18 March 2021

Credible faith, part two

I usually do my Bible reading around 4 a.m., when I might be just a bit sleepy. A few days ago, these verses from Deuteronomy snapped me wide awake:
Don’t return a runaway slave to his master; he’s [sic] come to you for refuge. Let him live wherever he wishes within the protective gates of your city. Don’t take advantage of him. [23:15-16, The Message.]

I'm sure I've read these lines dozens of times but they never landed with quite this force. Never mind the "Slave Bible" (see photo); this text must have been missing from the slaveholders' Bible! 

Just in case Eugene Peterson was reading too much into these verses when he composed this paraphrase, I looked up the same verses in the Authorized Version, the translation that the slaveholders probably used:

15 Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:
16 He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.

Who can count the numbers of lives blighted and cut off because Christian slaveholders paid no attention to this unambiguous command? The harm echoes through the ages: aside from the direct human cost, the pattern of biblical malpractice is established. In turn, people who are inclined to be skeptical of any argument from Scripture are reinforced in their skepticism -- and why not?

What oppression is now justified or neglected by us because we can't see God's plain command? And what happens to the reputation of the Good News as a result? I remember John Woolman's vision from around 1770, in which he saw "heathen" laborers oppressed by Christian bosses:

I was then carried in spirit to the mines, where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called christians; and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved; for his name to me was precious.

Then I was informed, that these heathen were told, that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ; and they said amongst themselves, If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant. [Journal.]

I feel similar grief when I see the Bible being used to tell people that their sex means they cannot lead, or their gender identity threatens the community. What credibility do we then have to confront the actual addictions and perversions all around us, when we've already wasted these labels on false and cruel diagnoses in the service of oppression?

[Jesus] came to Nazareth where he had been raised. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me;
     [God has] chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s time to shine!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” [Luke 4:16-21, The Message; compare NIV.]

Our business as the Body of Christ is to witness Scripture becoming real in our time and place. Do we see this promise being realized among us? When every eye in the place might be upon us, watching us with hope or with skepticism, what do they see?

Habbakuk 2:20:

The Lord is in his [sic, NIV] holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.

We Quakers sometimes express a subtle version of the elitism that appears in more scandalous forms when reinforced by biblical malpractice, as I cited above. I've often heard variations on the noxious implication that our Friends forms of worship, with their use of outward silence ("waiting worship") are not for everyone. Maybe some cultures would prefer more action, more rhythm.

Two thoughts:

  • We Friends might need more action, more rhythm. There is nothing about the practice of keeping a space open for the unscripted Holy Spirit to move us, that would prohibit any expression that is genuinely Spirit-led during that open period, or at other points within the worship time. Keeping silence is God's command, but the silence serves us, not the other way around. Above all, let's beware of the class and cultural boundaries we may be unintentionally reinforcing in contradiction to our theology of radical hospitality. (Please note that I'm writing as a Northern European middle-class introvert.) No theatrics, just freedom and trust.
  • Everyone who yearns to know God must at some point hold their tongue and listen. It's not just for Friends. When we worship in spirit and truth, ready to witness Scripture making history in our meetinghouses and homes, on street corners and in prophetic actions, we're not acting as special adepts or spiritual aristocrats; we're simply making our faith visible and accessible. We're saying, come and be among us to see what God wants to say and do today through us! Again: no theatrics, just freedom and trust.

Credible faith, part one

George Fox on overcoming corruption

Worship and protest

Novichok; source.
Putin as "killer" -- some reflections and lots of links. I was awfully tempted to comment on this incident, but wisdom prevailed.

Writers' houses, ghost stories, and the pandemic.

A women's dacha for Russian activists.

Gender bias in Christian nonprofits.

Scientists and theologians alike mourn John Polkinghorne.

The U.S. diplomatic corps: the lack of diversity is a crisis.

2021 Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito with Tarriona "Tank" Ball.

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