Searching For the Meaning of “Good” Friday

Good-Friday-11I’ve never been quite sure what the “good” in Good Friday meant. Perhaps we see beyond the pain, torture and death of Christ to the event of Easter. We live in those awful moments not in the moment itself, but in the promise of Sunday.

That seems to trivialize it a bit for me, and it doesn’t satisfy. I know that the Passover, celebrated as the Last Supper by Christians is that wonderful celebration by Jews of the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It celebrates freedom. And no doubt as the Synoptic Gospels relate, this date for the Last Supper of Jesus (the first night of Passover) serves to symbolize our liberation from sin.

John changes the mix a bit by placing the Last Supper not on the first night of Passover, but the day before, when the lambs are slain for the meal. He likens Jesus to the lamb slain. The general symbolism remains the same.

I am not a believer of substitutionary sin–the theory that Jesus took upon himself our sins and died for them– a demand of a God who requires payment for a sinful world. Such a God, to me at least, is both harsh and ugly–sending his own son to die in the most horrible of ways.

Rather I see, (note that these ideas are surely not my own, but are the theology of many a learned scholar and teacher as well as believers) that Jesus by his willingness to die for his beliefs, shows us the perfect way to engage with this creator we call God. Jesus, in dying, pays the ultimate price for principle, the foundational principle of life–love, no matter what the cost.

For this is the essence of the God that Jesus points us towards. A God who is unimpressed by formulaic ritual and a God saddened by our tendencies to divide ourselves into groups of “saved” “faithful” or “pious” and all others who somehow by human standards fail to reach the mark. So saddened is God by our divisiveness that Jesus shows through his willingness to endure scorn, beating and tortuous death, that even the least among us is worthy of dying for.

As we struggle in our daily lives to come to grips with the deep agonies that divide us as a people and as a world, Jesus on the Cross, stands as testament to the strength that we too can express if we are willing to take up that Cross ourselves and stand for love at all costs.

Jesus stands against those whose primary goal is to protect “number one”. He stands against those who are motivated by greed, self-preservation, and egotistical individual ruggedness. He points the way to a God of grace and love, who calls us daily to be bigger than our selves in our love of brother and sister. This God, so real, so in love with His creation that He becomes one of us, in an effort to show us, by his teaching, suffering and death, what He is really all about.

I speak not of Jesus as the son of God, but as the Son of Man, for the reality or fantasy of Jesus as the incarnate God is beside the point really. If Jesus is so infused with the Spirit of the Transcendent One, then it matters not the creeds we dutifully recite each Sunday. Jesus moved aside as human, and allowed the Spirit of God to envelop him so completely that God really was among us.

All the more important that we be especially careful to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Church. More and more I find them quite different beings, with quite different agendas. After having read much, I am still in love with Paul and his exuberance for the Gospel, but I recognize that Paul molded the ensuing Church and molded Jesus into that Church. I’m not so sure that it is the Jesus of history whom he never met in the flesh.

We must comb the Gospels carefully I think to find that Jesus–that gentle yet firebrand individual who sought to bring all into the house of God, as true and perfect children. He tenderly attended to the needs of the most broken and rejected in society without asking of them anything in return, other than to put God first in their lives. His anger was invoked by those whom he saw as impeding the people in their attempt to know their God. He pointed the finger and accused them of having lost all sense of why they were doing what they did. It had all become for show, for power, and for accolades.

True piety rested with the many Marys who lived with the Master, the self-less women who sat at his feet, absorbing his wisdom, who anointed his head, washed his feet, and knelt at the foot of the cross, and ultimately went to dress his broken and dead body, and found to their amazement that his real presence washed over them.

If we learn anything from the Friday, called Good, it is that we too can approach God in these simple acts of service–not by asking questions about who deserves and who doesn’t deserve our acts, but in simply being willing to give in love, knowing that the Spirit of God inhabits each and every one of God’s created beings.

Have a blessed Easter Time.

