Dion's random ramblings

Friday, November 02, 2007

What the world really looks like! It's all a matter of perspective

In my first New Testament lesson of each year at the University I use a simple illustration to help the students understand why we need to study the bible, and particularly why we need to find tools to help us understand the bias with which we read the text.  For example, if I were to ask you, what God's gender is, most people would say 'Male' because the Bible speaks of the first person of the Trinity as 'Father', but if I ask you what race God is, many would say that God is a caucasian (white) person.  However, there is no evidence in scripture that God is 'white', or in fact even male!  The fact that the Biblical writers refer to the first person of the Trinity as Father has much more to do with their culture (and the role and respect accorded to fathers) than it does with God's gender!  Yet, because of the dominance of western perspectives on the text we just assume such approaches, as male dominance, and race bias, uncritically.

So, let me ask you, what is the image below a representation of?  No, it is not a map of the world.  Rather, it is a North American / European view of the world, i.e., it is Eurocentric.  It emphasises the size of Europe and North America, presenting them as larger than Africa and South America.
However, this is what the land mass of the world actually looks like (see the map below)!  Look how small Europe and North America are actually in comparison to Africa and South America (the Peters Projection is a representation of 'actual land mass' of the continents).  Amazingly this map is referred to as a 'distorted map', even though it is a more accurate representation of the land mass of the world...  Even reality does not always change perspectives.

Bias is powerful!  We need to be aware of it, lest we put words into God's mouth.  A few months ago I posted a little guide for exegesis (first written by Tim Attwell, edited by myself):  

Basic principles of Exegesis for preachers and teachers 2007.pdf

Perhaps it will be of some use to you.

Today, however, I found another representation that could change the way we see the world.  It is a map that shows what the world would look like if we viewed it from the perspective of population - so the larger the 'land mass' the larger the population of that area of the world...  It is quite interesting!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Robot Arm writes copies of the Luther Bible [Pic].... How times have changed!

I picked up the following story from Boing Boing.

Here's a picture of a robotic arm doing what Monks did way back in the scholastic era - writing copies of the Bible out by hand!

My, how times have changed.... I have often thought of getting my New Testament students to write out the New Testament just to be sure that they are reading it!!!

When I candidated to become a minister we had to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. It was quite a worthwhile experience (except for Numbers...).

For more great images of this 'monkbot' at work (please check out the great font it is writing in) go to the flickr page.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'm impatient, slow to pray, and often lack hope... But there's something even worse!

I have a reminder that is set in my iCal appointments each week for a Monday morning at 9am (iCal is like Outlook, except, because it is an Apple Mac application it actually works ;-).

It is set for 9am on a Monday morning because that is directly after the Monday morning worship service at the Seminary where I serve. It sounds just as I arrive to the barrage of calls, people, tasks, meetings, and concerns from my staff, students, and the ministers and Bishops of the Methodist churches throughout the 6 nations of Southern Africa that our seminary serves.

The reminder is necessary! It helps me to keep in mind that I do this work because I have the joy of being called into it by God. It reminds me that others are as sinful and incomplete as I am, so be patient, approach them, their need, and concerns with joy, and live in the hope that even though I seldom get everything sorted out in a single meeting, a single report, or even that single day, there is the hope of knowing that I have done my best for the God who loves me, and my best for those whom God loves... And, that leads me to the infomercial 'but wait there's more moment...'

While verse 12, of Romans 12, is my weekly reminder, I have seldom taken the time to heed the command of verses 11 and 13.

Here's what the passage (Romans 12:11-13) says:

'Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be
joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's
people who are in need. Practice hospitality'.

Amazing isn't it? Zeal, fervor, service of Christ, joy, hope, patience, faith, sharing and lastly hospitality!

This last week my bi-weekly radio show on Radio Pulpit (first broadcast is always at 9am on a Wednesday, then rebroadcast throughout the week) dealt with that last injunction 'Be hospitable'. It has unleashed a great deal of criticism from more conservative quarters. We're happy to TALK about values (zeal, joy, hope, etc.) but when it comes down to doing something (welcoming people into Christ's fellowship) it becomes a battle ground!

So from this week I have added an extra reminder to continue to serve the Lord with fervor and zeal, and another to care for God's people in need and be constantly hospitable (to the outsider, the disregarded, the misunderstood, the rejected, the poor, the rich, the American, and the African, straight, and the gay, the liberal and the conservative). What I like most about this passage is that is places God, in Christ, at the centre of all of these actions. Love and zeal and service of Christ, prayer to God in Christ, care for the people that God loves, and welcome, on behalf of God, to all the people that God loves!

It also struck me that since BGod is the centre of all life, it is not my right to exclude anyone that God loves! I am the steward, God is the truly hospitable householder.

Dion, blogging while braaing (an offering of thanks for our victory last night!), Megie putting Liam to sleep, and Courtney is playing.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bad preaching, cliched quotes, silly jokes, and the same old scripture verses!

The Bible is a very big book...

Yup, I've preached a few of these (well, more than a few), and I have CERTAINLY hear a few hundred....

