Category Archives: church

Same Sex Marriage “Stuff” – Part One

This post is part of the July Synchroblog which invites bloggers to post about “Same Sex Marriage.”

As someone who has a gay son and who owns and facilitates a Private Facebook group for more than 500 moms of LGBT kids I have a LOT to say about same sex marriage “stuff.”

In fact, I have so much to say, I don’t know where to start.

But, I guess a good place to start is with my own story about how I went from believing same sex relationships were sinful to believing that condemning same sex relationships is sinful.

same-sex-marriage

When my son came out he told me he had come to the conclusion that the bible did not condemn loving, committed same sex relationships.

I fully expected to be able to prove him wrong.

I was accustomed to “studying” scripture as I taught women’s bible studies for years. I knew what it meant to dig into original language and consider the historical context of the verses I was studying.

I was shocked to find that my son was right …  none of the “clobber” verses were speaking about a loving, monogamous, healthy same sex relationship.

In fact, after a lot of studying and searching I had to admit there was no sufficient evidence in scripture that “clearly” condemned or supported same sex relationships.

One would have to put their integrity at stake and make scripture say more than it does in order to claim that scripture clearly condemns or supports same sex relationships.

(I could go into greater detail here about what I found and didn’t find in scripture, but instead I would like to share a link to a message by Pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePoint Church in Franklin, TN. The message is “Dialogue On Full Sacramental LGBT Inclusion.” This message includes almost everything I discovered in my own journey. I personally think this should be required listening for all Christians living in 2015 but I will just say “if you are a Christian who loves anyone – ANYONE – who is LGBT, you should take the time to listen to this message right away.”)

In light of discovering there was insufficient evidence in scripture to condemn same sex relationships I then had to ask myself, “What should I do?” and “How should I respond to something if scripture doesn’t clearly condemn or support it?”

The only thing I could think is I needed to find out if there was any evidence to indicate same sex relationships hurt people.

I searched and I couldn’t find that kind of evidence either – in fact, the evidence I discovered showed healthy same sex relationships had the same healthy effect on individuals and society as opposite sex relationships have on individuals and society.

Two more things happened which ended up playing a significant role in my journey.

First, I ran across this quote:

“A traditional religious belief is that “grace builds on nature,” in other words religious life depends on a good foundation in human health. Therefore we can legitimately evaluate the validity of a religious belief system by its psychological consequences. Good theology will result in good psychology and vice versa. Accordingly, bad theology will have negative psychological consequences. This is nothing more than an application of the biblical norm: “You will be able to tell them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16) If Saint Irenaeus proclaimed, the glory of God is humans FULLY ALIVE [emphasis mine], then clearly a belief system that results in the destruction of human health cannot serve the glory of God.” ~Dr. John J. McNeill

And second, I kept bumping into Micah 6:8:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

The quote by Dr. McNeill made so much sense to me and supported what I had always believed in my heart … which was the tenets and beliefs of Christianity should mostly lead to a person’s health and wholeness. In other words, our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health should all be “better” if we are embracing good theology. Like Dr. McNeill explained, good and right theology should mostly lead to good psychology (good fruit).

As I considered this idea I began to understand that when our theology about something is resulting in a lot of bad fruit or bad psychology – such as hopelessness, depression, self hate and self harm – we have an obligation to re-examine what we believe and ask ourselves why we believe it.

And Micah 6:8 became like a guiding light for my journey. The words reminded me that justice (doing what is right) is a very high priority to God and led me to ask, “What would it look like, in light of what I have discovered, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”

Everything combined together led me to the conclusion that it would be unjust, and lack mercy and humility, to condemn a loving, monogamous same sex relationship.

There was nothing in scripture to clearly mandate the condemnation of same sex relationships, there was no evidence that same sex relationships caused harm to anyone (in fact, the opposite was true) and the theological position of condemning same sex relationships was not producing good psychology (good fruit).

Those things together have given me peace in my heart about being a Christian who affirms same sex relationships. Those things have led me to believe that condemning same sex relationships is a sin.

The transition didn’t happen overnight. Although I was able to see right away that what I had believed wasn’t right, it actually took somewhere between one and two years of study, prayer, learning, listening and thinking for me to officially change my position/belief.

I’ve been accused of letting my love for my son blind me to the truth, but nothing could be further from the truth. My love for my son made me study more than ever, it caused me to ask tougher questions and to carefully consider all the evidence before me. I love my son too much to mislead him in the wrong direction if I can help it.

