Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Another Letter to Moses - Exodus 19 and 20

Dear Moses

I find these chapters interesting. They relate to purity and law giving. They also relate to the specific role you had as an interpreter between God and the people.

These verses separate God from the people too. Yet you were able to bridge this.

They are also the verses which seek to underline a move from polytheistic worship to monotheistic. I wonder if this command was necessary in part because of the influence other cultures had had including the one which your wife had been part of.

I find the generational aspect of what is said here difficult on one level. Yet in our 21st century culture we know the impact parents and even grandparents can have on the lives of future generations. It is what much of our counselling industry is based around dealing with.

How was the Lord’s name being misused in your culture? In our culture there are times when groups use the Lord’s name and the concept of a Christian country for racist ends. It encourages me when I read that God will punish those who do this. I know that might not be good on my part but it makes me really angry when I see things being misused.

Sabbath is something I have spoken about before. I’m not going on about it now. Suffice to say that I believe it is important and we need to underline it but inside and outside the church we are creating a culture which does not appreciate the important of rest. Yet it is something we need to relearn.

Was there a lack of respect towards parents amongst the young people? I am taking it there was. I wonder if this disrespect came from those who were young during slavery and found life in the desert difficult. Were they questioning what the purpose was?

The basic laws which are laid down here about not committing murder and so on are ones which we still have today. They are the ones which keep our society in order. Was your society at a point where your leadership was under threat and where chaos was staring to reign?

I find it difficult in my culture that wives are listed with donkeys as property not to be envious of.

God seems to be using fear on the people to get them to listen to you. Again that makes me question what state the society was in.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Letter to Jethro - Exodus 18

Dear Jethro

I have been introduced to you today and I find you and your story interesting.

Firstly, the fact that Zipporah and the boys had been living with you indicates that it might have been culturally normal for wives and children to live apart from their husbands, staying with the parents for a time. I guess this worked because there was the family support there.

I wonder if the reason you decided that Zipporah and the boys could go back is not only because you had heard talk of the way in which God had been keeping them safe in the desert with the victory over the Amalekites but also because you knew you were aging and thought they would get more support from Moses and his people now.

Then there were the boys. You obviously lived in a polytheistic culture and so it was not problematic having the god of Moses as one of your gods. Is this one of the reasons that you were happy for Zipporah to marry Moses, because you were able to just add in another god to your community. I guess that makes cross cultural marriages much easier if you can adapt your worship to some extent.

I think your tribes approach is similar to the spirituality that many people now have of taking aspects from different gods and religions and mixing and matching them together.

I also wonder if you have something to tell us about what is happening in our world too though where fundamentalism seems to be on the rise. You see how the Lord is with Moses, through his defeat of the Amalekites presumably, and become attracted to his monotheistic god. I wonder if there is an extent to which some young people particularly are becoming attracted by extremism because they do see violent groups committing atrocities but then gaining land and increasing fear and so view this apparent success and as a sign God is with them.

The story indicates that whilst you came to view Moses god as a significant one you did not come to view him as God in the way monotheistic religions did. What did you teach your grandsons about this? Did you talk to them about religion and encourage them to follow your ways or did you leave this to Zipporah. I wonder this because I wonder if you prepared them for the cross cultural challenges they were going to face. Was that why you went with them to help them through the transition?

Then there is the advice you give Moses. You were obviously giving this as one leader to another. You clearly saw the shape Moses was in when you arrived. I am taking it that you identified a man who was suffering from trying to do it all himself and a shadow of the man who had married your daughter. I wonder if you were able to give this advice because Moses was willing to open up to you in a way he couldn’t to others or was it that he opened up to Zipporah and she conveyed her worries to you.

The advice you give is good and important. That people need to identify how much they can and should do themselves and how much responsibility they can give to others. You indicate that there are people who can be trusted and given responsibility and trusted with some lesser responsibilities. You also give a wellbeing lesson for leaders that they need to consider what they are putting on themselves and the impact on their health. You indicate that mental and physical health are both important. This is something people are still needing to be reminded of today.

I like you Jethro and think you were a good man. Obviously I don’t know much else about you and so I may have misjudged you. In the mist of a lot of darkness in this book I am learning more about ,you are one of the rays of light. Interestingly, as I read through and write these letters such rays of light are tending to come from the outsiders who recognise God rather than the insiders who are “chosen”. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Letter to Joshua - Exodus 17

Dear Joshua,

You were one of the people who would have been around Moses in the desert. Were you somebody complaining to him about the lack of water or not?

To me as I read this Moses seems an increasingly hard leader. Yes, he is effective but, at times, he also seems to be lacking in basic humanity.

I am guessing the people were grumbling because they were genuinely suffering as a result of thirst. They were I guess scared about where the next drink was coming from and whether there were more of them going to die in agony than would have done under the harsh conditions of slavery.

You seem to be a trusted military leader in your community. Were you part of a counsel of advisors Moses had or did he act effectively as a dictator with God as his counsel?

