A Moment of Sheer Honesty

SWIWhy parables? No, not why did Jesus speak so often in parables, as my friend Joe will admit, “Everybody knows that,” but why my of-a-sudden interest in them, and further still, why drag you, the faithful reading few, through them with me?

I promised you a moment of honesty; sheer even. I would hope I can produce more than a moment’s worth, but that will suffice for now I reckon.

KGJI have reached an impasse, a place where I no longer pretend that black and white are always constants in the faith of Christianity. This is not to say that there may be none such in the habitat of the transcendent, but in my world, where contradictions can be argued reasonably well by both sides, gray seems more often to take stage.

Since more than three-quarters of Jesus’ recorded words are spoken in parable, and those reflecting often ‘life in the kingdom,’ I want to hear his truth from him personally, and hopefully with a little help from more adept students of the Word than myself.

Enter… some mysterious stories; Enter… the parables.

TP GIWith little effort it is obvious to discern that these stories were misunderstood greatly by the audiences who first heard them. Except when he explained them, even his closest disciples couldn’t grasp their intent.

Two thousand years of history has not given us the ability to lock down their meaning either, at least not if one entertains the thoughts of a wide host of interpreting authors throughout the same time-span.

TSGBy means of a literal approach, spiritualizing, rhetoric, historic, and more, author after author submits meaning after meaning, so that I feel my head is swimming in a pool of mire.

When asked why he spoke so often in parable, Jesus responded that it was to limit the kingdom truths to the kingdom kids, as in some sort of code-language to keep outsiders outside. I wonder, do these masterful tales do the same today?

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5 Churchy Phrases That Are Scaring Off Millennials

5 Churchy Phrases by Addie ZiermanThis a very revealing article written by Addie Zierman at the “onfaith” site. The author, a recovering statistic herself of the great fall-away, prods us to examine our lingo, noting that this is not our granddaddy’s age, meaning, everyone (yes, everyone) has access to our every (yes, every) differing contention (it’s called search engines and social media).

The author examines our churchy phrases such as “The Bible Clearly Says, God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle, Love on…, those Black and White Quantifiers of the Faith, and God is in Control.”

By reading those subtitles many might protest, “But everyone of those are true.” While they may or may not be, it is worth the time to read the article and understand where the author is coming from with her points, for it appears a Millennial Exodus is underway.

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Unjustified and Loving Every Minute of It

For we write to you nothing but what you can read and understand; I hope you will understand fully, as you have understood in part. 2 Corinthians 1:13-14

JustifedYet then there is that unjust steward (Luke 16) who meets us by way of Jesus’ parables and has been a qualm of our faith for centuries. Are we to underhandedly and sneakily build the kingdom? Is Jesus teaching us that it is wise to take whatever actions necessary, even dishonest ones, to ensure our needs are met?

It appears the good doctor Luke, understanding the nature of men, strategically eliminated these options by following this parable with a word on our handling of mammon. So what is the message of the parable? Why was the steward considered wise, and the children of the kingdom encouraged to follow his lead?

In this story, a manager of a wealthy man’s properties is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or at least mismanaging his loot. The master terminates his employee, who realizes he’s not cut out for manual labor and does not like the thought of begging, so he concocts a plan. He allows his master’s renters to get one over on their debt-holder, to pocket what should have been payment. It leads one to wonder why the master was such a softy in his handling of the firing of his steward.

His master could have possibly taken legal action or worse; but he didn’t. He could have demanded retribution; but he didn’t. It seems the master is even allowing the steward time to get his books in order, setting himself up for the folly that follows.

I think we are supposed to pick up on the fact that the steward does not defend himself. He hears the accusation, takes ownership of his guilt, then begins to plot. He strikes deals with those who owe his master by bridging a union of his own rapport with that of the wealthy landowner.

It probably sounded something like this, “Our good master has chosen to show compassion on you today, so break out your debt books and knock a decent percentage of what you owe off the top!” He has now linked himself with the master by being the bearer of joyful news to a band of farm-land renters. They will be able to keep and sell a greater portion of their crops.

So what will happen when the master finds out what the steward has done? What will be his response when the renters show up with a lesser payment? While the text clearly allows us to know the response, “You are one shrewd dude,” we are sort of left scratching our heads wondering why, and especially when Jesus joins in the high-fiving of this unjust steward by poking at we kingdom kids for not being just as wily.

I jested not when denoting that this parable has been a thorn in the paw of biblical scholars for a long, long time. Many have just sat it on the back burner and refused to get caught up in the speculation. Others take stabs at it, but still admit that being dogmatic is ill-advised. One author, Kenneth Bailey, offers these words.

Kenneth Bailey Parables“A summary of the theological cluster of this parable can be briefly stated as follows: God (the master) is a God of judgment and mercy. Because of his evil, man (the steward) is caught in the crisis of the coming of the kingdom. Excuses will avail the steward nothing. Man’s only option is to entrust everything to the unfailing mercy of his generous master who, he can be confident, will accept to pay the price for man’s salvation. This clever rascal was wise enough to place his total trust in the quality of mercy experienced at the beginning of the story. That trust was vindicated. Disciples need the same kind of wisdom.”

