Saturday, June 25, 2011

Job 25-42: incomplete thoughts

Perhaps more than any other book, my journey through Job as part of the Shema Summer felt rushed. Four days does not do justice to this complex, fascinating book! But today I journeyed forward into the Psalms, carrying with me these incomplete thoughts on Job:

  • God points to creation as proof of God’s justice and sovereignty. Not only that—God speaks through creation (the whirlwind) as God speaks of creation. Wrap your mind around that. (God’s point exactly!)
  • Though Job questions God’s justice in the dialogues and Job’s friends defend God’s justice, it is Job who is declared righteous by God in the narrative that closes the book. It seems to me that this could be a good framework for thinking through how we should respond to situations and experiences of injustice, suffering, and tragedy.

As the Shema Summer rolls on, I carry with me these fragments of theological significance from the book of Job, looking forward to the day when I will return to these pages and linger a bit longer…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Job 11.5-6a: on wisdom, on truth

“But O that God would speak,
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For wisdom is many-sided.”
-Job 11.5-6a NRSV

“Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.”
-Psalm 119.97-104 NRSV

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
-Romans 11.33 NRSV

Wisdom is many-sided.

The law of God is to be longed for.

The knowledge of God is deeper than we will ever know.

The truth is symphonic.

Long for it it. Learn it. Live it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Job: the dialogic nature of the text.

I grew up hearing the Sunday School version of Job: a story of a man who remained faithful to God through trials and suffering. But last fall, I took a class on Wisdom Literature and encountered the deeper layers of Job: voices of God’s exiled people questioning and debating God’s justice—a debate between the radical and traditional schools of wisdom. The pre-exilic narrative portions of the text (Job 1-2, 42.7-17) depict the traditional theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice, while the exilic dialogues (Job 3-42.6) put these ideas on trial. In the dialogues, Job represents the radical school of wisdom, questioning traditional sapiential theology. Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Elihu, represent and defend the traditional school of wisdom.

In the end, the traditional school wins out, with redactors giving the traditional sapiential theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice the last word. While victory for the traditional school is important to note, one thing is even more significant: the dialogue and debate present in the book of Job. Of 42 chapters, 39 are comprised of dialogue and debate between competing schools of wisdom. The book of Job is proof of two things: first, there is room in Scripture for different (conflicting) perspectives; second, these different (conflicting) perspectives are in conversation with one another in the biblical text. These two lessons have changed how I engage the biblical text as a whole. Thanks to Job and the teachers and friends who have shaped my understanding of the Bible, I rejoice in the dialogue that is God’s Word(s)…

Scripture does not speak with one voice. Many voices speak within Scripture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ezra 7.10

This is going to be a short but profound entry, at least for me personally. Tonight, I will let the Scripture speak for itself.

“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” –Ezra 7.10 NRSV

Study. Do. Teach.

I want to be like Ezra.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2 Chronicles 14-23: grace+commitment=joy

“They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. They took an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with horns. All Judah rejoiced over the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart, and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.” –2 Chr 15.12-15 NRSV

This passage makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, this joyous occasion is brought about by a violent victory over Zerah. Next, this joyful oath comes with a promise to put anyone to death who does not seek God with their whole heart. To be sure, this oath and the circumstances surrounding it are a bit…extreme.

But some other things in this passage struck me as being extreme in a more positive sense. First of all, the joy in this passage is contagious. Even though the people know that they are entering into a life and death commitment, they do so with such great joy— rejoicing with shouting and trumpets and horns. Seriously, when a celebration includes trumpets AND horns, you know it is a big deal.

Next, I noticed that this oath is serious business. It is certainly something to be celebrated, but it is also a very serious commitment. The people are entering into a life of seeking God— “with all their heart and with all their soul” (15.12 NRSV)—and they are putting their life on the line to make that commitment.

Here, it seems that God’s people have figured out—if only for a moment in time—how to live out both extreme celebration and extreme commitment. I think this is something we lack in our churches today. In an effort to increase our numbers, we create a watered down version of faith that is easy and convenient but lacks radical commitment. (For some reason, this phenomenon puts me in mind of TV dinners…) And because we lack the extreme commitment, we often miss out on the extreme celebration that grows from the gift of giving your whole life to God.

