Posts Tagged ‘Torah’


…Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those granted nearness to God.

-Sura 3:46

                The Crusades were a horrific time within the Empire phase of Christianity. It was about anti-Semitism (travelling to and from the Holy Land was a great excuse for the warriors to cull the Jewish in the lands) and to let blood run high in the Holy Land battling the “infidel”.

During one such crusade time a disgraced Crusader received a call to something different. Francis was a party animal, one of those wealthy ne’er do wells many towns and communities know of. He thought to increase his lot by bravery in the Crusades…suffice to say he was not a good Knight, and wound up injured in a burnt out church where Jesus spoke to him through the San Damiano cross calling him to rebuild his church. After stealing supplies from his father, and rebuilding 3 fine parishes he was once again revisited and redirected to actual community based around hope and loved. Even beaten and imprisoned by his own parents, just emboldened this man to cast of (literally) the clothes of wealth and walk naked into the world.

The Franciscan movement is what began. Part of the life lived that receives little mention outside of the international circles (as most just know Francis for his love of animals, not activism) so he has been reduced to the garden statue or fountain. Yet it was in the midst of crusade times this rabble rouser and friends upset the apple cart, and not just in the challenge for equity and justice for the poor. Nope, he also crossed treasonous lines by going back onto the Crusader path to meet with Sultan.

Why?

To pray together.

To talk.

To share bread.

To be community.

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was ever inclined to God and obedient to Him, and he was not of those who associate gods with God.

-Sura 3:68

Francis and his community understood an eternal truth. God is the source of all that is, all that exists within and through and lived out of the Holy Mystery. The source-Love- was not to be confused with the manifestations. That is…the wells are not the river.

We want the labels to divide. Those in power hope that we allow the labels to divide. Yet, there is another way. A way where we acknowledge the One River, and sample one another’s well water in a safe place of community, sharing prayers, sharing discourse, sharing bread. Being like Francis and the Sultan. That piece of light in the darkness.

And he will teach them the Book, and The Wisdom, and The Torah and the Gospel.

-Sura 3: 49

This is why my family hosts an inter-faith Questing through the Qur’an; and a Brunch & Bible (where we travel the roads of the Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles) on alternating weeks. To share the foundation stories. To see where we connect. To hear where we differ.

To know  we are still united in our diversity.

                Much like Francis’ call to bring the gifts of peace, hope, faith, joy and love to Sultan. But also to receive these same gifts from Sultan.

For, what are we in humanity,

if not neighbours….

francis

The Gospel story, the faith story has not ended. It is not sealed. Each of us in our journeys, our lives continue to write in the book of life about how we live within, through and out of the love that is the Holy Mystery. So what is the new chapter you are starting in this moment?


Introduction

For at least 6,000 years the stories found within the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Old Testament in many Christian Circles, has been a piece or the texts shaping the faith of those who worship within an Abrahamic faith community. The basic texts found within the Protestant Old Testament that this introductory text lends to is 39. Elmer’s A Journey through the Old Testament is a basic text that opens up a student’s eyes and mind to beginning to understand these foundational texts.

Written 23 years ago, it shows a little dating but also reveals the bias of the author. These are topics that will be touched on as a summary is made, the text itself is interpreted within light of itself and in the conclusion he question is asked and hopefully answered with the affirmative why it is useful to explore this text as part of one’s educational enterprise.

Summary

When one first picks up an overview or introduction text to the Hebrew Bible, a reader normally braces themselves for an onslaught of dates, dead people, and possibly dry archaeological dig sites. What Elmer managed to accomplish within his text’s format is more of a DC Comics retro 1980’s “Who’s Who” feel. This was accomplished by framing the material around the key characters of the stories.

Within the character driven synopsis Elmer has structured a verse by verse commentary for the key characters he highlights. Hidden within these commentaries are simple yet effective gems with his:

  1. Synopsis:
  • Ie: cycle of Judges

(Elmer, p.143)

  1. Perspective sections (highlight what the author believes are the main thrust of the text):

Ie: Servant type of Holy Spirit

  • Both are sent
  • Both come bearing gifts
  • Both come teaching about the Son
  • Both come to woo and convince

(Elmer, p. 83)

  1.  Outlines
  • ie: Leviticus (p.123) that lays out a rhythm of :

Access- the way to God (1:1-7:38)

Association – walk with God (8:1-23:44)

Apostasy – the warning from God (24:1-27:34)

These are easy to access and understand for the reader regardless of their familiarity with the subject matter. The order or rhythm for the work is that of how they first appear within the context of the story of the Hebrew Bible.

