Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sandi Dubowski

There are many who would be unhappy at this announcement but I am still happy to make it. Not that I gain anything, but as Doug at Metacatholic notes, the word of God comes from sources we might least expect. Some years ago, Sandi Dubowski produced Trembling before G-d, a film about homsexuality in the Jewish Orthodox tradition. It is a tender, moving film. The book, Wrestling with God and Men which I reviewed here is an equally moving exploration of Rabbinic reasoning on a subject which many prejudge as obvious sin.

After 12 countries, 9 languages, and 5 1/2 years, Producer Sandi DuBowski and Director Parvez Sharma are proud to announce the World Premiere of our film, A Jihad for Love, at The Toronto International Film Festival, September 6-16, 2007. The film is the first feature documentary to explore the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality. We are thrilled for such a prestigious global launch of this challenging work. I am extremely proud of the the hard work that went into this film by Parvez and our team over the years to make the film visually stunning, emotionally moving, daring and challenging. We are living now in challenging times and both of us believe A Jihad for Love has to do justice to the lives of the subjects who so courageously came forward to tell their stories despite enormous risks. We have always intended that the film has profound impact in the world. So please join us in Toronto! The dates and venues of our screenings in Toronto are as follows:

Public, September 9th, 8.30 PM, Cumberland 3
Public, September 11th, 1.15 PM, Royal Ontario Museum
Public, September 15th, 11.59 PM, Varsity 7
Press & Industry, September 10th, 1:30 PM, Cumberland 3
Press & Industry, September 12, 11.30 AM, Varsity VIP

I for one will certainly go to this film at the earliest opportunity. If nothing else, his films express an honesty that is good to see. You can be in touch with the producer of these films at [sandi AT].

Given my earlier understanding that sin is a failure in a relationship, not a matter of following rules by rote, it will not surprise you that when I hear people claim they know in advance that God condemns such and so, I am suspicious that they know less than they claim. I suspect their real motivation is power, or that they speak in fear or ignorance. There are assaultive, exploitive and foolish appropriations of any gift, but a gift of love is not abomination in itself. Anyone who thinks it is runs the risk of judging the work of God. I am fully confident that God knows how to deal with the homosexuals that call upon the name of the LORD - and God does not deal with them according to the condemnation that some of the other children appear to demand. God is able to make them stand as who they are not as what others expect them to be.

Story segment

I have published a story segment I drafted last month. Blogger publishes them out of sequence - a bug in the software in my humble opinion, so this is the link. Warning, the story is graphic - parental guidance recommended.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Song - links

Some time ago I put together structural diagrams and a meditiation and program notes on the Song - before I made the current blog - here are the links collected for convenience.

Full Size Image
Pint size; text in html format - my usual rough and ready draft translations
Program Notes

I am a little surprised at some of my translations - but I did have a number of sources:
Fisch, Harold, Poetry with a Purpose(1988)
Fox, M.V. The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (1985)
Pope, Marvin H., Song of Songs, The Anchor Bible Commentary
Walsh, Carey Ellen, Exquisite Desire, Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs

Old Blog entries are very hard to find your way around - this is a current design problem in many of the blogger programs out there - there are other problems as well; editing, navigation, backup, whew - this may not be Wiki - but it is transient. I just fixed a bunch of old links to useful places like Paul on Paul, and ITanakh on my old homepage of writings... links are transient, but maintaining them is for ever!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

in this matter

I heard John Webster at St Andrews last year at Hebrews 2006. It is not very often, it seems, that the theologians and the Biblical Studies folks conference together. Michael Bird at Euangelion reports this provocative comment by John about the Historical Jesus:

"The only historical Jesus there is is the one who has his being in union with the Son of God who is eternally begotten of the Father. Those who pore over the gospels searching for another Jesus (whether their motives be apologetic or critical) pierce their hearts with many pangs, for they study a matter which does not exist."
And the new school terms are beginning in the North so all the devotional and confessional young students are meeting their first exposure to the critical historical methods - and as Mark Goodacre points out, it is important to have your assumptions questioned.

After years of dialogue with Jesus Seminar folks, I think I incline to Webster's statement. It fits too with a question a friend of mine asked me about comfort recently: what does the word paracletos have as roots in the Hebrew tradition?

It's a somewhat roundabout question, but the intent is to find the continuity between the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew tradition. When I was young, like those unsuspecting students starting classes, someone told me that no one really knew what paracletos meant. But really they meant that we can't translate the word very well because it has too many overtones. So some translations don't translate the word - but it has a perfectly good set of ancient roots.

On a tip from my son-in-law, I began to look at the Hebrew word, nacham, that is used in the name Nehemiah, an administrator at the time of the rebuilding of the temple. It is also the word that begins the book of consolation -Isaiah 40. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, (remember Handel.) It is also the word that is used when God repents. And sometimes, it means that God sighs. The word, like paracletos, has legal overtones - advocacy.

As with so many words, one word won't do in the English. The same is true of hesed which Suzanne wrote about recently (July Archive at Better Bibles Blog). These words have a wide range because they express both sides of a relationship. You could almost say the word gets in between us as mediator. So hesed represents God's covenant love but is also used to represent the objects of God's love - the hasidim. It can 'mean' many things in a relationship - mercy, steadfastness, loyalty, even rebuke.

