Zeus is Alive and Well in the Church

maxresdefault

What’s the difference between this portrayal of Zeus and most common portrayals of God?

“Tell me about your Sky Wizard,” they said to me with a smirk.

They were referring to God, of course.  A God they didn’t ascribe to.

I think there was a time in my life where hearing that phrase would have offended me, but it certainly doesn’t anymore.

Because they’re right.  The God that many Christians subscribe to is exactly like some sort of “Sky Wizard.”

They’re granting wishes (though usually people call them prayers).

They’re in control of everything: the weather, your fate, every single outcome of every single instance, pulling levers like some busy 1940’s phone operator.

They’re a trickster: Zeus was known for tricking people.  He was fair and just, but also would throw obstacles in people’s way. In the same way we have people say, “God is testing me!”

I hear it all the time, as if God has nothing better to do than mess with your life.

Blessing people who do the right thing: “God is so good.”  I don’t want to deride people for saying this, but we have to make a distinction between getting what we want and getting something from God. A lot of times I find that God calls me to do exactly what I don’t want to do.

For Christians, God is most clearly seen in the person of Jesus.

Jesus: who would give up everything for the people he loved.

Jesus: who, especially in the Gospel of Mark, doesn’t need to be in control of everything, but remained steady and dedicated to love no matter what happened.

Jesus: who didn’t grant wishes as much as responded to the needs of the world with healing and hope…and called others to do the same.

Jesus: who is not interested in blessing people with things, but forming them into blessings for the world.

Zeus is alive and well in the Christian church.  He spends his days occupied with you in so many ways.

But Jesus?  Well, Jesus is dead.

And resurrected.

And asking you to be focused more on others.

And I sometimes have trouble finding him in places where people of faith dwell.

Seriously. I find this to be a problem.

How To Read the Bible-A Primer

bible-pagesThe Bible is not a book.

It is a collection of books.

The Bible is not a type of literature.

It is composed of many types of literature.

Christians hold the Bible in high esteem, perhaps too high in some circles, because the way that some Christians talk you’d think the Bible is their God, superseding even the very acts of Jesus described in the Bible.

This is actually heretical, even sinful, because it breaks the very first commandment in the Decalogue (if you need a reference, go ahead and check out Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:4-21).  In my view Fundamentalists have become what they continually deride: idolaters.

So, if you’re a reforming Fundamentalist, an Evangelical who has read the Bible like an encyclopedia, a Mainliner who doesn’t really know where to start, or perhaps you’re on the edge of being Christian at all (or maybe you’re not even sure you can claim to be that close), I have a prescribed way to read the Bible that I commend to you.

  1. Read a good study Bible.  Not any study Bible, but a good study Bible.  The Harper Collins Study Bible, the Lutheran Study Bible, or some annotated version of the New Revised Standard Version are all to be commended.

    To be avoided?  The King James Version (or any variation of it).  The Living Bible. Any form of an “Augmented Bible.”  Any version of a gender specific/life-stage specific Bible (unless it’s an NRSV translation).
    Get’s a “meh” from me: the NIV, the Common English Version, or anything the Gideons pass out.

    The Message is a fine paraphrase to use if you’re using it for devotional purposes, as is The Book of God.

    Not all Bibles are equal, and what I mean by that is not all Bibles are translated with the same scholarly scrutiny.  Some of these interpretations take terrible liberties with translations, and even more problematic, some of them take absolutely wrongful liberties with commentary.  Any Bible that tries to pinpoint Eden, that attempts to locate support for the Rapture, or posits Esther or Jonah as history rather than story, are of poor scholarly quality.

    And it’s worth noting that the Christian industrial complex (if I can name it that) has consistently duped and made money off of people because they assume that most Christians either aren’t smart enough or discerning enough to know the difference. 

    Just like you should not buy any snake oil from a traveling salesman, don’t buy it if it’s embossed in gold, says “The Bible” on it.

  2. Read it with other people. The Scriptures are best read in community because then you hear what other people are taking from a passage.  Read it and re-read it. Because parts of scripture say different things at different times in your life.
  3. Reading the Bible from front to back is not usually helpful. The Bible was compiled with some logic to rough timeline, but it’s not like a novel.  So reading it front to back is not always the best way to read it.

    The Jewish ordering of the Hebrew Scriptures places the books according to type of literature rather than timeline.  Sometimes adopting that kind of reading schedule is more helpful, because you group types of writing together, staying in the same medium.  This is roughly how the New Testament is arranged.

    And, boy I know this is controversial, but there are simply parts of the scripture that perhaps are better left as un-turned pages.  There are pieces that are shallow, and some even dangerous, without some extra guidance (like a good Pastor, a great lexicon, or a reputable commentary).  Adopt a way of reading that works for you, and if something presents itself as a head scratcher, let it go unresolved for a bit.

  4. Speaking of unresolved…you’re going to find contradictions and errors…but keep reading and don’t try to resolve them too quickly, and don’t force a resolution.  And if you don’t, you’re not reading with your brain (which is a mistake, friend).  Why is it that scientists and mathematicians, engineers and auto-mechanics are well-practiced at using problem solving skills in their every day work and perfectly welcome scrutiny as a useful tool in their trade, but all of that is suspended the minute they crack the Bible?

