Friday, July 28, 2006

More (NT) Wright Stuff

My blog began as outblog: I wrote for an audience, some of whom I knew. Over time my posts became more introspective, journal notes from my reading or living or thinking (if I can use the last term). This I now call inblog.

My hope is to do both here. To write for myself, still; to use this as a (almost) pathologically-public version (Warhol's fifteen minutes) of the pen and paper diaries I kept for years before I began saving files on my hardrive. But also to write more reader-friendly articles, outblog; even, to indulge a bit, do a little of what I do to pay the mortgage: teach.

Inblog, outblog, both are coming. It's hard. I try to limit my drafting to an hour or less here; I have so many other responsibilities! Outblogging for the (mostly) anonymous web isn't doing work for my real students, those who depend on me to teach them something about English. But it is a hobby I enjoy. Who knows, someday I may get really, really lucky and get to write or talk about the NT as a career.

For now though, inblog, outblog. I begin with the in:

Tahoe was tough. I wish I had a better report, but my anxiety was an issue most of the trip. Sure I manage it, but the So. Cal. vacation was so precious to me and I was angry that I was unable to feel close to my wife for much of the Tahoe time. I prayed for help, which I almost never do (sometimes I feel like I've bought the Christian house, my name is on the deed, but I insist on sleeping outside in the weeds most of the time). I don't know if I can say God answered, he may have, but relief came the final night, the night of the day I finally prayed: the Tahoe production of Twelfth Night was awesome and I felt it, knew it, shared it. That was the beginning of sanity.

I would like to write about that play, about Malvolio in the house-dungeon darkness, the capricious justice of the Fool, but I lack time. I will note Shakespeare's plays can present psychologically developed characters (Hamlet) and characters who lack depth, lovers who fall in love on sight and are supposed to live happily ever after once the barriers to their union are removed. The Bard seems does not write about marital relationships with any depth. But then, I haven't read Antony and TN is certainly a comedy.

Something nearly existential is going on with Malvolio, though, as he is tormented by the Fool.

And I said my blog would get more user-friendly! Here I am writing about a play as if I'm talking to myself.

If you live near Tahoe (and I would be very surprised to receive a comment from anyone who does) see Twelfth Night. It is first-rate.


On the outblog:

On N.T. Wright's Critical Realism:

Epistemology is the philosophical study of what can be known. What do we know, what don't we know, what can't we know, how do we know, etc. The link above is a very good, brief introduction (though it doesn't let you view the many linked terms in the article without paying; sorry). For Wright and those he takes the term from (it's not his originally and he openly cites his sources) Critical Realism is a form of epistemology, and for Wright especially, a form of historical epistemology. What can we know about prior centuries considering the fact that none of us can observe them directly? For NTW, CR seems to be a response to the linguistic nihilism of some post-structuralists (language as a symbol-system is too vague to hold any centered meaning) and even more so to the large numbers of skeptical NT critics who refuse to accept most or any of the gospels as historically accurate and instead dig, or seem to dig (one can see the shovel swinging, textual dirt flying) beneath the gospels and epistles for grains of the 'historic Jesus' or 'historic Paul.'

I am convinced the gospels are unique in world literature. I certainly believe them to be unique in ancient literature, and I am unaware of anything at all like them since. This is what makes them such a "riddle" (to use Chesterton again). What are we to make of an apparently multiply-attested miracle worker (more than one ancient source attributes numerous miracles to him, probably within 40 to 60 years of his death)? A man whose followers, even more remarkably, believed he was raised from the dead? Who apparently claimed to be himself the personal fulfillment of Jewish covenantal monotheism? A man who made such an impression he was deified (by monotheists) within decades of his crucifixion, if not sooner?

Already those into NT criticism know which scholars would be smirking at which point, raising a finger, smiling, squirming. But regardless of one's historical view of Jesus, the above concepts are clear in the NT and the NT is considered by almost all current critics to consist of primarily first century texts. What is to be made of such a set of documents and more so, the personality the person they declare they are committed to proclaiming?

Everybody is asking that question.

Some will tell you Jesus never existed or was a political activist rising against Rome or a wandering cynic philosopher or a tragically well-meaning but highly deluded apocalyptic Messiah (Schweitzer's theory, and still the best bet for me if Jesus was nothing but human). Ben Witherington has written a very readable introduction to historical Jesus theory called The Jesus Quest. If you're looking for an intelligent and fair (though Christian) discussion of the major critics of the last few decades and prior, it's a good place to start.

