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Friday, July 29, 2005

Twelve Tribes of American Politics

I came across an interesting article about faith and politcs today while surfing Beliefnet.com. For those of you interested in the topic, I thought you might find this interesting.

Twelve Tribes of American Poitics

Keepers of the Pig Sty

Centuries ago in feudal England, ones wealth was based largely on the amount of land and livestock owned. Livestock was managed by an army of servants. A “ward” was a servant who had responsibility for some aspect of the operation. The feudal lord’s most valued possession was often his herd of pigs. Consequently, the most trusted ward was the one who watched over the sty where the pigs lived. He was the “sty ward.” “Steward” (from sty-ward) is the word that emerged in English to describe our relationship to God concerning material possessions. “Steward” is not a frequently used word any more, yet it is probably the single best description of our relationship to wealth.

My father-in-law used to raise hogs. He worked at a meat packing plant toward the end of his career. He had oversight of the enormous freezer warehouses where the slaughtered hogs were kept. The hogs had to be kept at just the right temperature and moisture level or they would be ruined. I once asked him what he thought of his job. He told me “On a good I am responsible for millions of dollars of inventory. On a bad day I hang around a bunch of dead pigs.” Melissa and I will occasionally ask ach other how our day went. Sometimes, when things haven’t gone so well, we say “I had a dead pig day.”

The fact is that, “dead pig days” or not, there are only two relationships we can have with wealth. We can forgo wealth or we can be stewards of it for God. The wealth we control ultimately passes from our hands to into another’s hands. As Don Henley used to sing in his song “Gimme What You Got,” “…you don’t see hearses with luggage racks.” The illusion is that we make our own wealth and we are free to do with it as we please. But God declares:

Deut 8:17-18 NRSV
17 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

It is God who ultimately is responsible for what we have and all of it returns to him.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Strong Medicine

The first three or four commandments (depending on how you number them) of the Ten Commandments addressed our relationship with God. The remaining commandments dealt with our relationships to each other. Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments were “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” He taught that all of the commandments are grounded in these two.

If there had been no rebellion from God, would these commandments have been needed? I don’t think so. I think we would have been so thoroughly integrated into God’s character that these behaviors would have been instinctive. What threw humanity of the track was an illusion of injustice. The sin in the garden was accepting an illusion that framed God as tyrant and us as gods. As I reflect on the ten commandments, it strikes me that they all have one common theme: They are all related to our human desire to be in control, or as Genesis puts it “to become as God.”

Having no other gods, not making graven images, and using God’s name falsely all address our desire manipulate God for our ends. As George Bernard Shaw said, “God created us in his image. We decided to return the favor.” The Sabbath stands against our frenetic striving to be ever more in control.

Honoring father and mother speaks to a desire for power and autonomy so strong that we would subvert what should be the most nurturing of relationships. Our rebellion against godly authority becomes rebellion against earthly authority.

So consumed are we with our desire for power and autonomy that we will end the life of another to get what want. We will destroy the oneness of marriage in order to fulfill our basest desires. We will take what belongs to others and pass it off as our own. We will spin lies and deceptions in order to gain or protect what power and autonomy we can. Even if we don’t act on our desire, we will compare our lives to other people’s lives. We will nurture such a longing for their status that we will destroy meaningful relationships with others and develop contempt for what we have been given. Such was the nature of the world into which God spoke these commandments.

The Ten Commandments are strong medicine intended to disillusion us and expose the truth of who God is and what he wants for us. Creating a disillusioned people in the midst of world full of illusion was God’s means of disillusioning the world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

One God

Several weeks ago I wrote about viewing Scripture as a six act play. Act 1 was the creation of the heavens and earth and the placement of Adam and Eve in Eden. Act 2 was the rebellion of humanity against God. Act 3 began with the call of Abraham and the birth of the Israelites. It continues up to the birth of a child in Bethlehem.

Act 3 began with the call of Abraham and the saga of his family down through Joseph and the sojourn of the people into Egypt. The next scene is the Exodus of the people from Egypt and into Canaan (after a lengthy detour.) It is immediately after there departure from Egypt that God takes Moses up on Sinai and explains what he expects from his chosen people.

It is significant that the Ten Commandments begin with God identifying himself as the one “who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” and not as the creator and sustainer of the universe. His instruction is based on his special relationship to a people he has chosen and not just as supreme Lord. The Ten Commandments are to be moral and ethical foundation for his chosen people in contrast to the rest of the world.

Catholic and Lutheran traditions believe verses two and three of Exodus 20, to be a preamble. They split verse seventeen into two commands, one being about “coveting your neighbor’s house” and the other about “coveting your neighbor’s wife. This makes three commandments concerning our relationship to God and seven about our relationship to each other. Most Protestant traditions see verses two and three as the first command and view verse seventeen as one command. This makes four commands about our relationship with God and six about our relationship with each other. Either way, there is a clear division into two types of commands. Look first at the God focused commands.

