B90Days — Puzzled

I hadn’t planned to do a post this week. I’m in the end of term madness and I really have to find time to do a bare minimum of communicating with the people who live with me, but because I was working anyway, I checked in with the chat on Twitter and two things happened that had me reflecting, in part, on what I read and in part of how I feel about what I’m doing.

First, there was what I can only think of as a Twitter troll who appeared to let us know that she felt the goal of reading the Bible in 90 days is pointless. Her feeling was that if you’re not studying deeply, then you’re not taking Bible reading seriously. She then went on to explain that her minor in the Bible in college created this reverence for study of the Bible. At the time, I responded and pointed out that any reading is better than no reading and that there’s value in reading quickly as well as in studying deeply.

But now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on her comments, I have to wonder about her sincerity about taking the Bible seriously in the first place. It’s pretty clear to me that in Proverbs those who mock the sincere efforts of others are not on the side of Right. And, to me, that’s what it felt like she was doing. Mocking the sincere efforts of a group of men and women to accomplish the goal of reading the whole Bible (well, minus apocrypha, but still). Now I wonder if I should have engaged with her at all. The English professor in me (which admittedly, is no small part) was a bit riled up that anyone would discourage reading at any pace. I don’t think that it’s true that the only way to gain value in something is to study it deeply. There is value in surface reading, and to suggest that there isn’t seems to me to be the work of someone who wants to undermine the whole effort/enterprise. And I think that’s a shame.

But the title is weird feelings and I’m having them. I don’t really fit in with this group that I’m reading with. Some of the women (it’s primarily women in the Twitter chats, though today’s check in post at Mom’s Toolbox is written by a guy) are, for lack of a better way of expressing it, very religious. They feel “convicted” by things. They’re not uncomfortable at all to say they’re praying for people or that they’re thankful for Jesus and so forth and so on. These are not sentiments that trip off my tongue. I’m not even sure what it means to be convicted.

And this is why it feels so weird to me, while I was defending this enterprise and arguing with this person, a small voice in my head was going, maybe she’s right. Maybe this isn’t the “right” way to read the Bible. Maybe you should drop this and try reading smaller portions every day for the rest of the year or something like that.

I thought about that little voice and how insidious it sounded. I wondered what about the timing. We’ve reached the halfway point. We’ve been meeting and talking every Monday since the beginning of January. Why did someone show up now, right when we’re getting to the “hard part.” And I wonder if I suddenly feel so conflicted because she voiced a thought that I have rolling around in the back of my head, but I know that’s not it. For me, it’s more of a “who are you to do this?” I’m not a particularly strong believer. I know that, comparatively, I am nowhere near the level of most of the women I’m reading with. I get confused by things that they say: they’re uncomfortable reading the Psalms because of David’s sin. And I don’t understand that. Is David not allowed to sing praises to God because he broke commandments?

And please understand, if you’re reading this, I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have those feelings or shouldn’t express them, I’m just saying that I find them confusing. Maybe if I felt more grounded in “the church” or if I felt more of the call that they seem to feel from God then I would understand more.

I guess this is all to say that I’m a bit confused about why I’m doing this. It doesn’t mean I’m stopping, but I’m not sure what I’d hoped to get out of it is in any way the same as what everyone else seems to be getting out of it. I’m feeling a little lost, I guess. I don’t know.

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#B90Days — Reading Job

Reading the book of Job over the weekend has really brought back memories of my undergrad days in college. I took a course, colloquially known as “Arts and Hum” with Dr. Hans Juergensen, and during the course of that class I read the book of Job for the first time. We were to write a paper about why we thought bad things happened to good people.

Mercifully, I don’t still have that paper because I know it was full of trite inanity that only an eighteen year old with little life experience can spout in the face of this text. I mean, really? What were we thinking trying to explain why God allows Satan to test Job in the ways that he does? And why is it that what hangs with me from that course, aside from my total sense of shame that I could not remotely understand what it meant to face suffering, was the pained expression on Dr. Juergensen’s face when we were offering our understanding of it. I remember that I had to admit, early in the process, that I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, had never really read the Bible, and honestly had no clue what I was doing. A friend of mine (her sister is Katie’s godmother) took me with her to meet her minister so he could talk to us about it, but, at that time, it was like the school teacher on Charlie Brown. I don’t know if I ever thanked her, though, for going so far out of her way to help me, so if I didn’t, let this serve as that thank you. I truly appreciate the time you took to help me understand, even if it didn’t take, the effort was appreciated then and is appreciated now.