    The Bible is held in high esteem by Christians, but this does not mean that we do not use methods of discernment and scholarly discipline when reading it.  In fact, I’d say that people who take a “plain reading” view of Scripture (or anything!) holds that thing in such low esteem that they are unwilling to submit it to the same tools and rules of finding knowledge.

    The Bible is not an encyclopedia, so don’t treat it like one.  It is not an instruction manual, either.  Any reading that adopts this kind of “hunt and peck,” or “search and find” method does it absolutely no justice and, I would say, is not how it was intended to be read at all.

    The scriptures are full of tension.  The Bible contradicts itself.  It has errors.  And those who put it together saw these, by all accounts, and decided to keep it all the same.  They lived with the tension.  Why can’t we?

    Don’t force a resolution.  Live in the tension.  Such is the life of faith.

  5. Literary over literal. These books were not written for these times, specifically.  So we must adopt a malleable eye and meaning-making mind when reading the scriptures.I am not saying that they’re not applicable to these times.Certainly the message(s) is applicable!  Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing any of this.

    But to imagine that the writers had you in mind when they wrote it is to steal their agenda and make it your own.

    The scriptures continue to speak into today, but they use the language, imagery, and thought process of yesterday.  This is helpful when reading passages that don’t jive cohesively with our understanding of psychology, sociology, and even systematic theology.

    Again, allow the tension to linger.

    And one of the worst things that we can claim is that the scripture contains science. It does not.  When representatives in Congress come to the floor to advocate that Creationism be taught alongside Evolution, they make the mistake of thinking that all theories are equal.

    They are not.  Christianity does itself no favors when it mistakes theology for biology (and I would say that science makes the same mistake all the time, too).

The Reformation may have brought the Scriptures to the people, but in some ways the theological world is paying the price for interpretations that have happened without any regard to good scholarship and training.

We wouldn’t buy a chemistry workbook written by someone who only took Chemistry 101 in high school, so why do we buy Bible studies written by people with little more theological training than an advanced Sunday School curriculum (looking at you so-called Bible Colleges)?

Not all Bibles are the same.  Not all studies are the same.  And when we treat them all the same we create an environment that is not only hostile to Christianity (because who would trust a discipline with such terrible standards?), but an environment also hostile to the pursuit of knowledge.

Ye (Me?) of Lots of Beliefs but Little Faith…

BeleifBrian McLaren, in his book The Great Spiritual Migration, has this phrase that he used early on in the piece that caught me as being very true.  He said that some people have “many beliefs, but little faith.” (p.45)

Beliefs, he suggests, are opinions or judgments about which someone is fully persuaded. While they may not be verifiable in any reliable way, they are held as un-waveringly true by their adherents.

Faith, on the other hand, doesn’t flow forth from certitude, but rather from the conviction that risking for the sake of love is better than not.  And faith, in McLaren’s definition (and in mine) is always connected with deep, abiding love.

So, according to McLaren, an individual might have a ton of beliefs, these things they are so certain about, but have little faith.  Their propositions are not rooted in a deep, abiding love that is much bigger than their human understanding of the notion.

They can spout off the Apostle’s Creed, for instance, but have no experience of the God they profess.

They can assert supposedly moral dictums, but have no understanding of the generous space from which morality flows.

They often want to impose their beliefs on others, ignoring how such coercion violates the love they want to claim they have.

Faith, on the other hand, holds the tension of not knowing, not needing to know, and not needing everyone to agree with them, well.  Faith leans into the great mysteries of God and holds loosely to the small dogmas that we’ve created about God.

Faith has no need to coerce, but rather coaxes through intentional dialogue and open invitation.

Faith doesn’t just spout off any Apostle’s Creed, but knows intimately the creative, salvific, and sustaining properties of God’s presence because they’ve made it past the life/death, resurrection/redemption, sin/righteousness dualisms that religious history has tried to make us choose between.

The life of faith lives the creed, it doesn’t just believe things about the creed.

Beliefs are so strong, like concrete.

But they crack over time, making them hard to maintain, hard to navigate, just…hard.

Faith, though, is like soil. Tillable, changeable, able to adapt and move with the uneven landscape of growth and advancing years.

And many will find faith challenging their beliefs, growing up through the cracks.  Sometimes this invasion of faith can be worrisome.  It’s hard for faith to coexist with beliefs sometimes…faith is so unpredictable, and beliefs are so rigid.

Usually a good dose of fear will take care of the faith growing through the cracks of belief. Fear that too much overgrowth will create too much upheaval and then, well, where would we be?

Lots of organized religion has centered itself around beliefs.  Just take a look at church websites and click on their “What We Believe” page.  You’ll find it all there.

But what about faith?

Lots of people, whether they consider themselves religious or not, have a lot of beliefs.

But what about faith?

So…

Do you have beliefs?  Or do you have faith?