Book Write-Up: Canon and Community, by James Sanders

James A. Sanders.  Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

I stumbled upon this book when I went home over a year ago for my sister’s wedding.  I was looking through the closet of my childhood room for books that I could read for My Year (or More) of Nixon, and I discovered this short book by James Sanders explaining canonical criticism.  The book probably meant more to me when I found it in that closet than it did when I first picked it up over a decade before.  I first picked the book up way back when I was an undergraduate, and the chaplain of the college was giving away some of his old books for free.  A professor of mine had recommended that I look into canonical criticism, since, as a conservative Christian at the time, I was upset with how the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible tended to split the Bible up into contradictory, sometimes historically-inaccurate sources that related only to the time of their own composition, not to today.  My professor pointed me to canonical criticism so that I could be exposed to a scholarly methodology that was more holistic, synchronic, and faith-affirming in its engagement with the Bible.  I remember her recommending to me Brevard Childs’ books, though she may have also mentioned Sanders’ work.  In any case, I remembered Childs’ name, perhaps because it struck me as rather unusual, but not Sanders.  When I first saw Sanders’ book on canonical criticism, I decided to pick it up because it was about canonical criticism, but I did not realize at the time that Sanders himself was a significant figure in terms of this methodology.  I would come to appreciate that years later.  Consequently, when I found the book in my old closet over a year ago, I appreciated it for the jewel that it is, more so than I did when I was an undergraduate.

I was one time talking with an old student of Sanders about canonical criticism, asking him if Sanders’ canonical criticism is the same as that of Childs.  His response was that they are different—-that Childs’ enterprise was more theological, whereas Sanders focused more on the use of Scripture within religious communities.  After reading Canon and Community, I can see differences between the approaches of Childs and Sanders, many of which Sanders himself highlights.  At the same time, I also notice similarities, as I will explain in the course of this post.

Essentially, Sanders argues that traditions in the Bible have been re-interpreted and re-used within religious communities to speak to their own concerns.  Sanders contends that one can see this process going on within the Bible itself, and also after the Bible’s canonization.  Consequently, according to Sanders, historical-criticism that limits the writings of the Bible to their own historical contexts is incomplete and misguided, for traditions within those writings (and even before those writings) were continually reapplied to speak to new contexts.  Many scholars have acknowledged this, but Sanders wants for people to appreciate it.  His impression in 1984 was that many did not.  Some tended to over-value what a prophet originally said, while dismissing or under-valuing the redactors and writers within the Bible who re-applied or built upon those prophet’s words to speak to new situations.  A number of preachers chose to avoid exegetical preaching of the Bible, choosing instead to give topical sermons, for historical-criticism seemed to consign the meaning of the Bible to the past, thereby convincing certain preachers that they could not adequately relate it to the present.  Sanders’ canonical criticism speaks to this problem by affirming that traditions in the Bible were historically not understood to relate only to their original context, but were applied to speak to new contexts, even within the Bible itself.

How does Sanders’ approach compare with what Childs did when Childs attempted to address the same problem?  According to Sanders, Childs’ canonical criticism primarily focused on the final form of the biblical text.  Childs would, say, focus on what the final form of the Book of Isaiah appears to be saying, or what a passage in Isaiah may mean in light of its final form, rather than the sources within the Book of Isaiah.  Childs would also discuss how a biblical book or passage would fit into the larger canon: the Masoretic Text, and Christian Scripture.  Sanders had issues with these sorts of emphases, however.  For one, interpretation and re-interpretation of biblical traditions were going on prior to the “final form” of the biblical book, and Sanders believes that this should be acknowledged and appreciated, as opposed to acting as if interpretation jumped off after the final form came to be.  Second, there were cases in which there was more than one final form (i.e., different versions of Jeremiah), and even more than one canon within Judaism and Christianity.  Why privilege some over others?  And third, I would say that Sanders does focus more on religious communities than does Childs, who primarily looks at what different sources can mean theologically when they come together into one book or are juxtaposed with books elsewhere in the Bible.  My impression is that Childs also highlights more the history of interpretation—-the church fathers, Ibn-Ezra, etc.—-not so much to define how a text was historically applied to speak to the concerns of a religious community, but rather to demonstrate how great thinkers interpreted the Bible in a synchonic, theological fashion, the way that he seems to support.