(I know that many of you who read this are not religious, and at best agnostic if not actually atheistic in your outlook. But I think that whatever you believe, you are beloved and understood and accepted by God as you are, and I hope the sentiments I express, resonate in that “human” way that knows no faith.)

He Deserves to be in Hell, Just Not on the Same Floor as Hitler

I apologize to Jon Stewart, but his line last night was priceless. He was paraphrasing good old Pastor Jeffers who said of Romney’s faith something like this:

“He’s a good moral man, but Mormonism is a cult. That is what evangelicals believe.”

Mitty (I am so trying to be just your average Joe) Romney cannot catch a break. No matter what he does, his poll numbers don’t move one millimeter. Not one. The crazy Right flirts with candidate after candidate, boosting them upon their shoulders in some increasingly desperate attempt to infuse each one with some modicum of sense and electability, only to find each one gorging on every donut in town, and eventually weighing them down until they are squashed to the ground.

It seems that they have plumb run out of people willing to walk the plank. (Wait, I can mix a few more metaphors if you are patient!) So, now it’s either Cain, who is seriously just awful, or Mitt.

And Mitt will continue to be dragged through the swamp with pictures like the above, showing him glorying in his “corporate raider” glee, as he and his buddies do everything but roll naked in thousand dollar bills. This will not be playing well in the shredded landscape that is referred to as “Middle America”.

Mitt will continue to be plagued by the provable and “film at 11:00″ clips of saying the exact opposite thing on a whole host of subjects. Can it be made any more clear that Mitt is the malleable Ken doll who can be programmed in repeat the latest poll results as “his belief.”

What is his belief? I can see only one. He believes that he should be President. Beyond that, he has no principles on anything. A week ago he considered the OWS people as “dangerous” and “promoting class warfare.” Now of course, he “understand their frustration”.  You see, it didn’t play well to be backing up the 1% against the 99%.

As the OWS phenomenon has grown and prospered, the GOP tune in general has had to change. Oh not with the diehards such as Glenn (is anybody out there?) Beck and Blush Limpaw, and Sean (I still get mail!) Hannity. They continue their demented sewage even though only the rabid wrecks of rusting trailer park renters still tune in. But the silly Cantors and McConnells and Orange slushies, well, they have sought to tame the rhetoric.

I think it’s starting to sink in. There are no more bible-clutching “white” knights on the horizon. The GOPers are stuck with Herm (I love the Koch brothers and they love me) Cain, Ricky (if I could only run a campaign without speaking) Perry, or the ever-morphing Mitty (I can catch the nomination) Romney.

And that is some very lousy reality to live with I bet.

I think backing Obama is starting to be a very comfortable place to be.

 Herm is having more than enough trouble with his stunningly silly 9-9-9 plan. And so he figures it’s a good thing to introduce more stupid remarks. His latest is to suggest that we build a big old fence across the lower border and electrify it, with signs warning that death may attend any attempt to climb over.

Now Herm says that was a joke. Sort of. I’m sure Latinos across the country are splitting their sides in roars of laughter.

And he suggests that immigration should be a state’s right thing. In other words, each state should make up its own immigration rules and enforce them. Does Herm have any clue? Next he will be in favor of each state having its own DOD.

I’m seriously thinking that running a pizza empire must be a pretty brain-lite job.

But simple plays well to the simple-minded.

This banner was flown over a golf course where Speaker of Orange was playing in California. Cute ain’t it?

Thanks to Joe.My.God

Meanwhile, Newt (send my dinner bill to one of my donors) Gingrich, continues to amaze the world with his brand of “I can say something more stupid than you” antics.

Only this is not an antic. It’s deadly serious and is but one example of what happens when grifters get into the game of politics and turn serious legislation aside in pursuit of “points” on the campaign trail.

Read this please, and know what a thoroughly wretched individual Newt Gingrich really is. It is called Newt’s Personal Hypocrisy on “Death Panels“. And just so ya know, my “own” Chucky Grassley took the same approach.