One of the most difficult issues facing NT readers/critics is what to make of all the miracles reported in the gospels--the resurrection, of course, but all the healings and nature miracles also. How could this stuff have happened? Many argue or assume that surely these components are legendary. Also, the first three gospels, called the Synoptics, appear to share much common content. Most (but not all) current scholars have Mark written first, Luke and Matthew using Mark and (probably) a common outside source called Q, plus material 'special' to Matthew and Luke. The (apparent) interdependence of the first three gospels is rightly called the synoptic problem, for problem it is. This is an enormous issue in NT studies even if it's currently on simmer. Also, John's gospel (which actually claims to depend on an eyewitness testimony) is under great critical strain. I'm told the best Christian critic on John is Raymond Brown; he spent a lifetime pondering the puzzles within that gospel, for they are nearly as curious as the entire synoptic issue.

I, for one, welcome the modern critical spirit. The ball bearings may have fallen out of the NT skate-wheel and be rolling over the porch, but surely we must recognize the human nature of the composition of the NT. Degrees of skepticism (among intelligent scholars) vary enormously (and this, truly, must be understood when reading any NT writer: what presuppositions and biases may lie behind this person's point of view?). Some still believe the NT to be divinely written, inspired and controlled word by word, without error of any kind; others believe it to be generally historical, written without intentional deception and based on actual memories of Jesus (it's hard to hold either of these views and not be a Christian); some feel almost all of what we have in the gospels is based on legend, later fabrication, mistake, need; a few, as I said earlier, believe the NT, and early Christianity, is in fact Greek/pagan in origin and Jesus may have not existed at all.

Into this morass walks NTW.

Wright's great strength is clarity. He can express complex ideas easily and organizes his writing well (much better than St. Paul, say, but then he had different drafting technologies).

Wright is attempting (at least in his first book, The People of God) to historically immerse himself as much as possible in the period of Jesus' life. To look at what we now know of Judaism during this time, the Judaism(s) of Jesus' own Israel. He admits (much to my relief) at the outset that the picture he eventually uncovers may differ from orthodox Christianity (though the little I know of his later books suggests Wright can still be called a Christian). Good. That is how I hope I am proceeding on my mini-quest. And Wright, in response to those who say we can know nothing of ancient history, or those who still seem to be, as Schweitzer also noted long ago, investing Jesus with their own political or psychological make-up, argues that we can know some things about Jesus if we work very hard to find them. Knowledge can be had, even it is personal and provisional, through rugged inquiry. Hence, Critical Realism. Reality can touch us if we critically examine all that we have to work with.

That sounds like common-sense, and in a way is. Scientific method (a frighteningly simple term) is supposed to work this way within rigid parameters. But besides being reason-based, even dialectic, CR is also optimistic: mankind can find some truth, and perhaps with it, some meaning. NTW notes that all truth/meaning is ultimately personal, but that truth is often also public. He nods to the post-structuralists and psychoanalytic critics by admitting none of us come to the table without presuppositions and that all human knowledge will be limited/shaped by human faculty (I think of how a bumble bee perceives a flower, my computer, or me) but that we can make assertions about things in a public forum nonetheless. I could create a club, the "Is China Real" club, and we could meet once a week to attempt to determine whether China exists. We could interview those from the country, look at websites, and of course eventually fly there (raising a research budget) and say with (near) certainty: yep, it's real. Fair enough. Wright thinks, with enough work, we can make some nearly certain statements about history also. Imagine the "Did Napoleon Exist" club. Or the "Why did Ceasar Cross the Rubicon" club. Or the "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead" club.

I'm not saying the Christian questions are easy questions. They're not (and Wright is refreshing in his candor here). I envy the person who simply reads John, for example, and places faith in Christ. Based on what I know at this point, it's not a bad faith to have. It surely complicates the gospel "riddle" that these documents have been at the head of a multi-national religious movement for something like 1900 years. If there was no Christianity, or if it had died out in the ancient world without leaving a written record, and the NT as we have it was suddenly discovered under some ancient stone floor, think of the difference! It might be written off as clearly ludicrous, or it might spawn a thousand websites from those looking for alternatives to established faith. Whatever, almost all who write about the NT have memories of church-experiences, have trusted God and felt he heard or he failed them miserably (or both, as in my case). We've all met Christians and that affects our attitudes, good or bad or both.

Sure, these questions are challenging. But what I get from boiling down the first 144 pages of Wright's book, the philosophically chewy chapters, is distilled above. Sure he incorporates literary theory (and I enjoyed his discussion; it's worth the read for English majors if they read nothing else from the book), form-criticism, theories of history and's a great, if idea-thick, section; I'd read a few pages each morning, two or twenty, and stew. But where Wright ends up is here: Critical Realism means historical inquiry, even Jesus inquiry (sparse as our materials are, biased as they may be) is not purposeless.

Do I agree? With Critical Realism in general, at least as I understand it, mostly yes. I put it best in my blog title: Look Closer. I still think Wright needs to address/incorporate Kant's epistemology, though perhaps in an offhand way he has, and I admit I don't know how significant Kant's categories would be in historical study. Do I think the NT provides enough content to make real assertions about Jesus? When combined with everything else we have, mostly yes again.

