Friday, February 27, 2009

Quiros' vision, His hidalgo heart and Mythical Australia

From Peter Enns - my quote of the day (HT Ken Schenck)

We are in no position to declare what genres of literature the Spirit can or can’t use, and our theological comfort level is not a determining factor in how God elects to speak.
(Title from Terra Australis, words below by James McAuley - as set by Malcolm Williamson - Symphony for Voices)

Voyage within you on the fabled ocean
And you will find that southern continent
Quiros' vision, his hidalgo heart and
Mythical Australia where reside all things
In their imagined counterpart

It is your land of similes
The wattle scatters its pollen on the doubting heart
The flowers are wide awake
The air gives ease
There you come home

The magpies call you Jack
And whistle like larikins at you from the trees
There too the angophora preaches on the hillsides
With the gestures of Moses and the white cockatoo
Perch'd on his limbs screams with demoniac pain

And who shall say on what errand the insolent emu
Walks between morning and night on the edge of the plain?
But northward in the valley of the fiery goat,
Where the sun like a centaur vertically shoots his raging arrows with unerring aim,
Stand th’ecstatic solitary pyres of unknown lovers featureless with flame.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wright, Piper, and reviews by Ken Schenck

Ken Schenck has a number of interesting reviews at least for me on NT Wright and Piper and others. I am glad for the reviews because I am not inclined to read the authors though I might be tempted more by Wright since I read some of the to me loud-sounding Piper the other day. I have read some Dunn years ago before I started working through the psalms. I always liked his writing simply because he reframes Paul with what seems better accuracy than what I grew up with. But like any picture frame, I might occasionally like to look through another one.

I like some of Ken's personal conclusions:

I personally think it is beyond question that a lot of the questions we most debate over in conservative Protestant circles are not the issues Jews of the day were. The New Testament is not about how to get to heaven. It isn't even clear about whether heaven is the place of our eternal destiny.
This is so important and so obvious if you read the NT. The phrase 'getting to heaven' is not what life is about. I cannot find that phrase anywhere. If we are 'in Christ' we are already there, (whatever that means).

I had not read Daniel for ages - Daniel 9 particularly has such deep overtones of Deuteronomy and the Psalms - that I must eventually get to reading it in Hebrew rather than my superficial scan in English. Of course I am going nowhere near the ridiculous abuse of Daniel by late unmentionable 20th century authors.

My own summary of the impact of reading the OT is here jotted down last night from a couple of rare words in Psalm 12. It's my last sentence that expresses for me the now and not yet that is implied in the beloved Daniel. What end are we waiting for or are we coming to? My answer in Christ is
to the death that is in his cross - a unique destruction for the wicked and the hope of all. For whatever is conformed to his death awakens to new life now and in the age to come.
It is not that Paul or any other NT author has 'return from exile' as a lens - but that they have multiple lenses and any pair of glasses you might like is there for the constructing from Biblical texts if you care to mold your frame and polish the lens to your particular corneal shape. It is that in Christ, the end to which we are called is already present. As the Old Testament witness implies, we too, like them can now apprehend it by faith. We have more information, but the impact is the same and even the information that we have can be seen in the mystery of God's choice of Abraham, Moses, Israel, David and the later prophets and poets of that remarkable history.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Globe and Mail - the Vanier letters

This letter today is well worth reading - be it so now and in the age to come.

Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown continues his correspondence with Jean Vanier, the Canadian-born founder of L'Arche, a global set of communities for the disabled.

Faith

Faith - why would anyone want a 'definition'? What could a little five letter squiggle of text on a screen mean?

This morning's sermon was of the type: you just believe this theological proposition about the second person of the Trinity and you'll be fine. How he got this from 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 is beyond me. Paul preaching Trinity? But who cares about the words? I care. I like rhythm and pulse and feel and sound. But it is not trinity that I fell in love with. So I care about accuracy and passion and people who don't mess with the menu so you know what it is you are ordering.

These sermons don't work for me. Not now, not 50 years ago and not 500 years ago. I dare say not even 1500 years ago when I could have lost my life for saying a word with a missing letter. It is possible to care about theology and miss the train. Some say there is no train. The life we have is a wisp of smoke in an infinite and hostile place. So relax and enjoy yourself. Yes - but who authors effective enjoyment?

I should not be too critical of the sermon because he had a number of good pieces of advice on prayer - long short or otherwise. But he missed the reason and it is in the text he was looking at - a fundamental - the good of light. People tell me that light as a metaphor is obsolete. They have been in the dark too long.

Words won't do. People just use them to argue.

Again on faith - and the ever present abuse of words in this article by John Piper. Here it is clearly written:
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying.
So I will not quote any of it. But I do not recommend it anyway. It comes recommended by all sorts of people I do not trust. Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are all these others?