Proof that too much pizza addles the brain:

Herm is only a conservative because the big guy, as in J E S U S, was one. Yep.

Now, I’ve read a boatload of books about Jesus Christ. I’ve read many of the most respected theologians and biblical experts on the subject. A few make a reasonable case that our Lord was a radical zealot, but very few. Most see him as someone apart from the “political” field, even though his teachings certainly impacted on both political and social mores.

But I don’t know a single one who would argue that he was a conservative. That is, unless you define conservatism in exactly the opposite fashion than it has traditionally been defined. And I don’t know a single one who would argue that the Roman Empire nor the Sanhedrin were the “liberal” forces who destroyed him.

But Herm does.

The liberal court found Him guilty of false offenses and sentenced Him to death, all because He changed the hearts and minds of men with an army of 12…..Never before and not since has there ever been such a perfect conservative.……For over 2,000 years the world has tried hard to erase the memory of the perfect conservative, and His principles of compassion, caring and common sense.

And Herm has more to tell you about Jesus. How he was unemployed but never asked for an unemployment check, and how he healed the sick without any government health care plan, and how he answered his detractors without benefit of being “Mirandized.”

Go read it. This stuff is priceless, and Herm is crazy as the perverbial loon.

See, you’re not selfish, your just a good Christian. Yeah right.

 

Your Intolerance of My Intolerance is Intolerable!

So says perennial douche Allen West (R-Fl). It seems Mr. West was disinvited from a business association speaking engagement when LGBT members threatened to boycott.

West is well known for being on the wrong side of almost every issue, and gay rights is one of them. He, the Coronel drummed out of the service for torture, is opposed to the ending of DADT, and of course echoes the extremist view that being gay is matter of choice.

So in his midget mind, gays are now being intolerant of his right to be intolerant, and depriving the fine business folk of the Wilton Manors Business Association of his fine wisdom. I suspect they aren’t gonna miss much.

For a good many years now there has been much speculation and much research on the question of how life arose on this planet (abiogenesis) and the likelihood that live abounds in the universe at large. A very thoughtful examination of that question is in The Australian’sHello, is there anybody out there?”

You may have heard that the FAA was partially shut down due to a failure of Congress to fund it. You may not know that the reason is  GOP intransigence again. The GOP, who ran in 2010 on “Jobs”, has put over 70,000 construction workers out of work by their filibuster. In addition 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed. Nearly 1.2 billion in revenue is not being collected. This is all over some minor tweaking about rural airports and more importantly the GOP demand that unionization not be made easier.

Oh and the kicker here, is that the GOP is playing the same game of hostage. Either cave to their demands by tomorrow, or the layoffs will continue for another month while the Congress goes on vacation.

Hope all those that voted to give the GOP more power are now happy.

As we mentioned, the GOPers ran in 2010 on a mantra of  jobs, jobs, jobs. They were going to create them. Except they didn’t of course, and a very good argument can be made that they have not even tried. No, instead they have been led around by the nose by the TeaPeople, much as they were during the debt crisis. So it’s been all about repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, screwing women’s health care, defunding PPH, and destroying Medicare.

Where are the jobs Mr. Boehner? I think he said, “Let them eat cake.”

Hey time for some levity! Found this cute little site via Infidel753. The question is what exactly was the ethnicity of Jesus? You might be rather surprised when all the evidence is in.

Now if I were a smart Democrat. Okay, no oxymoron jokes please! Pay attention.

  1. John Boehner said last night that he got 98% of what he wanted in the debt ceiling deal. He said he was “pretty happy.”
  2. An independent think tank, (Economic Policy Institute) says that the bill will cost America 1.8 million jobs by 2012.

So…………

DEMOCRATS: MARRY BOEHNER TO THE BILL! IT’S HIS ECONOMY NOW.

MoJo brings us timely information on how not to be eaten by a lion. I thought you might be contemplating being in the wild, so. . . Hey, I’m always lookin’ out for my peeps!

