Are You Truly Saved?

Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen has a blog post that’s getting me riled up, entitled Why I Don’t Like “Once-Saved-Aways-Saved”.  Here are some passages from the post, and I’ve included the link so that the reader can see them in context:

I have often said that it is easier to tell when someone is a true Christian than to tell if they are not. In other words, some people wear their conviction on their shoulder. The power of the Holy Spirit could not be clearer. Their passion, understanding, grace, humility, and faith are clearly evident in everything they do. I know and can state with a great degree of confidence that they trust in Christ and are saved. They are in the race and they are running. Others, however, it is hard to tell. They may say they are saved, but I am not convinced with the same degree of conviction. They may be convinced, but I am not. I am not saying they are not saved, I just don’t know. Some live in a perpetual state of doubt, failure, and terrible sin. They may be in the race, but they are not running. However, even when they are at their worst, I cannot say with the same degree of confidence that they are not saved than when I can say someone is saved…

I have someone who I can’t figure out. Conversations with him are always very frustrating. I just want to crack his head open and see what is inside. I want to gaze where only God can see. What I want to know is does he really know Christ? My heart says “I hope” but my mind says “I don’t know. I doubt it.”

If you were to look at the life of this friend, you would not suspect that he has ever broached the throne room of God. You would not expect that he has ever humbly bowed at the cross, understanding his own condition and asking for mercy. I have never seen him read his Bible and I have never heard him honor Christ with his words. His life is one of constant pursuit of what the world has to offer and it completely controls his emotional state. Comforting him with spiritual talk is useless as you will get the gaze of ridicule and quickly share in the humility of having your conversation cut short by awkward silence.

Yet, when push comes to shove, this guy will give you his testimony. Every once in a while he will tell you why you don’t need to be worried about his spiritual condition. He will confidently tell you of the time when he was twelve years old and walked the aisle at Church to accept the Gospel. Once his tale is complete, he has exhausted his ability to have a spiritual conversation and the awkward silence ensues.

Is this guy saved? Can it be that he truly walked the aisle so long ago and has not flexed a spiritual muscle since? Why is he so secure in his salvation?

In his office, there is one spiritual relic. It is an old piece of paper that hangs prominently by his desk entitled “The Believer’s Security.” On it are listed all of the passages of Scripture that give assurance that a believer cannot lose their salvation. This unqualified doctrine was something that he was taught immediately after his saving experience. This is what he banks on every day.

That reminds me of something John MacArthur says in Chapter 7 of his book, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles:

A dear friend of mine once ministered in a church where he encountered a retired layman who thought of himself as a Bible teacher. The fellow would seize every opportunity to teach or testify publicly, and his message was always the same. He would talk about how “positional truth” had given him new enthusiasm for the Christian faith. The “positional truth” he spoke of included the perfect righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers at justification. The man also loved to point out that all Christians are seated with Christ in heavenly places ( Eph. 2:6 ) and hidden with Christ in God ( Col. 3:3 ). He was eager to remind his fellow Christians that we all stand before God as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” ( 1 Pet. 2:9 ). Those “positional” realities are true of all genuine Christians, regardless of our level of spiritual maturity. Our unassailable standing in Christ is one of the most precious truths of Christian doctrine. But this particular man, obsessed with “positional truth,” lived a deplorable life. He was a drunkard. He was addicted to cigarettes. He was ill tempered and arrogant. He was unloving to his wife. He had created division and strife in several churches over the years. He was completely undisciplined in almost every way. My friend once visited the man’s home, and signs of his ungodly lifestyle were all over the house. To this man, “positional truth” evidently meant truth that has no practical ramifications. He had wrongly concluded that since our position in Christ isn’t altered by our practice, Christians really needn’t be bothered about their sins. He evidently believed he could be assured of the promises of the Christian life even though none of the practical fruits of faith were evident in his walk. In short, he loved the idea of justification but seemed to give scant attention to sanctification. My friend rightly encouraged him to examine whether he was truly in Christ ( 2 Cor. 13:5 ).

As with most things, I have a mixed reaction to these statements.  Let me start with the negative, for that’s stronger in my reaction.  How can we tell that these people are not saved?  Granted, Michael Patton says that he doesn’t know whether or not his acquaintance is truly saved, since he can’t see into the person’s heart.  But he goes on to say that he doubts it.  And John MacArthur praises his friend in the ministry, who encouraged that one guy to “examine whether he was truly in Christ.”  So Patton and MacArthur are expressing doubt about somebody’s salvation.

But what is the basis of their doubt?  Patton says that there’s an “awkward silence” when he tries to have a spiritual conversation with the person.  But does that mean this person is not saved?  Not everyone is glib when it comes to talking about their faith.  Not everyone is comfortable talking about spiritual matters with other people.  Maybe they see religion as a private matter—between them and God.  Perhaps they don’t enjoy being comforted with spiritual talk because they like to handle their problems privately, or they’re not always sold on upbeat religious platitudes.  I know even mature Christians who are like this. 

Patton says that this person’s “life is one of constant pursuit of what the world has to offer and it completely controls his emotional state.”  Yeah, him and who else?  We’re all like this, to some degree.  Believing in Jesus Christ and looking to him (and not the world) for my security and sense of identity is difficult.  I’m not going to judge a person just because he fails at it, or doesn’t grasp it at this moment in his Christian walk.  (Or at least I’ll try not to judge him.)