And that's a scary place to be poised. EFM, or Education for Ministry, begins this fall with the NT year. I spent a year reading the OT (and what a ride that is: E-ticket attraction, but rated R, all the poetry, spiritual elation, universal monotheist optimism and profound psychology alongside military aggression, cultic sacrifice, near-obsessive ritual purification, jingoistic nationalism and individual violence). I have to decide by Sunday if I'm doing year two. I want to. I'm doing it on my own time as it is! The outside reading for the entire year may be less than I've already done. But can I slog down the hill one more night a week? We'll see. Prayers for wisdom (if such things work, I'm ashamed to say).

I hope to God they do.

I came to faith in Christ, as I've blogged already, after reading Mark and John with a persistent Christian over several years (and Matthew on my own, first and all at once). I had been in church and left when I decided I rejected Christian culture and that was about all I had in me. It was an honest move (also, I had decided the Bible was not a divine and inerrant product; I should confess I've thought that for fifteen years or more though my reading process was quite naive). Though I was president of Campus Crusade at my University (briefly, but active for several years), emceed the weekly Crusade meetings, taught more than one bible study in my church, led people to Christ door to door in San Jose and in Palm Springs, taught sunday school in a large evangelical church, was in a Christian fraternity...I often wonder as I see those who have fallen away, especially scholars and pastors, who now debunk their old faith online or in books: why do I feel what I have now is qualitatively different from what I had then? Even though I often question my faith and feel close to the edge, live days where I actually think as a non-believer, there seems to be something solid at my core. Something I can't let go of easily. Was it always there, even in my years away from church? Maybe, but I don't think so. I believe God acted in me in a new way in March 2000, in the three years preceding as I was half-coerced to read through the gospels (and allowed to say whatever I wanted about them). For those who have lost their faith I do pray, and may God hear those prayers. We're all trying to make sense of a clearly desperate yet beautiful world, our human condition included.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


My wife and I are driving up the hill for two much-needed days in Tahoe. It's cooler, very beautiful, and I'm looking foward to a wonderful time.

My wife is very excited. We'll eat, drink, kayak, and see the shakespeare play they do on the beach up there, right on the lake, with the moon setting behind the stage.

Sometimes living is very full of life. May I have that these next two days.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


I only have a couple minutes before I head out for church, but the temperatures in California continue to smash records and we now have a midwest style humidity level we almost never have. Last night it barely cooled off and tonight is supposed to be more of the same.

To make things even more dismal, our refrigerator up and quit two days ago. I checked the warranty and it expired three months ago. Five years and three months. The technician I explained the 'symptoms' to told me it was probably the sealed-system...six to eight hundred bucks to repair. I might just want to get a new fridge. Or, for a hundred bucks, he can come up here and 'confirm' his diagnosis.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

So we have no cool anything in the house. I can't say how much colc milk is worth, in human terms.

Sure things could be worse. My wife works at a hospital and people die in front of her all the time, some younger than me. I could be in Lebanon. But still, this is a tough week. Yesterday was our anniversary; we drove to the coast to cool off (2.5 hours without traffic; it took us 4 hours to get there), came home and feel asleep under the near-jungle air. It's creepy.

Anyway, today after church I fridge shop. And the temperatures are supposed to drop to summer normals by Tuesday (let's hope). My house is generally 11 degrees cooler than the valley, so it still gets warm. But 100 degrees in the valley means 89 here; not too shabby. I'm still looking into air conditioning because it often gets warmer than that and this latest spell is changing my body chemistry I swear. It's a great way to lose weight: I'm hardly hungry during the day.


On another quick note, thanks to all who link here for being cool about the name change (though some haven't seen it yet I'm sure). My original blog title I liked but I had published an article with that name and when I looked it up on the internet there was my full name, my college, everything. Too many people at work knew the phrase. So I changed it in a hurry while listening to the old Tull album Songs from the Wood. I don't really do hymns here, at least not yet. For me, the new title fits. Though no doubt I inend to keep sharing personal content here. A big chunk of the blog is dedicated to what Chesterton calls "The Riddle of the Gospels;" especially, how that riddle converges with human need and spirituality and longing. But this is still amblog, personal blog, a place to be heard when I need to be heard, which for me, is pretty often.

Love to all. Heading down to to my (air conditioned) parish for services. May the Body of Christ touch my wounded heart and mind as it has before.

Friday, July 21, 2006

And Another Link

this is what I call Problog, as opposed to Amblog, which is what I and my friends do. The articles here on the Iraq war, on all sorts of things, are the work of a true expert. Will everyone like his politics? No. So far I do, of course, but if you have time, read Glenn's posts on the building middle east war.

And the war is a tragic thing. Righteous or not, necessary or not, restrained or not, children have already died. More will follow. If Israel's incursion reduces suicide bombings of their own civilians, good, but I have no idea what the result will be. I leave this one to experts; all I can do is grieve the innocents who are dying each day.