You know already the strident tone of "I've got it right and you haven't" or the appeal to all those who "just don't understand what it means to be born again." (I am not quoting - that would be to disobey the copyright order.)

I do not put my faith in this sort of understanding of Scripture - a strident concatenation of verses yanked from their context and placed into the frame of the mega-church. Knowing all these verses is not 'going on your way rejoicing'. (Learn them by all means but not by reading evangelical twaddle.)

So much for my "very conservative" rating. I am not conservative. I am not "very". I am not "confessional". I am a radish, a large, red, sweet root.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

In my small corner

These are some of the posts I have noted with a star this past few weeks. No one has helped me with Psalm 139, tsk tsk. It could lead off a great discussion, going farther than the comments on what Daniel and Tonya call one of John's favorite posts and getting beyond the eschatology that lacks e and h which I have cut off from my aggregator, in the name of the Lord I will 'cut them off'. Let the reader beware. This intimate knowledge is not strange to Judaism either, as Rachel notes, and may indeed be one of those aspects of holiness, anointing, and love of Torah that escapes the mind of the narrow confessional approaches to being right which as noted by Ken Schenck, tend to be divisive rather than healing.

On the subject of healing, the leaves of the tree of life fit well with Rachel's post noted above, and might provide better governance of evil dictators than we have seen since the first Iraq war in 1990 on which there has been a spate of comments here (link and post removed). I am disappointed in the ad hominem tone of the comments. Tutu is right to point out the consequence of American actions. There is no choice but repentance - and the reality of repentance is action not words.

On a more positive note, John points us to the Bach Bible - and indeed Bach is known, relics aside, as the fifth evangelist. And Bach to the Bible aside, David reminds us twice as noted by Tim and Henry and John that commas, cantillation, headings, and structural summaries are not canonical and can be positively misleading. This has been my argument for leaving out what the words do not say that the Spirit may create in us the action that is non-action. Not by might in the strength of your tanks and gas pedals, nor by power in the cleverness of your abstractions, but by the Spirit in that knowledge of us that cannot be faced without the face of יְהוָה and our death in his death. Then we will learn something more of the abnormally interesting true temple. And at the risk of sounding my own horn, do read Psalm 80. And consider the lilies!

On the issue of understanding, Sue's even-handedness on Ephesians 5:22 is noted here. As an egalitarian and inclusivist, I wonder if the fearful rule of tyrants is somewhat related to the failure of the Church to note its own prejudices. Not to be solved by violence...

There are many posts I starred with the hope of returning to them some day - just not enough time - so lectures on Hebrews, Pagan Christianity (Ken is reading it for us, for which I am thankful), and theological exegesis.

And this emphasis on statistics, John, - Jim is right to pooh-pooh them, but don't read his post. Who counts the reads on an aggregator when you don't have to go to the site to read the post? And who counts the pages when they are on a site that is not counted? Who loves statistics deserves the plague (pick your favorite) - and its cure - to fall into the hand of יְהוָה - no better place to be.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Consolation of Israel

Beloved, I have found an old codex belonging to Prisca. It was hidden in the Scriptorium behind the scroll of the letter to the Hebrews. It must have slipped and stuck. How interesting. I do realize I must clean and dust more regularly. Here it is - a record of one of her addresses related to the incident that led to the death of my father's master, then employer, Gaius.

Prisca

We have traveled all over the Empire: Antioch, Ephesus, Pontus, Corinth, and Rome and everywhere we find violent conflict around the message to our people, particularly concerning the open invitation to the Gentiles. Gaius has been caught in this conflict.

In Antioch, Peter's withdrawal from the table when the embassy came from James filled us with foreboding. It was not an issue that could be corrected by confronting one person. The problem of tradition against faith has arisen in uncounted ways.

When I first accompanied my father to Rome, in the days of the Syrian governor, Vitellius, - we were part of the escort for Pilate when Tiberius recalled him because of the turmoil in Judea - there was no great number of believers in those days but there were serious disagreements such as had led to the stoning of Stephen a year earlier, and the zealous actions of Paul in searching out those who believed in Joshua to correct them.

We lived in Rome before the decree of Claudius. Aquila and I had just celebrated our wedding. Gradually, by twos, threes, and then tens, there were more and more Gentiles looking for acceptance in the Synagogue and confirmation of what they had learned from Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others. The Hebrews reminded Gentiles that they could only assume the privileges of Israel if they submitted in full to the covenant of Israel. All males in the family must be circumcised. When the Gentiles said that this was no longer needed to be a full member of Israel, the resulting disagreements became sharp indeed. The conservatives did not consider such a possibility.