Patton says that this person does not “honor Christ with his words.”  What’s that mean, exactly?  Not everyone says “Praise the Lord” when they enter a room.  Plus, it appears from what Patton describes that this guy actually does honor Christ with his words:  he gives his testimony, and he has passages of Scripture on his desk that comfort him with the doctrine of God’s love. 

Throwing the guy MacArthur criticizes into the mix, maybe these guys are trying their best to love God and other people, but it’s not particularly easy for them.  Perhaps the guy MacArthur criticizes has difficulty internalizing God’s love for him, and so he tries to remind himself and others of the “positional truth” that he’s saved through God’s grace, or he causes divisions in church to get attention, or he vaunts himself, or he seeks comfort in booze and cigarettes.  This man deserves our prayers and compassion, not our judgment.  Instead, his pastor implies to him that he’s not truly saved. 

I’m sensitive about this issue because of the times Christians have judged me for not appearing passionate enough, or not being glib enough in spiritual conversation, or not loving others according to their definition of love (namely, social extroversion).  With all due respect, I don’t need that judgment!  I have enough people judging me in my day-to-day life, so I don’t need that from Christians.  Michael Patton wrote a post a little while ago about why some people ditch the Christian faith.  Maybe this is one reason!

Yet, some of what Patton and MacArthur say resonates with me, for (as my readers may detect) I judge conservative Christians.  I don’t understand how some of them can believe in Christ and have Jesus Christ living inside of their hearts, and yet be jerks, or cliquish, or snobbish, or manipulative just like people in the world.  I’d like to think that their faith would make them a cut above the rest, but, alas, that’s not always the case.  I can tell myself that they may be trying to be good, even as they battle a painful past, or urges.  The temptation to judge them is so great, such that I can fume about them all day long.  But I should try to have compassion and pray for others to find peace. 

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Eternal Covenant

For my write-up today on Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought, I want to look at pages 102-105.

I Kings 8:21 reads (in the translation Japhet uses): “And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

The parallel passage, II Chronicles 6:11, reads: “And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with the people of Israel.”

Japhet notices that the Chronicler has made two changes.  First, he changed “with our fathers” to “with the people of Israel.”  Second, he omitted the part about the Exodus from Egypt. 

Japhet believes this is significant.  For her, the Chronicler rejects that notion that “a historical event determined the relationship between God and the people of Israel.”  Not the Exodus.  Not Sinai.  Not something that happened to Israel’s fathers.  Rather, according to Japhet, the Chronicler saw God’s covenant as eternal and timeless.

Japhet still acknowledges passages in which the Chronicler alludes to the patriarchs, the Exodus, and Horeb (I Chronicles 16:15-17; II Chronicles 5:10).  But she states that, in these cases, “parallel texts are transmitted.” I take this to mean that such passages are merely the Chronicler dumping other sources into his text, without making an attempt to alter them according to his ideology.  In the case of II Chronicles 6:11, however, he alters I Kings 8:21, so we’d better take notice: the Chronicler is telling us what he really thinks about the covenant!  He’s altering the text according to his two cents! 

I wonder what Japhet has in mind when she refers to a timeless covenant.  Is it something like what we see in Jubilees, in which the patriarchs are observing the laws of the Torah?  Is it the concept that God foreordained at creation (maybe before) that he would make a covenant with Israel, so, while he may have officially done so when Israel’s ancestors came along or when Israel emerged as a nation, the covenant per se existed before then, and the Chronicler wants to make that clear by avoiding any implication that a historical event brought about the covenant?

One thing I see in Japhet’s book (though I’m not going to hunt it down right now) is that the Chronicler believes that God chose Israel, period.  That’s the basis of the covenant.  It’s not that God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and so they owe him.  Nor is it that they agreed at Sinai/Horeb to obey God’s laws.  Rather, the basis of the covenant is God’s free choice, which has existed for eternity.  Sounds rather Calvinist!

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 1:26 am  Leave a Comment  

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Today, I saw at my local theater The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.  Daniel Ellsberg worked with the Rand Corporation, which developed strategy for the U.S. Government for the war in Vietnam.  His claim to fame is that he took top secret government documents about the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the Presidency of Harry S. Truman to that of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he leaked them to the press.  These documents are called the Pentagon Papers, and they revealed that American Presidents had misled the American people about what they were and weren’t doing in Vietnam.  (I saw them in book form at my local public library in Brazil, Indiana.)  When President Nixon got an injunction that stopped the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, they appeared in the Washington Post.   And when Nixon got an injunction against the Washington Post, they appeared in the Boston Globe

Nixon didn’t like the fact that Ellsberg was being made into a national hero.  And, although John Dean—Nixon’s counsel who turned on Nixon during the Watergate scandal—appeared in the documentary to laud Ellsberg for standing up to an “imperialist President,” he could somewhat understand Nixon’s concern.  He said that it wouldn’t be good if Nixon’s coming up with an idea one day, and the next day his idea is splashed on the front page of the New York Times!

I don’t want this to be an “on the one hand…on the other hand” sort of post, so I’ll mention three things in the documentary that stood out to me.

First, we have Nixon on tape telling Henry Kissinger that he (Nixon) does “not give a damn” about the civilian casualties in our bombing raids.  Civilian casualties were a big reason that Ellsberg became an opponent of the Vietnam War.  And it was sobering to read that the Vietnam War killed two million Vietnamese people.  I’m sure not all of those were civilian casualties, but there were many civilians who died.  I feel that we should not turn our eyes away from the Communist atrocities that were committed throughout the world, including by North Vietnam.  But we’ve done our share of harm as well.  My impression is that the left ignores the former while pointing out the latter, while conservatives do the exact opposite. 