But I believe that there is some overlap between the canonical criticisms of Childs and Sanders.  Sanders himself attempts to derive theological ideas from the biblical text, and he, like Childs, explores how one can read one biblical tradition in light of a different biblical tradition that appears elsewhere in the Bible.  Sanders argues that the diverse traditions within the Bible serve to balance each other out or correct each other.  Israelites in the Book of Deuteronomy affirm their chosen status before God, for example, whereas Jesus in the Gospel of Luke criticizes a Pharisee who praised God that he was more righteous than others.  The latter, according to Sanders, can serve as a corrective to the former when the two are read together by Christian devotees to the text.

There are questions that one can ask about Sanders’ approach.  Should we accept every interpretation and re-interpretation of biblical traditions in history to be true (as in, how God wants us to understand the text)?  Are, say, Qumran, rabbinic Judaism, and the New Testament all correct in how they interpret Scripture, notwithstanding their different beliefs and agendas?  And what exactly defines an interpretation or re-interpretation as true?  Are there any boundaries?

I do not think that Sander adequately answered these questions in Canon and Community, but I doubt that he would even claim that he did, for he acknowledges in the book that there is still a lot of work to do.  He does offer suggestions regarding interpretation, however.  He states that the text itself can provide some boundaries as to its own meaning.  He proposes that interpreters keep in mind what a biblical passage meant in its original context, even if they are applying the passage to new contexts, for that can keep interpretations from getting out of hand.  He also identifies trends that perhaps can guide interpretations: there are trends within and outside of the Bible towards monotheism, for example, exalting God as the truth of the universe, above all competitors for our worship and allegiance.  Sanders also exhorts readers to focus on what God is doing in the biblical text, and to try to identify with the perspectives of different biblical characters, good and bad, as a way to learn from them.  Sanders’ presupposition here is that even the bad characters are children of God, and thus we need not be afraid to learn from them, as that can correct us and build in us empathy and love towards our enemies.

I cannot say that all of my questions about canonical criticism were answered, but Sanders did give me fresh ways to look at the text.  Suppose that I read the Bible and sought to understand the perspective of, say, Goliath?  The thing is, I fear that such an approach would lead me to have less sympathy for the God of the Bible, who tends to side with some over others!


Mary, Martha, and the Bible

My church had some interesting discussions last night at our Bible study.  We’re still going through our study on the Gospel of Luke.  I’ll use as my starting-point a question on page 35 of the curriculum that we are using, Luke: Gospel of Reassurance With Michael Card.

Read Luke 10:38-42, another passage from Luke that Michael views as dispelling the idea that the Bible is ‘anti-woman.’”

Luke 10:38-42 is the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is working in the kitchen, upset that her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from Jesus, instead of helping her out.  But Jesus commends Mary.  Michael Card was saying that Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning was revolutionary in those days.  After all, Michael Card notes, rabbis didn’t even speak to their own wives in public, and they were against women learning Torah.

I didn’t care for Michael Card’s point that the story of Mary and Martha dispels the idea that the Bible is anti-woman.  I wouldn’t say that the Bible is anti-woman, per se, but I would say that it has passages that are sexist and patriarchal, as well as passages that are liberating and progressive.  “The Bible” does not say the same thing all the way through, for it is a collection of documents with different ideologies and writers.  Even a conservative Christian in the group remarked that the Bible has its ups and downs when it comes to its views on women, since there are times when women are portrayed as strong or as leaders: Deborah and Esther are examples.  I’m not sure if he was dismissing biblical inerrancy, though.  I may not have made clear to the group that there are patriarchal passages in laws that are attributed to God, and so perhaps he thought that I was merely describing features of ancient Israelite culture, which did not necessarily come from God.  Someone else in the group, however, said that men wrote the Bible, and they were reflecting the sexist and patriarchal notions of their day.

I was thinking some about Michael Card’s statement that rabbis wouldn’t speak to their wives in public.  I do recall rabbinic passages like that.  At the same time, I’m hesitant to say that rabbis didn’t speak with women at all in public, for I have read rabbinic tales about matrons asking rabbis a question.  Moreover, while Michael Card is correct that there was a rabbinic aversion to women learning Torah, that wasn’t the entire story.  See my post here.

