Friday, December 28, 2007

The Dead Sea Scrolls

On the 26th, my family took a short trip down the coast to San Diego to visit the San Diego Natural History Museum to view the exhibition of 15 of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was a wonderful experience that struck me in multiple ways.

I was reminded of the necessity of scholarship and continued study. Two examples that really struck me...

First some background for any who are not familiar with biblical scholarship. Through the years, there were many, many manuscripts of the scriptures. They don't always agree. When trying to come up with accurate texts, biblical scholars make judgements regarding the weight of the various manuscripts. One important variable is the age of the manuscript and, in general, older = better. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the manuscripts that we had for the Hebrew scriptures tended not to be all that old with the oldest manuscripts being of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible rather than Hebrew texts. (Translation, of course, represents another bucket load of issues...) So, the Dead Sea Scrolls are extremely important in learning what the Hebrew scriptures originally said.

In 1 Samuel 17, we have a story that children from the Jewish and Christian traditions all know, the story of David and Goliath. The Bibles on my shelf all say that Goliath is about 9.5 feet tall. That is reflective of the manuscripts that are extant... except for the Dead Sea scroll of this text. In it, Goliath is about 6.5 feet tall. Still, tall for his time but not the unbelievable height of current stories. So, what happened? Remember that the Dead Sea scroll is much older than other manuscripts of this passage. It looks as if somewhere along the line, after the Dead Sea scrolls were produced, someone made a mistake in copying the story, making Goliath 3 feet taller. The mistake stuck. Likely, the original story had Goliath at 6.5 feet. That very well may change some sermons on that passage.

The second example would have completely changed a sermon from just a few weeks ago. On the 16th, I preached on Matthew 11:2-11, a wonderful story where John the Baptist sends his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one we're waiting for or should we look for someone else?"
Jesus replies, "Go back and tell John what's going on:
The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. (MsgB)

My sermon said something along the lines that Jesus was both calling into question the common understanding of the Messiah (a king who would overthrow the powers of the world in a violent war) and was telling John's disciples to just report back what they had seen.

At the exhibit, I learned about the Book of Enoch. It was a book that was very popular at the time of Jesus but no copy existed until one was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the book, there are many passages that point to the Messiah. In one, those exact words were used to describe the Messiah's work. Jesus was not merely telling them to look around. His answer was a clear, "Yes! I am the one!" for anyone familiar with the Book of Enoch. No doubt, John's disciples would have known it.

The exhibit also made me think about community and about the nature of fanaticism. More on both later.

If you are anywhere near San Diego and have a chance to see the exhibit, do so. It is extremely well done and more than worth the cost of admission. You do have to make reservations though and it feels as if the earlier in the day, the better. It runs through January 6, 2008.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

security in the church

I participate in an online discussion group of folk who play guitar in church. We've been having a heated, but good, discussion about the role of security in the church. It began with the tragedy in Colorado which raised the question - is it proper to have armed guards in churches? It extended to whether or not it is proper for Christians to use violence to protect others.

I think I'll blog more about my observations of the process of the discussion another time. For now, I'd like to address the question. No. and No.

I guess I should say more than that, right?

Here's a list of verses cited by Greg Boyd in his blog

* love our enemies (Lk 6:27, 35; Mt 5:44) (and remember, love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to the example of Jesus dying for his enemies, [I Jn 3:16])
* follow Jesus' example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of enemies, even when we have the power to crush them (1 Pet 2:18-23, 3:15-16; Eph 5:1-2, cf. Rom. 5:10)
* do good to our enemies (LK 6:27, 34-35)
* bless our enemies instead of curse them (LK 6:28; Rom. 12:14)
* pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28)
* forgive our enemies and ask God to forgive them (Lk 6:37; 11:4; 23:34)
* give to our enemies without expecting anything in return (Mt 5:44; Lk 6: 30, 34)
* feed our enemies when they need food (Rom. 12:20)
* give drink to our enemies when they need water (Rom. 12:20
* never resist evil with force (Mt 5:38-39)
* treat enemies as we wish they'd treat us (Lk 6:31)
* never return evil with evil but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17, 19; I Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9)
* never exact vengeance against our enemies, trusting God to do this instead (Rom. 12:17-19)
* turn the other cheek when struck (Mt 5:39; Lk 6:29)
* pray for the healing of our enemies rather than seek to injure them (Mt 26:51-53)
* humbly serve our enemies (Jn 13:1-5)
* respond gently when interrogated under persecution by enemies (1 Pet 3:15)
* consider our sin to be worse than those of our enemies (Mt 7:1-3; I Tim. 1:15-16)

The weight of those verses all point to non-violent response as the only appropriate response fr Christians. If that is so, then having armed guards as representatives of the gospel in a church, who are only effective if the threat of violence is real, is not acceptable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

tastes great!

