Sunday, August 17, 2008

Radom Thoughts Come Together

I warn you that none of this may make sense. (But I do have a butt/bum joke embedded in my little sermon below)

I've been reading the words of Jesus a lot lately (at least those recorded in five different Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas) in the shocking and lovely book Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures. My reading mixed with conversations with folks in Malta on Guernsey and England has gotten me to think in a new direction (well new for me).

For weeks I have reflected and spoke about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. (Auntie Doris heard this one over and over and over again) Here is one version of the story in Mark 8:1-10 (form Good as New version.)
It was during this visit abroad that Jesus again found himself with a large crowd of hungry people. Jesus called his friends together and said, "I'm concerned about all these people who've been with me for three days and haven't eaten. If I send them away hungry some may collapse before they get home, because they've come a long way." The friends asked, "How can we get enough bread to feed everyone, out here in the country?"

Jesus asked how many loaves there were and they told him "Seven." Jesus told the crowd to sit down and took the seven loaves. He said "thank you" to God, broke the loaves and gave them to his friends to pass among the crowds. They also had a few small fish. Jesus thanked God for these and handed them on to be passed around. The crowd has as much to eat as they wanted and seven baskets of leftovers were collected. About four thousand people were fed before being sent home.
It's a well-worn story that many people know. I have always seen it as one of those, "Jesus pulls a rabbit out of a hat" kind of tricks/miracles. Cool! Jesus can make bread miraculously appear! Now that can come in handy.

But I see another more challenging way that I can look at this story.

The disciples and the crowd are out in the countryside for three days. This is before the days of Subway Sandwich shops and Red Lobster restaurants or well-catered retreats. This is a people used to carrying food around when they travel. Jesus rightly discerns that some folks don't have any food left and will need nourishment to get home. Wow, how thoughtful, how sweet, how unbelievably practical. I love this Jesus.

So he turns to his team, "What you got?" I love how even in the English you can hear the sarcasm and exasperation in the disciples' response. But Jesus had a plan, a radical one that did not require any magic tricks, one that I believe serves as an even more impressive miracle.

Jesus sat everyone down. Then taking the scant offerings the disciples rustled up, he begins to serve the people. Now I don't for a minute believe the disciples gave up all they had to Jesus. If they were like most of us, they probably squirreled away a secret stash for themselves for later in the day. In fact, in the John 6 version of the same or similar story, the disciples offer nothing of their own but instead take five loaves and two fish from a little boy (giving an entirely different meaning to "out of the mouth of babes.")

Jesus provocatively begins to distribute the little he has to give. I imagine Jesus doing this very slowly, dramatically, taking his time with it. The disciples see the basket rapidly emptying. They dig into their hoards and pass some more food forward. The news spreads quickly and quietly through the crowd, first to those closest to the disciples then radiating out. A supply line forms as each one who has food passes it along through many hands to the disciples then to Jesus and then back to the people.

In the end EVERYONE eats, including those who had no longer had food as well as those who carried more than enough. The crowd had such vast resources of food among them that stacks of leftovers remain.

A "magic trick" Jesus is cool and convenient to have on hand. One that calls on me to contribute from my own stockpile so that another's needs can be met, challenges me and the society in which I live.

One of the classic clobber texts that has been used to silence and shut out gays, lesbians and bisexuals from the church has been 1 Corthinians 6:9,10. (I imagine some use it to keep out transgender folks too).

Many scholars dispute the accuracy of using the word "homosexual" in the text. Other renderings include effeminate and soft (as in living a life of luxury and ease). I am sure you can find much about this dispute on-line. What I do find noteworthy about the list of those who will not "inherit the Kingdom of God" is that it includes people partaking in everyday activities that I rarely hear mentioned from the pulpits in North America.
Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others.
Many have used I Corinthians 6:9,10 to stake claims on who can and cannot go to Heaven. Ah, but does this passage actually speak about our eternal reward in some galaxy far far way? The writer of Romans, in a long discussion about the discomfort among some believers with the culinary choices and practices of others, defines the Kingdom of God this way,
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...
Looking at the current credit crisis, I think many will agree that much of the trouble we get ourselves into in regards to debt has to do with living beyond our means--greed. Of course there are other reasons for getting in arrears, (tee hee) but if I am honest, I have to admit that buying those shoes on sale at Macy only felt like an emergency at the time.