We talked in the group about whom we identified with more, Mary or Martha.  A lady in the group said that somebody needed to cook to feed all those people, so she could understand Martha’s concern.  A man in the group, whom I usually call “Bob” on this blog, said that he identified with Mary, since he was a man.  Bob said that women back then were expected to do the cooking and cleaning, whereas men could pursue other things, such as learning.  Society allowed men the luxury to be Marys, in short.  Bob lamented that it’s still like that, regardless of how far society has advanced.  Bob asked why a man couldn’t have helped Martha out.

Published in: on September 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God

I’ve decided to get back into reading about religious studies and theology.  It’s not that I ever stopped doing that, per se, but I’ve been reading materials for my dissertation.  I’d like to expand my knowledge about religious studies and theology because I may sometime be teaching them some day.  Plus, as I travel through the religious studies blogosphere, I realize that there are so many books that I have not read.

I was in a library recently, looking for books to check out.  I came across a book published in 1961, Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era.  The book looked interesting to me for a variety of reasons.  First, it was about how many in that time were considering Christianity to be inadequate, and that is a topic of interest to me: the search for an adequate belief system.  Moreover, Vahanian, rather than completely discarding the Bible, seemed to make use of its categories to describe people’s predicament.  Second, the book got into the thoughts of various theologians, and I figured that I could beef up my knowledge on that.

The book ended up being way over my head, to tell you the truth.  It’s not that Vahanian used difficult words that I had to look up in the dictionary.  Rather, he was putting together fairly simple words into sentences that I did not understand, and I had a hard time following his train of thought.  I can easily find myself despairing as a result of this, telling myself that I’m just not smart or sophisticated enough for academia!  But I try to resist those kinds of thoughts.  Ayn Rand said that even those who are simple can practice reasoning, on some level, and so I will attempt to learn and to read.  We all have to start somewhere.  We were all at one time in a position where we did not know something and had to learn it—-we’re all still in that position, for that matter, for none of us knows everything.  And there are plenty of good books that I can read that are easier for me to understand.

I felt as if I was reading a book in a different language and had to draw from here and there to understand what Vahanian was saying.  Vahanian’s main point seems to be that many in his time deemed the Christian God to be irrelevant to their situation.  Vahanian says that one problem is that the Christian God is too transcendent, when many are focused on the here and now; for some reason, however, Vahanian does not seem to be particularly keen on going to the opposite extreme and saying that God is very imminent.  Vahanian says on page 231 that “The dilemma of radical immanentism is that it offers no resolution to man’s predicament because, although it attempts to define man in terms of his relatedness to others, it can only project man as a god or a wolf to his fellow man.”  Huh?  You can hopefully see what I mean when I say that I understand the words that Vahanian uses, but not the sentence or the thought that Vahanian is trying to convey.

In critiquing the social Gospel, Vahanian appears to be arguing that people wonder what role Christianity will play, when all the social problems are solved.  I can’t envision all of humanity’s problems being solved, to be honest, and I seriously doubt that Vahanian himself envisions that.  But even if people have arrived at a level of comfort and do not feel that they need God to be fulfilled, they may still have spiritual needs.  The thing is, Vahanian appears to acknowledge that people have spiritual needs.  He just doesn’t believe that Christianity is adequately meeting them, for some reason.

In reading about why people become atheists, I come across a variety of reasons: encountering historical-criticism of the Bible shakes people’s faith in biblical inerrancy; science continues to shrink what is seen as God’s role in the cosmos; people throughout the world have different religions and cultures, making one wonder what makes one religion correct; the problem of evil and suffering calling into question the existence of a just and loving God.  Vahanian gets into some of these issues—-these topics that influence some to question that theism is factually accurate.  But these issues do not loom as large in Vahanian’s book as one might expect.  Rather, Vahanian’s point seems to be that Christianity (or theism) is not resonating with people.

One can legitimately ask: Does this matter?  Just because a belief-system does not resonate with people, does that mean it’s not true?  A fundamentalist could say that God still judges sinners, even if people don’t believe in God, or even if the truth that they are sinners does not resonate with them.

The thing is, God is also love, and many might think that a loving God would try to meet people where they are.  Within the Bible, arguably, God is reaching out to people within their own cultures, using categories that they understand.  In light of this, would God respond to people’s failure to see the relevance of theism with, “Well, who cares?  It’s the truth anyway, regardless of what you might think?”

