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What Exactly Is The Bible To You As A Pc


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To All Current PC's,

 

As most of you are aware we as PC's are inclusive and it is acceptable to the PC to have differing or seemingly conflicting views on a subject even though we agree in principle on the eight points of TCPC. (see point 4, 5, & 6). I thought it might be beneficial to use this thread to share your current view of what the Bible is to you from a PC perspective. It may be most interesting as we are often challenged by Fundamentalists on this subject. Only those considering themselves progressive need respond. Debate or disrespect of differing or opposing views of course will be deleted. There is no right or wrong answer in this thread. All I am looking for is your sincere view.

 

Love Joseph

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Joseph,

I'll give this my best shot. I think the Bible is a history of ideas about God and relationship to God written by Hebrew men and men following those who followed Jesus. A lot of it is Jewish midrash - stories that illustrated "truths" about life and God. I agree with Karen Armstrong that we can see a development of ideas about God taking place. I believe that we humans have kept on learning about God, so I'm pretty sorry that the church decided to close the canon. I don't believe the Bible is God's perfect message to humans, but it is what it is. It is what we have available.

 

I wish Jesus had been a writer. His teachings as recorded in the Bible have challenged me to become more than I am. I have wrestled with the Bible, and I think it is worth it. I know many who have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, and I think they may be missing something.

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Joseph,

I'll give this my best shot. I think the Bible is a history of ideas about God and relationship to God written by Hebrew men and men following those who followed Jesus. A lot of it is Jewish midrash - stories that illustrated "truths" about life and God. I agree with Karen Armstrong that we can see a development of ideas about God taking place. I believe that we humans have kept on learning about God, so I'm pretty sorry that the church decided to close the canon. I don't believe the Bible is God's perfect message to humans, but it is what it is. It is what we have available.

 

I wish Jesus had been a writer. His teachings as recorded in the Bible have challenged me to become more than I am. I have wrestled with the Bible, and I think it is worth it. I know many who have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, and I think they may be missing something.

 

I agree that the Bible illustrates many "truths" about life. I have heard Rabbi's speak who are very adept at using stories from the Bible to provide answers to everyday problems. I am often impressed with the fact that many of the suggested solutions turn out to be psychologically sound. I once got a chuckle from the congregation at my church when I introduced the Scripture reading on King David as an early example of a mid-life crisis.

 

As to the development of ideas about God, I have heard this discussed several times. Much of my background in PC has focused on the writings of the prophets. I agree with the interpretation that it was the prophets who provided the framework for the tansition from a God of Wrath to a God of Love. As I have stated elsewhere, I think there is a clear line from the prophets to Jesus. Not only did the prophets alter the view of God but they also refined concepts of justice. For many PC'ers, justice is a primary focus (see article by Fred Plummer). I find myself in this group more than any other.

 

Thats my two cents.

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I agree with Janet’s first paragraph -- the bible is a human response to the experience of God, produced by two communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement. It’s an anthology combining history and metaphor, meant to be pondered and applied to one’s life. The bible stories, poems and letters show how Western civilization understood human nature and God’s nature, and the relations between them. I also agree with Joseph about the later prophets like Isaiah changing the image of God from wrathful judge to forgiving parent.

 

I think it’s important that Jesus taught as much with his life, and parables, as with sayings; and that he never wrote them down. They were not intended to be a set of new laws but an inner principle.

 

About the miracles in the New Testament: for me it’s not a question of whether the events in the gospel narrative are literally, objectively true. They are emotional transformations, of individuals desperately in need of help who came to Jesus and trusted in him, his insight into their lives and troubles. People followed him because he really did lift their hearts and fire their imaginations with hope, one at a time and in groups, and that became crystallized in miracle stories.

Marcus Borg believes Jesus actually performed paranormal healings, but not the nature miracles; he explains their appearance in the bible in this way:

“Without Jesus, you go hungry, with Jesus, there is more than enough for everyone.

Without Jesus, we’re lost in a stormy sea; with Jesus, the wind is calmed.

Without Jesus we’re blind, with Jesus we can see.” etc

It doesn’t matter whether the events could be scientifically proven or not. It’s the effect on the spirit... that goes for the whole bible, in my eyes at least.

