Shabbat shalom

Image - portrait of young girl

“What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us. The law of the Sabbath day is in the life of the spirit what the law of gravitation is in nature.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 89.

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Questions for Reflection and Discussion (1 Timothy 6 11-21)

Hercules relief in a column from Ephesus

Would we call this a “Lenten” text?

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, February 25 is 1 Timothy 6:11-21. Here are some questions we might find it worth considering in class:

The text first addresses itself to someone described as a “man of God.” Do we identify with that description, and is the passage an instruction to us? Why, or why not? If we think of the passage as having been addressed to someone who is a pastor, do we ever see ourselves as having pastoral responsibilities? When, for whom? How do we carry those out?

What does it mean to “aim at” or “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11)? How do we do that? What do we understand by those things? Do we see examples of them in our own lives? Where, or when? Do these strike us as goals that are hard to attain? Why, or why not? read the rest

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Hard-Hearted

Painting of an old woman reading the Bible by a fireplace

The daily lectionary for February 23 includes Mark 6:30-56

This morning’s reading included the story of Jesus walking on the water, as told by Mark (6:45-52) – so, not the one where Peter tries to do it, too, but the one where the disciples are terrified because they think it’s a ghost. This is the second time Jesus has calmed storms on the Sea of Galilee in Mark, which got me really bewildered, because I thought “I just read the one where he’s asleep in the back of the boat” and then couldn’t find it (it’s Mark 4:35-41) and “I thought Matthew was the one where Peter walks on water” (it is, Matthew 14:22-33) and I had to drag out my old faithful Nelson NRSV with the synopsis of the gospels to track everything down because I got looking in Luke for another version of this story and should have known better (Luke doesn’t tell the story at all; the third version is in John 6:15-21).

And none of that was the point, it just proves it’s about as easy to get lost in the Bible as it is to get lost on the internet, although it’s arguably a better neighborhood to be lost in. The point was that Mark makes the comment (in NLT) “for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.” Really? Like Pharaoh’s? But NRSV has it “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” For some reason I had a hard time comprehending that the disciples’ hearts were hardened. (Maybe I was having the same problem this morning.) Both the Greek verbs in the verse are peculiar enough not to be in the first place one looks in the lexicon. The verb translated “hardened,” pepōrōmenē, is a form of pōróō, and definitely means “harden, petrify” but also “make dull or obtuse or blind.”

I felt more sympathy for the disciples when I thought they might “just” be dull or obtuse or blind, whether or not that makes any sense. But the connection between “hardness” and insensitivity, or inaptitude, or inability to “have insight” or “get” what’s happening does make sense. I am thinking about vegetables that have gotten shriveled up in the fridge, or the Grinch whose heart was two sizes too small, and what we mean by the term “hard-headed,” and thinking of their epistemological significance.

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Notes on “Tradition in Action”

the cover of the book Awake to the Moment

Tradition is something to draw on, not just discard

As I continue slowly wending my way through Awake to the Moment1 in the short breaks between working on class, here are a few summary notes of the first couple of pages in the next chapter, “Tradition in Action”:

Tradition needs to be flexible enough to enable its adherents to respond to a changing world faithfully and responsibly. Tradition affects what we know, it has always been the case that in some parts of the world people grow up informed by more than one religious tradition, and that is increasingly the case in the West as well. Traditions are never as monolithic as we sometimes think they are. How should theology deal with all that?

We usually think of traditions as somehow connected to “continuity with the past” (70). We can say that religions are, themselves, traditions. And while many people see religious traditions as negative or harmful, constructive theologians affirm the healing and life-giving, or at least potentially healing and life-giving quality, of the tradition that is Christianity. A core commitment of constructive theology is that “we grant privilege to the witness of those who have been hurt and harmed in our world and found faith to be the source of life, over the dictates of those who have been set upon thrones by the workings of religion” (72). read the rest

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Exegetical Exercise (1 Timothy 6 11-21)

Hercules relief in a column from Ephesus

“Fight the good fight of faith” – think of it as something heroic

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, February 25 is 1 Timothy 6:11-21. Here are my notes on that text:

First Impressions: What is the “all this” that is to be avoided or shunned? (apparently doctrinal disputes and arguments, in particular ones that are oriented towards getting “gain” out of the gospel; “the love of money” 6:10) What is “the good fight of faith”? What does faith fight? What is “the” commandment that he is supposed to keep? (Perhaps “love one another as I have loved you?” Or something else?) It sounds as if it is Jesus Christ who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light … unless the “he” in v. 15 reverts back to God who gives life to all things (v13), … but at a minimum it seems that Christ dwells with God. Why must there be special instructions for those who are rich (v17-18)? For Timothy, again, “guarding what has been entrusted” – literally, “deposited” with him for safekeeping – means that he must avoid profane chatter and what is “falsely called” knowledge (v20). How should we take all these instructions?
read the rest

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First Sunday in Lent

picture of the battle between Carnival and Lent

Lent may not be Carnival, but it needn’t be “soul-crushing self-abuse” either.

We are starting to see the sun.

In class, we were not sure that the disciples in Joppa expected Peter to do anything miraculous when they sent for him in Lydda. We thought they needed consolation, and were reaching out for pastoral care. And we were not sure that Peter thought he could “do” anything when he went, either. But … they were open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, in the situation, and as it turned out … something beyond their expectations happened.

In church we were encouraged to remember that Lent is not a time for soul-crushing self-abuse – just in case we had that idea, which sometimes it seems people do have about Lent. It is a time, instead, to do some turning inward, to reflect, to seek answers, and in particular to three questions: Who is God? Who are we? And what are we to do about that? If we start with God – like Calvin did, because, well, God is God – we notice that the lectionary readings for this season, at least this year, all emphasize God’s making of covenants; God is the one who covenants with humans. In fact, in Genesis 9, with all the living. God is the one who hangs up God’s weapon of destruction, God’s bow, and promises to remember “I’m not going to do that ever again,” who promises to remember to hold back from destroying living things.

There’s something reassuring in that. The promise. And the sun.

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Shabbat shalom

image Dream of Goldfish, Jiri Meitner

“All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience; our awareness of God’s presence in the world.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 89.

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