1. Stay in the car. “Lions don’t see a car as prey, so you’re safer inside,” our director Giles insists. If you’re in a vehicle, stay in it.  (The above does not apply if you vehicle is named “cougar” or “mustang” or other animally names. Lions are quite literal beasts.)

2. If you go tracking on foot be extra vigilant. (Swing you head from side to side, with eyes open. Turn around every five steps. Put on glasses if you use them. Don’t smear body with gazelle guts before beginning trek.)

3. Always travel with a local guide. (Our team had two local guides with them at all times.) (Guides are there to guide you to the lions. If this is what you want, heck get half a dozen. Note: they may also have information on where the nearest tree is.)

4. Carry a big stick and a firearm. (But use them as a deterrent, never intending to inflict harm on the animal. A hurt lion is a very angry lion.) (Drop the stick and carry two guns. Load it BEFORE you enter lion territory. By all means DO intend to inflict harm on the animal. You want to stop it don’t you?)

5. Keep your eyes open: You’d be amazed how close a 500lb lion can get without you noticing. (Besides walking around with your eyes closed encourages falling off cliffs and falling into rivers. Always look down and not up. Lions are not very skilled at flying quite yet. Look for something tan.)

6. Always have a “spotter.” Just because you’re filming one lion, doesn’t mean there isn’t another behind you.(make sure your spotter is not a mute or suffering from laryngitis. If you see a lion who is whistling, you can be sure his bud is behind you. Whirl and shoot, preferably with a gun. Drop the camera.)

7. Travel in a group: Lions are less likely to attack a group. Our team always stuck together and no one ever went out alone.(Have a few practice “runs” before the trek. Make sure there is at least one person who is slower than you are in the group. You don’t have to be the fastest, just faster than somebody.)

8. Know the signs: a lion spoor (footprint) has one pointed and three oval parts. (Spoor? I thought that was poop? Anyways, think dog print. Only bigger. Also if you are following, don’t keep your nose to the grindstone so to speak. Look up and forward from time to time. Otherwise you may come nose to nose with your new BFF)

9. Don’t interrupt their lunch: If you get between them and a carcass, you could be next on the menu. (After all, you are not photographing a swimsuit model. Wait your turn, there is usually lots of leftovers to scavenge after the lion is finished. Be a good guest!)

10. Know their behavior: Lions are more likely to be aggressive if there are cubs around or when they are mating. But a sleeping lion can spring up and attack in the blink of an eye, so never get complacent. (Before you waste all your time learning all the ins and outs of lions, just remember this: is there a set of bars between you and the lion. If so, enjoy, if not, well, you asked for it.)

So there you have it. My additions are make this list hugely more useful.

Have a good day. 

It’s a Good Good Friday

I am aware of course that many of you are not believers, at least in a traditional way. And because of that, I try not to spend too much time on things having to do with faith, especially denominational faith. I leave that to my other blog, Walking in the Shadows. However I found this article so compelling that I thought I would share it with you, in keeping with the day.

I have for a long time not believed in what is referred to as “substitutionary atonement” or the tenet that God sent Jesus to earth with the express purpose of suffering and dying for our sins, the sin we carry from Adam’s original sin. It doesn’t comport with my view of God quite simply. As Kenneth R Overburg, SJ suggests, it takes Jesus out as Plan B, and replaced Him with the Word, foundational in creation, planned from the beginning to dwell among creation in the fullness of time.

It is the Incarnational model and centers Jesus as love offering, come among humanity at the right moment in time to offer the WAY to unity with the Godhead. Overburg writes a beautiful and compelling explanation of this interpretation which I think allows many who have rejected Christianity specifically because of the implications of the substitutionary atonement theory. Please enjoy, The Incarnation: Why God Wanted to Become Human.

Isn’t he cute?

And aren’t they lovely?

Blessings to you all!

Room For All in Lent

Chips (BE), French fries (AE), French fried po...

Image via Wikipedia

Today begins the annual time of penance and preparation for the glory of Easter. Yet, even our atheistic friends can benefit from the challenges posed by the season of Lent.

