Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Biblical Theme

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure* for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
James 5:1-6

One would be hard pressed to find a more persistent moral theme running through Scripture than the condemnation that follows upon the accumulation of wealth. While there is also the theme of the emptiness of so much religious observance - the prophets were eager to condemn the emptiness of ritual in ancient Israel and Judah - this was always in a context where the heart of the Covenant was already broken because of lack of justice, the absence of mercy, the oppression of the poor, the widow and orphan, and the dehumanization and enslavement of the foreigner in the land.

It would be a mistake, however, to limit this witness only to the prophetic tradition. The historic tradition, too, knows of the need for justice, for a social contract rooted in God's love for all people to be reflected in a society that lives it, rather than just laying out slaughtered animals and bunches of wheat on an altar only to let the people starve. For example, from 1 Kings, the story of the final division of the old Kingdom:
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’ He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’ They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’ But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” ’

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,
‘What share do we have in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Look now to your own house, O David.’
So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone.
Please note at least one passage here that made me chuckle. Rehoboam makes the boast that he little finger is greater than the loins of his father. Seems bragging about dick size is something that men have always done.

When people start whining about "liberal" Christians who "only" pay attention to verses and sections such as these, I honestly wonder if they have really read the Bible. It isn't like this stuff is hidden away in secret teachings only we read. It isn't as if we have invented the thread that runs through so much of Scripture that condemns the accumulation of wealth at the expense of other persons. It isn't as if "social justice" were something we moderns invented as a way of bastardizing the faith. Norman Cohn wrote a detailed account of revolutionary Christianity in the High and Late Middle Ages in central Europe, entitled The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (it was reading this and another of Cohn's books that really got me started thinking about the depth and breadth of Christian teaching at a time when I had pretty much given it up as a bad business; realizing through reading history that ours is just a passing moment in a long and varied tradition was an eye-opening experience for me).

While it is indeed true that there are a variety of concerns within the traditions of Scripture, from personal hygiene and marriage and sexual relations to matters of civil law and even dietary codes, these, like all else must be considered against the backdrop of larger thematic content, as well as within a theological hermeneutic and contextualizing that keeps one eye always on this far more insistent, and persistent, and overarching theme: at the heart of the details of the Covenant between God and the people of Israel is that, as the chosen people of this God, of this one they call the living LORD, Elohim, they are to represent to the world who this God is by living not at other kingdoms and peoples live, but as those who embody God's love and justice for all. That is the heart of covenant itself, after all - God's mercy, love, and justice, amazing precisely because it is not rooted in any merit, but the free choice of this God. While ritual and a well-ordered polis are important, they are not at the heart of what this God calls the people to live out.

When Jesus says that the law can be summed up by loving God and loving others, it is this tradition to which he refers. When the writer of James condemns the wealthy who amass fortunes while enslaving and even murdering the poor, it is this tradition within which he writes. When liberation theologians insist that God has a preferential option for the poor, it is to this Scriptural theme they return, again and again. When John Wesley went out and preached to the workers in the mines and fields, it was this tradition out of which he lived and practiced his ministry.

Of course, it is important as Americans that we not get too caught up in condemning all those rich folk too easily. Even in the midst of the worst economic troubles in 80 years, we are far richer, far more comfortable than billions of our fellow human beings. We should never forget that our ease is bought at the price of the sufferings of our fellow humanity. Our drugs are tested on poor Africans, even as the final products are withheld from them because the cost the drug companies charge is too high even for their governments to afford. Our cars run on oil, the drilling and refining and burning of which is warming the planet at an exponential rate, bringing untold havoc to the whole planet. We wear clothes, buy shoes and toys for our children made in sweat shops, where people toil for pennies and dimes (comparatively speaking) so that we can ensure a steady supply of cheap products. We even distort and ignore our own laws to make sure our fellow Americans are not paid a living wage, cannot afford health care or higher education.

The word of justice, of condemnation here, is not for some others. This theme, this insistent Biblical demand that we live together, in justice, hearing the cries of our fellow human beings for food and shelter, for the simple recognition of their humanity, is a Word for us. A Word we must hear. These days, I think it is already too late, as the organs of our government make sure large banks and companies survive even as millions of my fellow citizens lose their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods, their hope.

