April 8th, 2010


"People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?"

Good Friday morning, Joan said she wanted to do the Esther story for our next round of morning prayer. When FCS-Ian and I were walking to Harvard Square from work yesterday, he said that he really liked reading through Mark (which we did in Lent), so for the New Testament reading he'd like to go through Acts. He asked if I would put together a lectionary. I decided which section we would read today (Esther 1 and Acts 1:1-11) but a full lectionary breakdown will have to wait until I have some more time. Since I'm the lay reader, that's fine :) (I was thinking later of how I'm effortlessly deeply involved in this service -- as I am in Rest and Bread -- and how in both places, there are enough other people involved that I feel okay about not overcommitting myself to doing the work of the church, despite my control-freak tendencies. I am stoked, however, at the apparent assumption that I will be the lay reader in perpetuity -- because this means that I get to gender-inclusify the NT readings.)

Esther is a short story -- though okay it doesn't feel so short when you read the entire thing in one go on Purim -- so this morning I was thinking about what to read next, since we'll likely still be in Acts when we finish Esther, and I kinda wanna go back to the Exodus story. But we can figure that out later. (Morning prayer is just on Thursdays now that we're not in Advent or Lent.)

During the Reflection time, FCS-Ian said something about how where we left off in the Esther story, you can tell something big is gonna happen, and he's excited to hear. I said, "You don't know the story of Esther?" (He didn't.) I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- I've just come across it so many times in recent years.

We talked some about fear of rebellion, fear of women. Joan said there could have been any number of reasons why Vashti didn't come, and listed some examples. I declined to share Rated R version of why Vashti didn't come. Looking it up after I got to work, Wikipedia informs that it's unlikely to be true:
King Ahaseurus's command for the appearance of Queen Vashti is sometimes interpreted as an order to appear unclothed and/or dance for attendees. Though it was common in the culture for dancers to entertain the king's guests, this interpretation is inconsistent with Persian customs that "the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze[2]". In further dispute of this interpretation is the fact that the Biblical Old Testament, the most exhaustive collection of ancient Hebrew writings from the era of Esther, contains no instances of the Hebrew word "יֳפי" ("yopî"—transliterated, pron: "yof-ee", English: "beauty") describing Queen Vashti in the Biblical account of the story in any context associating it with nudity or indecency.

After service, Joan said to me, "What news do you listen to? I hadn't heard about either the flooding in Rio de Janeiro or the civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan." (Both of which I had lifted up in my Prayers of the People.) Neither had FCS-Ian. (I had to admit that I hadn't really read the stories -- had just seen the headlines in my Yahoo account; the links here are the ones that were up when I logged in after I got to work this morning.)

Last night, Laura Ruth thanked me for the Reflection I gave -- said it was good for the community.

Yesterday, Laura Ruth emailed me: "I've been thinking about you all day, as you prepare for the reflection tonight. I hope you're feeling the light." The second part of her email was about rescheduling a lunch we had planned. She emailed ~4:30pm, so I didn't have a chance to reply before service. She asked me about it before service and I gave her my answer and said I would email her so she wouldn't have to worry about forgetting. In my reply email this morning, I also said, "I'm glad that last night went so well."

From her reply:
Yes, things went very well last night.

The structure, content and delivery of your reflection was wonderful. Specifically, for structure - you laid out your startling thesis - Jesus was about relationships, and then said maybe the opposite, don't hang on to me. Then you gave biblical and theological context for your thesis, and couched the biblical and theological context in experiences we had in common or have had in common, the Holy Week services. You let the experience bear the ideas! Lovely. And then you did the hermeneutical transfer. We're letting go of important teachers, especially in light of having seen/experienced the resurrected One.

Your reflection was both theological and pastoral. Your pastoral leadership in Rest and Bread is the first public leadership our congregation has experienced about my leaving. You did it beautifully, authentically, kindly. Well done, Elizabeth.

Your delivery was well paced, easy to follow, compelling. You seemed to be channeling spirit rather than ego for the sake of the congregation's uplift and well being. Well done, Elizabeth.

Yup, we've got ministry to do, especially in the light of the resurrected One.

Laura Ruth
religion is a queer thing

my interests, I am subtle about them

I ate lunch outside today and started reading Ian Barbour's When Science Meets Religion. Jeff V. (of FCS) is doing this book for the pilot of the "Eggheads" group. I am unexcited about the topic, but I am easily persuaded to show up and discuss texts with people, so I ILLed myself a copy of the book.

In the Introduction, Barbour lays out "a fourfold typology as an aid to sorting out the great variety of ways in which people have related science and religion" (p.1) and says, "I believe that the examples of each of the four categories can be found in the major world religions---especially in the monotheistic ones (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), but also in Hinduism and Buddhism" (p. 6).

It struck me in reading that parenthetical that the only monotheistic religions (at least the only major/surviving ones -- I have no idea if other groups independently invented monotheism and just didn't stick) all worship the same One God. Huh.