Now, let me go on record as saying that I am all about grace. I thank God that the very foundation of my faith tradition is the theology of grace. But this grace did not and does not excuse us from being radically committed to living undivided, consistent lives of faith. Grace is not an excuse, it is a gift.

In light of that gift, God calls us to joyfully commit with all our hearts and all our souls, just as the people did in this passage. Of course, there is one important difference: our oath comes with a promise of unconditional grace rather than a death threat. Does that mean our faith commitment is less serious? Absolutely not. If anything, it means we have more reason to celebrate.

Go be the seriously joyful people of God.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1 Chronicles 23- 2 Chronicles 3: seek wisdom. trust God.

“That night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ Solomon said to God, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to my father David, and have made me succeed him as king. O LORD God, let your promise to my father David now be fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?’ God answered Solomon, ‘Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.’ So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel.” –2 Chr 1.7-13 NRSV

I love this story.

God asks Solomon, “what is your greatest desire?” And Solomon’s answer is this: “wisdom and knowledge” (2 Chr 1.11 NRSV). This is what Solomon desires more than wealth and honor and everything else under the sun for which he could have asked the LORD. God seems to approve of Solomon’s answer, and says, “I will give you wisdom, knowledge, AND everything else—precisely because your greatest desire is to be wise.”

Part of the reason I love this story is because I love wisdom literature. But this dialogue between God and Solomon also resonates with me because I understand my own life to be a search for truth and wisdom and knowledge—all of the things that Solomon requests of God in this passage. God’s response to Solomon fascinates me—it seems like God is saying, “seek the truth and I will take care of the rest.”

On that note, this story reminds me of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6.33 NRSV). This is a connection made strictly on the devotional level, but I think it is a connection worth making. I would argue that both passages express God’s desire for us to seek truth—wisdom and knowledge, the kingdom of God and its righteousness—in all that we do, and trust God’s promise to take care of everything else.

What are you seeking? For what are you striving?

Seek Wisdom. Trust God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

1 Chronicles 13-22: warfare and worship

I am back from Annual Conference, and finally home for long enough to blog regularly again! Rather than trying to reflect on all the readings from the past week, I will just reflect on today’s reading and go from there (because seriously, 10 chapters each day is plenty to write about).

“David said to Solomon, ‘My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.’” 1 Chr 22.7-9 NRSV

As someone who reads the Bible through the lens of a commitment to peace, this passage caught my eye. Here, we see that the LORD will not allow David to build the temple because David has waged wars and shed blood. David is not worthy to build a house for God—the place where God will reside among God’s people—because he has lived a life of violence rather than peace.

Now, it is important to touch on the meaning of the word “peace” in this context; in The HarperCollins Study Bible, biblical scholar Ralph W. Klein points out that in this passage, the word “peace” literally means “rest” (588). Here, “peace” means a time of rest from war, not a radical commitment to nonviolence.

However, regardless of the exact definition of peace in this passage, one thing is clear: there is a connection between warfare and worship. David’s warfare—his acts of violence and bloodshed—disqualifies him from building the temple. His violence prohibits him from building the place that will become the center of the communal life of the people of Israel, the place where God will dwell among God’s people.

In the same way, I would argue that when we act violently, we limit our ability to worship God well. Violence is not limited to the physical—we do violence with words and actions, and all too often with silence and inaction. By doing violence, we not only harm others, we harm ourselves. And as we do harm to others and ourselves, we forget who God is because we fail to see the face of God in the faces around us. We become numb to the touch of the Spirit, unable to listen to the voice of God, precisely because we have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As David passes the torch of temple building to Solomon, we are reminded that our actions and our worship are undeniably linked.

May our lives reflect our worship, and our worship shape our lives.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

John Wesley: How to Read the Scripture

Today I head to West Ohio Annual Conference, where I will spend this week as a delegate representing my district. To me, Annual Conference is like a weeklong United Methodist party. I have gone every year since I was six months old, and it is by far my favorite week of the year. The only bad news is that I will not have any reliable way to connect to the internet, so this will be my last entry for a few days.