I am building bookcases in my 'study.' At least, now with the bookcases it will look like a study, perhaps function as one. I started these, oh, a year ago. I'm not very good with this kind of project and the fact that they are turning out nice is something I'm celebrating. I used oak plywoods for the risers and shelves, and solid oak for the trim and frankly, it looks great (just a bit more trim to do). For me, this is a true accomplishment.

And I called an air conditioning company. They'll come out to give me a bid in a week. People tell me you don't need air conditioning at my elevation. Bull. It's hotter than heck in my house and I absolutely can't stand it anymore! I feel like a character in a murder mystery who goes bonks during a heat wave...well, I'm not that crazed, of course, but something has to give. I work too hard and have too much flipping education to sit here and bake in an 88 degree house.


I still don't know if my new title is grammatically correct. I need to ask Romy. But correct or not, I like the concept. Looking closer isn't all there is to life...emotion, intuition, spiritual sensitivity...these things matter and they surely form part of my web log. As Bacon noted long ago, emotion can cloud reason, true; but it can also complement it. Still, though the 'intellectual' path I'm taking towards greater faith (trying to achieve a scholar's view of the NT before I can trust it) is the wrong one or the long one, but I'm on it nonetheless. For now, I continue to look closer.

Be well all. Back to work for me. Keep the fluids coming.

Oh, Saturday is my six year wedding anniversary. It feels like more (we've been together ten and lived together a year before we were married). But what an accomplishment for a man with my issues. Six years of decent husbanding and a decade of pretty good parenting. Blessings all around.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Link Worth Linkin

Brian has posted some powerful, and in my view insightful, thoughts on the Bush's administrations failures in the middle east here. It's the "Strength is Ignorance" series, especially the first two.

Other than that, I have to go. Love to all.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Look Closer

I've been doing some blog-cogging lately, and want to change my blog's name. It's a name I've had in mine for a while: Look Closer. I take that phrase from the film American Beauty, but the meaning I give the term has more than one layer. (I also want to dress up the look of MHB and in general make it more visitor friendly, but give me a little time). It's true the new moniker represents N.T. Wright's approach to epistemolgoy, what is at the center of what he calls 'critical-realism.' However, it also represents my own thinking about reality for some time, even years. I watch my own truth unfold, in my recovery for example, and see how complex all human questions actually are, how there are so many opinions on OCD, for example, most of them limited pieces of the truth, a few erroneous. The actual answer, the Path, what Bruce Lee would call 'personal truth in combat'...that takes work to find. One has to Look Closer.

This is what N.T. Wright (brilliantly) calls the 'epistemlogical spiral.' We interact, question, probe, critique, test, all that we can do as we hammer toward the truth. And, for some issues at least, 'The Truth is Out There.' Or the human truth, which is as close as we will ever get.

For some questions, we can find answers. For others, knowing what we can't know is as important as wrestling toward what we can.

Take the post below, my mini-rant on the current tragic fighting in the Middle East. I admitted I knew little about the topic; as I look closer, I learn things about Hizbollah, the history of Lebanon, Israel's own experience and internal politics, al which allow me to see how complex this issue surely is. Do I still think Bush, and too many American Christians, view Israel as the chosen people, that that belief goes back decades before the 'war on terror?' Yes, I do think that. But the fact is, to say anything really cogent on the current confict I'd have to look closer, wouldn't I? This is the whole purpose of expertise. Of all critical thinking. Of, let's hope, good blog.

Look Closer has other meanings: look closer in to the heart of the beloved, look closer at the wonder of nature, look closer whenever one can to uncover personal and corporate truth; of course, and here I am weakest in praxis, look closer at God, at his manifestion within and without.

So many ideas sound great on paper. Many possess a psychological appeal which can be hard to resist. Marx and Freire come to mind for me. But look closer and the truth begins to unreel like a poem.

I apologize for the friends who will have to change their link (some, wisely, just call me Troy in the margin just in case). I won't do this today, but soon, the name will change though I guess I'll keep the link. Looking closer is what I want.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

War Again

The Middle East is burning again. In a show of force which seems incongrous with the situation, certainly more aggressive than anything our own country has done in recent memory when three of its citizens, civilian or military, were held hostage in an attempted exchange, Israel is on the move.

I don't know much about the middle east, but I know something about our own President's behavior, and most of what I know, as I've said before, I don't like. The current adminstration is dangerous enough, with a middle-east on the edge of war, God help us all. There is no way the Palestinians can be kept in poverty, without opportunity or a humane living environment, that we can expect this decades-long crisis to end. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve a nation to live in, and I don't think either side wants the other side to have one. Certainly, Israel, with its greater resources, isn't doing much, if anything, to solve the poverty problems in the Palestinian community. By no means do I support the regular suicide bombings inside Israel. By absolutely no means. The cycle of abuse, as Martin Luther King says, continues as violence, oppression, revenge and stubbornness fail to solve a single piece of the tragic mess.