Why no other gods and no graven images? As I noted in earlier posts, fallen humanity must worship. Being estranged from God through sin we create false gods to give the illusion of order and meaning to our lives. It has been common to erect symbols as representations of our gods to make these gods more real to us.

Abraham had come from Babylonia where there were many Gods. The Israelites had just left Egypt where there were several gods. Also, the Israelites were about to enter Canaan with its panoply of Baal and Asherah gods. The Ten Commandments interject something startling into history. They insist on monotheism. “No other gods before more me,” does not mean Yahweh should be first in line among other gods. It means there are to be no other gods before, or in, his presence.

A common symbolization of the gods in Babylonia, Egypt and Canaan was as cattle. The irony of the biblical story is that just as Moses was receiving his instructions, Aaron was “passing the hat” through the camp to collect gold so he could make a golden calf. Upon completion, he said "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4 NRSV) The Hebrew Elohiym is the word translated “gods” here and it is one of the names of God, although it can have other connotations.

Some commentators suggest that Aaron was not outright rejecting Yahweh but was mixing the worship practices of the region with worship of the God. These practices entailed extremely licentious behavior. Syncretism was the sin here and it would plague the people for centuries in Israel. God was denouncing any representation of him, and he demanded that he alone should be worshiped according to his directions. He also proscribed any use of his name that would trivialize or minimize his authority.

Finally, there is no known precedent to the Sabbath in ancient culture. The lives of the ancients were a continuous oppressive effort to survive. Work was ceaseless except to worship the gods from whom they hoped to earn divine favor. God entered the picture and told his people that their survival depended not upon their frenetic efforts but upon their faithfulness to him. The Sabbath was a time to cease from labor and thereby demonstrate their reliance upon God. It was also a time for people to become reconnected with God and his purposes. The Sabbath was a defiant contrast to the oppressive fearful lives of the people in the land.

The worship of God alone combined with Sabbath observance was a direct assault on the illusions of the surrounding cultures.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Laying the Moral Foundation

The Israelites experienced God’s miraculous deliverance from bondage in Egypt. God deconstructed the illusion of power and permanence of the Egyptian Empire. He had called out a people that would give witness to him in the world.

At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses and gave him the foundational moral and ethical framework for his people. The Ten Commandments were not spoken into a vacuum. They were spoken to a people surrounded by cultures that were enemies of God. These commandments pointed away from fallen humanity and toward an ultimate ethic grounded in God’s character.

Ex 20:1-17 NRSV

1 Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What is the Difference?

Author Dick Keyes once wrote, “In seeking to become like God, we have become less than human.” The biblical story says we were created to be in relationship with God. When humankind rebelled, we lost our orientation and we lost our immorality. There was nothing left to give order and meaning to our existence. Human existence became the land of the living dead.

We were made for purpose. We were made for eternity. The land of the living dead is an intolerable place to live. We create civilizations and cultures (symbolized by the city) to shelter us from our absurd existence. Inequities inevitably emerge in these cultures. Powerful elites use culture to justify and perpetuate their power. Often many are oppressed. Still, The masses honor the social structures because of the stable orderliness they bring.

But these human shelters are, in the end, little more than elaborate illusions. The illusions collapse if pressed too hard. Consequently, the aim of human culture is to keep the populace sufficiently diverted from seeing the absurdity of their existence. Idols are offered as objects of worship. These idols may take the form of graven image or something as abstract as credits in a bank account. As long as most of the people buy the illusion most of the time then all is well.

Walter Bruggemann speaks of culture creating an “eternal present.” People are deluded into believing that the way things are, is the way they have been, and always will be. The present order is the moral imperative. Those who would challenge the order are either insane or evil. They are subversive.

It is precisely into this context that a subversive God steps into the picture. He intervenes in human history. He begins by calling Abraham and starting a nation that will reflect his character to the world. It is a subversive God leading a subversive people. He leads his people into the grasp of the most powerful human illusions ever on the face of the planet, ancient Egypt.

The amazing story of the Exodus is not just one of God setting his people free. It is a story of God systematically debunking the “eternal present” of the Pharaoh and Egypt. This event points to the end of time when God will bring his people out of the “Egypt” of human culture and into the New Jerusalem. He will debunk the human pretenders and every knee shall bow.

As I mentioned, God accomplishes his mission partly by calling out a new people to model the relationship God intends between humanity and himself. Later it became the Church. The visible presence of God working in his people is a sign to the rest of the world, and a constant subversive challenge to other cultures.

So what is it about God’s called out people that make me them different? What are we to make of Old Testament laws? What we are we to make of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament Church? How do we even begin to apply these ancient texts written to a world of rapid globalization? Without the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic I wrote about last week, I believe we risk dangerous errors.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Redemptive Movement Hermenuetic Diagram

Yesterday I wrote about the Redemptive Movement Hermenuetic. Today I thougt I would share a diagram that William J. Webb used to illustrate the idea. It comes from "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy," page 383.

Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic