Saturday, June 20, 2009

5 Stones

I'm preaching on David and Goliath on Sunday. I'm ruminating on why the story describes David choosing 5 stones to meet Goliath when he only uses one to bring him down. I googled the question and could find nothing satisfactory. One Christian mystical interpretation is that the life of David foreshadows the life of Christ, and that the five stones correspond to the five wounds of Christ. Both acts "bring down a giant," in a way.
I didn't find this interpretation anywhere, but wouldn't it make sense that the storyteller would be thinking of the five books of Torah when accounting for the number of stones? The stones packed by David, the warrior for God's people, could symbolize the number of testaments that God has given Israel to "defend herself." The law is the defense of the people of Israel?

Just speculating. Feel free to comment if you have knowledge to share.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's not that I don't believe in God

I just don't believe that God, the God whom I know and love, would instruct humans to commit infanticide. See, I'm trying to concentrate on 1 Samuel 15: 34-16:13, where God guides Samuel to the house of Jesse to select a new king. On the way, God tells Samuel not to worry about physical appearances, (or family tree for that matter, since Jesse's lineage isn't that spectacular, including Canaanites, prostitutes, and others) because God sees what is on the inside of a person. That's how God will select David--by his inward character. (Yet, when David is selected, all the storyteller has to say about him is that he has beautiful eyes and is ruddy and handsome.) The text is rich and beautiful. It is a great beginning for what will be a great story about a king "after God's own heart," a lover and a fighter, a man with the tenderness to write some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, and with the brazenness to face a giant. It is pre-packaged in the lectionary with the mustard seed parable for a great, inspiring sermon about God bringing forth great things from humble beginnings--and how we shouldn't judge something's value by the exterior.
But, what keeps haunting me is the first half of chapter 15, when the reason is given for God's disapproval of the existing king, Saul. Unsurprisingly, the lectionary skips over this little detail to the story. Saul has other faults and foibles (as does David) but the thing that really gets him the pink slip is that God commands him to go and completely annihilate the Amalekites, including "man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” Saul carries out the assignment, for the most part. He spares the king, whom he brings back with him as a captive, and he also spares some of the choice livestock, which he apparantly also intends to burn on the offering pyre. (Or at least that's what he tells Samuel after the fact) So, God decides he isn't worth spit anymore and instructs Samuel to go fetch David, "And God was sorry he had made Saul king over the Israelites."
This isn't the only time God commands his people to slaughter innocents in the scriptures, and it's not like I'd never run across this dilemma before, but it's just sticking with me today. My usual way around this is to attribute these kinds of scriptures to the author's interpretation that God's will is being carried out in the violence, and so the author of the scripture puts the "command" in God's mouth, attributing something to God something that makes sense at the time, but seems utterly repulsive now. This is really the only way I can square some of the violent aspects of the Bible and remain a person who leads a faith community. So, obviously I'm not a biblical literalist. Perhaps it is more appropriate to call me a biblical denialist. I deny this scripture. I don't deny it is there. I'm sorry it is part of scripture. I shake my fist at it. I just don't think it is an accurate revelation of God. I see no redeeming quality to God ordering the massacre of infants. There's nothing that can make it "okay." I realize this may be an easy way out, but it is the only way I see fit to keep the faith and uphold a set of principles that are humane. I hate that it is even there for me to have to wrestle with. Why muddy the waters, God? Thou shalt not kill? Well, perhaps this is just one more reason against bibliolotry. But in this part of the country, it seems like questioning scripture is tantamount to denying God's existence. On the contrary, I think questioning this scripture is tantamount to advocating God's existence.
(I've had to take several brakes from this post over the evening, so I've lost some of the initial fire and angst that prompted it: I watched a stupid movie with Wesley and Lara, Bee Movie, man was that disjointed, I've gotten Wesley and Julianna to bed (Julianna took a good bit of time), and then there was a tornado warning just about 10 miles southwest of us (which moved south, fortunately) so, I don't want to seem flippant about something as heart wrenching as struggling with God and ethnic cleansing, but I've just lost a bit of gas on the issue.
One thing I really wrestle with is the intellectual honesty of subscribing to this "well if it makes my conscience want to throw up, it's probably not an authentic aspect of God, even if it is attributed to God in the scripture" kind of approach to scripture when the "official stance" I take as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church is that scripture contains all things "necessary to salvation." Perhaps salvation sometimes comes in being willing to say to God, "this scripture really sucks and I really hope you're more than what is portrayed here, otherwise you're just some two-bit tribal god who's not worthy of worship or respect. So, God, explain to me why you'd allow people to either a: worship you with you issuing genocide, or b: write about you in this way and then guide a whole church to treat these stories as divinely inspired."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Reading, Summer Camp