Is it possible that the manager of the master’s goods is merely being praised for wisely recognizing the merciful character of his master?

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To Box a Parakeet

8x8x3-5cm-Vintage-Plain-Quality-Brown-Kraft-Jewel-Gift-Boxes-Jewelry-Packaging-Boxe-Bangle-Boxes-633x400For when I offered them this voice that you had given me
When I offered them these hands that you had strengthened
When I offered them these feet that you had guided

They gave me a box. (Kate Wallace, Junia Project)

Dispersed round about the New Testament, readers will find it difficult to not be confronted with seemingly straight-forward gender related statements that, as the author describes above, place the feminine side of humanity within a restricted box of confinement limiting their places of service within Christ’s Church.

Having spent the majority of my life within a specific denomination of Christianity, one with a very defined interpretation of these passages, it is a difficult thing for me to re-open my mind to the mounting challenges against traditional thoughts on these verses, for I try to keep in remembrance, history evidences that human nature is always questioning “Did God really say?”

With that acknowledged however, there are a growing number of persuading platforms for an egalitarian approach toward explaining that maybe Paul, as these verses are mostly from his letters, didn’t mean exactly what we assume he meant. A dabbling of these thoughts might be expressed in the following points.

1. Woman was created from the side of man to obviously walk with him, not behind. It is not until the fall that we hear the words, “he shall rule over you.” In Jesus’ kingdom, the curse is meant to be remedied.

2. Paul’s Corinthian letters are written as a series of responses to contentions this community had asked him to resolve. It is difficult to determine when he is quoting their questions and when  he is giving them his answers. With a little effort it is not beyond reason to assign the gender statements to the questioners, and then as some suggest, the responses Paul gives take on a differing meaning.

3. Paul could have been singling out unlearned women who were disrupting the worship services when he penned words to the Corinthians and to Timothy. This thought is solidified by showing women are portrayed in Scripture as having leadership roles and in their teaching of both women and men.

4. Through most of history, it has predominantly been in the hands of men to determine the status of women. As earlier mentioned, this reality was established in the curse after the fall. Because of this, it is only fair to remember that until very recently it was men alone who translated the texts of Scripture. It is not far-reaching to suggest some gender-bias played its hand into the work.

Of course these are brief points with little explanation, but the resources for further examination exist. I think though that many will refrain from investigating for the same reasons as I did for so long a time.

We remain creatures of presuppositions and tradition.

The purpose of my parakeet series is not so much to stand with or even against either side, but to learn to be eager to lend an ear, to find value in dialogue, even when in disagreement, and to refuse to force anyone unwillingly into a box. I close by admitting that I am coming to appreciate some very different while viable approaches to certain texts that maybe aren’t so clear-cut after all.

For further reading consider, The Junia Project, The Blue Parakeet, Junia is not Alone, What Paul Really Said About Women, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, Because of the Angels, and a commentary (not only for this topic) I recommend highly by Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.

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Merchants and Pearls on a Half Shell

pearl in oysterAgain, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46

If anything at all, isn’t it meant to be a piercing point here Jesus makes by way of parable, by way of a man, of a merchant, of a pearl? We read of a trader on a mission for fine pearls, who finds one of great value, sells all to attain it, and in his effort, finds himself no longer a merchant, but now the possessor of a magnificent and valuable pearl. He has stepped aside from all to obtain what he most wanted.

I opened with an indecisive question as I did because read in this light, what this merchant does is nothing to really marvel about. He believes he is getting the better end of the deal. You and I seek the same kind of transactions everyday. We will all part from our stuff, even in bulk, to get what we truly want. In our very nature it is what we do; we want a great bargain.

It ‘is’ piercing though because it insinuates an obvious counter-conclusion. We will not part with what we have for what we deem is a lesser value, or if we cannot see the greater value in the trade.

Regrouping for a tad of past interpretation, in this parable, some would infer Jesus speaks only of himself, that he is the merchant on mission willing to part with everything to purchase this pearl, and by this, meaning that those he came to save are a valuable treasure to him, more precious than the glory he forsook to purchase it.

Others will apply it to ‘whosoever’ will enter the kingdom will do so by relinquishing hold of the worldly goods for the wonder of a gracious gospel; life in the kingdom. It is this very interpretation however that might be the demise of most of western culture. Simply ask, how many do I know who have traded in everything to follow Jesus; better still, ask the question personally, such as, “Have I?”

51XAUizpuvL__AA160_I think the ultimate question this parable demands an answer to is rightly asked, “Are we willing to step aside from all we have to obtain what we want (A-J Levine)?” It will make no difference if we apply it to Jesus, “he did,” or us, “have we?”

I also think it is okay for the parable to prompt an equally important question, “What do I want most?” In a very real sense, this is simply a parable declaring a routine truth. What we see as valuable, we are willing to make sacrifices, even if extreme, to attain. What we don’t want, or do not see the value in, no matter that its value remains constant, will get little of our time and probably none of our necessary resources.

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