Religion Feed

Tell It on the Mountain

Tell It on the Mountain: The Daughter of Jephthah in Judges 11Tell It on the Mountain: The Daughter of Jephthah in Judges 11 by Barbara Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Browsing the local progressive Christian bookstore I saw this volume and was intrigued what an entire book on Jephthah's daughter would be like. Plus, I was about to teach that story in an adult Bible study this fall, so I grabbed the book.

This is really a textbook (though you could do an adult bible study with it) exploring various ways of reading and interpreting the Bible, using this story as the entry point. In particular Miller brings into conversation Medieval Jewish Midrash and contemporary feminist scholars, with the book introducing both methods and the variety of voices even within those traditions.

The book also introduces methods one can (and should according to the text) use when interpreting biblical narratives.

I was hoping for some more in-depth analysis, but some of my other commentaries and books asked more provocative questions of the text. That said, I still find it engaging and useful. In particular I would not have encountered the midrash in most of my sources. I'm most thankful for having here encountered a first century poem imagining the sung lament of Jephthah's daughter.

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The Three-Day Feast

The Three-Day Feast: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and EasterThe Three-Day Feast: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter by Gail Ramshaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last spring a sudden, last minute change in our Holy Week plans resulted in some upset feelings on the part of a few congregants. Frankly, I have struggled with Holy Week here at First Central where (until the last couple of years) there was reluctance to experience Good Friday and the Maundy Thursday services never have quite gelled.

The resulting conversations made us realize how many different expectations there are (based upon a wide variety of previous experiences and theological, spiritual, and psychological needs) for what worship will entail that week. So, our Worship Ministry set out on a project of studying the issue in order to gain a better perspective and hopefully before next year arrive at a clearer since of what this church wants to do for Holy Week.

Note: in my conversations with other clergy I have learned that many of them also experience a lack alignment between what their training teaches them should happen and what their congregants actually want, expect, and will participate in.

This handy little book was recommended by a Lutheran minister friend. This gives a good explanation of the basic aims of liturgical renewal and some helpful comments on the various services one might hold. It lacked a little of what I am still hoping for on the practical question of how to reconcile what people want with with the tradition recommends.

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Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel

Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient IsraelJacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel by Theodore W. Jennings Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this very well argued book Ted Jennings claims that "same-sex eroticism in Israel is inseparably connected to Israel's Yahwism. It is no extraneous import but something deeply and inextricably embedded in the religion of Israel."

Jennings begins in the obvious place--the sagas of David, Jonathan, and Saul--and from there considers stories of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha, elements of the prophetic tradition (particularly Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and then the stories of Joseph, Moses, and Jacob, before wrapping up with Ruth. In other words, here is a systematic overview of much of the Hebrew scriptures demonstrating the role that same-sex eroticism plays in the development of the biblical tradition. Jennings credits same-sex eroticism as being the key element that moves YHWH from a violent warrior God to a God of steadfast love and compassion. In other words, the key essence of the biblical tradition arises from the experience of homoeroticism.

Along the way, Jennings' interpretation makes sense of a wide range of passages, including some of the strangest in scripture. He makes far more sense of them than other interpretations I've read.

Also along the way, Jennings deals with a longstanding false idea in Western culture that Greece was the culture most accepting of homoeroticism while Israel forbade it. Instead, homoeroticism is key the Israelite religion predating its significant emergence in Greek culture. Plus, it is a homoeroticism based upon the desire of bottom rather than the activity of the top, which is how he characterizes Greek culture.

He shows how the Holiness Code in Leviticus is very late to the tradition and doesn't fit a wide range of stories from the sagas (not just those dealing with homoeroticism). He argues that the Holiness Code is borrowed from Zoroastrianism and should not be understood as reflective of Hebrew culture prior to exile.

This is an excellent book; I highly recommend it.

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Court's Green Light to Discriminate

This article at The Atlantic reveals part of what was wrong with the Court's ruling on the Muslim Ban and how the ruling gives the administration a green light to discriminate.  The author demonstrates how for Justice Roberts the only discrimination that is illegal is when it is explicitly stated, discriminatory effects alone don't count.  By this logic of Roberts's, most of the Jim Crow laws banned by the 1965 Voting Rights Act would be okay.

Also, the strange inconsistency (hypocrisy) of the last month:

1) Vaguely "anti-religious" statements of a minor public official in Colorado mean the baker didn't receive due process and his religious freedom was denied, yet

2) Explicitly Islamophobic statements by the President are not relevant, so no one's religious freedom was discriminated against.

Criticizing Religion

Ari Ezra Waldman makes an important critical point about this week's Masterpiece Cake Shop ruling:

Third, the opinion includes troubling conclusions. As we discussed yesterday, the Court found that statements from Commissioners sitting on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission evidenced so much anti-religious bias that they denied the Christian baker a fair, impartial hearing. But those statements don’t really evidence bias. Here was the most offending statement:

I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.