In honor of this thoroughly United Methodist week of my summer, I thought I would share John Wesley’s “How to Read the Scripture,” which I read for the first time last semester while I was writing a paper on Wesleyan hermeneutics. I have been wanting to post it on here since the beginning of the summer; it reflects the way I approach Scripture as informed by my faith tradition. While my academic training in biblical studies certainly informs my hermeneutic, I think it is also important to acknowledge the ways in which my upbringing and journey as a United Methodist also shape my understanding of Scripture. So, here it is:

“If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable,

1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose?

2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?

3. To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it? In order to know his will, you should,

4. Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.

5. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing "scripture can only be understood thro' the same Spirit whereby it was given." Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts.

6. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short.

And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation.”

From John Wesley, Preface to Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament
EDINBURGH, April 25, 1765.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1 Samuel 5-24: this is the one.

“When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The LORD has not chosen any of these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” – 1 Sam 16.6-13a NRSV

When Samuel sees Eliab, the firstborn son of Jesse, he is sure that he is looking into the eyes of the one God has chosen as king over Israel. It just makes sense—he is the firstborn, and after all, he looks like a king!
But God says, “Nah. Not this one.” Jesse parades his other sons before Samuel, and over and over again, God gives Samuel the same answer. One strapping young man after another, yet “the LORD has not chosen any of these” (16.10).

Finally, Samuel gets desperate and asks Jesse if these are all of his sons. Jesse seems surprised, but says, “No, there’s one more, but he’s the youngest and he couldn’t possibly be your guy.” But Samuel asks to see him anyway.

When little David shows up, something extraordinary happens. The voice of the LORD proclaims, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (16.12). With those words, God says, “The one you never expected to be king, the one you didn’t even give a chance, the youngest and weakest—this is the one, this is my chosen.”
God is full of surprises here. By choosing David as the king of Israel, God subverts every cultural norm and expectation. The people of Israel might be “like the other nations” (1 Sam 8.5) insofar as they have a king; however, God’s choice to appoint David the next king over Israel is a reminder that they are still God’s peculiar people—a people led by a king who is last but first, weak in stature but strong in the LORD, unexpected but chosen. And little David grows up to be mighty king David, the exemplar of kingship in the history of Israel.

This story is not an isolated incident in the history of God’s people. In fact, I think this story is a valuable glimpse into the reality of God’s election, the way in which God chooses and calls God’s people. Election is a complex issue with great social and theological implications, but in this story we are reminded that God chooses and calls those who we least expect. God chooses and calls the young, the weak, the marginalized—the ones we most often overlook and disregard.

Let me leave you with this thought that has been echoing in my mind as I have been reflecting on this passage: if God chooses the most unexpected and unlikely candidate to be king, how much more does God choose each and every one of us to be God’s people?

Hear the voice of God, saying to you and to all people, “this is the one.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Judges 20-1 Samuel 4: who is your Eli?

“Then the LORD called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’” –1 Sam 3.4-10 NRSV

I love this story. Every time I read it, I am drawn to Eli and the way he “perceives” the call of God and guides Samuel in hearing that call.

When I think about the role that Eli plays in Samuel’s life, I immediately begin naming people in my life who play this role in my own story—the people in my life who I consider mentors, who nudge me ever closer to God, who guide me in recognizing and listening to the voice of God, and who even speak God’s words into my life.

I can’t help but thank God for the incredible people  in my life who have been, who are, and in some cases who will always be an Eli to me. Just as Eli helps Samuel identify the voice of God, I think it’s important for us to identify the people—the voices—that God has placed in our lives to do just that. And of course, it is important for us to express our love and appreciation for the ways in which they have guided us along this journey called faith.

So—who is your Eli?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Judges 10-19: in those days…

Judges is not a pretty book. It describes the vicious cycle that the people of Israel tend to get stuck in. The cycle goes something like this:

1) The people of Israel worship idols and do other generally unfaithful things.

2) God raises up a great leader.

3) The people of Israel follow the great leader, thus following God.

4) The great leader dies.

5) Return to #1 and repeat the cycle.

