Thursday, 31 January 2013

Reading the Bible 10: Gen 19: 30 – 20: 18 Abraham the Trickster

Reading the Bible 10: Gen 19: 30 – 20: 18

The story of Lot concludes with an account of Lot and his two daughters.  These were the ones Lot had offered to the men of Sodom to spare the angelic visitors from abuse or worse.  Of course Lot’s wife is not with them as she was turned into a pillar of salt for her sin of looking back.    As I noted last time, no further mention is made of his unnamed wife (note that the daughters are not named either). 
The account of incest between Lot and his daughters doesn’t say very much for biblical family values.  However, I wouldn’t want to be accused cultural relativism.  There must have been cultural activities that led to the Levitical laws.   It is an interesting account of the foundation of two other peoples – the Moabites and the Ammonites.  They certainly got a bad rap by the writers of Genesis.  I wonder how those people felt about the account that the Israelites were spreading about their founding stories?

That is where we leave Lot and his offspring.  The story returns to Abraham and Sarah.  History repeats itself and Abraham and Sarah get into trouble in another land, Gerar.  The carryings on in Egypt is repeated in this land.  Abraham again passes off Sarah as his sister to save himself with similar results.  There is something of the trickster inn Abraham.  This characteristic will come to full bloom in his grandson Jacob.  It is interesting how family traits often skip a generation.  In any case the founding father of three religions definitely had a shadow side which seems to not be acknowledged.  Whenever that happens serious consequences are sure to follow.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Reading the Bible 9: Gen 19: 1-29

Reading the Bible 9: Gen 19: 1-29
Lots of material here (pun intended) so I am reading chapter 19 in two parts.  There is more than one theme in this passage.  We have the theme of family values which was introduced earlier.  It is interesting that Lot offers the men from Sodom his two daughters ‘who have not known a man’ as a way to save the visitors from the abuse of the crowd.  I find it interesting that there has been little said in relation to the story of Sodom about the potential sacrifice of the young women by their father.  Not a good example of family values.  In addition there is nothing in the account to reflect how Lot felt about his wife being turned into a pillar of salt for the heinous crime of looking back as they fled the destruction of Sodom.  In my view these are not models for how a family should live according to biblical values. 

The other theme is hospitality which was addressed Reading the Bible 8.  Hospitality seems to be a much more important value in biblical times than it is perceived to be today.  Abraham certainly set the standard for hospitality in his welcoming the messengers (angels) from God who affirm the covenant between Abraham and God.  Lack of hospitality is also seen in some circles as the sin for which Sodom was destroyed rather than the usual one which is derived from the name of the city.  Jesus addresses this in the account in Matt: 10: 14-15 where Jesus is sending out the disciples as apostles.  He expects that they will not be received hospitably in some places. 
Matthew 10:14  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The challenge for us today is to determine what it means for us to show hospitality to others.  How are Christians to be hospitable in a secular, multi-cultural society?  It is not a time for evangelism in the traditional sense.  The hospitality of evangelism could be a very interesting value to explore for fully another time and place.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Reading the Bible 8: Gen 18
The theme of hospitality runs through this passage.  Abraham is the epitome of the good host to the three ‘men’ who appear before him.  He is exemplary in his welcome offering them water to wash their feet and having the fatted calf killed to serve them.  (I wonder if Jesus was thinking of this when he told the parable of the Prodigal son?).  There is also a question in my mind whether he would have been as good a host if these were just ordinary men and not emissaries (angels) from God?

In any case there is certainly nothing that he can be faulted for in the hospitality department.  However, the other feature of this passage – putting aside the miracle of Sarah’s destiny of bearing a child in her old age – is Abraham’s bargaining with God.  It is human nature to bargain with God – If you will do this for me God – won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz as Janice Joplin prayed – then I will worship you or I will be happy or I will follow your commandments.  This relationship to God is correctly, I believe, not encouraged (despite the Prayer of Jabez phenomenon of a few years ago).  It is not the basis for a mature spirituality.   