Here is the formula that I see. When I am greedy, this can lead to stinginess and to debt. I then experience a lack of peace, joy and righteousness in my life. Makes sense. I mean instead of peace, I worry about how I will pay the bills. I feel depressed over the situation. I may also find myself tempted to be less than virtuous when someone at the checkout counter makes a mistake in my favor. (I may even ascribe the mistake to God's justifying that it's God's way of looking out for me. The Lord is my accomplice; I shall not want!).

For years I thought God was mostly concerned with my sexuality. I spent nearly two decades and tons of time, prayer and money obsessing over the bits between my legs and what I should and should not do with them. Reading the words of Jesus, checking out how he operated, I begin to see that I lived distracted from reality.

I leave you with a video posted on my friend Mario's blog. Wow, seems Disney and Barrack Obama, encourage us to consider the "least of these..."

God Help the Outcasts

hat tip to Mario at Gay, Christian & Campaigning

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At 5:29 PM , Blogger Brian said...

The spirit moves in mysterious ways. Wealth, income, and community are things I've dwelling on a lot recently. I just so happened to read Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution" which fill me up but left me thirsting for more. Funny how God will challenge us and not let us off so easily.

Shane and his community members organized a radical redistribution of wealth when they received a settlement for $10,000 (they'd been arrested for distributing food to the homeless). They took Jesus' teachings and the Jubilee economy of the Hebrew Bible seriously and came up with this:

At 8:54 AM , Blogger paul said...

The magic of the bible, and the lack of the same today, was a primary factor in my de-conversion from fundamentalist Christianity. My experience, and the experience of the Christians I knew simply didn't line up with what I was reading. You're reading the gospel of Thomas, now there's thinking "in a new direction" WWCD (what would Constantine do?). Not reading the counsel's approved "Word of God?"

Once I got away from fundamentalist thinking, I got pretty close to being atheist, but never quite got there. I never stopped praying, but I always admit when I pray that I don't really 'know' who or what I am praying to. It's just that when I pray, stuff happens, and it happens in such a way that I would be dishonest if I didn't give it weight. It does seem 'magical.' But the magic I experience is nothing like the accounts I read of in the bible. It's not the sort of thing that I can substantiate to anyone but myself, and even at that it has room for lots of doubt. It turns out that it takes more faith to not move a mountain than it does to move it. I don't want to insult God by ignoring God, on the other hand I don't want to attribute to God what isn't God, that would seem somehow insulting as well.

I have come to view the bible as the writings of people like you and me. People who are looking, seeking, perhaps even experiencing "God." I suspect it's experienced a few rewrites and edits in it's time. Not so much literal accounts as it is the perceptions of it's writers. I see in your take on this particular story (account?) an effort to accept this as a perhaps true account, but put it in the framework of what you can, or do, believe.

My challenge with Jesus, and generally, the God of the bible, is in experiencing them for myself. I cannot subsist on a vicarious Jesus or God. I'm not sure if God agrees with me.

I like your take on this one though. It's a plausible explanation that gives us non magicians direction for living. I can share and encourage sharing. I haven't had much success with rabbits and hats.

Oh and, speaking of magic, what shoes did you buy that helped you get in arrears. I have my charge card at ready.

At 1:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the theory that the Loaves and Fishes was originally a parable before it was a miracle story. Hearing it as a story, the early Christians retold it as a tangible happening. So true to them, they made it "real" event.

At 3:16 PM , Blogger Auntie Doris said...

I love this retelling!! For years the magic trick Jesus was really exciting, and yet I seem to prefer this quiet, subversive Jesus who gently pushes people to reveal all that they have.