I've said before that one of the real joys of living in Santa Barbara is the availability of wonderful, local wines. On Friday we're going to a friend's house to do a tasting of Cabernet's at a variety of price points and I decided to go across the mountains yesterday to pick up a bottle from our favorite winery - Beckmen. Since we're members there, that means a free tasting. So, Cheryl and I along with Alexis and her significant other, Christian, drove to Los Olivos, got lunch at a little cafe and then off to Beckmen's to taste some wonderful red wines. We bought the cab and a bottle of their top of the line blend, jumped in the car and off for some more tastings.

Tastings are a wonderful social event... the pourers are all wonderfully social and informed people and it is great fun to taste some wines, learn about them, and meet some fun people. It is also interesting to feel the different atmospheres of the different wineries and to see the different clientele that is attracted. It was a gray and drizzly day but what better way to spend that than tasting some great wines and laughing with fun people?

We didn't feel like driving around a lot so we went to Solvang where we could visit a number of tasting rooms that we hadn't visited before, walk around a bit, and then head home.

Our first visit was Mandolina. One of the trends here is known as CalItal - growing Italian grapes and making Italian style wines and this little winery is one of the ones devoted to that trend. We tasted some very nice Italian varietals and ended up purchasing a bottle of their version of a super Tuscan - a blend of Italian and Bordeaux varieties of grapes. Yummy. It was a small tasting room and we were the only ones there for most of the time. We enjoyed talking with the pourer.

A short walk around the corner brought us to our next stop - Stolpman Vineyards. Stolpman is known more as a grower than a vintner and it isn't unusual to see other wineries with bottles labeled that the grapes came from Stolpman. I had drunk other vintners wines made from Stolpman grapes, but hadn't tasted their own wines before. When we got to the reds, we were struck by the huge tannins in their wines. I'm told that the vast majority of wines sold in the US are drunk within 3 days and most US wines are produced with that in mind. It would be a shame to drink these wines in 3 days. These puppies need to sit for a few years... and then they'll be amazing. The tasting room was a little larger than Mandolina and David, the pourer, obviously knew their wines. There were a few other people there. This winery is tempting me to join another wine club... but Cheryl says it is more than she wants to commit to spending on wines... I'll be working on her.

Around the corner and down the street and we stopped at Lucas and Lewellen, who also own Mandolina. I have wanted to taste their wines for some time as I pass some of their vineyards on 101 everytime I drive to Santa Maria for my clergy group meetings. This tasting room was full. Beth, the pourer, was a lot of fun. She obviously enjoys her job and the clientele enjoyed her. She described one wine to me as being so wonderful that one drink and the heavens opened and the angels sang... but that wine was sold out. Her second favorite, she told us was almost as good... the heavens still opened and the angels were there but no Baptist choir. You can imagine the look on her face when I told her that I am a Baptist pastor. We bought a bottle of Petit Syrah (her 2nd favorite).

I hate to sound like I represent the chamber of commerce or the visitor's bureau, but if you find yourself anywhere near the California central coast, do plan to do some tastings... and maybe encourage your favorite restaurant or local wine merchant to add some Santa Barbara wines to their wine list.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

sing it sister!

I knew a little about Michelle Shocked but never had really listened to her material or followed her career. Earlier today I was reading a bulletin board that I frequent and there was a link to a video of hers done at the West Angeles Cathedral, a Church of God in Christ congregation where she is evidently a member. So I followed some links and listened to some of her recent material. The sister is on the right track! I hope someday I get a chance to play with her.

In the meantime, take a listen to this great song. The Quality of Mercy... reminds me that God's grace is absolutely, positively, completely free and that we are saved by that grace. There is nothing we can or need do... period.


Yesterday I came across Adam Gonnerman's entry into a synchroblog "Redeeming the Season" and Adam got me thinking that I should blog about Advent.

Santa Barbara has a different sense of time than any other place I've lived. There is a rhythm to time in the northeast... work and play, work and vacation, day and night, weekdays and weekends, seasons... and there are different activities and different clothing for the differing times in the cycles. It is clear where you are just by looking around. That doesn't happen here.

The days are pretty much the same. Yes, there is a small swing of temperatures but flowers are still blooming, birds are singing here "in the bleak mid-winter"... heck today I was walking by a loquat tree near my office and heard a buzzing sound. It was full of bees pollinating the flowers for the springs crop of loquats! We don't have seasons in the same way so that piece of the rhythm is missing.