Then it was that Claudius stepped in and decreed peace in his own Roman way. So many of us moved away. We ourselves moved to Corinth - your Corinth - that we all know well, the New Corinth, a city of patterns of patronage and privilege, and the same disagreements in the synagogues. Here we met Paul face to face, and Timothy, Sosthenes, Tertius, Apollos, Peter again, and many others of a variety of doctrines and opinions.

Just consider them: Paul, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, but also a Roman citizen and born in Asia. Are there many of Israel who are citizens? Timotheus of Derbe, another Hebrew child of the Diaspora who was circumcised long after the eighth day; Sosthenes, a Greek; Tertius, a Latin freedman with roots in Cyrenica; Apollos, an Alexandrian Hellenist; Peter, a Galilean. Is it any wonder there was dispute and party loyalty and fear of the powerful and a general failure to see and remember the love that had been demonstrated and that had brought them this message.

But we did not give up. God always finds a way to teach and to minister to those with need. Not by an earthly power, though easily confused with one. Not by patronage or protection by threat, though there is a threat to position and the established order. In Rome the conflict was amongst ourselves. In Ephesus and Pontus, and throughout Asia, the Celts had greater influence and the conflicts were with the communities of the Mother goddess rather than our Jewish authorities. The temples did not want to give up their economic base. Well patronized by the emperor as part of the overall Pax, they had their responsibilities to consider. They wanted no disputes but we could not submit to the abuse of power in their practices of self-mutilation.

We returned to Rome in the early years of Nero when the decree of Claudius had been forgotten. It was very good to refresh old acquaintances. We heard Phoebe read Paul's letter when it was opened in Rome for the first time. What a brave attempt Paul had made to heal divisions between old and new, inside and outside. Later when he came to Rome under house arrest, we developed together the implications of the death of our High Priest. It is no pattern that we worship in but in the reality itself.

After Paul's death, we returned to Aquila's home on the Black Sea. We worked in this northern outpost of Asia for many years, remaining in touch with Rome and with you, by letter, by trips to teach the work, and through visits where we became the host. One visit I remember in particular. Titus Vetti, sent out by Gaius to Pontus, had made me a mother of flesh by his presence. He was our special child whom we cared for in his illness. Aquila and I decided we must return to Corinth one more time.

We found again both a turmoil of conflict and a joy of love, as we had expected. We know the whole world suffers this violence. We were never far from further conflict. Gaius, our host, was arrested and carried off. He wrote to me so that I would not blame myself for his arrest. He demonstrates the pattern of love.

Winter, the second year of Domitian

Dear Prisca

Your presence is valued among us. The truth will not remain suppressed. Do not fear or lament for me for my knowledge of the love of Christ is not in vain. Marcellus has allowed the dear Parvulus to bring this last letter to you. He has supported me in my imprisonment for all these weeks. Hold Marcellus guiltless for he was under orders. His intervention prevented further dislocation among us.

The emperor lost interest when he learned how impoverished the estate was, compared to its glory under my parents. As for me, my hour has come. I look for that joy that I have known as already completed, and that has been revealed to me in part, and soon to be known in full. How does anyone know such a thing? It is not by our own strength as if we could bring Christ down from heaven, nor is it because we are more clever than others, as if we could see Christ on earth by our own wisdom. It is because of his gift to us of our life in him by his death. One died so that we might live.

We know by his Spirit, an unspeakable gift. He has drawn us into his chambers and his banner over us is love. We learn by the word of faith that is not far from any of us in our heart and on our lips. The heart believes. The lips show the obedience of faith. And the fullness begins to be known by the body; for he gives life to our mortal bodies. This love casts out fear. This faith knows no shame. Now to you, my children and heirs, Tertius and Ruth, you have known me and will have no misunderstanding when I say I love you.

Tertius, my slave and my son, all deeds are in order that no one should trouble you over your ownership of all my property. Only keep Elizabeth's apartment for her permanent residence, as I know you would without my asking. Timotheus-Titus, my friend, to you I bequeath my passion. May the Most High show you your blessing even as he shows me mine: be destroyed in the one who died for you so that he may recreate you. And let you, Secundus, be the friend to Titus that I can no longer be, my heir of his friendship. The grace of our Lord be with you all,

Gaius

I answered his letter. That Gaius had offended another was well known, but the offense was nothing compared to the possibility of forgiveness. To exchange healing for brokenness is the only real danger. None of us can describe the truth that Gaius wanted to describe. We can only point and that often with difficulty. He was such a pointer.

Parvulus was present with him when the officials brought in the knife for his self-destruction, after the Roman custom. Gaius refused the knife, forcing his mockers to execute him. They saw a new value in his refusal to obey the emperor's command but they could not act on it. Slowly, the presence of abuse is revealed to those who were brought up with no other choice.