That is the book of Judges in a nutshell. There is an iconic phrase repeated a few times throughout the book of Judges; it describes and laments this state of affairs: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” –Judg 17.6 NRSV

This phrase encompasses much of the tension in the book of Judges. First, it acknowledges that the people of Israel have some serious issues. Despite their efforts to live faithfully, they keep turning away from the LORD. Time and time again, they find themselves doing what they want instead of what God commands.

Second, it blames this vicious cycle on the fact there there is no king in Israel (17.6). Here, we begin to hear the cries of the people of Israel for an earthly king—an earthly authority to carry out the ultimate authority of the LORD. In 1 Samuel, we see this request granted…but that’s for another entry and another day!

On one hand, I find Judges to be an incredibly frustrating book. The lives of God’s chosen people are not only imperfect, but completely appalling (i.e. Judg 19). As Israel returns to God and runs from God over and over again, I just want to scream, “Decide what you want, already!”

But on the other hand, Judges is a hopeful book; we have all been the people of Israel. We have all been faithful to God, and unfaithful, and faithful again…and the story goes on. The cycle continues, even in our lives today.

And as the cycle continues, there is God—raising up a leader, reaching out just one more time.

And another time.

Every time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Numbers 14-Judges 9

I’m back! My week in Atlanta visiting Candler was fantastic, but I didn’t have my laptop with me, so blogging unfortunately didn’t happen. Reading, however, did happen—so that is good news! And I am home this week, so I should be able to blog more regularly again.

So, Numbers 14-Judges 9. It is basically impossible to cover all that ground in one blog, so I won’t even pretend to try. But since this is a Shema Summer, it seems wrong to reflect on anything but this:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” –Deut 6.4-9 NRSV

This is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. For some time, this has been a formational passage for me—it reminds me of who I am and what I am called to do. As a person of faith, these words of Scripture speak to me—I am commanded to love the LORD alone. My life is to be shaped by the words of Torah, by God’s commandments, by Scripture. I am to remember these words always, in the midst of my everyday life.

A hunger to do just that led me to major in Bible, which has proven to be an incredible opportunity to engage and remember God’s truth. But the kind of remembering described by Deut 6.4-9 is much deeper than reading, writing, or thinking—this kind of remembering is a form of living.

We can read the Old Testament this summer. We can write insightful blogs about God’s truth. We can ponder the deep questions of life and faith. But if it doesn’t shape the way we live, we haven’t truly remembered.

Bind God’s truth on your hand. Fix it as an emblem on your forehead. Write it on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Remember God’s truth with every step you take.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Numbers 4-13: spying on the promised land

Numbers 13 tells the story of Moses sending spies into Canaan to scope out the promised land. God commands him to send a leader from each tribe to “spy out the land of Canaan” (13.2 NRSV). So Moses picks his team of spies, and they head off to Canaan only to find big, scary people. Today’s reading ends with the spies reporting their findings to the people of Israel, with every spy but Caleb giving hopeless reports.

But all this talk about spying on the promised land got me thinking about my own life, and how in some ways, it reflects this story. This week I am heading down to Atlanta to visit Candler School of Theology—a place that could be my promised land, my next step after I complete this chapter of my journey at Bluffton. And later on this summer, I will be setting out on a seminary road trip, visiting six other seminary options. It is going to be an exciting summer of discovery and discernment!

Now, I am not going undercover, nor do I expect to find any Nephilim along the way, but in some ways, I am spying on my promised land. Just like the Israelite spies, God is leading me on this journey and is with me as I scope out my next step, my promised land. And just like the Israelite spies realize that the promised land is not the perfect place, I know that no seminary is perfect, either!

This week, this summer, and beyond, my prayer is not that I find the perfect seminary…my prayer is that I find the right one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Leviticus 21-27; Numbers 1-3

“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.” –Lev 25.10-12 NRSV


Leviticus 25 sets forth a fascinating economic vision for God’s people: every 50 years, all property returned to its original owner. All debt forgiven. A blank slate. Wealth redistributed. Equality restored.

Not your typical campaign promise, right?

But that is the economic policy to which God calls the people of Israel. While we clearly live in a vastly different economic reality, I think this gives a glimpse into Kingdom economics; Jubilee law sets forth a prophetic economic vision in which needs are met, freedom abounds, and equality is restored. And best of all, Jubilee is a tangible reminder that God is the true owner of land and all other resources.

