Archive for ‘Jesus’

December 7, 2010

Moving day!

November 12, 2010

A Jewish agnostic’s look at the Bible.

I spent a while this morning flipping through David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible. I happened upon this book, as well as Mary Gordon’s Reading Jesus (haven’t read it yet — another day), at the library one day and decided to take them home with me. What do non-Christians read when they read the Bible? I wondered.

I didn’t know what to expect.  The inside cover boasted that the book was “irreverent and enthralling,” which I would say was accurate.  Of David Plotz’s (the editor of Slate) accomplishments I need not sing; he is a terrific writer, which is obvious considering his accolades. But I will say he did a commendable job in this book of approaching the topic honestly… well, as honestly as he was willing to (read on).

I also need not point out that I disagree with Dave’s ultimate conclusions.  Throughout the book, however, he summarizes stories in the Old Testament and his words taught me a lot, despite the fact that I’ve been reading the Bible for a long time.  Good Book challenged me, uncomfortably, to consider facts such as Biblical scholarship, how to decide who is right, and how we decide if the Bible really is set up like it was supposed to be with so much imperfect human in the picture.  Did some rogue go in and mess up the carefully arranged books of Genesis?  Is that why, as Plotz points out, it sometimes seems so nonsensical and tangential?  These points were thought-provoking, causing me to unexpectedly wrestle with them in a way that was ultimately edifying.

But Plotz spends a whole lot of time both throughout the book and in his closing chapter making sure we know a few things.  Things I’d like to challenge.  I do admire Plotz for taking the time to actually read the Bible before deciding whether it should sit on a shelf untouched, be burned, or be read by everyone everywhere.  Surprisingly, he takes the last perspective. Hear, hear! Plotz’s “intellectual defense” of reading the Bible is this:

While reading the Bible, I often felt as though I was understanding my own world for the very first time.  It was humbling . . . I don’t want to sound like a theocratic crank, but I’m actually shocked that students aren’t compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.  How else can they become literate in their own world?

Bravo.  However, we move forward: his personal defense is that, as a Jew, he now understands rituals and traditions he never got before.  “Reading the Bible has joined me to Jewish life in a way I never thought possible.”  To this I say a resounding…. duh.  The Bible is, after all, the basis of the Jewish faith.  That’s like saying you never thought it was possible that reading an automotive manual would give you a more well-rounded perspective on car engines and help you finally understand your mechanic buddy’s jokes.  Welcome to the inner circle, Dave.

Here you might be wondering what I wondered for the first few chapters of this book, after a couple remarks from Plotz that the New Testament “stole” such-and-such story from the Old (a silly and dismissive take on fulfillment of prophecy and the inseparability of the two books), or that Christians have it easier believing in Jesus to guide their lives instead of the “vindictive” God of the Old Testament (by the way, Christians believe Jesus is the God of the Old Testament).  The answers:

1) When Plotz said “The Bible,” he meant the Hebrew Bible only. The Old Testament. That might have been helpful to clarify from the get-go — like in the title of the book.  You see, for a guy who apparently champions Biblical literacy for the illiterate masses, Plotz cannot assume that everyone who picks up this book even knows that a New Testament exists.  Not only for my Christian sake, screaming internally How can he leave out Jesus!?, but for the aforementioned academics.  Just like college students can’t understand Moby Dick without knowing who the first Ahab is, how does one expect them to understand the myriad New Testament references and Christ-types in literature?  The Old Man and the Sea? No wonder nobody in my freshman honors English class got that.  Because who is that guy?  Irresponsibility #1.

2) When Plotz reads the Bible, he reads it as literature.  And he doesn’t believe any of it is actually true.  He is a self-proclaimed agnostic, and in a heartbreaking confession in the book’s last chapter he declares:

You surely notice that I’m not saying anything about belief.  I began the Bible as a hopeful, but not indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn’t really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God. After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements . . . I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if he existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty — sublime beauty and grace! — but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey, and no God I can love.