The same is true for naham. It is translated comfort and consolation and it has the strength of advocacy also and is greatly to be desired. For another NT example, remember that Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel - related word paraklesis, same hope, same substance.

The image continues further when we recognize what a crescendo there is on the role of the Spirit in the New Testament. I began an exploration of this here years ago but have not had time to continue it. The Spirit is the builder of the new temple. I don't want to express this in too few words, for a pithy statement is no substitute for the reality of the Spirit's work in us. Our liturgies and traditions try to do justice to it and sometimes do.

So let us pore over the gospels, as John Webster invites us to - but not to be so distracted by tradition, or method, that we miss entering into the love of the life-giving Spirit which is in this matter.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sin and Repentance - Chapter 12

When I awake, I am still with thee. (I need the unambiguous singular here.)

Then I will be innocent of the great offence. (I need the impossible.)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. (I need escape.)

The third essay in chapter 12 is by Miroslav Volf, The Lamb of God and the Sin of the World. My understanding of sin has been like this: no God, no sin. He puts it this way:

Sin is an irreducibly theocentric notion that cannot be translated without loss into psychological, sociological, or cosmological terms. Whatever sin may be formally (e.g. homelessness or disharmony), it is "ungodliness" in the sense of turning away from God.

He's right - no God, no sin.

Fundamentally sin is a failure in a relationship. Am I still with thee (Psalm 139)? Sin is unknown - there are hidden and presumptuous sins as we see in the last stanza of Psalm 19 - under detailed verse by verse examination by John with of course mad-colour disease by me. And sin is hard to face - so we deceive ourselves. (1 John)

Jews and Christians have a strong sense of sin. So much so that lots of people argue about it - especially original sin. Chapter 12 begins with a sensitive essay Turn us to you and we shall return: Original Sin, Atonement, and Redemption in Jewish Terms, by Stephen Kepnes. He reads Paul with understanding and shows several phrases and words in the TNK that undergird the 'concept' of original sin focussing particularly on galut, exile, as a way of helping a Jewish reader identify with the 'Christian' concept.

I put these terms in single quotes, because it is too easy to get lost in speculative cerebralism when the problem is relational - and relational with the only possible solver of the problem - God.

And of course, God's solution is not very attractive - death! (Hey - wait a minute - what about repentance?)

Oh - right. There is repentance, but both traditions ask if that is something I / you /we can do? Can we turn from our sin? Here Kepnes has picked in his title the essential verse - Turn us to you and we will turn. Lamentations 5:21 - right at the end of arguably one of the greatest expressions of human sorrow in poetry. We're in a catch-22 - needing something, deceived by ourselves, and yet knowing that there is more. I hear the problem caught in Psalm 90 - Lord, Thou has been our refuge, another poem about turning, and also caught in the Shaker song - till by turning, turning, we come round right.

Kepnes engages the scope of the problem and the many Jewish pointers to the reality of the I-Thou that must resolve it. He writes of the liturgical and sacrificial components from the Akedah (Abraham and Isaac) and its interpretation in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the sin offering, to Yom Kippur. It's a short essay that is full to overflowing.

Volf accepts the efficacy of the liturgy and exile as analogy, but he does not accept exile as a sufficient image. He deals with the New Testament critical texts such as "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." Theologically, this atonement is an "event in the life of God".

Volf ends with gratitude that Prefessor Kepnes has been very sympathetic but puzzlement that he has not asked the hard questions such as: why does repentance not suffice that the Son of God must take the sins of the world away? Or if I can add Nanos question to me: if the Messiah has come, why are we not yet living in the Messianaic age?

The middle essay - I think I have figured out what they were trying to do - the middle essay is a Jewish response to the Jewish first essay. I will have to read the book again and see if I can make better sense of them. The middle essay is by Laurie Zoloth, Exile and Return in a World of Injustice: A Response to Stephen Kepnes. I didn't want to go here in this review. Sin is pervasive and has large and complex consequences. Maybe later.

There is only one chapter left: The Image of God. Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, 10a and 10b, 11.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Works of the Law

I came across this review of the phrase 'works of the law'. I don't want to go to a complex place to reframe this phrase and others in Galatians - but I may have to. If so, the work will be done on a different day. Today I actually am observing Shabbat. I enjoyed the robust singing of the Shul choir this morning and I was invited to come and sing next time I am in town. (This is my last weekend here for a while - back to Victoria on Friday - though my office in home doesn't exist there since we are in the midst of construction.)

I would learn Hebrew very quickly if I sing. Today I was able to sing and I saw that I could follow even the impossible cantor for three or four lines (assuming I knew where he was starting). And I was able to follow the haftorah completely - Isaiah 54, the fifth of 7 consolation passages that follow the 9th of Av. Note the reference to Noah. God had forgotten for a moment even his promise to Noah! This sense of exile will be important for the next chapter of Frymer-Kensky. (Wait for it - for it will surely come.)

The sermon today was engaging and full of energy - on the butterfly effect, that there are no small things, a meditation on the Torah portion, Deuteronomy 21-25 which has many mitzvot, among which is the instruction concerning the incorrigible child, and the man on the tree. Both of these are very close to my heart, for my youngest son is incorrigible due to brain damage, but his mother and father never agreed that he should suffer such a fate. And of course the hanging on the tree is applied to Jesus.

