In light of my recent post after the Super Bowl including some discussion of Beyoncé‘s new video, this skit from Saturday Night Live is appropriate to also share here (if you’re in the U.S., you can get the official one at a higher quality, but it’s region-blocked so I share this one instead):
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Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust seeks to make a biblical analysis of various topics related to sex. In general, it’s academically rigorous but very accessible and I would recommend it, although some sections definitely dragged on more for me than others. The topics themselves were definitely interesting. Some I had learned more about in my own studies, particularly the current cultural controversies. Others tackled questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. The chapters:
- The Bible and the Joy of Sex, texts like Song of Songs that view sex as a good thing
- Biblical Marriage, the complicated and varying definitions of marriage in the Bible
- The Evil Impulse, particularly Jesus and Paul’s call to celibacy
- Sexual Politics, the inconsistent rules against certain types of sex
- Strange Flesh, the one consistent sex rule: no sex with angels
- Bodily Parts, circumcision and genital emissions
Some people are probably squirming just reading that list since a small portion of the Western church (and culture in general) are actually willing to talk about sex. That makes this book extra important if only for its willingness to be honest and comprehensive about what the Bible actually says: a fair bit, but probably not what you think or as clearly as you think.
I couldn’t help but see some present day parallels with the Old Testament text in my daily lectionary reading for today:
10The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, “The king says he will not give you any more straw.11Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before.”
12The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.13But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, “Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw.”14The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, “Why didn’t you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?”
15Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, “Why are you treating us like this?16No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame.”
17The king replied, “You are lazy—nothing but lazy!
I’m a casual (American) football fan. I probably watch 2 regular season games a year, then a couple of playoffs before the Super Bowl, which is more of an excuse to hang out with friends and eat unhealthy food than to watch the game. There were a couple of interesting things happen this year, though.
The Halftime Show: Beyoncé, Bruno Mars… and Coldplay
Technically this was supposed to be Coldplay’s halftime show. I don’t have any problem with Coldplay. They did a fine job. But they probably should have marketed it as Beyoncé featuring Coldplay and Bruno Mars, because Beyoncé was who everyone was waiting to see. Coldplay opened with some of their pleasant singable rock anthems. Then Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson performed Uptown Funk.
Then Beyoncé showed up, singing her new political song Formation. If you haven’t seen that yet, here’s the music video:
Linguistics 101: language changes. Language assigns words or phrases as a way to communicate different ideas. These ideas are not fixed for eternity. English is very different today than it was 1000 years ago. Before that, there were several source languages that became English. Even today, we are adding new words and phrases every year. Language is inherently arbitrary, with the exception of onomatopoeia. That’s just how language works.
This is significant for me when talking about questions like why I don’t identify as an “evangelical” anymore. Yes, I used to. And yes, by most historical definitions, I would probably still qualify. In the 18th and 19th centuries, even the first half of the 20th, “evangelical” was the majority of Christians. It meant something specific about how you approached the Bible: as authority but something that must be studied and wrestled with. It was the middle ground between liberals who assumed that the Bible was fundamentally untrustworthy and fundamentalists who refused to ask any questions, preferring to retrench in what their tradition had told them.
An interesting story about some Syrian refugees in Toronto has been making the rounds, discussing how many are beginning to feel hopeless stuck in their hotels waiting to be processed. The article specifically refers to the hotel used as a case as a “budget hotel.” This probably means small rooms crammed with large families, bland and repetitive food, being unable to talk to anybody without knowing English, and being unable to even take your kids outside because it’s not like you could pack winter boots with you from Syria (it’s been a mild winter, but they would still need some winter clothing).
Some people are responding by basically telling them to shut up and stop whining. They’ve made it this far, escaping war and probably years in refugee camps with worse conditions. I can sympathize with that a little bit. In the big picture, another maximum 2 months crowded in a budget hotel is not a huge deal after years it took them to get there. But that also doesn’t really do justice to what they’re going through. Take a moment to imagine you’ve escaped war, took a long journey, spent 3 years in a refugee camp, got the exciting news that you have been approved to come to Canada where you can finally create a life for your children… then you get here and you’re stuck in a 200 square foot room with those four young children 24 hours a day, eating the same bulk processed food every day, your kids can’t play, you can’t talk to anyone except other refugees, and you have no idea when you’ll be allowed to leave.
There are many “texts of terror” in the Bible, mostly in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) but you can find some challenges in the New Testament, too. The biggest challenge often comes when noticing that God apparently orchestrates genocide against the Canaanite people at the hands of the Israelites. One of these texts appear in Numbers 33:55-56, including the rationale for the extinction (NIV)
55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”
Christians in the modern Western world tend to read this prescriptively: God is ordering genocide because God is afraid that these other people will corrupt Israel. I’ve discussed elsewhere how we can talk about whether or not God actually did command this and why if so, but I want to step past that for a different aspect of the text this time.
This past Christmas I noticed something: a lot of Christians talk about Christmas without talking about the incarnation, at least not in any meaningful way. This can be from conservatives or liberals (usually the terms theologically, not politically). For conservatives, it most often appears by way of talking about the incarnation as nothing more than a first step in getting to the cross where the real work happens. That’s a problem. The cross was a big part of what the earliest Christians wrote down as “the Gospel” but there’s a lot of other stuff in there, too.
I’m going to focus on the liberal side today, though. Liberals do this more by abstracting away the Christmas narrative into a good inspirational story. To be clear, there are a lot of important details in the Gospels about the birth of Jesus that provide important social commentary. The shepherds being included is a big deal because they were generally not welcome in the upper echelons of society, much like we look down on many blue-collar professions today. The magi were from farther East – probably something like modern day Iran – and were astrologers, a profession explicitly forbidden in the Law and probably associated with another religion.
Across a few social media networks I began seeing people share their results from a quiz for “What kind of nonviolent activist are you?” made by Sojourners. I took it, and I’ll share my results at the end, but more important than that, I thought this was a great idea to educate people on nonviolent activism. Most people are generally familiar with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., although usually in whitewashed forms that aren’t nearly as radical as they actually were. Beyond that, even proponents of nonviolent action like myself can’t name too many nonviolent activists. So I first just wanted to praise this quiz for that accomplishment.
Now, onto the questions:
Is violence ever permissible?
No. At least not for a Christian. Some violence I can be more sympathetic toward, specifically the oppressed feeling like they have no other choice, but I still don’t think even in those situations it is actually helpful or in line with Jesus’ life and teachings. I don’t really have any interest in debating what’s “permissible” for those who don’t hold themselves to Jesus’ teachings, but I would still say it is not helpful.
A Facebook conversation with a fellow Star Wars nerd reminded me of one of my annoyances in the prequels. If you’ve seen the movies, you probably remember the prophecy that somebody – who turned out to be Anakin – would bring balance to the Force. That’s it that we ever hear about the prophecy itself. One thing I never got is why the Jedi would assume that “bringing balance to the Force” meant anything good for them. They, practitioners of the light side of the Force, have been in power for centuries or millenia (I’m a little fuzzy on my pre-history). Wouldn’t it be logical that balance would mean the light finally losing its power to the dark? I’ve never been able to think about what else it could possibly mean. We left the conversation by essentially saying that the Jedi probably didn’t have any idea what the prophecy meant, and yet they assumed repeatedly that it would be great for them.
Reading the Bible
Which gets me to a key point that applies to biblical interpretation and faith in general: we, those in power, tend to assume that everything in the galaxy is working to help us out in particular.