I wait with baited breathe to see what you will do to the story of turing the water into wine ;)

At 12:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that would be an effective story but I also feel that God would have revealed it that way rather than couch it in a 'magic trick' , if that was what really happened. I know this is very fundamentalist of me, but I honestly think you are walking on dangerous ground. Jesus healed people, cast out demons, multiplied food on more than one occasion. And of course the ultimate 'trick', coming back from the dead. If we start to rewrite the miracles because the current version isn't working for us, then we might as well rewrite the whole thing to our comfort level. There is a difference when I say something like "what a dog that guy is" which some could take as 'I think he's four footed creature' where as someone else would understand it as 'he treats people badly'. Same as effeminate, it has to be understood in context and I think your explanation is just as likely as any other, one in fact I hadn't thought about. But that is a far cry from rewriting the miracles that Jesus did, and as someone who cares I just want to caution you, it's a slippery road.

At 2:21 PM , Blogger paul said...

Hi Kellie,

You seem to offer your "caution" with the best of intentions, but what do you know? That's a real question, there is no tone or attitude in it. You warn of a "slippery road" as though you know something.

When it comes right down to it, none of us can 'know' or substantiate what Jesus said or did, it all comes down to belief and a fair amount of conjecture. Why is your belief superior to any one else's that you should "caution" them? Again, this is not a rhetorical question.

At 3:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

I believe what's written in Gods Word, pure and simple. Therefore it's not a matter of conjecture to me. My faith is in God and I believe He gave us the Word in it's entirety just as it was intended, the good the bad and the ugly. So to answer your question, what I know is written down and I don't believe my belief is superior, it's just my belief. If someone cautions me, even those who believe it's wrong to be LGBT, I appreciate that they care even though I may disagree.

At 9:17 AM , Blogger paul said...


I understand.

From where I sit, your statements seem presumptuous. Again, there is no attitude in that statement, I say it in a matter of fact way.

I am guessing when you say "Word of God" that you are referring to the bible? Which one? Do you believe as the Catholics that "Gods word" also includes the Apocrypha (14 additional books)? Or the protestant bible that leaves them out? Which "pure and simple" bible informs your beliefs? Do you consider Peterson's use of the Gospel of Thomas to inform his belief in God (a book not included in the Catholic or protestant bibles) to be erroneous? On what logical basis?

Peterson is approaching the bible honestly. My take is he is really looking for the truth. When you study the origins of the bible, you find it was written by people, just like you and me. The choice of what ended up in the bible was decided by, well, people... just like you, me, Peterson, brian, meg and auntie Doris. Why should we accept the authority of Constantine or Athanasius (Athanasius was the first person to ever cite the 27 books of the new testament as THE books, but this didn't happen until 367ce) as the final authority of what should be included in the sacred Christian texts? On what logical basis would you do that? How do you determine that God chose these people to do this?

As to the interpretation of the texts of the bible, I would posit that the existence of hundreds of "Christian" denominations is testimony to the fact that the bible is neither "pure" nor "simple" when it comes to determining what is "The Word of God." There is far more evidence suggesting that the writers of the Gospels were not eye witnesses of the events they wrote about, than there is supporting they were. Not to mention the evidence of re-writing of those same Gospels throughout the early centuries of copying them. I could go on and on.

My point is, if there is a God, it remains for each of us to find God or for God to reveal God to us. We cannot point to the authority of a book any more than the Muslim who flies a jet into a skyscraper can justify his acts by pointing to a book. There is obviously sincere belief expressed in such a gesture, but sincere belief doesn't make the believer right.

The world is full of people who want to "caution" others, to one degree or another, on the basis of their particular belief. Advice based on unsubstantiated belief has it's source in individual, emotion? Feeling? What? If one really "cares" then let them take the time to substantiate their "caution," give a logical reason why what they say should be taken seriously as a "caution."