But for us, Beloved, the invisible Temple Builder in one action has replaced the violence of all cults.

Learning Hebrew in old times

Here's a fascinating post on how the Rabbis learned Hebrew.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New novelist

Ken is writing a novel on Paul (here is an excerpt). Other scholars have tried on Paul and on Jesus. Why does one do it I wonder?

Never have I approached his subject (sex) from the angle he chose. But under the surface, the subject pervades my writing, story or blogs. (Click label 'story' at the left for some of my excerpts.) It pervades because of the realities of 'the facts of new life'. Ken has expressed both sides of the usual arguments - but is there a razor's edge that falls in neither camp but steers between both? I think there is and that it lies in the incomplete note by Paul in these early letters - 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 7:7 for examples. The knowledge that Paul has would have come to him according to the OT and its anointing message - confirming his revised understanding of Jesus. Colossians 2:11 is also relevant in its affirmation of circumcision as applied to the cross and thence to new birth and new life.

One has to ask why God chose circumcision of the male for the sign of the covenant with Abraham.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lest I forget

They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.

John Donne XXVI Sermons (1660) preached 29 February 1627/8

But one equal communion and identity

Discussion over complementarity and equality in male-female relations has been ongoing 'for ever'. John Hobbins recently announced his retirement from a blog dedicated to the subject. And Henry Neufeld blogs about the event here.

From its beginning, I stayed away from this conversation. I think my position is close to Henry's and little different from John's. Sometimes I think I have left the safety of the 'obvious' interpretation of certain scriptures and that my Lord will eventually show me the intent of the passages more clearly - then I say 'what! and shore up my insecure maleness or something?'

The subject seems too difficult for me and my only thoughts are that equal balance I find in the opening of Genesis together with the personal joy of my bridal reading of the Song. The radical advocacy of Paul to equality is clear in 1 Corinthians 7 - surely a passage which the unregenerate self will abuse more than any other. The unregenerate concentrates on the will to power and cannot read the words 'no power over'.

There is no salvation in the obvious. There is no value in convincing others by rational argument. Not by imposition, nor by violence, it is not my way, says the Lord, but in my Spirit - and where is that best seen but 'in the beauty of the lilies' al-shoshanim? (See Psalm 45 and 69 but particularly 80 - and note the bridegroom of blood that is implied. This word merits a post on rare words in the Psalter. Some day...)

Henry has some words on blogs and comments that I also agree with. I enjoy comments that people make on my blog, and I wish there was more time for the learning that comes through interaction in extended conversation, blog to blog. (But not disagreeable disagreement.) Henry and John are still both on my reduced aggregator - where before I had too many alligators all chomping for my attention. I think I will change my pattern of blogging to greater interaction - such as this post. Let's see where it leads.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blog death

There have been exciting blogs and intriguing conversations. But with pushing 100 active RSS feeds, I was getting to the point that I did not pay attention to half of what I get in my reader. So j'ai tué un demi de mes amis pour échapper ses demandes.

Sorry folks - if you are not in my reader any more, then hopefully if you post something wonderful, others who are in my reader will tell me. Or if you comment here or at one of my other blogs, I will check you out and see what I have been missing.

Aren't you furious? Especially since my stupid blog list is not working so who knows who it is that I am reading?

Harry Potter is on at the moment - easier than Job. Au revoir - or should I say au revue s'il y a l'occasion.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is there one Job or two?

N. H. Tur Sinai in his 1967 commentary on Job after a lifetime of living with the story and much depth of understanding of ancient languages postulates that the story part and the poetical part are not portraying the same Job.

In the story, Job holds fast to his integrity to the end, refrains from reproaching God and from sinning with his lips and so God can eventually say that the friends were wrong and that Job spoke the thing that is right (Job 42:7-8). In the poem, however, Job accuses God in terms which admit of no conciliatory interpretation, and even swears that God has taken away his judgment (Job 27:2), and God reproves Job, saying that he is speaking by words without knowledge (Job 38:2).
I was intrigued with Tur Sinai's commentary and felt I could learn much more from it than say from the 1939 articles on Job by the Dallas Theological Seminary such as this or this. I could not bring myself to read any more of such drivel. But I am now somewhat disappointed with Tur Sinai also - in that he is imposing his reason on the text rather than seeing if there is any way to slide the razor between the words of the text itself.

