Scripture opaque and obscure?

This started out as a very short post to contain nothing but a short quote, but I can’t help myself. For good or for bad?
The loud and demanding rhetoric that has been going around for the past decade or so is that Scripture is absolutely clear about everything – no need for “interpretation,” just do what the plain meaning, those black-n-white words, tell us to do. Yes, yes, this understanding of the thing and place of Scripture, the Holy Bible, has been around for a very long time, but now this attitude is in the ascendancy. Certain segments of the Christian Church have the money and the power to hold the ear of the levers of government and are in the forefront of the Culture Wars. Any deviance from the strict party line equals repudiation of the thing, entirely.
Anyway, I used to be in that camp, and I am thankful for good reasons that some of the influence remains with me. I do have a high view of Scripture and certainly believe it is reasonable to consider that the Bible is more than simply a collection of writings from peoples and cultures from times past trying to figure out their way in the world.
With shock, however, the “truly righteous” among us react with dread and outrage if certain questions are put forward. What, Scripture is not always clear? We fallible humans might actually interpret it wrongly, possibly for centuries if not millennia? God is still revealing His Truth through Scripture by leading us to right (new) understanding? Ambiguous, it might be? Say it isn’t so!
Well, I was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions yesterday and came across this line:
“It is not for nothing that by your will so many pages of scripture are opaque and obscure.” (Book XI:3 for context – Henry Chadwick’s translation)
As the Catechism stipulates:
Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
A. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.
Q. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?
A. We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.
Notice, the Holy Spirit does not guide us individually “in the true interpretation of the Scriptures,” but by way of the Church. Not a very American-Christian way of viewing the way it is done, depending on how we want to define, “the Church.” The individualistic nature of American-Christianity doesn’t help much. And, of course, in good Anglican fashion, we use tradition and reason as helps to our understanding of the Word of God.
Then, there is the statement in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:
“The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.”
“Containing all things necessary for salvation…” The Bible is not a history book, not a science book, not a book of anthropology, not a tome of a civilization, despite the understanding that there is history, science (as best understood at the time), and a treasure trove for anthropological information. The purpose of Scripture is not to tell us what to believe about quantum physics, but to be show us what is necessary for salvation and how we humans are to experience “life to the full” by design.
Too many people want to make an idol of the Bible. These same people will often say that they want to live the pure faith like it was lived in the early Church. Well, Augustine’s writings are about as early as we get – he was born in the year of our Lord, 354. Yet, Augustine writes such things!

Slice of life

Life has been very hectic lately. I’m not really sure why, but it just seems that way. This is a brief slice of life, thoughts, and other stuff. I like that word, “stuff!”
+ I appreciate Ron Paul and Barack Obama. I’ve read about the commonality between the two – something like they actually think and talk about what they think. They don’t just spit out sound bites that don’t really answer questions being asked but are force-fitted into questions. Ron Paul is more Libertarian, which frankly I like. Obama is just refreshing.
To be honest, while I don’t agree with his politics, I like Dennis Kucinich because of his blunt honesty and convictions. Of course, he has no hope of winning at this point and like Paul he has nothing to lose from being honest and up-front about what he thinks and believes. I lived through his oversight of the City of Cleveland through its default, but Dennis has remade himself and I respect his convictions and am glad he is in the race, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them all.
All three need to be considered much more seriously by the American people. All the polls suggest that we are fed up with the way things are being handled in Washington. Polls suggest that most of us feel the country is on the wrong path. If, however, we keep electing the same kind of people, whether Republicans or Democrats, then nothing will change. Yet, that is exactly what we do. This is one reason why I voted for Ralph Nader during Bush’s first run for the White House. I really didn’t want Nader to win, but in protest I voted for him because we need a strong third party to challenge the status quo of Republocrates. I’m wondering whether in the long run a parliamentary system might just be better than the system we now have – or at least the way it is being experienced in this time.
+ I went to Providence, RI the last couple of days to help conduct a focus group for the study I’m involved with at The Church Pension Group. It’s a great town, it seems. I was able to spend a good bit of time talking with the bishop. I do have to find a new job and place of ministry where I actually get paid at the end of next year, after all. There is a church on the campus of Brown University in Providence that might well be what I consider an ideal kind of place of ministry, St. Stephen’s Church. They don’t have the best website, but a wonderful place for ministry.
I also traveled on the Acela Express Amtrak train for the first time. Very nice, I have to admit. The train was pretty speedy at times, and the ride was quite smooth (of course, I’m used to New York City subway trains, if that tells you anything about my sense of a smooth ride).