California is casual... dress is the same everywhere all of the time, or not the same in random ways. You wear what you feel like wearing so it isn't unusual to see a couple strolling down the street with the woman in a fancy cocktail dress and the man in jeans and a t-shirt. Or a young woman with microshorts, a fleece jacket, no stockings, and Ugg boots. And either outfit could be any time of year under just about any circumstances. Church dress is everything from very very casual to Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. I have only worn a tie about 6 times in the 5.5 years I've lived here. Clothing gives no hints as to where we are in the year or the week so that piece is missing.

There isn't a rhythm to vacation vs. work. Because the weather is what it is, people play golf anytime, surf anytime, hike anytime... and besides that, aren't palm trees a mark of a vacation place rather than a place where you work? Schedules are often arranged around activities so golfers go to work after a morning round, surfers surf because it is raining and the waves are big or because it isn't raining and the sun is shining. You get the picture.

School provides a little sense of time but families don't seem particularly upset with taking their children out of school to go on a trip or do something special so even that piece is less solid than it was anywhere else I've lived.

That lack of rhythm was the most difficult thing for me to adjust to when we moved here. All of that made Advent and the rest of the church year even more important to me. The problem was that Advent was pretty much equated to "shopping season" in this culture rather than a penitential time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. Yes, you get ready for Christmas, but there wasn't much spiritual significance to the time. I really wanted/needed to redeem the season. An Advent wreath was a tradition that the congregation had so that piece was easy. The hard part was not singing Christmas carols. I told the congregation, "this is Advent, not Christmastide. We sing Advent songs not carols. It is not about joy, it is about preparation." Of course, every store is filled with Christmas songs if not carols and everything blends together in Santa Barbara so this caused tension and misunderstanding. And then when Christmastide came and I was ready to sing Christmas carols, the congregation was tired of them after all of those days of muzak everywhere. They were ready to move on to the next thing.

So this year, we'll sing a few Christmas carols before Christmas along with serious Advent songs. And we'll still sing carols during Christmastide even though everyone in the congregation will be tired of them. I'll try to reinforce the rhythm in other ways and my family will observe its Advent traditions (more about that later).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm embarassed

I was looking at some friend's blogs today and visited Fernando's Desk. He had a link to a test that looks at your blog and assesses the reading level. Fernando blogs on some fairly sophisticated theological topics but his still came out as a high school reading level.

Mine on the other hand came out as junior high!
cash advance
My only comment is that the test must know some junior highs that I've never met.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

India... the last time (maybe)

I've been thinking and talking a lot about India over the last week or so. Alexis returns home next week so that has started a lot of conversations and has helped me to process things a bit more. Plus reading Alexis' recent blog entry100 things I learned in India pushed my thinking as well.

So here are some random thoughts.

It truly is the land of almost... just about anything you can mention, India is almost. Almost western. Almost modern. Almost falling apart. almost...

I've been realizing that one of the reasons it was so challenging for me is that it is completely foreign to me. The foundation for ethics is different. Social structure is different. Expectations and hopes are different. When we visited Haiti, I felt like I understood it even when I was horrified. India was just too foreign.

I wonder how India, and perhaps other cultures that are equally foreign to the west, will interact with the west in the future. For example, the caste system colors every interaction there but doesn't translate elsewhere. Each time we met an Indian, it felt as if they were trying to figure out where we would fit in the caste system so that they would know how they could interact with us - what was proper, what was allowed, what they could expect. Until they fit us in somewhere, they weren't quite sure. Reflecting back, I realized that folk from the lower castes whom we encountered interacted with us in very different ways than those from the upper castes. And, caste and class are not the same thing. On top of that, the government has outlawed caste discrimination while at the same time institutionalizing caste by establishing quotas in a number of areas of the society. How can that all work when interacting with a society like the US where our mythology says anyone can pull themselves up and even a poor boy can grow up to be president?

Religion is different too. It may not be any more diverse than in the states but it certainly is taken more seriously. I was told that Indians really don't have a concept of an athiest. Obviously, everyone does not practice their religion to the same degree, but everyone has one.

Much of the time, you can tell a person's religion by their dress or hairstyle. Again, the walls of separation in the society are daunting.

I can't imagine the scene of thousands of people we saw waiting to get inside the Bahai Lotus Temple, some to pray, some to sit in silence, and some to see the building, taking place in the US. No matter how spectacular, a religious site just wouldn't have that kind of draw.

I was struck by the complete inadequacy of the infrastructure and found myself wondering whether India could catch up to the developed world without catching up there.

Contrast... beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, 21st century and 17th century, west and east... The contrast is always in front of you and always as stark as it could be.