I’ve been accused of disregarding scripture and the Christian faith, but nothing could be further from the truth. My high view of scripture, my determination to not make scripture say more than it says, my commitment to study in a thorough manner, my deep devotion to being a follower of Christ and to do my best to live into the kind of radical love that he demonstrated and calls me to imitate … those things have led and guided me to where I am today regarding same sex marriage. I do not affirm same sex relationships in spite of my faith. I affirm same sex relationships because of my faith.

And as I have talked to other Christian mothers of LGBT kids I have witnessed them going through the same sort of process … digging deep, not accepting easy answers, wanting to make sure as much as possible.

As mothers our love doesn’t let us off the hook … instead, it is the reason we must be even more resolute and thorough. Our love is that great.

Like I said … I have a LOT to say about same sex marriage “stuff” and this is just the beginning … but I’m a firm believer that blog posts shouldn’t be too long … so stay tuned for part two of “Same Sex Marriage Stuff” coming soon. (Go here for part two)

In the meantime, check out the other July Synchroblog posts about “Same Sex Marriage

Sorry

This month’s synchroblog calls on bloggers to address the subject of handling spiritual abuse so the Christian tenets of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption are honored.

Man_Crying
Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people’s pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another. Sorry is a lot of things. It’s a hole refilled. A debt repaid. Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It’s the crippling ripple of consequence. Sorry is sadness, just as knowing is sadness. Sorry is sometimes self-pity. But Sorry, really, is not about you. It’s theirs to take or leave.

Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won’t settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It’s an offering. A gift. 
― 
Craig SilveyJasper Jones

At first I had a very difficult time imagining what the path to restoration would look like for a religious leader who had committed spiritual abuse.

My difficulty comes from the fact that far too often spiritual abusers aren’t held accountable for their actions because they hold too much power or celebrity and the abuse is ignored and goes on without being confronted until it becomes normalized. Too often the abused are told that they are the problem and their perspective is wrong.

If the abuser is not held accountable and doesn’t take personal responsibility I can’t imagine a way that the Christian tenets of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption can be honored.

But, if the abuser is held accountable for their actions, is willing to take responsibility and is sincerely sorry for their actions and the harm they have done I believe there is a way for us to honor the Christian ideals of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption; and I believe it can be done by practicing a form of restorative justice.

In my opinion the process would need to emphasize repairing the harm caused by the abuser and would include:

  1. Creating opportunities for victims, offenders and community members to meet and discuss the abuse and its aftermath.
  2. Allowing those who were abused to participate in determining the resolution.
  3. Having offenders take steps to personally work towards repairing the harm they caused.

If this sort of process is practiced I believe that there is a way the offender could be restored to a whole, contributing member of the Christian community. However, I think we must be cautious about setting that up as the goal. I believe the goal of the process should be to seek the justice, protection and restoration of those who have been abused.

I believe that when offenders are truly sorry about their actions and the harm they have caused and are more concerned with the well-being of those who have been harmed than their own self the possibility of their redemption and restoration become real.

Sorry is the necessary sacrament, the imperative offering, the essential gift.

Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Why are American churches still so racially segregated?

This month synchrobloggers were invited to write about “Race and Violence and Why We Need to Talk About It.

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As I thought about the questions from this month’s synchroblog theme and recent events, such as the one in Ferguson, I began to reflect on the lack of racial diversity in American churches and wondered if things might be different if our churches were more integrated.


Would we be having more and better conversations if our churches weren’t so segregated?

Would there be less racial prejudice if there was more diversity in our faith communities?

Would it help eliminate some of the violence, fear, marginalization, demonization that exists in our society if our faith communities were racially integrated?

 

On March 31, 1968, a few short days before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and spoke a phrase he had used on a number of occasions and which by now, almost 50 years later, has gained a hard proverbial ring:

“Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America.”

According to a recent study not much has changed. The study found that churches are as racially segregated today as they have ever been in the history of our country.

Why are American churches still so racially segregated?

Why aren’t churches working harder to achieve racial diversity?

Do you think the racial segregation that exists in American churches is harmful?

Do you think we can have true racial integration in our country if we persist in remaining segregated in the worship experience on Sundays, even when we share the same religious beliefs that teach otherwise?

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Check out the other September synchroblog posts:

 

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

You can’t get there from here

you-cant-get-there-from-hereThis post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”.  This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t get there from here.” The urban dictionary defines the saying to mean “the problem can’t be solved.”

As I thought about solutions to the divisions the Christian church is presently experiencing I realized I felt like “you can’t get there from here.”