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My definition: The Bible is a collection of works that describe the human search for the divine.

 

I say "a" collection because there are other similar works, such as the Koran. Others who have seen this definition insist that I should use the word "encounter" for "search," but I don't agree with that.

 

The Bible is also a vehicle for dialogue. In the movie The Lilies of the Field, Sidney Poitier's character carries on a "conversation" with a German mother superior, he with his Bible in English and she with hers in German. It is a funny, sweet, touching scene, but I think it makes the point.

 

Another story: I had to take an exam translating a 400-word passage in Spanish into English, and though I was pretty good with the grammar, I had trouble with getting sufficient vocabulary and some of the idioms. So I bought a copy of Dios Habla Hoy (which means God Speaks Today), a Spanish translation of the Phillips version. I found that I could translate substantial sections easily because so many passages had become so familiar to me. It really helped me to prep for the exam. I passed.

 

A final story from Genesis 32: Jacob is alone one night, having sent the rest of his entourage across a river. Then "a man" (I call it an angel) wrestled with him until "just before daybreak." Jacob would not give up, so the "man" wounded him. But still Jacob persisted, and would not let go until he received a blessing. Thus it is with Scripture--we wrestle with it all our lives, and are almost certain to be wounded by the encounter, but in the end we will receive its blessing.

 

With stories like that, concerns about factual accuracy are trivial.

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  • 3 weeks later...

For me, the Bible is a collection of different stories written by different authors at different times that say different things about God.

 

I agree with the stance taken by biblical studies scholars who endorse socio-historical criticism. It's important that we research the context in which various verses of the Bible were written. It's important that we be aware of our own hermeneutical perspectives. I think it's okay that we, in a modern context, want to read the Bible in a way that supports our concerns with social justice issues. Unfortunately, the Bible can also be read in a way that supports the status quo of oppression and injustice.

 

Another troubling reality, for me, is the way in which 2,000 years of Christian interpretation have altered the way Christians read the Bible. This is a hermeneutical issue, but a very important one. People often tend to read the Bible through the "lens" of later interpreters. They assume (falsely) that the doctrines they cherish most in their Christian experience are fully elaborated in the Bible, when, in fact, there's little or no mention of these cherished doctrines in the Bible. One example is the Trinity. But there are other examples.

 

Martin Luther, following a long tradition of Christian interpretation that began in the early middle ages, believed that the Sermon on the Mount was not -- and could not be -- a literal recipe for Christian praxis. For Luther, who staked his theology on Augustinian thought, including Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin (a doctrine which is also not in the Bible, although it can be argued that some of the threads of it are present in Genesis 1 and in Paul's Letter to the Romans), the Sermon on the Mount was included in the canon to remind Christians of what they could never be. How pessimistic is that!

 

Along with others on this site, I like the story of Jacob wrestling with the "man" or "angel," who may actually be God. But, from a realistic point of view, this story completely contradicts other views of God that are presented in the Torah. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is clear that God is transcendent, and that God forbids mortals to see him, let alone wrestle with him.

 

So I would agree with others that the Bible shows an evolution of ideas about our relationship with God. I think, however -- realistically speaking -- that it also shows the evolution of our ideas about society, status, and power. The Christian canon wasn't set until almost the year 400 CE. There was a lot of time during those centuries for change, revision, editing, and "accidental loss" of certain writings.

 

I continue to ponder the significance of the loss of all copies of the "Gospel of Q." (Perhaps we'll be lucky, and a copy of Q will show up in some desert urn somewhere; stranger things have happened!) When I read the Gospel of Mark, it seems to me that "Mark" wrote it to complement the Gospel of Q. Mark's narrative seems to take for granted that his audience already knows the sayings and parables found in the Gospel of Q. Therefore, "Mark" doesn't include the long parables. Instead, he carefully crafts a narrative about the historical Jesus that would have been startling to a first century audience for what it does not say about Jesus. What is does not say is that following Jesus will give you STATUS as it was understood in the hierarchical, honour/shame culture of first century Mediterranean provinces. The Gospel of Mark says you have to choose between having STATUS/HONOUR and having LOVE/HEALING. This is radically different from the Wisdom teachings of the time, the Apocalyptic teachings of the time, and the Zion Covenant teachings of Judaism at the time.

