Category Archives: Old Testament

Will the Witness Please Stand Up…

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:2, NRSV)

I am a fan of murder mysteries and court room dramas. Two genres of television reigned in my home growing up- westerns and  detective shows. Folks like Perry Mason, Matlock, and of course Law & Order, were staples in my house. My grandmother watched mostly, and I would sit with her and watch just because.

One of the tried and true scenes in a courtroom drama was the moment when the trial turned to the testimony of the witness. Often, the case would hinge on what one witness had to say in the courtroom. In shows like Matlock and Perry Mason, the witness testimony was the show down, the high stakes drama filled with life or death consequences. Even the mundane moment of swearing-in the witness was infused with tension. The moment that always stood out in my mind was when the judge in some courtroom drama would call out “will the witness please rise?”. Since we the audience already knew the stakes at play in the drama, we knew that the last five, ten or fifteen minutes of the show would be defined by this “testimony”.

Well, despite the fact that these were just dramas, the role of a good witness in any trial cannot be understated. Granted,  witness testimony in court cases is often unreliable and needs corroborating evidence, the importance of having someone to verify what happened is always good in relaying the story. And it is to witness verification that our text points.

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This 107 Psalm attributed to David is one that is seeking a witness. It is a call to worship and to praise God for God’s goodness and “steadfast love” toward Israel. David calls the people to worship but tells them to show themselves as redeemed by saying something- “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”.

Not unlike the bailiff in those courtroom dramas, David is looking for witnesses. Folks to whom God has saved, redeemed and can stand for God’s name in world.

We have, in the Christian church, taken this call for witnesses to be a call of attendance and not clarion call of presence and being. We expect the preacher to read this Psalm and folks to show up/ out in worship for all of the things that God has redeemed them from. Yet, I believe that David is calling on us to witness as redeemed people in a world that is too divided for its own good.

For too long, the “redeemed of the Lord” have been associated with certain political ideologies and a hypersensitive morality. We have been associated with judgmental values and a holiness that was subject to the whims of politics and power. However, the psalmist tells us to speak up! If we are redeemed, then there is a greater standard for us to speak up for; a greater calling to identify with. David is calling us to stand up for inconvenient truths and complicated realities. Being a witness requires us to risk it all when we identify who is really the Sovereign in this world of pretenders to power.

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There is a prophetic responsibility in “saying so”. We cannot just say so when it is easy. “Saying so” means speaking to power and principalities and saying that you are more than just a vote or a constituent. “Saying so” means witnessing to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in body, mind and mouth. “Saying so” means rejecting hypocritical positions and standing up for truth in the face of coercion.   My vision of truth comes when the witnesses of the Lord stand up and testify!

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Redemption, Social Justice

It Ain’t What you Think

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV)

The last forty years in American public life have been the most socially and culturally divisive, perhaps since the Civil War. The American republic has always been made of complex perspectives on a wide variety of issues.Throughout American history the divisions of black versus white, free versus enslaved, indigenous versus immigrant, North versus South, Christian versus “everybody else”, gay versus straight, east coast versus west coast, and just about any other division has dominated our portrayal of our selves as Americans.

While our divisions were built into American identity from the outset, the last half century has given way to consequential tears in the fabric of the Republic. We have used certain divisions to reinforce other in order to build coalitions, voting blocs and larger groups of influence. Our social discourse complexifies with compound descriptors like “Christian-southern-whites”, or “non-immigrant native-speaking persons of color”, or “black Southern gay men”. All of these descriptors are not just describing realities, but in fact are making out tribal distinctions. The carve out new spaces for entrenchment-home encampments to find like-minded believers  in order to feel “at home” somewhere. We shape these tribes (with their particularly ascribed stereotypes, ideologies and political instincts) in order to make the world digestible and manageable.

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BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Probably the most maligned of these complex tribal distinctions is any one of them that include the moniker Christian-a very well earned distinction. Throughout the centuries, Christianity has perpetuated some of the most egregious crimes or acts on other people. Slavery, indigenous conquest, and the subjugation of non whites, were all perpetrated with Christian institutional endorsement. Continuing in that surrogacy, we as Americans have used the Christian moniker to create new and distinct tribal groups to reinforce political and social beliefs. Since the Moral Majority of the late 1970s, to be Christian in America is to be part of the “Conservative” tribe and political party. For the mainstream, to be Christian means believing in creationism, being pro-life, for a singular definition of marriage (between a man and woman) and to believe in the divine right to American Manifest Destiny.