Of Shabbat I noted that it is a bride, and a great joy, a memory of the creation (zkr lmasah bereshit) - this is a deep truth. The Lord had asked me - will you go to the service this morning? I did not want to go. I said I would not understand anything and I had work to do. But he reminded me that I had been recreated through his death and so, eventually, I said - OK I will go, and I will observe the day. The joy came first but the following lessons were also lovely. And had I not been there, I could not have had an invitation to sing.

The work that he came to do, is the same word as 'works' of the law that Paul speaks of. It is by this work that I am recreated. There is something very positive here. And there is an aspect of our exile - our alienation - the sin we cannot escape from (see Psalm 19, the third section - I know, the coloring is over the top) that his particular work on the cross, hung on a tree, has dealt with, undoing the curse I am under just because I am born into a place of exile - which might be considered at least similar to the idea of original sin. I am really not wanting to be doctrinaire on this. I am not a theoretical theologian. But I do have some first hand knowledge of the liturgy in a life that begins to exercise itself in participating in this work of Jesus which I think fulfills the requirements of the Law in us.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lots of blogs

I regularly read the JTS weekly commentary on the Torah. Speaking of the principle of remembering God amidst the bounty of the promised land, Rabbi Marc Wolf referenced not the Torah but a blog!

Hechsher Tzedek is a symbol that hopefully will be affixed to kosher products. It will certify that the product has met standards that recognize that our reach for holiness extends beyond the blade of the slaughterer. The Hechsher Tzedek will set standards for “wages and benefits, health and safety, training, environmental impact, product development, and corporate transparency”
The link above references one of their recent posts: Church and steak - farming for the soul. Worth a read -"What brought these men together could easily have kept them apart: religion."

(Some of my children eat only vegetables - and I admit to the beauty and convenience particularly at this time of year when the abundance is so great.)

As an addendum here is this week's commentary - really lovely particularly this:
When Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair was living in city of the south, some men came there to work. They had two measures of barley they left with him which they forgot when they went away. Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair sowed the barley year after year and harvested it and stored it. After seven years the men returned and when Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair recognized them, he said to them, ‘Come take your storehouses full of grain.’ From the faithfulness of Man you can learn the faithfulness of God (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:3).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Chapter 11 - Redemption

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, 10a and 10b.

Chapter 11 is normally a reference to the laws of bankruptcy. But not in this book. The three essays are Menachem Kellner, How ought a Jew View Christian Beliefs about Redemption? and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Redemption: What I have Learned from Christians, and Clark Williamson, A Christian View of Redemption. The first two essays present differing views of Romans. The pattern is not broken that the third essay responds only to the first.

What are these differing views?

Kellner: Because of his revolutionary un-Jewish view of human nature as necessarily falling short of the glory of God, Paul was led to ask the wrong question. The question that Jews must ask is: What must we do in order to make the world messiah-worthy?

Fuchs-Kreimer: By Paul, I am reminded to maintain a healthy skepticism about all human projects. As I understand it, Paul's criticism of the law was neither a critique specifically of Judaism, ... nor only a meditation on the role of the Gentiles... [citing Stendahl, Sanders, and Williamson] ... Rather, it was most likely a critique of all human projects and presumptions...

I guess it is good to have both extremes. I regret that the Christians ever thought as Kellner describes - but it was something like what I was taught and it does fail to save though it may succeed in managing an individual for a while.

Kellner begins with an exploration of Habakkuk 2:4 and looks at two Jewish alternatives. Rav Simlai sees this faith in terms of loyalty to the commandments. Maimonides sees the faith in terms of correct intellectual apprehensions.

I loved how Simlai reduces the 613 commandments - first to 11 (citing Psalm 15), - then to 3 (citing Micah), then 2 (Isaiah), then 1 (Amos: Seek me and live.) "But R. Nahman ben Isaac demurred, saying [Might it not be taken as meaning.] Seek me by observing the whole Torah and live? But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one..."

With this example, Kellner upholds the faith which "finds expression in the fulfillment of as many of the 613 commandments as one can fulfill" whereas in his opinion, Paul denies the need for Torah.

I find the Talmudic example much more in keeping with Paul's thought than with Kellner's interpretation of either. But the challenge remains. And perhaps this sheds light on some of the polemics of Paul that should be seen as positive towards Jewish tradition: e.g. that if a Gentile is circumcised, he is obligated to keep all the Torah (Galatians 5:3). Also the issue of completing in the flesh what was begun in the spirit (Galatians 3:3). There is a problem though. Suppose completing in the flesh was seen as achieving the whole Torah, then those who did not so complete would be called incomplete, and the result is a two-tiered religious structure: the priestly caste of Israel and the accepted but second class citizens who are uncircumcised Gentiles. The tension has not gone away. Nor did the Church avoid it in spite of the marvel of completion by which the work of Jesus is represented in the New Testament.

Kellner's misreading of Romans reminded me so much of my struggle to read it over the last 40 years. Paul has opened to me the love of his life. The full scope of the gift of God's work for us is not a recipe only for escaping hell or "achieving life in the world to come", but it is a recipe for entering into the covenant dialogue of joy in the present that is in every age so dear to the Jews also.