 

(Paul, meanwhile, made the Christ religion a religion of status.)

 

So I guess I'm more cynical about the Bible than some other people. I think the Bible has a place in our faith experience. I think it still has some good things to say. But I would like to see it being read alongside other teachings, other sources, that tell us something positive about our relationship with God.

 

Jen

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Jen,

 

I would be interested hearing more or in you expanding upon your view here of this statement for my understanding.

 

the Sermon on the Mount was included in the canon to remind Christians of what they could never be. How pessimistic is that!

 

Joseph

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Jen,

 

I would be interested hearing more or in you expanding upon your view here of this statement for my understanding.

 

 

 

Joseph

 

Hi Joseph,

 

Thanks for your question.

 

I'd just like to clarify the point that it was Martin Luther (not me!) who interpreted the Sermon on the Mount as a canonical reminder of the abject sin and unworthiness of all human beings (Luther's view, not mine). In other words, Luther read the Sermon on the Mount allegorically. He didn't see it as a possible "laundry list" of do's and don'ts for Christian praxis. For Luther, it was a foregone conclusion -- long since "proven" by Augustine, Anselm, and other theologians -- that human beings were not intrinsically ethical or pure of heart, and could never be so, even though a more literal reading of the Sermon on the Mount seems to suggest that Jesus thought otherwise of humankind's capacity for love, justice, and peace. Further, "good works" weren't viewed by Luther as the primary route to knowing God. Faith came first. For Luther, good works only followed if you were really faithful, and even then good works were only possible through a gift of "grace" from God, a grace that you had no personal say in. Meanwhile, the Sermon on the Mount is a list of possible good works and ethical behaviours for people to embark upon in their daily lives, and there's no indication that a "gift of grace" must be received before "loving one's neighbours" becomes possible.

 

Therefore, from Luther's point of view, the Sermon of the Mount could only be understood as a lofty and unattainable allegory that depicts what human beings might have been capable of had they not been irreparably tarnished by the sin of Adam and Eve. A more practical, literal reading of the Sermon on the Mount is in direct conflict with Luther's preferred theologies of sin, grace, and the Cross.

 

Luther was not the only theologian who saw the Sermon on the Mount in this light. In fact, it was not until the 19th century (!!!) that writers such as Lev Tolstoy again began to suggest in a daring and radical way that the teachings of Jesus as shown in the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be practised in a literal way (i.e. a commitment to non-violent social justice and compassion for one's neighbours). (Some Anabaptists had taken this position, too, but their influence was limited by religious persecution. Also, it's a bit of an aside, but ya gotta love Dostoevsky's take on Jesus in the parable of the Grand Inquisitor).

 

Tolstoy greatly influenced the young Gandhi, who apparently said that although he didn't much like Christianity, the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount were quite inspiring.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., was also influenced by this "new strand" in Christianity, although I don't know much about Dr. King, so I'll shut up now.

 

Does this help?

 

Sincerely,

Jen

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Jen,

I agree with you that there’s no need to stick with Luther’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount – Bonhoeffer is another example.

One of the most radical ways of seeing the Beatitudes is emphasizing the inner life as being more significant than the outer-- how our own thoughts shape our lives and that we can change our state of mind through prayer …that even (or perhaps especially) in the midst of suffering, we all have access to God’s love.

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Hi Joseph and everyone,

Another great question! For me, the words attributed to Jesus, the red letters as Compolo would put it, give us a clue as to how we should view the whole of the bible. It is a device used in a microcosm within the gospels, but can used as a macrocosm devise as well. It is Parable!

Like Borg, I see the bible as holding metaphorical truths. The events described may or may not have literally happened, but the truth lies in the transformative power of the words to the reader. When Jesus is discussing a fundamental spiritual truth, say the greatest commandment about loving one's neighbour, he would often illustrate this with a parable, in this case, the story of the good samaritan. Did this Samaritan actually exist? Did the disciples and those listening need the Samaritan to actually exist? No. But did the power of the truth of this message come through as a result of this parable? Yes!