I'm not trying to pick on you Kellie. As I stated, I believe your caution was offered with the best of intentions, so I have given you credit for "caring." But there are many who have studied the bible in depth and have studied the roots of the bible, who do not have the same beliefs. I offered some reasons above for taking a different approach to the bible. So, on what basis (other than unsubstantiated belief) do you caution those who are looking at what is written and trying to discern it's meaning?

At 3:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

I appreciate your position. We all have to work out our own salvation. But their is nothing wrong with sharing our own views.

I guess it boils down to this for me. The accepted Judeo-Christian Bible,(read King James) has been in use for centuries. I don't agree with the institution of Catholicism, the reasons which, again, go back to the bible, but I won't get into that here. I believe that God is big enough to have brought us His word in the form it is in. I too have studied the gospel of Thomas, and other books written that some think should have been included in the scripture. The times/places these manuscripts were found is a compelling reason to me not to include them but the most important reason to me is that scripture is inspired of God, and God allowed this book to be put together. He was perfectly capable of putting it together to include these other books or different translations, but He didn't. I don't think that He left all his followers in the dark for thousands of years regarding his word. But that's just me.

I have a diverse group of good friends, Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox Jews, Buhdists, etc. We love to talk about our different faiths and we've been blessed to be able to that and maintain our good friendships. The one difference for me in all these religions, and my friends have agreed, is that the majority of them are about following rules. They pray to their Gods for guidance yet it is not a two way street, their is no relationship. Accepting Jesus causes a radical change immediately in your life. According to my friends that is not so in their religion, you just follow a prescribed path.

Reminds me of the story in the bible, Elijah and the priests of Baal. They to were willing to die for their God, and there were many more of them. But Elijah's God showed up, with power. Their's didn't show. My God always shows up,in my life and when I pray for my friends.It's been the best witness to them, they're amazed that He answers me and they've seen it. That kind of relationship and power has convinced me that He hasn't steered us wrong, concerning the bible, all these years. He's too present to let us be deceived and not do something about it. He's proved that to me, and believe me I have had my doubts. I don't think there is anything wrong with doubt or studying other books or religions. But I truly believe that if you seek the truth that He will show you that what He gave us has been available all along. My worry is when Satan uses that doubt to become a source of confusion and we get away from the truth.

Whenever my friends are seeking answers, my favorite thing to tell them is, ASK HIM. I can talk all day long but I'm not necesseraily going to convince anyone. Ahhh, but God most certainly can. Ask Him if His Word is true in it's original form. It's amazing the diverse forms He takes to answer people, and if they are sincerely seeking, then He knows their hearts and always gives them the answer. I've seen it time and again, and it's to His glory, because, like I said, I can plant a seed or water one, but He is the only one who can cause an increase. He is the only one who can convince us. So my caution is a seed, you can take the rest up with Him.

At 4:18 PM , Blogger paul said...


I understand where you are coming from. Thank you for taking the time to explain yourself.



At 8:56 AM , Blogger CrackerLilo said...

This is a really interesting take on that old story--and I, too, remember it as Auntie Doris was taught. Thank you for sharing it, and about the book, too.

At 12:06 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

I've enjoyed reading these comments. As I was away in Puerto Rico this week, I could not respond (blogger does not do comments well from a mobile devices).

Glad that Kellie and Paul were able to comment back and forth a bit. Seems like you have heard each other.

I remember that much of my Christian life got energized by fear--fear of hell, fear of falling, fear of deception. I see how that placed me in a toxic environment that enabled me to live without questions and critical thinking. Sure I studied the Bible all the time, but never colored outside the lines for fear that deception would infect me or worse yet that I would swallow a doctrine of a demon.

As a result, I stayed in a spiritual state of suspended animation. I prayed and read and studied and trusted, but I did not get very far. I remained a filthy beggar constantly needing to be fixed and saved. The fear kept me compliant to my religious leaders, and now I see, far from the pursuit of God.

I love the scripture that proclaims: "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind."


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