What was then astonishing is that Maimonides - really! the one who chose such a great title for his opus - the guide to the perplexed. Did this one really affirm correct propositional beliefs as a means to the ultimate end?

Well, you have to start somewhere, I suppose. My proposition is this: try him, you'll like him (and I didn't mean Maimonides though you might like him too - eventually).

So Paul is put down as other worldly. But I know this is not a universal opinion of Jews, for one has it (Maccoby) and another does not (Nanos) and in this book, the two essays are chalk and cheese.

Fuchs-Kreimer has a good section on the rule of St Benedict and the work of making community. In this section, she shows how close Benedict is to the love of Torah that motivates: "What can be sweeter to us, dear brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in his loving kindness, the Lord shows us the way of life." She has a short section on Moltmann which I enjoyed, not having read any Moltmann myself. I learned to trust her reporting even in a short essay but we do not yet share an understanding of Paul and his message about the redemption that is in Christ.

Williamson's short essay answers Kellner directly: "Kellner's views reflect the results of a tragic history of conflict, separation, and lack of conversation between Jews and Christians, a history for which the Church bears by far the greater burden of accountability. Seldom have either Jews or Christians been able to understand each other except as examples of bad religion." He then goes on to show that in Romans Paul asserts exactly what Kellner concludes he cannot. Polite but blunt.

His three point rebuttal -
1. that faith as belief about God finds no justification in the Scriptures,
2. that redemption, a past event, works in the present as a transforming power, as well as giving hope for the future,
3. that redemption always refers to the two sides of freedom: freed from bondage, free for the task of setting others free from the bondages that enslave them

I found Williamson's essay accurate and encouraging. I felt that we need not invoke 'chapter 11' for the Church with spokespeople like this.

Community building

Jim posts a new blogger. Jim is a community builder. How can one keep up with the multitude of blogs? Follow Jim's posts - he even has a means of remembering the anniversaries of all the great folks of history.

(But like the things that you're liable to read in the bible that ain't nessa-sarily so, don't believe everything you read there.)

Thanks to many others who post their starred items and encourage us. We do have some limited capacity to absorb these pointers.

James Pate begins with a note about knowledge... I had been considering the issues and a note from Kathy at beyond words makes me want to pontificate a bit myself on just what it is that we are searching for in that word 'knowledge'.

A restored Adam said to the LORD God: I could not cover myself from the outside, for you were in me. I accepted your covering. And now I know that you covered me with your very own clothing.

In the limited capacity of our Turing machine, we will go on not knowing many things and forgetting much that we thought we knew - and if grace is true which it is, we will be kept from knowing the things that are good that we did which if we knew would puff us up - but it's not what we know that makes us matter and gives us sense - it's by whom we are known. And I don't mean blogger fame and fortune - but the work, the liturgy, of being known by the one who gave himself for us and clothes us with himself. And if grace is true which it is, we will learn and know things that will be painful to us and if we are true we will take ownership for them and accept them as gift whether of rebuke or responsibility from the one who preceeds and follows us (psalm 23). And the patience worked in us will bear fruit as the namesake of the two - Jim and James - reminds us (James 1:3-4).

May we be 'settled' for long days in the
בֵּית אֱלֹהֵינוּ, בְלֹג יְהוָה כִּי טוֹב

(beyit elohenu - house of our God, blog YHWH - the smile! of the LORD, ki tov - for it is good)

Extreme Theology

A post that should not be missed.

Chris Heard has corraled some wild horses in this post. It is encouraging to know that there are people who will put extreme invective in context and name it for what it is. You want to be careful to skip some of the early links in the post - true though they may be, they are a distraction. Start concentrating at the heading 'Faulty Exegesis'. Pay close attention to the 'Faulty Hermeneutics' paragraph.

"Resistance can be a form of faithfulness, and indeed, sometimes it may be the only appropriate form of faithfulness."

(The big words: 'exegesis' means getting it out of the text as opposed to imposing your own view on the text. 'hermeneutics' means interpreting. That both terms have a certain catch-22 to them does not eliminate our responsibility for doing it right.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


This note is a bit of a catchall on a subject that has many sharp thistles. I have twisted them all together so they lack a certain coherence, but hold it carefully or you night get pricked.

Doug at Metacatholic has written on priesthood. He had a few comments from Peter Kirk and me on the first post and promised to write more. Alas, our scintillating comments got lost by the service provider - and that's just fine. We can't really lose anything or come behind in any gift. I more or less agreed with Peter though I expect his tradition with respect to the use of the term priesthood is different from mine. I grew up in my later years in the Anglican Church - my relationship with the ordained has been difficult. Unlike certain bloggers, I do not harp on the abusers of others since I was a target for such abuse myself from one of the cloth. I assure you, I have found forgiveness for this tortured man, a product of 900 years of abuse himself, and I do not hold a grudge against the ordained for this or any other reason.

There is no argument for or against governance. It is a necessity. We do things in due order for God is not a God of confusion but of peace. But order is not hieros - a word not used in the NT except as it applies to the priests of Israel.

