I don’t post as much as I used to. My studies have kind of skerred me away from writing anything which carries an implicit, “If you only read what I write about Scripture THEN you’ll understand it.” For I cannot see how most theological writing is any different than every poor soul who does willfully add their own writings to Scripture. However, I still love reading and writing (am into some Robert Louis Stevenson at the moment), so I’ve decided to go a different route. To challenge myself literarily and spiritually, I am going to re-write some Old Testament stories that have caught my attention.
To be clear, what follows are totally for enjoyment. There is no added value or significant meaning. It just helps me to remember Scripture if I can discern between something that is not Scripture and the real deal. To begin, because a friend of mine has me re-examining the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis, I am going to see if I can re-write it five times–each in a distinct genre. As “fabulism” or “post-modernism” or what I think is just as aptly labeled “anything goes” is essentially the latest genre to emerge–certainly not present in Moses’ mind–I will start there. Enjoy.
she was not quite awake as he pawed her legs apart dawn had not yet broke they were alone somewhere in the middle of another barren land where the few nearby leaves rustled she soon caved to his passion it frightened her she bit his lip and was rewarded she bit harder he responded harder he slowly twisted her long hair around his hand and suddenly jerked her head back roughly she dug her fingernails into his back seeking blood in return he leaned his face towards hers again he held his foul breath in and by this she could tell he was close she bit his lip almost clean off as he finished tasting his blood he recoiled and instinctively smacked her hard seeing only the shadow of him through her own dark arms she screamed with sheer terror he had only witnessed such fear once before and that time he didn’t stop on this morning something was different on this morning he stayed his fist then his hands favored her soft chest to the hard ground and he squeezed violently one last time before he pressed himself to his feet food he thought catching his breath he walked towards his fruitless garden in the morning darkness
i do remember said abel i remember yahweh looked well upon my offering and did not look well upon yours then cain said i heard the voice of yahweh he spoke to me then abel said what did he say then cain said yahweh said to me if you do well then your face will be lifted up but if you do not do well sin is crouching at your door it wants to devour you you must rule over it then abel said to cain what are you going to do
the distant thunder slowly rolled closer as if weary from the journey as cain tore into the flesh of his brother abel and the blood of abel began to mix with his sweat on his skin and the thunder grew in speed and strength only yahweh saw everything but had you been there had the skies not become as night you might have seen that it was precisely when the first blood of abel landed on the earth that the deafening thunder clap stopped the intoxicated fury for one moment cain cowered in fear but abel was already asleep then cain completed his murderous act with renewed heart and vowed to never be interrupted again
cain wrapped his cloak around him as he sat alone on the side of the rocky mountain cain gazed far beyond where the heavens touched the earth the wind squinted the eyes of cain and then yahweh said to cain where is abel your brother cain was still as the mountain he sat upon then cain said i do not know am i my brothers keeper
then cain said to his wife who was with child there is no more food here
A fellow student in my theology class told me that in his 69 years of existence he’d never encountered hamartiology. My own 34 year old pink body hadn’t either until two weeks ago. Hamartiology is the field of Christian theology which studies sin. Fascinating stuff. How many people even believe in sin anymore? Here in Denver the concept has very little support. I have had several older folks tell me bluntly, “Well, I don’t believe in sin.” Like I said, it’s fascinating. Then this past week we read about atonement and all the different reasons Christian thinkers over the years have deduced the reason for Jesus’ death to be.
As I hope the savvy reader can imagine, there are no clear cut answers. Christians have been doing their best and generally fall into only a handful of categories, but there is no universal agreement. (No surprise here). What was intriguing to me, however, was how integral a person’s concept of sin is to their concept of atonement and why Jesus had to die.
Obviously, I have nothing new to add to the study of sin, but I do have one observation that brings me some hope. One of the books mentioned that sin is both our condition and the result of our condition. We sin because we’re sinners and we’re sinners because we sin. That’s easy enough, nothing new. But then it went on to remind readers that we (humanity) commit sins not just because we’re sinners, but because we’re the recipient of others’ sins as well. For example, I have been living a fairly spartan life these last couple weeks. Early to rise, been memorizing scripture, reading voluminously, no movie/TV-watching etc. Yet I have still been sinning in some very easy to acknowledge acts. Before I read the aforementioned section about being on the receiving end of fellow humans’ sin, I was a bit perplexed. But now I feel like I’ve gained some understanding, or perhaps one more example, of the reality that I cannot ever do it on my own. Theoretically, if I could erase my memory and become a hermit on Mars with no more contact from humans, maybe I could avoid sins of commission. But even then sins of omission would be occurring because I’d be avoiding my purpose.
