Thursday, 27 August 2015

Letter to Isaac (Gen 22)


Dear Isaac,

Ok I want to focus on one specific incident in this letter, that time you went up the mountain with your dad and were put on the alter before another offering came along.

Reading through the story I wonder what sort of God tests somebody in that way. Sometimes I have to come to the conclusion that God is a bit sick – I mean if somebody tried the same thing today they would be done for emotional harm to their child.

What did the servants who went with you think of it all? Did they have any idea of what was going on? I don’t imagine your dad, Abraham was exactly happy on the journey.  What must it have been like for him as he cut the wood he thought he might be required to sacrifice you on.

As you left the servants behind and went off alone with your dad what did you think? I mean you were obviously of a reasonable age because you were able to carry the wood for your dad.  Did you have any idea what was going on? Was that why you asked the question?

I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Did you have an idea and choose to go along with offering yourself as a sacrifice? I mean, as I once heard a preacher on this passage explain, you were a fit young man and your dad was old. You would have been able to overpower him if you had wished.

I can’t get my head around it as your dad raised the knife.

Was there an audible voice? What was it like?

I just can’t get my head around the fact God tests you in this way and then blesses you and your dad for doing it. It’s a bit like having to go through some really scary thing to win the competition. But God had already promised Abraham blessing so I don’t get why this was necessary.

I know I am meant to say this illustrates how God tests us and how he will provide if we are faithful, but to me I have to say what on earth was God playing at?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Letter to Hagar (Gen 21)


Dear Hagar

When people ask me who is my favourite biblical character or who I find most inspiring I give your name. Your story is not an easy or happy one but for me it has been one which has given me hope in times of darkness. It has been a story which has shown that God about single parents and that whilst the sermons and stories which dominate our services are tend to be about nuclear families people in different shapes of family matter too. I have written about you before and this blog is even named after you so this letter is partly to say thank you.
I don’t know when I first came across your story, but I know that I would have come across it earlier had I gone to a black majority church because in those churches you are valued. In the mainstream white majority churches the problem is that those with a lectionary omit your story in Gen 21 from their 3 year programme and those without tend to focus on new testament readings or looking at the great patriarchs.

And this gives the first issue. Your story shows that great people are just like the rest of us. They make mistakes and have to live by the consequences.

In this case Abraham didn’t believe God and so he and his wife decided to use you, their slave, to give them a child. I have given a letter to Sarai (Sarah) which examined what happened when you became pregnant and my feelings about it. So I am not going back over that now. I want to concentrate on what happened once Abraham was born.

What was your relationship with Abraham and Sarah. I find it interesting that as far as Sarah is concerned you are “this slave woman”, it appears she refuses to use your name and so denies your humanity.

On one level I can understand her reaction in a society where women were without legal protection she needed her son to inherit. Yet, you were treated with undue distain by her. She obviously didn’t recognise the image of God in you, rather viewing you as something less because you were a slave.

When you got sent away it must have felt awful. Suddenly you were sent out, from a place of relative comfort and security into the wilderness.

You had your initial provisions which Abraham had given you, like a one off settlement today I guess. Yet, it wasn’t enough you struggled as you found yourself to be a single parent through no fault of yourself. Indeed, you had endured abuse and pain at the hands of this couple and were then just discarded when Sarah saw green.

It seems from verse 11 that Abraham loved Ishmael though and was truly distressed at what was going on. He sought direction from God. It was God who in this situation seems to be saying to Abraham that the best thing is for him to let you go and for you to become a single parent, but that he will protect you and make a nation through Ishmael.

Verses 15 – 19 of this chapter are the amongst the most moving in the bible for me. They show a single mother who has struggled and sought to do the best for her son, yet isolated and alone has found herself unable to provide. You seem to have reactive depression and have come to the end. You think your son is going to die and you don’t want to see that. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

God hears Ishmael though and speaks to you. It seems that whilst in much of the bible when angels appear and say do not be afraid it is saying don’t be afraid of them but in this case the don’t be afraid seems to relate to the absolute fear about what is going to happen to you and your son.

God appears to be telling you to have courage. Your son must have felt traumatised when you left him. I can imagine him clinging to you as you return to him to lift him up.

The well was already there, it was just amid your confusion and terror you hadn’t noticed it. God had to show it to you. How did you feel when you saw it? Were you simply relieved or were you kicking yourself you had not seen it sooner?