When I began to read in the first flush of a desperate faith after years of atheism, I remember an old priest telling me that I had no business reading Hebrews, but that Hebrews should be read by priests only. I don't know what that comment was supposed to mean but I didn't take it as good teaching. Many years later when I was searching to describe the experience of my baptism into Christ's death, my first written sermon got this response from a priest: so what!

The teaching I have had from priests has been variable. I cannot say I learned Christ from them. I search for good sermons and find few. The problem is that they are the only ones licensed to preach and while some of them do it well, most don't. It is not a matter of education or original languages, but of gift. The governance structure of the Churches has tended to maintain the power structures of the society. Such a hidden motive does not desire that the gifts of the people be found and exercised. I can't say that the non-episcopalians have done a lot better - if we aren't maintaining social order, we seem to be good at devouring widow's houses. (This is not accusation. I said 'we' deliberately.)

I read Hebrews last year with the folks at St Andrews - I have never worked so hard for a short conference. I read many books and loved the work of Albert Vanhoye - I diagrammed his work here. There is nothing in Hebrews that is inimical to Jews - it should not be read as polemic. And there is a justification for all the robes and drama of the liturgy - we celebrate the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies - and us with him through the veil that is to say his flesh.

While there is justification for the appropriation of the ancient cult, there is no justification for the insinuation of hierarchy in the Church. It shall not be so among you.

Only recently I honoured Paul's priestly allusions in Romans, but he is not a Kohen - he is a Benjaminite. I have not thought much about his priesthood - but I dare say I share it though I am not ordained. I asked Doug in my lost comment if I could bless a congregation using the word 'you'. That would be a priestly act. It is not an act representing order but an act showing the power of the Spirit. I was once criticised for using the blessing of Hebrews 13 at the close of compline and not changing the you to an us. This is error - long tradition notwithstanding. Ecclesiam semper reformandam. There is no reason why one who is leading a service should not pronounce a blessing or an absolution or conduct a baptism or preside at a Eucharist. I have not in my recollection baptised anyone or absolved anyone, but I would not hesitate if the time and place were right. I have pronounced blessings and I have con-celebrated a Eucharist (in Turkey where there were Christians but no members of the cloth) but it is not my general practice since I am an Anglican. The priests would give me 40 lashes save 1 for disobeying canon law but they would not be justified for their actions.

And this is the main problem. Leadership enables. It does not control for power's sake. When leadership fails to enable, the status quo needs to change. Christendom is like software - there is error upon error upon error. You cannot justify error by its longevity. 1500 years of error is still error.

A very good man in my congregation asked me for help with the finances. We got to talking about the Psalms (that subject always comes up.) And he asked - 'O, do the Jews have the same psalter?' He is in his mid 50s, has attended that congregation for many years. Would I be proud as leader if that were the state of the education of my flock? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. Perhaps in this case it should read - every one of you has a spreadsheet and a power point presentation - but we have no idea what a psalm is.

Well, it is not mine to judge, for God is able to make this elder brother stand and who knows, his question to me was perhaps a beginning of a new understanding - so I shouldn't dine out so often on his ignorance!

The software needs to be fixed, not endured further. The time of Christendom is over, of course. But the rule of Christ is not. He is a most wonderful peer for software review. Once the version of the software is in the library, it is ready for execution. How will we stir each other up to get all these elder modules some of whom can't find the library working to the capacity of their glory?

Monday, August 20, 2007

On the beauty of 5

Let me introduce you to the beauty of 5 x 5 x 5. The cube is a perfect structure. Here 5 x 5 x 5 (being of course related to 2+3) represents the completeness of the Law.

You will remember that the Law is holy (Romans) . Three books in the canon have five parts: the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel of Matthew. Jewish sages have competing ways of reading the Psalms (see Uriel Simon, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms). One approach is to see the Psalter as a new Torah, not replacing, but reframing the perfection of Torah. Matthew's Gospel completes that reframing, not by removing anything from the holiness of the Law but by showing it.

Three times also, making a fourth, we have the Habbakuk statement in the canon of the New Testament (Romans, Galatians, Hebrews) - I speak as a human. The complete will live by faith. And as a bracket to make the number of lines 6, a number of a human, we have the instruction Walk before me and be perfect (Genesis) and the theological statement by faith we establish the Law (Romans) .

One more thing - the whole of the Oral Law and all rabbinic tradition without exception is included. Not that Jew should become Christian or Christian become Jew, but that all may be acceptable before God through the offering of the created order through the fleshly body of Jesus whereby the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh giving life in a New Creation. All flesh without exception - all the produce of the earth. Fire on the earth. The two citations of this promise in Joel and Acts bring the number to 8. It is enough.

You can't build a temple cubic-city without 3 dimensions, 6 surfaces, and 12 sides. The ninth connection of the cube can be adorned with the first quotation above - that the Law is holy.

I didn't expect 5 to bring me so quickly to 12. If I was to draw this now, I would add fire on the earth, it is not in heaven, and you shall be holy as additional carbuncles. (But no image today - I must work!)

Let the people praise you, O God
Let all the people praise you

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chapter 10 continued

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, this note continues 10.

The three essays on embodiment in chapter 10 of Frymer-Kensky are of immense interest and at times brought me to a laughter of joy. I worry though if I understand anything.

