Troubling Passages in the Bible

This is my title for my next blog. We had a very difficult reading from the Book of Numbers at prayers recently. Watch this space …

Other topics – ‘You’re not special (but you think you are!)

 

Born Again?

It’s one of those questions. Some people are so keen to ask and most of us not keen to answer. It’s a dividing line between those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’. People are keen to draw that line. Remember, Jesus didn’t draw lines, he crossed them. The ‘born again’ shall be last and the first will be those you never thought were ‘born again’. All of Christianity summed up in ‘are you born again?’ Harsh? Perhaps. But, someone, an insecure sectarian, decided that to be a ‘real’ Christian you must be a Born Again Christian.

It was already worked out of course, you must be a Protestant and then Protestant isn’t enough, you have to be Evangelical, then Conservative Evangelical, an inerrantist, ‘Reformed’. Some of this is in that question – ‘are you born again?’ It can cover the whole sequence up the pyramid of what a real Christian is – ‘Oh no, you’re not in’; ‘If you believe that then you can’t be a proper Christian.’ Jesus had no rules, no creed, no specifically Christian scripture, hell, he wasn’t even a Christian, he certainly wasn’t ‘Conservative’! He was a radical like me.

And yet, there is a whole host of these test areas: taking the Bible literally (Jesus showed the dangers of taking it too ‘literally’), arguing against contradictions in the Bible (it’s not the most consistent book in the world, duh!, multiple writers, even in the same books, hundreds of years apart, even the Gospel writers tell different stories ). And we want to reduce it all to a single question. And if we are ‘born again’, surely only God really knows and it’s between you and God. Did you know that ‘born again’ only appears three times in the Bible, two of those when Jesus opens up a conversation about it. It wasn’t a test question, but we’ve made it into one. Yes, I was there once. Am I still ‘born again’? Well, I don’t believe all that ‘born again’ stuff, reading the Bible made it pretty difficult, studying it more difficult still. I know so many people who started out as ‘Evangelical’ and ‘born again’, well they aren’t any more, still Christians though. What was one of the biggest difficulties we all faced? The ‘born again Christian’ worldview, great for those for whom it works, but it doesn’t work for everybody. And why should it? Jesus wasn’t a ‘born again Christian’, even St Paul didn’t take the Bible literally, he has some interesting ideas. Infallible? A much later idea.

My partner still cheerfully says, ‘Yes, I’m “born again”’, if asked. Pretty liberal though, not going to go along with the rest of it. It’s an exercise in not listening, perhaps I could get a bigger audience if I said ‘I’m born again’. I might get asked to speak at Evangelical events. But who wants to be in those places where you are constantly being checked out, be on the receiving end of ‘we’ll pray for you brother’? Why aren’t the ‘born again’ offering to pray for us without knowing whether we fit the mould. Do pray for the spiritual wellbeing of your Hindu or Jewish neighbour. Don’t fret about whether they’re ‘born again’. And remember that your liberal Christian friend may be just as ‘born again’ as you. But you should spare everyone this kind of spiritual measuring and ask yourself, ‘Am I born again? Or am I just following the old ways of looking down on, writing off and not listening?’ Who says all Christians have to be the same? No one. Certainly not Jesus. Was Jesus European? Protestant? Against women Bishops or same sex marriage? Nope. Time to avoid being divisive and ask some better questions, or better yet, keep quiet and listen.

Superhero!

I began this blog as an experiment, and the experiment continues, a Lent challenge if you will, though Lent was not the inspiration. Or maybe it was – some people talk of taking up, rather than the watered down ‘giving up’. It’s interesting to be completing this initial stage – this is my ‘Launch’ post on Easter Saturday. It was a blend of releasing my inner superhero, he’s in there somewhere, finding my authentic voice and creative writing.

It has worked, I’ve been a superhero – I had a starring role in a worldwide spectacle with many more ‘important’ people wearing their own superhero capes, worn a cowboy hat through Central London, had a ride in a Bentley with a chauffeur, met the big cheese in his Palace, spoke in the House of Lords, gave a speech to hundreds of people at Trafalgar Square, often on an empty stomach and with no comforting chocolate to fall back on, and announced my superhero status standing on a table in a central London wine bar. Apart from the last one I did all these things as part of my work. I would have had all these work commitments anyway, but not with my inner superhero telling me to go for it. In fact I haven’t posted one of my blogs here because the piece I wrote became one of my high profile speeches.

I’m glad that I’ve done it and Dark Lord also has a Twitter account 

@DarkLor51551926

I am now exchanging comments with Christians who have posted Bible verses and messages about ‘sin’ on the Jesus and Homophobia guest post https://rabbnoir.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/jesus-and-homophobia/. Nothing new there but I can express myself freely. This is the beginning of a journey.

Oh No it Isn’t!

It’s a mainstay of key times in the Christian calendar – Christmas and Easter – the fulfilment of ‘prophecy’! But it’s completely contrived, apparently Jesus started it as he used scripture throughout his ministry. He even said that the Old Testament prophets spoke about his death and resurrection. They didn’t! How could they? They had no idea, there is no prophecy about Jesus in the Old Testament. Most of what we have heard about prophecy is *completely wrong*.

