Category Archives: Bible Study

Genesis 1 in other places

Take a look at Proverbs 8:22-31 — Here we are back in Genesis, back at the world being created, here in Proverbs. Lady Wisdom was there “at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” The world was created to be delightful, to be full of rejoicing (verses 30-31). God is so much more than us: wisdom and justice and love and delight and creativity and peace.

In this retelling, the details are so full of joy. Lady Wisdom was there before the depths, before springs of water, before the mountains had been shaped, before earth and fields and soil, before all. Before the beginning God was full and rich and whole and yet so full that creation must create: “he drew a circle on the face of the deep/he made firm the skies above… he assigned to the sea its limit/like a master worker.” This is an image of God using “hands” and taking matter and creating a world, a universe, like we might create from clay.

And verse 31: “… rejoicing in his inhabited world/and delighting in the human race.”

As horrible as it sometimes seems that humankind is, there is hope. Because the bones, the foundation, the breath of life, were shaped and given with love, by love, for love.

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Genesis I and controversy

I look up into the dome of the sky every day now and my heart just soars. It is completely magical and amazing. I saw a giant huge — very very big — winged creature the other day. I could not tell if the winged creature had a bald head so I don’t think it was a bald eagle. It did not have a red head, so not a vulture I think. But it was truly huge, I bet the wingspan was greater than I am tall. It soared. It did loop the loops over all of us stuck at the red light, and did them high in the sky. It chased a smaller bird but it was clearly laughing and not really a threat. It was celebrating being alive, being full of feathers and joy, feeling power in its wings. Genesis has given me eyes to see wonder.

So it never crossed my mind that if I planned an Adult ed Sunday School class about Genesis 1 (and a bit so we can have the 7th day — which I don’t have yet) that it could be controversial. And maybe if/when it won’t be.

But I have been asked questions like: People might be upset that I don’t think of Genesis as real, in the way that the chair I am sitting on as I type this is real. Or real in the sense that George Washington was real. OR people might get upset when or if I expand and provoke the familiar dualism of the story. Or people might be bored — whole Genesis I “thing,” isn’t that sort of old news? Or people might not be interested in using literary techniques — connecting motifs for example. Or people might be extremely upset that I get upset at “dominion”. Maybe some folks do feel that we humankind are the top of the kingdom and need to embrace our power and its perfectly fine if we use things up. Maybe I’m just being precious. I really thought that teaching say, the book of Judges, would be more controversial but I am girding my loins because who knows? I should be prepared for anything! All the questions made me more interested than I was at first. Maybe in 2021!

Still, I will absolutely admit that this is all a bit daunting. And yet, the rich joy that I have discovered by learning Genesis 1 by heart is so real. The feeling of connection to people thousands of years ago who told the story, crafted the story, over and over until we have the story. The far greater understanding of Genesis that I have now than a year ago! The feeling of being connected to Earth and everything that has the breath of life — this is so real for me now.

I think Genesis 1 has joy and wonder to offer us all, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

Genesis 1 and beauty

In getting day 6 by heart, there was a very unexpected discovery last week — day 6 is beautiful! I’ve been dwelling so gloomily and negatively on the dominion and subdue words that I missed all the other words until I did a worksheet* and then found a pattern and then just forced the words into my brain.

Now they are finally sinking into my heart.

Look at verse 30 — “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everthing that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

Everything that has the breath of life.

Wow!

I slow way down, I lean forward toward my listeners so they instinctively know to lean toward me, I slow my cadence down, I spread my arms wide — “Everything that has the breath of life” —

And let’s look back at verse 2 — “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The “wind from God” is ruah — wind, breath of life, Spirit. There’s just a wonderful connection here that makes me smile and feel joyful. The beginning with the nothing/chaos also has God’s spirit breathing the breath of life. And to sustain that life — for everything that has the breath of life — God has provided food.

And the adjective “green” in verse 30. I think that color is rarely used in scripture, for whatever reason. (We have a very colorful world now and no doubt they did too way back when, but somehow we put more emphasis on colors.) But “green” leaps immediately (to me at least) to Psalm 23 — (verse 2) — “He makes me lie down in green pastures”. When vegetation is green then life is safe and blessed and good because hunger is banished. Green is the color of God’s love.