Second, I gained respect for certain people in the anti-war movement, who faced the prospect of decades in prison for following their convictions.  I respect those who fought in Vietnam because they risked their lives.  But there were also people who stood against the war who were not “cowards” or “bums”—far from it.

Third, someone on the documentary said that a person told Ellsberg that he’d better hope his jury does not consist of middle-aged males!  The reason was that many males of middle age had already compromised their principles for financial security, so they’d resent Ellsberg for doing the opposite.  That reminds me of something Ellsberg said on the movie.  He narrated how Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, said behind closed doors (with Ellsberg in the room) that the Vietnam War is going poorly, despite the vast number of additional troops that were sent to the region.  Right after that, McNamara is beaming in front of the camera, saying that he’s “encouraged” by our progress in Vietnam.  Ellsberg said that he hoped never to have that kind of job—one in which he’d have to lie in front of the cameras.

Someone else who was on the movie was one of Nixon’s “plumbers.”  He admired Daniel Ellsberg for taking a risk—for sacrificing his job and facing possible time in prison to follow his convictions.  The plumber said that he (the plumber) didn’t do that, for he was so enmeshed in the system.  I’ve got to admire his honesty there!

The documentary is narrated by Ellsberg and features interviews with him, his wife, people at the Rand Corporation, John Dean, staff at the New York Times, and others.  I tended to limit my picture of Ellsberg to the 1970′s, so it was interesting to see him as an old man.

I want to close this post with a few questions/comments.  Conservatives tend to distrust the domestic sphere of government, while they trust its national security apparatus.  Liberals, by contrast, distrust the national security apparatus, yet they favor entrusting more power to the federal government in the domestic sphere.  Is this consistent?  And is our government evil, or does it mean well, even as it ends up doing evil in the belief that the ends justify the means?

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  

The Accused

Hi readers! I’m at the library right now. For Women’s History Month today, I want to post a few lines from Buddy Foster’s book, Foster Child: A Biography of Jodie Foster. Buddy is Jodie Foster’s older brother. In the following passages, he’s talking about The Accused, a 1988 movie in which Jodie Foster plays a rape victim, Sarah Tobias. Sarah was gang-raped at a bar while spectators cheered the rapists on, as if the rape was a sporting event. Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for the role.

Page 184: Loosely based on a vicious gang rape that took place in a New Bedford, Massachusetts bar in the early eighties, The Accused is a harrowing tale of waitress Sarah Tobias’s struggle to regain her dignity in the face of her unrepentant tormentors and a seemingly callous judicial system.

I want to comment on this, for the cover of the VHS tape also says that Sarah Tobias was treated like a criminal when she was actually a victim. That’s probably why the movie was called The Accused—because the question in the movie is, “Who is the accused here?” Is it the rapists? The cheering onlookers? Or even Sarah Tobias, whom some people blamed for the rape, on account of her revealing clothing, her flirtation with the men, her dancing, and the fact that she was drunk and high during the event?

Personally, I didn’t think that the judicial system in the movie was horribly callous. A while back, I posted on the National Organization for Women’s proposals for how to handle rape cases. It said that female officers should investigate them because men aren’t particularly sensitive in this area, for they tend to blame the victim, as if she brought it on herself.

In The Accused, however, Sarah didn’t have to go to the police station and tell her story to skeptical male cops who were telling dirty jokes; rather, women examined and questioned her. Sarah had a female rape counselor, who was on the city payroll. Sure, the defense attorneys treated her in an insensitive manner, like she was the person on trial. (One was friendly, but the other was a jerk who made a big deal about Sarah crying “no” rather than “help” or “police.” Um, hello, “no” is what makes it a rape, for that’s where the lack of consent comes in.) But that’s part of our system: people have a right to a defense, especially when a conviction can wreck their lives.

Page 185: Sarah Tobias was a victim, but she was also one of Jodie’s heroines because she refused to allow the rapists to get away with it. She is a flawed character with rough edges and a foul mouth, who has a provocative SXY SADIE for a vanity license tag. But in Jodie’s rendering of the character, she finds an inner strength that elevates her, convincing a female prosecutor it is worth defying the odds to fight for justice. The performance was so convincing that mom, certainly a consummate Hollywood pro who knows it’s just make-believe, wept when she first saw the rape scene. “Sarah is not exactly a mature, intelligent, sophisticated role model,” says Jodie. “But she is human and is entitled to dignity and respect.”

I want to note: I read in this book—and Jodie Foster said on Biography—that the rape scene was so intense that even the actors were shaken by it. Buddy says on pages 177-178: When the [rape] scene was finally finished, she was bruised all over, as well as psychologically drained, but still found the strength and presence of mind to comfort the equally shaken men who played the rapists.

Page 186: Jodie’s hope was that even if The Accused was her last hurrah, the movie would change some women’s lives by giving them the strength to overcome the anguish of a sexual attack and would show men how devastating rape is for a woman.

This is an important point. Some may see The Accused and feel that Sarah was at least partly at fault for the rape, since she dressed and danced provocatively and flirted with the men. But she still said “no.” She didn’t want to have sex with the men right then and right there in the bar. She felt dehumanized and degraded by what those men did. And the rapists and the cheering onlookers were wrong to dehumanize her and to treat her solely as a sexual object, when she was a person with dignity who probably felt that she was just having fun when she danced and flirted.