Of course he knows more than I do. That doesn't mean I am going to believe him. I have already used his commentary to read Job 1 and 2 in Hebrew without the English and to scan some of his remarkable ideas on the language. He considers that the story - the frame in chapters 1, 2 and 42 - was originally in Hebrew and the poetic parts were translated from an Aramaic original written in the early part of the exile. This explains the 100s of odd words in the poem. I have to take his word for it for the moment. He may be right.
His theory is far more attractive than those who think Job is historical. But it does not mean we have two different Jobs - one who is upright and one who "accuses God in terms which admit of no conciliatory interpretation".

Job is one of many ancient dialogues over theodicy, he says, and this sounds plausible. But the real question is does Job 'do the job' of dealing with theodicy and if so, how? I recall a teacher who had survived a near fatal car accident - and I have a son in a similar situation. The teacher wondered why God needed to test Job - why God fell for the agent's insinuation that Job might not really be righteous.

There are some intriguing aspects of the God word in Job - in the story part the names
יהוה and אלהים appear but in the poetical parts, אלוה a singular form is used of God - and this form is mostly used in Job, rarely in other Biblical books. One wonders how to translate the phrase בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים. It is rare in the psalms but common elsewhere as I see from my Hebrew-Latin concordance! Tur Sinai renders it godly beings - odd to me. I like children of God because it implicates all of us in the role of accuser.

Job is, for its size, not much referenced in the NT. Perhaps the following: Job 3:21 - Revelation 9:6, Job 5:13 - 1 Corinthians 3:19, Job 11:8 Ephesians 3:18, Job 34:11 - Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6 - All of these are religious commonplaces are they not. My favorite allusion is never noted: Job 39:9 and the Christmas pageant - O magnum mysterium. Perhaps others and of course Job 42:10 - James 5:11.

Are we missing something? Where is the wisdom of God?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The communication of faith

Faith is caught not taught. At least it is not taught by a human. It is the Spirit that communicates breath to the breathing. I taught my first ever whole Sunday school lesson - 5 students aged 8-12 roughly. Three boys and two girls.

I cannot know what they will learn or how they will be tested but I hope they will remember that they had some real history and language given to them when they were very young. If I had seen Hebrew when I was young would I remember more than the vagueness of room and floor covering, the smell of the stairwell, a dim memory of ancient stories? I don't think I remember much at all from those days - aged 5 to maybe 8 - (I know I was there at least once after age 7 because I remember a Sunday when I had been away at private school - and I know I started my 9 years away at age 8.)

I acknowledged the faith of that congregation at Granby United Church years later in my late 20s (c. 1974) when I first believed the reality of my baptism. (I had been baptized there as an infant). I hope, in spite of all the abundance of our shared ignorance, and my vague memories, that they will be rewarded. I see they don't have a web page - too bad.

The perception of Jesus in History

April writes (in February even!)

And it is quite clear ... // that the second generation of Christians thought his [Jesus'] message about the coming of the Kingdom of God was an eschatological message //
that did not fulfill itself as expected.
Before deconstructing this sentence, I think the bracketed part is what many of those who believe in the risen Christ today would say. The initial 'quite clear' is anything but. The final qualifier 'that did not fulfill itself as expected' depends on what is meant by expected. Once one's expectations are - what shall I say? - purified by the mystery of obedience, then the words just fall into place and the kingdom of love is known without violence and exploitation.

The second generation - I assume this could mean any time following the crucifixion.

of Christians - I find this term impossible. I know we need an abbreviation for this concept. I just avoid using it.

thought Jesus' message about the coming of the Kingdom of God - What is this kingdom and why is it not seen in the radical nature of Jesus life and death? He is one who exhibits what it means to have God as king. His message is not new - it is in the Psalms and the Prophets of the Old Covenant. The Psalmists have as much trouble with it as Jesus did - but they do not ultimately fail in their hope and neither does he. Jesus message, per the witness of his disciples in their various guises, is Jesus himself.

was an eschatological message - eschatological is an adjective that defies understanding. I am not into a pure linearity of time. The ephemeral nature of thought as a byproduct of biology has perhaps given us an oversimplified time dimension. In any case, I don't know where on this time-line to place the eschaton. If by eschatological we mean 'the last things present', or 'the presence of the end' as for instance what Job wanted -

my sayings written?
... in a book inscribed?
on a tablet of iron and lead
for ever in the rock engraved?
I? - I know my vindication of life
As with me, I would know my redeemer alive
one that comes later will stand over my dust
and after my skin is stripped
but from my flesh I would see God
whom I - I will see for myself
and my eyes will gaze and not another
fired my own fires within me

- whereby the Vindicator is not simply presiding over our dust, then the mystery of the presence of the end in history is there in the New Testament texts to be solved even among all the so called contradictions of the secret of the kingdom and the hardened hearts of the disciples. God and God's kingdom fit in both the manifestations and the interstices of things.

that did not fulfill itself - depends on what you were expecting. I don't think much is 'very clear' about these ancient thoughts and their history. What is clear is what people think of them today - and it is confused and often wrong. Wrong because it leads to violence and exploitation, i.e. Christian (or scholarly) imperialism in its many forms over the last 1700 years.