I do see we just vetoed a resolution critical of Israel in the security council, the only nation to do so. Does this have anything to do with Bush's black and white approach to Christianity and the Bible in particular, or rather, to the naive approach of the larger fundmentalist communities and leaders he allows to inform him? I admit I know little about the resolution, but I do know Bush has fundamentalist advisors close to him, men (of course men) who view Israel as still priviledged as a nation in God's eyes, the chosen people still, regardless of their foreign policy.

If I had the money, I'd move to France and live next door to Johnny Depp. We could drink Beaujolais, talk about rational politics, maybe I could turn him onto Patrick O'Brian. We could discuss the deeper mythos of P2, for something is certainly going on with Davy Jones.

Or maybe I'd like Durham, the apparently intelligent Christian locale I've been drooling over in BW3's blog.

Right now, I feel like anyplace but here. As the Iraq war continues, atrocities surface from time to time, the historically common result whenever young men are given guns and then sat them down in a country, especially when they themselves are targets. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld...all four misjudged the situation and somehow, unbelievably, were re-elected by a naive American body politic.

I know I have friends who voted for and still support Bush. I am sorry if I've hurt anyone's feelings. But right now I'm scared, scared for my 14 year old son in five years, scared for this country, embarrassed of how we appear to the rest of the world. Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, she did say this administration was 'one of the worst.' History, most likely, will say the same. Grandchildren will ask me about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Iraq war and how it connected to 9/11. What will I say?

Praying the the violence in the middle east diffuses.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Few Words from a Straight Guy

My online friend and colleague Sandalstraps has posted on the homosexual issue here.
I've read his post, and I appreciate his humanity and open-mind. I would like to discuss his ideas and the larger issue here just a bit. As usual, I have more questions than answers at this point.

As a heterosexual man I am naturally at a disadvantage. Further, I am not a sexuality expert nor am I psychologist; I do not have a gay person in my immediate family. I am sorting out my own thoughts only because the issue is a dynamic one in Christianity today and Christian attitudes and policies affect millions of real and feeling individuals, namely, the homosexual population, who are certainly as human as I am. Finally, after watching the 80's goof-flick Weird Science with my sick 14 year old son (and wincing more than once at the PG-13 content) I notice that at the end of the film, when Anthony Hall shows courage and stands up to the quasi-Road Warrior bikers, he calls them "faggots." I was astonished. I am a culture-product of the 80's and saw that film when it was new at the theatre. I was not shocked by that term them. I wonder how gay people in the audience felt? How would my son have felt if he were gay? Moments like that show extreme relevance for this issue.

When straight Christians are faced with the 'gay question' where do they go for input? Mostly, the Bible. I have to begin there, though I cover it briefly as Sandalstraps has already addressed this.

For me, the NT, the Bible as a whole, is not a law-book we can search to find edicts for our conduct. I don't yet know what Wright's vision of Scripture is, but he does invent a great analogy: many view reading the bible the same as picking up a telephone where someone on the other end will tell them how to act or not act. It's just not that simple. Oh, for me, the Bible does contain a special revelation regarding conduct to human beings from God; we are to love each other, forgive, show mercy and compassion, take active steps to alleviate suffering...that is present in the OT and it is central to the NT. The fact that it is mixed with much other content puts me on shaky, or as I prefer to think complex, philosophical ground; I know this, and only time will allow me to process these ideas correctly. This is only a start.

Since I agree with Sandalstraps that the NT is not an ethical end-all encyclopedia of law, of right and wrong action, and since its texts are surely bound within their own times and cultures, I do not believe the Bible can give me a simple answer regarding homosexuality. Sandalstraps does reach conclusions I have yet to reach, however.

Whether 10 percent of the population is gay or 1 percent is not a significant issue for me. We're still talking about a lot of people. Whether homosexuality is in fact genetic is another issue. I do not know yet whether homosexual is inborn, environmental, or a combination of both. Is it actually a neuroses, like depression or anxiety or ocd, rooted in the rain when in full swing but brought on by trauma in the environment? (Many theorists, of course, think much neuroses is inborn or a blend of environment and heredity). Are we all in fact more or less straight at birth? The fact is this question has not been fully answered to my knowledge. It is possible that homosexuality is different in each gender; it surely could be a blend of environment and heredity, unique to each individual. Whether homosexuals can unlearn their orientation is another interesting question. Some seem to, but I'm curious if this could work for all; are some gays who become straight through effort (often with religious incentive) more or less their true selves when straight?