Page 187: Jodie’s Accused Oscar speech was also a triumph. Unlike many actors who sputter drivel, Jodie succinctly expressed the reason the movie was made: “…And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from, the wonderful crew on The Accused…and most importantly my mother, Brandy, who taught me that all my finger paintings were Picassos and that I didn’t have to be afraid. And mostly that cruelty might be human, and it might be cultural, but it’s not acceptable, which is what this movie is about. Thank you so much.”

I like this quote because she thanks her mom for affirming her in her younger years. And she also makes a good point about cruelty being unacceptable, even if it’s human or cultural. When I first saw The Accused, an acquaintance told me that the men were acting according to their nature—their sex drive and desire to reproduce. I don’t think he was trying to justify the rape, but he was questioning my Christian insistence that people are more than highly-evolved animals. But having urges and a society that nods at them does not make cruelty acceptable. That’s something that I’m learning during these Days of Unleavened Bread: I may have a sinful nature, which inclines me in a certain direction, but sin is still unacceptable—to other people who get hurt, and also to God.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)  


For Women’s History Month today, I have two items:

1.  One of my favorite movies about feminism is Mona Lisa Smile, a 2003 movie starring Julia Roberts.  I’ll probably watch it on Wednesday, March 31, the last day of Women’s History Month.  On it, Julia Roberts plays an art professor at Wellesley College during the 1950′s.  She wants her students to be so much more than housewives.  For example, she desires for the Julia Stiles character to attend Yale Law School and become a lawyer.  And Kirsten Dunst plays a conservative student who undermines the Julia Roberts character at every turn and actually looks forward to becoming a housewife.

But what’s beautiful about the movie (in my opinion) is that it neither promotes feminism in a heavy-handed manner, nor does it support the Feminine Mystique, the notion that women can only be fulfilled as wives and mothers.  Rather, it favors choice.  The Julia Stiles character decides not to go to Yale and become a lawyer, but rather to stay at home with her husband and raise children.  And, after the Kirsten Dunst character learns that her husband is cheating on her, she feels devastated—as if she has failed as a woman.  At the end of the movie, she decides to become a lawyer.  “I wouldn’t want to confront you in court!”, Julia Roberts tells her, after they reconcile.

What’s ironic is that Julia Roberts played a die-hard feminist in that movie, yet she herself at the time was looking forward to staying at home with her children and doing housework.  Here are some quotes from an interview with her that appeared in Reader’s Digest (see here):

Reader’s Digest: It wasn’t quite what you’d imagine: Hollywood’s most bankable movie star, at home in California, wearing sweaty workout clothes (she’d just finished a yoga class), knitting (a baby blanket for a friend’s newborn) and confiding that, “It’s tricky to swing dance in a girdle.” We’ll get back to the girdle. For now let’s put it this way: That’s Julia Roberts.  Fifteen years into a career that started with Mystic Pizza and won her an Oscar as Erin Brockovich, the Pretty Woman star is back with another mind-bending role. In Mona Lisa Smile, out this month, Roberts plays a free-thinking professor of art history who challenges the conservative, altar-bound young women of Wellesley College in the uptight 1950s. Hence the girdle, the only concession to tradition for her rebellious character.

RD: In Mona Lisa Smile, you’re accused of waging a war on marriage. And here you are, Miss Happily Married.
Roberts: It was one of the paradoxes of playing this character because when we started I was a newlywed — I still had rice in my hair. She’s a woman who’s not anti-marriage but is pro-independence and concerned — truly, deeply, tenderly concerned — that these Wellesley girls are going to throw away so much to simply become housewives. It was a moment when the thing that I believed in most, the focus of my heart, was being a housewife. And it was interesting to play this person who I’m not dissimilar to — and yet I’ve kind of morphed into the other side of that coin.
Of course, Julia Roberts probably doesn’t have the problems that Betty Friedan identified in the Feminine Mystique: Julia does not lack a sense of self, nor is her identity subsumed in her husband and children.  She’s Julia Roberts, the accomplished actress!  But, as a newlywed, she was looking forward to being a housewife and a mother.  That’s what she yearned for in that season of her life.  She wanted to be with her children and to watch them grow up.

RD: I have read that you actually like cleaning house. Tell me it’s not true.
Roberts: Well, it is. This morning my husband went to work and I did laundry. I’m happy to report I’m not anal, but I’m a good housekeeper.

2.  As I said in my post, Feminine Mystique 1, the show Quantum Leap had some excellent episodes on feminism.  My favorite Quantum Leap episode (period) is “Liberation,” in which Sam leaps into a housewife during the Women’s Liberation Movement.  See Liberation for information, as well as quotes from the episode.  There are so many things that I like: Sam’s sexist husband being willing to give a woman at work a chance after (at Sam’s prompting) she presents her ideas for the company; the feminist leader who hates men because her dad abused her when she was little, and who punches a cop while saying, “Let go of me, you’re not my father!”; Sam’s quotation of his stay-at-home mom, who said in the 1960′s-1970′s that women’s liberation is probably a good idea—for other women, and yet her husband (Sam’s father) never treated her in the patronizing manner with which some traditionalist men regarded their wives; the way that Sam earned the respect of a police-officer for women’s rights after persuading the feminist leader to put down her gun, while she was holding up a men’s lodge.

Here is some dialogue from the scene in which Sam is trying to convince the feminist leader—Diane—to put down her gun.  Suzi is Sam’s daughter:

Diana: “You’re asking us to quit. Just like you quit. I won’t be like you! Just take a good look at yourself. You’re just like my mother. You’re turning into the dutiful house frau. A messenger for the oppressor.”

