Sunday, February 24, 2008

Elijah: A Troubler of Israel (2/24/08)

Here is Sunday's sermon. We are making our way through the Bible. Today we visit Elijah. We played the Joni Mitchell song, "Shine" for our meditation.

Elijah: A Troubler of Israel
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
February 24, 2008

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him… I Kings 19:9-13

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16

by Joni Mitchell

Oh let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on Vegas and Wall Street
Place your bets
Shine on the fishermen
With nothing in their nets
Shine on rising oceans and evaporating seas
Shine on our Frankenstein technologies
Shine on science
With its tunnel vision
Shine on fertile farmland
Buried under subdivisions

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on the dazzling darkness
That restores us in deep sleep
Shine on what we throw away
And what we keep

Shine on Reverend Pearson
Who threw away
The vain old God
kept Dickens and Rembrandt and Beethoven
And fresh plowed sod
Shine on good earth, good air, good water
And a safe place
For kids to play
Shine on bombs exploding
Half a mile away

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on world-wide traffic jams
Honking day and night
Shine on another asshole
Passing on the right!
Shine on the red light runners
Busy talking on their cell phones
Shine on the Catholic Church
And the prisons that it owns
Shine on all the Churches
They all love less and less
Shine on a hopeful girl
In a dreamy dress

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on good humor
Shine on good will
Shine on lousy leadership
Licensed to kill
Shine on dying soldiers
In patriotic pain
Shine on mass destruction
In some God's name!
Shine on the pioneers
Those seekers of mental health
Craving simplicity
They traveled inward
Past themselves...
May all their little lights shine

May your little light shine.

May your little light shine.

In Joni Mitchell’s song, Shine, she makes a reference to Rev. Pearson.   The line goes:

Shine on Reverend Pearson
Who threw away
The vain old God
kept Dickens and Rembrandt and Beethoven
And fresh plowed sod

I didn’t know who this Rev. Pearson was. With the magic of the internet

Shine on the internet, by the way…
May it be a vehicle of liberation
…not exploitation.

Anyway, with the magic of the internet, I discovered that Rev. Carlton Pearson is a minister in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is from an NPR interview:

Carlton Pearson's church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in Hell.

He was a Pentecostal preacher. His pals included Oral Roberts. He was on TV, visited the White House. Then he began to have second thoughts about what he was preaching. He wondered if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to Hell. He decided no.   Once he started preaching that, his church left him.

But then new folks started showing up, curious about his beliefs. So he has renamed his church, New Dimensions. He now pastors a much more inclusive church.

I find it curious how we can read the same book and come up with such different ideas about God. I can see how. The Bible is a mixed bag. In it you can find justification, or at least people have, for Crusades, Hell, slavery, the oppression of women, gays, and anyone who is foreign, creationism, the “End Times,” and snake handling.

Also, in this same collection of writings, you can find justification, or at least people have, for abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, women’s equality, gay rights, non-violence, justice for the poor, for the environment, and an inclusive, loving God.

I guess it depends upon the light we bring to the Bible.

May your little light shine.

I find myself feeling gratitude for teachers who have not given up on the Bible. They focused their little lights on these complex texts and found something powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming in them.

One such teacher who has been a helpful guide for me in reading the Hebrew scriptures is Walter Brueggemann. I have mentioned him before. I have not had him personally as a teacher. He taught at Columbia Theological Seminary near Atlanta. I did have his brother-in-law though, Patrick Miller, of Princeton. Both are excellent teachers.

Dr. Brueggemann has written and taught extensively on the Hebrew scriptures. He brings a light of liberation to these texts. He finds in these texts a devastating critique of systems of domination. His light doesn’t blind the text. He doesn’t blot out the dark stuff that is there. His light respects the complexity and the ambiguity of the texts and the God revealed there. His light comes at an angle to bring out what we could easily miss.

