Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Word of God? A Newspaper Submission

Each week, Christians around the world hear passages from Scripture read. Often the reading closes with the statement “this is the word of God”. But what does that mean? 

Does ‘Word of God’ mean that every word, every story is to be seen as factual, as having happened just that way? Does it mean that we need to take the whole of Scripture as having been uttered by God? Or does ‘Word of God’ mean that in the very human words and stories we find some lasting truths that point towards God? For many people the first option is a source of comfort and forms the bedrock of their faith. At the same time many people, both in and out of the church, find the second possibility to be much more realistic.

It is my opinion that taking the Bible literally does injustice to the intent of the original writers. Modern Western culture is one of the few cultures that equates truth with fact. The cultures that wrote the books of the Bible were much more comfortable with metaphor and parable. They had an understanding that the truth told by the story was often more important than the actual events. When we, with our scientific mindset, try to literalize the story, it then becomes ridiculous and we lose the truth that is being told. For me the question of literalism is best summed up by retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong who said: “I take the Bible far too seriously to ever take it literally.”

Mind you this raises another question about the ‘Word of God’. How do we determine what parts are more important or have more weight? If we say that God literally spoke every word, then all the words are equally important. Unfortunately, many of those words contradict each other. But if we see the Bible as a collection of books where humans are trying to explain how God is active in their lives then we can see that sometimes the biases and prejudices of the writer have slanted the vision of God. In the past, taking those biases literally have led the church to condone and encourage slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, and many other forms of oppression.

The alternative is to remember that humans wrote the Scripture. Therefore it does not perfectly express the will of God. One principle often helpful is to work out the core messages that run through all of Scripture and judge individual passages by that. One of those core messages is shown by the Rabbi [named differently, if at all, in different versions of the story, generally linked to one of the great Talmudic scholars such as Rabbi Akiba] who was asked to explain the Law and the prophets while standing on one foot. His answer? “Love God, love your neighbor - everything else is commentary.”

The Bible is part of the foundation of Christian faith. As those who were forming the United Church of Canada said a century ago:
We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given by inspiration of God, as containing the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God's gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ. (The Basis of Union of the United Church of Canada)
and as the same denomination said a few years ago:
Scripture is our song for the journey, the living word
passed on from generation to generation
to guide and inspire,
that we might wrestle a holy revelation for our time and place
from the human experiences
and cultural assumptions of another era....
The Spirit breathes revelatory power into scripture,
bestowing upon it a unique and normative place
in the life of the community. (A Song of Faith, United Church of Canada, 2006)
Scripture is vital to our faith. Engaging and interpreting Scripture is not optional. This means we all have to deal with it. Engaging Scripture challenges us to work out what God is saying to us through these ancient words. We are challenged to see beyond what we want it to say to what it really does say. When we can all do that and live the life that God wants us to live then we can truly say that the Reign of God is being made real. May God help us in our quest. Amen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This Is A Good Idea

I finally got down to looking at this month's Observer.  And so I read this story:

Classroom discussions and activities like these form the backbone of a course called Ethics and Religious Culture. It is mandatory at all grade levels in all of Quebec’s schools — public and private alike — making Quebec the only province in Canada that requires all students to study religion. The ERC program has powerful opponents but just as many advocates. As Quebec tries it on for size, other provinces will be able to see whether it turns out to be a failed experiment or a possible model for the rest of the country.

This is the sort of course I have long thought needed to  be a mandatory part of our education system.  I am glad to see it is at least being tried somewhere.

Now to have some province include a mandatory, fully-funded trip by land from coast to coast, with stops in all provinces, as a part of their curriculum....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

8 Years AGo Today

Well technically teh story starts 8 years ago yesterday. 

It was a Tuesday.  I went to visit someone at the hospital, then for coffee at the Seniors Center, then went to talk to an intern who was doing some community develoment work in town.  AS I came up from that discussion Beloved was walking through the mall: "Oh there you are!"

Turns out she had been looking for me all afternoon.  She had just come from the clinic where her water had broken and she was sent to the hospital to get the ambulance in to the Regional Hospital.  She had left a note on my windshield earlier that afternoon but I had not seen it as the windshield wipers were recessed under the hood.

So we got to the hospital, Beloved got loaded up and I went home to grab some needed stuff for the next week before making the 2+ hour drive to the Hospital.  Around midnight the OB/GYN on call decided that since nothing was happening a C-Section was in order.  And so at 1:11 Wednesday morning our first child, Princess, was born.  A few days later we headed home...

But that was only the beginning.  355 days later Scalliwag was born (this time through a scheduled C-Section).  2 years after that Monkey came along on the 15th (2 weeks BEFORE a scheduled C-Section--and she hasn't slowed down since).  Then last year on the 26th of the month Bear came along with another scheduled C-Section.  Yep, 4 kids, all born in the same month.  Makes May a little hectic (2 parties last weekend, another one tomorrow).

Monday, May 02, 2011

SOmething to Celebrate or to Repent?

FOr the last 24 hours international news (at least in NOrth America, it would be interesting to know how the story is being covered elsewhere) has been filled with one story, and only one story.

The assasination of Osama Bin Laden.  Because, if we are honest that is what it was.  Now it can be argued that assassination is a legitimate weapon of war (as it would have been for Hitler, as the Us seemed to believe it was for Castro at one point in time).  ANd although there is no confirmation that the mission was to kill and not extract realistically speaking there was no chance of a non-lethal extraction.  And even if there was a chance of extraction, extract to where?  Where would there be a place to try him?  By whose laws?

BUt in the end this was vewngeance.  This was not justice, any more than the trumoped up trial of Saddam and the resulting hanging was justice.  THis was retribution, understandable and predictable but still retriburtion pure and simple.

ANd what do we do now when/if it turns out that killing the titular leader (and it has never, in public documents, been proven that he was the strategic mastermind) makes no difference to the movement.  Although it may slow up the flow of money I suppose.  ANd then there is the problem of Pakistan.  AN already uncertain relationship, a government that was already forced to try and play both sides against the middle, and the US have invade Pakistani territory in an act of war--what does that do to the future relationship (remembering that there are still Taliban and other "unfriendlies' hiding in the Pakisatni border-country.

But even more troubling, what does this say about the US value system?  I am not naive enough to believe this is the first time US forces have actively participated in assassination, to say nothing of the time US money/information/material have supported other assassinations.  BUt when we start to use these sorts of tactics, the same tactics we demonize when used by our enemies, have we infact become just as bad?

Oh and I have to point out that 30 years ago the US supported Bin LAden and his mujahadeen.  THe US also installled Saddam in power.  Which US-supported movement now will turn around and bite them in the backside in 2030?  Will it be the nationalist movements in Egypt? TUnisia? Libya?

In the end though it comes to this.  As people of Christian faith we follow the one who taught his friends to love their enemies.  Who taught a new way of change.  Who called us to be people of nonviolence.  Assassination, however understandable, even justifiable, is a failure to follow that Way.  ANd rejoicing in the death of anyone, no matter who they are, is also a failure to be people of The Way.