The thing this illustrates to me is that we need people to come along and signpost resources for us. It is significant I think that nobody came and showed you pity rather you were given respect by being able to be the person to provide water and life for you and your son once this had been signposted.

These days there are a lot of things said about children from single parent homes which don’t recognise the complexity of many situations and the way in which these children can thrive and achieve. Your story counters that narrative by showing it was complex how you became a single parent and it was not a choice. Yet, God was with your son and by extension you.

I get the feeling that you thrived after that turning point. I don’t know how gradual it was from that point of absolute hopelessness that you were able to start really taking things forward but it happened.

I find it significant that you were able to get a wife from your own land of Egypt for him. That shows that you gained wealth and had the resources to do so.

We don’t know if this was via remarriage, but I suspect we would have been told if had been. Rather the verses say you got a wife for him, which suggests you became successful in your own right.

As I say your story became an inspiration for me when I was a single parent. I’d hit rock bottom and as I started to work back from that I saw your story as one of hope.

So today I say thank you Hagar and I raise you up as a figure we need to celebrate more. Yes, you do make us face the fact Abraham and Sarah were very human but I think that is useful too. If we unpick this narrative we can look at the issues around second families, inheritance, provision for children and the feelings of absence fathers as well as your story of single parenthood.
On my old blog I wrote quite a lot about why I think it is important to engage with Hagar this is one post explaining why. I also shared a sermon I gave on these passages and some additional thoughts I would have included if I had had time. For those who are interested in this topic I also include a link to my thesis, done a couple of years ago now on single parents in evangelical churches which may be of interest.
I am excited to see that real movement to taking on board the different shapes of family is happening in the church and next month the We Are Family Conference which is a joint initiative between CGMC (Consultative Group for Ministry amongst Children) and the Methodist Church is happening. This sold out conference is going to reveal the results of some ground breaking research by the groups and launch their core skills material. I have not been involved at all but I really am interested in finding out what has been said and how this can impact the work of all the church, not just those pigeon holed to work specifically with children and families.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Letter to Abimelech (Gen 20)


Dear Abimelech,

I have to be open at the beginning of this letter and say I am writing it as somebody trying to read the scriptures afresh rather than a scholar and so be aware what you are reading are only my thoughts on what is happening, but I think you might have been scammed by Abraham.

I say this because although Gen 20: 2 says you sent for Sarah and took her Abraham was passing her off as his sister and ended up profiting from it when you found out the truth. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. He had lied about their relationship previously and Pharaoh ended up paying him off too in order to get rid of the consequences God was inflicting on his family.

Now, of course I might be wrong and his explanation of fear might be right. I mean it seems as if ancient cultures it was quite normal for women to be treated as objects and husbands to be treated as inconveniences to be disposed of.  Well, it still happens today, but less regularly I guess.

Anyway, I find it fascinating that you wanted Sarah so much. What was it about her, was she just physically beautiful or was she renowned for other attributes too? I mean we know she was not a young woman at this point and she was childless. Did you think that she was still a virgin because she was without child and was being talked of as his sister?

What was your view of immigrants in your country? Did you view them as people to exploit? Was that why you felt you could just demand Sarah become yours? Or was this more rooted in a misogynistic approach to women that viewed them as objects rather than people?

You seem a good man, after all in your dream God confirms you are a man of integrity of heart. I am glad that God stopped you from sinning.

How did your servants react when you told them?

I had never realised before that Sarah was his half sister, with both of them having the same father but different mothers. That worries me, with what I know was to come later and with what we know about the story of Lot because I think there might have been a lot of disability at this time caused by inter-breeding.

Abraham seems to have come up with a plan which he didn’t change and that takes me back to the beginning. Whilst I can see this may have been an innocent, if misguided ploy in the first place, I am not sure why he continued this deception. It does make me wonder if it was for safety or because he figured it was a way to make money. Yet, there was the risk somebody else would sleep with his own wife. What was Abraham’s view towards this?

I am sorry, but the more I read the more messed up it all seems. You come out of it well, although to be honest I’m not impressed with Abraham or even God. I mean what was the reason God stopped your people being able to have children as a result of this? Just seems cruel.

I guess after I have finished this letter writing project I will have lots of study to do as I try and work out why some of the stuff may have happened.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Letter to Lot (Gen 19)


Dear Lot,

Your story is such a sad one. You were a good man who offered hospitality and faced the hostility of your neighbours.