This theme - that we are to live not as just run-of-the-mill human beings, but as a people called by God, this God, the living God who created the universe and loved us for no other reason than this God decided to do so, and therefore are obliged to love others in a living, breathing testimony to this free, joyful, bounteous love - runs throughout the Scriptures. It is the theme of the Bible, sung in Psalms, given in the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It is embodied in the crucified and risen Jesus. It is the theme to which St. Paul and St. James, St. Peter and the author of the Revelation call us - to witness through our life together to God's love and justice.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Randomness Can Be Trippy

My friend Ronnie was feeling psychedelic over the weekend, and posted this, along with several other, songs on Facebook. It got me thinking about the wonderful sound experiments that center on altered states of consciousness.

Sometimes, it's just the way being stoned or tripping alters the perception of time, freeing us from the constraints and limits we impose on ourselves. Thus, some of the best psychedelia tends to last quite a while. Ten minutes seems long, but when your brain chemistry has been changed, you might not think so. Or, you might not care.

Contemporary psychedelia ranges from the traditional - Ozric Tentacles - to contemporary styles that owe a lot while forging new paths. Among my favorites is a variant of techno called Dark Psy. Techno, really, is a combination of dance music, enhanced by the understanding that those attending raves will be out of their minds, usually on ecstasy. I am not an advocate of any drug use, and ecstasy has a whole lot of nasty side-effects. Furthermore, sitting and listening - or going to a club, legal or otherwise - makes it clear the music itself is often enough to transport you outside yourself, get lost in the beat, the noise, and simply be in the moment the music takes you.

Ten minutes of this, in the proper context, will trip anyone out.

State of Independence - Vangelis
A Child of the King - Mahalia Jackson
Du Riechts So Gut (Live) - Rammstein
Sage & Spirit (Live Acoustic) - Grateful Dead
Red House - Jimi Hendrix
It Ain't Me, Babe (Live) - Bob Dylan
Improv, Live, Pittsburgh, 1974 - King Crimson
Loch Lomond (Live, Carnegie Hall, 1938) - Benny Goodman Orchestra
Just Like Lightning (Live) - Joe Satriani
The Clap - Yes

Because it's loud, that's why.

Random Thoughts On Radical Evil

I have an occasional interlocutor who insists that the only proper, Biblical way to think and talk about sexual morality is to limit proper human sexual behavior to that between two married persons, one man and one woman. Anything else, he insists - rather tirelessly - is a violation of God's law. In my haste to point out the error of this view, I have too often sounded - certainly not out of belief - as if I thought God didn't care about how we humans relate as sexual beings to one another. Even though I have written quite a bit about Christian sexual ethics, I think it is important to be clear - few domains of human life are more open to danger than sex. We humans have a remarkable capacity to do one another a great deal of harm, especially in situations where intimacy is involved. Human relationships are fraught with peril.

To insist on a moral vision, however, which limits human sexuality to heterosexual marriage, and to make the further move that this is the central moral position of the Bible, Biblical morality tout court as it were, is a gross oversimplification. The situation is far more complex than that, the Bible far more expansive on the question of the moral life and our ethical choices, and we human beings far more capable of making good sexual choices than this.

On the other hand, this view does have the merit of limiting the damage we do to ourselves and others.

I mention all this by way of introduction to a discussion of radical evil because it encapsulates so much of what I wish to say. There are views of radical evil that are over-simplistic, that sacrifice nuance for the sake of clarity of vision, contain a kernel of importance, even truth, even as they contribute to other evils. Trying to talk about evil without talking about specific instances of it is a bit like trying to sculpt ocean water - it just doesn't work.

As a senior in college, I read the second volume of Jeffrey Burton Russell's four-part study of how we human beings in the west have talked about radical evil. He began that volume - as he did all the volumes in the series - with a confession that he believed there was such a thing as "evil", and used the example of a serial killer. There are so many examples of evil, however, that using one such as this as an example causes confusion. Living in the Chicago suburbs, there is a living memory of what John Wayne Gacey did to too many little boys. What about the people who supply drugs and guns to gangs? What about the gangs themselves? Can they be thought of, too, as examples of radical evil?

We Americans personalize and individualize our understanding of God, of religion, of faith; we also personalize and individualize our understanding of evil. When Pres. Bush called the people who attacked us ten years ago "evil doers" he was both right and quite scary. It should have been obvious to anyone not a sociopath that people who would plan, organize, and then carry out an act of violence on this scale were evil. Naming it as such served no moral purpose. It did, however, give folks on the right something to scream at folks like me - we refused to agree with the President that suicide bombers like this were evil! Liberals were morally confused!

