Sunday, January 22, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 6: How to Win

I don't have to be an oppressive, insecure, offensive fundie to be a Christian. There's a way to follow God in the way of Jesus and win the world with the original message of Good News.
I hope to show that this is why Jesus calls us to meekness in this Beatitude: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5)
Jesus the humble and meek, who climbed down out of heaven to come and build a home in our neighborhood, is the answer for both the conflict in the Middle East and the wars fighting within every human heart. Jesus wants his people, his apprentices, to win--to see people changed and converted to his ways--but the methods of winning are just as important as the win itself, because they can't be separated. We win with meekness.
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege)
A month or so ago I finished Anathea Portier-Young's Apocalypse Against Empire. As part of a larger project contextualizing Jewish apocalyptic writing, Portier-Young provides an approachable yet deeply insightful and precise analysis of life in Jerusalem under imperial Seleucid rule during the years preceding the Maccabean rebellion. I turned over the last page of the volume with a list authors to chase down and my understanding of the literary and cultural context into which Jesus stepped some a century or more later radically redefined.

The fifth chapter of Apocalypse Against Empire, "Seleucid State Terror,"did much of the heavy-lifting in reshaping my understanding of Jesus' context. Portier-Young systematically reviews the archaeological evidence for and the cultural meaning of state sponsored massacres, murders in the home, abductions (for the slave market), and plundering of the temple. Against the backdrop of subjugated Jewish identity Portier-Young establishes in chapter 3, "Interaction and Identity in Seleucid Judea: 188-173 BCE,"this litany of state-sponsored violence (physical and otherwise) begins to help me understand the way in which Jesus' contemporaries--under the oppressive rule of another empire--may have understood themselves, their history, and their oppressors.

Enter Jesus. Jesus proclaiming good news from God about a new kingdom arriving. Jesus disrupting social structures that separated the honorable working poor from beggars, bandits, and those who survived outside the official market in goods and services. In healing the sick, purifying the unclean, exorcising the demonized, Jesus brought the outcasts back into the company of good and honest society.

Without a doubt, Jesus sparked hopes that God was finally going to intervene and set up a utopian society, one in which God truly dwelled in Zion and all the (oppressing) nations came and brought tribute to Jerusalem. (We have no doubt about this because John's Gospel confirms in 6.15).

The first few lines of Jesus' kick-off sermon initially seem to confirm this: "Blessed are the poor"--"Amen!" the people thought, "it's time the good and godly poor were visited by God's blessed intervention on their behalf. Maybe this new kingdom will involve less imperial taxation."  Jesus continues, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." And again the people think, "Amen! We've mourned the ruin of David's kingdom for nearly six hundred years. Now Herod presumptuously builds another stand-in temple for us, but what we long for is God to return and set up God's own temple. God, do, come and comfort your people!"

But just as Jesus' followers reach for the pitchforks and scythes to follow their new leader to the seat of power up in Jerusaelm, Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 5: Comfort, comfort ye my people!

Hugh Halter titles chapter 5 of Sacrilege "The Problem with Family Values." This, IMHO, is a sign of hope.

I am a member of the generation who grew up with "family values" broadcast every morning from Focus on the Family on AM Christian radio. I read the books that, under the guise of defending "absolutes," really duked it out for traditional "family values" (cf. Josh McDowell's Right from Wrong). It seemed then that the fate of Christianity, or American Christianity, stood or fell with the family seated around the table for dinner, teens' attitudes about cheating, and kids keeping their pants on until they were married. The battle over "family values" was in the cultural air so much that Korn would launch the tongue-in-cheek Family Values Tour in Summer 1998.

In his reflection on the second Beatitude, Halter calls "family first" habits and values into question in favor of a practice of hospitality. I fully support this cause. He writes,
"So what I'm suggesting is this: cut out some of the nonstop activities and make room for a few more people in your family room. Keep margin in your life, blank days on your calender, and flexibility in your spare time so that you can adopt a few 'orphans' into your life."
Right on, Hugh! Opening our lives (which some would say is one of the first motions of love) requires that we topple the idols, dethrone the powers which enslave us. Sometimes this is our devotion to our families, our homes, or, even, our hobbies.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 4: Letter to a Greek Professor

After I'd graduated from college with my degree in Bible and smattering of biblical Greek and Hebrew, I remember sitting down and typing out an email to a former prof asking about Jesus inauguratory teaching in Matthew 5: makavroi oiJ ptwcoi; tw/: pneuvmati, o”ti aujtw:n ejstin hJ basileiva tw:n oujranw:n.