Wolfson continues his opening section with the word התגשמות (hitgashmut) "form, realization"

a philospohical conception of incarnation that refers specifically to the imaginal body of God, a symbolic construct that allows human consciousness to access the transcendent reality as a concrete form manifest primarily in the sacred space of the two major forms of worship of the heart: prayer and study.

He follows with sections on God as an Angel, God as Torah, and the practise of prayer as related to incarnation. It is a remarkable essay. At first, I thought he would confine himself to the cerebral and to imagination for he required an army of big words for his writing: ...the ontological dimension implied by the doctrine of incarnation is not reducible to linguistic anthropomorphization... God is configured phenomally as "body", whether we understand that configuration veridically or docetically... (whew - I wonder if I could configure my software docetically). He has to, of course, step around naive views of anthropomorphic language as if to find ways of explaining the panim el panim experience of Jacob from which he got his name Israel - at last, wrestling gets a mention.

As he deals with various epiphanies in the TNK, he notes that they "have the texture of a tangibility that one would normally associate with a body of flesh and bones. Clearly the God of Israel is not a body in this sense, but this does not diminish the somatic nature of the divine appearance... in the Biblical canon." He sounds like some Christians discussing the nature of the resurrection body.

He then deals with the presence of the Glory in the temple, an "exegetical springboard for subsequent conceptions of the incarnation of God in the letters of the name: that hypostatized power that is both the instrucment of creation and the object of revelation." The remaining sections are fascinating and imaginative indeed.
... in the mind of the rabbis, the physical universe is constituted by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are comprised within the Tetragrammeton. ... The full implications of the semiotic nature of divine creativity is drawn explicitly in the second part of Sefer Yetsirah, the ancient work of Jewish cosmogony: Twenty-two foundational letters are fixed in a wheel in 231 gates. The wheel rotates forward and backward ... He permuted them, weighed them, and transformed them, Alef with all of them and all of them with Alef, Bet with all of them and all of them with Bet. They repeat in a cycle and exist in 231 Gates. It comes out that all that is formed and all that is spoken Emanates from one Name.
It sounds like a mother-board! Anyway, fascinating though it is, not as powerful as his opening or later the potential in rabbinic development of the building of the temple and its relationship to prayer. "Every person who has knowledge, it is as if the temple were built in his day. Knowledge is placed between two names and the sanctuary is placed between two names." (R. Eleazar) This has such resonance with Jesus understanding of his body as sanctuary and with Paul's explanation of our bodies as temple of the Holy Spirit. We are so close - let not the words divide.

In the second essay in chapter 10, Randi Rashkover under the title The Christian Doctrine of the Incarnation has three sections: The Torah, The Word of God, and Corporeal Israel, Embodiment of Torah and the Community of Scholars, The Word Made Flesh and the Election of Jesus. He concludes with a comparison of Differing Conceptions of Embodiment.

Body needs to be seen as more than concept. But let me not put this essay down - it is also very good and uses scripture very closely to the way Paul used it. ... "The Jews are not only to follow God's laws but also to embody them: For this commandment is not far from you ..." and just a paragraph later: "Through the mitzvah of circumcision, God commands Jewish men to embody the Torah." He cites Michael Wyschogrod that "Israel's election is therefore a carnal election." And he means this positively - maybe Christians should reread Galatians as positive - for the Jew - but definitely not for the Gentile. For through the crucifixion of Christ, the entire body of believing Gentiles is circumcised (Colossians 2:11).

These Jewish writers are followed by a single essay by Susan A. Ross: Embodiment and Incarnation: A Response to Elliot Wolfson, Her two sections are Feminism and the Tension of Religious Language, and The Utter Transcedence of God, subdivided in three as The Body of Christ and the Imaginal Body of God, Resurrection and Ascension, and Mary and Incarnation.

This essay is not much of a response and in the end reduced to agreement that both traditions have issues with body as applied to the human and to God. She considers that due to fears about idolatry and dualism, the Christian tradition has more issues than the Jewish. Her descriptions of Mary are just that - descriptions. Perhaps Secundus will tell me what he thinks of all this. We are just at the point in the story where the boys get born.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Visitatio Mariae

The opposite of faith is neither doubt nor certainty, but disobedience. I don’t have this problem. To obey is to hear and I do not hear, remember? So I am neither obedient nor disobedient. I found a new way to see with faith. I watched the mouths. I saw their shapes. Prima found a way to make them have meaning for me from the very beginning.

Annuntiatio nativitatis Christi

Matthew and Luke tell us how a woman creates the world. If it is in a man to be dumb, it is now in a woman to demonstrate the power of God to create, whatever the circumstance. What more do we need, Blessed ones, to invite us to walk with the Holy One? Love invites.

Between Luke’s pageant and Matthew's, the common element is the son, named Jesus. How is this son to become flesh when there is no seed? Does God have seed that it should take root in a woman and become woman’s seed? God speaks and it is done. His word is the seed. It penetrates us and takes root in us that we might live.

I image God’s voice. This is not a homunculus of impermanence but a life to be found by faith. God brings our body to completeness in this birthing. We, whether male or female, are the gift to God that engages his word in us. We are woman. We have not known a man. God grant us this knowledge for it is greater than ourselves.

Say fiat as Mary says to this child conceived out of time, and so join God's original fiat lux. Whatever the pain, whether it be a journey to the uncreated and back, it will have been worth it and will never fail in revealing the fullness of mercy.