However, I believe that Abraham’s bargaining on behalf of the inhabitants Sodom is different precisely because it is on behalf of other and not for his benefit.  So Abraham bargains the salvation of Sodom from fifty righteous people down to ten.  However, even that is not few enough as we know from the account in the next chapter Sodom’s fate. 
However, it is a compelling question.  Can we bargain with God and to what end.  Can we really bargain for ourselves or more righteously for others?  Was there a cosmic bargain between God and his only begotten son to bring salvation to humankind.  I have always had problems with this interpretation of Easter.  But that is for another reading. 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Reading the Bible 7: Gen 16-17
We are in the potential mine field of family relations.  I could say the area of family values which is a rather loaded phrase that carries a lot of assumptions today with connotations of what does and doesn’t construe a family i.e. one man and one woman and two and a half children.  No evidence of that here.  But of course God’s intention for the family of humans will be revealed more fully as God’s relationship with humans is developed in biblical history. 

What is of interest to me in this reading is the power structure that is explored in this chunk of scripture.  Here we have Abram who has not believed fully in God’s promise of descendants unnumbered.  Sarai is apparently barren so he decides that God needs some help and takes matters into his own hand so to speak – and with the active consent to Sarai uses her hand maiden Hagar to fulfill God’s promise.  We don’t truly know how all the parties felt about this.  Of course it was a conventional arrangement for the times and probably no one thought twice about it but feeling might have been another matter.  Margaret Atwood has explored what this type of arrangement might look like in a dystopia.  However, this handmaid’s tale Hagar goes from a position of powerlessness to one – at least temporarily – of power.  Once she is carrying the heir apparent (she must have assumed it would be a boy) she begins to lord it over Sarai  - at least in Sarai’s projection.  As quickly as her vision of grandeur is played out it comes crashing down when Abram declines – in his wisdom – to support her power play.  He wisely does not want to get in the middle of the dispute between the two women in his life.  In her renewed position of powerlessness she believes the only option open to her is to escape the situation even if it is in the wilderness.  I think we may come across this theme again. 
Although these circumstances are worlds apart from our world the role of power struggles and power plays are basically the same.  We need to be in control.  We struggle to ensure that our lives are in our hands rather than God’s.  We struggle to trust the promises that God has made to us.

In this context I can see why God believed he needed to reaffirm the promise He had made to Abram and recut the b’rit (covenant).  How many times has he done this now – three?  In any case for me it is reassuring that God doesn’t give up on us easily or at all for that matter.  It’s up to us not to give up on God.




Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Bible Reading 1
One of the projects I have decided to undertake in retirement – now a week old – is reading the bible from its Genesis to Revelation. I have also decided I will post my reflections on my readings – they probably won’t be daily but hopefully regularly. These are not going to involve any kind of formal exegesis but rather my thoughts and experiences which seem – at least at the moment - to be related to the text for the day.

The beginning is naturally in the beginning. I approached this with the expectation that the story of creation wouldn’t hold many surprizes for me. However, I was reminded that so much of the creation involved separation – light from darkness, land from water, day from night. I also noticed – was reminded - that God did not declare ‘his’ work on the second day good. This seems to be an oversight on his part. What would there be about that activity that was not good? The dome of the sky seems to be something that should be good. The waters above and the waters below were separated. Was this something that God was ambivalent about? Separation – breaking up – can be hard to do as the song says. Perhaps this was prescient regarding the ambivalence God might have had about having to through Adam and Eve out of the Garden. This act seems necessary if humans were going to grow up and become mature rather than staying as children in the womb of God’s Garden. In any case more of that later.


Reading the bible 2

My bible reading retirement project for today includes Gen 2 and 3.  It’s unfortunately that the disobedience of Eve and Adam got such bad press.  As I mentioned yesterday where would humankind be if they hadn’t tasted of the forbidden fruit?  We would still be in the womb of the garden and would never have developed from there.  Which leads to the question, did the serpent disobey God or was ‘he’ (is the serpent masculine of feminine or perhaps neuter?) doing God’s will?   God seems to be somewhat divided on his approach to the issue.  He sets up the tree in the middle of the Garden then brings it to the attention of his creation.  It could be that God’s intention was always that Adam and Eve would eat of the tree and would be expelled from the Garden.  Otherwise why create the tree in the first place and why put the Serpent in the Garden.  God must have known the nature of the Serpent whom he created and put in the Garden and that the natural curiosity of his creation would lead them to eat of the fruit.  My understanding of the whole episode is that it tells the story of the development of consciousness in humankind.  We became conscious and were therefore aware that we are separate from nature.  We have been trying to get back to the garden – that state of unity with God ever since.  But the genii I is out of the bottle and you can’t put it back. 