I can feel and see the whole sweep of day 6, all the living creatures, this wild beautiful abundance, and with everything from tigers to lizards eating green plants. All thanks to the breath of life, the breath from God.

*Worksheet — I had gotten lazy, I confess, so for verses 26 through 31, I typed it all out and used colors, underlines of different styles, fonts, bold, italic, and colors to connect words. To help me see. I gave each clause it’s own line to help things stand out. For example the word fish is blue in my workshop, and I found two of them. “Creeps” (and variations such as creeping) I gave a wavy underline, and there are 3. The word “earth” I put I in bold, and there are 7. (This is what my eye saw, my counts could be off, the point is drilling down and seeing.) The point of a worksheet is just make your eyes and ears pay attention and find connections. I should have done this months ago. It was very fun and opened my eyes to amazing beauty, and the generosity of God.

Pressing on “dominion” in Genesis 1

Strange as it seems my study bible has no info about “dominion” or “subdue”. But Google does! Immediately!

This is good: ” https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/meaning-of-dominion ” — more along the lines I like of “to take care of”.

And here is another blogger: https://tifwe.org/a-biblical-view-of-dominion-stewardship/ — this explands (if I understand it) to mean responsibility.

This blog has a lovely sentence ” We are to act as if we ourselves had the same relationship of love with his creatures that God does. ” https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/genesis-1-11-and-work/god-creates-and-equips-people-to-work-genesis-126-225/dominion

Now the whole project went off the rails almost immediately. As soon as Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, work too often became toil and hardship and not for the glory of God. And then worse — people abusing power, and mistaking “dominion” for “domination”.

I see the word “anthropocene” all the time, meaning we are now living (depending on who is using the new term maybe the last 200 or 300 years) in the anthropocene epoch of geological time. Human actions are fundamentally changing the very nature of the planet. And it is pretty dire.

And I don’t know how to cope with that.

Here’s my prayer, in light of Genesis and in light our world:

Holy God, thank you for this beautiful world, for oceans and plains and mountains and valleys. For peaches and apples and lettuce and fresh peas and every amazing blueberry. Thank you for food I have never tasted or heard of in other countries. Thank you for animals of every kind, and wild animals, and creeping things that creep along the ground. Thank you for family and friends and their family and friends and the whole relationship of love and may we all feel your grace and love to strengthen our own, to encourage us in forgiveness, to enrich our hope.

May work be fruitful and may work multiple love. May work — what ever each of us is called to do and for whatever work we dread on start of a new week — be enriching and a blessing for our us and for others. May everything we do be a part of network of help.

May we as humans find a way to unite and rescue our world from fundamental death and change. May there be some light and hope and humility. May we each in whatever way is available to us be ashamed of our broken world and work for the healing of it, however small our portion is.

May we share shalom with all, and all the birds of the air, and all the fish of the oceans, and all the creatures that have the breath of life.

Amen.

Maundy Thursday. Feet? Really?

So Jesus in the Gospel of John washes his disciple’s feet, and it is played both seriously — to demonstrate the upside-down Kingdom love of Jesus — and for laughs. Peter (as normal) just does not understand and is horrified at first that Jesus would consider setting aside his privilege to do the menial duty of footwashing. Jesus insists. I can imagine him smiling, waving the rag in the air, the basin of water on the floor.

But — did it have to be footwashing? At my church we enact it, those who choose come forward and put their feet into water and a brother or sister dries the feet, and then switch. It is beautiful. It is silent (to be honest, maybe there is music and I’m just always in my head and don’t hear it) and a bit spooky and a bit of joyful tension sort of like a child on Christmas Eve. In the morning it is going to be great, it is going to Christmas. Only the opposite is going to happen. On Good Friday, Jesus will die.

Just as in the story, it is action re-created to show love that is both profound and meaningful and inherently funny and awkward.

We have to wait for Sunday for resurrection. But Jesus has to die, for some reason: for us, for reasons of atonement, for theologies of all sort. It is the science fiction fan in me that is like: God couldn’t find a better way to heal the world of sin than to kill His Son? Couldn’t He just, you know, forgive?