Sam: “Housewives and mothers are not your enemy. They’re your ally. Now don’t segregate us!”

Diana: “They’ll never let me play fair. We need to take a stand. (Her voices rises) “Are you with me or this housewife?”In my opinion, Mona Lisa Smile and that episode of Quantum Leap indicate that the present trend in women’s issues is in favor of choice: that women should have opportunities to work, but that it’s perfectly acceptable if they choose to stay home and be wives, mothers, and homemakers.   

Suzi: “You said this was about choice. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. Mom’s right. We’ll never get anywhere if we keep blaming each other and fighting among ourselves.”

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Chronicler Approaches Two Ideologies

I’m going to get my academic write-up out of the way right now, but I’ll be doing some academic reading this afternoon.  On pages 90-92 of The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought, Sara Japhet says the following:

Although not found in the source material in Samuel-Kings, the choosing of the Levites is mentioned twice in Chronicles: 

(a.) 1 Chr 15:2: “for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister to him for ever.”

(b.) 2 Chr 29:11: “the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to be his ministers and burn incense to him.”

The meaning of “Levites” in these passages and in Chronicles as a whole is a controversial issue.  Is the word used in a narrow sense, referring only to the non-priestly members of the tribe of Levi, or in its broader meaning, denoting all members of the tribe, including priests?  It seems to me that the two meanings appear side by side in Chronicles and can only be distinguished in context.  The above verses are related to, although not an exact quotation of, Deut 10:8: “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day”…In 1 Chr 23:13, “set apart” describes the selection of the priests alone: “Aaron was set apart, he and his sons, forever, to be consecrated as most holy, to make burnt offerings to the LORD and serve Him and pronounce blessings in his name forever” (NJPS).

Many biblical scholars agree that the priestly writings and Deuteronomy present different opinions on the division of responsibilities within the Levitical priesthood.  The priestly writings distinguish between the responsibilities of the sons of Aaron and the other Levites: the sons of Aaron offer the sacrifices, whereas the other Levites transport the holy objects, guard the Tabernacle, and do grunt work (see Numbers 3, 8).  Deuteronomy, by contrast, does not distinguish between the responsibilities of the sons of Aaron and the other Levites: it just refers to “Levites,” as if they do all the work—sacrifices, grunt, transportation of holy objects, etc.

Why this diversity?  I’m not familiar with every single explanation for this in the world of biblical scholarship, but one view that I’ve come across is that Deuteronomy was written by Levites who weren’t sons of Aaron, so, of course, they thought that they had more privileges than the sons of Aaron were willing to grant them!

So what is the stance of the Chronicler?  In I Chronicles 6:48-49, he affirms the Aaronide division of responsibility: the Aaronides do the sacrifices, whereas the Levites take care of the Tabernacle.  Yet, as Japhet notes, the Chronicler also says things that resemble Deuteronomic passages: God has set apart the tribe of Levi to minister before the LORD.  Perhaps the Chronicler is rereading Deuteronomy to make it jibe with the Aaronide passages.  Maybe he assumes that Deuteronomy makes a blanket statement: God chose the Levites to serve the LORD.  But the Aaronide writings add specificity to that blanket statement: the Levites descended from Aaron perform the sacrifices, whereas the other Levites take care of the Tabernacle.      

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pluralistic Exclusivism

For my academic reading today, I didn’t start the books that I said I may begin in my post, “Elohim” for “YHWH”: Is This Significant?.  The reason is that, on Tuesday, I’ll probably go to the downtown public library to check out some other books that I will read.  Then, at a later point, I’ll come back to the ones I checked out at the Hebrew Union College library, for I can have those out longer.

I’m still plugging along in Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought.  I want to interact with something she says on page 52:

We may conclude from this survey that the references in Chronicles to the question of monotheism are infrequent and indirect.  Declarations that the LORD alone is God are rare and do not appear in the book’s key speeches.  Apart from a few vestiges of the popular view, passages in which the gods of the nations are accorded a real existence, Chronicles asserts that YHWH is the only God, ruler and governor of the world.  However, we find no new formulations or emphasis of this conviction in the recounting of events, nor does monotheism inspire any reworking or recasting of the source material.  We must therefore assume that, for the writer or his generation, the subject was of little interest; an equilibrium in Israelite religious conviction—including the matter of other religions—had already been established.

According to Japhet, the Chronicler doesn’t really care about the issue of monotheism—of Israel’s God being the one true God, while the gods of the other nations do not exist.  The Chronicler asserts monotheism in a few places, but he also preserves passages affirming that the LORD is above the other gods, which acknowledges their existence.  Why didn’t the Chronicler try to iron this stuff out?  Japhet’s answer is that he didn’t care a great deal about the issue. 

And, on a related issue, she also maintains that the Chronicler was not a missionary: he didn’t care whether or not the other nations accepted the Israelite God.  As Japhet states on page 53: …the phrase in Hezekiah’s prayer—”that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone (2 Kings 19:19)—and many others of its kind found in the rest of the Bible are missing in Chronicles.  (Japhet mentions II Chronicles 6:33 as an exception, but it draws from I Kings 8:43).