My sermon is not about Dr. Brueggemann. But I do need to acknowledge his influence in my thinking. He has helped me understand the role of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. One of his books I find myself re-reading is The Prophetic Imagination. I first read this book in seminary. It is a book about prophetic ministry. He writes:

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”

I want to share a bit more about that from the conclusion of this book, The Prophetic Imagination:

“I have tried to say that prophetic ministry does not consist of spectacular acts of social crusading or of abrasive measures of indignation. Rather, prophetic ministry consists of offering an alternative perception of reality and in letting people see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and [God’s] will for justice.The issues of God’s freedom and [God’s] will for justice are not always and need not be expressed primarily in the big issues of the day. They can be discerned wherever people try to live together and worry about their future and their identity.

“The task of prophetic ministry is to evoke an alternative community that knows it is about different things in different ways….Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely to be penetrated by grief and lament. Death, and that is our state, does not require indignation as much as it requires anguish and the sharing in the pain. The public sharing of pain is one way to let the reality sink in and let the death go.

Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new features can be believed in and embraced by us. There is a yearning for energy in a world grown weary. And we do know that the only act that energizes is a word, a gesture, an act that believes in our future and affirms it to us….” (pp. 110-1)

That is Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination.

Let’s turn to the story of Elijah. The documents I and II Kings are not about the Kings of Israel and Judah. They are about the prophetic imagination. The documents, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are called in the Hebrew Scriptures the Former Prophets. They are not history. They are written from a prophetic point of view.

You will read along and come to something like this: “Are not all of his deeds recorded in the annals of something or other.” The author knows that you can go and look up the official, royal history. Those documents are lost to us now. Then, presumably, they would have known about them.

The author is telling us, “Yeah, you can go visit the Reagan museum.You can get the dates of his activities and pronouncements and read about his conquests and his dashing personality. But here is the story you won’t find there. This is what his policies did to these people over here. This is his story in light of the God who proclaims justice for the widow and the orphan.”

I am not picking exclusively on Reagan. The prophets would have a devastating critique of the Clinton museum as well. The Books of Kings are commentary on the kings in light of the prophetic imagination. That commentary is rarely favorable.

Elijah the Tishbite enters the scene in chapter 17 of I Kings. He confronts Ahab, the king. “There will be no rain,” announces Elijah.The point for us is not to worry about what causes rain. We don’t need to go the way of the wacko television evangelists who claim that weather patterns are God’s judgment.

The storytellers want us to know that Ahab’s policies and personality will not make it rain, either. Ahab is not going to be able to care for the widows and orphans. The well-being of the people is not dependent on Ahab’s charm.

Ahab tells Elijah that he is a ‘troubler of Israel.’ We have heard that before, haven’t we. We were all just fine, before you troublemakers came in upsetting things. Elijah stands up straight and says, “No, you are the troubler of Israel. Your injustice has not gone unnoticed.”

After Elijah makes his pronouncement, the Word of YHWH comes to him and tells him to go to a creek. There he is fed by a raven. Elijah, the prophet, must be vulnerable and needy. You can imagine what food a raven might bring. It is less than appetizing.

Then the Word of YHWH tells Elijah to visit a widow and get food from her. She has nothing left but a little oil, a little meal, and after it is used up, she and her son plan to die of starvation. That is the reality. Ahab is not going to die of starvation. He is not going to die of thirst. Those who have learned how to manipulate production and consumption for their benefit will do fine in the drought.

YHWH instructs Elijah to go to the widow and to be vulnerable. He is to accept her hospitality. Elijah learns her story. Elijah tells her that the oil and the meal will not run out. It doesn’t. The storyteller wants us to know that YHWH hears the widow. YHWH knows her story whereas Ahab does not. The prophet needs to learn her story, too. If the prophet is going to shine any light worthy of trust, the prophet needs to experience the vulnerability.

Elijah returns and challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a contest.Who can bring down fire on the altar? The prophets of Baal cannot.Elijah mocks them. These prophets who have controlled the king need a good mocking. The voice of the prophet of YHWH is the voice of ridicule of the status quo.

Elijah is outside the king’s house. Elijah is not in the inner circle. The prophets of Baal have the king’s ear. They are the ones who lead the prayer breakfasts at the White House. They are the ones who say the most important issues are abortion and banning gay marriage. They are the ones who encourage the king in all of his military exploits.

Elijah mocks these folks and their god. There is nothing that exposes the charade of false prophets like a good ridicule. Elijah laughs at them. “Maybe Baal is out for a walk. Maybe he is relieving himself!” Elijah taunts them.