As children, we all probably recall friends who observed the time. One heard, “what are you giving up for Lent?” I recall many a friend of mine in childhood who blanched suddenly, eyes growing big as saucers. “What’s wrong?” we would ask. And there would be a mumbled “I gave up french fries for Lent” as the offending food slid down the throat unwillingly.

While we still do “give up” things, some of them even food items, we also “give up” old ways that have proven untenable, harmful, or hurtful. We often “add” practices that are designed to bring us in a  more constant “present moment” with the divine.

It is a poor Christian who arrives at Lent, and then decides what practices will be adhered to during the 40 days. It requires a certain amount of thought and prayer. We spend the time in the last weeks and days before Lent in preparing. We contemplate, we uncover, we decide what needs fixing, where we have failed, how we can correct wrongs done.

But even if we give no thought until today, we can still do this. I don’t think God is concerned if we only get in 39 days or 38. It’s the sincerity that counts.

For those who are not in faith, why, Lent provides that same incentive to better ourselves, to end bad habits, to acquire new ones. Indeed it’s ever so much better than New Year’s resolutions. They mostly fail, because the great maw of “forever” brings us to a halt almost before we begin. Observing Lent only requires a commitment to stick with it for 40 days, (more actually since weekends aren’t counted), and that is doable.

Who among us is perfect? Who can’t stand a bit of tweaking around the edges? Who doesn’t want to repair a broken friendship or family relationship? Who doesn’t want to start a new creative endeavor, read more, or engage in more hands-on volunteer work? Now’s the time to make that commitment to stick with it for a few weeks.

Time for a new habit to become a tried and true one. Time to evaluate and institute a change here or there. Time to uncover something more deeply seeded in one’s psyche.

For the faithful, Lent is a time to mourn our failings and offer small penances to God (really to ourselves), attaching consequences to our wrongs. It is our opportunity to grow close to our Lord in his suffering as He chose to show his followers the depths of his belief in the path that  he shows us is  true communion with our Creator. It is our time to work at our sainthood, distant and unlikely as it may well be.

It is odd that we remember the old question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” for in Matthew, Jesus told his disciples the exact opposite. Don’t let the left hand know what the right is doing. Don’t pray in public, nor lament over your fasting. Don’t make a public display of your “righteousness”. (Matt 6: 1-6)

There is no righteousness in shouting to the world all you are doing in Lent. If you are sincere, then keeping those things between you and God are all that is necessary. If your chosen practices are truly meant to improve you, then, no one need be aware.

Take a moment and think whether you might benefit from some changing act or practice during the next few weeks, safely aware that it need not last forever, but just might, if you don’t impose a forever commitment. You might be surprised at the wonders that come your way.

Blessings my dear friends.

 

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

My sincere thanks to Jennifer Campaniolo at Shambhala Publishing for sending me a copy of The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.

First let me start out by saying, that this was not quite what I expected. I assumed it would be a scholarly biography of one of Christianity’s most enigmatic women. It certainly is that. But I expected it to be along the lines of a general work using the accepted tools of hermeneutics in examining the texts of the Gospel accounts of the New Testament.

That it was not quite, though it certainly examined all the pertinent texts thoroughly. However, much of Cynthia Bourgeault’s work delves into the so-called “Gnostic Gospels” of Mary, Thomas, Peter and Philip.  These were more or less known to the powers that decided the canon, but were omitted largely because they spoke of a more transcendent and ephemeral Jesus and his teachings. They were “gnostic” and heretical, having lost the battle to the growing “orthodoxy” of the Roman Church.

Rev. Bourgeault crafts with great care and precision her hypothesis that Jesus and Mary were “soul mates,” certainly lovers, although she doesn’t claim they were physical lovers, although she finds no reason why they may not have been.