The problem will of this is the truth of the Judeo-Christian faith; it does not neatly fit into such well constructed, poll-tested, hermetically sealed demographic voting categories. Jesus was not a republican or a democrat. He didn’t defend unborn life at the expense of the living. He didn’t campaign for tax reform or wrap himself up in anyone’s patriotic symbology. He didn’t promote biblical adherence in schools, idolatrous belief in a state-sponsored savior, and he sure as heaven didn’t count on America as being the vehicle for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn’t a progressive either. He wasn’t an American liberal seeking to harmony with everyone and promoting peace, love and soul. He didn’t believe in pro-choice, a government sponsored social safety net, and the unity of all humanity under one banner of peace. He wasn’t a socialist who believed in the redistribution of wealth (despite what you might read in the Gospel of Luke). He’s not the Jesus of the elitist and pontifical Left, or the xenophobic hypocritical Right. A pox on both our houses!

The American tribal adjective- Christian is a perversion of the ancient teachings of the one called the Christ. We lack the seriousness to believe the faith we practice. No, I am not suggestion that “we all fall short of the glory of God”. I am asserting that we (as Americans) intentionally avoid the hard practice of The Way! To be a follower of Jesus means leaving “stuff” behind, denying yourself, and taking up a cross. It means hearing the voice from eternity call you to “drop your nets” and follow him. It means you (and this nation) are far from the kingdom values we espouse and say we believe. Its just easier to pervert the gospel than to live it.

Only the words of the prophet Amos can give us the wisdom we need in our hypocritical and fiercely partisan time. God wants none of our worship, festivals or pomp when we cannot see the third way of moral justice. The vision of truth can only be revealed when we let go of our tribalism and let Christ challenge us all…

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Church, Civil Religion, Discipleship, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Sacred Memory, Uncategorized

The Return of the Truth

(It’s been a long time since Ive posted. In fact, its been four years (How telling??). A lot has happened in those years- and a lot remains the same. I apologize for the silence, but the truth of the matter is that its more complacency on my part than anything. A confession: I got comfortable in the status quo of equal rights, healthcare for all, and having a black President. And in the face of continued injustices somehow I are complacent…For that I pray for God’s forgiveness. There is still too much to work for and to not be coopted into normalcy. For things are NOT normal…

I am reactivating and recommitting my self to the spiritual practice of my writing. The clarity of thought and purpose of thinking, and the calling to stand for what is moral, Godly, and true. Some are called to march, others to be arrested, others still to be run for office….I have always been called to teach, educate and empower. This blog is a means to the end.)

 

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“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” –Daniel 3:12-18

 

In our house we listen to Christian contemporary radio station. It’s one in our home 24 hours a day. Our children love the music, and for my wife and me, (two theologically educated clergy persons), the messages are more theologically consistent than most of the gospel music being played. The music and messages that are on the station are often found to be in more evangelical churches and that is fine because they speak a truth that we can affirm in our house. Occasionally, the station has guests on to talk about inspirational topics our to simply encourage listeners on certain topics.

This was the case this past Friday. In the aftermath of a most divisive election and on the day of a deeply unpopular inauguration, the station had a Christian counselor to come on  and to talk about strategies to heal and restore relationships.(- good topic right? sigh) When responding to the question about what we are to do as Christians in the aftermath of the election, the guest put forth the classic answer of Christian conformity- “we are to pray for our leaders as the Bible instructs.”Citing Daniel and Paul, the guest went on to say our prayers for our president’s success mean we are being faithful to the Bible.

I was infuriated.

Livid that such a perversion of the faith could be on my “theologically consistent” radio station, I started yelling at the radio in the car.

“How stupid!”

“Thats the best answer you can give??!!”