God's people deserve better - come on preachers, buy a few good Bible commentaries, or at least use good internet commentaries, and READ! When ever I am visiting a city and one of my past students has a Church there I try to visit... Sometimes I am wonderfully surprised by how much they've grown... Sometimes they're still preaching the same Sunday school theology they preached at College.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A fun little Bible Quiz!

Think you've got more brains than Homer!? I was sent the little Bible Quiz below by my good wife Megan!

It is a tiny little Java application, so simply click on the link below, it will open in a new page, follow the instructions, then come back to let us all know how well you know the Bible!

If you ask REALLY nicely I'll tell you how I scored (let's just say for the more Theologically astute among us, my Marcionite leanings were exposed).

Click HERE to start the Quiz.



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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Let's talk! Homosexuality and the Bible.

This evening I met with some of the senior members of our congregation to give an account of my stance on the same sex issue.

They were wonderfully gracious, incredibly understanding, and treated the subject, and me, with earnest and sincere integrity, seeking to understand, yet at the same time having the freedom to disagree when feeling inclined to do so. Thank you for your grace and understanding. Whilst we are not all on the same page with regards to an appropriate Christian response to persons of a same sex orientation, we are on the same page with regards to our love for Christ, our desire to see the Church remain one and undivided, and the fact that Christian scripture is authoritative and is the primary source of God's revelation.

Of course, each one of us approaches that same sacred text from very different perspectives, with a different life's history, differing experiences of the same God, and so also with different 'interpretive lenses' that shape what we read, and how we read and apply the text in our lives. This is often the source of misunderstanding. So let me say a few things about the lenses that inform my approach to God's Word.

I for one accept that all of scripture is God breathed (or God inspired), as the Word of God, however, I know that I have come to understand certain texts as being fundamentally culturally and contextually bound and so such texts are in need of some interpretation (for example those texts that suggest that women should not speak in Church, or that Christians may own slaves and still honour God in doing so, or some of the Old Testament dietary laws relating to pork etc.). I accept, without too much effort, that these elements of the Bible need to be understood as addressing particular cultural and social issues (for example dietary laws helped to keep people healthy - however, pork is no longer dangerous to eat (except of course of your cholesterol is as high as mine is!), injunctions about what is socially acceptable for women to do in the ancient near-east were about maintaining order in worship in a culture that frowned upon women taking a lead when men where present - most of us would certainly agree that society has changed significantly and that very few persons would find a woman in leadership offensive to their faith. And what about ethical statements made to Christian slave owners? These statements were clearly made in a context where ownership of slaves went unquestioned, so the issue is about being humane to those in one's service, not about ownership of others persons.

There are other even clearer examples of Biblical injunctions that many of us would not hesitate to 'interpret' through our 'modern lenses' as being so context bound that God would certainly not expect that we apply them unquestioningly. Let me list a few examples of texts in the Bible that I choose some interpretive license with - for example the expectation that I am entitled to sell my lazy daughter into slavery [Ex 21:9] (after all at what age does she become productive? How should I measure her productivity in this day and age? Would I not be transgressing Paul's injunction in Romans 13 to obey government laws by putting a child to work in this day and age? If so, which law do I obey, Exodus or Romans?), or what about my neighbour who works on the Sabbath, she is a nurse, Ex 35:20 says that she should be put to death for doing so. Does God really still expect me to do this? If so, what would you suggest is the best possible way to do it? Or what about the fact that the senior pastor of my Church should not be allowed to go near the altar, or even enter the temple, since he does not have perfect 20/20 vision (he wears glasses as proof of that fact) which is clearly prohibited by Lev 21:20.... and the list goes on. These examples, however, help to make my point. I hope that you will agree that we all choose some measure of interpretation when it comes to the Bible. Consistency in interpretation would thus seem to be the only integral approach in such a reality.

Now please hear me, that this does not mean that we must throw such texts out of the Canon of scripture, or that the Bible does not still maintain its authority! No, rather it means that we MUST always approach the text with a great deal of humility, sensitivity, and rigor, being constantly dependent upon the God who breathes authority into the text, and Christ who is the true Word, to help us understand God's will and desire through the texts that we read.

Please could I encourage those who wish to understand why I hold the views that I do, particularly in relation to sacred Scripture, to read the article below? It is not very long, but it will help you to understand the 'lens' that shapes my reading of the 5 texts that are usually associated with homosexuality and the Bible.

I am not asking that you change your mind, but simply that you understand that my position is based upon a deep conviction that has been shaped by much searching, committed prayer, and what I believe to be a far more responsible approach to scripture - letting the text tell me things, rather than trying to tell scripture what I want it to say to support my individual, or society's, prejudice.

Of course there are many other things, and people, who have helped me to understand that God loves gay people. However, that is the content of another post.

Here's the article: Walter Wink homosexuality and the Bible.rtf. It is in Rich Text Font (RTF) format. You should be able to open it in MS Word.

Once you've read it, let's talk! My great desire is to be obedient to God, and to be effectively used by God, to share grace and love in God's world. Please feel free to post comments. I promise to hear you with the same integrity and respect that I ask from you. However, please do read the article before posting.

Together with you in Christ,


PS. Please excuse the poor formatting in the Walter Wink article. I scanned it from a paper copy I got some years ago.

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