November 27, 2007

On the angry gods: Part 2

There was a longer break in between the last post and this post. Sorry. That's what happens when you have a four day weekend and a pile of work. Moving on to the next section.

When we last left Abraham, God had just asked him to sacrifice his son--the one he had been waiting years to have. But then God stopped Abraham just in time and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Rob pointed out that most people interpret this passage as a test for Abraham. God was testing Abraham's willingness to follow God and obey God. It's as though God was testing to make sure Abraham was worthy of being the father of His nation. Rob presents the idea that this view of the story is wrong. God was showing just the opposite of what many people would first think about this. God was showing Abraham (and the future generations who would hear this story or read this story) that He is not like the other gods--He doesn't ask us to do barbaric things like sacrifice our own children (or any human for that matter). What an amazing and freeing concept! To go from angry, distant gods who were never happy for long--to a God who spoke to you and desired a relationship. This is a God who provides (the ram).

This interpretation makes more sense when you keep in mind what the world was like when this story first occurred and when it was being told and re-told years later. I think Christians often forget that the Bible was taking place in the middle of the same history we learn about in school. This story was taking place during the time when people believed all those crazy gods actually existed. So try to imagine what others thought of Abraham and his story and compare it to what they most likely believed. Our interpretation of the story is tainted by our world and what we live in now--a time when we aren't expected to sacrifice our own family or possessions or careers because we live in a 'me first' world. How dare God ask Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son? But if we lived in a world where our gods demanded we sacrifice constantly for them and it was the common occurrence, then what would it be like to hear about a God who didn't demand constant and unreasonable sacrifice and always provided for the sacrifice we did make?

As anyone who has attempted to read the Old Testament has found, God gave the Jews a lot of laws. A lot of them. But even these laws were different because you knew exactly where you stood with God. You knew how much sacrifice to make and when to make them. If you followed these laws, you and God were on good terms. If you didn't follow them, well...just read what happened to the Israelites. Fun stuff.

Rob also pointed out that there were five sacrifices required of the Israelites and they each had a different purpose. I couldn't write as fast as he spoke, so I looked them up. In the first chapters of Leviticus we learn about the five types of sacrifices:

1. The Burnt Offering: The only sacrifice where the whole animal is burnt. The animal must be male and without defect. This sacrifice showed their devotion to God.
2. The Grain Offering: An unbloody sacrifice of grain, flour or cakes. Part was burnt and part was eaten by the priests.
3. The Fellowship Offering: A male or female herd animal was sacrificed. Part was burnt and part was eaten by the priests. This sacrifice showed fellowship or peace with God.
4. The Sin Offering:
A bull, goat, sheep, dove or flour could be offered. This sacrifice was made on special occasions such as the Day of Atonement. Part of the animals were burnt and part eaten by the priests. The Sin Offering signified a restoring of the covenant relationship with God.
5. The Guilt Offering:
A ram was sacrificed. Part was burnt and part eaten by priests. This sacrifice was offered for specific sins.

Sounds pretty involved, right? And that doesn't even go into all the detail. But remember that this way of life offered them something they never had before: A clear and consistent standard to live by so they knew exactly where they stood with God. No guessing games. And any parenting book will tell you that people crave discipline and structure and rules. They want to know what they have to do to earn the love and devotion of others, including God. They want a three-step process or 40 days to solve a problem. We love rules and regulations. We love to do things by ourselves (especially Americans love independence and not having to work in groups).

But then God did something even more radical and amazing and freeing: He moved on to phase 2 and sent His son, Jesus.

November 21, 2007

On the angry gods: Part 1

I started writing a post yesterday but just haven't been feeling it. Then tonight I went to hear Rob Bell speak as part of his tour, The gods Aren't Angry. I made the last-minute decision to go earlier this week after reading a couple of interviews and reviews of Rob Bell. I've seen a few of his Nooma videos and I'm always amazed at his ability to explain things in such simple and profound ways. I could have listened to him speak for another five hours tonight, but then my brain would have overloaded and I'd have passed out and missed Thanksgiving.

If you are able to attend of one his 'lectures,' I'd highly recommend it. Go buy tickets. Now. But since many of you (all four of you who read this blog) probably won't be in any of the cities left on the tour, and because I like to explain and regurgitate things I've heard or read, I'm going to give you the gist of what he said. And I'll probably add some of my own thoughts. I'll probably break it up into two or three sections because I highly doubt many people would have the patience to read a blog post that is the approximate size of the Constitution of the United States.

So sit back, relax, grab a drink, put on some good music...and let's go over what I just heard tonight. It's good stuff:

Rob (I'm going to drop the last name for the sake of saving four keystrokes) began by telling the story of how man-made religions were born: Thousands of years ago, people began noticing how all things were connected. The plant grew based on the sun and rain and since the people depended on this plant for survival, they began to give importance to sun and rain. Then they noticed how almost everything in their life is connected to some force or pattern. So they began giving these 'forces' names and identities. These identities had human characteristics--anger, selfishness, pettiness.

