bible and by current Bible scholars and theologians. The second is condemned because people are not talking about Christ. Yet St. Francis of Assisi asked a disciple to go with him to town to preach the gospel, and at the end of the day the disciple asked why they didn't preach, and St. Francis answered they were preaching by their actions throughout the day.
In these pages I share why my trust of the God of Christ leads me to proclaim the second view, being a neighbor, and find some pages on why I cannot support the first view. Please read through these pages, then make up your own mind and feelings.
1 Corinthians 2:9, quoting Isaiah 64:4
Isaiah 40:1215; Isaiah from chapter 40 to the end is probably the work of an un-named prophet who lived two centuries after Isaiah, reflecting a different time and situation and in a different writing and language style from Isaiah 139. This prophet is called the Prophet-of-the-Exile or Second-Isaiah.
A theologian told us decades ago of being in a group traveling through the middle East in a desolate desert area. Toward evening they arrived at their destination, and he felt he saw what happened at Bethlehem when there was no room in the inn.
Near the center of town was a long, low wall with an entrance. Inside they saw three similar walls. Ahead and to the sides built into the wall were roofed stalls for families or groups to spread sleeping rolls for the night as some had already. Beside the gate he noticed along the wall feeding troughs for animals, with animals tied up for the night. The four walls made a large square. In the center was a fire.
He asked about the structure and was told an ancient custom in these arid lands required small communities to build one or more houses for travelers to spend the night. The community built the houses and kept them ready for visitors. When a town grew bigger, he was told, they built an inn, as they called it, which had space for many travelers. The community each evening put hay in the mangers and built the fire to welcome and provide light and heat.
He said that for the first time he felt he could see the Bethlehem story of Jesus’ birth. If you will check, there is only one reference in the entire Bible to an inn keeper, and that is in the parable of the good Samaritan, that refers to an inn midway on that long, desolate road where there is no community to build its own welcome. Elsewhere the community was the inn keeper.
Mary and Joseph arrived at the inn late, and found all the stalls were taken. Joseph cleared a space near the dying fire, but soon labor pains started, and women, hearing her cries, came to help, wrapped the newborn in swaddling cloths, and laid him in the hay filled manger nearby, as a folk carol sings:
“Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass…”
This telling of his baptism is from Mark 1:10–11. God saying, "I am well pleased," suggests to me that Jesus' seeking to learn, to study, to pray, to find God and take in God all were what God wanted of this growing teen and man. Theologians call my view "Adoptionism," that I appreciate because of our feelings adopting our daughter when a week old. Paul uses adoption to explain this in Galatians 4.1-7.
As I view it, Jesus is as much our human seeking to understand and relate to God, as God is seeking us!
The Last Temptation of Christ is a fascinating book with many insights. It humanizes Jesus, which is necessary to glimpse his efforts to think through his understanding of his mission. Critics claim Jesus is too human! Some parts may offend some people.
He either received his mission directly from God that makes him not really human, or like us he wondered, prayed, thought to decide what to do.
It was the basis for the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." The motion picture version similarly inspires and troubles some.
Branch Rickey went to a Methodist college, Ohio Wesleyan, where he later became baseball coach. He experienced the ugly racism of the early 20th century. Later he became the major league baseball manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he invented the farm system so he could have a reservoir of talent; he again experienced racism. In 1943 he was hired as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, and decided he was going to change the barriers to African Americans playing major league baseball. Carefully planning his steps, he hired Jackie Robinson to break the race bar in major league baseball. What Robinson confronted in his baseball career is ugly and a testament to the quality of this man. After Robinson retired and Rickey moved on to other teams, the two men remained friends until the death of Branch Rickey.
Several books review and report the careers of these two remarkable Methodist laymen, including Robinson's I Never Had It Made. Lee Lowenfish's biography Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman is excellent. Rickey said to Robinson: I'm a Methodist. You're a Methodist, and God is a Methodist.
Ken Burn's epic PBS Baseball in the programs for the 1940's and 1950's reports this conflict visually. The programs for the 1960's report both men's involvement in later years.
Ancient theories of why Christ died and how he takes away our sin are often based on the scapegoat, and claim that Jesus voluntarily took on himself the sins of all peoples of all times, and that God demanded this as a satisfaction of justice.
This theory is not accepted by many Christians, who see more profound meaning in the dying of Jesus, and who question how "our Father" could ever require such "satisfaction of justice." Paul in his letters — the earliest written part of the New Testament — explores many ways to appreciate and think about the dying of Jesus. An excellent starting place is 2 Corinthians 5:14–21: …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us….
I think we must begin to understand Jesus' dying by recognizing both God's reaching toward us and our reaching for God. Jesus thought and probed and searched and studied and prayed — just as we do. He was a human searching just as we search. Traditional theologies that emphasize only God's action are, I think, stunted, and do not help us in our humanness.