Talking about evil, when we really want to talk about it, is difficult. Like the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell said of obscenity, I won't define it, but I certainly know it when I see it. Is terrorism "evil"? Well, it depends on the terrorists. If we in the US were occupied by a foreign force, I might think it justifiable to take action against an occupying force, including using violence. I certainly would not rule it out a priori. On the other hand, being the resident of an occupying power - sure, absolutely, terrorism and terrorist acts are evil.

You see what I mean?

Some cases are easy. Aforementioned serial killers. Anyone who deliberately harms a child.

Some cases are more difficult. What about a member of the US military, under constant strain in a combat zone, in a situation where both tension and adrenaline run high, thought takes a back seat, faced with less than a second to make a choice, and as a result of this choice facing news reports and court martial proceedings for killing a family? Is he or she evil? There are many, including me, who would insist not; I, for one, would go further and insist that, even if a violation of military law is found to have taken place, it would be preferable to allow such a person to undergo treatment rather than do time. On the other hand, were I a member of the extended family of a victim of such an incident - and there have been far too many such incidents in recent years as the toll of years of war-fighting start to show on our young men and women - I would certainly not only demand legal justice, but view the individual who committed such an act as an evil individual.

It doesn't get easier, does it. Both sides have merit. Different views have much going for them. No view is "true", in the sense that some binding authority can determine for all parties what the "proper" way to view such cases "should" be.

As I wrote above, we tend to individualize and personalize matters of evil. Child molesters. Murderers. Psychopaths of various shades.

What about a corporation that corners the market on global rice production and distribution, then withholds its product creating global food shortages? This happened a few years back when Archer-Daniels-Midland, possessing patents on a small variety of hardy, high-yield hybrids of rice, created artificial rice panics. The price of rice sky-rocketed, even as supplies of the grain disappeared. Warehouses full of the grain sat and rotted because the asking price for distribution was too high.

What about burying tons of toxic materials underground, then lying about it, allowing home developers to build on poison ground?

What about politicians who refuse to act to alleviate dire economic and social conditions - from slavery and lynching through Depression and unemployment, which bring on a host of hardships - out of a desire for political gain, or the belief that these are not evils to be fought, but natural conditions to be tolerated?

We human beings are capable of horrendous acts of evil and violence against our fellows. Whether it is the polemicist who dehumanizes, the individual actor who strikes out, or groups and even nations who act either out of fear or some narrowly-defined understanding of self-interest, all can cause great suffering. Too often, we tend to offer excuses - it was necessary to keep the stock price up, to defend our national interest, he was an abused child, she was a drug addict - that do not name what has happened. We do not want to be the ones who are evil. Evil is they. It is those other people - car-bombers and the people who put IED's by the side of the road; child molesters and serial killers; political movements that threaten the status quo - who are evil, who want to damage what we hold precious.

Except, of course, when we insist others are "evil", we are doing an evil. No one gets free from the indictment. For me, as a Christian, this is one of the lessons of original sin; our best intentions, our most sincerely held principles and beliefs - even, perhaps especially our religious beliefs - can be a source of horrific violence and brutality.

When, at the end of her Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt wrote of the banality of evil, too many people misunderstood her point. Juxtaposing those two words has brought about arguments about which should be emphasized. Really, her point was far more simple, and disturbing. Any of us, carrying out our duties, going about our daily round, is capable of monstrous evil. The Ted Bundy's and John Wayne Gacey's of the world have a certain panache, but distract from the troubling thought that, in fact, the difference between them and us, between the Einsatzgruppen with their orders to kill the Jews and communists and socialists and local political leaders and intellectuals and the US with its precision-guided weapons and Seal Teams going after individuals is largely artificial. The recognition of the banality of evil is the recognition that we are all guilty.

Like Art's insistence that Christian morality demands limiting sex to heterosexual marriage, it rewards us for being virtuous without even trying, yet causes far more mischief, far more damage, than a different point of view. Which is not to say he is either "right" or "wrong" in any absolute sense. With him on this, as on much else, I disagree, yet I would be lying if I said I thought my position had greater moral merit than his. Like talking about evil, talking about morality always has that trap, a trap in to which we fall far too easily. I refuse to reward my position with a virtue it cannot possess. All I can do is live it out the best I can, with careful attention to make sure I'm not screwing things up too much along the way.