I wonder if you faced a lot of racism from them, I get the feeling you did.

Sadly, we have not come that far today, there are still groups of people who refuse to welcome the foreigner and rather want to commit violence. Sex is still a weapon that is used by some to show power over others.

I find it sad that this chapter of Gen 19 has become associated with condemning the gay community, rather than being seen as talking about racism and the way that foreigners and strangers are treated by some being wrong.

I worry that you were ready to send out your daughters to the crowd to be abused and raped. I know women were viewed differently in your culture but I can’t get my head around it. I am so glad the angels stopped that abuse occurring.

What was it that made you linger in verse 16? Was it that you thought that worse would occur elsewhere.

I feel sorry for your wife turning to salt just because she turned round. What was that about? I can’t imagine the grief you must have felt about it all.

Then there were your daughters getting you drunk to preserve their offspring. Was that based up on some messed up idea of racial purity?

What did you think when both became pregnant? Did they let you know what had happened? It’s among the many things in the bible I find messed up and can’t get my head around….

Then I wonder if incest had been one of the reasons, as well as racism and violence that God felt he needed to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Were the people there really messed up? Was that why your daughters even thought this might be ok?

There is so much in this chapter that I find screwed up I wish I had skipped over it to be honest, but I know I can’t. Like in my own society it is when we try and pretend this stuff doesn’t happen or take the view it is too vile to acknowledge that problems like abuse and racism increase.

Monday, 17 August 2015

New Labour, Songs of Praise and Will Varley

Will Varley is today’s new artist I’ve found, following a tweet from Frank Turner that Will is going to be supporting him on his forthcoming tour. Having had a listen to some of the stuff on his website I am impressed with his work.

Listening to his stripped down acoustic “We Don’t BelieveYou” I was struck by how deep the words were and how they might be used to explain a couple of recent controversies.

The first is the decision by BBC programme Songs ofPraise to include a segment filmed in the church at the migrant camp at Calais. This I know has been controversial and there have been those who have questioned it. I think that the reason it has made some uncomfortable is that it has shown that we have been previously shown a very one sided and distorted view of the migrants by the British media which has sought to vilify the desperate.

In showing these very moving interviews with both migrants and those from the UK who are supporting and helping them we could see that there is a large body of people, including Christians who were ready to say “we don’t believe you” to Cameron and co. The programme showed that the situation is complex and involves human beings whose humanity needs to be respected.

There are those who would argue this was political and goes against what is laid down by the BBC charter. I would argue back that everything we do or say is in one way political but this was not explicitly political. What Songs of Praise was doing was broadcasting about the religious belief of people in this country and beyond and reflecting the views and experiences of people of faith. There was something almost prophetic in that piece of broadcasting which did not seek to claim the situation was any less complicated than it is or seek to give answers. Rather it sought to simply show what is and let the questions that then arise be asked.  I want to thank the producers of Songs of Praise and Sally Magnuson together with those who filmed her and did the research.

The other thing which came to mind as I listened to “We don’t believe you” was the Labour Party leadership contest.

I will be honest here I have recently joined the party as a member, (like in the last week or so) but it is not because I automatically want to vote for Corbyn at the moment I am torn between him and Yvette Cooper. Rather why I finally joined was because the debates are taking us beyond the era of Blair, Mandelson and Liddle and showing why the Labour Party may be a credible alternative again.

The debate which Corbyn has opened up has shown that in a world where the Conservative Party is implementing the philosophy of Charles Murray and others in a way which is both scary and predictable there is a body of people who want an alternative. The neo-liberal consensus is not automatic and those of us who felt the Greens provided our only hope because we were “disillusioned Labour” or had come to know we could not believe in the hope given at points by the Lib Dems may have a place.

To explain why I have joined Labour now it is important to go back to why I lost faith in them initially. This goes back to reading TheBlair Revolution by Mandelson and Liddle. It was a justification of what Blair was to do, before he did it. Now don’t get me wrong I also recognise that the Labour government did some good things: breakfast clubs, civil partnerships and so on. However, this book clearly spelt out where New Labour disagreed with “Old Labour” politics and values. Reading it I saw the vision I had as a Christian Socialist was lost.

So what has changed?

Well, Jeremy Corbyn has spoken of hope and made me think about what I believe in and how that might be expressed. He has expressed many of the values which I believe in. He has caused a ground swell of people to stand up to New Labour and say “We Don’t Believe You”.

