Friday, December 07, 2007

God and Noah talk about rain and a boat

Here's how the conversation between God and Noah might have gone:

G: Hi ya, Noah, how are things down there?
N: Pretty good, I guess, but my rheumatism has been acting up, like there might be some rain on the way. How are things up there?
G: Mostly OK, but Eve has been acting out, running around with nothing on but a fig leaf offering all the men a piece of, uh, uh, fruit. And Adam is still feeling guilty about infecting all his descendants. As Augustine will put it, everybody was seminally present in him, you know, and as soon as they reach the age of accountability start sinning like crazy.
N: Who the hell is Augustine?
G: O, I forgot, he comes later. Never mind. But now back to your rheumatism and the rain. That's what I want to talk to you about. It's gonna rain, a lot and for a long time. .
N: Yeah?
G: Yeah, I'm gonna drown the whole human race. I mean you never saw such rain before, plus I'm turning on the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven will open
N: Good God Amighty, why?
G: Watch your tongue there, old man. I'm' mad, real mad. The whole race is wicked, terrible -- all but you and your family.
N: Well, gee, thanks, Big Guy, but how will we escape the flood?
G: You are going to build a boat, a big boat, a very big boat.
N: Why so big, I can put my whole family on a mid-sized raft?
G: Yeah, I know, but you have to take a pair of every animal -- a boy and a girl -- on the boat with you to preserve the species.
N: Now, you're talking crazy. Two elephants, two rhinoseri, and a pair of hippopotami would take up a lot of room, I mean a lot of room. Besides we'd have to have skunks -- can you imagine the smell? Think how high the ceiling would have to be for the giraffes? And they would all have to have food. Worst of all, there would be a lot of, of uh -- mess. Who the hell is gonna clean up all that ..........
G: You are, Noah, you and your kids.
N: I can't build a boat that big, and I won't even try. This is nuts.
God: Well, Noah, my righteous remnant patriarch, have you considered the alternative, remember there's gonna be a lot of water, a whole lot of water.
N: Well, you have a point there.
G: Well, are you gonna build it?
N: I'm thinking it over.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

God tells Abraham to stick a knife in Isaac

The preceding blog reminded me that I have had other attacks of craziness and zany impious humor regarding certain biblical stories. I think the story is awful and morally irredeemable. Here is my rewrite:

God: Hi Abraham, this is God. Howya' doin' today?

Abraham: Hello, I'm doing very well. What do you want this time? You're not going to ask me to move again, are you?

God: Not at all. This time I have something else in mind.

Abraham: Yeah, what?

God: I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac, whom you love, as a burnt offering.

Abraham: Would you mind repeating that. There must be some interference between earth and heaven, you know, with all the cell phones these days. It sounded like you said you wanted me to sacrifice my son Isaac. I know you wouldn't do that. Ha, ha!

God: No, Abe, you heard me right.

Abraham: You've got to be kidding, right? That's a good one - a God perfect in love, mercy, and compassion asking a father to kill his son, to stick a knife through his heart and set him aflame, on some silly stone altar.

God: No, I am not kidding. That's really what I want you to do. It's a test.

Abraham: Some test! You know I'd do a lot for you. After all because you asked me to, I left a good home to come to this God-forsaken place . Oops, sorry! Let me rephrase that. What if I flunk this test?

God: I'd really rather not get into that. Well, are you going to do it or not?

Abraham: I'm thinking it over.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mary Tells Joseph About the Angel

I have always wondered about the conversation Mary and Joseph had when she told him about being pregnant. Use your own imagination, but it might have gone something like this:

M: Honey, I have something to tell you.
J: OK, dear.
M: Be patient with me, dear, but I have some news that may surprise you.
J: Yeah.
M: Yeah, well, you see, I mean, well, there was this angel.
J: Angel?
M. The one that told me I was pregnant.
M:By the Holy Spirit.
J: The Holy Spirit?
M: Well, I know that comes as a shock since we have never, uh, ..... uh. . . .
J: Done it? I am WELL aware of that, so how can you be in a family way?
M: I told you -- by the Holy Spirit.
J:Come on, sweetie, this is serious. Don't joke with me. It's not April Fools Day. Let's start over. What are you really trying to tell me.
M:That I'm pregnant by the Holy Spirit. That's what the angel told me.
J: There you go again. You know and I know that girls don't get pregnant unless they .. they do it with somebody -- a guy. Uh, Oh. O my goodness, you have been messing around with that Abraham who lives on the other side of the village. I've seen the way he looks at you and how you look back. I'll push his nose out the back of his head . . . .
M: No, No, it's not that it at all. It's all about what the angel said.
J: The angel. The ANGEL. The angel told you that the Holy Spirit knocked you up, and you didn't even know when it happened?
M: That's right. I swear, . . . I mean, I solemnly affirm.
J: Let me get this straight. Even though you and I have never ...... done it .. and you haven't been messing around with any other guy, but you're pregnant, and the Holy Spirit did it, and you are still a virgin, and this angel told you all this!
M: You do believe me, don't you?
J: I'm thinking it over.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Dishonesty of Preaching

I recently heard a sermon based on the story of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. The emphasis was on the imperative to meet the needs of our neighbors -- all eloquently stated. But I noted that nothing was said about the consequences of not doing so, you know the part about the non-loving being cast into the eternal fire, i. e., verses 41 and 46. The ethical mandate was there, but the eschatology was absent, totally ignored, whereas in the story itself, ethics and eschatology are inseparably joined. Is this dishonesty?

Liberal Christians generally do not believe in an everlasting hell for the wicked. It would not be fitting for a nice God, and the liberal God in nice middle-class congregations must above all be nice. Lots of commendation and exhortation but hardly any judgment, and seldom any wrath at all.

Conservatives quote Leviticus 20:13 condemning male homosexuality but ignore the rest of the passage that says both men shall be put to death. They also ignore other passages in which practices are condemned that are commonplace today among all citizens and believers, e. g. , wearing garments combining two types of material. Is this dishonesty?

Conservatives and liberals alike are equal opportunity practitioners of avoiding in Scripture what is unpalatable.

In liberal churches I have attended miracle stories are read or told as if they are to be taken literally. Seldom are any qualifications offered. The same is often true of the creation story, the second coming of Jesus, and other staples of orthodoxy when I know the pastors have a different point of view than the one that seems to be offered without question.

The Christmas season is upon us. The wondrous birth stories in Matthew and Luke will be read. Pageants will reproduce the ancient drama. Will anyone suggest how improbable it is that these startling events occurred just exactly like they are reported -- a pregnant virgin visited by an angel, wise men from afar led by a star -- unerringly-- right to the very stable where the baby was born (what a GPS that was!), a choir of angels in the heavens addressing some shepherds, and the like. Will any hint be given anywhere that these are imaginative stories, beautiful and powerful, but not literally true in detail?

Of course, everybody ignores Matthew 10:8 in the institution dedicated to continuing the ministry of the Apostles. Or do you know of some churches with a ministry of raising the dead (excluding Oral Roberts).

Students in schools like the one at which I taught are given the modern critical tools for dealing with the Bible in historical terms that highlight the humanity and cultural relativity of all these magnificent texts. Non-literal versions of the creation, incarnation, last judgment, the return of Jesus, etc. are offered in books by contemporary scholars and theologians. Students learn to speak of myth and symbol that deepen and enrich a mere literal rendering of the Bible and the creeds. But what happens to all this apparatus when they become pastors, teachers, and preachers in churches?

In my youth when there was much more freedom in the Southern Baptist Convention, I heard biblical scholars who wrote material for Sunday School classes talk about how it got watered down by the editors in Nashville, who removed any hint of the historical-critical approach to Scripture that was then being taught the seminaries of the denomination. The result was a harmless pablum absent of any of the wisdom of modern scholarship that forever left children and adults alike locked in a naive reading of the Bible. Preachers trained in these institutions left all their sophisticated learning behind as they became obsessed with larger churches, larger budgets, and having the largest number of baptisms in the association, if not in the state. Must not rock the boat, you know.

I could go on with endless examples, but the implications are clear -- at least to me. It seems like dishonesty to me but maybe I am missing something.

In the latter years of my tenure as a seminary teacher, I pestered everyone with the this teaser: "Is it possible to use the Bible with integrity?" My answer was that it was possible but the actual occurrence was so rare that it was a miracle worthy of note. I find no reason to change my mind.