20 February 2024

Where the meek meet the elite

People learn to succeed when they're able to interact with successful people. Diversity on its own does not ensure success, but no one starts out "successful". Everyone should be given a chance to succeed. It's OK to address failure, but don't discriminate against someone who hasn't yet had a chance to succeed.

People tend to live and work with others who are in a similar stage of life, so where can a person just starting to climb the ladder of success interact with successful people?

One of the few environments that welcome people from all walks of life is a place of worship! Are you looking for role models? Go to church, synagogue, mosque, coven, etc. Are you a successful person looking to improve your community? Go to your place of worship and welcome and mentor  others.

08 February 2024

1 Cor 13 - but why love?

Consider 1 Corinthians 13. This is Paul's famous letter describing love. Love is patient, love is kind, you know the drill and you probably chose it for your wedding. Actually, it is well known by us exegesis writers that Paul was not referring to romantic, marital love. Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth in response to troubling reports of conflicts within the community. Paul compliments them on their many gifts, but the conflicts must be resolved. Paul tells them they must go beyond their usual gifts of speaking and healing, etc., and use love to fix their problems. Paul proceeds to define what is meant by love.

My intent today is not to dissect each line. My question is, "Why love?" What was it that led Paul to determine that the answer to the conflicts was something called "love"?

Jesus certainly refers to love at times. Jesus says the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbors (Mt 37 and Mt 39). However, Jesus stops there, apparently assuming everyone knows the definition of love, so why wouldn't Paul just tell the Corinthians to love each other and leave it at that? The Greeks used multiple words that are translated as love, which may explain Jesus' assumption (sort of).

So far, in my journey through the Bible, I have not come across a narrative similar to Paul's description of love. Hosea has a couple interesting but brief comments on love. The Magnificat (which is modeled after Hannah's song in 1 Sam 2) and Beatitudes (and the Sermon on the Mount in general) do not discuss love. The book of Isaiah, with its shocking messianic prophecies, does not predict a messiah who will love us.

Plato argues we must understand the "Form of the Good", through truth goodness and beauty, in order to live a virtuous life. Christians can easily build on that to be faithful in order to find a path to righteousness. But again, why does Paul settle on love? Along with the Magnificat and Beatitudes, 1 Cor 13 is one of the most beautiful bits of prose in the Bible and literature. What is the root inspiration for choosing to define love?

Have no doubt, I think Paul was right in 1 Cor 13. Paul had achieved a miraculous level of spiritual maturity and gives us most of the New Testament.

At this point in my Bible studies, I think 1 Cor 13 is a new idea by Paul. I will continue to look for examples. Let me know if you find anything.

23 January 2024

How many Christianities?


In "Communications of the ACM" (a periodical for computer industry professionals), in November, 2021, Moshe Y. Vardi commented on the surge in virtual conferences during the height of the COVID pandemic. "Choice is critical to freedom and autonomy," but "we don't seem to be benefitting from it psychologically." Vardi continued: "[the] research publication system conflates research publications with community building."

Trust me, I will get to the Christianity thing. Vardi saw that a lot of thinking was being done while we were all locked up during the pandemic, and then we found conferences could be held online for a fraction of the cost of traditional, in-person conferences. The number of conferences exploded, all competing for attention by splitting research genres into lots of little pieces. Each conference was attempting to "go viral" with some narrowly focused subject matter, hoping to build yet another sub-sub-community.

So then, have we Christians ever wondered if it's good to have a dozen or so big, mainline denominations, and a bazillion small denominations and boutique churches? They're all Christian, and yet, they're all different. The Old Testament presents us with the twelve tribes of Israel, and they couldn't always make that limited number of divisions work peacefully. And then there are the Shiites and Sunnis, let's not even go  there.

Christianity is all about gathering together. We MUST gather together to break bread in remembrance of Jesus. However, most Christians know of Christian places at which they would not be welcomed in the breaking of the bread, and know of Christians with whom they would not want to break bread.

I don't have a solution, but, may God be with you.

06 January 2024

Exegesis Regret

Adapted from a 2021 blog post from software developer Doug Mell:
"The Art of Design Regret"

In this blog post, Doug reflects on software development decisions after the programming is complete and the product is shipped. "Factors such as budget, resources (in quantity, quality, experience, and personality), technical options, and schedule all affect the decision making process."

Here in my blog post, I adapt Doug's thoughts to consider reflections on exegesis. As theologians, whether formally trained or (like me) God-fearing, well-intentioned practitioners, we regularly analyze Bible and other texts by examining the historical, metaphorical, personal, experiential and other elements surrounding the text or question at hand. As a tech example, Doug considers unknown consequences of a design decision: a programming language provided a capability that allowed easier programming of a complex idea, but resulted in the need for programmers of business applications to spend inordinate amounts of time solving memory and processor resource issues.