I’ll be moving on to an easier book: Scientists Confront Creationism.  If you’re interested, here is the wikipedia article about Vahanian, and here is the wikipedia article on the death of God, which discusses Vahanian’s contribution to the discussion.

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Misuse and Use of Luke 10:21

At Bible study last night, one verse that got quoted was Luke 10:21: “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (KJV).

I think that this verse can be taken in unfortunate anti-intellectual directions: you don’t have to listen to scholars, since God reveals wisdom to the simple; you don’t have to understand why someone believes what she believes and respond to that, since reasoning is irrelevant, as knowledge of “the” truth comes by revelation.

This verse was quoted on the DVD that we watched within the context of the typical narrative that the marginalized, humble people came to the truth (i.e., accepting Jesus as the Messiah), whereas the scholars and religious leaders missed out.  There are many conservative evangelicals who would draw from this narrative the lesson that we don’t need to listen to scholarly “worldly wisdom” because the scholars of Jesus’ day missed out on the truth.  Can we also take from this narrative the lesson that maybe we shouldn’t trust today’s religious establishment because the religious leaders of Jesus’ day missed out on the truth?  I doubt that a number of conservative evangelicals would want to go there, as such an idea would conflict with their belief in church “authority”!

I’m not sure if my problem is merely with the misuse of Luke 10:21, or with Luke 10:21 itself.  I’ll have to admit that I can’t think of ways to interpret Luke 10:21 in a way that makes me completely comfortable.  I will say this, though: there is perhaps a valuable lesson in Luke 10:21, namely, that God can work in ways that we don’t quite expect.  We all (or many of us) have our biases and blinders, our egos and insecurities, our desires for power and acknowledgement of how the world “really” works.  I should take heed that these marks of “sophistication” not blind me to the good things that God does in the world.

In a similar vein to some of my concerns, check out Pete Enns’ excellent post here.

Repentance and Forgiveness

The theme at church this morning was repentance and forgiveness.  I’m not always sure how to respond to that particular theme.  I’m told that I need to believe in Jesus to be saved.  Do I truly believe in Jesus?  How do I know that Christianity is even true?  And how do I repent?  Can I truly change and eliminate every flaw from my life?  Does God even change people?  If so, then where has he been in my life?  I can think of plenty of times in my life when I wished that I could feel God’s nearness, but what I felt instead was fear.  Why hasn’t God taken away my fear of people?

I’m not entirely sure what I believe right now, but I do think that there are simple steps that I can take each day.  I can identify things that I have thought and have done that strike me as wrong.  I can ask God to forgive me, and for the strength to have better thoughts and deeds.  And maybe, as I recognize my own flaws, I can become more understanding and charitable when it comes to my view of others.

But it’s a struggle.  I no longer impose on myself a standard of absolute perfection.  But I do have thoughts that, well, I don’t think are particularly healthy for me—-thoughts of bitterness and unforgiveness of others, for example.

Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Not Fasting This Year

In the past, I have fasted on the Day of Atonement, since I grew up in a version of Christianity in which people did so.  For the past two years, however, I have not.  And I am not fasting today.  Why not?  In the past, it may have been because I felt that I, as a New Covenant Christian, was not required to do so.  Nowadays, I really don’t care about that, for I’m skeptical of many attempts to organize the writings of the Bible into some grand, unified message, as if the Bible speaks with one voice and propounds a consistent “theology.”  Consequently, I tend to greet most statements that begin with “The Bible says” with skepticism.  This year, I’m not fasting because I just plain don’t want to.  In the past, what fasting on the Day of Atonement meant for me was being hungry and thirsty for 24 hours and looking at the clock to see when the day would end.  This was the case, even if I incorporated spiritual exercises into the Day.  I don’t believe that I have to fast to have a better relationship with God—-to be reminded of spiritual and moral lessons, to remember that God loves me, or to reflect on what I should and should not be doing.  Heck, at this point in my life, I feel that I get spirituality from watching good TV shows!  Why should I put myself through a ritual?

I’ve wondered in the past why the ancient Israelites were required to fast on the Day of Atonement.  The answers that I usually heard was that fasting reminds people of their limitations, that it is a manifestation of humility, and that doing it shows God that one takes his repentance and need for God’s forgiveness seriously.  On the first, I don’t need to fast to be reminded of my limitations.  Getting a headache reminds me of that!  On the second and third reasons, I think of what Moses said in the 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments:  “Does this god demand a scarred back and broken hands as the price of his favor?”