The truth is that the Bible offers dueling views on our role as people of faith in relationship to government. Sometimes the text tells us to stay and pray for the powers (Jeremiah’s message to the exiles). At other times it tells us to stand up and fight for the oppressed (Moses against Pharaoh). While the guests comments weren’t wrong, they didn’t tell the whole truth. Protest, resistance and standing up for God in the face of impending death is very much a faithful response to government as much as “praying for our leaders”. The above text from Daniel demonstrates that for us.

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These three boys who are coopted into the Babylonian governmental service still know the truth of their heritage and faith. Their names and identities were coopted for the purposes of social control by Nebuchadnezzer, but they knew who they were. And while they could do many things for the government of the king, they would not blaspheme their God by bowing to another. Therefore, they resist.  The speak truth at the risk of their lives. They exercise a faith filled response-trusting God over the king or any political system.

Beloved, people of faith have failed. We have failed. Faithful living is not conformity. It never has been and it never will be. To be faithful is to be radical according to our societal norms. We as American Christians have lost our saltiness, and traded it for prosperity and stability.

As faithful people, we are not Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, red or blue. Those are the definitions that society imposes. Our job is to resist those and any other attempts at categorization. We are people of the Way of Jesus Christ. The Way that always finds a different path. The Way that risks all to save all. The Way that reveals the visions of truth in a world full of lies. I’m back now…let the work begin.

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Civil Religion, Community, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Uncategorized

A Poor Imitation…

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him

that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no one,

and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so his own arm brought him victory,

and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness like a breastplate,

and a helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,

and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.

According to their deeds, so will he repay;

wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;

to the coastlands he will render requital. (Isaiah 59:15b-18, NRSV)

I, like many of my friends and colleagues, am devastated and disappointed as a result of Saturday night’s verdict in the Trayvon Martin cased. The 18 months of waiting, the intense media scrutiny, the charged testimony, and the 16 1/2 hours of deliberations brought back a not-guilty verdict and released George Zimmerman. The thousands of hours of interviews, the fervor and anticipation in social media, and the attention to the minutia of race relations, community engagement and social stereotypes all lead to a seemingly forgone conclusion: George Zimmerman legally killed an unarmed teenager.

I tell you, I am disappointed……but not surprised. I am not surprised because what could a jury do when the prosecution argues none of the central factors that define the case, race, vigilantism and poor investigation? In a conversation with a dear friend and colleague, I expressed to him my utter dissatisfaction with the prosecution in the case. “They haven’t even proven to me that George Zimmerman is guilty, and I already believe he is!”, I told him. The prosecution was not prepared, organized or even thorough in their execution of the case. Unprepared witnesses, unclear strategy, and no mention of the key factors of the crime (racial profiling for one) defined the character of the prosecution’s case. You can’t win if the jury does not have a clear understanding of your theory of the crime.

And since I am talking about the dynamics of the law and the case, let me take a minute to define the difference between being guilty as a verdict of a court of law versus the actually committing of a crime. You see, in our system of jurisprudence, the evidence and the law are the only factors for consideration in order to prove the ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ of a defendant. The job of the prosecuting attorney is to arrange the evidence in such a way as to ‘reconstruct’ a narrative of the crime placing the defendant as the one who is centrally responsible for both the evidence and the crime. This is actually a huge responsibility since the only job of the defense is to offer a ‘reasonable doubt’ to the prosecution’s case. Defendant’s have no real burden of proof other than to discount what may take months or years for the prosecution to put together as the narrative, given the evidence.

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What this system does not give is a guarantee that the one ruled guilty is actually the one who committed the crime. This system of jurisprudence offers the ‘faith’ that if the evidentiary hearing is sufficient enough that a jury of ‘peers’ believes a particular theory of the crime, then justice is served. This system can only give assurance based upon a “preponderance of the evidence.” However, this system is likely to get it right as much as it likely to get it wrong. For one who masters the elements of trial law, jury selection, and storytelling can convince a court (within reason) of their theory of the crime and thus get someone acquitted who may have actually committed the crime (see OJ, Casey Anthony, and any number of Jim Crow ‘trials’, etc.).