So the bible, for me, serves two purposes. Firstly, like many here, it is a sacred text in as much as it is a collection of reflections of people of our own faith. It shows us stories of the one we worship, explains his message, and his sacrificial life and death, and then offers to us how people of our faith lived Christianity two thousand years ago. This is powerful in of itself. It is inspirational, comforting, educational, transformative, mystical. Inerrant? No. The literal words of God? No. Secondly, the bible serves as the ultimate parable. It is a source of profound metaphorical and spiritual truth, but not literal truth. So, for me, the bible is about fellowship over two thousand years, and the powerful truth of parable.

My two bobs worth anyway.

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The Gospel of Mark says you have to choose between having STATUS/HONOUR and having LOVE/HEALING. This is radically different from the Wisdom teachings of the time, the Apocalyptic teachings of the time, and the Zion Covenant teachings of Judaism at the time.

 

Thanks for sharing that wisdom! I agree!

 

As I have posted eslewhere, what we call "morality" has a number of dimensions. The "harm/care" dimension encompasses a variety of moral emotions that inform higher level consciousness (whether we realize it or not). LOVE/HEALING fits within this dimension very well. This does NOT say, however, that STATUS/HONOUR lacks any grounding in moral emotions. The challenge posed today by ethicists is how do we create a society where people with a wide variety of innate moral motivators are given due respect so long as those motivators are used appropriately.

 

Drawing from my own experience, I grew up with a father who was deeply conflicted between the two conditions. He was a "great man" of his church and often abusive at home. Years of neglecting LOVE/HEALING eventually wore him down as the primary message of his church was LOVE/HEALING. Before he died, we had several discussions about this and one thing that he said still sticks in my mind. He said, "They told me what and not how". That comment altered my view of how to look at the Bible and tease out the "how" rather than the "what".

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As I have posted eslewhere, what we call "morality" has a number of dimensions. The "harm/care" dimension encompasses a variety of moral emotions that inform higher level consciousness (whether we realize it or not). LOVE/HEALING fits within this dimension very well. This does NOT say, however, that STATUS/HONOUR lacks any grounding in moral emotions. The challenge posed today by ethicists is how do we create a society where people with a wide variety of innate moral motivators are given due respect so long as those motivators are used appropriately.

 

 

This is definitely a case where two people are using the same word to mean two different things.

 

If I read your paragraph correctly, you're equating STATUS/HONOUR with the sort of necessary respect that ethicists call for in creating morally healthy communities.

 

I don't equate STATUS/HONOUR with respect, compassion, love, or healing.

 

For me, STATUS/HONOUR is the type of hierarchical thinking and power-jockeying that makes it impossible for people to treat each other with genuine respect, compassion, love, and healing.

 

For me, STATUS/HONOUR is about the pecking order. It's about keeping up with the Joneses. It's about thinking some people are "chosen." It's about thinking some races or clans or religions are "better." It's about "preserving family honour" at any cost, which really means protecting one's status at the expense of one's integrity. It's anything but humble, even though the word "humility" is often bandied about by those who claim religious STATUS/HONOUR.

 

For me, respect is a very different beastie than STATUS/HONOUR. Respect is about trust in God, trust in the innate goodness of all souls, empathy, and common sense.

 

Anyway, that's how I use these terms.

 

Jen

 

P.S. I completely agree with the ethicists when they include respect in their understanding of morally healthy communities.

Edited by canajan, eh?
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This is definitely a case where two people are using the same word to mean two different things.

 

If I read your paragraph correctly, you're equating STATUS/HONOUR with the sort of necessary respect that ethicists call for in creating morally healthy communities.

 

I don't equate STATUS/HONOUR with respect, compassion, love, or healing.

 

For me, STATUS/HONOUR is the type of hierarchical thinking and power-jockeying that makes it impossible for people to treat each other with genuine respect, compassion, love, and healing.

 

For me, STATUS/HONOUR is about the pecking order. It's about keeping up with the Joneses. It's about thinking some people are "chosen." It's about thinking some races or clans or religions are "better." It's about "preserving family honour" at any cost, which really means protecting one's status at the expense of one's integrity. It's anything but humble, even though the word "humility" is often bandied about by those who claim religious STATUS/HONOUR.

 

For me, respect is a very different beastie than STATUS/HONOUR. Respect is about trust in God, trust in the innate goodness of all souls, empathy, and common sense.

 

Anyway, that's how I use these terms.