“…the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” –Lev 23b NRSV

Aliens and tenants. Well, that changes everything.

You see, Jubilee means that nothing is ours forever. Not even for the duration of our stay as aliens and tenants wandering around this land that doesn’t belong to us.

But Jubilee means that everything is God’s.

And most of all, Jubilee means that there is enough to go around.

We just have to let go of what we think is ours, remembering that it is truly God’s—as are we.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leviticus 11-20

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” –Lev 17.10-11 NRSV

Blood is a pretty big deal in Leviticus. It’s easy to read a passage like this, be turned off by the fact that it mentions blood four times in the space of two verses, and label Leviticus disgusting and irrelevant. But I would argue that it is neither disgusting nor irrelevant. In fact, this passage has a whole lot more to do with the value of life than eating blood; when blood is mentioned in Leviticus, the issue at hand is life. Leviticus 17.10-11 is a reminder to the people of Israel that blood—life—is sacred and belongs only to God.

Blood= life.

Life= God’s.

Not so gross after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leviticus 1-10: ritual & ethics

“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statues that the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.” –Lev 10.10-11 NRSV

In the introduction to Leviticus in The HarperCollins Study Bible, biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom describes the role of the priest as a pedagogic one; the priest is called not only to carry out the rituals commanded by God, but to teach the people of Israel how to live as God’s holy and chosen people.

This teaching happens not in addition to, but through the ritual acts of the priests; Milgrom points out the connection between ritual and ethics, saying that “the ethical element fuses with and even informs the ritual, so that one may seek a moral basis behind each ritual act” (150). What this means is that there are no simply ritual acts—ritual acts are inherently connected to and informed by ethical acts.

In a very real way, by carrying out the rituals commanded by God, the priests are teaching the people of Israel an ethical lesson, a lesson in how to live. Central to this lesson is the holiness and distinction of the people of God. The rituals described throughout Leviticus distinguish between “the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (10.10)—these rituals represent and embody the ways in which the people of Israel are a chosen and holy people, set apart as the people of God. Once again, ritual is inseparable from ethics.

With all this in mind, I have a few questions (and no answers). I invite reflection and dialogue!

1. What are our rituals?

2. (What) do our rituals teach?

3. (In what ways) are ritual & ethics connected in today’s church?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Exodus 31-40: rest for all seasons

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest.” –Exod 34.21 NRSV

Here, God commands the people of Israel to rest in God and with God even in the midst of life’s busiest seasons. God says, “I know the work is piling up, and I know you think your life depends on that work—but your life really depends on me. Rest in me and rest with me in the midst of chaos.”

You see, this sabbath thing is not just a friendly suggestion; Exodus 31.15 states that “whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.” Sabbath is a good idea, but it is more than that—it is a commandment on which the Israelites’ lives depend. And why is this a matter of life and death? Because the sabbath is “holy to the LORD” (31.15), part of what sets the people of Israel apart as God’s chosen people.

All this talk about sabbath got me thinking about rest and how terrible I am at real, holy to the LORD, sabbath rest. Part of this, I think, goes back to growing up (and still living in) a parsonage; for all of my life, Sunday has meant game on—Sunday school, church, youth group, committee meetings, church gatherings—all wonderful things, but not rest. So the idea of the holy day of my faith tradition being a restful one has simply never been my reality.

However, I think sabbath is less about one restful day a week and more about a balanced life marked by regular and intentional rest. I am no better at this. College has been an incredible journey, but one thing it has not been is a season in life marked be regular or intentional rest. But here in Exodus 34, God speaks to me right where I am, reminding me that I am called to rest in God and with God in every season of life, even in college!

Perhaps if Exodus 34.21 were written for college students, it might read like this: “For every six pages you write, take a break and rest in and with Me. Even in the chaos of finals week, take the time to be with Me. I am better than coffee.”

Here’s to rest. Here’s to sabbath. Here’s to the coffee of our souls.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Exodus 21-30: echoes of enemy love

“When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.” – Exod 23.4-5 NRSV

Do you hear the call to love your enemies?