Which is kind of how I think we need to talk about, and think through, the whole matter of radical evil. Rather than talk about it in absolute terms, we need to remember the differences between those others who are evil and we who are not are, at the best of times, differences of appearance only. The real heart of darkness lies within all of us, and in the midst of all of us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peter Broke Down And Wept

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt.* Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:66-72 (NRSV)
Sunday, September 18, 2011 is National Back To Church Sunday. No, I hadn't heard of it, either. Until I logged on to Facebook, and one of my friends, a UCC pastor, had posted the following video.

What struck a chord in me was the simplicity, the directness, and the honesty of the message. Church is the place where you might just find what you didn't even know you needed. Like that pearl of great price - you might find that most precious thing for which you are willing to sell everything in order to possess.

Peter thought he had it all. He thought he knew it all. He insisted he was willing to go the full way with Jesus. He thought he "got" it.

Confronted with the opportunity to make good on this claim, he backed off. His tears at the crowing of the rooster are proof enough that even those we revere as "saints", those who were closest to Jesus during his life, the one who became the voice of authority for the emerging church - even he was a big old fat hypocrite, a poser. He was, in other words, like all of us, just a guy who reacted honestly - out of fear - at that moment of kairos he insisted would find him side-by-side with his Lord.

If you think you have it all figured out, if you think you "know" what God wants, what Jesus is calling you to do, if you think you have been granted special dispensation to avoid the wrath to come, then maybe church isn't for you.

On the other hand, if you're like Peter, and realize that in the midst of all your boasting, all your understanding, all your vocal courage, you are just one sad bag of fear and ignorance, that there might still be a lesson or two to learn, that your life is still open and that God might have something for you of which you weren't even aware, then maybe - just maybe - you might want to give it a shot on September 18.

Shoot, show up and dare people to prove to you that God exists, if you don't believe. Show up and call out all the hypocrites, all the posers, all the faux-brave and morally upright. Prove to all of us weak-willed ignoramuses that, by not needing what church has to offer - a place to come and be challenged, to be in community with others who are as different from one another and you as can be imagined - you are a better person, more intelligent and enlightened, more moral and insightful.

You might just get the shock of your life.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Myths And Old Wives' Tales

Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

These are the things you must insist on and teach.
1 Timothy 4:7-10
Starting September 15, I will be leading a 30-week class on the classic doctrine of the Christian faith, Christian Believer. Please note I do not say I will be "teaching", because my goal, or at least one of my goals, is to learn as much as I can - one can never go back and start at the beginning too often. At the same time, as "leader", there are some things I would very much like to ensure other members of the class take in as a way of understanding what the discipline of doing theology is all about: as important as it is to make clear for ourselves as a believing community what it is we confess and profess, it is never that in which we believe. We believe in God, having faith in Jesus Christ through the gracious indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Living faith is not a set of principles or doctrines. It is a graceful submission to the freedom we have from God the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.

Theology, like the faith itself, is trapped in a conundrum. We who make the audacious claim that the God who created the heavens and the earth, who dwelt with us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and breathes the breath of new life in our communities in the power of the Holy Spirit can say anything at all about these realities that either makes sense or even captures some part of this lived and living experience. All that we are is called in to question as we understand ourselves judged and forgiven. We grasp in a very concrete, existential way the contingency of our lives, our communities, and, one hopes to make clear, our words. We nevertheless find ourselves compelled to make sense of this mystery called faith, called salvation, this hope in the promise of New Life, all the while knowing we cannot do it. Like that which we confess, it seems impossible. Like that which we live, it becomes a necessity.

When the author of 1 Timothy cautions the recipient not to have anything to do with "myth", all sorts of red flags should start waving. The word "myth" here is, funny enough, muthous in the original Greek. Yet the reference, at least according to one on-line commentary, is not the pagan pantheon and their dealings with humanity. Rather, from the specific uses of the word - four in the pastoral Epistles and one in 1 Peter - the reference seems to indicate a kind of Jewish gnosticism, which included a secret study of the hierarchy of the angels. With that in mind, it should be clear that "myth" as used by the author here refers to something false.