Then Elijah calls down the fire and the altar is consumed. Then for good measure he has all the prophets of Baal killed. That may sound a little harsh. It’s only a story! The storyteller wants us to know that YHWH is cleaning house of the false prophets. Ahab and his policies of death and his prophets of Baal are no longer welcome. This is not a justification for killing people in God’s name. We have had enough of that.

In response to Elijah’s defeat of the king’s prophets, Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, declares a fatwah on Elijah. Elijah is on the run. Elijah gets depressed. Elijah complains to YHWH that he is trying his best and now his life is threatened and he would just as soon die before he gets killed. This is a good story for tired activists.

This is the story for the activists who work and work for the environment or for justice for the poor or against militarism or whatever. They feel that no one cares. No one is listening. The world is going to hell and I am all alone and everyone hates me. Waah, waah, wash.

Throughout the scriptures, the prophets need to be humbled again and again. They need to be told and shown that it is not about them.So Elijah is told to go and wait in a cave. Just sit there and shut up, says YHWH. Elijah sits there. There is an earthquake and a fire, and a great wind, but YHWH is in none of these things. Then there is the sound of sheer silence. Then Elijah is ready to hear the voice of YHWH.

YHWH gives him an assignment. He tells him that he is not alone.There will be others who will join him as he offers his prophetic message. After Elijah is gone, others will take his mantle, Elisha is one.

Elijah’s story ends with a chariot that swings low and carries him to heaven. That image is the reminder that the prophet is still alive.Elijah, the prophetic archetype, is still present.

The message of YHWH’s justice, the little flicker of candle light for human dignity will not go out completely. There will be dark times.The forces of oppression and ignorance will seem powerful beyond measure. The drums for war and destruction will beat louder and louder. The prophets of Baal will return again to the White House and to all the seats of power.

And YHWH will again call for a voice of compassion from a prophet just like you. This prophet, like you, will be called to care for those who are hurting. This prophet will be called to let her light shine in some way that may seem small, but is not.

That prophet will be called to feel the pain and anguish of suffering people. That prophet will be called to lament. That prophet will be called to cry with those who are crying. That prophet will be called to be vulnerable so that she will know that it is not up to her but to the light within her. That prophet will be called in his daily life to dream of another way to live, not to lose hope, but to let that little light shine.

May your little light shine.

y your little light shine.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Evolutionary Christianity (2/10/08 Evolution Sunday)

Evolutionary Christianity
John Shuck

February 10th, 2008
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

The church has a hard time with Evolution.  It is the church after all that builds Creation Museums and funds authors to write books to attack Evolution.   It is the church—religious people—who want to introduce so-called Intelligent Design into classrooms as science.

Three years ago, Dr. Michael Zimmerman who teaches at Butler University introduced the Clergy Letter Project.  His goal was to get clergy to sign a letter affirming that Evolution should be taught in schools not as one theory among others, but as the scientific theory it is.   Zimmerman asked for clergy in particular because he knows that the church is the problem.  Along with 11,000 other clergy, I have endorsed the following letter, called an Open Letter Considering Religion and Science:

“‘Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible — the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark — convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

“‘We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.

We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.’”

I endorsed that letter three years ago.   Since that letter was introduced Evolution Sunday and now, Evolution Weekend has picked up.  Over 800 congregations almost the double the number from last year are participating in one way or another. 

I received an e-mail from a minister who was angry with me that our congregation was participating in Evolution Sunday.  This is what he wrote:

Open Letter to Pastor John Shuck,

What you have espoused and embraced and have now taught others is nothing short of outright apostasy. The signatories of the "Open Letter Considering Religion and Science" have affixed their names to an apostate document. It is a damnable denial of the biblical gospel.

If Genesis is not true and accurate as to its account of special creation, then the gospel is entirely irrelevant; for death did not, as the Bible says, enter as the result of human sin (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12). In that case death was entirely natural and normal, something from which no person needs saving. The Bible declares death to be an intruder and the immediate result of sin; it entered human experience through Adam's one act of disobedience and was defeated by Christ's obedience (Romans 5:18). Theistic evolution is an apostate compromise; it utterly denies the Bible's teaching about both man, sin, and salvation from sin and death.

