Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why I Blog (5 Years in)

This blog reached the age of five on April 12, 2015.  The occasion went unnoticed by me or anyone else because at that time, this blog had gone dark for over a year.  In fact, the blog has been dark for most of the past 4 years since I have been gainfully employed.  Yet, this semester I picked up again writing on the blog on a semi-regular basis (about three times a week).

I thought this would be a good time to revisit the question of why I blog (see my post from November 2010 discussing the same question).

I have wrestled a bit over this past semester with this question.  Am I looking for self promotion in my field (as I was five years ago while on the job market)?  Am I looking for recognition?  Am I looking to gain followers?  But, the consistent answer to all of these questions have been a resounding no. In fact, I am not even sure if I could envision an ideal audience for this blog.  I am not writing for fellow scholars.  Not all of my posts are relevant to a broad range of people. In the end I have come to the conclusion that  I do not blog for anyone other than myself.  That may sound selfish, or narcissistic, but in the end, this blog is a tool for my writing.

I picked up the blog at the beginning of this semester because I have not written much in the past 4 1/2 years since I have been a full time professor.  But, on the few occasions that I have had to write things, I have found that it is like pulling teeth.  I am out of practice.  I cannot get my thoughts down on paper (or on the screen) the way I would like.  So, merely as a tool for practicing my writing, I decided to start blogging again.

Now, in theory I could practice writing in any number of ways.  I could simply create a personal journal in Microsoft Word.  But for some reason, that does not hold the same allure. There is something about putting my thoughts out there in public that is more appealing than just keeping a private writing library. I don't have any expectations for readership.  I don't feel pressure to gain readers or followers.  I have just been looking to practice my writing and thinking.  I have loved blogging this semester and trying to get my thoughts down in a sustained manner.

Now, blogging does come with some nice extra benefits.  I have been able to interact with others on my topics.  I have reconnected with some other bloggers. I have met some new bloggers thanks to the Bloggers dinner at the SBL conference.  But, none of those benefits are why I blog.  I blog just for me.  These other benefits are simply the icing on the cake.  If you are reading this, I hope you enjoy. If what I write is interesting or stimulating.  I would love your thoughts and comments.  If on the other hand you are bored.  So be it.  This blog is for me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Loving Your Enemies...

Never involves killing them!

In a speech to Liberty University, Jerry Fallwell Jr., the university's president, addressed the school last week in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings and said the following:
"I always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill,"
Now, if we interpret the Christian faith using the internal logic of evangelical Christianity, of which Falwell is a foremost representative, then there is no way to avoid the conclusion that Falwell is calling for DIRECT and UNFLINCHING DISOBEDIENCE to one of the most visible commands of Jesus.  He is calling on Christians to kill Muslims.

This obviously goes against a command of Jesus that occurs not once but twice in the New Testament:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt 5:43-44)."
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  (Luke 6:27-28). 
Commands of Jesus don't get much more clear than that.  But Falwell is calling for DIRECT DISOBEDIENCE to this clear command of Jesus.  In fact, what he is preaching is "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  He is saying that to love one's neighbor (i.e., good Christian Americans like him), you have to kill your enemy (i.e., muslims).

Now, this love your enemy command can get tricky.  How does one define love?  For example, is it loving to let someone persist in bad actions that harm both others and themselves? Of course not.  So, one can make an argument (whether one agrees or not) that a seemingly unloving action, such as incarcerating someone agains their will, is actually a loving action, even though one might have to do things that seem unloving to accomplish this (like forcefully putting on handcuffs, etc.).  Or, one debate that never ends in our society is about the disciplining of children.  Is a seemingly unloving action of spanking a child actually a loving action of discipline.  Some say yes, some say no.  But this kind of reasoning with regard to killing does not work according to evangelical Christianity's own internal logic.  Let me explain.

For evangelical Christians, when a Muslim dies, he or she by definition is not saved, has not accepted Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior, and therefore goes to hell.  Therefore, to kill a Muslim, according to evangelical Christianity, is to sentence that person to eternal torture in hell.  Nothing could be less loving.  Therefore, for Falwell to call for the killing of Muslims is to call for DIRECT UNFLINCHING DISOBEDIENCE to the clear command of Jesus to love one's enemies.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I am firmly convinced that the biggest factor in determining our actions is the story that we tell ourselves.  If one is a Christian, how we read the story of the Bible determines our actions. 

It is not the specific commandments of the Bible that are determinative, but the story.  Stories shape our self understanding at such a deep level that this is what informs our attitudes, outlooks, and behaviors. 

I think that much of what goes on in the name of Christianity comes from a fundamental flaw in our reading the Christian story.  It has to do specifically with a misreading of the character of God as revealed in Jesus.  This misunderstanding comes at the climax of the biblical narrative, the death of Jesus on the cross.  You see, if one reads the death of Jesus on the cross as simply a placeholder until Jesus returns to bring judgment and wrath on God's enemies, then one can justify killing in the name of God.  If Jesus' death on the cross was only the temporary solution to sin until he could come back in power, wrath, and judgment, smiting all of God's enemies, then Christians can claim to be agents of that judgment in the here and now.  

But, if you read Jesus' death on the cross not as some placeholder, not as some temporary dealing with individual sins, but rather as God's answer to a wicked world, God's message that power comes through weakness and surrender, then the whole justification for carrying out God's wrath falls apart. If Christians are truly to live out WWJD, the answer always comes back, love your enemies and take up your cross. 

This misunderstanding I think gets put on full display in many readings of the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11-27.  In that parable, a nobleman goes away to receive royal power and leaves his possessions in the hands of his slaves to do business with.  His citizens oppose his rule, and send a delegation after him argue against his becoming king.  The nobleman receives his kingdom, returns and calls his slaves to account.  He rewards those who made money and takes away everything from the slave who made nothing.  Finally, he slaughters those citizens who opposed him.  The misunderstanding in many readings of this parable is to think that the nobleman is Jesus.  But, if one reads this parable in the light of its historical background, it is impossible to think that this nobleman is Jesus.  Instead, Jesus is describing the story of Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, an especially hated king.  Archelaus had to travel to Rome to have his kingship ratified by the emperor.  His citizens opposed him and sent a delegation after him to oppose his kingship to the emperor. He did receive part of his fathers kingdom and ruled for ten years.  On multiple occasions he slaughtered citizens who opposed him.  Jesus, in the parable of the pounds is describing Archelaus, not himself. He is describing earthly kings with their lust for money and power.  He is not describing himself or the Kingdom of God.  Yet, largely because of Matthew's similar parable of the talents, many read Luke's parable of the pounds as the story of Jesus as King.  If that happens, then Jesus is a king who is going away for a time, but will one day return to smite his enemies.  If that is the case, then Christians, who are of course on Jesus' side, can happily go along identifying Jesus' enemies and smiting them as they have the opportunity, all in Jesus' name. 

I have come to read the story differently.  Jesus' death on the cross was God's answer to the violence of the world.  The answer to violence, hatred, and wrath is not to fight it with more violence, hatred and wrath, but rather to submit in love and service. Here is how Jesus put it in Mark 10:42-45: 
42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
What do you think?