I wonder what state your community were in prior to the attack. Had the lack of water weakened them in a way which was clear to others, was that why you were attacked? Or was it that as people grumbled there was rebellion in the air and discipline was breaking down? Alternatively it might just have been you were in a vulnerable geographical position at that time? Had the issues around water caused that?

I ask because there is so much the bible doesn’t tell us. The more I read the more I realise that we read it often not only without emotion but without understanding the full context. The lack of understanding context comes not only through our lack of familiarity with either culture or time but also out of the text. I know this could be because this is a retrospective writing of history, coming from oral history but I think increasingly it is because we are meant to accept some of the horrors without asking questions. We are simply meant to accept that is the way it was just as the neo-liberal consensus today and the press which contribute to it give us the dominant narratives in soundbites we are simply meant to accept at face value.

You were clearly a warrior, a military leader. I wonder about the anger you felt as you saw your men as well as the Amalekites slaughtered. It says that at one point in the battle the Amalekites were winning, that must have led to casualties. Is that why after the battle had been won you are told by the Lord he will totally destroy the Amalekites or was it to reassure you that this was not round one of something which would continue to spiral?

I ask because I am horrified by the Lord, after the battle, apparently sanctioning another genocide as a result. I know that the lack of context I talked about earlier may be coming into play here but through my modern eyes this sickens me and makes me question God.

Whilst I worship a god of justice I do not worship a god of genocide. In the world I live in god(s) are being used by other groups to justify this and we rightfully think it is terrible. Yet at the same time we are sending bombers in to deal with this by dropping bombs which must be impacting and killing members of those community too. It seems in seeking to wipe out an ideology and a problem we may be seeking to do what I find it so problematic God was doing. We say we want to wipe out members of an evil organisation whilst you wanted to wipe out members of an invading tribe.

I hope and pray that we will find a different answer and a different way to stop dangerous ideologies who are committing atrocious violence against other. I hope and pray we find a way to respond to violence and attack with something which does not involve more violence and death. And I hold on to that because if my faith is anything it is a faith based on hope….resurrection hope.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Letter to an Israelite - Exodus 16

Dear Israelite

This is one of those letters I write intrigued as to how much of the story I read has been adapted in the retelling and myth making.

Exodus 16 is clearly a passage which is seeking to teach the reader about God’s provision and about the consequences of disobeying God.

I find it interesting though because if there is some truth in it there is the implication that you had a bland and samey diet which was nourishing but boring. As I reflect on this I am thankful for the variety I have available to me but am also reminded that many people do rely on the same food day after day, which is given to them in refugee camps and the like. My varied diet is not something for me to take for granted but rather is clearly something to be very thankful for.

I have never really considered how boring life might have been for you before. You walked, you ate what you were given. I am not surprised that you got discontent and grumbled. Yet, you also clearly worked. What was it you did?

Was it boring keeping at home on the Sabbath day or was it ok? Did you get to spend quality time with your family or was it a time of tension and conflict as people were enclosed and unable to mix and go about their business. Alternatively, were you so shattered that you slept much of the time on that day? Is that why you needed to rest.

I find this concept of rest fascinating as I have learnt over the last few months to take this concept more seriously. I have discovered rest is not something to feel guilty about rather it is something which can be balanced in and enjoyed. In the life I have it is not always Sunday, but it is there more often than not now. I am aware though that for many this concept is increasingly difficult. Particularly for those everyday people in the church who have responsibilities on top of their paid jobs.

Was there a lot of conflict going on between you and Moses? It seems that he was like many of our modern politicians and leaders. Sometimes you thought he was wonderful, at other times he really did your head in.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Chasing Francis Study Questions 1

Further to this blog post Chasing Francis questions are starting to be explored. I am not going to put everything on here due to it being a public space and blog but I do want to share a flavour of my thoughts.

The first set of questions arise from the fact that the protagonist in the book is experiencing a crisis of faith where they begin to question their conservative / entrepreneurial evangelical approach. The writer refers the reader explicitly to the work of Dave Tomlinson and implicitly to the work of John Drane in the questions.

The first question asks the reader to think about the statement “I love Jesus – it’s Christianity that drives me crazy”. There was a time when I would have given this an unequivocal yes, that’s exactly how I feel. Yet, I realise that I am past that stage in my journey.

Yes, I love Jesus and yes aspects of Christianity drive me mad. Yet, I am increasingly recognising that it is aspects of Christianity which frustrate me not the whole of it.

I get driven mad by thinks like the competition for resources which occurs between tribes within and between denominations.

I get driven mad by arguments about whether or not to show God’s love in practice to LGBT people.

I get driven mad by the way we expect people to sit, stand (and at times even do the Hokey Cokey) just because they happen to be in the same room as a bunch of other Christians.

There are other things that frustrate me at times too about the music, the apparent consumerism which creeps in and so on. BUT I realise that I am a Christian and part of the church. I am part of what makes up this thing we call Christianity. I am part of what will be driving other people mad.

