Religion Feed

Judges: A Commentary

Judges (2008): A CommentaryJudges (2008): A Commentary by Susan Niditch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This autumn I've been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study on the Book of Judges. Judges is one of those texts I've done very little with in my ministry. Many of the stories are not suitable for Sunday morning preaching. But shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, I decided that sometime I needed to teach on Judges, as its themes resonate with our moment--a search for effective and faithful leadership, a focus on the treatment of women, increasing violence. Often this semester the topics we have been discussing in the class have corresponded with items in the national news.

This commentary by Susan Niditch is quite good and was very helpful in teaching the class. I found her comments helped to make sense of the stories and gave insights that were applicable to my teaching needs.

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Ramadan

RamadanRamadan by Hannah Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving in the car with our son when the folks on NPR were discussing Ramadan. Our son said from the backseat, "Ramadan! I have that book." I counted that as parenting success--our son loves his book, is listening to the radio, and is learning interfaith and multicultural appreciation.

We ordered this book after one it its series on Dia de los Muertos was given to our son as a gift. This series is about holidays from around the world. The pictures are pretty and engaging and the text is a helpful introduction for young children.

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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.