Except in a very few places, scripture is always written after the events being recorded (and that’s assuming that the events happened). By the way, I’m writing this in church on Good Friday. Usually the accounts are written *long* after. Coming to the Good Book thousands of years later it is tempting to see it as an historical sequence with earlier prophecies being fulfilled, but they aren’t! It was written down later, it’s easy to talk about prophecy when you’re talking about the past.

Prophecy is something else, the Word of God for a particular time, a message for the moment. The famous mentions of a ‘virgin’ (not!) and a child being born in Isaiah were for the people who heard it then and have *nothing* to do with the time of Jesus, or Jesus himself. This idea of Jesus fulfilling prophecy then goes on to shape some wrong ideas about Jesus, which he rejected himself, the idea that he was ‘Messiah’ or ‘King’.

How has all this happened? The clue is in Jesus (duh!), he re-used or recycled scripture to show how it inspired him. Not to show how these words were directly about him. You can imagine him pointing to the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and saying, ‘Look, this bit here, this is about me!’ No? Me neither. But his followers do, they lack sophistication.

‘Prophecy’ was used because it offered a good fit, no one had to work so hard to make the case about Jesus, because the prophecy could do it for you. Yeah, right! Look closely and it all falls apart – Jesus wasn’t a king, was he descended from King David, who knows? He didn’t bring in peace, or have a long reign or re-establish the kingdom. This was such a powerful and persuasive paradigm (or pernicious) that Jesus’ followers even invented prophecies that weren’t there in the original scripture. Yes, the whole thing is basically dishonest and false! And who will say it? Well, I guess you haven’t read it anywhere else. And you’re hardly likely to hear it in church.

No Room on the Road?

‘Coexistence is futile’, as a group of superheroes (the Borg) didn’t quite say. Coexistence, harmony, peace are all difficult. War, violence, dangerous conflict seem so much more normal. We celebrate peace when it happens, though it took the maker of explosives to give it the importance it deserves, it’s rare and we have to fight for it, please don’t excuse the violent metaphor. Many superheroes work for peace, but it takes a tremendous amount of thumping to bring it about!

People sometimes talk about war on the road – cyclists vs. pedestrians and the mighty car, or better still, juggernaut against everybody. We don’t talk about peaceful streets, though we do have ‘traffic calming’, islands of calm on a dangerous highway. It needs calming because it’s deadly out there. Sometimes ‘calming’ makes people worse, they drive aggressively in the calm zones and make no allowances for the elderly and infirm struggling to cross the road. We associate calm with peace but some of the protagonists have not been pacified.

So what of coexistence? Another odd notion, foreign even. The Dutch can do road safety, cyclists are privileged and cars aren’t allowed to impose themselves. Of course where things really are calm then calmer modes of transport predominate. We see it in reverse in this country, a small percentage of people use their bicycles for regular transport. Who wants to ‘get on their bike’ when they have to share the road with hurtling steel death boxes. We still manage to kill an unheroic number of pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers on the roads every year. It’s encouraging to see the cycle tracks on roads in cities, better still where it is separated by a kerb or an island of safety. But they highlight how we can’t get along safely, though granted some cyclists, like car drivers, aren’t fit to be on the road. If people drove considerately and according to the spirit, or even the law, of the highway we wouldn’t need safe routes, either on or well away from the road. Are we solving the problem or perpetuating it?

We do need to put ourselves in the other person’s rubber. Very few things do not benefit from being able to share in the other’s experience, whether a place of worship or a mode of transport. Sometimes people need to be plucked out of their situation and brought to their senses. Admit it, we all do. And not with malice. We can imagine the superhero gently stopping our raging road user and extracting him (or less likely her) from the vehicle and taking him to bicycle boot camp or car control training. Now most cyclists do also own a car so have little excuse, the other way round is less encouraging, many car drivers have access to a bike but are too lazy, or scared, to use it.

So we must ask ourselves, do we want to coexist? Can we put all the nonsense behind us and do it properly, give way, yield, have patience? Yes, we can. But all this is a metaphor, it could be anything, any scenario where we look down on the slower, the less ‘successful’, the foreign. All the negative behaviour that we act out both conceals and reveals what’s really going on. Almost inevitably ego is behind it all, it can be a dangerous force, it might knock you off your bike, or crash your car. Take care out there!

‘Just Like Me’

… except there isn’t, there’s no one just like you, everyone is different, unique, even twins. And yet … so many things drive us towards similarity, a house, a partner, 2.4 children. That doesn’t sum up everyone, but then those who are single, or who have no children are a little strange, those without a car, except those who live in London. Fashion has us wearing the same as other people, we buy our underwear at M&S or, if we’re different, Agent Provocateur, along with lots of other people who are similar to us. In school no teenager wants to stick out, one of the worst things is to be different, odd, wearing hand-me-downs or something which is strangely different.