Given my skewed understanding, I started reflecting on the results of the case and listening to the press conferences of both the prosecution and the defense on Saturday night. What I wrestled with deeply disturbed me. For one, why is it that the prosecution in Florida (or any state for that matter) is always so effective when the defendants are represented by public defenders or cheap legal representation, but not so when there is ‘good’ legal representation? Why is it that under ‘normal’ circumstances, the prosecution is often so confident in their theory of the crime, that they bully defendants into plea deals so that they never set foot into a court room? Why is it that a ‘typical’ prosecution often gets away with certain ‘tricks’ that are overlooked by inexperienced defense attorneys and trial weary judges only to the detriment of the defendant’s fair hearing before the law?

I think that ultimately, the Zimmerman/Martin affair has revealed the underlying problem with our system of ‘justice’. It is the same problem that was brought to light in the OJ Simpson case, the Casey Anthony case and many of the other high profile cases that result in a prosecution’s failure to prove the case. It is brought to light in any high profile, well-heeled defendant is brought before a court of law to be held accountable for some act. In those instances, the respective prosecutions are forced to bring their ‘A’ game, because so many people count on them to get it right. At best, they are mediocre; because, quite simply, their normal actions against a defendant often involve ‘tricks’ and other mechanisms to avoid an intense trial on the evidence and facts. Plea deals, zealous prosecution and other powers of the state so often overwhelm ‘ordinary’ defendants that there is seemingly little for them to be able to react to. ‘Ordinary’ defendants don’t have deep pockets to get the attorneys that check after prosecutorial misconduct. ‘Ordinary’ defendants cave under the bluff of evidence that prosecutors throw at defense teams. ‘Ordinary’ defendants don’t have an entire world rooting for (or against) their acquittal……

 

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Now, as you may have guessed (by my oversimplification of the legal system), I am not a lawyer or even a legal secretary.  What I know of the law comes from a careful reading of some textbooks on law (and a hell of a lot of ‘Law and Order’). I am a practical theologian. I speak to matters of faith and how our faith speaks to the matters of our life. In light of that disclaimer, I can say this: our current system of jurisprudence offers little in the way of the justice that God is looking for in the above passage from Isaiah. You see, justice is first and foremost a divine concept. The Bible is replete with examples of God’s cry and call for justice to be made known among the nations and the people. Justice, like love, is an aspect of God’s character. God is the balance on the scales and the mediator of the morality of the universe. The nature, occasion, and execution of justice is solely the ultimate purview of God.

Like all attempts at human imitation of the divine, the American justice system falls far short of the divine character. Perverse and distorted, the justice system is riddled with loopholes and undermining of the traditional rules that distort the divine position. Not unique to America, the truth is that humanity’s justice is not God’s justice. This passage from Isaiah forecasts the beginning of new vision for Israel. It is a vision where God, out of sheer frustration and disappointment, comes down to be justice for the nation. In this anger, God deals with the unjust to reestablish the plumb line for the nation and for the world.

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Just because justice is divine, doesn’t mean we cant’ do our be better. (Love is divine and we spend a lifetime trying to perfect it!) We can do better by our citizens, by our mothers and fathers, and by our God. As long as there are those who are prosecuted disproportionately, we can do better. As long as there are those who can ‘buy’ the right defense to find the holes in our legal system, we can do better. As long as people feel unsafe and unprotected by the systems that are meant to protect us, we can do better. God requires it…..lest God comes down and see about it for Godself!

My heart breaks for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin as they have no closure and no opportunity to grieve fully in light of the continual questions that permeate this case. All of hearts should break at the injustices of our life together. We can and should do better by Biblical standards. For all those who mourn and suffer under our best attempts at justice, my vision is for their healing, and God’s justice to be done “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

 

 

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Filed under Community, Grief, Hope, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability

Wait on the Posse…

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14, NRSV)

We live in an age of instant gratification. Constantly, we seek to decrease the time between ‘pushing the button’ and ‘engaging the device.’ Whether it is commuting to work, waiting for your computer to ‘boot’ up, sending a text, making a call, or just standing in line, we HATE to be found waiting. For many, anytime spent waiting is time wasted. After all, time is one area of human life that is irredeemable. As a result, we find all manner of ways to ‘fill the time’ so that we maximize our usage of time.