The text itself has two main points:

  1. That for a student to fully understand the New Testament they must read the Old Testament through their Post-Christ lens. This is illustrated through his rendition of Lucifer as a story of rebellion.
  2. That the hardest lesson of faith to learn is waiting on God.

The work itself appears designed to aid a subject based study methodology that one would craft around a certain character to learn from. This learning is textual and character driven to be able to come to one’s own conclusions about the works that make up the Hebrew Bible.

Interpretation

            At first blush with the innovative way the stories were presented one may assume that Elmer is“wolf” in sheep’s clothing. That is he is letting innovation lead the reader into a false sense of security before hitting them over the head with a rather outdated contextual message, as was the flavour of theological writings in the televangelist driven 1980’s. That is not the case, what is found is a profound character study that can challenge the reader into seeing the sometimes familiar story through new eyes.

For instance he shows a correlation through history of the church, and a story from the Testament by quoting Matthew Henry “all God’s people are praying people” (Elmer, p. 40) as a lead into the Abraham story on the eve of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This thought is clearly continued with Abraham’s conversation with God around the destruction of the two cities as prayer (Ibid, p.60). For prayer is the communication of our relationship with God, and as such can be open, flowing yet the great question is raised as Abraham debates God over how many righteous people are needed to assuage destruction why did he stop at 10? Did he think that if Lot’s family was counted that would be enough? Did he believe there was 10 people in the cities he was unrelated to that were after God’s heart? Or as the petitions drove on, and Abraham remembered the inhospitality of the cities did he have a Jonah/Ninevah moment and just no longer want to wrestle with God over their salvation?

Hard questions rose within the readers’ mind that may not traditionally come up within a Western Church where 90% of the time these texts are abused and used to show the “abomination” of homosexuality, which has nothing to do with the story. The inhospitality circled around security, gang rape, offering up of daughters, essentially drawing that the only care in life is for one’s own power not for the needs of the other.

Yet again, as we journey through the Torah, Elmer avoids the easy explanations and go to chapters within Leviticus to discuss the most atrocious of sins. Where most interpreters in the Western Christianity go to chapter 19’s sex laws, Elmer rests on a little know child sacrifice to Molech in 20:1-5 as the true apostasy before the Lord.

This has set a good rhythm within Genesis for the relationship of the people with God. Yet Elmer has a tendency of needing to tie these stories directly into teachings of the Christian Testament. Yes the early church grew out of Judaism, and was eventually kicked out of the synagogues and Temple yet does it always need to be read through the lens of the other. He stipulates this by correlating the Joseph story of Genesis with Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” (New International Version). Paul was writing to Roman believers with this line, as a classically trained Pharisee, from an upper class family background and a citizen of the Empire. Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt and rose to prominence within Egypt through his spiritual gifts from God. So yes it is possible in certain instances to read the Christian Testament into the Hebrew Bible, but one should always ensure the teachings align and that they are not just trying to make a puzzle piece fit an empty hole.

The last statement within Genesis was used in the summary section around the comparison of the servant and The Holy Spirit. This comparison at first reads seems unique and practical, but it does not hold water when one thinks of what the Holy Spirit does within the life of a believer and community. Yes the servant accomplishes these four fold ministries, but these are also just the beginning of the work of the Spirit. This is an example of attempting to over read the Christian Testament into the Hebrew Bible.

Another is seen as Elmer stating that the Angel of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible is Jesus pre-incarnation (p. 143). This is not a strong statement, as it eliminates the Host of Heaven from work, but it also discredits the writing of John 1 about the Word becoming flesh, and the work in Genesis 1 being used to create, and the teaching of angels (messengers) being lower than Jesus in Hebrews. It appears with this that Elmer found a writing crux and kept going with it.

From this we enter into the world of the Judges which is another time of waiting. The people have entered what can only be described as a Tween cycle of existence, where they constantly rebel and fall back into the family through the work of some of the most dysfunctional individuals for their time: (a) Othniel (nepotism); (b) Ehud (left-handed); (c) Barak (coward); (d) Deborah (woman); (e) Gideon (coward); (f) Jephthah (son of a harlot); (g) Samson (adulterer) (Elmer, p.144).