I won’t read all of it.  That is enough to get the point.  That was a letter by a minister to me for signing the letter on religion and science and for telling folks that I did so.    The church is threatened by Evolution.   For this churchman, Evolution is not just a mistaken theory, but it is a doctrine that if embraced will send people to hell.  

For the minister who wrote me the letter, Evolution dismisses the saving work of Jesus.  If evolution is true, then death was not the result of human sin.  If other living things including human beings died before Eve ate the fruit, there is no need for the atoning death of Christ to usher us into eternal life.    

Theology is the issue.   I am going to take a shot at addressing that critique.  Before I do that, I want to call your attention to an excellent article in this week’s Christian Century magazine entitled:  “God in Evolution.”  It is written by Amy Frykholm, an independent scholar.   The article begins:

While controversies over evolution continue to arise in some sectors of American Christianity, most mainline Christians have made their peace with Darwin.  We may not grasp all the nuances of the scientific debate, but we have concluded that evolutionary theory is good science and therefore must be compatible with good theology.  Darwin’s name doesn’t send chills up our spines.  We are theistic evolutionists:  we believe that natural selection is evidently part of God’s method of shaping the natural world.

But I suspect that the compatibility of evolutionary science with Christian theology is more often asserted than explored.  I, for one, do most of my thinking about science out of one mental box and my thinking about religion out of another.  On questions about evolution, the origin of life and the future of the planet, I look into the science box.  On questions about God, salvation, theology and ethics, I turn to the religion box.  While I think that the contents of the two boxes are compatible, I rarely try to work out the terms of their relationship.

Perhaps that’s because the contents of the two boxes are, when mixed, still combustible.  When theology faces off against the account of the world set forth by evolutionary biology, God’s goodness and power and God’s plans for the future seem to be called into question with new force.

That was Amy Frykholm writing in the Christian Century, “God in Evolution.”  She explores some of these questions of God in light of Evolution in her article.   I think she speaks the truth regarding how mainline Christians regard Evolution and faith.  We tend not to think too much about it. 

It is the same way these good liberal folks regard the Bible.   For them the Bible doesn’t challenge Evolution anymore than Homer’s Iliad challenges Evolution.    Evolution and theology is not a problem for many of us because we don’t worry too much about theology anyway.  If we do it is in a separate mental box.   

However, many people, and that number seems to be growing, do care a great deal about the Bible and theology.  They care so much about it that they are making life miserable for the rest of us.    Someone said to me once that he decided to read the Bible in order to understand fundamentalists.   I think that is a good idea.  I think we should read the Qur’an as well, if for nothing more than that very reason.   What is it that makes these people tick?

But there is more at stake.  I think it is important for Christians to connect our faith with science.   Theology is not merely abstract principles.  Theology is an articulation of faith.  It is an attempt to express the “wow.”  Science helps us understand how the universe works. Faith helps us find meaning and blessedness within it.      

My colleague, Bob Cornwall, who pastors a congregation in California put it simply and eloquently in his sermon last year on Evolution Sunday.  He said: 

“Science deals with the how and faith deals with the wow!”

I agree with Bob.  The challenge for humanity in the 21st century is to get the “wow” back.   Before Copernicus and Darwin, human beings fit into their understanding of the cosmos.  We heard the music of the spheres.  We had a place for God and ourselves in God’s creation.  But as science unfolded new understandings of how of the universe works our theology has yet to catch up.  

The result has been on one hand a war in which theology denies science.  On the other hand, the result is a schizophrenia in which we have cut off our scientific understanding from our faith.   I don’t think either of those options bode well for the long-term survival of humanity.   We cannot live long and well if we are dis-integrated.   Human beings are meaning makers.  We have to find a way to make meaning of our world or else we fall into despair.

If Christianity is going to speak meaningfully to humanity in the 21st century, it is going to have to do better than either declare war on science or try to exist in its own separate bubble.   I believe the task is nothing short of reformulating all of our doctrines in light of science, and evolution in particular. 

It is exciting that many people are realizing this and are writing about it.  Here are three books you may find interesting:

Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution!  How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.

Michael and his wife Connie Barlow will be coming to our church in September.  More details on that to come.