Incarnation - Embodiment - chapter 10

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9

A body you have prepared for me, ... I come to do your will. (Hebrews 10:5-7 reading the LXX for Psalm 40:6-8)

Chapter 10 of the subject book, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, Michael A. Signer, Christianity in Jewish Terms, is entitled Embodiment. Is incarnation anathema to Judaism? Even if we read Psalm 40 in the Hebrew - my ear you have pierced or dug - perhaps reflecting the servant song of Isaiah: day by day you open my ear - we still have a human body doing the will of God. Is God incarnate as servant anathema to Judaism?

In the chapter's first essay, Judaism and Incarnation: The Imaginal Body of God, Elliot R. Wolfson cites Hans Joachim Schoeps:

Christological doctrine in itself - the belief that God has become man and has allowed his only-begotten son to suffer sacrificial death as a propitiation for the sins of mankind - has remained, as Paul rightly says, a 'stumbling block' to the Jews. It is an impossible article of belief, which detracts from God's sovereignty and absolute otherness - an article which, in fact, destroys the world. (The Jewish-Christian Argument: A History of Theologies in Conflict 1963)

Now there is a true statement! Christians should believe this statement completely - for God in Christ has indeed destroyed the world. That's why the resurrection is good news. Every other doctrine should be commentary.

to be continued...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reframing the Historical Jesus

Marc Goodacre summarizing Scot McKnight raises for me the question again - just who do I believe 'in'? I used to think that Historical was the important adjective and it is. I tried to understand the differing flavours of eschatology and apocalpyse - but though all the images of the time as researched by others have led me into a fuller view of the ancient centuries, such a view can never be convincing or unconvincing by itself. I imagine myself in the shoes of a first century character and piece together parts of the history - but how little I know even of my own time let alone the time 2000 years ago.

There is for the record one main reason I 'believe'. It is a passionate reason. So if I were looking for a Historical Jesus, would I see in the well only the image of my own passion? The short answer is no. The reason for the short answer is that I have learned my passion through faith in the death of this man. That faith grew me. I expect I would not have grown otherwise. Like the weaned child of Psalm 131, I am subject to who I am, but I am also subject to a greater than I. That greater than I is one who has taught me to use the agony of Christ to consecrate myself as one who has died in his death. I did not expect any response. But I received a life in return for my death in him.

What then was he - for it is from the Risen Christ that I have this gift - what was he in his human life? Not superman! Like me in all respects, but not like me in some ways - for my energy can be given to violence (note John Hobbin's recent posts on human nature). This risen Human is a new creation - and he is life-giving Spirit. And the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies in the present even as He gave life to the disciples gathered at Pentecost.

The next chapter in Frymer-Kensky is Incarnation - so this little self-revelation is important background.

I have to admit I am not a fan of total-depravity as doctrine. The doctrine of original sin is often misunderstood also. The essay by John Cavadini has a very good summary of Augustine that I should have mentioned in my post on suffering. I am probably more in sympathy with Augustine than I might have thought. I also disagree with Jim West over recent decisions and fears about homosexuality. What I have learned from Christ in the Spirit does not lead me to the blanket condemnations I seem to hear from some quarters.

What is Real to me is the presence of God through the Risen Christ by a Spirit I had not known but by whom I am now known. The experience of new life reframes all my understanding of doctrine. My guide to this state has been largely Paul - particularly Romans, but also all the testimonies I have seen in the Scripture both old and new. In singling out Paul, I honor his priestly service to the Gentiles, gathering us to worship the God of Abraham, the fear of Isaac, who is with Jacob.

I would welcome feedback and criticism - but not with reasonless diatribe - rather with the reason that comes from the experience of the Presence of God in the world today - the Presence that creates the Historical with us.

Software and Simulation

This note from Jim Davila on humanity as simulated software is too good to ignore.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Frymer-Kensky - 9 Suffering

The chapter on suffering has again 3 essays: On the Suffering of God's Chosen: Christian Views in Jewish Terms, Leora Batnitzky; Suspicions of Suffering, Robert Gibbs; and The Meaning and Value of Suffering: A Christian Response to Leora Batnitzky, John C. Cavadini.

I knew before I started that these essays would not be easy to deal with. But it was worse than I expected due to a large number of what seem to me to be philosophical issues, questions that have no resonance in me.

Leora Batnitzky begins with Isaiah 53 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, a good beginning. But the conversation rapidly goes to the arithmetic of suffering - that suffering is deserved, to the reversal of this arithmetic in the servant, and to the notion of chosenness resulting in fatherly discipline. She concludes the first part citing Proverbs 8:5 (also used in Hebrews) with this: "Suffering from this perspective results not from a moral inferiority but from a kind of superiority. The chosen suffer not because they are worse than others, but because they are in fact capable of being better than others."

Well, I think this is on the way to missing the boat. It is not a matter of superiority or inferiority and it is not a matter of morals. I know this will rub the total depravity addicts and the law-abiding older brothers the wrong way - but there must be a better approach to a conclusion which begins with Isaiah and 2 Corinthians. There is no consolation in this conclusion. And what Israel is looking for in the book of consolation (and Paul's substance in 2 Corinthians) is the consolation of Israel, the true inheritance, God's Spirit. God takes the issue of moral superiority absolutely off the table. The arithmetic is absolutely on the table (but not the way we do arithmetic). Just consider Isaiah 40: she has suffered double for all her sins. I agree with the author that all the passages of TNK that she sites are consistent with each other - but it has nothing to do with moral superiority or simple arithmetic.