And of course God does forgive, has forgiven, could forgive, has remained steadfast in love with us and all creation, and the clear answer isn’t that Jesus had to die to satisfy some angry God, like a god of a volcano or a dragon with a princess.

Something else….

Maybe just like the footwashing — REALLY feet? It couldn’t be hands? It couldn’t be “wash each other’s faces” — maybe dying on the cross was that important? Maybe Jesus had to die for us, not just wash our smelly, awkward, important feet, so that we could see the upside-down Kingdom love of God with absolutely no questions, no exceptions?

God loves us enough to bleed and die for us.

So let’s love each other, suffer with and for each other, as much as God loves us.

FTGOG!

Genesis 1, and blessings

So I had my first audience the other day to try out Genesis 1 (and a bit) with an audience, my mom, my son, and my brother. Now this is not the gentle audience you might be imaging. It was more like, “fine, if you have to inflict the bible on us, do it and get it over with.” Cuz they love me!

I did okay. I could tell that the beautiful ancient rhythm of “And that was evening and that was morning, the first day” was pulling them through the story. (“Only two more days, thank God.”) And everyone loves that God made creeping things that creep along the ground. And there’s always a surprise at the end, that the bible doesn’t take as long as you expect.

When I got back to my bible later, however, I realized that I had left out — completely and utterly forgotten — that the life that swarms in the waters and the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, the creeping things, and even us, humankind, were all blessed.

“God blessed them, saying ‘Be fruitful and multiply ….’ “

God is so full of abundance, full to overflowing, rich and ripe and God showers that down on us, shares it all with us. He gives us everything, a whole world of beauty and light and variety and everything needed. Diving so deeply into Genesis, I’ve felt such amazing thankfulness.

And such profound sorrow.

I think I completely forgot the blessings verses because we humans have been too fruitful, and too thoughtless, and we have so completely failed to care for the rest of the world. My heart just breaks. Truly I tell you, with God, nothing is impossible. But it isn’t looking good.

Yet the blessing is there in scripture, so it needs to be there when I tell the story. And this week as I recommit to practice, to just getting all these words into my heart, I commit to getting those words in my heart too. “Be fruitful and multiply”… in love, in hope, in peace, in beauty, in sorrow, in life.

Be blessed.

FTGOG

Let’s dip a toe into the 7th day

The 7th day is not in Genesis 1, which is a surprise isn’t it? At least for me. Genesis 2: 1-3. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

It is wonderful that in our foundational story rest is given, created, sought, and desired.

In our world, the general messaging is go, go, go, harder, more, never stop.

The best way to fight back and to fight for yourself is to dare to take Sabbath. I could go on and on about Sabbath and how much joy and renewal it brings me and easy it is to slip and forget. But I won’t! I’ve got some resting to do.

FTGOG

Genesis 1 and the image of God

So let’s pull on this thread:

 in the image of God he created them;[
    male and female he created them.

The “image of God” ….. that’s something mystics and scholars and theologians have been picking at for a while eh? I’ll pull more on this thread later. One thing I read (and please forgive me for not being able to find the source to give a footnote, I am really mad at myself) is that God has two primary qualities, that to us humans are often contradictory, that are Justice and Mercy.

Justice seems harsh and often things that are not justice are or have been interpreted that way, for example in John 8:48 about the disciples asking Jesus who sinned that this man was born blind? Sometimes, in my interpretation of Jesus’ words, shit just happens.

But Justice is something else something to strive for, more than mere fairness like children measuring slices of pie. Real Justice is even more than hunger or thirst, an equitable share. I think it is like “shalom” — a fullness of a whole life, for everyone. So if someone — or a group of people — set up a system that prevents shalom for another person — or group — then what is needed is Justice, and it can or could be fierce, it could be painful. But to my thoughts, I hope that however it takes that there is Justice, deep and rich and pure and even if I never understand it or even see it.

Now, obviously people smarter than me have rather gone on about this aspect of God but lets just let that simmer. Because Mercy — that’s the other side of the coin. Justice may demand a harsh accounting but Mercy — Love — may provide a rich and deep and profound understanding and care and desire for healing and wholeness.

