Monday, October 31, 2011

FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS - Chapter Seven (Part I)


Throw the Book at Them

“If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
 - Paulo Coelho

"Fat People Should Commit Suicide"...that's what I had originally planned to name this book, but then I thought better of it.

I know that title would have been a little too provocative and difficult to certainly would make the book unmarketable...but the idea comes from my frustration with so many fundamentalist Bible-thumpers who keep telling me and people like me that we need to "get back to the Bible" and "obey the commandments of God" and not "water down the Scriptures" with our message of grace and our liberal theology.

I'm fine with the concept of obeying the Bible in theory...but if we're going to take part of it literally and obey it to the letter, then we have to take all of it literally, and obey all of it. You can't pick and choose. I'll get more into this in the chapter about Leviticus, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of people who use certain Bible verses to clobber other people whom they disapprove of, but they only pick and choose the verses that prop up their own agendas and protect and preserve their prejudices. Then they ignore the ones that don't matter to them.

I heard a man on Christian TV recently preaching against those who support gay marriage, and in his rant he said "We need to get back to the BIBLICAL definition of marriage and not vary from it in any way!"

It's certainly within any one's rights to be either for or against same-sex marriage. I've heard all the arguments, both pro and con, and I understand where everyone is coming from on the subject. It's a tricky one, at best.

But don't use the Bible to make your point for marriage between one man and one woman as we know it today if you want to have credibility.

I mean, whose marriage in the Bible can you set up as the example?

Adam and Eve weren't married.

Noah apparently had a wife, but we know nothing about her.

Abraham's wife, Sarah, was his sister, and she offered her servant, Hagar, to him so that he could sleep with her to impregnate her (which he did, because that kind of thing was customary then), and she gave birth to Ishmael.

Even a marriage like Isaac's and Rebekah's was an arranged thing (people marrying for love is a relatively new idea).

Jacob fathered the men who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel through 4 women (2 wives and 2 concubines).

Basically, all the married men of the Old Testament were polygamists with harems (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines!). Within that context, I don't even know how you would define adultery for a man who already has multiple women available to him, sexually.

So you don't need to look in the OT for marriage role models because you won't find any.

And the New Testament is predominately about Jesus and Paul, neither of whom were married.

Jesus did, however, challenge the accepted concepts of marriage when He talked about the life and function of eunuchs (Matthew 19:10, 11). He said that some people couldn't understand or accept this, but that that there are those, like eunuchs, who aren't made for marriage as we know it at all. Many of my contemporaries believe and teach that He was referring to gay people in that discourse, but that's not settled in my mind at this point for reasons I will discuss later.

The disciples had wives, but they were all nameless as far as the Bible is concerned.

We see a couple named Priscilla and Aquila in Paul's narrative who were apparently married, but have virtually no information on them.

Even in the 5th chapter of Ephesians when Paul talks about husbands and wives, he ends that part by saying that he wasn't talking about marriage between a man and a woman, he was actually talking about Christ and the church.

So if you want to argue against same-sex marriage, fine. Just say that you stand for "traditional" or "conventional" marriage...don't say you stand for "biblical" marriage, because that may not be what you want at all.

Another preacher was defending the nuclear family and saying we need to model our families on what Jesus said.


What did Jesus say about the family?

"He who does not hate father and mother is not worthy of me".

"Who are my mother and brothers but those who do the will of God."

"Don't think that I came to bring peace...I came to bring a set mother-in-law against daughter-in-law..."

He even told one man not to bother with taking care of his dying father when He said, "Let the dead bury the dead."

Many of those who say that they beleive and practice the whole Bible should probably go back and actually read it, especially before they start yelling at the ones who they think aren't doing it right.

Men in Glass Houses

I get a lot of correspondence in a week (email, letters, texts, phone messages), both positive and negative, but one day I got a private Facebook message from a man who was blasting me because, according to him, I didn't really preach obedience to the Bible because I had "chosen" the gay lifestyle. He went on to say that if you don't obey all of the Bible you can't really call yourself a Christian, and that I was dangerous because I encouraged people to ignore the commandments of God.

His letter contained the usual vehemence and mean-spirited jargon that I get a lot from people in the conservative religious community, and I was just about to do my typical pushing of the delete button (I don't even read them any more because they all just say the same thing) when I happened to notice his profile picture.