I’ll take Japhet’s word on this for the time being.  In the Persian period, there were exclusivist voices.  In Ezra-Nehemiah, the returning exiles do not accept Samaritan assistance in rebuilding the temple (although they receive donations from other nations).  They also try to clamp down on intermarriage and exlude certain foreigners from their midst.  They are becoming more insular, perhaps because they think that will keep them pure and prevent another exile.  And is there a chance that they didn’t want to come across as people who looked down on other nations, who believed that everyone on the face of the earth should believe as they do?  They were in their land at the favor of the Persians, who were religiously tolerant, believing that the gods of the nations were legitimate.  Perhaps the returning exiles didn’t want to appear square against such a pluralistic background.  Sure, they as Jews would worship the LORD alone, but they weren’t about to insist that others do so!

But there were more inclusivist voices in the Persian period, such as Second-Third Isaiah, who looked forward to the time when all the nations would worship YHWH.  Was the Chronicler in the more exclusivist school, which, ironically, may have been more compatible with the pluralistic attitudes of the period?  

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lord’s Supper 2010

My religious tradition celebrates the Lord’s supper the night before Passover, which is tonight, for Passover is on Monday evening (March 29).  I’ll be celebrating the Lord’s supper alone this year.  I have some Matzos in the cupboard, and some grape juice in the refrigerator.  The only thing I lack is a person whose feet I can wash.  I’m not going to ask a random stranger if I can wash his feet, since that’s weird.  And I’m not going to wash my own feet, for part of the lesson of that ritual is service to others, and serving myself misses the point.  At the same time, I can remember another lesson of the foot-washing, even if I don’t do it this year: that Jesus has washed me clean, but I need him to wash me on a continual basis.  I’m justified by faith, which is why God accepts me.  But God’s not through working on me yet, for I still have a lot of character defects.

I’m thinking of watching a Lifetime Movie Network movie tonight right before I conduct my personal Lord’s supper.  It’s called Amish Grace, and it’s based on a true story—about an Amish mother who struggled to forgive.  A disturbed man who had lost his own child shot a group of Amish children in their school right before taking his own life.  One of them was the child of the Amish mother.  The movie is based on a book of the same name that I read a while back, and it describes how the Amish reached out to the killer’s widow.  The book also went into some detail on Amish ecclesiology—how they conduct church discipline, etc.

I’d like to share a few quotes that, for me at least, are apropos for this season.  The first is from this morning’s bulletin for my Latin mass:

The narrative of the Passion is read whole and without pause on the Palm Sunday of the Passion.  The story, found in each of the Gospels, is unchanging.  We are the ones who change.  Each year, we bring ourselves with another year’s history to hear and heed the story that we so badly need. 

That reminds me of something that I continually tell myself: that no matter what happens to me, or what I believe down the road, I will continue to pray and read my Bible.  Even if I find some day that I don’t believe in God anymore, I will still pray and read my Bible.  In certain respects, I’m not entirely the same person each year that I conduct the Lord’s supper.  This year, as a matter of fact, I was seriously thinking of not doing it—maybe because of apathy, or on account of bitterness against Christianity, or a sense of my flaws.  But that’s where I am.  And, wherever I am in my thoughts and attitudes, I think it’s important for me to look at the life of Christ and to absorb the values that it conveys—values of forgiveness, of selflessness, of love. 

That brings me to my next quote, which is from page 406 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (fourth edition):

The last big hurdle was closing the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer.  As a Jew, I was uncomfortable with it and decided to talk to my sponsor about it.  So I said, “The Lord’s prayer bothers me.  I don’t like closing with it.”  “Oh,” he said, what’s the problem?”  “Well, I’m Jewish and it’s not a Jewish prayer.”  “Well then,” he said “say it in Jewish.”  I said, “It would still be the Lord’s prayer.”  “Right,” he said.  “Then say something else that you like.  Your Higher Power, whatever you call it, is helping you, and you need to say thank you.”

That’s the basis of what I’ll be doing tonight—wherever I am or aren’t spiritually: to say “thank you” to God, my Higher Power.  I should do that more often than I do!

For the Days of Unleavened Bread, I’m not going to remove all leavening from my apartment, for I’m not big on wasting food.  But I’ll be eating my share of Matzos and Triscuits.  And I don’t plan to eat any leavening this week.  I also hope to watch my Moses movies, which I’ve written about during past Days of Unleavened Bread: see My Moses Marathon, Moses Marathon Awards, and BithiahI won’t be doing a Moses marathon this year, but I hope to watch part of a Moses movie each Day of Unleavened Bread, and to write something about it on my blog.  I may miss some days, but we’ll see how it goes!  Stay tuned!

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dolley Madison

For Women’s History Month today, I watched a beautiful and moving documentary about Dolley Madison, the fourth First Lady of the United States.  It was part of PBS’s American Experience series.

I’ll get to Dolley Madison in a moment, but, first, I want to share some funny Thomas Jefferson stories that were in the documentary.  There was a debate in the new nation of America about how much royal fanfare should surround the American Presidency.  George Washington didn’t desire to be America’s king, but he supported a limited amount of formality and ceremony to give the Presidency a dignified aura.  Thomas Jefferson, however, went the opposite direction!  He didn’t want the Presidency to resemble a royal monarchy in any sense of the word!  Consequently, when the British ambassador visited the White House, Thomas Jefferson greeted him in his bathrobe!  And, when Thomas Jefferson was supposed to escort the wife of the British ambassador and lead her to her seat at a White House function, Jefferson walked right past her and escorted Dolley Madison instead (even though Dolley was whispering to him the proper protocol).  Yeah, there’s my Aspergian brother!  I think it was Cokey Roberts who said that some believe that led to the War of 1812, but she doubts it.

