11 September 2006

St Paul Caught Winking?

Blogging makes one's mind sick. I'm sure there is ample proof of this, but I offer just one piece of evidence:

As I was studying the Epistle to the Hebrews on Sunday, I noticed something strange—and very distracting—in Ch 10:23:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

Perhaps you don't think anything is weird here. If so, consider yourself healthy and quit blogging before it's too late. But if you are tainted like me, you immediately noticed that Paul winks at the end of that verse. "Why is he winking?" you're asking yourself. "Did he not really mean what he said about the Lord being faithful?"

Now, you may think this is an isolated occurrence and keep reading, only to find Paul up to it again in Ch 11:37-38:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:)

What?! Now Paul thinks that martyrdom is something to smile about? (At least he's not, you know, double-smiling;)


10 September 2006

Warning Label for The Lamb of God

I thought I'd share a little warning about one of the Church's videos, The Lamb of God.

The Background
My daughter A*, 5, loves this video. She watches it just about every Sunday and has for the last couple years. My 2-yr old often joins her.

The Setup
A* has a friend, S*, whose family is not religious, and as far as we know has had no exposure to Christianity. A* and S* play together often. S* came over to play last Sunday, and A* asked, "Do you want to watch Lamb of God?"

The Joy
Oh, what proud parents we were! "There's our little missionary," we thought, as we overheard an occasional word. A* was explaning all the various parts of the story: "...and after we die we will live with him and be happy and never be sick." My wife and I went about preparing dinner, half-listening the way parents do when nothing is the matter.

The Alarm
Something started to prick my attention. I thought, "What is it? No sounds of trouble—just the girls watching the video. The video...what was it about that video...?" It had been some time since I watched the video, but I remembered loving it. It was very emotional. "Yes," my brain warned, "it was very emotional."

The Tragedy
I went into the livingroom just as the story was depicting Jesus being raised on the cross. This is, as most readers will know, just after he has been flogged, slapped, spat upon, mocked, and nailed to the cross. S* was wide-eyed but expressionless on the couch, saying nothing. In other words, she looked petrified. (A*, of course, looked as content as ever.)

I shut off the television, at which point S* looked up at me and began to cry. Then wail. Then cry out with fear.‡

The Catastrophe
I tried to comfort S*, letting her know that she would not be hurt and Jesus was okay in the end and—! A* tried to explain more to her friend, only to get things mixed up in her excitement and—! I tried to get A* to leave S* and me alone, so I could explain things slowly, calmy, but—! A* felt like she had done something wrong and also started to cry.

The Clean-up
I took S* home, still sobbing, and tried to explain to her mother what had happened. Her mother was familiar enough with the story of Jesus to understand what her daughter had seen. "Was it animated?" she asked, then added reluctantly, "or was it...?"

"Not animated," I replied, disheartened. "Film." Her mother's face went a little pale.

The Aftermath
Her mother was very understanding, S* and A* still play together each day, and S*'s family has not brought it up. A* watched The Lamb of God today and didn't even mention last week.

The Lesson
No harm no foul, right? Maybe, but I worry that there was some harm. For one, how will S* respond emotionally the next time she hears the "good news" of the Christian message?

I also learned to think about our stories a little differently. A* grew up hearing about the cross. She saw paintings and cartoons and talked and sang songs about it before she ever saw the movie version. But what a terrifying, brutal, awful story it is if you don't know what to expect!

‡minor edits since first published


06 September 2006

Three-fold Expression of Patience

A few months ago, a woman in my ward gave a talk on patience that I found enlightening. I have been meaning to post a summary ever since.

Patience is demonstrated by how we act toward others, oneself, and God:

Patience with others: Patience with others manifests as love or charity. We await their repentance, assist throughout trials, and walk the “extra mile.”

Patience with oneself: When we recognize our weakness and our seeming inability to change, we show patience with ourselves by maintaining hope. Moroni said that we can “hope for a better world”; patience despite our weakness reveals a hope that we will one day prevail.

Patience with God: Through times of trial we may doubt God’s promises or morality. By being patient, we show that we have faith in him—in his power to deliver, his integrity, and his wisdom.

So there you have it: the three enduring gifts of the Spirit spoken of by Paul—faith, hope, charity—each expressed through patience.


03 September 2006

Taken in Adultery, In the Very Act

Hosea uses the analogy of a husband and his adulterous wife to illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel to its covenants with the Lord. One of the consequences of Israel’s wayward worship was that they contaminated Judaism with elements of paganism.

As I studied Hosea this week, I thought about another story of adultery, this time from the New Testament. Jesus is in the temple and some scribes and Pharisees bring him a woman “taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The men challenge Jesus to judge what should be done with her, seeking an opportunity “to accuse him” (8:6). Jesus’ response is famous: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (8:7).

We see the men slowly disperse, none of them willing to cast a stone, “being convicted by their own conscience” (8:9). The question I have is, of what were they convicted?

I had always assumed that each of them recalled his own particular sin before walking away. But can’t help but wonder if any of them, masters of the writings of the prophets themselves, remembered the writings of Hosea. Had they considered its teachings, they would have understood the accusation Jesus made of them elsewhere: that the brand of godliness these men practiced and taught was an adulterated version (Matthew 23:13-15,23,25,27,29 ) of the one taught by the prophets.

The scribes’ and Pharisees’ willingness to misuse the temple as the site to lay their trap, heartlessly using the woman as bait, is representative of their abuse of the gospel in general. To them, the law and the prophets were useful for personal gain, not personal righteousness. Jesus’ answer to them disarms the trap in the manner it had been set: they had been caught adulterating the law, in the very act.


02 September 2006

Prostituting Oneself Before God

In another post, I wrote about the neurological basis for monogamy in animals. One of the findings of this research is that by producing strong sensations, sex sends powerful messages to the brain that, in species capable of monogamy, create a strong association between the good feelings and the mating partner; thus, a pair bond is formed.

We often think of sex between humans as serving at least two purposes: reproduction and strengthening the bond between husband and wife. In the book of Hosea we see another purpose: prostitutes use sex to get money (Hosea 2:5).

The difference between how a faithful spouse and a prostitute use sex is important for recognizing one of the messages in Hosea. Gomer, who works as a prostitute despite her marriage to Hosea, represents the Israelites, who were worshipping other gods in addition to Jehovah.

While this divided loyalty was itself a problem, it reveals an even more serious defect in the Israelites’ concept of God. To them, the acts of worship—prayer, sacrifice, temple rituals—were performed in order that God would give them such things as rain, abundant crops, or protection in war. Just as to a prostitute, for whom the consummating act of marriage does not serve to increase the “pair bond” but rather to get money, the Israelites viewed worship as a means of obtaining material blessings rather than bringing them closer to God. Gomer and the Israelites were not merely unfaithful, the way someone in an adulterous relationship looks for love from an illegitimate source, they were prostitutes, meaning it was not love they were after.

This attitude changes the purpose of religious worship and wrongly supposes that God wants this kind of relationship. If Israel is like a prostitute when they act this way, then any god who accepts such a proposition is a john—or, a prostitute’s client. A john wants gratification and pledges a financial reward; this kind of god wants sacrifice, supplication, etc. and pays with blessings.

Jehovah rejects being portrayed this way...

14 Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.
16 And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me [Husband]; and shalt call me no more [Master].
19 And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.
20 I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.

...just as elsewhere he rejects the notion that he gets any satisfaction from the actual acts of worship (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11; especially Psalms 40:6-8; 51:16-17). Instead, God hopes that our religious service will bring us closer to him.