To understand Jesus' death on the cross let's look not at ancient theories of scapegoating or the sacrificial blood system of the Torah, which were the framework for New Testament writers. Instead focus on understandings of the human psyche and soul of recent centuries, including the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that bring healing and recovery to countless people.
The Last Supper earliest report is in 1 Corinthians 11.2328; decades later it was written in Mark 14.2225, then Matthew 26.2629 and Luke 22.1423.
A suggestion: blood in his culture was the full meaning of life, and probably we should say life-blood or life; body translates the Greek word soma that means the physical as an intimate part of your whole unique and individual self. When he said this is my body, did he mean this is my self? Consider the significance of his saying, "This is my self! This is my life!"
Who has believed what we have heard?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
He was despised and rejected by others;
Surely he has borne our infirmities
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
All we like sheep have gone astray;
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Throughout Church history Jews were repeatedly blamed for causing the crucifixion of Jesus. The real villains were the Temple religious leaders and the Pharisees, who were the leaders of organized religion. The responsibility is not on the Jews either then or now, but rather on organized religiosity today with its turf building, rigidity, self-assurance, power struggles, and hierarchies.
Anti Jewish passages in the gospels, as Matthew 27:25, can be seen as the normal reactions to the harsh feelings and actions between Jews and Christians in the first decades after the crucifixion. Those passages do not dictate historic actions nor dictate what God will do.
Find essential information about our scapegoating Jews in Christian Anti-semitism and Paul's Theology by Sidney G. Hall III.
The sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church are recent examples of the church acting defensively and in denial, "circling the wagons." An excellent probing of that scandal is a Frontline program entitled "Hand of God" on PBS; you may read about it and see it at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/handofgod/ .
Before the first Easter resurrection the Gospels are consistent as they describe the capture, trial, and crucifixion; after that there is no consistency between the Gospels.
In Mark, the first gospel written, there are no descriptions of the risen Jesus; Mark ends with the women afraid; is Mark asking us if we also are afraid to tell what has happened?
Matthew reports in 28.9 that the risen Jesus appears and the women touch his feet, and he speaks. In 28.16 he again appears on a mountain in Galilee to tell them their mission and says he is with them always.
Luke, written later, combines both unphysical and physical appearances. The first appearance is the most intriguing, for Jesus joins two disheartened followers walking to the nearby village of Emmaus. He converses with them, prepares to eat, then evaporates, as their hearts are warmed, and they realize who walked and talked with them. In 24.36 he appears "mysteriously" in the midst of the disciples, scaring them, then in 24.39 says touch me and eats.
John, written yet later, like Luke combines both physical and ghostly appearances. First his followers Easter evening are behind locked doors when Jesus appears in 20.19-23, to speak with them about what they are to do their mission then empowering them with his spirit. Then in 20.26-29 Thomas, who was not there earlier, is told to put his hand into the wounds. (Scholars wonder if Thomas is singled out as John's way of attacking the Gospel of Thomas written decades earlier.)
A core belief of many fundamentalists is that the resurrection was physical. Is it wiser to accept the varying views in the gospels above, and instead focus on what happened to people? Similarly fundamentalists emphasize the virgin birth of Jesus rather than that he walked in our moccasins and what that means in our living in the here and now. Both of these fundamentalist views require that we agree to a thought or idea. Could this One want us to accept an intellectual theory? Rather I think he wants us to trust deeply in the real presence of the Christ and, as a result of that trusting relationship, live a fruitful life that results from that lively, personal trust.
John Wesley. Some historians credit his work in creating clinics for health care, orphanages for destitute children, and many other efforts with preventing England having a brutal revolution like the French one.
In the culture around Jesus a woman could not have been or done what Jesus did, whereas in our times and in our culture a woman could. A play or story in which this One is embodied in a woman in our culture could be a provocative telling of the first century gospel in our time.
Read O. Henry's short story The Last Leaf for insight into the meaning of Christ as Liberator. A girl who is very ill knows she is going to die when the forlorn tree outside her window loses its last leaf, as winter deepens and the leaves fall. Her room mate and an older man living in the building try to distract her and encourage her, but she will not stop staring as the last few leaves fall. Cold morning after morning the last leaf remains, until she rises from her bed by the window, saying maybe that leaf is telling her something. Then her room mate explains — that last leaf is the masterpiece of the older man who visited so often to encourage her, who died the night he painted it.
Genesis assumes a sacrificial system whenever altars are built, and in Exodus through Deuteronomy that sacrificial system is developed, including hundreds of uses of the word "blood." Genesis 22 reports Abraham and Isaac and God's denial of human sacrifice. Notice that Abraham's wife hardly appears after that — an intriguing note. For an interesting view of this incident see Jerry B. Harvey's The Abilene Paradox chapter 4.
Paul was a Jew but reared in the Greek world and culture, and viewed existence often from the Greek perspective, which is a root of our western view. In his letters he uses the word "blood" referring to the cross a half dozen times. Often as in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 he explains Jesus' death as inter-personal reconciling and mediating.