I know that amid the clamour and competition for resources are lots of dedicated people simply trying to keep going in our largely secularised society as well as lots of people who are seeking the resources to try something new.

I know that caught up in the arguments around LGBT issues in the church are lots of LGBT people who face physical danger in their countries due to the way in which Christianity is used to promote a certain view. I know that there are lots of people in this country who feel unable to attend church because of the exclusion they have faced through actions and words. I know that for them we need to keep going on this journey of seeking justice in the church.
Yet, at the same time I know there are lots of good people who are trying to work their way through this and reconcile the dissonance they feel between what they interpret the bible as saying and the LGBT people they know. I know there are people who are genuinely struggling about what they are doing to LGBT people yet feel they have to hold on to their interpretation of the bible or to the teachings of a church they regard as family. In short I know this is not as simple as I would like it to be for a lot of people.

In terms of when to stand, sit and so on. I am gaining an appreciation that to lots of people that sort of ritual matters in a way which I just can’t get. To them the bodily actions of sitting and standing at certain times is a way to enable them to express their whole selves in worship.

 The next question asks you to examine the limitations of evangelicalism. I could go into this but I won’t. I have been on the journey to the edges of evangelicalism and have journeyed back in slightly. I no longer go to an evangelical church but I am still evangelical in some of my thinking. I prefix it now with the term Open or Progressive which I know to some will mean I cannot be an evangelical really. Yet, I regard myself as an evangelical. That strand of faith is an important part of what nurtured my faith, and shaped me and it is still there within me even if it is now mixed with a cocktail of other Christian influences.

The next question relates to experiencing a crisis of faith. I do not have time to go into it here but the simple answer is yes. I believe it is almost impossible to be a LGBT evangelical and not to go through a crisis of faith as you seek to wrestle with who you are. Indeed I would argue that anybody, LGBT or not, who takes their faith seriously is likely to if they open themselves up to different influences and not live in an enclosed bubble.

The next question asks how you would counsel somebody who becomes cynical and disillusioned with the culture and theology of their church and have you ever felt that way. Yes, I have felt that way. In terms of counselling somebody who feels like that you need to be ready to listen. Context is important and you need to understand where that cynicism and disillusionment is coming from before you can counsel them. My key thing would be to have ready a list of books or other resources you might want to signpost them to, as appropriate. You also need to be ready to journey with them through this or be able to signpost them to somebody else who would be able to.

The final question in this part of the study course asks how we can make church a safe place for everybody to voice their doubts and struggles whilst feeling valued and accepted. The answer to this is I don’t know fully. Whilst we might seek to have policies in place which allow this and might seek to build an inclusive culture churches by their very being tend to be unsafe places to doubt because there is a fear that if people do voice their doubts or views which might go against the orthodoxy of the institution the whole thing will come tumbling down. Small groups are one way to provide safe spaces, but will these be safe for all? I don’t know but this is an important question we need to wrestle with. Any ideas please drop them into the comments section.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron Reviewed and a Journey Begun

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrims Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is an interesting book which is put forward as a novel, but has a study guide at the back (which is significantly different to thoughts for a book group). The reviewer will reach different conclusions depending on how they view this book. If you see it primarily as a novel you will think it is mediocre and not detailed enough to be a decent novel. However, if you regard it as a Christian teaching book it scores extremely highly.

It focuses around an evangelical pastor who experiences a crisis of faith and ends up in Italy learning about St. Francis of Assisi and exploring how his teaching may be lived out today.

I personally found it an interesting and challenging book. It was interesting in how it put forward some ideas regarding what faith in a late/ post-modern world might look like and because of how it used narrative to explore these ideas. It was challenging because however comfortable one might be with the theological ideas underpinning what was being said it was clear that few of us, apart from a few exceptional individuals, are living this stuff out.

I was challenged about how out of line my life is with the faith I profess as a result of reading this book and I am sure that is where the study guide comes in useful. There is also a useful bibliography at the end of the book making clear that any pretence this is a novel in the normal sense should be abandoned.

Am I glad I have read it and would I recommend it? Yes, certainly especially to those who are weary with faith or wondering what on earth God is calling them into as Christians in 2016. I’d also recommend it to those who might want to be exploring Christian spirituality who have a cynicism about the church. It shows that there is another way possible and in small pockets people are seeking that vision and living it out.
I intend to go through the study material and will share my thoughts on that on here in due course. What I am interested in thinking about though is if anybody else would be interested in reading the book and joining in a discussion on it with me? I'll leave that question hanging a few days and if anybody is up for it can you let me know what date you think you'd be able to read the book by so we can set a date for the first study section discussion.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all. This year there might well be less posting on this blog as I want to put more focus on my review blog (although as ever this may change over the next 366 days). I will be posting some links on both where I think they will be useful.
Today I went to see the film The Danish Girl and have reviewed that.