Sunday, June 23, 2013

My faith as a Christian--Part 2

Hello my dear reader.

A while ago I wrote the first part on a series that I called "My Faith as a Christian". I thought it was a good idea to go back to this discussion. I said that these entries will be personal reflections and meditations on what is faith to me, how I understand my faith as a Christian, some of my joys, doubts and struggles during this journey, and how it affects my life and the lives of others. I remember among many things being inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that faith "is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Lately I have intrigued by what some people describe as biblical faith. While I am familiar with many ways of describing the word faith, including faith by itself and/or faith in a person, lately the term biblical faith has been occurring more and more in conversations, in politics, in the media, etc. I have observed that sometimes this is connected with some of my Christian brothers and sisters who believe that they are being persecuted in this country because they hold to what they call biblical faith.

Also, some of my Atheist brothers and sisters believe that faith is the enemy of reason, something to be avoided at all costs. (See the image I found in the web). I have observed that they believe that if you can get rid of faith (and all the negative baggage associated with faith) then a lot of our problems can be resolved.

Before I give my thoughts and opinions in this matter, I think it is wise to ask the following questions:
What does biblical faith mean to you?
Do you believe that faith is the enemy of reason?

Please remember to be respectful of each other and I look forward to your comments.



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Women cannot be teachers, cannot hold any authority over men, and they must keep silent?

Hello my dear reader.

As I get ready to go to start seminary as a full time student, I am very excited. After having the chance to take one Theology class (it was 'Intro To Preaching' at Boston University School of Theology) I think back to all the things I learned, and to the excellent sermons delivered by my fellow students; I particularly enjoyed the theological discussions we had, since our professor always told us that as preachers we should be Theologians of the Word. As part of the class some of my female classmates talked about their experiences and then it hit me: depending on the denomination and/or theological tradition plus a particular moment in time, some of them quite simply would have not been in my classroom...because of their gender.

In some churches today, certain passages from Scripture are used to support the idea that women cannot be teachers (perhaps to other women, but never to men), they cannot hold any authority over men, they must keep silent, and only men can be ordained as pastors and/or preachers; if a woman can become a deacon it is only because it is not considered an ordained position in the theology of these churches.

Of these passages the verses from 1 Timothy 2 are the most common to support these theological positions, particularly these verses:
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

I am a Christian in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. The cornerstones of Anglican Theology are the three interconnected principles of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Many Christians like myself using this model of theology and other Christians from the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, The American Baptist Churches, and other traditions fully embrace our sisters in Christ and we are enriched by their work and witness from the pulpit and beyond. But what about other models of Theology, particularly those that hold the Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) model? It is in situations like these that I turn to N.T Wright.

He is a retired Anglican Bishop and biblical scholar who belongs to the Evangelical wing of the Church of England. While there are times when I disagree with him, I have found his theology and his writings to be solid and I always find something new to learn...and that sometimes forces me to re-evaluate some of my own theological thinking.

In his paper Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis, Bishop Wright tackles and reflects on the biblical verses and scholarship related to women in the Church. When it comes to the verses from 1 Timothy 2 that I mentioned before, he states the following and I recommend taking your time reading and re-reading, taking notes, pray and reflect, specially if you already have an opinion in this matter and trust me when I tell you that while it is a long read it is worth the time. Here are some excerpts:

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that it is this passage far and away above all others which has been the sheet-anchor for those who want to deny women a place in the ordained ministry of the church, with full responsibilities for preaching, presiding at the Eucharist, and exercising leadership within congregations...

When people say that the Bible enshrines patriarchal ideas and attitudes, this passage, particularly verse 12, is often held up as the prime example. Women mustn't be teachers, the verse seems to say; they mustn't hold any authority over men; they must keep silent. That, at least, is how many translations put it. This, as I say, is the main passage that people quote when they want to suggest that the New Testament forbids the ordination of women...The whole passage seems to be saying that women are second-class citizens at every level. They aren’t even allowed to dress prettily. They are the daughters of Eve, and she was the original troublemaker. The best thing for them to do is to get on and have children, and to behave themselves and keep quiet...

Well, that’s how most people read the passage in our culture until quite recently. I fully acknowledge that the very different reading I’m going to suggest may sound to begin with as though I’m simply trying to make things easier, to tailor this bit of Paul to fit our culture. But there is good, solid scholarship behind what I’m going to say, and I genuinely believe it may be the right interpretation...

When you look at strip cartoons, ‘B’ grade movies, and ‘Z’ grade novels and poems, you pick up a standard view of how ‘everyone imagines’ men and women behave. Men are macho, loud-mouthed, arrogant thugs, always fighting and wanting their own way. Women are simpering, empty-headed creatures, with nothing to think about except clothes and jewellery. There are ‘Christian’ versions of this, too: the men must make the decisions, run the show, always be in the lead, telling everyone what to do; women must stay at home and bring up the children. If you start looking for a biblical back-up for this view, well, what about Genesis 3? Adam would never have sinned if Eve hadn't given in first. Eve has her punishment, and it’s pain in childbearing (Genesis 3.16).

Well, you don’t have to embrace every aspect of the women’s liberation movement to find that interpretation hard to swallow. Not only does it stick in our throat as a way of treating half the human race; it doesn't fit with what we see in the rest of the New Testament, in the passages we’ve already glanced at...

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognize that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine – was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshipers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place...

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organizing male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them. What’s the point of the other bits of the passage, then?