An odyssey into the wild

Considering the next post below, commenting on David Brooks op-ed piece, is Bob Carlton and a post on his blog, The Corner:

So many faith community I know view the definition of a young adult as someone who has a functioning prostrate, they view technology as a necessary evil, handled by an “amateur” who tends their website like a junk yard. Ministry with young people has gotta be more than hoping “they” will show up & like what “we” did. It’s gotta be more than presence or program or purpose or even pathetic. It’s gotta be more than apprenticing to join the borg that is churchianity. Brooks is dead on with he observes that:

some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.

What if we set off on an odyssey, with no certain destination, no expectation of who will join us, no “map drawn with ink”, no products sponsored by some faceless industrialist – just an odyssey out into the wild.

I have to confess, I absolutely love his description of the definition of “young adult!” Too funny.

Some post-modern thoughts

I was responding to a post on Titusonenine. Just a thought: Anyone who teaches can probably say that too many of us are not very willing to put in the time and hard effort to really learn something. We would rather simply be told, and then end it (and perhaps forget it). I wonder how much this plays into our current troubles.
When I was finishing my master’s degree in college student development, we were studying human development theories. One of the theories was Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. One stage was basically defined as “dualistic thinking” – black/white, right/wrong, a way of thinking that categorized everything easily and simply. People in this stage knew, definitely and unquestioningly, what was good and right and what was not. Studies can show that too many people remain in this stage without moving on. Kohlberg might say that they have not truly developed an honest and mature morality.
Now, someone could work their way through the remaining stages and come to the end point holding a moral position (conclusion) that is the same as when they were in the dualistic stage, but they did the hard work necessary to come to the conclusion honestly.
I wonder if too many of us find it easier to stop at the dualistic stage (liberal and conservative). We find an answer that we like, and stop. Then, we are determined to defend it against opposition or contrary information. We sometimes fear the outcome of questioning. Then, we are determined to demand that all others abide by our and our group’s “orthodox” definitions. Before becoming an Anglican, when I was a good American-Evangelical, if found too many of us as Christians in this position. It’s just easier.
I think, perhaps, that within post-modern ways of thinking that there is a resistance to being stuck in a stage, if you will. There is a willingness to look at things from all different perspectives before drawing conclusions and a resistance to those who say, “this is how it is and there is no need to rethink or question it. You, therefore, must accept it.” That makes me feel better about myself and my beliefs.
It takes time to work through stages. It takes time to learn. In the process we at times think wrongly and act wrongly, but we cannot bring up short the process of learning. As a teacher, this is clear, but it seems when we look at religion or faith we are less likely to give the process it’s due. We would rather the immediacy of imposition than allow people the time necessary to question, to be wrong, to wonder, to be in the midst of quandary, to wrestle, and to conclude – to do the honest work.
Just some thoughts.
NY Times Op-ed piece by David Brooks: The Odyssey Years

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Iraqi Christians

One of the little heard of outcomes of the invasion of Iraq is the desolation of the Christian communities there. All those good, God fearing American citizens who have championed the war in order to protect their own skin and material stuff hardly lift a pinky of concern for the tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians who have been killed, attacked, driven into exile, and now live in fear of their lives and destitution.
Christian communities have existed in Iraq from the very beginning. It is ironic that Saddam made sure that they were able to exist and worship in relative freedom and security. I don’t think that Iraqi’s were better under Saddam by any means, but for the most part existence was easier for them then, than now. Christians now live in constant fear – and it is a result of what we have done. What a great thing we have accomplished, eh?
Here is part of an interview by the BBC with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, during his travels in the Middle East:

