a bit of theology

considerations, politics 2 Comments »

From my reading this morning:

“If in a community we take over responsibility for others, these others exist in a certain way in us, at least in our solicitude for them. That is why in Christian faith we say: because Christ is for us and gave himself for us, we are in Christ. In this relationship, in-existence (meaning location, not negation) is the other side of pro-existence. In a community the pro-existent and the in-existent relationships are so multifarious that any one-sidedness is precluded. We are always there for other people and in other people, just as other people are there for us and in us. In human community we mutually open up for each other the spaces of freedom through love, or we close them through intimidation. We are presence, space, and dwelling for one another.”

missing links

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Just noticed I don’t have my usual blogroll there on the right. I didn’t erase it or anything. All I did was update my WordPress. Somehow the new version doesn’t like how I set things up, or at least doesn’t like the people I link to. Don’t know what happened, so don’t know how to fix it. Just looked and I realize it’s going to take a bit of time to figure out.

looking outside

Scripture, theology 1 Comment »

It snowed this past week. Icicles formed on the pine outside the living room window.

Icicles on a pine

Numbers 8-13

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Well, I didn’t write yesterday so I have a goodly bunch of chapters to comment on today, Numbers 8-13

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
May your enemies be scattered;
may your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said,
“Return, O LORD,
to the countless thousands of Israel

We start with the Levites. They are important. They are a special order within the special people of Israel, who have their own rules because they deal directly with the things of God. And they retire at 50! Not a bad gig, unless you mix the incense wrong.

What is interesting is they are not only set apart, but they are the very representatives of each family of the other tribes. Rather than taking the first born of each family for his special service, God creates an order of servants who act in the place of those he demands. The Levites are the “first-borns” of Israel. That’s an intriguing concept I don’t quite know what to do with yet. I bet there’s a symbolism there worth considering more.

In the beginning of 9 there is another discussion of Passover. Passover trumps the clean and unclean. Those who are unclean still must celebrate Passover, though they are given a backup day to do so. Passover is the symbol of the covenant. It is the memorial of God’s work in binding the people together as a people through the miraculous action of God’s salvation. They were slaves, and now they are free. Passover commemorates this freedom, and so all must partake, for it is more than a nice meal and a nice memorial. It is a renewing bond, that honors God’s work and in doing that recreates the community again. That’s why it must be celebrated. Those who don’t celebrate it are placing themselves outside of God’s covenant, they are returning, in essence, to the state of slavery. Those who do celebrate it are honoring the covenant, and placing themselves within the covenant, which is why there is a teaching on foreigners. Those who cling to God place themselves within God’s work. He’s generous, though quite orderly about it.

In the rest of 9-10 I got the sense of movement. We have studied how they are to camp, now we learn the order in their movement. We are told the trumpet calls and we are told the signs of movement. Everything is clear and orderly, there’s no allowances for confusion. If there is not order than someone is being disobedient. Lovely that God makes it all clear.

But that doesn’t mean everything is lovely. They’re in the Wilderness after all and that means hardships. The hardship in chapter 11 is they are tired of their food. It’s easy to judge them I guess, except for the fact I’m the same way. God gives me a blessing. I rejoice in it. But then I get used to it, and complain there’s not more. I forget the blessing of the blessing and get whiny. Did it today in fact. If I was an Israelite, looking at my own actions in life, I’d be with them complaining, “Where’s the beef?”

But, that’s not my problem, so I feel I can judge them. Except in my blessings I forget my education. I forget the gifts God has given me. I forget all the things which make me me. “Where’s the wife?” I instead ask. “Where’s the nice paying job?” “Where’s the writing contract?” “Where’s the quiet?” “Where’s the…?” “Where’s the…” “Where’s the…”

Yeah, I need to not judge them.

But I like Moses in this situation. They complain to him, and he doesn’t hold back. He goes and complains to God. Gets a little peeved really. “Why have you treated your servant so badly?” he asks. That’s the funny thing about the Bible. We have a perception of God that comes from our own definitions of what a God should be like. Only again and again we see in the Bible that God is not like the Greek conception of Deity. He’s personal and he’s personable. Moses complains to him. Lays it out. God responds by easing Moses’ burden. God likes our participation in his work. He responds to our pleadings and our emotional outbursts and our weariness. We don’t have to be perfect with him or say perfect, “good little Christian” prayers beseeching his Almightiness. Moses was fed up and told God exactly what he felt. God listened.

Sure, as the Israelites show, not all complaining is acceptable. There’s a line. But at the same time we’re not just supposed to resign ourselves to being automatons with God. He made us emotional and we respond with emotions to him like we would with anyone. Moses’ complaining was good complaining. The Israelites complaining was bad complaining. There’s a distinction to be made and it seems to do with carrying a too heavy burden. The Israelites were merely discontent, and could have made do. Moses was overwhelmed and feeling crushed.