He goes on to say that his Christian friends tell him the Old Testament is a set up for the New Testament, “like leaving halfway through a movie.”  But Plotz says, “That doesn’t work for me. I’m a Jew. I don’t, and can’t, believe that Christ died for my sins.  And even if he did, I still don’t think that would wash away God’s epic crimes in the Old Testament.”  He goes on to argue that if God made him a quizzical and rational being, God must be willing to be subjected to his reason, and he doesn’t pass the test.

Plotz’s ideas place in me a renewed sense of the arrogance of the world.  Not surprising, since his magazine, Slate, succeeds on the basis of witty, snarky columnists who write from a satirical “I know better” perspective.  In a word, arrogance.  Now I appreciate a bit of snark as much as the next person, but as an entire worldview I cannot recommend it.  It sets you up, like Plotz, to see yourself as the be all and end all of your own philosophy (hello, relativism!).

I’m also humbly reminded of the devastation that occurs when humans take sin lightly.   This is the only explanation for becoming angry at a God who is angry at sin.  I know it seems much more complicated than that, even to myself, but is it really? Plotz’s willingness to try to understand only goes so far: he was ready to read the Bible, to learn from it, and to hold himself up against it and find out what it means.  But when a friend recommends the New Testament?  “I can’t, I’m a Jew,” is his response.  I won’t go into the obvious leap of logic found there.

This man’s identity is based completely on how to be a “good person” (he uses a convenient pull-this-pitch-this mentality in his approach to God’s laws in Leviticus), and how to live the “good life” (he uses Ecclesiastes but misses its point entirely).  This is nothing new.  This is a man aching for something more than he has, but who is unwilling to let it change his life in any way other than to secure what he views as maximum happiness for himself and his posterity.

I can’t “argue.”  I can only comment. I respect the risk Plotz took in undertaking this quest and shifting his own beliefs, but I only wish, out of love for him and those like him, that the risk had been even greater.  What we end up with, instead, is a tame year-long project in summary, followed by a heartfelt but ultimately shallow explanation of Plotz’s own perspective. After all, isn’t it ironic that a book about exploration, curiosity, and risk-taking would end with words like “I don’t,” “I won’t”, and “I can’t”?  The cost is too great.  An old story.

And, closer to home: how often is this approach true of me?  I pray that through Grace I would be more willing to daily sacrifice myself and humbly submit to His ways.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

November 3, 2010

Ethics of yoga.

Am I crazy?  Not only did I just sign up to write thousands of words of a novel every day (I’m currently stuck on word 644, by the way), but I just purchased a 20x pass to a Bikram yoga studio for use in the next 60 days.  Yes, Bikram is the type of yoga you do in 105 degree heat. On top of that, I have my first writing group meeting tonight with the lovely Sara, and Eric and I hope to start attending a mid-week church service in the near future.  (As a side note, Sara holds the distinguished position of being the very best “group project” partner I ever worked with in my undergraduate career.  Boy, did we wrangle The Awakening into submission…)

Life slowed for Eric and me, pleasantly, a few months ago, when my summer job from hell ended and at the same time God opened the door for us to visit and grow to love a new body of believers.  Jobless and ministry-less for the time being, I am now part of what I suspect is a tiny minority of people who literally have no regular commitments whatsoever.  Except church on Sunday.   All that is about to change.

The decision to do Yoga is quite timely, as an online debate has been heating up (haha get it? Bikram?…) about whether or not Christians should practice Yoga.  Mark Driscoll’s July 2010 commentary, found here, sparked quite the conversation.  Keep in mind if you watch this or have seen it that Driscoll loves controversy.  If you stop the video ten seconds in you will write him off as a crazy man.  I almost did.  If you watch the whole thing you realize that all he’s saying is that Christians should be careful.  And yes, he could have said it in a much less contentious way.  The Village Church’s Geoff Ashley address the topic in this article in what I think is a much more responsible way.  He is careful to address concerns of parties on both sides of the debate while calming the discussion. Here are my observations, along with some reasons I am fine with doing Yoga myself.