When my own Bishop Jerry, the Bishop of No. Cal., voted to affirm Gene Robinson, he said later he had come to believe that 'homosexuality is part of the human condition.' He may well be right. It's been with us a long, long time, and it seems to appear in many cultures (if not all) no matter its cause(s).

If homosexuality is in fact not at all a choice, pure genetics, as my own orientation simply slammed into my bloodstream at 12: I suddenly began to feel different when I looked at girls' body parts in a way that, at the time at least, felt about as much like choice as laughing at a hilarious movie scene, then it seems hard to exclude these individuals from full participation in the church community. If homosexuality's cause is more complex, the result of environment or some blend of environment, what then? What right do we have to insist these people change? Or to demand they remain celibate? Unless homosexuality is proved to be harmful to the gay person the way a neurosis is harmful, I'm not sure any of us has any right to ask them to change. Does anyone insist I get help for my ocd? My friends want me to be happy, of course, fulfilled, whole, and God knows I want it, but that is not the same thing as saying...Troy, because you have ocd you can't take communion or be a bishop. Of course, the analogy is weak. Obsessions are by their nature hellish; homosexual sex, for homosexuals, I assume to be fulfilling, physically and spiritually, when carried out in love.

Finally, to use compulsive homosexual encounters as the yardstick for the orientation makes no more sense than to argue that straight sex is aberrant based on compulsive, self-debasing, or abusive heterosexual encounters. Those acts are legion, and many of us have been part to them. The case could be made, based on negative example, that all sex is bad, but I see very few straight Christians making it. Why? Because sexual fulfillment is so critical for almost all humans. Release, intimacy, fulfillment. Frankly, most of us need it. Why deny gays the same process, the same pleasures?

However, I do not see why the same principles of straight sex ethics shouldn't apply to homosexuality. The commitment I've made to my wife (and kept, so far, through God's grace) is essential to her development as a person, as is her commitment to me. Gays in the church should make the same commitment, shouldn't they? In that sense, as others have argued, allowing them legal marriage would make their unions stronger. Cheating is cheating and marriage is marriage.

The fact is humans are sexual animals; sex is important but it is not the road to spiritual salvation. I continue to marvel over the softened stance on heterosexual divorce and remarriage in most of Christianity compared to the biblical severity so quickly shoveled onto homosexuals. The fact seems to be the idea of gay sex unnerves most straight people, so then they find verses in the Bible (written by others unnerved by the same thing) to support their need to control others. If I believed God wrote the entire OT Law I'd have to feel differently, on this as on many other issues, but even Jesus didn't read the Law that way. If I believed every line of Paul's letters to the churches he founded was God's own command I'd also be wrong, but as I wrote earlier, this does not seem to be the case, and straight Christians will write off other pieces of Paul as cultural, or conditional based on location, but not this issue.

I could be wrong, but if the Torah and Paul isn't informing my opinion what is? The Christ of the gospels. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, I'd like my culture to allow for my healthy (and this surely does not mean random, promiscuous, or indiscriminate) sexual fulfillment. If homosexual orientation runs life-long deep, if it forms a core piece of the persona, a necessary piece of their emotional and hence spiritual happiness, then am I not to care for and love and respect these individuals?

Some will say homosexuals who have sex are committing premeditated sin (as opposed to the kind we all commit before thinking every day and for which we are to forgive seventy times seven). But looking at the deep nature of the orientation, and at Jesus' commands to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love sacrificially and fully and even to our own loss, it seems only right, at this time at least, to give these individuals the benefit of the doubt, as horrific and weak as that language may sound to some gay men and women. Since they live within it, and we don't know what causes it, why not treat their impulses with respect and protect them the same way we protect ourselves: through commitment, marriage, the growth of love in the home.

I wish I had more time. In sailing, when in doubt what knot to tie in a line, use a bowline knot. In the Christian life, when in doubt, respect the other and use Love. Fundamentalist' reading of scripture has led to multitudes of abuse, of children (spare the rod, at this moment I actually hate James Dobson) of women (I refuse to let a woman teach a man, many others) of slaves (slaves respect your masters, rather out of context as it was used in American history I agree) of other countries as so, so many nations have appropriated the biblical God as their own War God, their nation as the Holy Nation (as if being the chosen people meant we were to exterminate the other nations; oh, that is the point of Joshua). It's time the church grew up with this issue as it has so many others, and the only way that can happen is if individual opinions change. That only happens, of course, when people think for themselves.

Time may show that homosexuality is a disease. Gays and lesbians will deserve our love, mercy and compassion as much then as now, maybe more. Or perhaps we will find that in fact homosexuality is genetic more than anything else, or that once in place, it might as well be genetic. What then? We give them the same tough-work chance at happiness straights now allow themselves as we see the marriage relationship as a critical part of human fulfillment (not generally an ancient attitude, and I surely doubt St. Paul's).