The thing is, I respect some of the people who are fasting on this day, looking for a profound spiritual experience.  I know one lady who converted to Reconstructionist Judaism, and she wrote yesterday that she was looking forward to fasting.  The same goes for a number of Jewish people I know.  And, as I look back, I have had good Days of Atonement.  I would take the day off from school (if my school didn’t already give students the day off, as the Jewish schools did), I wouldn’t do any homework, and I would fast.  I’d either go to a Jewish Hillel service, or I would watch movies that edified me, or I would study Scripture.  It was a change of pace for me, and it was a ritual that kept me grounded, in a sense.  Those were good times.  But I’m just not in that place right now.  Maybe I’ll be in the place again sometime in the future.  I’m just not inclined today to refrain from food and water, to remind myself of all of my faults, and to beat myself up just because I fall short of some perfect standard.

Luke and Divine Inspiration

My church started a new Bible study last night.  We’re going through Luke: Gospel of Reassurance, with Michael Card.  The main theme last night was who Luke was and how that influenced his writing of his Gospel.  Luke was a Gentile, and that influenced him to highlight the Gospel going to the Gentiles.  He was a physician, and Michael Card said that the physicians he knows are men of prayer, and that could be why Luke’s Gospel has a lot of emphasis on prayer.  Michael Card speculated that Luke was a slave, since many physicians in the ancient world (such as Emperor Augustus’ physician) were slaves, plus Luke was a slave name.  Could Luke’s status as a slave (assuming that Michael Card is correct on this) explain the sensitivity of his Gospel to the poor and the marginalized?

We read Luke’s introduction in Luke 1, where he said that he was gathering information from eyewitnesses and was writing so that Theophilus might know with certainty about that in which he had been instructed.  Michael Card said (if I remember correctly) that the stories in Luke about Jesus’ birth and childhood may have been due to Luke’s consultation of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The pastor was asking if people in the ancient world would value Luke’s references to the testimony of eyewitnesses rather than the testimony of eyewitnesses themselves, of the sort that we see in Matthew’s Gospel.  (My pastor believes that the apostle Matthew, who was with Jesus as a disciple, wrote the Gospel of Matthew.)  People in the group were acknowledging the difficulty of writing a history from the testimonies of eyewitnesses, since different people have different accounts.  But the people in the group seemed to believe that Luke wrote an accurate life of Jesus, for physicians pay attention to details, and Luke, according to II Timothy 4:9-11, stuck with Paul when others had forsaken him, showing that Luke was a man of character whose Gospel can be trusted.

Our workbook asked: “How do you think the Holy Spirit was involved in the process of Luke’s researching and writing his account, which eventually came to be included in Scripture?”  That is an excellent question, even if you are a believer who does not accept all of Michael Card’s ideas about the authorship and composition of the Gospel of Luke, preferring other scholarly scenarios instead.  Where does Luke end, and where does God begin?  I one time wrote a paper for a Jewish theology class, in which I was seeking to explain my view as to how the Bible was divine revelation.  I wrote that I believed that God inspired human authors, while preserving their own personalities.  My professor was puzzled by that model of revelation.  He wondered if I was saying that the Bible contained God’s words, or human authors’ words, or somehow both.

I don’t have a fully satisfactory answer to my professor’s question, but I wonder: maybe God could communicate truth while still preserving the personality of the human authors.  Who Luke was as a person may have influenced him to highlight certain aspects of God’s truth—-the Gospel going to the Gentiles, social justice, prayer, etc.—-but he was still communicating aspects of God’s truth.  By reading Luke, perhaps we’re getting a window into the mind of Luke, but also (on some level) the mind of God.

Purification of Body and Soul

On page 287 of Verus Israel (translated into the English by H. McKeating), Marcel Simon talks about how ancient Christians distinguished Jewish baptism from Christian baptism:

“Sometime when they use the word baptism they are thinking of the regular ablutions, which is why these authors sometimes emphasize, as a contrast between Jewish baptism and Christian, the fact that the Jewish rite is repeated.  Most frequently they are thinking of proselyte baptism and purificatory baths at the same time.  But they always put the Jewish rite and Christian baptism side by side, and set themselves to demonstrate the conspicuous superiority of the latter.  The former can have no effect except on the body.  Only Christian baptism is capable of purifying the soul.  St. John Chrysostom does allow to Jewish baptism a religious value, which distinguishes it from the ordinary bath taken for hygienic reasons.”