So why am I not automatically going to vote for him? Well, recently I read Blueprint for Revolution by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller and there was part of it which really struck me. It was in chapter 10 Finish What You Started that Popovic, a Serbian political activist, makes the point you need to be focused on what you want to achieve. Too many people are focusing on Corbyn becoming leader as their “goose egg” and the success they want to see. They have little vision of what comes next and what Corbyn might actually do next, particularly with the restricting forces of the Labour Party NEC and parliamentary party in place. Others are looking at the 2020 election as their “goose egg” and see victory there as the point of success.

For me my “goose egg” is something different. What I want to see is a leader who once they gain leadership will:

(i)            unite the party around a vision for the future which is based upon producing a new socialist approach to modern problems which does not throw the baby out with the bath water but does change the water

(ii)          works with those within and beyond parliament to better the lives of those in society. This will be through a mixture of opposing, rather than abstaining on some issues and putting forward alternative ideas on others

(iii)         not sacrifice their principles for election at any cost, yet will take seriously the concerns of those who chose at this election not to vote for them and will act to engage them in an alternative conversation understanding that gaining a majority is the best way to halt the rightwards move in this country

(iv)         will finance initiatives such as Sure Start properly and ensure the current cull of further education is halted as well as doing something to cap rents and deal with the housing crisis that currently exists where the renting sector has been allowed to get out of control

The issues are I would like to see movement on like the abolition of student fees and a commitment to not renew Trident are things which I view as important but know I am unlikely to see. Yes Corbyn is committed to these things but I think that unfortunately we will see the latter go through under this government and I think the latter is too embedded to be changed back.

These are the things I am looking for and express why I am currently torn between Corbyn and Cooper for leader. That said I am not na├»ve I have no doubt that I will end up feeling let down by whoever becomes leader and that Cooper in particular will trade off far more than I would hope her too. So we may still be left singing “We Don’t Believe You” along with Varley but we know we will not be singing alone. What ever happens now there is a chorus of hope in this country which will not be silenced.

Letter to Abraham (Gen 17 and 18)


Dear Abraham,

 

This letter is a bit awkward because I found myself reading and reading, not knowing when to stop or what to focus on. I’ve decided to focus on Gen 17 & 18 although because of how we put chapters in it would have been more useful to stop part way through chapter 18 but I want to keep to whole chapters in these letters.

Were you scared when the Lord appeared to you? Was it like a vision or a real thing? I ask because the way it is described it could have been either.

I find it interesting that your name changed almost signifying that you were changing. Yet, I read on in Genesis and find out that you repeated some mistakes you made before the name change.

The covenant is interesting and yet somehow I find it disturbing. God is promising you other people’s land. You came in as an alien, and in our terms that could be called migrant and God says you will have the land of that country. With our history of empire and the way in which the Palestinians have been displaced I find that disturbing. Yet, I think the idea of covenant is great.

I think I have to be careful not to think to hard about this, as with so much in Genesis, because it shows the dual nature of the bible and of my faith as well as, I guess, life in general. There is much we celebrate that if we examine closely is based upon things we find disturbing. Life appears to be based on grey.

The slavery thing is in there aswell and this is something else reading with 21st century eyes I feel awkward with. Yes, you were being told to include them but you were also forcing your own cultural standards upon them by circumcising them. I know there is a hygiene argument some have linked to this practice but I worry about that especially as these days it is used to justify FGM, which we know is a wrong practice. On FGM I find it interesting that there are some Christian groups who use religion to justify this when it is not in the bible.

I am glad that Ishmael gets blessed, even though he is not who the covenant is going to be established with.

I wonder what it was like the day he got circumcised. Reading this it says he and the other slaves in the house were circumcised. What was his status? He was your son but his mother was a slave.

When the Lord came to you again at Mamre you gave them hospitality. That probably sums up the good side of you that you were happy to welcome strangers and talk with them.

What was your conversation with Sarah like? She seems to have lied and denied laughing at what she thought was  a daft idea, when everybody knew she had laughed.

Then the men go towards Sodom, a place which seems to be wicked due to their view of foreigners (but that is for another letter).

I am fascinated by you bargaining with God and getting him down to a reasonable number of good men. It again makes me wonder what God was like that you seem to have calmed down a vengeful and somewhat blood thirsty God.