In conclusion, there are so many issue more important than this. How about the hungry, those suffering in prison, those sick or poor? Jesus' own priorities. Those who have not heard the message of Jesus' love? Those alone and distressed, for surely we have all been there ourselves.

Christianity is not about the indulgence of every sexual whim. How outrageous. My family, my job, would be history, and both rightly so (Sappho notwithstanding). Self-control to care for the self and the beloved and the friend is important. But neither is Christianity, in its essence, about a lifetime of total sexual denial or control.

Jesus says we will know a tree by its fruits. How relevant here.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Few Thoughts on St. Paul, Gays, Women, and ECUSA

First, I saw this film on the independent film channel, and I don't know if netflix has it, but I highly recommend Pack, Strap, Swallow. It's a docmentary shot inside a women's prison in Ecuador; it's about English speaking women from all over the world used as mules to run drugs, caught and incarcerated, and it's deeply moving. Yeah Cars was okay, so was Over the Hedge; but if time is an issue, skip everything at the theatre this week and get a hold of this documentary.

Second, the Episcopal church is in the public again for the divisions resulting from the national conference. Yes, 'we' elected a female presiding bishop; the 'apology' for Bishop Robinson wasn't quite enough. I am told, though, that the Archbibshop of Canterbury himself supports the ECUSA theologically but is obviously, and understandably, desperate to hold together the worldwide communion.

I again don't have time to do this any justice, and I'm outside any area of expertise, but a few thoughts follow.


I've said before (maybe on Sandalstraps' blog) that I don't know enough about the psychological reality of homosexuality to take a position on the issue as positive or negative practice for the individual. However, I do know that those using Paul's letters to support their position in the Anglican communion worldwide and here in teh US, and they are vocal, need to reckon with a few other proof-texts from our first theologian:

And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 1For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. I Cor. 11:4-10

The apostle Paul, in an undisuputed letter (nearly all scholars believe he wrote it) notes that this was one of the teachings he left behind in Corinth. The entire discussion is subordinated under the authority of the man over the woman, true, and Paul is perhaps writing to respond to a particular issue in Corinth regarding hair and head coverings. But the proof-text evidence is quite clear. Women must cover their heads when praying or prophesying. They surely must not cut it. We all pray in church; get out those scarves (for the angels' sake).

The rest of Paul's argument, incidentally, shifts directoin as he notes immediately after that

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. I Cor 11:11-12

Though Eve came out of Adam and that gives Adam primacy, all men (after Adam anyway) come out of women and both come from God. Tricky issue, gender relations, isn't it? What then do we make of the famous Pauline hierarchy regarding men and women? You see, he is reconciling his own (Pharisaic Jewish) tradition with his new faith in Christ. We can see them both compete here. As he attempts to sort this out, he even says to the Corinthians, "you guys judge, doesn't it just seem right for women to wear their hair long and cover their heads; and besides, all the other churches do this?" Rigored logic there.

Though Paul's 'new Law' is in fact quite complex, a mixture of old and new, I know intelligent, educated priests who will point to his verses in I Corinthians 6 as irrefutable proof that God himself opposes gay sex and we need to research the issue no further:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This list, incidentally, comes after a longer discussion of lawsuits among believers. Paul forbids the Corinthians to take each other to court in front of unbelievers, and argues instead that we should appoint our own judges, we who "will judge angels," whatever that means. As an aside, I wonder how the 'free-market gospel' coincides with the prohibition against greed? It's also worth noting, though I'm getting off track, that Jesus says all who have thought of adultery have committed it in God's eyes.

And oddly enough, right after this, what does Paul say?

"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything.

What does that mean? Everything in moderation? Do whatever I want unless it begins to control me? For Paul does say, "Everything is permissable." Why? Because of the Torah. NO. Because he believed Jesus had freed him, Paul, from the Law, the same Law he draws on when trying to sort out issues with the disturbed church in Corinth!

The obvious fact is that I'm no Pauline scholar, but I do know that the British church which the ECUSA is supposed to be in so much trouble with, for example, ordains women against this clear Pauline proscription:

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. I Cor. 33b-35

Note that Paul's argument here is based on common practice and the Law itself. The Law I am supposed to be free of (according to Paul elsewhere in many places). What is the new responsibility of Christians that takes the place of the old law? Love. Jesus said it. Paul knew it. But it was hard for him to apply.

And while many, perhaps most scholars, doubt Paul wrote I Timothy (I have no idea) there is this also from our canon:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. I Tim. 2:11-14 .

Now there are plenty of churches, and some Episcopalians, who oppose the ordination of women and have no problem with these verses. But some who ordain women oppose the full participation of gays and will use Paul's proof-texts for support even though they have bypassed this clear edict. Of course, the head covering thing remains.