I would suspect that this obsessive fixation on time came with the march of technology, progress and ingenuity. (More specifically that fixation is unique element of most Western societies. But more on the that later…) Much of the technology revolutions of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and the Modern eras all came about as ways to save time and increase efficiency. In fact we measure an object, institution or person based upon their ability to move swiftly and (perhaps secondarily) effectively. Everything from fast food restaurants, Emergency Rooms, airlines and even your local dry cleaners tout their ability to minimize waiting times and delays. Ultimately however, this fixation has created a high level of impatience among many of us.

In the Christian life, waiting has also become annoying. The disease of impatience has crept into the life of discipleship. Instant gratification has grabbed hold of many of us in the faith to our detriment. We expect prayers answered immediately, preaching to be brief, worship to be ‘efficient’ and our purpose to be instantly clear. Essentially, we as Christians want our faith to conform to the fast paced, hectic and aggressive schedules that we all keep. We expect to multitask our faith with all of the other elements of work, family, and recreation that define the competition of so many of our lives.

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In my vocation as a Pastor, I run into so many Christians (and others) who wrestle with patience. They pray for it, and use mantras to govern their mind while they are forced to wait. The loathe the moments when they have to wait on spouses, traffic and all of the mundane moments of life that seem to lead ‘nowhere’. Consequently, they find horrifying, the moments of wrestling and contemplation that characterize the Christian faith and discipleship. “You mean I have to wait”, or, “I know I should be more patient”, comes the reply to the task of discipleship. Most frightening for even more us is the idea that we have to wait on God.

This simple admonition of the power and purpose of waiting in our above passage is often lost on many of us. The Psalmist pens this as a song of confidence and boasting in God. Posing the question of “Whom shall I fear?”, the writer is clearly strengthened in the power of God. However, what seems to be subtly present, is that the revelation of the Psalm have come through an intense wrestling of faith, or spirituality, or strength or some other existential struggle. Verses 13 and 14 puts forth the faith of what he believes he shall see in his life: The vindication of his hurt and pain, if he can just……..wait. The most powerful revelation of the Psalm is that in waiting, he found peace in the midst of struggle.

The psalmist seems to fly in the face of much of our conceptions of time and waiting. Western cultural mores are built around the clock. Everything we do is governed by time and its infinite worth as a commodity (which never devalues). Trains, planes, and careers run on the clock. However, in other cultures, time is a construct of the community. African (and African Diaspora) communities embody a culture of ‘communal time’ as one historian suggested. In our collective experience, we experience ‘beginnings and endings’. An event or activity does not begin until all the necessary parties have assembled, which may be later than the clock. The emphasis is placed on the assembly and the power of the community as opposed to the abstraction that is time. (Of course this is problematic when it comes to bus schedules, airplanes and other aspects of modern living.) 

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The worldview of the Psalmist might be similar to our African brothers and sisters in that the importance of waiting on the ‘necessary participant’ is critical to the journey of life. In other words, the psalmist might be offering us the challenge of communal formation with God while we are waiting. Said differently, your journey is not worth its goal if you leave ‘before time’ and without all of the proper personnel. Being mindful of God and God’s plans in the midst of the journey is worth the wait, as God’s actions are critical and directions are essential to the life of faith and success. Anything less is just ‘keeping time’.

God’s plans for our lives, and even our own plans for our lives take time, effort and energy to come to fruition. Efficiency and fast don’t seem to be good partners when it comes to discipleship. A hallmark of discipleship is patience. A willingness to wait after done all you could do is incredibly difficult but worthwhile. For in the ‘sacrament’ of waiting, we will find a reason to boast in the power of God to see God’s plan through. Patience for you and patience for me is a vision of truth that we could all use. Again I say, WAIT!!!

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Hope, Old Testament, Sacred Memory

‘Biblical’ Challenges…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NRSV)

Unless you have been under a rock for the last month or so, you have missed one of the most controversial and yet ‘trendiest’ topics in pop culture……The Bible. This 13-part miniseries seeks to cover some of the pivotal and definitive stories of the Biblical text. Unlike most History channel programming about the Bible, this series contains little to no scholarship or commentary (in fact very little narration). Instead this series seeks to ‘tell the story’ with, according to the series, a fervor and vibrancy that “bring the Bible to life.”