I have a stack of books I'm presently reading--it is the summer after all. I just picked up The Brothers Karamazov today at the library. I usually try to read one or two classics each year. Last year I read Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick, both on audio book, by the way. With all the driving I do, it is the best way for me. I really enjoyed Melville's description of the pulpit at the sailor's church in the first few chapters of Moby Dick, and also the winding, encyclopedic steeping in all things whale. As to the narrative of that book, it is spellbinding and rich, and equal to the task of keeping the reader engaged over close to 2000 pages. As to Huck Finn, it was great enough that I was lobbying for Huck or Finn to be considered for boy names had Julianna been a boy. (My first choice, Atticus Rex, was gaining some traction I think with the mother shortly before we found out she'd be a she after all.) Mark Twain's characterization of a revival in Arkansas was so funny I found myself literally slapping my knee in the car. The book also had me obsessing over the word "corn pone." The pictures these two greats painted in my mind are treasures to me now.
I'm also in the middle of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in 10,000 Places. I've actually already read Eat This Book, but I don't think you have to read any of his Spiritual Theology books in order. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm trying to get that one finished before I'll be sitting at a table with him taking writing suggestions in 3 weeks. I recently read Oliver Sacks's (is that right? Sacks's?) Musicophilia on audio (great reading by the way) to give me some insight for my own writing project. I'm also enjoying Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. I really enjoyed Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers, and think it is a bit more funny than Spook, but still Spook is thuroughly enjoyable. She tends to use footnotes as I'm prone to do. Speaking of the way I use footnotes, my own chapter contribution to a Chalice Press book, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God: Young Adults Speak about Sexuality and Embodiment in Faith Life is going to be out in January of 2010. I think the editors were going for knee slapping or eye catching or something with that title, but I'm not too thrilled about it. I let them know, but I think it was someone's pet. My chapter title is called Like A Wild Ass at Home in the Wilderness: Sexuality Fidelity in a Hypersexualized, Consumer Driven Culture. That is, if they don't change it to Getting Ass at Home and in the Wilderness or something like that because they think that will appeal to the edgy postmodern type.
Since I'll be deaning Muskogee District Youth Camp at Camp Egan next week, I guess I've also been reading the curriculum for camp and preparing for that. Our plan for the worship services is going to be cool, I think. I'll take photos and post that later. I'm also going to lead a group of teenagers in teh creation of a Cretan labyrinth. We'll have to gather river rocks for it on the Illinois river, and I've scoped out a good spot. I'm looking forward to it, and hope it turns out like or better than I'm envisoning.

I'm also preaching a sermon series this summer on David, so I'll be spending the whole summer in 1 and 2 Samuel. I think this is the first time I've done an extended sermon series solely on a Hebrew Bible text...I think I did one on Isaiah before, but that's a bit easier. So, it will be a storytelling sermon series this summer. I picked up a couple books I thought might be of value in preparing for it, Tales of the Hasidim, by Martin Buber, and Wise Men and Their Tales, by Elie Wiesel. Anyone have any suggestions for good books, either Biblical Study or contextual stuff, on 1 and 2 Samuel and the character David?

Oh, and Wesley has taken a shine to the Berenstein Bears recently, so I've been reading a bunch of them too. :)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Lara took these great photos with our new camera using the continuous shooting
feature. I like it.