From this emerges the monarchy out of the theocracy with Saul (Elmer, p. 180) that holds the United Kingdom under only two other monarchs: David and his son, Solomon before it is ripped asunder (Ibid, p.181). Unfortunately where Elmer had been challenging norms and could continue to challenge the student’s suppositions and indoctrinations around certain stories when he hits David he falls back into a church rut of vaguest details.

David and Bathsheba hits a wall where he relies on innuendo, abstract language to not really lay out what actually came to play between these two (p.204). Elmer is still leaning on a patriarchal and in some estimation, misogynistic view that Bathsheba was at least partly willing and that it was a fling or affair, while inappropriate nothing more. What is missed is that the power of the throne was abused, not only abused, but a man targeted a woman to exercise their power for sexual gratification. This is a textbook definition within Canadian Law of sexual assault (otherwise known as rape). Where Elmer could have stepped out in courage, he retreated.

Within the Wisdom Literature Elmer holds to a Solomonic authorship stance on Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Song of Solomon. He relates that is was a younger Solomon who wrote the song, but then in spite of order within the canon postulates Ecclesiastes as the prologue that spurred on the writing of Proverbs (p.217).

Which brings us into the division of the kingdom due to sibling rivalry (which could be a later literary effect to remind the believer of the journey of Cain and Abel) between Rehoboam and Jeroboam and it is through this division that the exiles happen where the Prophets speak to attempt to prevent. The unique highlights being that the Babylonians allowed Jeremiah to continue to live because they thought him an ally (Elmer, p. 261).

Post-exilic works such as Esther which was written to those still in Diaspora who had opted not to return to the Holy Land (Ibid, p. 278). For the work did not name God, yet God is the most prevalent character throughout with the actions of the characters and how Esther rose to prominence within the city for control of the king. It is also another reflective book from the Genesis stories when we think of how Joseph was given into slavery, what happened with Esther was no different, yet God was there working with her.

How does all this matter though to us today? Do we need to be able to see the Christian Testament illuminated within the works of the Hebrew Bible for it to bear relevance?

Conclusion

The answer for the writer of the two above noted questions is yes it does still matter and No we do not for it to still bear relevance. The challenge as was pointed out in the previous section Elmer has a well laid out text, where he pushes boundaries in some places, percolates thoughts in others. The unfortunate part is that where these gems happen, there is by far more times where he holds the party line that does not need to be held with just a bit of deeper digging, and more to the point should not be attempting to insert a Christian understanding upon a Judaic story.

The journey is still worth the price of admission for the questions it does read, but as with all textbooks (or media in general) this should be approached with one’s critical eye fully engaged to enter collegial dialogue with the work.

The last things that need to be remembered which can be seen as key for the believer within the Hebrew Bible. Within these stories that can seem barbaric, bloody, misogynistic, genocidal, hate filled… there is kernels of hope:

  1. We are a people of prayer, and it is within prayer that we can interact fully with God.
  2. God is alive in our lives and all things work towards our calling eventually.

Holding onto these things as one takes their life experience, faith, education and the Holy Spirit to experience the full revelations within for journey today and this text has added to the education peace for understanding.


Cosmic Christ

Cosmic Christ (Photo credit: eworm)

-ahem- I call bullshit.

This is one of those tried and truism that misses that mark with the institutional Christianities. How so? Simple, because with the buildings, with the offices, with the multi-billionaire dollar industry, with the virtue pledges, with the “these get into heaven, those go to hell” and the litany of rules laid on top of Christ‘s great commandments to Love God, Neighbour and self…well we have done more than fence the Torah, we have fenced in the gospel dug it 85 feet down, covered it over, laid sod, realized the sod wasn’t good enough, paved over top, built a huge monument to how much money our congregation could fundraise and declared the glory of… The Bible (and it better be translation X, y, or Z to be acceptable).

Does this sound like a relationship to you? Honestly contemplate the reality we have created within the church. It is not one of a relationship where the living Cosmic Christ is allowed to actually breathe and continue to blow the roof off what is acceptable to the powerbase, where the voiceless are given voice; the sick are cared for; the poor are beloved…what other fun lessons did Jesus teach?  He so shook the reality of the power elite of his time religious and political that they executed him.

Can we say that we have shook the foundations of our society to transform it in such a Christ way where all are included as equals?

So are we as Christians able to brag that we have this grand relationship over a religious rote of rules and hoop jumping compared to other world beliefs?