For the purposes of this Christian blog, let's say I performed exegesis on a Bible narrative and published an article. I researched diligently, ran it by colleagues, prayed on my very knees. And when the dust lifted and the comments poured in, I realized my work was a mess. Sure, I'm sorry, but how can I learn from this? Here are some ways to consider regret.

Anachronistic Regret

For example, oh why didn't I consider how a Bible verse would have been written if only the Deuteronomist authors had had more empathy for non-binary, gender-questioning individuals? It is certainly useful to consider a range of perspectives when performing exegesis; after all, it is 2024 and it's simplistic to write from a white, patriarchal perspective. However, I shouldn't agonize over psychological and genetic knowledge the ancient authors could not have possessed.

Actual Mistake Regret

OK, so it turns out Jesus wasn't Anglo-Saxon. WELL, EXCUSE ME! Seriously, though, one can never research enough, consider enough verses or pray enough. Sometimes, I am just going to screw up. I need to own my mistakes and set out to repair any pain they may have caused. If I am sincerely repentant, I will be forgiven.

Decision Regret

Hamas and Israel are at war in 2023-2024. Is this really the best time to (ridiculously) try to blame the death of Jesus on the ancient residents of Gaza? Exegesis is always consumed with an attempt to understand the ancients, but I am writing for modern audiences and I need to empathize with their modern concerns as well.

Unknown Consequences Regret

Let's say (a hypothetical example) I describe how Jesus had to be sacrificed and die in order for Jesus to fulfill the non-sacrifice of Abraham's firstborn, Isaac (Genesis 22). My article goes viral and suddenly, weekly churchgoers around the world think they completely understand the need for the death of Jesus. But, many churchgoers have an incomplete understanding of the incarnation of the Word as human and divine, the origins of the hope for a messiah, the historical contexts of David's reign and later Babylonian and Roman occupations, etc. So, my reasonable focus on a limited aspect of the death of Jesus resulted in many people failing to realize they are missing the overall sweep of Scripture. My limited article wasn't "wrong" or "bad", but there is a lesson to be learned in how words may be taken out of context.

Missed Opportunity Regret

I sometimes ask, "Why didn't I think of that?" As software industry writer Doug noted, it is simply the case that I didn't think of that, and that's life. "Iteration [is] important, as the more one practices, the better one can become at pattern recognition." In other words, after continual reflection, eventually I will think of that. Time for the next exegesis!

20 December 2023

Scripture versus modern gossip?

On December 2, 2023, the Wall Street Journal published a column by author Katie Roiphe entitled "In Praise of Girls’ Night". Roiphe wrote, "Sometimes [women] embark on what I can only describe as elaborate gossip projects that extend over more than one meeting. These are particularly mystifying, juicy quandaries within our extended social circles. Gossip in the highest sense of the word (and probably the lowest mixed in there too). I have a feeling that if a man were to wander in for 20 minutes he might think this part of the conversation was "mean" or "brutal," but he would be missing some layers. Beneath the sharp observations, the cutting analyses and the jokes are also compassion, a deep desire to sort things through and a genuine effort to figure out how to live a good life."

I wonder if Scripture was written in this manner!

Consider Genesis 22. Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, when very young, was to be sacrificed by Abraham according to God's command, but Isaac was spared at the last second by the angel of the Lord. If that's not already enough of a soap opera for you, proceed to Genesis 27. Isaac is, by then, old and nearly blind. Before dying, Isaac must bless one of his sons, Esau or Jacob. Since Isaac prefers the elder Esau, Isaac asks for Esau to cook dinner in preparation for the blessing. But, Isaac's wife Rebekah prefers the younger Jacob, so, while Esau is hunting, Rebekah hatches a plan for Jacob to dress in Esau's clothes and add a covering of goat skins to make Jacob seem hairy like Esau, in order to confuse the blind Isaac. Indeed, Isaac blesses Jacob and makes Jacob lord over his brothers, so there is nothing left with which to bless Esau. Esau is understandably upset and Jacob runs off to avoid getting whacked by Esau.

Of course, Katie Roiphe's essay was unrelated to Scripture, but how many times have we wandered into Scripture for 20 minutes and missed some layers? Roiphe's "desire to sort things through" and "live a good life" seem fitting for my Scripture blog. Jacob becomes an important Jewish patriarch; the twelve tribes of Israel are named after his sons, possibly in a mythical sense, but monumentally important just the same. People can act selfishly sometimes, but God's plan can be honored.