And now, I can look back on Dr. Juergensen and I understand the slightly pursed lips, the valiant effort not to shake his head when we were discussing. We didn’t know jack and we didn’t know that we didn’t. We didn’t know what it means to struggle or to have faith tested (for those who have it). The worst event, that most of us could remember, that had happened in our lives was the Challenger explosion, and we knew that wasn’t God, that was equipment failure.

Now, this is not to say we were all free from unexplainable events or instances where you’d wonder where God was, but I just didn’t see how that experience connected to the book of Job, but now I do. I think I see where this text is going and I think I have a far better understanding of the meaning of it . . . the reasons why God allows Job to be tested. The test is, theoretically, from Satan, but I think more accurately, Job is being tested by his fellow man.

It reminds me of the inherent danger of assuming that you know the standing of another’s soul. How arrogant of us to assume we know “why” something happens. To assume that bad things happen because God is punishing us. That makes so little sense to me, and yet so many people feel they are in a position to judge the life of another. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Pat Robertson.)

Part of the reading that I did back in “Arts & Hum” and the thing that stuck with me more than anything from the Book of Job was When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. The image that he used was of God as a celestial soda machine. If you push the right buttons, He delivers what you want. Kushner says this is what many people talk about when they talk about God and it’s the idea that supports intercessory prayer. If you pray hard enough, and get enough people praying with you, then you’re doing what you have to do to get the answer that you want. It’s the idea of the all-powerful God.

And I’ve heard it all, by the way. That if you didn’t get what you wanted, then you didn’t pray hard enough, didn’t put enough faith in God, didn’t truly believe. And I think that’s crap. On the top of my list of useless things that people say, the notion that someone didn’t pray hard enough or have a strong enough relationship with God to prevent an occurrence and that, further, someone should be so arrogant as to point it out themselves. The book of Job is looking at you.

Look at Job’s friends. Really think about what they’re doing. They’re attempting to force Job to admit to something he didn’t do for their own comfort. It’s not, as they seem to imply, to save his soul. No, it’s to make them feel reassured. Because if Job didn’t do anything wrong? If he is, in fact, blameless? Then they, too, could be subject to the same experiences that Job has. In other words, they’re counting on their own righteousness to “save” them from what Job experiences, but that only works if Job has actually brought this on himself.

The alternative is a God of compassion, but one who cannot control human events. And I think that’s a down right scary concept to a lot of people. If God isn’t in control, then what purpose does He serve? What is His role? I like Kushner’s view that God provides a place of comfort, a place of renewal, a place where compassion is the key.

And that’s probably a good thing given the number of people who have horrific experiences at the hands of the godly — like Job. So, what I got from this round of reading Job is fairly straightforward. Each person is responsible for his or her own soul and his or her relationship with God. It is not our place to assign blame or to assume judgment based upon what a person has gone through or is going through.

God does not make bad things happen to people. He does not reward people for either shunning or attempting to “school” someone in the error of their ways or for suggesting that you’ve brought trials upon yourself. He will punish them unless they acknowledge the error of their ways AND make amends to the person that they’ve attempted to coerce.

This is a vision of God that I can get behind.

B90Days: The Marriage Post

Last week during the tweet chat for the Read the Bible in 90 days challenge being hosted by Amy at Mom’s Toolbox the question came up about when marriage became the paired relationship that we now know as opposed to the polygamous relationships that we see in the early Old Testament (like Solomon and his 700 wives and countless concubines). I mentioned that I had some resources on this buried in my office someplace and I’d try to dig them up to shed some light on this area, which I will do, but FIRST, a disclaimer.

I am NOT an historian. I am an eighteenth-century TransAtlantic non-fiction prose specialist. Otherwise known as an English professor. If we were talking about the Eighteenth Century, I would be on much surer footing and could talk, easily, about the development of the companionate marriage (defined and described by Lawrence Stone) which is far closer to our modern marriage construct than even what we see in the 17th century and certainly in the New Testament. Also, I am primarily doing this from memory, so if you have something to add, the comments are open and you’re welcome add to the discussion.

