Monthly Archives: September 2010

Black Curriculum? This denies our shared humanity

Saw this article on Arts and Letters Daily; below is an excerpt which is particularly poignant:

In praise of dead white men

LINDSAY JOHNS
23rd September 2010 — Issue 175

But the literary canon should not be the preserve of any one race. As both a writer of colour and an ardent (but not uncritical) devotee of the canon, I have little time for people who say that black people cannot relate to books written 2,000 years ago by a bunch of dead white guys, or that Maya Angelou is better than Shakespeare. This denies us our shared humanity across racial divides.

Dead white men, the pillars of the western canon, remain supremely relevant to black people in the 21st century, because their concerns are universal. At its best, the canon elucidates the eternal truths at the heart of the human condition. It addresses our common humanity, irrespective of our melanin quotient. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens—all male, all very white and all undeniably very dead. But would anyone be so foolish as to deny their enduring importance? Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Boccacio’s Decameron or Pico’s Oration On The Dignity of Man are as germane to black people as they are to white. There is no apartheid in the philosophical musings of Cicero, no racial segregation in the cosmic grandeur of Dante and no ethnic oppression in the amorous sonnets of Shakespeare. These works can, if given the chance, speak as much to Leroy in Peckham or Shaniqua in the South Bronx as they can to Quentin in the home counties.

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Recent Sermon

It always looks better on paper. If this manuscript looks long and slightly confusing…. that because it is. I received some helpful critique from my classmates and teacher about sharpening the points, and paring down excess material. These are the same comments my loving and perceptive wife has been telling me for years. I know what to do, now is a matter of developing the skills.

We were told to pick a context to preach in, thinking of where we might end up after seminary. I picked the church we used to attend in Malawi with its very diverse socio-economic, religious, age and political mix. Hopefully this should make some sense of the applications (i.e. polygamy).

Introduction:

In the last two hundred years Africa has been home to many conquests and following these, revolutions. Most of the colonies were marked by racism, extortion, and ruthless economic principles which allowed the colonizing nations to strip the land of its resources and leave the people of that land without the wealth, dignity, or rights which their good and generous God had given them. There were notable exceptions, no doubt. Yet, in the face of this oppression, this affliction, the people rebelled. They fought against the strong and the noble, often at a great cost to their own families and their own lives, in order to gain back what they were made for, as image bearers of God.

Yet, as often happens, once the the oppressed were put into power they soon became the oppressors. This pattern is not unique to Africa. This is an old and common pattern. It turns out that when we are given the same opportunity to take advantage of others, and oppress, we will do the same as our previous oppressors. The drive to exert power over another for your own benefit is part and parcel of the sinfulness we all share. Robert Mugabe is a great example of this. He opposed the oppression that the old Rhodesian regime represented; their elitism, their suppression of the rights of the blacks. Yet, what happened once he was in power? He became an oppressive force toward the old regime, as well as toward the other tribes within Zimbabwe. We witnessed this same phenomenon in the most recent election in Kenya. The United States after gaining their independence from Britain who had violated their rights, then went on to deny those same rights to the Native Americans, the African slaves, and the poor European immigrants who lived within her new borders. You might say that it is a vicious cycle: oppression begets oppression.

But what are the oppressed supposed to do? What about justice? Are they simply to ignore what has happened, and smile on the past? What hope do the oppressed have, other than their victory over their enemies?

The picture we get in 1 Samuel is very different. Rather than Hannah grasping around for something that would let her take revenge, she prays. She doesn’t wave Elkanah’s love for her in the face of her rival. She doesn’t respond in violence to Peninnah. She doesn’t curse Peninnah. Her hope is not centered in what sort of vengence she can accomplish, but on her Lord, YHWH. The lowly of this life have hope, not because they will gain power, or because they will be able to oppress. Rather, the lowly can hope in the midst of hardship because our Lord will overcome oppression. We have hope in the face of oppression because our Lord is the true King

The first way we see this hope in Hannah’s prayer is that Our Lord, YHWH, watches his people.

[Main Point 1] Our Lord, YHWH, watches over his people

2:2-3 – “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”

  • He is not ignorant like the false gods of the nations
    • The Lord is a God of knowledge.
      • He knows all that has happened to Hannah.
        • He is not like the selfish gods, the false idols, the evil spirits whom the surrounding nations worshipped and trusted.
        • You see, we all know that there are many evil spirits. There are many who are more powerful than us, and who hate our God. Yet we can say two things about these spirits:
          • they are weak and creaturely: Our God is the creator of all, they cannot esacpe his power. They don’t know everything. They are just as ignorant as we are.
          • they are manipulative and selfish: they require many sacrifices, prayers, self-punishment → but they don’t care for you. They don’t know you.
      • Hannah knows that the nations give themselves to these false gods. But she has entrusted herself to YHWH, our Creator God, because He is the one who sees all, and is intimately aware of Hannah; who she is, what she has gone through and needs
      • In fact, the Lord is the one who closed Hannah’s womb, (1:5). He was intimately involved in her inability to have children. We are not told why. But we are told that he knows. He was not surprised by her sorrow. He was not oblivious to the great hardship she was going through.

– He weighs actions unlike the false gods of the nations.

  • Our Lord is not passive in his knowledge, though at times he certainly seems distant. No, our Lord is intimately involved with the situation and is evaluating all of the things people say and do.
  • The statues which people worship not only do not see, they also don’t judge. They are not alive. The evil spirits which seem to have so much power may encourage us toward evil, but they themselves will be judged. Our God is watching them too.
  • This is what the Biblical writers mean when they say that he is watching us, and that he never sleeps. He is actively aware of all the oppression that happens. He is actively documenting, and noting the evil and good that happen to his people, and that his people do.
  • 2:9 reflects the same sentiment when it says that “He will guard the feet of this faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.”
  • He welcomes us to Himself: 1:27 – “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted to me my petition that I made to him.”
    • We saw Hannah becoming so distressed that she couldn’t eat or drink. She couldn’t participate in the sacrificial meal. She tells Eli that far from being drunk, she is actually pouring out her soul to the LORD. That is, she is offering to the Lord a whole separate offering from the one her family has given. She offers her soul to the LORD; she gives herself to the LORD in her distress.
    • This is remarkable: Think of who she had to believe the LORD was in order to do this confidently. Hannah, though she has no children to offer to her husband, and has no standing in society, she nonetheless has hope that the Lord will listen to her. She actually believes that the Lord will pay attention to her, and cares for her in her distress. She sees that the Lord welcomes his people to himself regardless of their situation.
    • We certainly want to embrace the Lord with the same faith that Hannah exemplifies to us. But, let’s not miss the point: look at how she views the Lord that would encourage her to approach with this amount of freedom and confidence.
    • 1:18 – “Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” This sort of contentment with having only prayed is the direct result of who she understands the Lord to be. She can trust her prayers to him, and so she can move on from her sorrow.
    • She can hope because she knows that she is completely welcomed by the Lord.

ILLUSTRATION:

  • When I was growing up, I had two older brothers, who would harass me constantly.
  • Coming to my parents was only so helpful because they only knew part of the story.
  • They were comfort for some things, but I always felt like they never really understood.
  • With my parents I was always welcome. They were as good as any other parent, I was always welcome to come to them with whatever was bothering me whether it be my brothers, or something else completely.
  • Yet they were ignorant of a lot. They couldn’t help this either; you can’t be everywhere and see everything.
  • The other extreme is a spy. Someone who taps your phone line, listens to your conversations, watches you in your own home. They are completely aware of your every move, but they are only interested in gaining information from you, or using you for something else. These are completely aware, but totally untrustworthy.
  • The spy is someone who is involved in all of the affairs of a nation, he knows all. Yet he is sering a different government. He is looking for the ways in which this nation is weak so that his home nation to which he is truly loyal can take advantage. His true loyalty is to another nation.
  • Our Lord is not ignorant, but he is trustworthy. He is not weak, or at a disadvantage; He is the King, the one who made the world. Yet He is as kind and gentle as the best fathers are; he is our constant refuge.

APPLICATION:

  • This is a little bit scary, and also very comforting for his people. It depends on which side you are on.
    • Even though you might be in the darkest corner of your house, though you think you can hide your sin from the Lord, he is still watching. He is watching not only your actions, but also he is watching how your heart is wooed by other loyalties.
    • Likewise, though you might be locked in the deepest darkest dungeon, or depression; indeed the Lord knows, and he will not let it go unpunished. He is a good judge. But he is better than the judges of this earth; he knows who is guilty and who is innocent before the trial begins.
  • For many of you, you are trapped in many types of oppression and hardship. You are living on someone else’s land, or in a dangerous area. So you are constantly exposed to danger, robbery, and violence. Yet, you are also employed by someone who barely pays you enough to live on. You have no connections to anyone who can get you a better job, because you have left your home village, and are new to the city. What hope do you have?
    • Will you make a way for yourself? Many try to do this by stealing and robbing what the Lord has given to others.
    • Will you try and forget your hardship? Getting drunk will only contribute to your hardship; it distracts you from reality.
    • Will you turn to the spirits who seem so powerful, and lurk around in the dark corners? They too will be judged by our God.
    • Hope in the Lord. He sees you. He knows your needs. He hears your prayers.

While the Lord may watch us, and welcome us to come to him with our difficulties; is this the only reason to hope? Is our Lord kind, but unable to help? Is our God like a useless neighbor who says “be warm and well fed” but does nothing? Quite the opposite. YHWH, our great Creator God, not only sees our oppression, but also subverts the oppressor.

[Main Point 2]: (Hope, because) YHWH subverts one who oppresses His people

  • Read 2:4-8
  • Who is the oppressor?
  • Rich/Poor, Full/Hungry, Many Children/barren, powerful/lowly: all of these are from the Lord’s hand. This is the main point of this passage, not that one position is inherently worse, or more sinful than the others. This is how liberation theology would read this passage. Yet what is essential to YHWH’s subversion of the statuses listed in the passage is that they have begun to view and use their status as a means of oppression.

1:6-7 – “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.” Peninnah is an oppressor, not because she has children and Hannah doesn’t. Rather Peninnah is an oppressor because she begins to use this over and against Hannah. Hannah has done nothing wrong, and yet Peninnah takes Hannah’s weakness and uses I against her. What would allow her to do this without any hesitation? What would allow her to systematically abuse Hannah with no shame? The text tells us that she harassed her specifically because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb. What did Peninnah believe about herself that would fundamentally motivate her to degrade Hannah so ruthlessly? Pride: She might have begun to believe that it was her goodness, or because she was better that she was able to have children. Entitlement: or maybe she thought that her status as mother was something that was hers by right. She simply deserved those children and Hannah did not. Hatred: or maybe her own insecurity about having a rival wife provoked her to scorn Hannah. → Peninnah is an oppressor because she has used her status as a means of degrading Hannah, not because she has this status in the first place.