She finds in Jesus a Nazarite, much like John the Baptist, but one who gave up the ascetic life, the life of denial, to move to the path of “singleness” where kenotic love became the center of his being. This self-giving or self-emptying attitude was one that he taught Mary and it is what allowed them to transcend his death on the cross. Their unitive love, whether physical or celibate, enabled them to reach the fullness of being human. It is this towards what his teachings point.

It is this message that Jesus sought to teach his disciples. It is what Mary learned, making her the foremost of all the disciples.

It is Bourgeault’s contention that the Gospel of John in the canon is perhaps the most clear about understanding Jesus truest teaching. She argues that the Mary of Bethany is in fact Mary Magdalene, or at least created to expouse upon some of her qualities. She would claim that many of the Marys in the Gospel accounts, or I should say many of the women (the woman at the well for instance) are also created composites of Magdalene qualities.

The reason why the Magdalene is so “hidden” in this way is simply because it became increasingly impossible for a patriarchial and male dominated church to accept that a woman had been the closed companion of Christ. It was unseemly to a church that slowly but surely hide sex behind a heavy door, and made chastity the only possible “pure” expression of “the Way.”

If you have ever read the gnostics, as I have, you undoubtedly were quite puzzled. They read more like Eastern mystical works. We are unfamiliar with the words and their meanings.

Cynthia Bourgeault, with patience and deep care, unravels the intracacies of these passages, explaining their meaning, joining them to the Semitic eastern mysticism of the time of Jesus. She has devoted more than forty years to Mary, and has traveled to parts of France where there is a very old tradition of the Magdalene’s later years there and the mystical veils that surround her.

It will, no doubt be hard for a first time reader, to digest all this “new thinking” about this mysterious woman that we know so little about, yet are still so utterly fascinated with. Bourgeault is both Episcopal priest and part-time hermit. She has studied with many who have lived their lives in these traditions of mysticism. So, her claims are not to be dismissed easily, yet, they remain, reasonable conclusions based on often quite slim evidence.

Even if you are not prepared to “buy” all the conclusions, you will I promise you come away with a vision of both Mary and Jesus that are profoundly different than before. As never before, they become fully human to us, who so desperately need human models to emulate. Bourgeault brings the scriptures alive, and quite frankly, through her interpretation, once difficult or puzzling passages suddenly ring with clarity.

All the Gospels recall Mary as the first to receive the “good news” of the resurrection. Her voice, since stifled, was so powerful to the infant church that this truth could not be denied. Although each writer in some way minimized her importance, she could not be denied her place in the narratives. It is she, Bourgeault contends, who was the source of the “annointing” ministry that she may well have shared with Jesus, and which comes down to us today as a sacrament.

What I came away with, is a deeper appreciation of Mary Magdalene. I have for some time considered her to be an ignored apostle, but I believe now she was much more than that. She was the only one who truly “got it.” As such, she does so much for us as women in the church. She restores us to our rightful place, as integral to the church. She gives us something that a virgin mother never can. She gives us a model of real humanness, fully expressed, fully embodied.

I can’t wait to read more of Bourgeault’s work. I believe she has much to teach me about my journey. After reading this book, I believe you will feel the same way.

The Human Faces of God

Seldom have I anticipated a book more than Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When it Gets God wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) . I can tell you, that the book does not disappoint.

Stark takes on the biblical inerrantists and simply demolishes them. Inerrantists, (fundamentalists) insist that “the Bible is inspired by God, without error in everything it affirms historically, scientifically and theologically.” Stark begins with their own founding document: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, formulated in 1978. In it is found its hermeneutic tool: the historical-grammatical method. Stark shows how this method is used, except when it is not used. In other words, inerrantists profess it, and use it, until it doesn’t accomplish their result: an inerrant text. Stark calls their actual practice one of the “hermeneutics of convenience.”

A series of methodologies are alternated, all directed to reach the result that the bible does not err. This at times involves plain meaning, literalism, scripture defining scripture, fuller meaning, and in the end a resort to throwing up one’s hands and declaring that “God has not as yet seen fit to reveal the meaning to us.”