 

Jen

 

P.S. I completely agree with the ethicists when they include respect in their understanding of morally healthy communities.

 

This is one of the most difficult questions I have ever encountered. I inherited the concept from Jung when he explained his break with Freud and psychoanalysis. Jung, and similar thinkers, had a knack of turning concepts upside down and inside out.

 

Jung realized that God did not create one way to survive in this world. God's solution was diversity. Uniformity leaves a population vulnerable to extinction.

 

The questions posed by ethicists go something like this. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mother Theresa achieved levels of STATUS/HONOUR that many Progressives do not contest. We call these "other praising moral emotions". We find ourselves in "awe" and "gratitude" of what they did (and we fall a bit short of).

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Adi Gibb,

Well said.

It helps so much to see the bible as parable, metaphorical truths rather than testing it for literal fact. I think it’s important also to relate the new testament to the old, that context is crucial to interpreting Jesus’ life and teachings. Especially like your point that if we’re reading the bible as it was intended, it brings comfort, guidance, transformation.

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That questions is way too complicated for me to answer. The problem is most of us were raised to see the bible as single unit or 2 units. It is most definitely not that. It is a huge collection of works, many of which have been pieced together. It is rather like ask, "What are mystery novels to you?" Well, it depends on the author, the particular book they wrote, the characters etc. etc. Few authors write consistently. So I may like one book they like and not another. I may find something profound in one chapter but dislike the rest of the book. So perhaps a better questions would be what does the 23rd psalm vs. 1-10 (or whatever) mean to you?

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That questions is way too complicated for me to answer. The problem is most of us were raised to see the bible as single unit or 2 units. It is most definitely not that. It is a huge collection of works, many of which have been pieced together. It is rather like ask, "What are mystery novels to you?" Well, it depends on the author, the particular book they wrote, the characters etc. etc. Few authors write consistently. So I may like one book they like and not another. I may find something profound in one chapter but dislike the rest of the book. So perhaps a better questions would be what does the 23rd psalm vs. 1-10 (or whatever) mean to you?

 

OA, I like your analogy to mystery novels. I also agree with you that the Bible is anything but a single unit or 2 units. I think it's okay for us to "cherry-pick" the sections that support a loving view of God, and treat the other sections as historical documents that are important for what they teach us about the cultural and religious history of our faith, even if they're aren't very helpful when we're trying to build a positive relationship with God.

 

Jen

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The questions posed by ethicists go something like this. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mother Theresa achieved levels of STATUS/HONOUR that many Progressives do not contest. We call these "other praising moral emotions". We find ourselves in "awe" and "gratitude" of what they did (and we fall a bit short of).

 

I see what you're getting at here, Myron. For me, though, (because of the way I understand the terms STATUS/HONOUR and "respect") I would phrase the sentence as "Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa achieved levels of respect that leaves us feeling awe and gratitude towards them.

 

These leaders have earned our respect in large part because they did what they did . . . for the sake of LOVE/HEALING and not for the goal of earning STATUS/HONOUR for themselves or the religious group they identified with.

 

There are many "successful" people in the world today who have STATUS/HONOUR whom I do not respect. I can't respect them because they're not listening to their hearts, souls, and God; they're listening to their addiction to the dopamine of STATUS/HONOUR.

 

Jen

Edited by canajan, eh?
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OA, I like your analogy to mystery novels. I also agree with you that the Bible is anything but a single unit or 2 units. I think it's okay for us to "cherry-pick" the sections that support a loving view of God, and treat the other sections as historical documents that are important for what they teach us about the cultural and religious history of our faith, even if they're aren't very helpful when we're trying to build a positive relationship with God.

 

Jen

 

 

Thanks Jen, As far as cherry picking goes, everyone does it. We just acknowledge it!

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I see what you're getting at here, Myron. For me, though, (because of the way I understand the terms STATUS/HONOUR and "respect") I would phrase the sentence as "Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa achieved levels of respect that leaves us feeling awe and gratitude towards them.

 

These leaders have earned our respect in large part because they did what they did . . . for the sake of LOVE/HEALING and not for the goal of earning STATUS/HONOUR for themselves or the religious group they identified with.

 

There are many "successful" people in the world today who have STATUS/HONOUR whom I do not respect. I can't respect them because they're not listening to their hearts, souls, and God; they're listening to their addiction to the dopamine of STATUS/HONOUR.