"Myth" is one of those words we bandy about without too much thought. Like "nature" or "truth", we think we know what it means, and we think others will know what we mean when we use it. With the popularization of, among many things, the writings and teachings of Joseph Campbell a couple decades ago, "myth" returned to our popular lexicon as a way of describing an ordered understanding of our relationship to the world around us, to the communities of which we are a part, and those communities with others. Notwithstanding the many ideologically troubling aspects of Campbell's thought and life - as a disciple of Jung, and probably by personal disposition, Campbell did not hide either his reactionary social and political views, or his specifically virulent anti-Semitism, which was edited from the broadcasts of his talks with Bill Moyers yet live on in the printed transcripts - his work has influenced far too much theology to the detriment of the craft..

This rehabilitation of "myth" has created, within some, the idea that, rather than wholly negative, the word is a kind of neutral descriptor of stories and images through which human beings seek to make sense of their world. As long as we understand that these stories and images are symbolic, and therefore are signs that point beyond themselves to underlying realities, they can be considered "true" without insisting on the literal truth or falsity of the stories themselves.

Are we engaged, then, in "myth-making", then? Is theological language, to use a synonymous phrase, "metaphorical"? That we can be so confused about what it is we are trying to describe testifies, I think, to the reality that we are at pains to make clear what it is we are doing. We recognize all the inherent difficulties, even impossibilities, in the task. Yet, it is a task we find ourselves called to do.

I, for one, am hesitant to use words like "myth" to describe either Biblical narrative itself or the theological task. As the word itself, within the context of the Scriptures, is wholly negative, it seems difficult to justify its use there. Furthermore, the more equivocal contemporary appropriation of the word usually leads only to confusion. As the author of this passage from 1 Timothy makes clear - as a way of cleaning out the debris and brush from around the whole matter of word-usage - we are not in the myth business. Whatever it is we are studying, whoever this god is we insist has claimed us, we are not in the myth business.

If not myth, then, what is it? Again, following this passage, ours is a hope set on the living God. That is what we teach. Not some secret understanding of a hierarchy of angels, as back then. Not some metaphor for the relationships between human communities and the natural world. Rather, Christian doctrine is specific, refers not to myths and old wives' tales, but to the creator and savior of the world. Which is to say, when we go about doing our theological task, we do no split the difference, we do not set up the false dichotomy of either/or - either it is "true" in some literal sense or it is only "true" in some metaphorical sense, and we can substitute all sorts of new metaphors for the old ones if they don't make sense any more - we accept that we are in the midst of this weird, impossible situation. We cannot really say anything about this God. We are called to make clear that this God has created us, has called us, knows us and loves us, has saved us.

We accept that the words we say have meaning, yet we also understand that meaning is never exhausted in the use of the words themselves. We understand we must speak, yet in speaking we have not captured that about which we speak.

Which brings me to a specific exchange I had recently. I was asked if I believed in the virgin birth. As a matter of fact, I do not, nor do I quite see any necessity in it.

On the other hand, I do not think it important to disabuse those who do so believe of doing so. If someone thinks it important, even vital, to believe in the virgin birth I would never tell them they are wrong, misguided, stupid, silly, or going to hell.

I was asked, by this same person, if I believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I pointed out that I have written plenty which quite clearly states that I do so believe.

I know, however, of many, including many faithful Christians, who have not and do not.

That's OK, too.

How is it possible, one could ask, that I think it important to do theology as a discipline, yet am devil-may-care about adherence to various doctrines. The answer is simple enough, and given in this passage from 1 Timothy - we don't "believe in" or have our hope in doctrine. Doctrine, whatever else it may be, is not the thing in which we profess faith. It is the living God, to which our lives give testimony. Theology, teaching is just our attempt to make some kind of ordered sense of it all. The historicity of the resurrection, of Adam and Eve, the authorship of various Biblical books, whether Elisha sent a bear to kill children to make fun of him, whether or not the Amorites were really descended from the incestuous rape of Lot by his daughters - these are, by and large, open questions for me. God's grace covers a manifold of sins, including doctrinal error.

It isn't whether or not we get it right. Rather, it is whether we have faith in the God of life, rest our hope in the promise that this God is the God of our salvation. If we get our doctrine wrong, well, we can keep trying. It will probably still be wrong. As long as we are living at the intersection between our life and Biblical witness, reflecting on our experience together, critically aware of all the limitations within which we work and strive to understand.

We should, indeed avoid myths and old wives' tales. We should also, however, avoid making of Christian doctrine yet another myth, the teachings of the Church an old wives' tale.

Virtual Tin Cup

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