All very superficial, but then there are other superficial things that cause, or have caused, great turmoil in society – not getting married (e.g. witches), not eating pork or avoiding alcohol, wearing clothes commonly worn by the opposite sex, finding the same sex attractive, being a different colour, coming from a different country (though many of us do ultimately). For those who are older, signs which say ‘No Blacks, No Irish’. You’re not like us, you’re odd, you’re a threat (perhaps we can admit that there aren’t that many of you but you’re taking over). Also from another era, ‘Over here, stealing our women.’ Why do we think that we own things, or people, that don’t belong to us, or the intangible things which have developed over time, but somehow we want to be preserved like listed buildings – culture, warm beer (everyone’s drinking cold beer at home and the pubs are closing), the Church of England (though we don’t want to go there).

Scapegoating and stereotyping, the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness (the place of evil) with the sins of the people on it. The scapegoat is a myth or a metaphor, but it often becomes a terrible reality, with awful distressing karmic irony those who gave us the concept of the scapegoat became the scapegoat of ‘Christian’ Europe (or the appalling ‘Christendom’ – Christendoom more like!). Christendom was another terrible thing that worked on sameness, a whole society, culture and empire where people had to be the same, no pagans, heretics and witches (there probably weren’t any witches, just women, people like anyone else, with a superficial gender difference, just think of the scapegoating, past and present and future, no doubt, which means we need International Women’s Day, grrr!), no Jews, no gays. Until Martin Luther thought differently, he wasn’t the first, though some of his predecessors had been executed for being different. He was a kind of (flawed) superhero, he spoke up for difference, nailed his declaration of difference to the cathedral door. He still had a problem with those who were different – Jews and ‘Turks’. His contemporaries were the same, Calvin burnt those who disagreed with him.

The Church isn’t doing this any more, it is not big or powerful enough, thank God!, but just think what it would do if it still had power. There would be no Sunday Trading or civil partnerships and we can see how it reacts to equal marriage, except for the Quakers. But then we have secular conformity, which is where I started, best not to be too religious, or too odd, and people still aren’t happy with the ‘Turks’, either those who share their religion or the country that wants to join the EU. Maybe Christendom has never gone away, its hold over people is too strong, suddenly we want to start defining Europe in Christian terms (as if Islam was never part of it), we want to nail our Christian colours to the racist mast by saying that those who are religiously or ethnically different don’t belong, they are a threat to our ‘Christian heritage’. Unexpected perhaps, they are hardly Christian, though Christians were once (some still are) like them. QED, sadly. Let’s embrace our difference and those who are different, let’s all be different together. 

What kind of Society?

Society is fluid, it reflects those who make it up and the other impersonal factors which create it – the market, legislation, financial constraints. It evolves, though some would say it devolves. People’s behaviour changes and the things which people enjoy – pubs close and coffee shops open (everywhere!), churches empty and supermarkets fill, hunting and smoking are made illegal, Sunday opening and gay marriage (we hope) become legal and accepted. Different groups within society may almost feel themselves at war with each other ‘aggressive secularists’ vs. ‘close-minded conservatives’, ‘militant atheists’ vs. ‘pushy fundamentalists’.

What kind of society would we like? Ever been asked this question, what about in a group with people of a range of different views? How could we ever agree? Perhaps we elect politicians to do this for us – it immediately sounds wrong – but we are responsible for it. Politicians have some great ideas, or think they do. Personally, I think Liberal is the way, reduction of inequalities (maybe creates less work for superheroes through a happier society, who knows, it’s not likely to happen, that’s why we have superheroes) and so on. But politics is more about privilege it seems, just look at the expenses scandal. They should have all been thrown out. But no, it would have caused chaos, and it wasn’t as illegal as regular crime or expenses fiddling in other industries. Bullshit! Answerable to no one? It looks that way. Tony Blair had his war despite 1 million people marching through the streets of London and even he knows that he was wrong about the reasons for war, even if he would still do the same thing if he had a second chance.

But Government doesn’t represent all the people (and perhaps they are ‘playing with bad ideas’), election turnout has declined, only 65% of people voted in 2010 and only 59% of votes cast were for the coalition parties. So we have a Government that was voted in by 38% of the electorate. Oddly, perhaps this is a good thing, we don’t have one party doing its own thing for 4 years because it has to discuss with its coalition partner. Presumably this is more constructive than the ‘discussions’ with the Opposition. What good does posturing and performing do? Being collegiate and consensual is the way to go, my company is a coalition of difference.

One gap in our society is the voices of those who are not heard, just think of the boy who calls Superman at a time of crisis. Of course he could hear him, despite being far away. Government needs to listen to those who have not voted for them and not voted at all, they are not there for their followers, those who think like them. The whole thing needs to be done differently. The Opposition leader should be brought into the Cabinet. There should be a Minister for Conscience and Humanity. Parliament as a whole should go on a team-building course together and do some debate training. Would it be too frightening to govern better, as if it was important? And politicians need to get in touch, not just an out of office Michael Portillo, and experience the lives of the unemployed, those with disabilities. Of course they should go on a full course of Diversity training, as should those running the Church of England. Most of all, they should encourage a national conversation and become a listening government and show the rest of us how it’s done. Or else!