13 December 2023

Holy Spirit biblebombs some narratives


In this post, I will point out Bible verses showing how the Holy Spirit, part of the Trinity, keeps "biblebombing" various narratives.  Compare this word to "photobomb", which is when you aim your camera and a person unexpectedly jumps into the background just as you click. So, "biblebombing" occurs when a Bible narrative includes the appearance of someone who plays a role that doesn't immediately seem important, but after reflection, the role turns out to be special. As far as I can tell, I (Gary Gocek) invented this word "biblebomb" on 2023 December 13.

Genesis 1:2 - "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." NRSV has a footnote to indicate that "wind" has another translation from the ancient texts, "spirit". This wind is the Holy Spirit, and this verse shows why the Nicene Creed says it proceeds from the Father. I'll get to the Son in a moment.

Luke 1:35 - "The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God." There is that Holy Spirit again. This verse (the conception of Jesus) refers back to the Genesis creation narrative. As a Protestant, I don't see Mary as an intercessor between me and God (Jesus is the only intercessor), but this verse of Luke assigns immense, presumably lifelong importance to Mary. Only a handful of Bible characters get the same level of direct contact with the Holy Spirit - people like Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the Apostles with Paul (see Acts 9:17), and others.

John 1:1 - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Later in John 1, the Word becomes incarnate as Jesus. I said I would "get to the Son", so there ya go. There is some theological disagreement over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or only from the Father, but in my opinion, John 1 as a whole gives a lot of credit to the Word and this explains why the Creed is as it is. The Holy Spirit is inseparable from God and the Word, and is apparently necessary for the completion of these creation tasks, and so the Holy Spirit biblebombs the Holy Trinity itself.

Matthew 14:26 / Mark 6:49  / John 6:19 - these verses describe Jesus walking across the surface of a lake. This is interpreted as a direct fulfillment of a reference to God in Job 9:8, "who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea;". This verse in Job refers back to Genesis 1, in which the Spirit swept over the waters. In the New Testament verses, Jesus swept over the waters. It is not theologically correct to equate Jesus with the Spirit, since they are two aspects of the Trinity, but the correlation is obvious.

I invite you to keep thinking about this. It can be hard to understand exactly what the Holy Spirit is or why it is needed, but clearly, God's most miraculous actions utilize the Holy Spirit.

05 December 2023

Radical: A Satire

I have recently been studying the opening books of the Old Testament. The Torah refers to the first five books as we know them today, while the Pentateuch refers specifically to ancient scrolls that served as the basis for the Torah.

In any case, BEGIN SATIRE, I implore readers of other texts to avoid blasphemy! The Pentateuch and beyond describe God's might, the need to be loyal to the one God and to despise other gods and idols, and to obey The Law given by God to Moses. Consider this hypothetical question: What if a person were proven to have committed adultery? The Law (a) prohibits adultery, (b) requires that adulterers be stoned to death, and (c) states that the first stones are to be cast by the verified accusers. If another (hypothetical) person were to advise against carrying out the punishment, such a person would be promoting disorder, regardless of the sinfulness of neighbors. Disobedience by one is not atoned for with disobedience by another! A person advising such chaos, which is akin to spitting into the very eye of Moses, would be a blasphemer of the highest order. How could such blasphemy be justified? Such a person would need to be publicly executed by any available means, the more painful the better. END SATIRE.

Of course, in John 8:1-11, we read that Jesus directs an adulterous woman to depart and sin no more, without having been stoned. We all have our favorite Bible passages, and I have liked this one because it seemed like an ingenious retort by Jesus, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone," aimed at the scribes (historians and observers) and Pharisees (official, hardline enforcers of the Law given by God to Moses). I had considered that Jesus' statement caught the others by surprise (including the townspeople holding stones).

However, it would NOT have been a surprise to an ancient Jew that neighbors and officials were watching for deviations from The Law. In fairness, The Law's primary objective was order, i.e., to maintain an orderly society, socially and religiously. It is true that The Law was enforced harshly, and women and certain others (slaves, the disabled, etc.) were treated more harshly than Jewish males who traced their ancestry though the twelve tribes. In any case, all were taught to avoid the temptation lurking around every corner. In the Gospel story, "sin" was not just an abstract concept relating to our worthiness of God's love; sin was strictly laid out in Scripture.

When a person wonders about those without sin, again, the is not just an abstract question. The ancients lived a difficult life, and the Hebrews got to where they were through ruthless military conquests. Even if all Scriptural battles do not have independent historical verification, life was hard and dangerous. Have no doubt that the townspeople were not as righteous as The Law demanded. The townspeople were reminded there was always another mob with stones looking for retribution.

In my satire, the person advising the chaos is not necessarily ingenious. The advice would be radical. The society and the woman both need love. One needs to read the New Testament to understand how Christians are Abrahamic and descendants of The Law but have, um, "turned the tables" on The Law.

Where the meek meet the elite

People learn to succeed when they're able to interact with successful people. Diversity on its own does not ensure success, but no one s...