Wholeness — “Shalom” — cannot flower without Justice but it cannot flower without Mercy either.

Thus God — both Justice and Mercy and far vaster than we could imagine. I don’t want to put God in any sort of box or limitation.

We humans are limited. So if we are made “in the image” of God than we have some ability or core desire or intent for Justice and Mercy, and perhaps we do it imperfectly. For sure we are imperfect!

Maybe that wasn’t the intent. For “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

If in the beginning we had this Justice and Mercy ability, however more limited than God, then having “dominion” over the rest of creation might have been a fine thing. I’m just so afraid that ecological disaster looms.

And I saw a cardinal the other morning, just sitting on a bare winter branch, bright red and beautiful and proud and innocent. And it was good.

Back to Genesis 1, this time with people

I have fallen love with the beauty of Genesis 1 but I have struggled with this last part. I am still struggling. Because why did God create people anyway? We are horrible. We cause pain. We kill things. We hurt and suffer. We cause hurt and suffering. So maybe God should have just left the world to the plants yielding seed, the fruit trees with the fruit with the seed in it, the creeping things that creep along the ground, the cattle, the birds of the air and the swarming things that swarm in the oceans, and the wild animals. Why create us humans in the first place?

As soon as I realized this was my problem, and I looked at the text again with this question in my eyes, then I realized part of the answer must be that we were created —
 in the image of God he created them;[f]
    male and female he created them.

The “image of God” ….. that’s something mystics and scholars and theologians have been picking at for a while eh? I’ll pull more on this thread later.

In terms of why I have just not wanted to get to this section of Genesis 1, there are the words used by the NSRV and most translations on my not-thorough exploration: dominion and subdue. This sort of hierarchy instead of a web of interdependence bugs me, the very words dominion and subdue bug me and feel wrong.

The Message bible uses the word “responsible” which is much better. The Good News Translation uses “power” — you will have power over. Most of the translations use dominion and subdue or “rule over”.

I guess part of the “why” is that it is the truth. Humankind does subdue — farm & cultivate & take care of the “cattle” — and have power over the rest of nature and uses it. And, of course, that is good in the sense that we all need food to eat! And we don’t want to be over-run with varmints or what have you. We just seem to not be doing a good job….

It could be that I am just uncomfortable with the idea that as a human I have power as well as responsibility. I do not feel the least bit powerful; there are days where I feel caught in molasses and trying to get anything done just keeps more things getting stuck.

Here’s the kicker.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. ”

In the beginning, we had the gift of power and we were going to use it wisely and well. And it was very good.

And this is the best start I can make on this material for now! At least I have finally started.

Luke 4:14-21

The hardest part of getting this passage by heart was the quote from Isaiah. My study bible says it is from Isa 61.1-2 and 58.6.

Partly it was hard to get by heart because it echoes all over — is this Mary talking to Elizabeth about how the poor will be lifted up, or Mary responding to the Angel? Is this Jesus responding to the messengers the imprisoned John the Baptism sent to him to ask him if he is truly the one-to-come? It is hard keep straight these exact words. It is also hard because of the repetition of the word “proclaim”.

For one thing, to say this in Nazareth in Galilee — a rather obscure corner of Israel in that time — is that really to proclaim? (Am I wrong about Nazareth being rather obscure at least back then?)

To proclaim something so big — very very big! — in a place so small — what’s going on with that?

Was Jesus feeling that his hometown, those closest to him deserved the chance to hear this good news for the poor first?

Was Jesus wanting the support of those nearest and dearest to him?

Was Jesus just wanting to be physically safe? (That didn’t turn out well. Did he mean it to demonstrate that threats of harm would not stop him?)

In our world right now, today, would we expect an announcement about say some amazing technology breakthrough for energy that won’t pollute the earth in any way to be from New York City or California or would we think it would come from some small city in Liberia? Or Indonesia?

Does where a proclamation come from add or detract to the authority of it?

So, let’s not judge his hometown’s disbelief too harshly. (Although really, they were going to hurl him off a cliff? Over-reaction much? What sort of people would react that way? I take it back, let’s judge them harshly.) However, let’s think it was part of the plan. And let’s mull on why that would be part of the plan.

FTGOG