He looked like he probably weighed in excess of 400 lbs, maybe more...definitely appeared to be morbidly obese...and as I stared for a minute at the sour expression on his wide face, perched atop all of his chins like a big, pink pumpkin, I decided to make an exception and write him back a message that said something like this:

"Thanks for your message, sir, and you know what? You're absolutely right! We do need to get back to the Bible and start living it as we should. You've helped me see the light! I'm going to start telling all the gay people that they should repent for "choosing" their sinful "lifestyle"...and I'm also going to tell all the fat people...those who have chosen the fat lifestyle...that they should commit suicide because the Bible says " ...and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony" (Proverbs 23:2 - NIV)...We just can't, as you say, compromise the Scriptures. They must be obeyed! I just hope your suicide won't be too painful."

But then I decided not to send the message...just deleted it, because I'm a gentleman...maybe even a Christian...and just let him enjoy his smug self-righteousness and self-satisfaction in believing that he had put me in my place (and please don't write me to inform me that obesity isn't always the result of overeating, because that's not the point).

Then I blocked him on Facebook.

Look, I do love the Scriptures...with all my heart, in fact.

But I hate when they're taken out of context and used on other people as a weapon.

The best parts of the Bible are the ones that carry the GOOD NEWS.

That's what matters most, and there's a lot of GOOD NEWS in there if you know where to look for it!

Lift Every Voice and Sing

With clever editing you can make the Bible say just about anything you want it to say.

It has no one particular voice, because the Bible is NOT a book!

It is a collection of books...and ideas...and concepts...many of which are in contradiction to some of the others.

The protestant canon is a collection of 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years in different languages to different people groups in different generations for different purposes.

Therefore, the Scriptures must be rightly divided instead of wrongly connected.

In other words, each book must be judged in its own context and on its own terms, whether it confirms any other book or not. In this way, biblical contradictions are not only acknowledged and accepted...they are expected.

I celebrate the tension caused by the conflicting viewpoints of the writers who had different paradigms of God. Their contradictions make the Bible literally pulsate with life! And amazingly, in spite of the given contention, the confirmation of Jesus, the Christ, is still the glue that holds the whole collection together!

In this way, the Bible is actually a miracle.

But you can't ask what "The Bible" says about anything, because "The Bible" is a collection of books.

That would be like asking what the library says about something.

The library says a lot of things.

The library says 'War and Peace'.

The library says 'Of Mice and Men'.

The library says 'Alice in Wonderland'.

There is no official voice of the library.

That's why we have basically four different resurrection stories in the Gospels. The one constant among all the variables (number of women in the garden, number of angels, catastrophic events, such as an earthquake, or lack thereof) is that Jesus was in the grave and then He came out of the grave alive.

But there is no official resurrection story of record.

Contradictions abound between the leather covers.

For example, if you asked what "The Bible" says about using the title of Father, there is no definitive answer.

Jesus said to call no one "Father":

"And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." (Matthew 23:9 - NIV)

But Paul said just the opposite:

"Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15 - NIV)

Peter tells wives that they are responsible for the salvation of their husbands...puts the onus entirely on the women by saying that their godly lives lived in front of their unbelieving spouses is more effective than The Word...

In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives, When they observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves, together with your reverence [for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes: to respect, defer to, revere him--to honor, esteem, appreciate, prize, and, in the human sense, to adore him, that is, to admire, praise, be devoted to, deeply love, and enjoy your husband]. (1 Peter 3:1, 2 - AMP)

But Paul says just the opposite:

But if the unbelieving partner [actually] leaves, let him do so; in such [cases the remaining] brother or sister is not morally bound. But God has called us to peace. For, wife, how can you be sure of converting and saving your husband? Husband, how can you be sure of converting and saving your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:15, 16 - AMP)

No doubt, these next two passages are talking about two different things, but at first glance it appears that Jesus is telling us not to judge anyone/anything, while Paul is saying to judge everyone/everything!

But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
(1 Corinthians 2:15 - NKJV)

But the spiritual man tries all things [he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things], yet is himself to be put on trial and judged by no one [he can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him].
(1 Corinthians 2:15 - Amplified Bible)

But Jesus says...

“Don’t set yourself up as a judge who takes the liberty of casually condemning others, or even as a critic who thinks that he or she has the right to criticize them, because when you do that, you set a universal law into motion that will inevitably bring negative things back into your own life. In other words, don’t judge so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For in direct proportion to your judgment, criticism and condemnation of others, you will be personally judged and criticized and condemned. It’s just the way the law works. And in accordance with the measure you use to deal out to others…whatever you may deal out…it will be dealt out again to you. You define the terms of your own life in this sense. (Matthew 7:1, 2 - Matthew In The Now)

Jesus said to think and be like a child to be able to enter the Kingdom:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child, whom he placed among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:1-4 - TNIV)

But Paul says...

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20 - TNIV) be continued

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