Reading the Bible 3

So now what – what do we do after we have been kicked out of Paradise?  Certainly I have the urge to kill people (figuratively only) like Cain relationship to Able (no not my literal brother).  There is also the rage at the unfairness/whimsical nature of God – that’s what makes it a mystery.  Why reject Cain’s offering and accept Able’s – dad likes you best – not a good idea for any parent to show favouritism.  I wonder what family values God is modelling with the first family for us?  Perhaps God was still learning how to be a father (Father)?  Perhaps he didn’t have much more of an idea what children require than the rest of us the first time around.  It would be really nice to get a do over in raising our children.  We may not want to be our brother’s keeper any more than Cain did but hopefully we haven’t let the rage get the better of us.

In any case it would be really nice to receive the mark of Cain to let people know that if you mess with me God is going to get you.

Reading the Bible 4

I am into Noah territory today.  I have had some interesting discussion with a few people about the ark and what the story represents.  Despite all they said I cannot bring myself to believe that two of all the animal plus food for all could fit into a boat.  Perhaps that is my lack of faith or perhaps God wants me to look at the truth of that story in a different way.  I think it is unfortunate that we sometimes get into arguments about how to understand the events in the Bible.  Let’s put aside disagreements about whether the events happened as described and look at why the stories are still meaningful to people five, six, seven eight or ? thousand years later. 

I find it significant that the description of the ark is provided in great detail.  It is helpful whenever we are undertaking something new that we have detailed plans for what we are going to do and where we are heading.  This is especially important for someone like me who is more of a big picture person and doesn’t always or often? pay attention to details as Lorna will attest.  Whether you want to build a cottage in PEI or an ark to carry every kind of earthy creature it is good to have a plan.  Good advice for someone in transition.

Reading the Bible 5:  Gen 10 and 11
Today my reading is centred on the Tower of Babel story with lots of descendants before (Noah’s) and after Babel (Shem’s and Terah’s). 

I have never been all that interested in my family history.  Perhaps this is because my parents spoke very little about their family when I was growing up.  We had some contact with grandparents but it was limited as we lived in Western Canada and they were in Ontario.  However, Lorna has an abiding interest in her heritage and is currently immersed in  She is revelling is finding connections and filling in blanks.  More power to her but it still isn’t something which resonates with me.  It was apparently important to the recorders/writers of the bible and of course we are just coming to the end of season of the church year in which we have been reminded of Jesus’ important connection with David.  I guess I am missing something significant but that is true of other parts of my life as well. 
The message from the Babel story seems to be that unity is not a good thing according to God.  So much for, ‘We are one in the Spirit’.  But I think a message here is that we should be cautious about hubris.  The ego does believe that it is the centre of things and can control everything if it just does it right and works really hard – build that tower to the heavens.  I am currently reading The Three Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian Schwarz.  The author proposes a typology that identifies nine different types of Spirituality – I am apparently Sacramental.  To have a mature spirituality you have to embrace your shadow side – the opposite of you Spiritual type – mine is Dogmatic.  The opposite reveals the weakness of your natural Spirituality and can enhance you appreciation of the other types and enable you to be more balanced in your Spirituality.  For me that is a message in Babel.  Our spirituality and approach to God is not one size fits all.  If we try to use only one approach we are going to miss out on a lot of who and what God encompasses.’


Reading the Bible 6: Gen 12-15

I find God’s call of Abram to be both reassuring and unsettling at the same time.  I am doing this as a retirement project so the implication is that I am not young.  The fact that God’s call came when Abram was less than young resonates with me.  I guess you just never know when it might come.  To respond to a call that upends your life may be okay when you’re young and ready for an adventure is one thing but it doesn’t seem so appealing in – shall I say – late middle age.  Perhaps there might be a small comparison to moving into a cottage on P.E.I. for the summers but that really is a bit of a stretch.  However, it is probably all the adventure I can take at this point.

The other thing that resonates with me in Abram’s story is that God makes his promise to Abram more than once.  In chapter 12 at the beginning of the call he promises to make of Abram a great nation and in Chapter 15 he promises it again – Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  It is comforting to know that Abram needed the promise restated more than once - and more than twice looking ahead.  I believe that God’s promises to us need to be renewed at various times throughout our lives.  They may change in detail as we change but the ground of our relationship does not change.