A second book of interest is by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, The View from the Center of the Universe:  Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos

The third I have just discovered, is by Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos:  An Ecological Christianity.

These are all starter books.  Their ideas may be dismissed ten years from now.  We have far more questions than answers.  The point is that they are taking a shot at it. 

With that, I now will attempt to answer my critic who said that evolution is a damnable denial of the biblical gospel.   For him, Evolution leaves no place for Christ.  Here is my response to that.  This is a brief sketch of the work of Christ in light of evolution. 

Jesus was a healer.  Throughout the gospels we find Jesus healing people.  He restores them to wholeness.  Not only that, but he says again and again that it is their faith that makes them well.  He was able to show people that they had the power within themselves to be agents of healing for themselves and for others.  The sources of healing in our 14 billion year cosmic history are built in to the universe.  Faith or trust enables us to uncover and embrace these sources of healing.   

Jesus was also a teacher of wisdom.  Through his parables and teaching he invited people to embrace wisdom so that they could be agents of healing and blessing.  Wisdom is different from knowledge.  If knowledge is what science can show us about the universe, wisdom is using that knowledge to bless and to heal.   A friend of mine quipped that knowledge tells us that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom tells us not to put a tomato in a fruit salad. 

The gospels also tell us that Jesus was executed.  He was a victim of violence.   Also built into the universe in our 14 billion year history are violence, destruction, and sin.   We know there is evil in the world.  Genocide, torture, and war are part of our cosmic history.   Today we face an ecological crisis.  We are soiling the bed in which we sleep.  The crucifixion of Jesus can be seen as a symbol of the destruction to Earth and Earth’s inhabitants.  Violence, greed, ignorance, and fear—the forces that executed Jesus—are crucifying life on Earth.  

Also built into the universe from its beginning is death.  This is the main point of disagreement I would have with my critic.  There never was a time in which there was no death.  If there was no death there would be no life.  Everything that lives dies.  Imagine how Earth would manage if there was no death. If some life-form were able to live indefinitely, it would take over, and then eventually it would die as there would be nothing left to eat.   However, from death are the seeds of new life.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: 

“I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

Death makes space for life.  What Jesus I think is saying here is that eternal life is not about living forever.  Eternal life is the way of wisdom.  If we try to cling as individuals or as a species to the survival of our egos, we will lose what is truly valuable and beautiful about life itself.   We will also cause destruction and pain for others.   When Jesus says we are to hate our life in this world, he is speaking through hyperbole about not clinging to our own self-survival as the epitome of the meaning of life itself.   We must learn how to embrace our own death in order to experience eternal life, the way of wisdom, healing, and blessedness. 

The gospels also tell us that Jesus rose on the third day.   The mystery of resurrection in evolutionary Christianity tells me that wisdom, healing, and love are never lost.  This seed is scattered and it flourishes.  The resurrection of Jesus is the symbol of a renewed creation.   The power of life in the universe is stronger than the power of violence and greed.  Like the stars that exploded and their elements scattered throughout the universe to become the seeds of life on Earth, so too, the healing, the love, the wisdom, and the blessedness that we nurture in our own lives will also scatter throughout the universe long after our physical lives are over. 

My little sketch is not the only one available.   There are orthodox Christian theologians from Roman Catholic to Baptist who affirm both orthodox Christianity and Evolution. 
Human beings, whether Christian or not, need to search for wisdom in order to transform knowledge.  Doing so may help us articulate a robust faith in light of our ecological crisis.  

My faith tells me that Jesus showed us the way of healing and wisdom.  The meaning of life is to discover and embrace wisdom and healing and to live it.   If we look at the life, healing, wisdom teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus in light of evolution and our 14 billion year cosmic history, there are possibilities for Christians to embrace their faith and science. 

The Spirit of Jesus invites us to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘wow’ to this incredible unfolding creation, and finally to say, “I volunteer to be a healer, and a learner and teacher of wisdom.”


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Conquest (2/3/08)

John Shuck

February 3rd, 2008
Fist Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

As the year 2000 was approaching, our village in upstate New York did a millennium celebration. It was held at the high school. Local musicians performed. It was a full house. The organizer of the event asked me if I could summarize the 20th century in about three to five minutes. I am glad she didn’t ask me to summarize the millennium.

