Subduing and Dominating

Subduing and Dominating

Scripture: Genesis 1:27-31 and 2:7, 15, 18-19, 21-22. As those who study Scripture know, there are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis.  In the one that appears in chapter 1, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’  God also said; ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.  God look at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31).  In the second account, in chapter 2, “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Gen. 2:7)…The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15)…The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen. 2: 18-19)…So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  The lord god then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man (Gen. 2:21-22). In her TEDx Talk of December 9, 2012 [http://youtu.be/575V-CgiVOE], Joan Chittister refers to this first book of the Bible to make the points that (1) they were undoubtedly written by a man from a male point of view; and both (2) hierarchy (man created first; woman second and subject to him; (3) and patriarchy are built in and have influenced history and culture ever since. Why in some countries are women and girls forbidden to become educated or even to drive?  Isn’t the argument that: it is the woman who attracts the man; it is the woman who gets pregnant, carries the child for months, and then...

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Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 After a pause for six weeks of meetings, we can now go back to our “Difficult Passages in Scripture” theme.  Does this passage from Matthew 20 surprise you? I want to bring several sources to bear on this Scripture.  The first, of course, is the scripture itself, and its commentary in The New Interpreters Study Bible.  The second is this poem called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, a poetess born in Maple Heights, OH (now lives in Provincetown, Mass.) and winner of both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that many modern spiritual writers are quoting these days: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. The third is this passage from Rev. Cam Miller, in his “Subversive Preacher” blog of this past Wednesday 2-19-14: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1445266a8557d6e1 The fourth is this poignant blog of 2-20-14 by Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical: “I asked my friends to share their Sacred Scared here because I wanted to prove to you that folks who are showing up BIG TIME and doing REALLY hard things are just like us. Everybody is the same. No one has it all figured out and No one ever will. We just gotta show up for our dreams and each other before we’re ready. We can be scared and still show up. We can be completely UNHEALED and still show up. We must just show up in all our beautiful, messy glory. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready. – See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.vPj5HdH8.dpuf “Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you...

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Comments on the Psalms

Comments on the Psalms

It is fitting that after Lent and Easter, we allow ourselves to attend the concert of songs which are the Psalms. We read the story of the Passion of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel this year, and echoes of Psalm 22 rang in our ears when the soldiers divided his garments and especially when Jesus began to pray the first verse of this psalm in his agony: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This verse has come to be known as the “Fourth Word” from the Cross, although for Mark and Matthew it is the ONLY word. John has references to Psalms 69 and 34 in his account of the Passion, both referring to thirst. These references confirm Dr. Beal’s point that “The Psalms give voice to the tremendous depth and breadth of human experience… “( p. 144). The Alleluias of Easter are there, too, and great hope, confidence and joy. If we were to “sing to the Lord a new song” every day, some people would use the psalms, picking one that matches their life situation, their need, their fear, or their heart’s being full of thanksgiving and joy. The psalms have not lost their popularity. Although some books of the bible are read and preached about infrequently, something of the Psalms usually finds its way into worship every Sunday. When the Cleveland Ecumenical Institute scheduled a four week course on the Psalms taught by Rabbi Roger Klein, forty people signed up, and we had to close the enrollment because of lack of space! A priest came to hear the Jewish interpretation of the Psalms. Rabbi Klein brought with him the original Hebrew text, intending to use the original language at times to enlighten the understanding of the translation. Dr. Beal chooses just 6 psalms to include in his book on Biblical Literacy. They are good choices. What mood do they evoke? In 1926, Archibald MacLeish wrote a poem about the nature of poetry, and concluded it with a line that used to be famous: “A poem should not mean, but be!” It was a modernist statement, wanting poems to be like little gems which we could hold up to the light and see the intricacy and ingenuity of their structures as if we were seeing all the colors of the rainbow, dazzling us with their beauty. That MacLeish quote, however, doesn’t seem to apply to the Psalms at all, and never has.As Dr. Beal points out, they do have intriguing parallel structures, and contain lots of imagery, symbols and analogies. But they are not read for their beauty. Many people might comment on the beauty of a Psalm 23, perhaps the most popular among the 150 songs, but people who know that psalm have held on to its verses...