The point of all this is that hamartiology and the Christian doctrine of sin is the most accurate description of reality/evil I have discovered as of today. Consequently, I believe, like most Christians do, that I am a sinner in need of repentance and that God sent Jesus to die to take my place in order to restore the broken relationship that the first man caused by his sin. Those of you who know the story know that the ironic piece, of course, is that the biblical writers suggest that in my act of recognizing both my status and that there has been a substitution of characters; instead of being punished, I am forgiven. That’s a relief, a veritable un-burdening–especially compared to the sensation that accompanied me while I distorted the reality of sin’s effect on my life.
Oh. What is sin, you ask? What is the root of all sin? It’s the displacement of God from his rightful place.
Church-going Christians: Probably want to skip this one. Or maybe you are my target audience. It’s difficult to say.
Because the topic is endlessly fascinating to me, I have read John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew series–the first four volumes–and I am anxiously awaiting the concluding fifth volume. I am also one book in to N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God five volume series. These books center themselves on the question “What does the historical record say about Jesus of Nazareth?” I believe them to be intellectually honest, and I have found great comfort and value in them. As an added bonus, I am fairly confident that I understand who Jesus of Nazareth was and thought he was much better than before. So much so that I have recently begun to hunt for a church which I think I could stomach attending week to week.
You should see the looks on the generally elder crowd’s faces when I tell them I’ve been away for a decade. They are so thankful that I’ve returned. It’s a little hokey but feels good nonetheless. My biggest complaint about modern churches is their music selection. It’s horrible, just horrible. I have never sat next to a person who didn’t agree, either. Because I’m older and can only attempt this adventure with authenticity, I let a guy know that I missed the Baptist Hymnal of my youth. He tells me, “You’re in luck!” It seems there is a Sunday School type class that sings the old hymns because there are others like me. Another vote for opening my big mouth, I think.
Yesterday, however, I discovered I should just sit quiet from now on. While the packed room did sing one (1) traditional hymn, I was sure that before the hour’s end I would be the only one not grasping St. Peter’s welcoming hand at the pearly gates.
Social decorum demanding obedience as it does, I remained in the room.
Skipping to the end, what did the well-meaning old timers want to debate for the hour we had together? Whether there is such a thing as unpardonable sin–a sin which is so awful that even Jesus’ saving power can’t redeem the perpetrator’s soul. (Consensus – There might be one, but don’t worry you can’t commit it inadvertently.)
The only thought that occupied my mind for that hour was, “Who gives a shit?”
The sermon was pretty good at least.
Greetings! How’s everyone doing this morning? It is great to see you today. Let me say that I know you’re taking a risk by attending the first-ever sermon of this church. Thank you. Before we get started, I want to take stock and simply remind you that I love you and I’m glad you decided to show up this morning. What’s that? Yes sir, even you.
I love you because you are.
Alright, I feel pretty good today. How’d you like the music? Pretty great, no? I love those songs we sang today. I love that we always sing four songs. Did you notice how the first three songs crescendo’d and then we ended on a slow one? Yep, that’s on purpose. The music director put a lot of effort coming up with that formula. Oh, I suppose that’s not entirely true. He’s just doing what he grew up doing. The point is, it works. Who isn’t in the mood for a message of hope?
Okay then. How much time do I have? By my guess you’re expecting about 30-minutes in your seats, you’ll be happy if I wrap-up in 20, and you’ll give me a 10-minute grace period if I’m on a roll. Sound about right? Okay, now that we’re on the same page, let’s get to it.
Jesus. The reason for the season as they say. History tells us he existed. At least as much as any person of history existed. The truth is, though, there’s not much support for his existence outside of the bible; John the Baptist actually receives more pointed attention. Oddly enough, this strengthens his message in a way. That’s the beauty of it.
Okay, before we can go anywhere, the inescapable question each of us must answer is this, “Can I trust another person?” Like all of you, I was born a trusting human. Then one day I was hurt. One day someone broke my trust. I don’t remember who did it or any specific moment that it happened, but I’d put money on it having been one of my parents. Or maybe both of them; it’s really just a numbers game. People hurt each other. The people we’re around most will likely be the people who hurt us the most. In either case, for many years afterwards, I unconsciously, then consciously, chose to not trust anyone else.
“Can I trust another person?” Like any great question, the best part about this question is that you are the only one who can answer it. No one can answer it for you.
So I’m going to continue talking for a bit up here, and I’m hoping you don’t think it is a waste of time. More than that, I’m hoping that you find that you’re glad you came. I say this to emphasize that in the end you determine you’re level of involvement. These are big questions; questions that are not to be taken lightly. You’re an adult. No one can make up your mind for you.
Do you know that I’m not even going to say anything new today? That’s right. There’s nothing new to say. You’ve heard the message many times before. I just happen to be part of a group of people who think it is worth repeating. And by your being here this morning, I take it you don’t mind hearing the good news again either.
So what do you think? Can you trust another person?