No. In fact I would say we have more hoops, rules, and ways that divide communities which is quite contrary to the Gospel of the living Cosmic Christ…

So we fail at the relationship, because we care more about the institution that perpetuates the religious power base that builds empires than the living breathing soul that is to be our Holy Mystery incarnate…

So before you throw out this trite idiom, pause and think…do I truly live this way… or do I live to ensure the perpetuation of institutions that Christ spoke out against?


Friday, May 25, 2012
Some say her work is forbidden. Some might say it’s a complete waste of time. Others remain silent. But Julie Seltzer, one of a few women in history to write a complete Torah scroll, is just following her heart.

“My love of Torah led me to be a scribe,” she says.

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Many people associate the word “Torah” with the Five books of Moses, but according to Jewish wisdom, the Torah and what was given at Mt. Sinai was much more than a book.

January 26, 2011 David Kato, a Lutheran’s Concerned worker in Uganda, working to create a “community of empowerment” for all Ugandans, especially those in the LGBTTQ community, was put to death following a tabloid article that had his picture printed with a banner headline stating “Hang Him”.

            And yes God is used as a means to justify such actions.  The world’s history is rife with wars, executions, murders, attacks, assaults, rapes, pedophiles and other monsters that use God as their justification.  And people wonder why no one trusts religion or those who claim to speak for God, so this morning realize it’s just me sharing thoughts, and yes the topic can be a thinker, and realize that those who do atrocities in God’s name, are not of God.

            For Leviticus gives us the 10 big ones once more, which is a theme through the Torah, that and the other 603 laws which breaking usually led to death, if we read the Psalm, it’s 119, which is the Psalter’s retelling of the Law. Paul tosses down how to build a house, or more accurately a faith, the foundation is laid.  That foundation is God’s Law and Prophets.

            Which as Jesus tells us is?

Love your God with everything and your neighbour as yourself.

            And Jesus uses this ancient teaching, the Shema, that one will find in all five faiths of Abraham.  The Coles Notes Version is the Golden Rule that we find in all religions and philosophies to shatter the way people believed about how life was to be lived, and the exceptions this rule came with.

            The idea that it was okay to answer bad with bad.  I can almost see the smirk on Jesus’ face in the courtyard. For if we take the analogy of believers as Christ’s body, then we can take a life span look at the development of God’s Reign, or Community of empowerment here on earth.

            The Torah was the birth pains of humanity, the toddler phase if you will, when responses to small things are over the top, and the Torah is filled with these stories, and that is where clarification came from Poppa, eye for an eye.

 Our elementary school years would be our history books in the Hebrew Bible, then we were loving Tweens in the Prophets. By the writing of Paul we could be seen as late adolescents, early adulthood.  But Jesus, man we were rocking the teen years.

            For anyone who has had the fun of working with Teens you truly can understand the tact that Jesus took here, because you know that when presented with a black and white answer, the question is always WHY?

            And why here is what Jesus does. Why, simple because at one point all you could handle was the simplistic, the learning curve was low, and it was basics. Someone hits you, hit them back. But now, now you are beginning to experience life, your capacity for deeper thought is developing, yes I know you still have no impulse control, but we’re working on that. We are going to enter into a time of breath prayer, and experience the teaching of Jesus through Ignatius, Lectio Divina, it will be read three times, with a question to reflect on with each reading, then a time to share… so come with me back to your adolescents.  Get comfortable in your pew, close your eyes, slow your breath.  Feel your pew melt away, feel the air on your face, the dust across your sandaled feet.  Feet the scratching of your robes.  You have heard of this travelling carpenter who speaks weird things, and hear he is, and you have followed him to hear.

1) What word or phrase sticks out to you during this reading, stay with that word and hear the Spirit speak to you? Matthew 5:38-48

2) What images come to mind as you hear the reading, spend time with that image…Matthew 5:38-48

3) Hear how the Spirit speaks to you this time, what memories come up that call for you to respond as Christ teaches, but you didn’t…accept, let them go, and pray into God’s heart.

            Living out of the Heart of God is not just a catchy title, it is what Jesus called us to do.  To move beyond the words on the page to the true essence of life, to recklessly love God with our all, and our neighbours and ourselves.  Brother David Kato, did that. It cost him his life, because of those who were unwilling to let the Spirit change them, to allow God to live out of them, and for them to live out of God. Christ teaches us to pray for those, but to love all.

            Will you love all?

Amen.