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Comments on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes

These two books offer many temptations: for example, to discuss the pros and cons of spanking as a form of discipline; or to expound on the dangers of taking every word of Scripture literally as if it were addressed to us in 2012 directly by God; or to take Proverbs at least as a rule book, as if we were a CPA and got the tax book dumped in our laps with the injunction: “Learn this and you won’t be penalized.” Some cultures have a lot of proverbs. German is certainly one of them. I still remember a few, such as “Arbeit macht das Leben suess” (“Work makes life sweet”) which comes perilously close to the saying over Auschwitz in Poland and other concentration camps: “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes one free”). Surely the placing of this proverb is an example of how a positive sounding sentence can be converted into something ideologically and morally perverse. Can you live your life by proverbs? What can you do with a proverb such as “The early bird catches the worm?” It surely states a truth that can be used to educate, say, a young person who insists on sleeping in every morning and coming late to school? The structure of the book of Proverbs seems to indicate that their purpose WAS education, either as passages of instruction or as one or two-line statements. A father is addressing a child; an elder a young initiate. The book fits right in with Rev. Richard Rohr’s contemporary writings on the first half and the second half of life. In the first half of life, we all need rules and discipline. Without training and structure, the rest of our life is a mess. We have no foundation to stand on, to jump from. In the second half of life, we have less need of rules. Hopefully, we can come to some of the wisdom we read about in these two books of the Bible. One question educators ask is whether wisdom is transferable. Information can be passed on; facts learned; skills acquired. But wisdom? Can quoting a proverb to someone have a positive effect? Or do we have to have the experience to lead us to say when we hear a proverb: Yes! That’s right! I know that to be true. But surely there’s no harm in trying one out—to try getting up early to see if the old proverb is true for us, or whether another hour of sleep makes us much more efficient. Generations and generations have believed in passing along wisdom and virtue to the young. The old McGuffey Readers were full of stories with a moral. The morality plays were the same, and when novels were first written, people were scandalized when the good guys didn’t win. Some of us would like...

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Comments on Canticle of Canticles and Isaiah

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar in the World, encourages practices of prayer and meditation that are NOT abstract and in some ideal place, but are feeling the dirt between your toes and hearing the birds sing and relishing every gritty detail about being on this earth. Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, encourages meditation that goes into the body.  He advises such techniques as listening to the silence between sounds, or following the sound of a bell into silence, or following your breathing into the body.  The idea, of course, is to quiet the mind and the ego so that there is space for the present, the now, and the divine. The Canticle of Canticle is a perfect book for getting into the body.  There is a whole history of interpretations of this book, from the first time it was acknowledged as part of Scripture.  Interpreters were quick to create an allegorical and a mystical interpretation, to get away from its flagrant eroticism and so to interpret it as a dialogue between God and Israel or between Christ and the Church.  After all, there is a biblical history of understanding God’s relationship with humans as similar to the relationship between a bride and a bridegroom.   –Because, whenever we say ‘love,’ we are raising implications of romantic, physical love. Barbara Brown Taylor has a shocking passage about this (p. 38).  She relates a conversation with a fellow minister about attraction and spiritual intimacy with God.  The union with God is very, very similar on our human level to that between a husband and wife, with that idealized sexual love in this marvelous book called the Canticle of Canticles. It may be a relief to turn the page from the Canticle and arrive in the Bible at the Prophet Isaiah, except that he, too, acknowledges our fleshly humanness, even in writing these lines which Christians have long understood as referring to Jesus and his Mother:  “…the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (7:14).    Sex is how we continue to live, to populate the world, and to experience one of the greatest pleasures and closeness this world has to offer.  Isaiah could be considered implying that it is the way the divine enters the world. The mystics, the enlightened contemplatives, acknowledged this and were able to integrate it into their spirituality.  They could look at a picture of St. Teresa of Avila in ecstasy and understand the physicality of it without being thrown.  They had come to a place where the physical and the divine were no longer opposites.  They could imagine God as spouse, lover, embracing, kissing and becoming one.   They could...

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