When I think about healing the division in the church “here” becomes Christian unity and that’s where I see us needing to “get to” … I believe we have to know where we want to go before we can plan on how to get there, but, in order to pursue Christian unity we must first understand what it is and what it isn’t …

I don’t have a clear vision of what Christian unity is, so, I am limiting my contribution to some basic thoughts about Christian unity…

What I hate about Christian unity:

I hate the way the term or idea is used to shut down a criticism.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to bully someone who is disagreeing.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to avoid conflict.

I hate the way the term or idea is used as if it means agreement or uniformity.

Some things I believe about Christian unity:

Some things are worth division.

Uniformity is not unity.

Agreement is not unity.

Unity is better than uniformity or agreement.

Getting along with everyone is not equal to Christian unity.

Open acts of injustice are a real and formidable obstacle to Christian unity.

Christian unity is related to shalom in that it doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conflict but has everything to do with right relations.

Christian unity is not so much a destination as it is something that we are continually striving for in each present moment.

What I love about Christian unity:

It is other centered.

We get glimpses of it when we look through the eyes of the other.

It is a high ideal.

It is centered around, justice, love and mercy.

We can make it happen.

Questions I have about Christian unity:

Is Christian unity the opposite of division?

Can Christian unity exist in the midst of divisions?

Should Christian unity be more about a way of living and interacting than about a list of rules or beliefs that we agree on?

How can I have unity with someone who embraces something I believe is harmful to people?

Is Christian unity really nothing more than the agreement of a few basic ideas?

What do you think? Can we get there from here?


Here are the links to the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog. I hope you will take the time to read more.

Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

cross gender

Although I grew up going to a Baptist church and living in a conservative, Christian community I wandered from the church during my twenties but returned after my husband asked me for a divorce eight years into our marriage.

Having not been an active “adult” member of an evangelical church I was unfamiliar with a lot of the “unspoken” rules about relationships between men and women, but over time I learned that it definitely wasn’t considered safe for me and a married man to be alone and maybe not even good for me to be alone with a single guy. Why? Well, mainly because we might end up having sex. It could happen in a variety of ways but what it would amount to is we might be sexually attracted and not be able to control ourselves.

Once, when our pastor had a biking accident and broke his collar bone I stopped by his home early one evening to drop off a meal only to discover that he was uncomfortable with me entering his home because his wife was at the grocery store and he was home alone with his youngest son who was probably around 3 or 4 at the time. I was taken aback because the problem at hand had not occured to me, but when he asked me if I could come back in 30 minutes I agreed. However, when I came back almost an hour later she still wasn’t home.  He reluctantly made the decision to let me in with the meal, reassuring me that she would probably drive up any minute. After putting the meal in the kitchen I sat on the edge of a chair that was the farthest from him in their family room. I don’t remember what I was wearing but be assured it was modest as I wouldn’t have showed up at my pastor’s home in anything else. I remember sitting with my legs tightly held together and my arms crossed across my chest wishing I could hide my body because … well, because, I needed to hide it before it caused something bad to happen. As we sat there trying to engage in polite conversation I got the feeling that he was as uncomfortable as I was. I recall wondering if it would look more or less suspicious if I stayed until the Mrs. showed up or better if I left before she returned. I tried to play it out in my head …if she came home and we were sitting far apart and nothing was going on it would probably be better than if she came home and found out I had been there and already left because then she might think we had time to … what? flirt? kiss? have sex? … I tried to ask about his injury and how he was feeling but immediately felt like that was being too intimate, and changed the subject to the weather. When I glanced at my watch to check the time and realized that I had been there less than ten minutes, even though it felt more like an hour, I knew I had to get out of there. I couldn’t take it. I left feeling anxious and ashamed and worried even though nothing wrong or bad or inappropriate had occurred.

Looking back, it sounds crazy to me. Why didn’t I question the idea that good, mature, adult people who were serious about following Jesus, loving others and having healthy relationships couldn’t be trusted to control themselves? But at the time I didn’t question it and I think a lot of the reason I didn’t question the idea was because I was so new at learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It would be years later when I would realize that being a follower of Jesus should be more about transformation than avoidance.

There was a story in the news recently about a dentist who fired his dental assistant because she was too attractive to him (irresistible is the word that was thrown around). He said he was afraid, even though nothing inappropriate had happened, that he might end up having an affair with her. It turns out that he had talked about it with his wife, who also worked at his dental practice, and then together they had talked to their pastor (probably at her suggestion). Together they all decided that it would be best to fire the dental assistant. When the dental assistant filed a lawsuit the courts ruled in the dentist’s favor, saying he had the legal right to fire her.