Here are some thoughts about this:

1.  The part about Jewish baptism only affecting the body, whereas Christian baptism purifies the soul, reminds me of what Josephus said about John the Baptist’s baptism in Antiquities 18:117: “for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness” (Whiston’s translation).

The idea here seems to be that baptism purifies the body, whereas something else was necessary for the purification of the soul, namely, righteousness.  Why would the body need to be purified, though?  Is this referring to ritual purification?

2.  The endnote for Simon’s claim that certain ancient Christians said that Jewish baptism only affects the body refers to Apostolic Constitutions 7.44.  That includes the following (see here): “O Lord God, who is without generation, and without a superior, the Lord of the whole world, who has scattered the sweet odour of the knowledge of the Gospel among all nations, grant at this time that this ointment may be efficacious upon him that is baptized, that so the sweet odour of Your Christ may continue upon him firm and fixed; and that now he has died with Him, he may arise and live with Him. Let him say these and the like things, for this is the efficacy of the laying on of hands on every one; for unless there be such a recital made by a pious priest over every one of these, the candidate for baptism does only descend into the water as do the Jews, and he only puts off the filth of the body, not the filth of the soul. After this let him stand up, and pray that prayer which the Lord taught us. But, of necessity, he who is risen again ought to stand up and pray, because he that is raised up stands upright. Let him, therefore, who has been dead with Christ, and is raised up with Him, stand up.”

The idea here seems to be that, while Christian baptism is powerful because it entails becoming dead and rising again with Christ, it is not enough for the cleansing of the soul.  Unless baptism is followed by the laying on of hands and prayer by a pious priest, it amounts to mere purification of the body, not cleansing of the soul.

3.  The endnote for Simon’s statement that Chrysostom believed that Jewish baptism has religious value refers to Chrystostom’s Instruction to Catechumens 1:2, which includes the following (see here): “There is that laver by means of the baths, common to all men, which is wont to wipe off bodily uncleanness; and there is the Jewish laver, more honorable than the other, but far inferior to that of grace; and it too wipes off bodily uncleanness but not simply uncleanness of body, since it even reaches to the weak conscience. For there are many matters, which by nature indeed are not unclean, but which become unclean from the weakness of the conscience. And as in the case of little children, masks, and other bugbears are not in themselves alarming, but seem to little children to be alarming, by reason of the weakness of their nature, so it is in the case of those things of which I was speaking; just as to touch dead bodies is not naturally unclean, but when this comes into contact with a weak conscience, it makes him who touches them unclean. For that the thing in question is not unclean naturally, Moses himself who ordained this law showed, when he bore off the entire corpse of Joseph, and yet remained clean. On this account Paul also, discoursing to us about this uncleanness which does not come naturally but by reason of the weakness of the conscience, speaks somewhat in this way, ‘Nothing is common of itself save to him who accounts anything to be common.’  Romans 14:14.  Do you not see that uncleanness does not arise from the nature of the thing, but from the weakness of the reasoning about it? And again: ‘All things indeed are clean, howbeit it is evil to that man who eats with offense.’  Romans 14:20.  Do you see that it is not to eat, but to eat with offense, that is the cause of uncleanness?”

The idea here appears to be that Jewish rites of washing had the religious value of cleansing Jews’ weak consciences when they touched something that they considered to be impure, but which was not impure in itself.

4.  There are passages in the New Testament about the purification of the body or flesh, and the purification of the conscience or soul.  I’ll give you some samples.  I Peter 3:21 (KJV): “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”  Hebrews 10:22: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”  II Corinthians 7:1: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

What do these mean?  There is a belief that the conscience needs to be cleansed.  That makes sense to me: that our guilt needs to addressed.  In I Peter 3:21, baptism is associated with that.  But, at least in Hebrews 10:22 and II Corinthians 7:1, there is an acknowledgement that the body needs to be cleansed.  Does that relate to ritual purity?  Or are the passages saying there that the body needs to be pure, in terms of not engaging in sexual immorality?  Sexual immorality is a prominent issue in I Corinthians.