So man and woman tried to appease these moody gods and goddesses. If the crop was good, they'd give them part of the harvest to thank them. If the crop was even better the next year, they'd give them even more of the harvest. But if the harvest was bad, they'd have to give even more to make the gods happy. It was all about giving and giving and giving some more. You never knew if you were doing the right thing or making the right sacrifice because these gods were distant and never made contact with humans. So you just kept making sacrifices and giving to these distant gods, hoping you were doing the right thing.

An important note: The Bible never took place outside of history. The stories of the Old Testament were present and happening during all of this.

Then comes Abraham. Suddenly, one of the gods--the true God--steps down and talks directly to a human. God tells Abraham to leave his father's house--the house where good ol' Abe had learned about the other gods and goddesses--and follow Him. So Abraham does. Then things get really interesting. Keep in mind that Abraham is living during a time where people sacrifice anything and everything, including their first-born child, to appease the distant gods.

God has promised Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. When he finally has a son, God does the unfathomable and asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. Any reasonable, 21st century parent would have said no or fought God or attempted to refuse Him. But Abraham didn't. Why? Because this was not an unreasonable request in that day and age. All the false gods of the time, the gods Abraham's father taught him about, asked for the same sort of sacrifice. If not specifically for their child, then for constant sacrifices of other kinds. But as Abraham is raising the knife to sacrifice Isaac, God stops him. He says you don't have to sacrifice your child for me.

Further proof that this 'new' God is not like the other gods. Our God talks to us. Our God longs to have communion and a relationship with us. Our God is not angry.

November 16, 2007

On Life Insurance Ads

I was reading an article online and as I scrolled down I ran into one of those ads that sits right in the middle of an article. This particular ad was for life insurance and struck me as somewhat humorous. The picture that was used looked as though it was taken straight from a very special Lifetime movie, starring someone whose name sounds vaguely that the girl from Family Ties? No, I think it's the girl from The Torkelsons...

Coming soon to Lifetime: The Stepmom: The story of how one little boy took back what was his from a woman you know is evil because she wore red lipstick to the funeral. With a very special appearance from the girl in Mystic Pizza (No, not Julia Roberts. No, not the one who gets married...the other one.)

When little Timmy's father remarried just a few short months after the tragic death of Timmy's mother, rumors flew about the mysterious woman with the bright red lipstick. When Timmy's father died only four months later and left everything to his new wife, little Timmy decided to take matters into his own hands and get to the bottom of his stepmother's sordid affairs. The community rallied around this little boy with a mop of dark brown hair, and helped put the pieces of his shattered life back together. Premiering December 2, with an encore presentation December 3, 5, 6, 7, 15, 21 and a special Christmas Day presentation with limited commercial interruptions.

November 13, 2007

On Feeding Others

My office mate just showed me another way to kill time at work (in three-minute increments only!). I can take a break from work, all while feeding others and improving my vocabulary.

Go to and all you have to do is choose which definition of the given word is correct. With every correct guess, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations. Not only will you improve your vocabulary, but you'll be helping others. Guessing from the different corporate logos that appear on the bottom of the page, this thing has a lot of big-name sponsors.

And if you're like 99% of all people and wish you could get rid of the excess junk mail you receive, there is a way to help. You know the National Do-Not-Call List? Yeah, there's a Do-Not-Mail List that is maintained by the very people who make the junk mail. Their reasoning is that it will save them money to only send junk mail to people who actually want it. So go here and sign up!

November 8, 2007

On Dating Trends

I just read an article from (holy schnikies I love that site) about some research the author did on dating preferences. No one will be surprised to learn that men prize beauty highest and are turned off by women who they perceive to be smarter or more ambitious than themselves. Women, of course, prize intellect and ambition much higher than beauty. Also, women are much more discriminant about race than men. Men will date any race (as long as she's pretty), but white women most often prefer white men. Black women prefer black men, and so on.

"When women were the ones choosing, the more intelligence and ambition the men had, the better. So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own. Women, on the other hand, care more about how men think and perform, and they don't mind being outdone on those scores."

So what does all of this mean for me, personally? I'll have to continue searching for a man whose face doesn't blanch, palms get sweaty and he mentally moves me from the "datable" list to the "friends only" list whenever he meets a woman who shows even the slightest amount of intellect or thirst for knowledge. Does that sound arrogant? Perhaps, but I don't score high on the beauty scale, so it all evens out. I mean, it usually evens out in the movies and they couldn't make movies about stuff that's not realistic, right? Right?

November 1, 2007

On Siamese Twins?

Maybe I shouldn't laugh at this, but let me say I'm not laughing at the twins, I'm laughing at the fact that Mt. Airy lists this under their top ten reasons to visit their town.

See here.

The Siamese Twins (aren't they supposed to be called conjoined twins?) are number nine in their top ten reasons to visit Mt. Airy (the town that Mayberry of The Andy Griffith Show was modeled after). They came in above cycling. When I saw that they had made the list, I'll admit I laughed out loud. I'm still giggling to myself as I type this.

My question is: what is special about these particular conjoined twins? Why is there a deal made about these guys? Maybe it's because they both got married and together had 21 kids. TWENTY-ONE kids! Let's pause for a moment to think about that...

Okay, stop thinking about it because it might gross you out to think about how that's possible.

God bless America and its quirky small towns. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go add a trip to the grave site of the Siamese twins to my trip itinerary.