I’m not going to argue if what the dentist did was legal. It probably was legal. I will argue that what the dentist did was unjust. I will argue that what the dentist did was unloving. I will argue that what the dentist did was unlike something that Jesus would have done. I will argue that the theology behind the decision is bad theology.

The church shouldn’t be teaching that men and women can’t be friends because they might end up having sex. The church should be teaching us how to have healthy, loving, appropriate, respectful relationships with one another.

The church shouldn’t teach the dentist to fire his dental assistant if he is attracted to her but that to love his neighbor/dental assistant by taking responsibility for his lust if it exists; and the church shouldn’t teach me to feel guilty or ashamed about loving my neighbor/my pastor by taking him a meal after an injury.

IMO the church needs to do some serious re-evaluation about what it teaches when it comes to cross gender friendships.

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Be sure and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Chris Jefferies – Best of both

Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible

Lynne Tait – Little Boxes

Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age

Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright – What I get from my cross-gender friend

Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church

Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships

Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers

Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Bram Cools – Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?

Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship

Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion – Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians

Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

Quotes Worth Repeating – If The Church Were Christian by Philip Gulley

If the church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, not an object of worship.

If the church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.

If the church were Christian, reconciliation would be valued over judgment.

If the church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.

If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be more important than supplying answers.

If the church were Christian, encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.

If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.

If the church were Christian, peace would be more important than power.

If the church were Christian, it would care more about love and less about sex.

If the church were Christian, this life would be more important than the afterlife.

In the end, what I’m hoping for is a church a little less full of itself, and a little more full of love. It wouldn’t take much, for love and grace and kindness have a way of multiplying. We can start with just a few bones of it, and watch it build into something so vast it boggles the mind — a divine extrapolation, if you will.

Philip Gulley

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.

Epiphany: Blessing of the home.

Tomorrow is officially Epiphany (although some will celebrate on Sunday). Do you celebrate Epiphany? If so, how? If not, you may want to consider starting the tradition “Blessing of the home”. There is more than one way to perform the tradition.  Here is one way that I like:

Have some incense burning, a sprig from a bush, some water, and divide a cake into as many pieces as you have participants. Hide a coin or dry bean in one piece and distribute them at random. Whoever gets the special piece of cake with the bean/coin in it is crowned (paper crown or party hat), robed (bathrobe), saluted (noisemakers left over from New Year’s), and toasted (hot apple cider or whatever…)! The new royalty now writes with chalk over the front door of your home the following:

20+ C + M + B + 12

The numbers represent the new year. The four crosses are the four seasons. C-M-B are the initials of the legendary names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Or another explanation that I actually like better is that C-M-B stands for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling place”.

Now, say a simple blessing such as:

Dear God,
we thank you for this past year
and for the year to come.

Be with us as we fill our home with kindness,
hospitality, and caring for others.

Help us to dream the dream of a better world
and to work towards that dream daily.

Hold us close to each other.
Keep us close in spirit with those who have died or who are far away.

May all who come to our home this year
rejoice to find Christ living among us;
and may we seek and serve,
in everyone we meet,
Jesus who is Lord for ever and ever.

Bless us as we burn this incense.
Bless us as we use this chalk to mark our door.
Bless us as we sprinkle our home with this water.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Now, everyone moves from room to room sprinkling the home with water, a sign of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

If you have a group that likes to sing try singing some Epiphany songs such as “We Three Kings” or “O Come All Ye Faithful”.

When done with all the rooms, say the Lord’s Prayer, and finish with exchanging the sign of peace.

We Cannot Capture The Wind

This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts.  I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available.  To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.

The Spirit is like the wind.  The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced.  If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit.  We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected.  We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction.  In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp.  – Margaret Manning

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This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival.  Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12.  The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities: 

Shavuot is 50 days after Passover.  Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection. 

Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai.  Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. 

At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone.  At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts. 

During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain.  During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation. 

Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism.  Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church. 

During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud.  During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire. 

In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people. 

However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.

According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b)  As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language.  The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.

In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear.  An older person would have heard something different than a younger person.  A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received.  A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear.  A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs.  The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it.  The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear.  In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.

Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.

An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous.  They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)!  They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime.  IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”

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Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:

Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation

Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land

Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love

K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind

Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?

Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers

John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This