The argument seems to run that the reason that we see more polygamous marriages than paired marriages, particularly in the Old Testament, is directly related to wars and the availability of men. The more times numerous men are slaughtered, the fewer there are to continue the family line and the more easily the remaining males could obtain additional wives (or were required to; remember, God requires in the Old Testament that a brother marry his brother’s widow in order to continue his brother’s line). These were viewed as marriage and seen as acceptable. It also seems that even in polygamous marriages the first wife had primacy of place and was allowed some extra measure of interest (note the discussions in Esther, for example, of the King’s first wife as he is searching for another) or protection. The first son of the first wife typically was the recognized heir. Though, we certainly see that circumvented time and again by both second wives and second sons (think Rebekah and Jacob).

We see a shift away from discussions of multiple wives in the New Testament. Now, the argument on some more conservative sites is that Jesus told us to follow the Lord’s commandments, and they believe that this means returning to the one woman/one man model seen in Adam and Eve through roughly Noah. Others suggest that it was the influence of Greco-Roman culture on the Jews that caused the shift from polygamous to monogamous marriages. The primary marriage model in both Greek and Roman cultures emphasize one spouse per “customer” so to speak. Also, it seems likely that as the Israelites were becoming more settled it would be less necessary to maintain more nomadic models of family structure. Nomadic models tend to rely on one protector and numerous followers, so that also might play a role in the reasons why we see more polygamy in the Old Testament rather than the New Testament.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the notion of marriage as we’ve come to understand it, doesn’t actually exist until, well, some date it as late as the early 20th century (romance novels notwithstanding). Generally, marriage was seen as a means of ensuring family lines, property exchange, and so forth more than as an emotional commitment.

Possibly the earliest marriage for love in literature is Samuel Richardson’s Pamela where the “master” of the household takes a strong liking to one of the household servants and ultimately rather than compromise her virtue, he marries her. We start seeing that model rise more frequently in the novels of the Romantic period, but those do not, strictly, reflect the relationship culture of the time period. It is more likely that we could say that the literature reflects what people wish was happening, not what was actually happening.

Clearly, this is not authoritative, but it does offer some ideas about why there’s a shift and where the shift seems to occur. As a final note, if you are a student who is thinking this is a good thing to submit to your professor DON’T DO IT! Do your own research! My conclusions are my own and you might reach different conclusions by reading around on your own.

B90Days: Reading the Bible in 90 Days

You might remember that my list of goals included reading the Bible in 90 days. I’m doing this with a fabulous group of men and women on Twitter and through the facilitation of the website Mom’s Toolbox. We’re into numbers now and I remember now why I always lose traction at this point in my reading of the Bible. I’ve tried Bible in a year plans before, but as soon as we hit Leviticus and Numbers, I get this feeling that I’m reading a book that’s not meant for me. I’m always disconcerted by the lesser value placed on women.

I’m always left wondering how do I explain to my children that women are equal when the book we use to help us teach them right from wrong clearly identifies women as inferior to men. We have less monetary value. If our husbands become jealous, the wife has to undergo a test to see if she has made him jealous. If she turns up innocent, there is no penalty to the husband for the accusation.

When they’re counting the numbers of people in each tribe and defining duties of the tribes; women are never mentioned.

And do not get me started on the unclean state for women during their monthly periods and post birth. And really, don’t get me started on the fact that if you give birth to a boy, you are ritually unclean for HALF THE TIME than if you give birth to a girl. What does that tell our boys and men about the value of women.

I’m struggling to find the lessons here that are for me. The lessons that I can teach to my son. The lessons I can teach to my daughter. I’m seriously struggling. I know we’re headed toward Esther and Ruth — my two favorite books of the Bible, but getting there is a lesson in sorrow. Sorrow for the patriarchal culture that created this religious text and encouraged the thinking that women are some how “less than” men.

I keep telling myself there’s something for me to learn here, but I get lost in the sadness and the sorrow that this part of the Bible really doesn’t apply to me that I can’t find the lessons I should learn.

Anyone have ideas or suggestions?