With a multi-racial cast and a eye toward an interpretative acting, the series offers insight into an angle on the scriptures that a segment of our Christian family affirms. Retelling the stories of pivotal stores of Creation in Genesis, Samson in Judges, Moses in Exodus and David in the history texts among others, the series hopes to bring the Bible and its narratives into the mainstream of the public consciousness and conversation. To that end, the series has been widely successful. It has trended on Twitter, been followed closely by TV personalities like TJ Holmes and Roland Martin and has been featured on several news networks. The series has also been deeply criticized by biblical scholars, feminists, and Christians from all over the world. I too, add my voice to that criticism of the series…

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I have watched the series produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, (both avowed evangelical Christians), each week with excitement and bitter resentment. Excitement to see the stories of my Christian heritage brought to life and resentment as to how they would be butchered and skewered in the grinder of cultural, social and contextual blindness. They have selected the stories, chosen what was relevant and used their multi racial cast in such a narrowed view that Egyptians are white and Jews are British. Their choices have left no doubt about their intentions, directions and purposes in telling their narratives about the bible.

In watching last night, I found myself repulsed by the brunette Brit that was supposed to represent my Jesus. Weirdly, I previously tolerated a British Moses and Pharaoh, a peculiarly black Samson (with a thing for white women), the gross mischaracterization of David’s ‘rape’ of Bathsheba and the casting of President Obama’s twin as the devil in the earlier installments of the series. Yet, I found this week that this interpretation of Jesus was a bridge too far….

The truth of the matter is that the casting of colonial Jesus essentially completes a ‘whitewashing’ of the continual portrayal of the Biblical narrative. For centuries, the truths of the African and ‘colored’ heritage of the text has been undermined by colonial powers and forces that sought to rewrite and patronize the what the ancient writers sought to convey. Many folks have said that the color of Jesus shouldn’t matter as long as we appreciate and believe what he did for us. If Jesus’ color doesn’t matter, then why are nearly all of the depictions of Jesus in western culture of a white man? The ‘color’ of our stories matters because they help us to inculcate and in grain the narratives in our lives. Culture, context, gender roles and power all matter in the telling of sacred narratives because they help to expose the continual truth of God’s engagement in the culture, context and power of our present lives.

One colleague commented on reviewing one of the episodes that I, “should not be surprised or astonished, because Burnett and Downey could not be expected to do multicultural telling of the Bible.” My reply was that “my expectations were not unrealistic and in fact were even more normative given that this is the 21st century and we have a broader view of the text and the messages of the text.” Expecting Abraham to be middle eastern and speak something other than English (with a British accent) is not an unreasonable expectation in the 21st century. Expecting a culturally and textually appropriate portrayal of any Biblical character is not an unreasonable expectation of white producers or of the History Channel. Expecting that critical elements of the narratives of Christian heritage not be redacting or edited is also a reasonable expectation.

Unknown-1The text for this week is a passage that I often struggle with. In and of itself, this passage (which has been used by many preachers to support the efficacy of the Bible), on its surface validates the use of scripture because ‘scripture says so’! However, the more nuanced understanding of the text offers a view that the Bible is relevant for teaching because of the inherent truth of the witness of God throughout all generations in the totality of scripture. I believe the writers of the biblical text told the truth of the stories with an awareness of God’s action in and through and by and with the messiness of our human existence. That truth of the text is what makes  the text “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

In my vocation as a pastor and religious educator, I plan to use the series and all of its flaws. I plan to use it to teach the power of hermeneutics and enculturation in reading the bible. The History Channel series is no different than many of the other portrayals of the Bible (see ‘Ten Commandments’, ‘One Night with the King’, ‘Prince of Egypt’, etc.). All of these movies and shows tell the stories of the Bible in ways that are intentional in leading us to believe what they want us to. In many ways, these tellings reinforce cultural mores and norms that continually oppress and undermine the real meaning of the text. In teaching about this form of redaction, I hope to empower many in our faith to counteract these tendencies when we see it so that we may be empowered in our views of pop cultural representations of our faith.

I take REAL issue with redaction (even in the ancient traditions in the Old Testament). Redaction is a power grab and a selective revisionist view toward telling the truth. Its misleading with intent and purpose. If we are ever going to get a free and fair glimpse of the vision of truth, we are going to need to tell the story of our faith free from redaction, revision and with a healthy wrestling with God in the text.