As you can tell reading this your story tests my faith and view of God. I am forced to see that God is beyond my understanding and those who criticise him may have a point. Yet, I also see that things are complicated and the fact that he established his covenant with you, who were clearly not perfect, gives me hope. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Letter to Sarai (Gen 15 and 16)


Dear Sarai,

This letter is going to focus on just a short piece of your life which I find in Genesis 15 and 16. I want to talk to you about what happened with Hagar with regard to her getting pregnant. You will notice I use your old name and that is because that is how you are known in these parts of our scripture. We haven’t got to your name change yet.

 I have to be honest whilst I can understand the desperation with which you wanted and needed a child, to protect yourself if, as was often the case in your society, your husband died before you. You needed an heir to protect yourself and provide but I struggle to understand how you could force your slave to be a surrogate for you. Did you have no comprehension that Hagar was a person too? She was a woman just like you, except for the fact she had no rights or freedoms as you had. You were in a position of power and seemed to have abused that power for your own benefit.

I wonder, in some warped way, if you felt you were giving her a privilege. I can’t get my head around it, but then I look from a 21st century place. In my society slavery is abhorred by most of us and has been illegal for some time.  It still exists in some forms and we campaign against it.

How did you feel towards God who had made your husband a promise he did not seem to be keeping? Did you resent this God who had taken you and your husband on this huge journey and seemed to be promising so much but at the same time seemed to be playing a cruel joke on you by denying you your child? Sometimes I feel like God has a warped sense of humour.

I wonder what Hagar was like. I am guessing that she must have been good looking with a range of excellent qualities for you to choose her to bear a child for your husband.

What was the look on her face when you gave her to your husband? Did you try and reassure her regarding what you were about to make her go through? Did you in some way groom her? I ask these questions because I cannot get my head around this despite trying to do so on many occasions.

Then you found out Hagar was pregnant and she showed you how she felt. She had contempt for you. She was having his child, the child you thought you couldn’t have. Did you regret what you had done then, giving her to your husband? It seems like the plan you had hatched had not allowed for Hagar being somebody with her own emotions who might display her feelings towards you

Abram seems to have realised what a mess it was and seems to want to keep out of the situation. I wish he had intervened as it appears you were abusive towards this pregnant woman. What did you do? It seems that this was pre-meditated abuse in some ways and that makes it even harder. I assume that when it says you death harshly with her (verse 6) it means you were violent. This again I struggle with. It may have been the normal way of dealing with slaves but it was not right. Hagar was a person and a pregnant woman at that.

I am glad that the Lord found her on the way to Shur, but I struggle with her being sent back into such an abusive situation. I do not believe it is God’s will to send people into situations where they suffer harm and abuse – what was it like when she came back? Did somebody step in to protect her or was it that she came back with the submissive attitude that she had been told to have?

One of the reasons I struggle with this so much is because it appears to be saying the onus is on the person being abused to put up with their situation. Yet this is intolerable and wrong.

When she came back did Hagar explain she had seen God and remained alive? Did that create fear amongst you that this slave girl had had this experience of encountering the Lord, your God. Was that why things seem to settle down? Or was it that Abram did intervene because he realised this was his child and he needed to take some responsibility?

How did you feel initially, when Ishmael was born? I guess it must have been hard for you at that point.

You can tell that I struggle with you as a person, I disapprove of so much you did. Yet at the same time you kind of give me hope because you were so human and God still used you.

Oh I know a lot of it was cultural but that is still doesn’t make what you did right. I feel somewhat torn in writing this too because you are a woman, one of the few well known women of the bible. Yet, you were a bully and a slave owner and I don’t think that we should forget that part of your story. We may be able to move on from it looking at your other qualities too, but this part should not be lost or excused and so I am glad it is in the bible and they did not remove it.

It causes me again to wrestle with the text but I sort of came up with a way to read this and deal with it a while ago. I read your story as one where I have to accept what you have done whilst not condoning it and move on to look at the wider picture, accepting that as with all of us you were a mixture of good and evil.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Letter to Lot (Gen 12-14)


Dear Lot,

I don’t know if this will be my only letter to you or if you will get a second. In this letter I want to focus on your early years With Abram, how it was for you as a young person being looked after by your uncle, and being forced to become a migrant as a result of famine.

I know that after Abram had been called and God had promised to make a great nation from him and his kindred (Gen 12: 1-3) you went travelling with him. Were you already nomadic or were you based in a settlement and taken on a journey which forced you in to a different way of life?