This is a call that echoes throughout the history of God’s people—way back to the Israelites and the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here, God gives some practical advice: return your enemy’s lost donkey; help your enemy unload their donkey after a long journey.

Now, I know that none of my enemies have donkeys and oxen, and I’m guessing the same is true for you. These kinds of cultural details always fascinate me and remind me that the biblical text was written in a context very different from my own. But even though we don’t live in a world of donkeys and oxen, the spirit of this passage—which echoes throughout Scripture and our faith tradition—is one that can and should be applied today.

This passage calls us to do good unto our enemies, in turn calling us to do good to all people. Here, we are called to treat our enemies like we would treat our brothers and sisters, chasing after their stray dog and helping them unload their groceries on a hot summer day. And as we do good unto our enemies, we open ourselves to the possibility that today’s enemies just might become tomorrow’s friends.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Exodus 11-20: reflections on God as warrior

“The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.” –Exod 15.3 NRSV

The LORD is a warrior. This statement calls to mind many conversations I’ve had with people about the Old Testament, which almost also go something like this: “I just don’t like the vengeful, violent God of the Old Testament—I prefer the merciful God of the New Testament.” It’s true, the OT and NT have some strikingly different themes, but “choosing” the God of the NT over the God of the OT is impossible; by choosing God, we choose the God of the universe—not the God of half the canon.

So, with that being said, I’d like to reflect a bit on this idea of God as warrior. In Exodus 14, we get a good description of what it means for God to be a warrior. Moses proclaims to the Israelites, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (14.14 NRSV). Because God is a warrior, the Israelites are not warriors; they need only to keep still and trust in God.

Further, God tells Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers” (14.18 NRSV). God’s purpose as a warrior is to reveal Godself and God’s power to the Egyptians by proving that God is abundantly more powerful than Pharaoh. In the context of the ancient Near East, where earthly rulers were worshiped as gods, God’s victory over Pharaoh proves two things: first, Pharaoh is not God; second, the LORD reigns over even the world’s greatest powers.

As someone who is committed to nonviolence, the depiction of God as warrior is one that tends to make me uncomfortable. However, I have found that often the most difficult texts are the most important ones to engage. With that in mind, I have found these three observations helpful in understanding the war imagery in this text:

1. God is the warrior, which means that God’s people are not warriors.

2. As God’s people go to battle, God’s people are only to be still and trust in God’s power (14.14).

3. The purpose of God’s waging war is the establishment of God as the ruler over even the world’s greatest powers.

God as warrior means that I am not a warrior; I am called only to be still and trust in the God who rules over all that seems powerful in the world.

“Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” –Exod 15.21 NRSV

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Exodus 1-10: flaming foliage

I am not Moses, but I have seen a burning bush. I was not keeping the flocks of my father-in-law, nor was I in the wilderness; I was driving down the road and there was a flaming bush in front of a BP station. I immediately called my mom, who excitedly asked, “is it consumed?!” Yeah, it was consumed. Oh well.

Moses, on the other hand, sees a burning bush that was not consumed (3.2). Weird. So, being a curious human being, Moses decides to check it out. Then the burning bush starts talking to him (3.4). Weirder. But it turns out the voice in this bush is the voice of God—the God of Moses’ people. The bush—well, God—speaks truth. God knows the sufferings of God’s people (3.7). And God not only knows, God makes a promise to deliver God’s people (3.8) and promises to be with them as they journey.

This is a familiar story, one that is often used to describe the call of God in one’s life. Reading the story through this lens today yielded some insights into the process of discerning God’s call. So, for all of you on life’s journey of discernment (which I tend to believe is everyone, always), here are some of my thoughts on Exodus 3:

First, it struck me that curiosity  led Moses to the call of God. The angel of the LORD appears in the burning bush, and Moses says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” (3.3 NRSV). This got me thinking—what are the burning bushes in our lives? What are the things we just can’t pass by, the things for which God has given us a natural curiosity? I think this story encourages us to stop and gaze into the flaming foliage in our own lives. We might just find God!

Next, what Moses discovers in this burning bush is truth. God knows Moses and the struggles of his people. This is the God of his father—his family—his identity. This is not just an intriguing bush, this bush turns out to be the God of everything Moses is and knows. Our curiosity is not in and of itself proof of God’s call, but when our curiosity leads us to truth, it seems we are in step with God on the journey.