Suppose that I could write a book that would explain the origins of Christianity. If I were a believer, it would be a book that was informed by my faith - and every translation I made and every word I wrote would be informed by that faith. But the information of those words would not be the faith. If I were not a believer, then what I wrote and what I read would be informed by that lack of faith. But the information would not the lack of faith. Whether believer or not, there is a time of confrontation - a judgment - did I really believe that I could act this way - for what I thought of as a good but which I knew might be destructive to another? If you are not a believer, then who cares? But you care. Why else would you be writing?

Perhaps someone has acted this way recently and their conscience is touched. But the drive to destroy, the compulsion and the addiction to violence are there in that person, or society, or culture. The judgment against that culture / person happens. Maybe he or she was not appointed to taunt or to destroy or to teach or write in such and such a way. How do we respond to such judgment? If we are not a believer than this is not judgment nor is our action 'sin'. Who cares? God is indifferent as far as we are concerned. If we are a believer, even if we are to complain of our judgment - as Job, or agree with it, as David, we will want to reestablish the relationship -

Make me to hear rejoicing and mirth
rejoice the bones you have crushed
Hide your face from my sin
and all my guilt, blot out
A clean heart create in me, O God
and a right spirit, renew within me
Do not cast me from your presence
and your holy spirit do not remove from me
Return to me the joy of your salvation
in a willing spirit, support me
I will teach criminals your ways
and sinners to you will be turned

As a layman I can only surmise based on my own experience. I am satisfied with what I have known and how I have been known in my history of Christ. That history is all I have - even including all the many Historical Jesus and Gospel decomposition books I have read, or all the Pauline and Johannine theology I have thought, or all the translations of scripture and non scripture I have read and remembered, or all the attempts at my own translation of ancient texts that I have made. I have no idea quite how to express it. The heart is known and judged by its actions. I have no complex confession, nor an ecclesiology, nor a set of impossible things to say three times a day. There is no experiment you could do on me to discover its essence. The only one who is allowed such freedom with me is God. Clarity is not mine to share except that I know how I got here.

Coincidentally, Ken Schenck has just written a bit on C.S. Lewis and his image of Deep Magic, his stretch to find words. Lewis was very helpful - but the book of his that helped me the most is The Great Divorce. In no other literature outside the Bible have I seen a clearer image of the power of the agreement of the person confronted with addiction to the destruction of that addiction. The very distortion of the addiction itself, once released in covenant by the death of Christ, is able to use its power now freed to achieve its real desire, the presence of God. In this light, we see light, and things become clearer. Lewis's analogy is a direct interpretation of Romans 8:13: "but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live".

This is, I think, why the first Jewish believers in Jesus wrote and spoke. Because they knew the reality of their baptism into his death. His death became their end of time in history, and the beginning of their new life.

(My rendering of Job is influenced by The Book of Job, A New Commentary (1967) by N. H. Tur Sinai. For my translation of Psalm 51 see here.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don't Miss this one

Chagall and the Bible from the Museum at Nice

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My first cut at Job 19

I am not completely happy with my prior provocation on Job 19. Who can deal with such a poem! But here's a slightly less provocative first cut. [second pass here] I had a look at a few commentaries and translations:

The Book of Job, A New Commentary (1967) by N. H. Tur Sinai (he suggests the questions in verses 4 and 5)
and Job 1-20 J. A. Clines and one other little one that I glanced at standing up in the stacks that I can't remember.

Cline seemed traditional to me and I left it on the shelf. I still have to read the details of Tur Sinai. It is important for me to fight with the text and the lexicons before reading someone else's analysis. There is a little suggestive coloring for what are the same words in the Hebrew. Apart from this I have not observed any significant structural aspects that would help put verses 25-26 in context.

The fact that the NT authors did not pick up on these verses leads me to think that subsequent generations including Handel have overestimated their 'meaning'.