Q: Help me understand Archbishop, why these Christians, these exiles from Iraq have been targeted?
A: Since the Iraq war, Christian communities in Iraq which have lived there for literally thousands of years have been seen as, in some sense, agents of the West. People described how the sort of notes that were pushed under their door, the messages and threats they received said ‘you are American agents’ or ‘you are Zionist agents and we’re going to have to get rid of you.’ So there’s a very clear link in people’s minds with the conflict.
Q: That link is a causal link in effect and I don’t want to put words into your mouth. Britain and America invaded Iraq and therefore these Iraqi Christians are suffering. Is that a link that you would make?
A: I’m afraid it’s a very clear link. This is the link that’s made locally and whether justly or not, that is how it’s seen. Now, as I say, these are Christians who’ve lived in that society for generations, they’re not newcomers, they’re not aliens. Certain – I’m happy to say small – extremist groups regard them as aliens, it suits their own political agenda. But these are groups with no scruples and with considerable resources.

Read it all


I really do think that we in the West (European Union & the U.S.) are in the process of alienating Turkey at a time when we should not. The European Union keeps putting off and putting off decisions about whether to include Turkey within the European Union – to the point where the most resent poll I read put the desire of Turks to be in the EU at only 35-40% (it was as high as 70% just a while ago).
Muslim Turkey is never going to be like Christian Europe. They may technically share he same continent, but the culture and history are so vastly different. That’s alright, but if the decision makers in the EU keep demanding that Turkey first become like them in so many areas of national and cultural life, then Turkey will never be a member.
What does that mean? The secular Turks have looked to Europe as a means of maintaining the secular nature of the Turkish state, as established by Ataturk, over and against the example of the numerous Muslim states. If they are continually rebuffed by Europe, well, that can only happen for so long. Then what? Turkey will then look to its more natural associates – the Muslim Middle East – the Arabs and Persians, despite the animosities that have existed between Turks, Arabs, and Persians.
We already see the pressures of the Muslim nationalists in Turkey. We see the rise for the more radical Islamic movements. The current government is headed by a devoted and practicing Muslim. While the government and military have said they are determined to maintain the secular nature of the state, if the people rise up the only option is military intervention and a return to dictatorship (which will only solidify the resolve of the EU to keep them out). I know how the Germans regarded the Turks in Germany. I honestly believe some of the reluctance to accept Turkey has to do with European xenophobia (an odd sounding assertion, I know).
In my humble opinion, the West needs to give a little. Turkey needs to be more tightly integrated into Europe in order to provide an example of a predominately Muslim country living in a relatively free and democratic form within a sphere greater than Muslim states in the Middle East. We should not expect Turkey or Turkish society to mirror those of the West, even as we do call for Turkey and its government and military to be respectful of human rights and increase the protection of civil freedoms and economic opportunity different from religiously imposed ideologies.

Beloit’s Mindset List for 2007 (Class of 2011)