 

Jen

 

Jen,

 

It is well worth the effort to work through the words that form clusters of overlapping concepts, and I thank you for adding respect to the list. I'll agree and add another word, introduced by David Schnarch, which is "intergrity". This came to my mind as I read your response. We respect figures like Jesus and MLK for maintaining their integrity while dealing with difficult and volatile issues. My own opinion is that the Bible warns us to keep the order of events in the form you suggest. If STATUS/HONOUR follows LOVE/HEALING, that is fine. But it does not always work out that way and one needs to stick with the first principle of LOVE/HEALING no matter what. Mother Theresa is a good example. When she and the nuns working with her moved into a new facilty provided by admiring supporters, their first act was to pull up and throw the expensive carpet out the window. She would not accept large donations from big corporations because of the implied influence.

 

Myron

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Good point about picking & choosing…my favorite parts of the bible are probably the ones most people read – the psalms, a few other wisdom books, a couple of the prophets like Isaiah, and the new testament. My love of literature and poetry in particular was what led me to the bible during grad school, rather than church; though I did attend fairly often. Since I grew up with a family of mostly Stoic/agnostics (with one Catholic grandmother) I didn’t absorb any dogma or creeds to unlearn later on.

 

OA, elsewhere you mentioned seminary experience – what was it like?

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Jen,

 

It is well worth the effort to work through the words that form clusters of overlapping concepts, and I thank you for adding respect to the list. I'll agree and add another word, introduced by David Schnarch, which is "intergrity". This came to my mind as I read your response. We respect figures like Jesus and MLK for maintaining their integrity while dealing with difficult and volatile issues. My own opinion is that the Bible warns us to keep the order of events in the form you suggest. If STATUS/HONOUR follows LOVE/HEALING, that is fine. But it does not always work out that way and one needs to stick with the first principle of LOVE/HEALING no matter what. Mother Theresa is a good example. When she and the nuns working with her moved into a new facilty provided by admiring supporters, their first act was to pull up and throw the expensive carpet out the window. She would not accept large donations from big corporations because of the implied influence.

 

Myron

 

 

I like what you've said here, Myron. I would want to rephrase it slightly and say, "If respect (or integrity) follows LOVE/HEALING, that is fine. But it does not always work out that way and one needs to stick with the first principle of LOVE/HEALING no matter what."

 

I would have to disagree with you -- strictly from a factual point of view -- about your statement that "the Bible warns us to keep the order of events in the form you suggest." There are certainly some places in the Old Testament and the New Testament where we're advised to put LOVE/HEALING first. But there are also many places in the Bible that say the opposite, that say that LOVE/HEALING will be given to us by God only after the proper STATUS/HONOUR observances are first fully obeyed.

 

This very principle goes to the heart of Jesus' teachings. Although no official Jewish canon existed in the early first century, Jesus "cherry-picked" the parts of Jewish scripture that taught us that LOVE/HEALING must come first, and that respect (integrity) will follow, even though STATUS/HONOUR (as they were understood in an honour/shame culture) have to be completely forsaken.

 

I like your point about Mother Theresa's determination to try to follow the path of LOVE/HEALING first. We need modern examples of this, since no one can agree on what examples from the Bible are helpful for today's exigencies.

 

Jen

Edited by canajan, eh?
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OA, elsewhere you mentioned seminary experience – what was it like?

 

It was liberating. At the time the seminary was more liberal than I was. Or, more accurately, my professors were. I had the experience of no longer being told what or how to believe but being given tools and taught how to use them. I was able to draw my own conclusions and not have to hide them. It is where I became a universalist and a unitarian. (I don't capitalize them because it is the concepts I adopted, not the official doctrine).

 

I'm a horribly sad because they have taken an anti-GLBT stance. I know eventually they'll come around (it took them until 1987 to ordain women) but I hate that they didn't learn from their previous mistakes. It has a lot to do with a couple who are 2 of 3 of the counseling department. I hope they retire soon. I don't understand how people who know what it is like to be repressed (they were big advocates of women being ordained) don't see how other people's situaiton as similar to their own. But it seems to be a common human weakness. A lack of compassion for other.

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