Processing Church This Morning

I’m still processing a social encounter from church this morning.  I walked in and shook someone’s hand, asking him how he was doing.  Later, we had the passing of the peace, and I asked this same gentleman how he was doing.  He replied, “The same as I was when you asked me two minutes ago!”  I responded, “My social repertoire…”  I was about to say that it was limited.  Before I could get all that out, he retorted, “I know,” then proceeded to shake other people’s hands.

I probably should vary my social repertoire a bit.  I could ask a person how he’s doing when I first see him, then later say that it’s good to see him, or something like that.  I doubt that I’ve utterly alienated this gentleman from me, since he’s a nice person, and I’ve had my share of social flub-ups with him in the past.  He’s thought that he’s made social flub-ups with me, come to think of it.

The pastor emeritus was conducting the service this morning, since the pastor and his wife are away on vacation.  The pastor emeritus will be conducting the service next week, as well.  I was paying particular attention to the service this morning because, next week, I’ll be doing the liturgy, and I wanted to see how the liturgy is done this week so that I’d know how I should do the liturgy next week.  The pastor emeritus usually organizes the service differently from the pastor.  I took notes on what the liturgist did today (i.e., what parts of the program he read), and, after the service, I told the pastor emeritus that I’ll just do what the liturgist did today.  I asked him if that was all right, and he responded, “Oh, I don’t know.”  I guess I’ll just go with my plan, then!

Published in: on August 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Life of Pi (the Movie)

I watched Life of Pi last night, and I rewatched parts of it this morning.  Life of Pi was a reward-winning movie that was released in 2012, and it is based on a 2001 book by Yann Martel.  It is about Pi, an Indian (from India) whose dad owns a zoo.  Pi as a child explores different religions—-the gods of India, Christianity, and Islam.  Pi admires the heroism of Indian gods, along with Vishnu’s cosmic significance, but he is also drawn to the love of the Christian God (though he says that the doctrine of Jesus taking the punishment for people’s sins initially did not make sense to him), and the sense of holy space within Islam.  Pi’s father is a rationalist who is skeptical about religion, yet he is okay with Pi adopting a belief system that he (the father) does not share, just so long as Pi chooses one belief system rather than adhering to multiple religions.  Pi’s mother was disowned by her parents for marring someone of whom they disapproved, and Pi narrates that her devotion to Hinduism was a way for her to remain attached to her Indian heritage.  When the mother speaks for herself in the movie, however, she says that science is about what’s “out there,” whereas religion is about what’s “in here” (the heart).  The main reason that I liked this movie was that it was about religious exploration.  I’m interested in stories that explore what people believe and why, and what draws people to certain belief systems.

Pi and his family have to leave India, and they’re taking the zoo animals with them.  The ship has a serious accident, which takes the lives of Pi’s family, and the outcome is that Pi is on a little boat in the middle of the sea, with a ferocious tiger named Richard Parker.  Pi is trying to survive with the tiger on board, and he eventually develops compassion for the tiger and saves him from drowning.  Pi finds that the tiger is keeping him alive by making him afraid, and also by giving him someone to care for.  Pi is sad when the tiger leaves him without looking back, or giving some indication of saying “good bye.” When Pi saved the tiger from drowning, I had some compassion for the tiger, since the tiger reminded me of my own cats.  At the same time, I said when I was watching that scene that I would have let the tiger drown, since the tiger was threatening Pi’s life and peace of mind.  My statement was not well received by my Mom and her husband, and even one of our cats, Figaro, had something to say about my remark!  In any case, I came to respect Pi’s relationship with the tiger, and the scene in which Pi was petting the tiger’s head while the tiger was sick was sweet (see the trailer for a snippet of that scene).

At the end of the movie, we’re left in doubt about whether Pi’s story about the tiger is true, or if instead something else happened.  The movie seemed to be going in a postmodern direction (if it hadn’t already), and my Mom is better at understanding postmodernism than I am.  I was scratching my head, wondering if the tiger story actually happened (within the narrative of the movie, of course).  But the movie appeared to be asking which story the hearer wants to accept, the more fantastic one, or the less fantastic one.  Was the tiger story an allegory?  I don’t know.  While postmodern movies make me scratch my head, at times, their postmodernism does gives the movies a certain degree of depth, which I happen to like.

Published in: on August 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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