When I look at this, I feel good about what I’m writing and preaching.
When I look at this, I feel good about what I’m writing and preaching.
Some folks have ledgers,
and in their records
you will always be
in the red,
Even if you have
never met these folks,
and you do not know
who they are,
Nor do they know you
or your place of birth,
or your family,
or your dreams.
Some claim you owe them
to look as they look,
to want as they want,
Here is the fine print:
you only ever
pay the interest
Here is the loophole:
No one can collect
(though they may call you
and send bills.)
So, already free,
do not pay in hate;
but owe to no one
—Dave Barnhart, 2014
1. Remember when you are rushed in the morning: Jesus said, “Come, have breakfast.” (John 21:12)
2. Remember before engaging stupidity on the internet: Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. (Proverbs 26:4)
3. Remember when confronting racism, bigotry, and homophobia, and as a corollary to #2: Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. (Proverbs 26:5)
4. Use when someone quotes Proverbs at you: Like a thornbrush brandished by the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. (Proverbs 26:9)
5. Use when someone cuts you off in traffic: “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! [You are a] shame to your mother’s genitals!” (1 Samuel 20:30)
6. Use on a first date or, if you are a dental hygienist, with your patients who floss: Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one of them are bereaved. (Song of Solomon 4:2)
7. Use with people who claim to take the Bible literally, and then follow up with, “Does God break God’s promises?”: The Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again. (Deuteronomy 28:68)
8. Remember when watching the news: When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted—does the Lord not see it? (Lamentations 3:34)
9. When you witness environmental destruction: As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of the pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:17-19)
10. When life gets too much for you: Jesus said, “Come, have breakfast.” (John 21:12)
Usually, people who claim that they read the Bible literally also claim that the Bible contains no errors. Yet one of the reasons I so admire the Bible and consider it authoritative is that it dutifully records its own errors.
One of my favorites is the prophecy of Ezekiel against Tyre in chapters 26 through 29. For three whole chapters, Ezekiel rails against the city of Tyre. Since he believes that the army of Babylon is God’s chosen instrument of wrath against Jerusalem, he is excited to see it lay siege to Tyre.
(When you read this, you have to imagine Samuel L. Jackson’s voice.)
They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down its towers. I will scrape its soil from it and make it a bare rock. It shall become, in the midst of the sea, a place for spreading nets. I have spoken, says the Lord God. It shall become plunder for the nations, and its daughter-towns in the country shall be killed by the sword. Then they shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 26:4-6)
As I said, for three whole chapters this goes on, with Ezekiel relishing his poetic destruction of the city.
Only one problem: It didn’t happen. Babylon laid siege to the city for three years, but you can’t successfully lay siege to a seaport. I imagine the guards on the walls of Tyre yelling down to the Babylonian tents, “Hey, guys! We’re having a fish fry today! Can you smell it? Oh, hey, what are you having for dinner? Aww, thin gruel again? So sad!”
At the end of three years, the army gave up. So, naturally, Ezekiel went back and tore up his manuscript, right? Or maybe he wrote, “Oops, my bad.”
Nope. He just turned his attention to Egypt!
Mortal, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon made his army labour hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare; yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labour that he had expended against it. Therefore, thus says the Lord God: I will give the land of Egypt to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he laboured, because they worked for me, says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 29:18-20)
Nice save, Ezekiel! So, naturally, Babylon conquered Egypt, right?
My favorite theory is that Ezekiel became the model for the story of Jonah, which was written to be read not literally, but as a satire of the hellfire and brimstone prophets. Jonah is a frustrated prophet who fumes when God fails to destroy Israel’s enemies. In contrast to Ezekiel’s logorrhea, Jonah just stomps part way into the city, utters one line, turns around and stomps out. He wants so much to see the bad guys punished that he wraps himself in his own private hell of resentment and bitterness. God, in contrast, can’t bear the thought of hurting the children or even the cattle (Jonah 4).
There is a dialogue going on in the pages of the Bible, where competing theologies are trying to describe God’s history with God’s people. I don’t deny that there are authors who believed that God would punish cities by starving their populace, so that families would be torn apart, people raped and sold into slavery (Deuteronomy 28:30-34), and parents would be forced to cannibalize their own children (verses 54-57). Job, Jonah, and Ruth (among others) critique that theological view. And for Christians, Jesus is the final repudiation of that theology (Matthew 5:43, John 9:3, Luke 13:4, Mark 15:34). Good and bad things happen to people not as God’s rewards or punishments, but because stuff happens. What God makes out of it, and us, is where grace happens.
Anti-religious detractors like to point out these errors and blood and guts passages in order to portray believers as foolish or barbaric, but for me, these errors are awesome. The editors and compilers could have edited out Ezekiel’s mistakes, but they didn’t. They could have harmonized the gospels, the creation stories, and the histories of the monarchy, but they didn’t. The Bible is not a monologue—it is a dialogue. To me, that’s what makes it believable. What’s even more cool is that we are invited to participate in the dialogue, which doesn’t end even when you close the book and the people say Amen.
This Sunday, the sermon topic at Saint Junia’s preview service will be on the Two Creation Stories (Genesis 1-3). I’ll be sharing why it’s perfectly reasonable for Christians to believe in evolution, considering that we already have more than one creation story in the Bible. Come join the dialogue!