The first verse (8) is clear: the men must give themselves to devout prayer, and must not follow the normal stereotypes of ‘male’ behavior  no anger or arguing. Then verses 9 and 10 follow, making the same point about the women. They must be set free from their stereotype, that of fussing all the time about hair-dos, jewellry, and fancy clothes – but they must be set free, not in order that they can be dowdy, unobtrusive little mice, but so that they can make a creative contribution to the wider society. The phrase ‘good works’ in verse 10 sounds pretty bland to us, but it’s one of the regular ways people used to refer to the social obligation to spend time and money on people less fortunate than oneself, to be a benefactor of the town through helping public works, the arts, and so on...

Why then does Paul finish off with the explanation about Adam and Eve? Remember that his basic point is to insist that women, too, must be allowed to learn and study as Christians, and not be kept in unlettered, uneducated boredom and drudgery. Well, the story of Adam and Eve makes the point well: look what happened when Eve was deceived. Women need to learn just as much as men do. Adam, after all, sinned quite deliberately; he knew what he was doing, and that it was wrong, and went ahead deliberately. The Old Testament is very stern about that kind of action.

And what about the bit about childbirth? Paul doesn’t see it as a punishment. Rather, he offers an assurance that, though childbirth is indeed difficult, painful and dangerous, often the most testing moment in a woman’s life, this is not a curse which must be taken as a sign of God’s displeasure. God’s salvation is promised to all, women and men, who follow Jesus in faith, love, holiness and prudence. And that salvation is promised to those who contribute to God’s creation through childbearing, just as it is to everyone else. Becoming a mother is hard enough, God knows, without pretending it’s somehow an evil thing. Let’s not leave any more unexploded bombs and mines around for people to blow their minds with. Let’s read this text as I believe it was intended, as a way of building up God’s church, men and women, women and men alike. And, just as Paul was concerned to apply this in one particular situation, so we must think and pray carefully about where our own cultures, prejudices and angers are taking us, and make sure we conform, not to any of the different stereotypes the world offers, but to the healing, liberating, humanizing message of the gospel of Jesus...


So, what do you think my dear reader? Did any of this made sense to you? Was there something here that resonated with you, or that you rejected? I would love to hear from you.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Translating the Bible

Hello my dear reader,

If you have a Bible and you read it, guess what: you are interpreting the text because reading in itself is interpretation. Well, that's a story for another post. Flavia Di Consiglio from the BBC looks at translating the Bible in the 21st Century and she correctly points out that when scholar and priest William Tyndale decided to translate the Bible into English in the 1520s, he set out on a dangerous journey that eventually led him to be burned at the stake. At the time, the only authorised Bible in England was a 4th Century Latin version, and translations were forbidden. Tyndale's crime was an intense desire to see his fellow countrymen read the Bible in their own language. Five hundred years later, Bible societies around the world are pursuing the mission of having the 'Book of Books' translated into every single language known to man, and the number of new versions grows every year.

Among my favorite parts of this article was how one Protestant scholar work may differ from an Eastern Orthodox scholar and the fine balance that goes into translating against the backdrop of different theological outlooks:
Mr Morava gives an example of how this delicate balance is achieved, citing the concept of redemption. It is an important aspect of Protestant theology and refers primarily to the event of the crucifixion, whereas, says Mr Moravia, it does not find a lot of favour among the Eastern Orthodox Church. "The Old Testament speaks often of God redeeming Israel from Egypt," says Mr Morava.

"A Protestant translator would prefer to keep this term in order to echo the redeeming act of God that finds full expression later in history in the story of crucifixion. However, an Orthodox translator finds this unnecessary and rightly points out that the use of such terminology in these verses does not make sense for the reader." According to Mr Morava, a suitable alternative is to translate as 'saving' or 'liberating' the people of Israel from Egypt.

Do you have a particular Bible translation that you prefer?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The morality of 'Game of Thrones'

Hello my dear reader?

Have you seen 'Game of Thrones'? I have. However, I have not read the books so I have no opinion regarding how the series compares to the books; I am planning to read those later.

In his article Can a Christian watch 'Game of Thrones'?, David Gibson explores different points of views regarding this question. He says that the appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances. He also adds that for some, the most damning aspect of “Game of Thrones” may be the way that it subverts the work that it most closely tracks: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” saga that’s beloved by so many contemporary Christians.
I found that second point very puzzling because I was not expecting a Tolkien type of world, and in fact many 'contemporary Christians' that I know also never expected anything similar.

He quotes Jesuit priest Rev. Jim McDermott, who said that the series finds unlikely heroes among “the shattered, the shunned and the disregarded.” and that "salvation is not the purview of some elect, nor does grace inherently reside in a crown...As with horror, so hope springs from the most unexpected of quarters.”

What do you think of the series?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Evangelical pastors...and their "smokin' hot wives"?

Hello my dear reader,

Have you heard about this? Zach J. Hoag talks about the current obsession among evangelical pastors/leaders with talking/tweeting endlessly about their "smokin' hot wives" and how he himself used to be part of this trend: 

Recently, I saw one megachurch pastor post a photo of his wife on Instagram with a caption from Proverbs 31 (I know, surprise surprise). Part of it took some, ahem, liberties with the text: "herleather pants are like water to her husband's soul." This particular fellow is known for free and frequent hot wife posts, including one photo of the couple with a room full of new church members where he commented that despite his joy at meeting such great new people, he was really just staring at his wife's (no doubt leather-clad) butt. 

He opens up regarding the time when he spoke to his wife about this:

And worse, even as they go on and on about the hotness of their spouse, they are demeaning her.

When I asked my wife how that kind of thing made her feel when I was half-heartedly trying to be one of the guys, that's the word she used.