Finally, God makes a promise to Moses: God will deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt and be with them on their journey, remembering God’s covenant. God not only speaks truth of Moses’ situation, God also promises to journey alongside Moses and his people. I believe this promise is for us as well, as we travel on this road of discernment, led by God and supported by one another.

Follow your curiosity. Seek the truth. Trust God’s promise.

And always be on the lookout for flaming foliage.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Genesis 41-50

“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as [God] is doing today.’” –Gen 50.19-20 NRSV

My Old Testament professor highlighted this verse over and over again, calling it the thesis of Genesis. When I read this verse today, well-marked in my study Bible from OT class, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “It’s all good—God says so and so does Joseph.”

It’s no secret that Genesis is filled with people doing harmful things. It does not take long for the created-good people of God to start behaving badly. Each generation has its quirks, its tragedies, and its triumphs. But even though the journey is a rough one, it is permeated by one word: good. Genesis begins with God seeing that all creation is “very good” (1.31); it ends with the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, with Joseph proclaiming that the harm his brothers intended has been used by God for good.

Good= the beginning and the end of this book, this story, our story.

God creates humankind. Humankind is good.

Humankind does harmful things.

God transforms hurt into healing, death into life, bad into good.

Good wins.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Genesis 31-40

Genesis 34: The Rape of Dinah.

Dinah, the daughter of Jacob & Leah, catches the eye of Shechem, the son of Hamor, a Canaanite. Shechem rapes Dinah, then tells his father he wants to marry her. Jacob’s sons are furious about what happened to their sister, but they decide to trick Hamor, Shechem, and their entire city into being circumcised so Shechem can take Dinah as his wife. After the entire city is circumcised, while the men of the city are still in great pain and unable to fight, Dinah’s brothers plunder the city, killing all the males and capturing all the women and children.

Sometimes the Bible puts forth an incredible vision of peace—a vision of the world as it should be.

Genesis 34 is not one of those times.

Rape. Lies. Violence. Greed. Vengeance.

Not to mention the fact that all of this plays out between two groups, the in-group and the out-group, the people of God and the Canaanites, the chosen and the…not-so-chosen.

So, what do we do with a text like this one? What does it mean for this story and other stories like it to be part of this collection of texts we call Scripture?

Well, I think the first thing it means is that we are intended to engage these difficult texts. We are not supposed to skip over them, simply flipping pages until we find the next happy ending. We are supposed to read Genesis 34 and sit with it for a while. How does it feel?

Are you angry along with Dinah’s brothers?

How do you think Dinah feels?

Does this act of revenge satisfy you?

Can you hear the cries of the women and children of the city?

At the end of this story, nothing is solved. Jacob is furious with his sons at the possibility of the people of Canaan retaliating and attacking his household. Jacob’s sons reply to their father, “But dad—they treated Dinah like a whore! They deserved it!” Not only is an entire city dead and plundered, the Canaanites are probably mad, Jacob is mad, and Jacob’s sons are mad because Jacob is mad. And Dinah’s voice is silenced. Mission accomplished? Not so much.

Well, in keeping with the biblical text, this blog will also end with no solution.

After all, the Bible is not something to be solved. It is something to be engaged.

Sometimes that engagement yields hope. Sometimes it yields frustration and discomfort.

Sit with it. Sit with God.

Wrestle with it. Wrestle with God.

But whatever you do, do not ignore it.

“On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey.” –Gen 34.25-29 NRSV

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Genesis 21-30

As I read these chapters, I could not get this thought out of my mind:

The “first family” of the people of God is a messed up bunch.

This can be either a comforting or disturbing realization. I tend to think that truth lies in the tension—in this case, the tension between being relieved that even Abraham’s family was dysfunctional and being shocked that Abraham’s family was imperfect. It seems to me that the paradoxical reality of the human condition is located right here, in these stories, in this mess, in this family—the chosen people of God.

This is our story, too. A story filled with deception, jealousy, death, greed, lost blessing…and new life, abundant blessing, and the promise of God.