It must have been a dangerous journey but I guess you were reassured to some extent by knowing you had the blessing of God who was guiding you. I wonder what the worship times were like and whether you were involved in building the altars, like the one at Moreh and Bethel (Gen 12:6-8). It seems there was already a oak by which Moreh was known and I wonder if like in this country places to worship our God were built where other earth based worship already occurred?

Then the famine came. I guess things must have been so desperate for you to move out of the lands which you familiar with and felt safe in and to go to Egypt as aliens. The risks involved must have been huge and I am sure you would not have undertaken the journey and the hardship which went with it unless it was the only course of action you saw which would lead to survival.

How did the Egyptians react to you initially? I am sure you can’t have been the only people making that journey. Were there lots of you? What was the situation like? At the moment we are seeing pictures of desperate people fleeing from various places for a range of reasons. Was it like that around you? Obviously there was the famine but were other people fleeing from abuse or war? What were the stories you heard on the road?

It must have been so weird to know that your aunt and uncle were married but to be told to pretend that your aunt was his sister. I guess they used that partly because it avoided you using the wrong terms for them if you had words like auntie and uncle then. I get the feeling from Gen 12:11 that Sarai was a bit of a stunner and that she was not afraid to use that to the advantage of you all. How did you feel about what was going on? It must have been quite off putting to see your auntie flirting but at the same time you benefitted from it and your life must have been a lot more comfortable than it had been for a while.

What was it like after Pharaoh’s house got the great plagues? That must have been scary for you all if you didn’t get what was going on, that feeling of were you going to die next? When and how did Pharaoh find out? Did someone let it slip?

That all seems a bit of an OTT reaction from God, sending plagues. Again I hope to some extent this is a tale which has only emerged as a result of having to explain a natural disaster. This one I find interesting though because one could look at it as a morality tale. If and it’s a big if Sarai actually slept with Pharaoh he may have got a sexually transmitted disease which caused the spread of the plagues. Could the moral of this story to be to teach the consequences sexual immorality could have on the wider population and to be careful because you never knew if the person you were sleeping with or pursuing was telling the truth. It probably wasn’t the reading at the time but I can see that as a way which might be useful in the society I live in today.

It seems really wrong to me that Abram and Sarai’s lie causes the problem but the Egyptians suffered and then had to pay Abram off to go away. I’m going to be writing to them myself in coming letters but I do wonder what sort of people they actually were. Yes, they were obviously holy in some sense because God chose them and used them as he did but to be honest they also seem to be very much far from perfect and a couple of people who the more I study in depth the less respect I have for.

It’s interesting that as we move into Gen 13 you guys become too rich to stay in one place and that you become a migrant again for another reason, so the land can support and sustain you.

It sounds that as you went off to live your own life away from your relatives that you were doing quite well and you sought to make a sensible decision about where to choose.

However, I know that things didn’t go quite to plan and that you ended up in an area where people were invading one another and taking hostages and so on. What was it like when you got captured? Gen 14v 13 says they took you as well as the goods, what was it like being held? Were you a hostage or were you just waiting to die? Not sure why they didn’t kill you immediately to be honest. Good job that you managed to get to Abram.

I’m really disturbed about the view of women this story demonstrates though in Gen 14 v 16 when it says you your goods, women and people were saved too. Women are people! Was it they were viewed as less than human only slightly better than animals then? That’s awful, I am thankful that for all the problems that exist I live in a culture where that view does not prevail. Yet, I know there are places where that verse would not be shocking and that presents a whole set of problems about how to engage whilst being culturally sensitive.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Letter to Nimrod (Gen 10 & 11)


Dear Nimrod,

You only have a minor mention in Genesis 10 yet you are a name familiar to us today – there is a plane named after you.

The bible states that you were a mighty warrior and that seems to mean you were the first to intentionally invade and take land by force and build a kingdom (Gen 10: 9 &10).

You are portrayed in a positive way but I struggle with what you did. Yes, you seem to have built a great civilisation and kingdom but the way in which you did it I struggle with. Today we still see people invading other nations or other pieces of land and we see the negative impact that has on those who become dispossessed as well as those injured and killed as a result. I know I am looking at it via 21st century eyes but I wonder how many lives may have been saved if you had not built your empire.

That said I know that you did help birth a great civilisation. What I find interesting is the way that empire developed from your initial kingdom. Moving on to Gen 11 we can see that there was co-operation between people to achieve great things using the same language and it gets to the stage where God feels he has to do something.