So God worked. He gathered leaders to help Moses respond. His Spirit came upon them. They were given God’s authority as leaders. But, when the Spirit comes upon a person its a little overwhelming at first. The leaders were filled being filling, and overflowed with this new reality. Words came out from God. They all prophesied. The Spirit takes a little while to get used to apparently.

I love the little tidbit about Eldad and Medad. They were on the list, but didn’t make it to the gathering. The Spirit followed the list, however, and came upon them. They prophesied too where they were at.

Joshua was a man of order, and didn’t like the craziness one bit.

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

“I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

The LORD fulfilled this wish in Acts 2. Order was replaced with exuberant freedom. But that’s getting a good 10 months ahead of our year long story.

The quail came at the end of 11. The people ate. God got mad. A plague swept through. The answers of God at that sort of complaining are certainly mixed.

Miriam and Aaron are jealous. Now this is a funny section. Not because of the jealousy but because of Miriam. She’s a leader. Enough of a leader to think herself equal to Moses. She’s taught a lesson, but it’s quite, quite interesting that the triumvirate of Israel’s leaders is Miriam. She’s a woman, after all. Make of that what you will.

In chapter 13 the spies go out to search the land. They see wonders and blessings and a land of milk and honey. But it’s not enough. They also see the challenges, and in their eyes the challenges are greater than the blessings. The difficulties are larger than God’s promise. Only Caleb wants to fight. I bet he wasn’t complaining about the Manna either. He held onto the promise. He held onto God. The others didn’t. They were practical. They were pragmatic. They were realists.

And that was their weakness and their shame. It caused chaos.

God is true to his promises, but that doesn’t mean there will be a lack of difficulties. It just means he will overcome them. If we falter or complain or fear in the face of these, however, we will taste chaos.

Like Isaiah later says to Ahaz, “If you do not have faith, you will not stand.”

Israel’s spies lost faith. And the whole people stumbled.

fears and worries

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A long time ago when I was a wee lad I liked to read the Guinness Book of World Records. It was fascinating what people could do, and fascinating what people would do to say they had a world record in something.

But in the midst of that book was a little blurb that has stayed with me for years and years: the hiccuping world record. Now I don’t know the exact amount of years involved but it was long. Like fifty years. I still remember some details. The guy starting hiccuping after slaughtering a pig in his early twenties and never stopped. Never stopped. He was in his late sixties in the volume I read. Probably still hiccuping unless death has given him ease.

I don’t hiccup very often, but because of that article there’s a curious anxiety that pops up whenever I do. I’m not neurotic at all, and I can’t say there’s anything equivalent on any other topic, but when I start hiccuping I get worried I’ll never stop. Which is why I’m right to the water, or holding my breath, or finding a wee fright. I don’t want to be a hiccuping retiree.

Think I’m weird? Maybe I am. But then read this story. It happens! People get stuck hiccuping and just can’t stop. FREAKS me out!!

AAAAARRRRR!!!

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Pirates!!!

We were such great pirates that when it was over the main Captain (featured in photos at the end of this set) came up to us and thanked us for being so enthusiastic. He said he watched us the whole time and we helped make the show with how much we got into it.

Eat up me hearties, yo ho!! AAAAARRRRR!!!!

Numbers 5-6

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Numbers is a book of order. When I was reading it I got an image not of people but of little blocks. Everything is fitted together and able to withstand pressure or trouble without problems because of how it is fitted. One piece gets out of place and the whole system could crumble. Even a small misalignment could be catastrophic because each piece carries the weight of other pieces.

In a way too this order seems so totally artificial. God has chosen a people who were pretty much like other people. But now they have a purpose and have to fit into a God shaped mold. The patterns of their lives have to be intensely regulated so they do not go off and do what normal people would do, which includes sin. They are given rules that create a smooth functioning, but to do this they have to be entirely managed at each point.

I think of the command given to Adam which was pretty easy: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'”

There was a little bit more when God talked to Noah, but it was still pretty simple.

But here everything is managed. Because humans showed they needed to be managed. Give them free reign and they wouldn’t do what is right. The knowledge of good and evil didn’t give them discernment, it gave them ideas.

So now here God is stepping in even more. He is insisting on a people who will reflect his nature to the world. He is shaping them and micro-managing them.

So in chapter 5 we read of the Levite families who carry things. This is important because the Holy Things of God are dangerous to touch. There has to be order, and this order keeps the honor of God maintained and the safety of the people secure. God isn’t messing around. He is insisting on this order because he has a plan to be worked out.

Which then brings us to chapter 6 where we read about what to do if a woman is suspected of adultery but there are no witnesses. It’s not new to notice how unfair this is. Where’s the man’s responsibility?