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August 30, 2010

Monday mayhem.

It’s been an insane several days here, dealing with some things that, as Juno would say are “way beyond my maturity level.”  I’m so thankful that God uses the weak to lead the strong.  These items are a bit personal to write about publicly, but accept my apology when I say I’m sorry for being away.  Here’s what my Monday has for me today!

1000 Gifts

(Previous gifts here.)

I am thankful for…
61. A peaceful resolution to this week’s events.
62. God’s economy — those who boast in themselves have received their reward in full.
63. A lesson on trusting my intuition when I can’t think it away.
64. A husband who supports me, loves me, and takes care of me.
65. My crazy disorganized house post-painting, which I now have time to fix.
66. My little sister’s wedding in five days!
67. Getting to see Eric’s extended family this weekend and meet his grandma.
68. That Grandma Lynn’s health and memory will be restored in heaven and that her faithful husband will get to see her healthy and happy.
69. Glimpses of fall (while still being definitely summer).
70. Sisters, OR, and its clear skies and fresh air.
71. Peace.
72. The joy and excitement my in-laws always have for everything! They are the most enthusiastic people I know and take such joy in life’s simple pleasures.
73. A fresh perspective on work.
74. Hope.
75. BRIGHT pink toenails.  (I hate most pink things, but a neon manicure or pedicure is a major exception.)
76. Good-smelling things like candles, incense, and soap.
77. Our new computer!
78. Freezer meals.
79. Good photographers (*which I am not.)
80. Knowing how good a dad my husband will eventually be.

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August 9, 2010

One thousand gifts. (+meal plan!)

As I’ve mentioned, I’m reading Jerry Bridges’ excellent book, The Discipline of Grace.  Although I’ll try to remember to do a full review when I’m done, here’s the premise:  discipline and grace are two of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life to pin down and approach correctly on a consistent basis.  The grace of God draws us, saves us, and transforms us; he truly does it all and full credit is his for our every success. And yet we are commanded to be disciplined, to be faithful, to “work out our salvation.”  Bridges wrote this book to explain our responsibility in the context of grace.  How we “through Christ” and “in Christ” and “by His grace” fulfill our obligations.  Striking the right balance keeps us from becoming perfectionists, striving to earn God’s love, and from being lazy and excusing sin because grace has already paid the price.  The chapter I finished today talked about putting sin to death and putting on Christ-like character to replace it.

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July 27, 2010

The weight of Glory

My mission this summer is, as most of you know, to grow.  This growth isn’t a growth of my mind only, although I am inclined toward academia/intellectualism; it isn’t a growth of just my experiences, although I am trying new things; it is NOT meant as a growth of my body, although I do cook with a lot of butter!  As a 23-year-old in an awkward in-between phase of life (post-marriage/pre-baby), I feel like I have a good handle on most of the things I do.  I haven’t yet experienced the utter shock of my ignorance in many areas, like parenting or managing a full household.  Instead, my identity is largely based on what I do know how to do.  Little slips of paper (aka diplomas) that I keep forgetting to put into their fancy holders tell me I’m pretty knowledgeable about writing and teaching.  I know some other things, too.  But the main focus of my growth is to grow into the image of my Lord and savior, Jesus.  I want to be like him and I want to be freed by him. Why take on new things?  So I can relearn the steps by which we start, and begin to get somewhere, all leaning on Christ’s strength to get me there.

This post is long.  It is meant as an encouragement. But be warned that those of you who aren’t “encouraged,” per se, might be offended. Please let yourself be offended for a moment — I love you and I think you’re worth offending. (Or you might think I’m crazy, or you might cluck your tongue at me for being so naive and unenlightened.)  Onward.

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