For the words that Matthew chooses to introduce Jesus' first meditation on what his good news means for the community he's called around him, these are strange words. Up to this point, in Matthew's telling, Jesus' only public words have been "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is arriving!" and "Come along with me, and I'll make you fishers for people." So now, after a healing or two, Jesus finally sits down to instruct his followers in what this is all about. And what does he say? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

Who are these people who have it good? That's what I wanted to know from my Greek professor. What does poverty, spiritual or otherwise, have to do with the dunked-in-the-cleansing-blood gospel I'd confessed from childhood onward? I'm still waiting for an answer that makes complete sense of this to me.

Surprisingly enough, Hugh Halter takes on this saying of Jesus in chapter 4 of Sacrilege. In fact, the remaining chapters of the book seem to take the Beatitudes one-by-one for a structure. Not something I expected from the billing on the book's cover. but I'm always open, even excited, to return to Jesus' words and wait and listen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 3: Enough Said

Mike shared this lesson: "You see, Hugh, in a courtroom, people see things based on preconceived beliefs. We think people simply believe what they see, but in reality, people see what they already believe. Thus a good attorney must learn to tell the story in a way that helps people see things differently."
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege)
Enough said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 2: The Nitty-Gritty and Important

At one time Christ followers lived every moment in the teachings and style of their leader. But somewhere along the way these adventurers turned into adherents of doctrine. People of faith became risk-averse. Kingdom revolutionaries succumbed to the world's kingdoms. Counterculture architects became wards of the state, sellouts, and seeker-sensitive consumers.
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege)
It's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. I find myself nodding in time with many of the statements in chapter 2 of Sacrilege. I agree, the gathering of imitators of Christ has over the last two thousand years become a convention of aficionados. But my question--which I believe is an important questions--is about the specifics and the details of this change. From what have changed? Into what are we changing? What elements in this change are appropriate to the evolution of culture, politics, means of production, etc.? What elements are not appropriate to the Pioneer of our faith?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 1: Jesus and Joe the Plumber

Do you remember Joe the Plumber? Picture yourself back in the 2008 US presidential campaigns. Some guy from Ohio happens into a conversation with Obama, and briefly thereafter he’s the media flavor of the minute. One day he’s a small business owner in Holland, Ohio; the next, he’s the symbol of everyman, symbol of the common folk who are going to help this country get back on its feet. He’s the mascot of Candidate X’s ambitions for office.
Jesus often gets the same treatment.

Twice in chapter 1 of Hugh Halter’s Sacrilege Jesus shows up in a subtitle. First we meet “Jesus the Iconoclast.” It’s Jesus who fights and overcomes the hold of popular piety, of social taboos, of skin-deep legalism and false shows of godliness. Hugh writes, “Jesus went against almost every religious norm and won the hearts of the heathen. His ability to de-sacredize the sacred (when doing so was important to the purpose of God) magnetized people to him, and his followers were expected and empowered to do the same.”
As Hugh explains, iconoclast means image or idol breaker. I agree that Jesus disrupts all our pictures of the way things should work, all our self-serving imaginations of God and life and love and why.
But I wonder if introducing Jesus first as iconoclast, a de-sacredizer strays from the stories we’ve heard. See, the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible is full of iconoclasts. Israel had plenty of idol-smashers, from Moses when he comes down from Sinai to find a golden calf replacing the imageless Yahweh to Gideon chopping down the Asherah pole by night to the words of latter prophets filling the back third of our Hebrew Bibles. But Jesus, even with all this material to draw on, doesn’t style himself an idol-smasher.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blogging Hugh Halter's Sacrilege, part 1, Introduction

Sacrilege by Hugh Halter
Mike Morrell turned me on to Hugh Halter's Sacrilege through the guerilla blog book reviews he facilitates. And, while I've never tried this sort of thing with any success in the past, I've purposed to blog my way through the book.

So here goes.

I've had a little previous contact with Hugh. By a little, I mean I once read most of Hugh and Matt Smay's earlier Tangible Kingdom with a friend and mentor in church-planting. I recall liking most of what I read there, though I can remember exactly what I liked about the book. When Sacrilege came up for review, it was less Hugh's name on the cover than the Shapevine series that it is part of that attracted me to it.

Onward to the Introduction.

Hugh begins with stories, two of them. He recounts a trip to Beirut, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and retells his own process of find and re-finding the "real Jesus."
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