Unrelatedly -- from Chapter One:
     In the centuries before Galileo, a variety of views about scripture had been advanced. In the fourth century, Augustine (whom Galileo quoted) had said that when there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated knowledge and a literal reading of the Bible, scripture should be interpreted metaphorically. In commenting on the first chapter of Genesis, Augustine had said that the Holy Spirit was not concerned about "the form and shape of the heavens" and "did not wish to teach men things not relevant to their salvation." Medieval writers acknowledged diverse literary forms and levels of truth in scripture, and they offered symbolic of allegorical interpretations of many problematic passages. Galileo himself quoted a cardinal of his own day: "The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes." This aspect of Galileo's thought could be taken as an example of the Independence thesis, which distinguishes scientific from theological assertions. On astronomical questions, he said, the writers of the Bible had to "accommodate themselves to the capacity of the common people" by using "the common mode of speech" of their times. He held that we can learn from two sources the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture---both of which come from God and therefore cannot conflict with each other. (pp. 7-8)
I continue to be thrown by reminders that Traditional Christianity has not always been the post-Enlightenment thing it is today. The whole "the Word was given to a particular people in a particular socio-historical moment and so it is culturally conditioned and doesn't literally apply to everyone through all time and space" is something that today fundamentalists dislike progressives saying, but hey look, not actually an invention of twentieth-century liberals.

(I, of course, would quibble with the "how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes," since my theology focuses on how we are called to bring God's Commonwealth to fruition here on Earth -- so what salvation looks like is as important as how one brings it about. But that does mean I am similarly uninterested in parsing the bejeweled descriptions of the New Jerusalem as literal.)

Then my best friend called, and we talked about her day thus far and her evening last night and my preaching last night and gendered language for the Godhead.

After work I'm having smoothies with one of the Gordon Conwell students who's been visiting CWM (they're doing a school project) and then joining the tail end of Laura Ruth's office hours at Blue Shirt to be followed by the re/New planning meeting (this month's topic is "Change and Transition").
religion is a queer thing

God is a verb

Continuing reading When Science Meets Religion:
I suggest that the concept of God is not a hypothesis formulated to explain the relationship between particular events in the world in competition with scientific hypotheses.  Belief in God is primarily a commitment to a way of life in response to distinctive kinds of religious experience in communities formed by historic traditions; it is not a substitute for scientific research.  Religious beliefs offer a wider framework in which particular events can be contextualizes.
    Every disciple is selective and has its limitations.  Each abstracts from the totality of experience those features in which it is interested.  The astronomer Arthur Eddington once told a delightful parable about a man studying deep-sea life using a net with a three-inch mesh.  After bringing up repeated samples, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish smaller than three inches in length.  Our methods of fishing, Eddington suggests, determine what we can catch.

At re/New planning meeting tonight (topic: "Change and Transition"), Lindsay referenced Octavia Butler.  (Her facebook status after she got home from the meeting was: "Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible, ongoing reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most powerful reality, and just another word for God. Earthseed: The Books of the Living Lauren Oya Olamina" — Octavia E. Butler Reminds me of Re/New planning tonight!)

Later, Laura Ruth pulled out her smartphone to pull up the Preamble to the UCC Constitution -- for the "It [the United Church of Christ] affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own" bit (which recalled for me the "Making the Faith Our Own" Lenten House Church series last year), but she read the whole paragraph leading up to that sentence, so my primary (silent) takeaway was, "the UCC really affirms Jesus as the Son of God?"

Anyway, what I actually said was, "You just outgeeked me."

We'd been talking about Scripture earlier, and Rachelle had said something about wineskins and I said about the seed dying and breaking open, and somewhere in there we had Isaiah's "Do not remember the things of old for behold God is doing a new thing," and Laura Ruth and Rachelle were going back and forth trying to remember which chapter that was exactly, and I said it was a lectionary reading from Lent and Laura Ruth said, "last Thursday," or something, and I said, "No, it was a Sunday, because I remember using it in a sermon -- though I may not have actually finished the sermon," and I said, "And I don't have my netbook with me, so I can't look it up" (though it was probably good that I didn't have my netbook with me, so I was engaged with the conversations and ideas at the table rather than getting focused on researching).  So after I got home I skimmed through my recent sermons and emailed Laura Ruth (Subject: Isaiah 43:19 = Lent 5C): Collapse )

After Laura Ruth quoted the "every generation" bit, Jeff suggested putting that in tension with (sings) "As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen."  I immediately responded, "Which beginning?  What part of the beginning?  In The Beginning was chaotic water..."  Laura Ruth said, "Tell it, sister," and so I went on and said, "In The Beginning was chaotic water, and the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, moved over the waters, and yes there was order -- separating the water above from the water below -- but there was also abundant newness -- the first six days of Creation were full of radical change."