1. And Job answered and said

2. How long will you grieve me
and crush me with platitudes

3. Ten times you batter me with calumny
Are you not ashamed to slight me?

4. And indeed truly have I strayed?
Does my fault lie with me?

5. Or truly against me do you gloat
and determine against me my reproach?

6. Know this indeed - that God bends me
and in his trap against me strikes

7. See! I cry out - violence! and I am not heard
I shout and there is no judgment

8. My path he has shut off and I pass not
and in my ways he puts darkness

9. My glory from me he has stripped
and he removed the halo of my head

10. He demolished me all around and I am gone
and he uprooted as a tree my hope

11. And he burns against me his wrath
and takes me as his adversary

12. As one come his troops
and raise against me their way
and camp around my tent

13. My brothers from me he made distant
and whom I know indeed is estranged from me

14. Failed are those near me and
whom I know have forgotten me

15. Those who live in my house
and my maids as a stranger consider me
an alien I have become in their eyes

16. To my servant I call and he does not answer
with my mouth I entreat him

17. My breath is strange to my wife
and I entreat the children of my belly

18. Even the unweaned reject me
I rise and they speak against me

19. All my intimate friends abhor me
and those I love turn from me

20. To my skin and to my flesh my bones cling
and I am stuck in the skin of my teeth

21. Be gracious, be gracious, you my friends
for the hand of God has touched me

22. Why do you hound me as if God
and with my flesh are not satisfied?

23. If only it was now my sayings were written
if only it was in a book they were inscribed

24. With a pen of iron and lead
for ever in the rock engraved

25. And I - I know my vindicating of life
and at the last on dust it will rise

26. and after this my skin stripped
and from my flesh I will see God

27. whom I - I will see for myself
and my eyes will gaze and not another
fired my own fires within me

28. For you should say - why do we hound him?
For the root of the thing is determined in me

29. Take care, for you are in the presence of the sword
for wrath is the effect of the sword
so you know there is a judge

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is meaning important?

Is meaning important? What a silly question! Of course it is. And so are adjectives and adverbs. But these things: words, qualifiers, and thoughts are not more important than the faithful action that gives them what we think we have grasped by them. We do not need to grasp at the form of our mind.

So when I read these paragraphs about Job in the middle of Ken Schenck's long online essay (whew!):

Job 19:25 ... case study: "I know that my Redeemer is living, and afterwards He will rise on the dust. After this my skin is thus destroyed, from my flesh I will see God." This verse has a distinctively Christian reading, although not one attested in the New Testament. ...
...this reading of Job as Christian Scripture...is... very unlikely to be anything like the original sense of Job 19.
... it seems far more likely that what Job is saying is that he believes that God, his Redeemer, will eventually come--before he dies--and vindicate his innocence, restoring his flesh. ...
When I read this, I ask what is my reading of Job and does it qualify as Christian? It is hard to remember one's first impressions of Job. Very likely I tried to read it several times before succeeding. These rough-cut dozen may be second impressions:
  1. The accuser as an angel in the presence of God.
  2. The difference between the setting of the stage and the long poetic dialogue.
  3. The silence of his friends, then their arguments.
  4. The stark nature of Job's cursing of the day of his birth.
  5. The reaction of Job's wife.
  6. The song of wisdom beautifully set by William Boyce.
  7. A vague memory that this part of Handel's libretto seemed slightly off base.
  8. The magnificence of God's speeches and the buildup to them by Elihu.
  9. The tenderness of the O magnum mysterium. (The ox and the ass spending a night at God's crib.)
  10. The stars singing for joy.
  11. God's playing billiards with the world - shades of Velikovsky.
  12. Job's response in dust and ashes and my unresolved ambivalence towards the postscript.
I don't think I ever attributed ultimate validity to the comforters - but there is a considerable unresolved tension. Can I get to second naivety with this book?

I want to look only at Job19:25-26 as a brief test.
וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרֹון עַל־עָפָר יָקֽוּם
וְאַחַר עֹורִֽי נִקְּפוּ־זֹאת וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶֽחֱזֶה אֱלֹֽוהַּ

What about Ken's translation? Well this is not exactly a slam-dunk is it?

The traditional rendering assumes much. Could Job actually say what is rendered here in the state he was in as the prelude to the last sequence of speeches? It certainly would not be cheap grace so it had better not sound religious like the speeches of his comforters. In the poem, גֹּאֲלִי occurs only one other time - in Job 3:5 (rendered as pollute rather than redeem). And 'upon the earth' is a rare rendition of עַל־עָפָר - and 'stand' for יָקֽוּם while appropriate stays away from more common glosses - arise or rise up.

I am going to ponder the larger structure of chapter 19 but here is a quick first cut of how I would approach this:
as for me, I know how I would redeem life
and afterwards in the dust it would rise
and after, this skin of mine stripped
in my flesh I would see God

I am not sure how to parse the verb redeem or the noun life גֹּאֲלִי חָי - is this a construct 'my redeeming of life' or is it as participle a noun, the one who redeems me? The slightly uncommon word for seeing is paralleled in Psalm 11 which as I noted a few days ago has a lot of rare vocabulary in common with Job.