The announcer at the beginning of the movie said that Dolley Madison was the first wife of a President to define the role of First Lady.  She beautified the White House and started social functions there, making it a welcoming place where politicians of different parties and ideologies could come, socialize, and enjoy Mrs. Madison’s famous ice-cream!  As a result, she was able to advance her husband’s agenda, while creating a kinder, gentler political climate in Washington.  (We need her now!)  After the War of 1812, she made the assistance of orphans from that war her cause.  Since her, many First Ladies have sought to advance causes that are important to them.

On the issue of slavery, Dolley was rather ambivalent, as were many of the Founding Fathers.  Many of them didn’t care for the institution, but they felt that they couldn’t live without it.  Dolley herself had an experience that shaped her approach to the issue.  Her Quaker father freed all of the family’s slaves, and the result was the impoverishment of the family.  Consequently, when she grew up and left home, Dolley lived a life with slaves.  Yet, she tried to be a humanitarian.  When she was old and had to sell her slaves to pay off her profligate son’s debts, she sold them to neighbors to keep together the slaves’ families.  And, although she renigged from her promise to free a mulatto slave, he still had a lot of affection for her, and he visited her regularly after he purchased his freedom from his new master.

Dolley Madison was charismatic throughout her life.  In her younger years, she was so beautiful that men would wait for her outside of her home—sometimes ten at a time—to see her and to wave at her.  She dazzled people at White House functions.  In her older years, in the 1840′s, she was viewed as a remnant of America’s founding, and she would entertain people with her stories about George and Martha Washington.  And, as an old lady, she was the only private citizen who was granted an honorary seat in the U.S. Congress!

Although she was attractive and charismatic, she married the shy, short, un-charismatic James Madison (who could still be charming and tell dirty jokes in small settings).  She was introduced to Madison by Aaron Burr, whom many of us know as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton.  There’s a chance that Dolley was initially unenthused by her marriage to James, for she signed a letter, “Dolley Madison, Alas.”  But he turned out to be the love of her life, even though she had a husband before him, who had passed away.  They enjoyed each other’s company.  James tried to shield his wife from the details of her son Payne’s misdeeds, and he asked Payne why his mother hadn’t heard from him for such a long time.  And, years after Madison’s death, Dolley said that she needed her counselor, and that she missed her little Madison.

She was a strong woman.  During her first marriage, when most of her family was dying of a fever, she managed to survive, even though she also suffered the fever.  During the War of 1812, when the British were about to invade Washington, D.C., she said that she was staying in the White House, and that, even though she was a Quaker, she still kept her Tunisian revolver close at hand!  As the British approached, and she and a few slaves were alone in the White House, she stuck around long enough to save a large portrait of George Washington, for she didn’t want the British to parade it through the streets.  And, even though she fled, she resolved to come back to Washington to show the British that they hadn’t shattered the iron will of the United States.

Her blind spot was her son from her first marriage, Payne, who didn’t know what to do with his life and behaved irresponsibly (and being treated as a prince in Europe didn’t help matters!).  She still loved her son and hoped that a nice lady would settle him down.  She also liked to hear from him, but he often did not write to her.  She gave him money, and that ended up impoverishing her.  She finally put her foot down later in life, when Payne was trying to get his hands on money that Abigail earned when the U.S. Government bought her husband’s writings, out of sympathy for Mrs. Madison.  Dolley didn’t like Payne alienating her friends by threatening to sue them!

As a First Lady, Mrs. Madison had a sense of style and a willingness to show-off her physical beauty.  Her dresses showed a little more cleavage than was common at the time.  (It’s sort of like the flack that Michelle Obama gets for her bare arms.)  I liked what one old lady wrote to her: she should hide her breasts from the eyes of the vulgar!

I enjoyed the documentary for a variety of reasons.  Like many good American Experience documentaries, it was narrated by David Ogden Stiers, whom I appreciate from The Dead Zone (but whom many people like from MASH).  I enjoyed what Cokey Roberts had to say, and Richard Norton Smith was another familiar face—from other American Experience episodes.  I also liked the actors, who portrayed Dolley, James, the mulatto slave, Dolley’s niece, etc., using the very words of these figures from their letters. 

In previous posts (see Oleson Vs. Oleson and Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Proverbs 31 Woman), I’ve asked what Betty Friedan would think about certain things.  She’d probably frown at some of the volunteer work that Dolley did—not because it was bad, but because she wasn’t paid.  Perhaps she’d say that Dolley was too much of a homemaker, preoccupied with interior decoration, or that her identity was subsumed into that of her husband, James Madison.  There may be a place for Betty Friedan’s critiques of the Feminine Mystique and how women have been regarded in America, but, in this case, I ask: Who cares?  Dolley Madison did a lot of good for the people and the society around her, and she received honor and recognition as a result.  And she deserves the praise that she received.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm  Comments (2)  

A Conversation at a Latin Mass…

Okay, I chickened out and went to Latin mass this week, rather than to the Unitarian-Universalist church I was thinking of trying out (see I’m Flirting with Trying Out a New Church (But One Many of My Readers Won’t Like)).  Why?  Oh, there were a variety of reasons.  Fear of seeing people I know on the way to the UU church.  Comfort with the known, as opposed with discomfort about the unknown. 

Fortunately, at the Latin mass, we didn’t march around the sanctuary carrying palm branches.  We had palm branches, but we didn’t march with them.  That was a relief! 