Every your Beloit College puts together a “Mindset List” of its entering freshmen, this year for the class of 2011, generally born in 1989. See here for more info on the Mindset List. These were of great interest to us when I worked in college student development and give a good, if generalized, picture of the new students on campus. The list or U.S. students is first. Massey University in New Zealand, with inspiration from Beloit, put together their own version of the Mindset List. Their list is second, below. It is interesting to see the differences between the 18 year old new college students of both countries on opposite sides of the world.
Most of the students entering College this fall, members of the Class of 2011, were born in 1989. For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.
1. What Berlin wall?
2. Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.
3. Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.
4. They never “rolled down” a car window.
5. Michael Moore has always been angry and funny.
6. They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.
7. They have grown up with bottled water.
8. General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
10. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
11. Rap music has always been mainstream.
12. Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
13. “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
14. Music has always been “unplugged.”
15. Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
16. Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
17. They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day.
18. The NBA season has always gone on and on and on and on.
19. Classmates could include Michelle Wie, Jordin Sparks, and Bart Simpson.
20. Half of them may have been members of the Baby-sitters Club.
21. Eastern Airlines has never “earned their wings” in their lifetime.
22. No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
23. Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
24. Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.
25. Wolf Blitzer has always been serving up the news on CNN.
26. Katie Couric has always had screen cred.
27. Al Gore has always been running for president or thinking about it.
28. They never found a prize in a Coca-Cola “MagiCan.”
29. They were too young to understand Judas Priest’s subliminal messages.
30. When all else fails, the Prozac defense has always been a possibility.
31. Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.
32. They grew up in Wayne’s World.
33. U2 has always been more than a spy plane.
34. They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker.”
35. Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names.
36. American rock groups have always appeared in Moscow.
37. Commercial product placements have been the norm in films and on TV.
38. On Parents’ Day on campus, their folks could be mixing it up with Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz with daughter Zöe, or Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford with son Cody.
39. Fox has always been a major network.
40. They drove their parents crazy with the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh.
41. The “Blue Man Group” has always been everywhere.
42. Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.
43. Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
44. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
45. They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.
46. Most phone calls have never been private.
47. High definition television has always been available.
48. Microbreweries have always been ubiquitous.
49. Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
50. Smoking has never been allowed in public spaces in France.
51. China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation.
52. Time has always worked with Warner.
53. Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympics venue, not the scene of a massacre.
54. The purchase of ivory has always been banned.
55. MTV has never featured music videos.
56. The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters.
57. Jerry Springer has always been lowering the level of discourse on TV.
58. They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.
59. They’re always texting 1 n other.
60. They will encounter roughly equal numbers of female and male professors in the classroom.
61. They never saw Johnny Carson live on television.
62. They have no idea who Rusty Jones was or why he said “goodbye to rusty cars.”
63. Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.
64. Chavez has nothing to do with iceberg lettuce and everything to do with oil.
65. Illinois has been trying to ban smoking since the year they were born.
66. The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.
67. Chronic fatigue syndrome has always been debilitating and controversial.
68. Burma has always been Myanmar.
69. Dilbert has always been ridiculing cubicle culture.
70. Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.
This year’s list doesn’t seem all that significant – like a slow news day.
The 2007 New Zealand Mindset List
Most students starting university in 2007 were born in 1988. For these students:
–Fast Post has always been available.
–The ozone hole has always been a worry for sun-loving New Zealanders.
–New Zealanders have never been able to smoke on planes.
–Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have always been on surgical waiting lists.
–Soviet troops have never been in Afghanistan.
–The Iran-Iraq war has always been over.
–Bola has always been the name of a devastating cyclone.
–Tomorrow’s Schools has always been a government policy for radical school reform.
–New Zealanders have always tried their luck on pokie machines.
–Politicians have always been ignoring election spending legislation, and getting away with it.
–New Zealand lighthouse keepers have always been unemployed.
–Japanese import cars have always been cheap and plentiful.
–Inflation has always been less than 10 percent.
–Employment at freezing works has always been a dead-end job.
–Air New Zealand has always been a private corporation.
–Roger Douglas has always been a sacked Finance Minister.
–Bastion Point has always belonged to Ngati Whatua.
–There have always been median barriers on Auckland’s motorways.
–There has always been a toll bridge across the Tauranga Harbour.
–The average Auckland house has always cost more than $161,000.
–Tracy Chapman has always been a hit songwriter.
–Ben Johnson has always been a disgraced Olympic athlete.
–In New Zealand, Brian Brake (renown photographer), Louis Johnson (Wellington poet), John Ross Marshall (former Prime Minister) and Cardigan Bay (legendary champion pacer) have always been dead.
–Internationally, Enzo Ferrari (car designer), Andy Gibb (youngest Bee Gee), Louis L’Amour (American western novelist), Roy Orbison (rock-and-roll pioneer) and Philippe de Rothschile (French winemaker) have always been dead.

Fog and dogs

I ran into a parishioner on my way home from The Tea Lounge, and she commented on seeing all the dog walkers. She was starting to write a poem, and below I improved upon her first couple of lines:
“Now away to walk my dog
in the early morning fog…”