To be continued - and I would welcome corrections to my direction...
Update: note this online resource (page 28) for a reading of 19:25-26 differing of course from my conjecture above.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Faith and the mystery of choice

This is my understanding of life in the Anointed anointing now through the creative work of Jesus. It has changed my perception of time and resources concerning the work of God. Part of this personal testimony is due to a brief reading of Islamic mysticism : a short history by Alexander Knysh. He wrote of the path and place (מקום) of the mystic - I note the word place since this has significance as temple. Clearly 'path' has similar resonance for Jew and Christian.

I really don't know what to make of teaching and learning. Is it possible to teach Christ? (I used to say if someone learned, then perhaps you taught.) In a recent thought on teaching Sunday school, I wrote:

It seems to me that no amount of explanation or apologetic will win commitment to the promises of God. What a mystery choice is.
Whatever my life is, if I had to summarize it, I would today say that it has been a lifetime of learning about covenant. Too bad I didn't 'figure this out' earlier.
  • From childish bed to non-communicative parental response to childish questions,
  • from abusive school and the ignorance and cover-up of frustrated teachers,
  • from intense choirmasters to teachers of voice who had no possibility of knowing the extent of therapy they needed to apply, but likely couldn't, (not being free themselves)
  • from competitive suitors whose religious and literary knowledge made them think they knew something,
  • from the fragility of children being raised and my refusal to let them be treated as I had been, to the impossibility of explaining why I vacillated from Anglicanism to atheism and back again,
  • from the subsequent gifts of brilliant musicians, and children, and the support and faith of a visible life-partner representing the invisible one (as Rumpole would say - she who must be obeyed).
- in all these complexities, still I believe and grow. Not that I have or will achieve anything, but that in this life, through the name of Jesus Christ, something for me is different, known in part, understood but without power, and empowered somehow but without understanding. All that necessary therapy - impossible to a human, was applied by the life-giving Spirit - sometimes as if directly, and often through other humans. At least that is my best current 'explanation'. And it was applied from the childish bed into the fullness of time.
  • When my parent said "we don't talk about these things" and refused to respond to questions, I learned to keep quiet. Was there a thought that said "This was real, and you will learn more later from me"?
  • When the school refused to correct its teachers, I learned avoidance techniques and likely much worse that I can't blame the school for. Did someone say "Don't worry about this, we will work this out"?
  • When the teacher of voice could not fix my inner tension, still I managed to sing. Later the voice said - "Leave the if-onlys behind." I find this difficult advice.
  • When the use of literature as a means of put down was a life-pattern of my enemy, somehow I escaped - but what a strange escape - out of the Anglican into fundamentalism. What a trial for my wife! But then the voice became a continuous song - even though the fundamentalists did not approve of glossolalia.
  • As my own children were growing, I learned redemption and the difference between their undesirable behaviour and my convenience. Redemption is sufficient. The awareness grew of the presence of the past and of time working backwards.
  • From many gifted musicians - especially my wife, I learned about discipline - mostly admiring the discipline of my children in music. I had always had passion.
Now I need to apply the lessons in my old age. So what path can I suggest to the seeker?
  • It is said to be narrow and few find it; but the narrowness is simply personal and one gets into that way that is the Son.
  • It is a desirable state to be sought, a replacement for all places – the only temple.
  • The Sufi speak of achievement though human effort and strenuous self-exertion. But his yoke is easy.
  • They speak of stages but our beginning is his work in his death, not a heavy yoke of law or morality or exertion but a light burden entered by faith and where the necessary exertion is a gift.
  • In the way of Christ there is no fleeting state that is not under the human spirit’s control or for which it cannot wait.
  • There is no uncontrolled state that impresses itself on the human spirit such that it is compelled by the Spirit.
  • Direct encounters are mediated in Christ - so there is no risk of the human being subject to madness.
  • The novice is not at a disadvantage because the Christian novice has the work of the cross always in sight.
  • While I am intrigued by this human desire for what almost seems a hypostatic union with God, I found the Sufi mystic’s way lacking in the one sufficiency: redemption. Again the Incarnation (in agreement with al Hallaj, see my note here) is vital to valuing the gifts of the Spirit in the world. This is why the Song of Solomon is not of such 'union' but is a love song.
The book’s author makes a shrewd point: he points out how 10th century scholars lacking the mystical experience imputed heresy to others who try to describe it.

How does the Christian deal with the need for holiness, truthfulness, sincerity, i.e. a non-destroying life? God confronts that person in Christ with opportunity to hear and act. Maturity acts since the consequences of failure are severe. Maturity does not act since the action is in Christ and therefore is of the resurrection, not of the flesh. Take both of these at once, and you have something near the opening of the Tao te Ching. But the Christian has both voice and potential for explanation. So maybe teaching is possible.