  • How does the Lord subvert?
  • 2:4-8 – He reverses human fortunes. Those who were able to mock and scorn the needy and low, are now made needy and weak themselves.
  • He silences the accuser: provision in the midst of weakness. What can Penninah say to Hannah now? What superiority does Peninnah have to use? She only has what the Lord gave to her in the first place, and what the Lord has now given to Hannah.
  • He exalts us before our enemies. Hannah now has God’s glory around her. Her prayer has been honored, and her name lifted up from the dust. She is given a child straight from the hand of the Lord. She is given a child right in front of her rival. The irony here is powerful, and this victory was surely sweet. But more than that, she is exalted because the Lord cared for her.
  • How does the Lord care?
  • He identifies with his people.
  • Hannah says that her mouth derides her enemies because of the Lord’s salvation. But then by the end of her prayer it has become clear that her enemies were actually the Lord’s enemies.
  • Peninnah has aligned herself with the enemies of God. She has opposed Hannah because of what the Lord has done, and she has scorned the Lord by tarnishing the sanctuary.
  • This is what Satan does by means of the various evil spirits. They remind us of our status, what we consider our rights, and we believe them and begin to tear down those whom our Lord has called his own.
  • To be an enemy to our neighbor is to align ourselves with sin, Satan and death. These three are the Lord’s enemies. And any who align themselves are in danger of being borken to pieces as the Lord does to his adversaries.
  • His work and salvation belong to us.
  • Hannah repeats this phrase; “in the Lord”. Her heart exults in the Lord, she is exalted in the Lord. And finally she can rejoice because of the Lord’s salvation.
  • The picture we are given is that it is the Lord’s doing. He was acting all along; but it was always for her benefit. Hannah makes it clear that her glory, strength and joy are a direct result of how YHWH has moved in history. Her being blessed with a son is one of many instances where the Lord has “brought up the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes.”
  • ILLUSTRATION:
    • All of what we have been saying is good and right. The truth of it, though, is that I can relate much better to the rival wife, Peninnah, than I can to Hannah.
  • I am going to tell you one of the most shameful things I have ever done.
  • In the 4th year of my primary education, I was accepted to a special program, a program for accelerated students. I had been excelling at my previous school, finishing my work before my classmates and so on.
  • I had made some great friends in this new program, and was really enjoying this close group. I felt valued, welcomed, I felt enjoyed by my friends. I made it, I arrived at the best possible situation.
  • Then one of the kids from my church was transferred into my class. He had been bored in his classes, and as is common in the U.S., this is often taken to be a sign of advanced intelligence. You are bored because you get it all already.
    • I grew up with this kid. He had some strange ways about him. Not only did he act strange, but he also had some medical problems that made him look funny too. His nose was always running; which looked horrible. On top of that, instead of wiping it with a tissue, he licked the stream of snot that ran from his nose .
    • His ear had some skin problem, which he had a cream for, and which he applied in the middle of our class sessions.
  • All of a sudden, this new kid with whom I was associated was not just new, he was completely embarassing. All that had been given to me was threatened. I couldn’t be identified with this snot-licking kid, not if I was going to continue to be liked by my classmates. My new status was under threat. I couldn’t let this status go; it would be a violation of my rights.
  • So I acted. I began a systematic program of mocking, tearing down, degrading, ridiculing, and publicly betraying this childhood friend of mine. The boy who attended all my birthday parties as a little boy was now my enemy because he threatened my status.
  • This ruthless, public mocking went on day after day, month after month. I was harsher than all my friends to him. I risked getting in trouble by my own teacher in order to shame him publicly. I wanted to not only distance myself from him, but to demonstrate to everyone else why they should hate him too.
  • Finally, I got my way. One day we showed up to class, and he wasn’t there. His parents had transferred him back to his old school.
  • They never told us why he left. But there was no question; anyone with that amount of constant scorn, and public hatred poured over them day after day will break. They will need to run away, and heal. I am sure he didn’t perform well academically during that time; who could in his situation?
  • Well, interestingly enough my life returned to normal. I was back in my sweet spot of having great friends, and being one of the smart kids in the school. I went to great birthday parties, and we even took a week long trip as a class to some geological wonders in California.
  • My next year was even better. I had a blast and learned a lot. It was as if I had succeeded. A threat came and I snuffed it out with all the hatred of hell behind me.
  • But then we all graduated primary school, and went on to what we call middle school. But most of my friends went to different schools. The ones who did come with me ended up in different groups of friends, none of whom I fit in with. I did not have a place.
  • I went throughout each day quietly, trying to avoid being made fun of by all the new kids in my grade.
  • I had no friends, no one to sit with at lunch, no one to joke around with during class. No one to defend me.
  • Now I was the one who was ridiculed. All of my pride and entitlement surrounding my status was thrown out the window. The tables were turned, my status was reversed. My arrogance was subverted.
  • And all of my malice which I carried with me soon became directed at myself. I began to believe all of what my classmates were saying about me. This went on for sometime as I became horribly depressed. It finally got to the point where I began considering what it would mean to take my life. Now as a boy I would not have actually done it; but I was quite desperate for the pain to stop.
  • In the span of two years I had gone from the oppressor to the oppressed. I had my status completely turned upside down.
  • It took the next three years for the Lord to slowly wear own my stubborness. I was made low, but was not humbled and brought back to the Lord until I was 14.
  • By the time I finished my secondary education I had reconnected with my childhood friend whom I ridiculed. I was able to apologize to him. I had been brought low by the Lord and I finally understood what I had put him through.
  • The point here is just this: while the Lord did not humble me right away, he certainly did eventually. The Lord vindicated my friend, because this is what he does. He defends his people. And when it is his people who are setting themselves in opposition to Him, he has no problem stripping them of all the blessings and status which he gave them in the first place in order to humble them. My scorn and hatred was silenced.
  • APPLICATION:

He is the King, in charge → He can actually do something. All that you have was given to you from the Lord. He can take it away too. humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, lest he oppose you You have reason to hope You have reason to repent Polygamy: A biblical rendering The only command we have against polygamy is simply a positive command for elders and deacons, that they have one spouse only. These are the people who are to exemplify the Christian faith; living out a righteous life, not simply following the rules. This is the exact issue we run into: while it is permissible it is not encouraged. This is an issue of how we read the text. Polygamy is rampant in the OT, but it is never portrayed in a good light. The first man to have two wives was one of the most wicked descendants of Cain. Abraham and Jacob were harassed by their wives. Elkanah is a good man. There is no question that he loves both his wives. It may be that he loved Hannah more and this is why Peninnah hated her so deeply. But the text doesn’t tell us. What is important to notice is that despite Elkanah’s overwhelming affection for Hannah, and goodness to his family there is still deep, bitter, devastating damage done to both wives because of the inherent competition between them. This rivalry and the resulting deep sorrow is made clear (1:6, 7, 10, 15) over and over again. This damage is so deep that only YHWH can repair it. What does this mean for us? If you have not married, or only have one wife: please be warned, and please search your heart and examine your motivations. If you already have two wives; do not put one of them away. When Abraham does this it is to protect the child of promise, Isaac, and so to safeguard the work of God. The only thing you will accomplish in putting away one of your wives is to make her destitute, and put her in great danger.

Conclusion:

Hannah’s prayer closes with these words: “The adversaries of YHWH shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. YHWH will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed”

The Lord has a king through whom he will break all his enemies, judge and bring to light all evil, and bring everyone under his reign. We know who this king is: Jesus. In fact, Paul, in Philippians 2, tells us that this king has been exalted to the right hand of God his Father so that every knee may bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

But what else does Paul say? That King Jesus, who was equal with God, and truly had every right to maintain his status as the glorified Son, this King willingly lowered himself. He gave himself over to God’s enemies and let them do with him as they wanted. Those who had aligned themselves with the arrogance and pride of Satan now exercised their God-given authority to snuff out this Son of God. And this King Jesus let them do it. He was murdered by a state-approved, religious elite approved crucifixion.

But what? He is the true King, and so he defeated even death. The enemies of God exhausted themselves on him and he took all of it; but he got up afterward. He rose from the grave, as the Lord over the living and the dead. He defeated death, and has been vindicated by His Father.

Yet Our Lord, in His glorious vindication uses his status as King to extend grace to us who were his enemies. We have often been his enemy and aligned ourselves with evil. We have often given our loyalty to the evil spirits of our time. We have often opposed the work of God, and loved what is evil. We have often been in great need of reconciliation, forgiveness with King Jesus.

To be his subject then means that we have been humbled and asked for his forgiveness. His subjects are all his old enemies who have now been reconciled. There is no one who has not been forgiven for their own evil and oppression.

To be his subject then, also means that we are to extend this grace, this forgiveness to our oppressors. We are called not only to give up our own oppression, but to extend forgiveness as we have been forgiven. This is the gospel of the kingdom.

The only question that remains then is just this: will you continue in your oppressing others, or will you come humbly to the crucified Lord and be reconciled?

Bearing true witness: not the same as proof

In reference to the structuralist interpretive school among those who have agreed with the dichotomy between absolute objective knoweldge, and radical skepticism.

For it is not enough to fill our minds with biblical ideas, vocabulary, and images, unless we think that by ddoing so we are being led to think true thoughts about what is actually there – that the Bible actually refers to peope, events and even God himself, as living outside the Bible, and that the Bible bears true witness to them (even though, transparently, it cannot bear exhustive witness to them, or produce ominscient knowledge of these extra-biblical realities among those who read about them in the Bible’s pages). We are not saved by biblical ideas: this is a narrowly intellectualist approach. We are saved by the God and the biblical events to which the Bible refers, bearing true witness.

Pg 65, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed., Carson and Moo.

The usage of witness and testimony in the NT, especially John, is prolific. It seems to stand as a symbol of a godly epistemology: a humble but trustworthy approach. I am becoming more and more interested in the sort of knowledge the Bible expects us to have, and expects us to gain by believing; its not exhaustive, and its not skeptical.

DFR