I remember when I was with the ultra-fundmanentalist Calvinists (a group I have yet to write about). There was a group of other, even more ultra-fundamentalists that would sometimes come and visit our church whose women wore what looked like white doilies on their heads during the service. The men I knew from my own church would turn red, bulge veins, and shake a finger at anyone over the innerrant and infallible Word of God, but they thought the head doilies were pretty funny. I don't know what the rationale to that was. Paul is quite clear.

The point I'm lamely trying to make is that we just can't turn to Paul to find out God's will on every issue. And surely don't take me to Leviticus! I won't even go there, but anyone who uses the verses there against gay sex needs to read the entire book and get his act in line along all kinds of fronts. Sex during the menses, tattoos...stone him. Are those prohibitions part of some deeper law of Love? Perhaps. But we've surely moved beyond them.

I do know that Jesus says, in a very famous passage in Matthew 19, that:

"Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

This is actually a wonderful passage, as Jesus is responding to the shortcomings of the Torah, the Pharasaic interpretation of the Law, and the patriarchal cultural application (I recall that in Malachi, when God forbids divorce and says he hates it, the issue seems to be the abandoned woman). Note the disciples' dismay at Jesus' statement! But what Jesus says then is that "not everyone can accept this word...the one who can accept this should accept it." Interesting. To me, it sounds as though he forbids remarriage, or even marriage, to those who wish to renounce it for the kingdom. To those who can. For us straighties, that's not many; most of us need and crave lovers.

And perhaps for those who are gay, it is better to marry and live in a monogamous, emotionally intimate, and sexual, relationship than it is to white-knuckle their way through abstinence.

I know liberal Christian books have been written on this; Sandalstraps has recommended one to me, but I haven't yet read it or any of the others. All I'm going by here is the plain, literal meaning of the scripture. I believe the fact is most who oppose gay marriage or ordination oppose it out of fear of the other, personal discomfort, even deep-seated unconscious bigotry. I can still remember when interracial marriages were frowned on (growing up in So. Cal.). And what did my parents say? "It's hard on the children." They wrote it off, and told me never to date interacially, over a b.s. accomodation which only furthered the racism of my community. It may be the ECUSA acted too quickly, or rashly, but in some of their anger I hear Paul's own indignation against the Galatians.

Let me say that again: in some of the ECUSA's defiance I hear echoes of Paul's own rage against the Galatians.

The fact is Paul was trying to figure out how to live as a believer. He knew we were under grace, forgiven through Jesus' death, and that we would not be judged. Yet Paul knew that didn't mean we should run around doing whatever us human animals, who surely retain the desire to self-gratify at the expense of others, wanted! Paul tried to refine the Torah-based Pharisaism he knew so well, using his own natural conscience, in light of his conversion. He didn't always get it, frankly; not in his letters and surely not in his life. His extant writings, what we call part of the Holy Bible, make this clear.

Jesus gave us the New Law of Love. I have yet to study the gospels; that comes this next year. But I darn sure hope I can still affirm that truth.


Now for a brief and self-centered rant: I know few people read my blog. Thanks to Sandaltraps and Funkiller and sometimes Romy for commenting. I'm sitting here in my house; my levator is hurting from sitting; it's hot and I could be outside where it is cooler, or lying down napping, or reading Wright (who is beginning to impress). Instead I spent an hour plus hammering this out. Why? Sheez, I don't freaking know. I hope it does some good somewhere; writing certainly helps me sort out the issue and I suppose that is an end in itself. Sandalstraps is already ahead of me on all this. It just bugs me that I've seen scholars I respect, Wright actually, and Witherington, balk on this issue, point to Jesus' sayings in Matthew as BW3 does, or even worse, note the historic (and infamous) long-term gay relationship in Symposium as Wright does to show that Paul and the rest of the ancient world understood monogamous homosexuality. NOT FROM THE SYMPOSIUM EXAMPLE. In Athens, and I will get the names of the lovers wrong and don't feel like guessing, the famous gay pair at the party were considered scandalous by their peers, historically, because they stayed together for years and were close in age, both adult men. The accepted alternative in Athenian leisure-culture for hetero, accomplished men: seduce straight teenage boys and have sex with them until your lust passes, perhaps apart from their enjoyment. All the Plato example shows is that there were actual gay couples in the ancient world, and that they were frowned on as aberrant (by the Athenians!), just as they are now. That doesn't mean Paul was necessarily talking about long-term loving monogamous pairs in his verses. Of course for me, it doesn't matter much if he was. His own understanding of homosexuality was almost certainly flawed, based in the Torah and Pharisaic traditions and his own hetero orientation.

Unless, of course, as Spong, with almost no evidence believes, Paul himself was gay.

But perhaps I'm being too hard on Wright. His NT book is impressing me so much I'm ordering it for other people. Doesn't mean he's perfect!

Love to all. Rant over. It's hot and late and Steph will be home soon and I have laundry to do and my you know what hurts and I'm standing up.

God's peace and grace to all through Christ, to myself as well.