In reaction to this, the Court said, “To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.”

But that is not at all what the Commissioner did. His comment called out using religion as a pretext for discrimination. And besides, the Commissioner is one hundred percent correct. Christianity justified the HolocaustReligion was used to justify slavery. Religion was used to justify Jim Crow, apartheid, and laws against interracial marriage.

This raises an important question. If saying something true, yet critical about religion as an institution is an example of expressing hostility toward religion, then is every comment critical of religion evidence of bias? Are we never allowed to say anything negative about the harms that can be wrought by fundamentalism? It’s now hard to imagine the forces of equality getting a fair hearing if no one can say anything negative about the forces of bigotry when they use religion to justify their hatred.

Granted, Masterpiece Cakeshop is neither a huge triumph for bigotry nor a devastating loss for equality. But it is not harmless. It allowed bigotry to win today and may have several dangerous effects.

It is actually a sign of taking an argument or idea seriously to engage it in critical public discourse.  Religion is not and should not be immune from criticism.  That is how religions improve and advance like anything else.

The Need for Contemplation

A good blog post at Patheos on the need for Christian's to be grounded in contemplation, now more than ever.  The occasion is the release of a new biography of Phyllis Tickle who did much to promote the mystical within the church.  The author contends that our fractured politics calls for more contemplation and that our activism must be rooted in spirituality.

O Sing Unto the Lord

O Sing unto the Lord: A History of English Church MusicO Sing unto the Lord: A History of English Church Music by Andrew Gant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightfully witty and informative book on the history of English church music. Thanks to the book I've discovered some musical gems such as Wylkynson's 13 part harmony Jesus autem transiens

And Tallis's Spem in alium, a 40 voice motet.

I've been looking up the pieces he discusses on YouTube and creating a playlist, which I'm not finished with, but here's the link:

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The World Is Awake

The World Is Awake: A celebration of everyday blessingsThe World Is Awake: A celebration of everyday blessings by Linsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful book that does a good job of expressing our religious values. There is a focus on the beauty of nature, the diversity of creation, gratitude for God's blessings, farmer's market, reading, and prayer. The only drawback is the exclusively masculine language for God, but you can correct that while reading it to your child.

I have found it very difficult to locate children's book with Christian stories that uphold the values of mainline Christianity as opposed to more evangelical versions (we've read more Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim books to Sebastian), so this was a refreshing discovery.

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Haroset 2

Growing up Southern Baptist in a small town in Oklahoma, our liturgical life was greatly lacking.  Which is one reason that in adolescence I was drawn to Episcopal worship for a richer, more spiritual experience.

My high school French teacher and Quiz Bowl coach Kay Boman was an Episcopalian who was beginning the process of becoming a Deacon, so on our long trips on the road we often discussed religion, and she invited me to come experience worship at All Saints.

One year my dearly beloved Sunday school teacher at First Baptist, Debi Durham, was invited by a friend of hers to attend All Saints's Maundy Thursday Seder and so she and I went together.

And that was an eye-opening experience into other ways to worship and to learn.  I had never before encountered food that was symbolic or eating as a worship experience.

And it was my first experience of footwashing and why that really should be one of the sacraments of the church.

A Christian Seder is an adaptation of a Jewish Passover meal through the lens of the stories of the Last Supper and the institution of communion.  The Episcopal worship at All Saints included the stripping of the altar after the meal with a return to the Parish Hall for the final toast.  A strange mix of the celebratory Jewish feast with more somber Christian elements.  Plus the Episcopal dinner included some distinctly English elements--mint sauce with the roast lamb.

While in grad school and living in Shawnee at the turn of the millennium, I would occasionally prepare a Seder Supper of my own for friends.  One year we did it on a Wednesday when an Oklahoma City bombing anniversary fell during Holy Week.  It was during these years that I learned to roast lamb, usually with parsley.  And I bought a cookbook of recipes for the various Jewish festivals and learned to make haroset--an apple nut mixture that is part of the symbolic foods for the dinner.

While I was serving at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas I developed a Seder for use with my youth group.  That church had a weekly Wednesday night dinner and church, so we did the Maundy Thursday elements on Wednesday.  That church also had a big, choral Good Friday Tenebrae service, which I miss.

While living in Oklahoma City a few times I attended the Stonewall Seder that First Unitarian Church hosted every year during Pride month.  It was a meal of symbolic foods based upon the narrative of the Stonewall riots.

Yesterday Sebastian helped me make our haroset and seemed, at least at first, highly engaged in this different meal.  And we used it, as intended, for faith formation--telling him the ancient stories of our faith.  Especially important after we asked him, "What is Easter about?" And he answered "A bunny and Easter eggs."  

Haroset 1

The previous post in this series was about making chili.