Stark moves through the troubling passages that allude to a belief in a pantheon of gods. Anyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures knows that there are odd pieces here and there that seem to suggest that there were other gods than Yahweh. The Psalms are replete with such sayings such as God being mightier than the other gods. Exodus and Genesis make such references as well, as well as mention of the “council of the gods.”

Indeed, Stark’s claim that polytheism was the order of the day in ancient Israel, is nothing new. Yet he explains it to the lay reader perhaps better than anywhere else I have seen. The same can be said of his hard-hitting analysis of the  God of genocide, found in and throughout Deuteronomy, and the God who at least condones and accepts human sacrifice. These difficult and troubling texts are explained, carefully, and patiently with excellent reference to archaeology, other relevant texts of the time, and good literary critical exegesis.

Perhaps the area that will cause the most concern is his claim that Jesus, while many things, was most certainly an apocalyptic prophet. Stark points out that his prophecies regarding the end times were accurate, until the last one, the imminent return of himself, ushering in the full kingdom of God. In this Stark claims that Jesus was simply wrong.

This is hard to swallow, but Mr. Stark makes a very convincing argument, one well worth the time to read carefully and seriously. I suspect that if you get to that point in the book, you are trusting of  Stark’s careful analysis and will listen with an open ear and heart.

What is accomplished here, in this book, is more than just showing the errors and contradictions of the bible. There have surely been dozens that have done that already. Rather, Stark, explains how the “book” we call the bible, came into existence. Understanding it as a collection of documents written over more than 1000 years, and containing within disparate, and contradictory voices, helps us to see it for what it is: a people’s walk with God.

It is most singularly a human document, written over a long period and containing oral traditions that span even greater times. There are voices within it that argue for opposite things. In some cases, even some of the Hebrew writers attempted to reconcile difficult passages that were at odds. (The stories of David and Goliath are instructional here, and Stark lays out a wonderful explanation for the two different explanations for Goliath’s death, and why another writer, the Chronicler, tried to cover up the contradiction.)

Stark convinces, I think, that having to face up to the difficult and ugly passages in the bible is worthwhile and has much to teach us on their own. Rather than shrug, as inerrantists often do, or try to twist and warp them into some apparent sense, it is much better to accept them as human failings in living and in understanding of their God.

Better to allow God to speak through the hateful and unacceptable passages to us today and allow them to inform us as to our own shortcomings and roads to growth.

Stark is a believing Christian, one who has struggled with scripture and found that facing the unpleasant realities allows one to grow into a mature faith. In fact, he claims, and I tend to agree, that fundamentalism is an adolescent and immature view,  clinging to a world that one would prefer, but which simple does not exist.

We would all like certainty. But certainty doesn’t exist. The Bible cannot give us that, no matter how much we might wish it. We can pretend otherwise, but that leaves us mired in a fantasy world and helps us not at all in addressing the troubles of our world.

The last chapter is delightful, giving Mr. Stark’s own reflections on what these hard passages can offer us today.

Speaking of the problematic stories of Abraham and Isaac, of Jephthah and his daughter, and King Mesha and his son, Thom Stark reflects:

Today we denounce such practices as inhuman and reject as irrational the belief that the spilling of innocent blood literally affected the outcome of harvests and military battles. Yet we continue to offer our own children on the altar of homeland security, sending them off to die in ambiguous wars, based on the irrational belief that by being violent we can protect ourselves from violence. We refer to our children’s deaths as “sacrifices” which are necessary for the preservation of democracy and free trade. The market is our temple and it must be protected at all costs. Thus, like King Mesha, we make “sacrifices” in order to ensure the victory of capitalism over socialism, the victory of consumerism over terrorism.

If you would learn to understand the bible, and actually get the most out of it, then do read this book. It is about the best I’ve seen at showing us the dangers of inerrancy, and how we can grow in our faith through a truthful, honest and courageous examination of our sacred books.

* I am indebted to WIPF & Stock Publishers for sending this book free of charge for review. The only agreement is an implicit promise on my part to read, review and publish the results.