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Discipleship, Epistles, Hope, New Testament, Old Testament, Prophetic Accountability, Uncategorized

Following a Different Policy

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? He said, “I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brothers blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10, NRSV)

This past week a stunning thing took place at a assisted Living facility in Bakersfield, California. A woman had gone into cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing. A nurse (remember that) on staff called 911 and was waiting for instructions. The operator on the line stated quite clearly that CPR was needed and that it needed to be performed immediately. The nurse’s response is bone chillingly inhumane and robotic. The exchange went as follows:

911 dispatcher: Are we just going to wait and let this lady die?

Nurse: Well, that’s why we’re calling 911.

911:  We need to get CPR started

Nurse: They’re refusing CPR. They’re going to let her just die.

911: I understand your boss is telling you you can’t do it but if there’s anybody, a      human being, I don’t…. is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Nurse: Um, not at this time.

I must admit that when I first heard this I was struck by the irony of it all. A woman who is a nurse, and is trained to help people, quotes company protocol and policy when someone has a heart attack. In a “Assisted Living” facility no less!!(Worse yet, it has been reported that the deceased daughter is “satisfied with the treatment” her mother received.)

Apparently, the company that owns the “assisted living” facility has a policy that does not assist people in active medical distress other than calling 911. This company has effectively enshrined into company policy the phenomenon that we occasionally see from people in the streets. You see it through the hidden camera footage when people see someone on the streets in distress and then do little to nothing to aid that person. Sometimes they don’t even call 911 or reach out for anyone.

Cain and Abel

This behavior is not new. If we trust the witness of the scriptures, we find the first such incident in our above text. Often called the first incident of murder in creation, the above passage seems bigger than just sibling rivalry gone awry. Likewise, this tale is not merely about what happens when we are not forthright in our feelings. All of those explanations can be found in the text but Cain’s response to God’s prompt seems to be particularly telling.

When God “stumbles” upon the scene of fratricide, God asks,Where is your brother Abel?”, to which Cain offers a stunningly blunt and sarcastic retort, ““I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” The response seems on the surface to be both disingenuous and pompous. At a deeper level, the writers of the passage are placing a double entendre into Cain’s mouth. The retort is both a denial of Cain’s familial responsibility for his brother and is a passive slap in the proverbial face of God. In other words, when God poses the question of Abel’s whereabouts, Cain’s response in our vernacular is, Don’t know what you are talking about. Keeping people isn’t my job, it’s yours!!

More importantly in the passage, Cain’s response reveals a truth of our own human shortcomings. When we fall short of expected behavior and fail to be human in our behaviors to our fellow sojourner, we resort to hiding behind the ‘policies’ we craft for ourselves. Whether it’s Cain hiding behind the witness of God’s character as humanity’s caretaker; the Pharisees being scolded by the Jesus for hiding behind the sabbath; or a nurse in Bakersfield, we use the convenience of policy to cover our ineptitude or inhumane practices to one another.

Beloved, we are made to be connected to one another. We cannot live a part from each other and thrive. We are meant to live in community and even though communities don’t always get along we are called to do it together. Resorting to legalistic interpretations of ‘policy’ stifles what has always been intended for each one of us. ‘Policy’ has a place in so far as it helps us to understand our relationship with one another and the ways we relate to God. However, our heavenly mandate is always answer yes when the question is asked, “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”. The 911 operator almost seems to be asking that very prophetic question of the nurse when she simply asks, “is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” In the same way that Cain killed his brother Abel, this nurse willful inaction stole the chance for life for that woman. The nurse’s response to the operator says it all: “Um, not at this time.”

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We are better than what this nurse and this company offered this dying woman. It is insufficient for the company to say that they let all of their residents know of the CPR policy in advance. There is still a human standard, a basic standard or life. This standard applies to all areas of our life together. We can do better in our conversations about guns and violence and not hide behind a policy that “guns don’t kill people”. We can do better in our policies toward war, healthcare, poverty and all the ways that we should be “keeping” our brothers and sisters. God requires more and Abel’s blood cries out for me. We should demand better from each other and from those who lead us.

Getting the lesson from the Cain and Abel narrative without the death of another one of our brother’s and sister is a vision of truth…

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