I got to hear a conversation before the church service started.  An old woman was talking about her grandson.  She said that he’s really smart and has a law degree from a major university.  But he has a hard time communicating with people.  And he’s unwilling to try any religion, for (in her words) he’s had “too much college.”  She then remarked that, in her opinion, those who have problems getting along with people have that difficulty because they neither rely on God nor practice the faith.  Then, they expect life to be hunky-dory, and they’re shocked when it isn’t.  I don’t remember if she threw the word “Asperger’s” into the conversation, for I didn’t hear the entirety of what she said.

Now, if these words had come from the mouth of an attractive, young or middle-aged evangelical, I would have let out a loud sigh of irritation—loud enough for her to hear it.  And, if I had the courage, I would have asked her, “Is being smug a fruit of the Spirit?”  But I have more tolerance for low-key, elderly Catholic grandmothers, than I do for young, chirpy, know-it-all evangelicals, especially when they’re attractive and probably didn’t have one social struggle in their lives (or at least not as many as some of us!).  That’s just a prejudice I have.

As far as her statement goes, as with most things, I agree with it, and I disagree with it.  Initially, I disagreed with it.  I thought, “Well, I relied on God and practiced a faith for years, and I still had a hard time getting along with people, regardless of how hard I tried.”  I have a hard time viewing Christianity as a solution to my problems, for, in the past, it really wasn’t.  It made me feel guilty that I wasn’t cheerful or extroverted enough.  It pressured me to talk with people who made me feel uncomfortable—either to reconcile with them, or to tell them why I had a problem with them, or to fellowship, or to convince them to embrace the evangelical spiel.  Granted, it may have tried to offer me some good advice, since we all have to learn to deal with difficult people.  But, when it tossed a “Thus saith the LORD” into the mix, such that I felt like I was disappointing God with my failures, that created an incredible burden for me.  Moreover, I often didn’t hear actual tips on how to (say) socialize: most of it was telling me that I should, and leaving me alone to figure out how to do it.  In all the Christian platitudes about “love” and “witnessing” and “community,” there wasn’t much of an attempt to understand where I was coming from.  I had problems clicking with people—regardless of how many services I attended, or how many hours I spent praying, or how many chapters of Scripture I studied, or how many songs I sang.

I think one sign of progress is that I now do things for God without expecting a reward—or at least I’m closer to doing that.  I used to think that, if I studied enough Scripture and prayed enough, then I’d become a sage within the evangelical community, as people would eagerly anticipate the drops of wisdom that would flow from my mouth.  I’d fit into the evangelical community, and I’d meet a nice-looking Christian girl, who would be drawn to my spirituality.  But, in ten years, that hasn’t happened.  But I now study the Bible and pray for other reasons.  I need those activities, and they are things that I can do for God.  If someone is edified by my insights, then that’s good, but I hope to still do those activities, even in seasons in which not one person swoons at what I have to say.

But am I secure enough to re-enter the evangelical community?  Not really.  But it’s not just because I wouldn’t fit in, as big of a reason as that may be.  It’s also because there are so many things in that evangelical community that turn me off: smug people, the phony chirpiness, the dogmatism, the pressure to be a happy-happy extrovert, the tendency to look down on others (as if I don’t do plenty of that myself).  Add to that where I am: I struggle with Christian doctrine—Jesus being the only way, homosexuality being wrong, a belief in biblical inerrancy, the desire for Christians to be doctrinally correct on issues that don’t really matter to me (i.e., the Trinity, or Christ’s divine and human natures), etc.  I can tolerate that sort of stuff at Latin mass, for people there aren’t in my face, trying to ramrod their beliefs down my throat, telling me that I’m “lukewarm” because I don’t fulfill what they expect a good Christian to be.  But, as I’ve said before, at this season in my life, I like Alcoholics Anonymous, for the very reason that some conservative Christians dislike it: it promotes a spirituality, without being overly dogmatic about doctrines (though individual members can be as dogmatic as they wish).  And I can go to a meeting, sit, and listen, without people analyzing whether or not I’m “spiritual” enough.

I feel that my prayer life is a little different in this season of my life.  In the days when I was religious, I would have told you that I rely on God, but did I really?  Is whining about my problems for an hour in “prayer” reliance on God?  There may be a place for that, but I think there’s a better approach.  Why not ask God for help, rather than criticizing him for not helping?  “God, help me to get along with this difficult person.”  “God, help me not to take the first drink.”  “God, help me to get through this social situation.”  I know that sounds simple, but, for some reason, that idea has escaped me in my devotional life!  Maybe I was afraid that I’d make a request and God wouldn’t honor it, so that would put me in a faith crisis.

I agree with the old Catholic woman when she said that many of us expect life to be hunky-dory, and we’re shocked when it isn’t.  I think all of us—believers and non-believers—would do well to learn to cope with reality, rather than to expect reality to conform to our fantasy life.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream or hope, but, so often, I find myself living in a fantasy land, and I’m upset when reality doesn’t conform to that.  I’d like to learn how to cope with it when it doesn’t, without being bitter or without hope.

The homily somewhat related to this old Catholic woman’s statement.  We had philosopher priest, and he said that the Jews who waved palms in celebration of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem may not have been the same Jews who shouted for Jesus’ crucifixion.  We often assume that they were, but that’s not necessarily the case!  Rather, philosopher priest said that the Jews who waved the palms probably didn’t care about Jesus about a week later, when he was about to be crucified.  Jesus was yesterday’s news, and they wondered what Jesus had done for them lately.  And, similarly, philosopher priest said, we should ask ourselves if we’re like that with God: “Lord, what have you done for me lately?”

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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