In thinking of the Law in terms of regulations for order I have a thought. Not one that would fly today but fits within the pattern of that day. If a priest touched the wrong item he would die. Aaron’s sons burned the wrong incense and they died. Each man had a role. This role may have been a warrior or a priest or a Levite assigned to different duties. Most every regulation we’ve read along the way in regards to worship applied to men. So, in their tasks they were given extreme guidelines.

A woman, in this society, had different tasks. One important one was to bear children and raise them up. She participated in the society by helping the generation move to the next generation. With adultery, however, she was risking upsetting the order by confusing lineage. All along we’ve had duties and campsites and roles and counts for specific families. But, have a child with a man who is not her husband, things get disordered. Where would a child of that union camp? What would he do? How could it be certain the other children were the husbands?

It’s not fair at all to judge the woman. But, these passages are not about fairness. They are not about the individuals. They are about keeping a clear functioning order within a volatile community.

Everyone had their risks and everyone had their duties. Only by following these rules could the whole community be a reflection of God and enter into the Promise he was readying for them.

Saturday Night

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This last Saturday night my brother had a birthday party. At the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure!!! AAAARRRRRR!!!!!

more pics later!

Numbers 1-4

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Ever been in traffic and tried to maximize your movement by switching lanes again and again? It’s an exercise in futility really, because in traffic all lanes are equal for the most part. It’s like flipping a coin. You may get 4 heads in a row, but keep flipping and it’ll all even out between heads and tails. So it’s best to stay in one lane. Because switching lanes makes things worse. Instead of relying on the natural ebb and flow, you move during the flow just in time for the ebb. Keep switching lanes and it’s more ebbs. Ebbs upon ebbs. Meanwhile the white honda civic you were behind in the 3rd lane, who just stayed where he was at, has already gotten a good half mile ahead.

That’s not exactly how my week has been, but it gets to the point. My traffic this week was wonderful, stimulating, encouraging, motivating. But it messed with my schedule and got me behind on other tasks. I kept thinking I’ll fit in my Scripture during a free time, but when that free time came something important or delightful came up and I missed the chance.

So, instead of trying to keep changing lanes to find my free time I’m going to try to get back to a morning rhythm.

Today I have Numbers 1-4 to look at.

I immediately see why it’s named the way it is. It starts with a census, a numbering of the people. Continues on to a diagram about the camp, showing where each family is to live and where the RV hookups are located.

It’s not very interesting reading really. Am I allowed to say that? I mean it’s Scripture and all, but it’s pretty dry in this part.

One thing I remember is these really aren’t necessarily details meant for me. I’m not currently dealing with organizational principles of a mass exodus of people into a new land, and so haven’t really a pragmatic use for these verses. Yet they do tell me a few important things.

God is a God of order. He is a God who makes plans, who has practical and organizational rules alongside the moral and ethical rules. It’s not enough here to say go to the Land. Rather, God is organizing his people so there is no chaos at any point, so that the movement and the stopping is free from disorder.

God is also a God of history. Looking at these chapters I’m not struck by the elegant prose or the inspirational speeches or the mythical feats of derring-do. We’re given lists. Lists are important, if not interesting, because they are grounding the narrative in real names and real, well, numbers. They show that the writer is establishing the story within the real of real life, where there are people, and organizational problems, and lists that have to be compiled.

I also notice a third thing. There is a change in tone in this book. Before there was discussion about the people or the community. Rules about how to live in a settled peace with neighbors and fellow citizens. Now, however, we’re reading a manual of military order. The people are counted, so the number of fighting men from each tribe can be known. The tribes are organized by regiments and placed in a defensive posture around the central focus of the tabernacle.

Israel is being prepared to become a military force. The Promised Land is near. They are no longer slaves. They are a People.

Then in chapters 3 and 4 we move from the other tribes to focus on just one, the Levites, who were called God’s own tribe. They were the chosen people of the chosen people, organized for the purpose of religious tasks. Again there is order and a system set up to maintain consistent patterns of response. This goes a long way in reducing the all too strong tendency of political wrangling. Tasks stay within a family. There is always order, and little confusion about plans or assignments. The people don’t have to think, they just do their assigned tasks. This organization gets really important during times of stress or war.

So, these chapters really aren’t all that interesting. But they are important because they tell us of a change in seasons with the people of Israel, and they tell us of the order and organization of God in working with his people. They ground us in history and they provide reference material for later passages. When we hear Israel camped, from these chapters we know what that looked like.

Leviticus 22-23

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A day late shouldn’t matter right? To God a 1000 years is like a day, so we still have 999 years and 364 days to get in a post about a particular day’s passage.

I only have the verse that came to mind to add:

Romans 12:1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

What the Law says about the sacrifices was ended by Christ on the cross. And yet we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, taking the exhortation about worship to apply to who we are, and following Christ’s commands to us as seriously as Aaron and his sons were to follow the commands here in Leviticus.