I’m going to take a risk and tell you that I believe that if we’re all human, if we’re all made of the same parts, then the way I feel must be similar to the way you feel. And if you’re like me, that means that you are silently screaming out in answer, “Yes! There’s nothing I want more than to be able to trust other people again!” That’s what goes through my head most of the time. The remaining time is spent longing to be able to trust myself again.
Today, to start this relationship off right I simply want to share with you that I believe there is hope for us. I believe there is hope for us, but like a fire, this hope needs fuel. This hope-fire won’t start unless each of us deliberately carry some wood to it. Any boy scout will tell you that a fire needs three things. Fuel, oxygen and spark. We need to bring the fuel. Now, nobody needs to do any heavy lifting; instead like any fire, this fire must begin with tinder. Tinder is the smallest of fuels: twigs, leaves, lint, paper, mostly twigs. And the metaphorical twig that you need to carry is making the decision to trust a certain someone.
I know. I know, I know, I know. Believe me I know. 2000 years is a lot of time. The people who have professed Jesus to be trustworthy have really mucked things up. I also know that today, there are still beliefs circulating in His name that strain an educated mind. That’s not what I’m talking about right now. Right now I’m talking about sifting through the entirety of history until only Jesus of Nazareth remains. What did he say? What did he teach?
He taught that people, each of us, make mistakes.
There are a whole lot of synonyms for “mistakes”, like “sin”, that carry a lot of baggage. Maybe in the end it will prove valuable to keep the word and the baggage. Today, I’m asking you to let go of the baggage.
We make mistakes. And we’re going to keep making mistakes. But Jesus taught that if we simply acknowledge our imperfect status, we will inherit what he called “the kingdom of heaven.” Stay with me for a minute. Remember, this is a man who really walked the earth. He lived in a context. The people he preached to understood what that phrase meant. Today, it is not so simple. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Fun questions, but not appropriate to today. Today, I am concerned with another part of this “kingdom of heaven” that he talked about. He taught that it exists both in the future and right now. Right now, here in the present, the kingdom of heaven is attainable.
So what is the kingdom of heaven? I have no idea. I don’t. Jesus had a hard time defining it. He’d use parables. He’d use metaphors. Here’s my favorite. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” I love it because I can’t figure out why the man would hide the treasure after finding it. Every once in a while I get glimpses of why he would do that, but I’m sure that I would have just taken it and ran.
Speaking plainly, I think of achieving the kingdom of heaven as being able to transcend this life. Transcend meaning to go-beyond this life, to rise above the petty problems and realize the situation with a full awareness. But I don’t really know. All I can offer is that there is a certain peace that I have only ever felt when I trust that Jesus was right.
That’s it folks. That’s all for today. In a moment we’ll sing a couple more songs.
If there’s one thing I want to be clear about it is that this church is going to be based on action. We’re going to have these weekly services which will follow the format you’ve seen this morning: music, preaching, music. They’ll always be that format. Different perhaps than other churches is the fact that there will always be a meal afterwards. Jesus seemed to almost always be eating when he was teaching, so we’re going to mimic that. Also, to emphasize that while sharing the good news is our mission, almost equally important to me, because it appears to have been to Him, is fellowship–so I’m capping this particular church at 200 members. That’s plenty of people to fellowship with. If we get bigger than that, the way we’ll know it’s for the right reasons is because one of us else will step up to lead another version/branch. Jesus told his followers to share the message, but if people reject it, move on. If we never have more than the 30 of us here this morning, that’s fine with me and I’m not going to fret about it. This isn’t about numbers, it isn’t about buildings. It is about people.
Lastly, it won’t always be me up here. Anytime you want to share, just let me know and we’ll get you on the calendar.
This is real life folks. The only one we get. I think it’ll be more fulfilling to live it with each other. If you agree, stick around for the meal and maybe come back next week.
Music Director – lead us in something that’ll immerse us in an introspective mood.
I’ve seen this technique used by other bloggers. Writing in italics let’s you know that it’s me speaking and not…me. Either way, I like it. It’s just a short post today, as I want to get to work on tomorrow’s post now. Tomorrow is for me. If I succeed, it may be for you too. I’m going to challenge myself to be vulnerable in a way that I have never been. It is my version of ‘be the solution, not the problem.’
As some of you can tell, recently I have been attending church. It’s the first time in nearly a decade. I never stopped reading and thinking about the whole concept while I was away, and now that I’m back, I’ve discovered that there are some tenets that are difficult to accept. In voicing my criticisms, I feel like a whiner, a critic. That’s got to stop. Tomorrow’s post then, will be my ideal sermon. The trouble is that it isn’t coming as easy as I’d like it to. I have realized this is a very, very personal business. How does one reveal to others one’s most intimate beliefs? I don’t know but it sounds like fun, so I’m going to try. Hope you enjoy.
(Normal posts (ha) will resume Thursday if this isn’t your thing).