One of the reasons I find this so interesting is that I live in another time of great progress and in another great civilisation. Through computers and multi-national companies we seem to be going back to speaking one language again, just a different form of language. I wonder if we are getting to a stage where God will feel the need to stop the speed of our progress again just like he did with the civilisation you founded. In Gen 11: 5 & 6 God makes the point that they are getting to the point where nothing they propose will be impossible. Are we getting to the same position?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Letter to Noah - (Gen 6 - 9)


Dear Noah
Are you real or were you an illustration used to explain the impact of a natural disaster like the flooding which must have occurred after the ice age ended? I start by rushing in with that question because you are one of those difficult biblical characters. If you are an illustration rather than a real person then my faith is not tested in the same way as if you were real and it really happened like the bible says.

If you are the story of how human kind survived natural disaster and rebuilt you are an inspiration. If you are real was God a monster who got reformed or is God not perfect?

As you can see I struggle with your story. I am going to start at the beginning now though. Gen 6: 1-4 talks about the Nephilim being sons of God. They seem to be like the Greek Gods in terms of how I see them. Yet, Jesus was the son of God also. Was Jesus the last Nephilim to walk the earth?

Yet Jesus seems different, these guys seem to be polygamous and in keeping with the culture of the day they seem to treat women in a really dodgy way, just taking them without consent to be their wives.

It is all so beyond my understanding I struggle to get my head even around that part of your story. In terms of the children who were part Nephilim and part human I guess they would have been like the half bloods in Harry Potter.

That brings me to the first problem with the flood thing. Is this, your story, the first story we have chronologically about wiping out mixed blood lines. Is yours a story about God committing genocide deliberately in order to restore a pure humanity?

You see it talks about the level of wickedness on the earth but those sorts of reasons have been given by people who oppose other groups in society in my time and there is not so much truth about it. Rather, it is a myth created often to justify hatred against other groups in society.

In terms of God being sorry he had made anybody apart from you that must have made you one heck of a guy. How was it living counter culturally walking with God in a society which wasn’t? People now talk about how difficult it is living in a secular society but that seems to have nothing on what you were living through and how different your life seems to have been to those around you.

How did you feel when God gave you the instructions for the ark. Did you have what we would describe as a WTF moment when you wondered what on earth was going on? Yet you did it, if you did it.

I like the conservation aspect of the story that you are told to keep one of every species to stop them dying out. Yet, what about the others?

Again the time thing seems interesting here. I know numbers have certain significances in the culture you come from and for those who wrote the bible. What significance is in this story would be interested to know more about, but that I guess I can read up on at some point.

If the flood as written was real what was it like to see those around you die? Even if not real what was it like as the waters rose. I have no experience of flooding but what I see sometimes on the news seems horrific….can’t imagine what it must have been in your society.

As the earth went back to what it had been and the winds blew (Gen 8:1) I wonder what that must have been like.

At the end of it was the alter built a sign you were just greatful to be alive? (Gen 8:8) I have no idea how I would have felt. In modern terms you may have had post traumatic stress disorder and perhaps that’s why you ended up getting drunk afterwards….I do wonder at this. The holy man, gets saved and ends up drunk and ashamed and then curses one of your sons who saw you were at the end of the day an ordinary guy. I struggle with you Noah at the end of the story (Gen 9:25).

I have a couple of other questions too. What was it like to eat meat for the first time and to kill an animal for food when you hadn’t before? Did you struggle to do it or was this a case of God compromising and giving approval to something that you’d already started doing? (Gen 9:3).

The rainbow as the sign of covenant in Gen 9:12-15 is special to me as I guess it must have been to you. God has shown it to me at various significant times in my life and at times I know have been significant for others too. That I guess is one of the reasons however difficult it is and however much I can’t understand I keep the faith. God shows me even in the dung of life he is a God of love and there for me. That's not just the image for today, it's what I have to sustain me when I'm struggling.

I think it is God being love which is why I find your story so hard. How could a God of love destroyed so much? Why???? Was it really all so awful he had to wipe it out pretty much? Even then I struggle.

I think I can only keep my faith if I see this as an illustration and see you as symbolic – somebody used to explain history and what we now regard as geology and science to those around you. You are the story to answer those difficult questions about how humans survive in times of natural disaster and to quell the fears about it happening again.