It is easy for us to read these chapters and think, “How can ALL this happen in the space of ten chapters?! How can God’s chosen people do so many questionable things?! How is THIS the story of God and God’s people?!”

But to find the answer to those questions, we need not look any further than our own lives and the life of the church. Do we not live this paradox, as people created good but behaving badly, as God’s messed up but chosen people?

The truth is in the tension—in the midst of this grand family drama, God is present, God is speaking, God is leading God’s people.

The same is true today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Genesis 11-20

So, day two. Here we go:

  • Gen 12.1-3—God asks Abraham to leave everything he knows—it is in the unknown and unfamiliar where God’s blessings are poured out. I think there is a lot of truth in this. How is God calling us away from comfort and familiarity into radical trust?
  • Gen 12.10-16—Abram lies to gain entry to Egypt. I find this fascinating—our beloved father Abraham was an illegal alien. Hmm.
  • Gen 15.1—God says to Abram, “I am your shield.” As we take possession of all that God has for us, I think this is true for us as well. God is our shield; our job is to trust and to follow, not to fight.
  • Gen 17.5, 15—God renames Abram and Sarai; they are now Abraham and Sarah. After learning in Intro to OT about the significance of names in the ancient Near East, these details stuck out to me. God says that Abraham and Sarah are new people—who does God say that we are?
  • Gen 17.17; 18.12—Abraham and Sarah laugh at God’s promise. I think sometimes God’s will is just plain hilarious—but we must always remember that there is nothing too wonderful for God (18.14).
  • Gen 18.17-19—I think these are interesting verses to think about in terms of God’s will. God says, “should I hide my promise from Abraham? Absolutely not—I have chosen him!”  God is not some celestial secret-keeper, hiding God’s plan for our lives. We can trust God to guide us by God’s Spirit and through our community as we seek to walk in God’s ways.
  • Gen 18.19—the way of the LORD= doing righteousness and justice. Yes.
  • Gen 18.22-33— Abraham bargains with God. I love this example of prayer—raw, honest, and formative for all parties involved, including God. This seems to be an example of the kind of dialogue for which prayer calls.

“The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’” –Gen 18.17-19 NRSV

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Journey Begins: Genesis 1-10

My friends and I have decided to spend this summer living with the Bible in community. We will be journeying through the Old Testament from now until August when we head back to school at Bluffton University. This past semester in my Methods of Biblical Interpretation class, we learned that if we are to be shaped by Scripture, we must live with Scripture. Just as the people we live with impact our lives, the choice to live with the Bible is a choice to engage and be shaped by the biblical text. In addition, many of us took Introduction to New Testament this semester; in that class we journeyed through the New Testament together, living with the Bible and one another in an academic setting. This summer we have chosen to join together and engage Scripture from wherever we are, across the country and around the globe. I invite you to join me, and join us, on this journey!

Genesis 1-10
  • Gen 1- I noticed a cyclical pattern of God making a declaration, the phrase "and it was so" (1.9, 1.11, 1.15, 1.24), and God seeing that creation is good (1.12, 1.18, 1.25, 1.31). This cycle is one I have witnessed in my own life recently, which makes sense as creation is not a one-time event but an ongoing activity of God in the midst of our lives and the world.
  • Gen 1-2- I love that the two creation narratives stand side by side, indicating the diverse nature of truth in the opening chapters of the Bible.
  • Gen 2.1-3- Rest is important. God rests. College students need rest. These words seemed particularly relevant in these days of much awaited rest following an intense academic year!
  • Gen 4.10-12, 15- God subverts the narrative of retributive justice and redemptive violence; Cain is punished for killing Abel, but God puts a mark on Cain to prevent others from killing him. Four chapters into the Bible, God is working to stop the cycle of violence on earth.
  • Gen 5.21-24- I am fascinated by Enoch. That is all.
  • Gen 6.11, 13- violence is what corrupts the earth, causing God to grieve (6.6) and be sorry that God created humankind (6.7), leading to the great flood. Since I read the Bible through the lens of nonviolence and peacemaking, this caught my eye.
  • Gen 9.6-7- "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in [God's] own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on earth and multiply in it." Here it is clear that life-- the abundance and flourishing of humankind-- is God's will, not violence.