She continues in a more hopeful vein - yet still there is a barrier to my understanding of why we must shortcut our justification of suffering. God knows we suffer - all of us, chosen or not, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and without exception every religion or non-religion in the world. It is not necessary to justify suffering. I know I have suffered for my own faults and caused others to suffer for them too. Whether I have suffered for another is not mine to say. In some ways, even the suffering for my own faults may be redemptive for others - for they too can be lost in their own self-righteousness. But what I have as a Christian is not predicated on my having suffered or not.

She deals with the ambiguity of the identity of the servant in deutero-Isaiah and she moves to Halevi and Aquinas in her next section and then to Hermann Cohen (1842-1918). All the citations are interesting, but the problems with the conclusions are too much to deal with in a short essay. Her treatments of Simone Weil and C. S. Lewis yield the most promising aphorisms on the subject

Weil: The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.

Lewis: The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his.

Somehow, Batnitzky still manages to find Weil affirming suffering as the only way to begin to purge us of our sin and Lewis as affirming and valorizing suffering in itself. I have to admit, regardless of whether her attributions are true or false, I don't think that Christians have to conclude these positions. So in spite of what may be accurate reporting, I remain disturbingly dissatisfied. It is disturbing to me because there is a satisfaction and I must find a way to express it that threads the needle so that the suturing of our wounds can continue.

Gibbs comes closer to satisfaction. He reasons within a new measure: "The understanding of God's freedom in taking on suffering stands against the reasoning of calculable necessity." His concept of the assymetry of the interpretation of suffering is helpful: "a respect for our own suffering and for others' suffering as something not to be justified through our reasoning."

Cavadini answers well. "In the Christian view, suffering is indeed a 'necessity', as Batnitzky asserts, but it is not a necessity in the sense that it is a divinely prescribed good. Rather it is simply a fact of the mortal life, intrinsically evil if it is intrinsically anything. But faith in Christ enables the believer to 'use' something that has no inherent utility ... It is not the suffering that is good, but Christ."

Interesting that he reflects Weil and ultimately accepts her witness even though she refused to be baptized, being "reluctant to identify herself with a church that had a totalitarian past". He exonerates Lewis by balancing The Problem of Pain with A Grief Observed, and affirms that the very tension Batnitzky finds in Judaism is in fact in Christianity also.

And as usual, he ignores the middle essay!

Obviously this is a difficult issue. I find myself wondering how we are to 'use' suffering in spite of its lack of inherent value. Is it necessary only to 'use' the occasion of our own suffering? What if, in the use of the devastation of the cross, we were to use the destruction as symbolic of our own death? This is of course allowing ourselves to be identified with, incorporated into the suffering servant. Perhaps then we might learn something of the consolation of Israel. If we do, it will not be an intellectual conclusion but one that takes part in God's own passionate mercy.

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8; on devastation see this note on Psalm 46 - and note also the lack of the theme on rachamim in my treatment of Psalm 119. It is there (77, 176) - as frequent as the word completion - and I should not have left it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blogging, writing and peer review

My wife tells me that she doesn't read blogs because there is no editorial constraint - and to use the engineering analogy - no peer review. Not entirely true. The peers who review are the friends who comment for criticism or for encouragement. The record of correction is public.

We are back from NY. The work at St Thomas's 5th Avenue for the Girls choir course was brilliantly executed. The mass setting for Sunday was Kodaly Missa Brevis and the 40 young singers' sounds were like fine crystal, beautifully tuned. We also heard a superb performance of Beethoven's 7th and the quartets opus 135 and 132 - among my favorites. There was more colour in the 7th from the Bremen orchestra than I have ever heard (Rose Theatre, Columbus Square). The St Lawrence quartet played in an intimate penthouse - almost too much in one evening.

We stayed at the Helmsley Park Lane with a view over Central Park and we did all the touristy things - including the Cloisters where that 14th century Revelation manuscript is - the one with all the funny beasties in it, and the Frick - a jewell of a collection, and the Metropolitan where we bought a frieze for our own hallway. Lots of Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer.

There are webcasts here of the week's services

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The 9th Day of Av - a late note

re the 9th Day of Av, this appeared in my home mail in the JTS weekly commentary.

Five misfortunes befell our ancestors . . . on the ninth of Av . . . On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the promised land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and Jerusalem was ploughed up (M Ta'anit 4:6)...

... Throughout history, this list has expanded to include the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492); the beginning of the extermination of Jews in Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto (1942); the bombing of the Asociación Mutua Israelita in Argentina (1994); and just last year the war between Israel and Lebanon eerily coincided with this period of mourning.

Rabbi Wolf offers the story of a Bible which came out of Spain in the 15th century and is now in the JTS library containing on its last page a note on the dating of the expulsion from Spain. He concludes with: "Their lesson through the pages of the Mishah was that the sorrow may fade, but relevance must never cease. We must continue to commemorate."