She asked me if I could, to do so without a lot of references to the wars. She was looking for a nice, humorous history of the 20th century.

So I put a little thing together. It wasn’t exactly poetry. But it wasn’t prose either. I used images, slogans from popular culture, song titles, and personalities that I strung together in a quasi-narrative. My Tuesday morning Bible study was helpful. They were folks about my parents’ age and gave me personal memories regarding events long before I was born. The final product was well-received. I might share it with you sometime.

The point is that when I finished, I realized that I didn’t heed the organizer’s request too well. It was fairly humorous, as she hoped. Yet it is nearly impossible to talk about the 20th century without reference to war. The wars were turning points in our history. For example, an entire generation, folks my parents’ age, is defined by the experience of World War Two.

History almost by definition is a history of war, of conquering and of being conquered. Times of peace, in the overall scope of things, have been brief. Even in times of peace, we find under the surface, a struggle. Some may argue that history is a history of war because we have not found a way to tell stories of peace that are compelling. A story without conflict is not a story. Life is a struggle for survival. The history of our lives collectively and individually, is the story of our struggle.

The Bible is a story of war. As we read Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, we are reading Israel’s war history. The stories are about the struggle. When the struggle ends, we find a sentence that says, “And the land had rest for forty years.” There are no stories about these restful times. They are not interesting, apparently. The struggle, the conflict, is the story.

In the book of Genesis, Jacob, the son of Isaac, wrestles with YHWH. After his all night wrestling match, in which Jacob does not give up, YHWH gives him a new name, Israel. El means God. Ytzr means struggle. Israel could mean “God struggles.” It could also mean “he (or she) who struggles with God.” Life is a struggle.

The earliest stories of YHWH are war songs. The scholarly consensus is that one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Bible is found Judges 5. The story is told in narrative form in Judges 4. But in Judges 5 the story is told in the form of a song. You might think of this song being sung in the tent at night. This song would have been part of a repertoire of songs and tales that would be passed on through the generations. This song was finally captured in written form and placed alongside the narrative in the Book of Judges.

It is the son of Deborah and Barak. It is the victory over Sisera. After Sisera’s army is defeated, Sisera flees. He goes to the tent of Heber the Kenite. They had been allies. But the wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael, is on the side of the Hebrews. She gives Sisera hospitality, with a surprise at the end. Here is the song:

Joshua 5:

24‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
26She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell dead.

I remember falling in love with Jael when my Introduction to Literature professor read that poem for us when I was a Freshman in college. Jael is a dangerous love, to be sure. You want to be on your guard when she is nicest to you.

That is poetry. That is the poetry of war. It is the praise of cunning. It is the praise of courage and nerve. The earliest songs human being sang about theirs gods were songs of war. YHWH before he was even a creator-god was a god of war. He rides across the sky on his chariot to do battle with Marduk and Baal.

Before the escape from Egypt was a story it was a song. It is captured in Exodus 15:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to YHWH:
‘I will sing to YHWH, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
2YHWH is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3YHWH is a warrior;
YHWH is his name.

YHWH is no philosophical first cause. There is no monotheism at this point in Israel’s history. These first songs to YHWH were songs to the god of strength. Earth and heaven are filled with gods, but YHWH is the strongest.

The Song of Moses continues:

‘Who is like you, YHWH, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

Lest we think YHWH is simply an “Old Testament” god, we should hear the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, again:

‘My soul magnifies YHWH,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

YHWH does change over time. He matures. He becomes wiser in his ways. YHWH broadens his vision. Brute strength is not enough to control his people although he isn’t bashful about using it when he thinks the need arises. YHWH ultimately has to figure out how to deal with the shortcomings of violence. YHWH finds other aspects of his personality.

YHWH discovers that he is deeply compassionate. YHWH has a soft spot for the underdog. If you are interested in looking at YHWH in this way, I recommend Jack Miles, God: A Biography, and the sequel, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.

The songs we sing and the stories we tell about the gods are stories and songs about ourselves. The evolution of God is our evolution. But before we leave YHWH the warrior, the one who commands obedience, and in the book of Joshua, slaughter, we need to be honest. Have we really left him? My answer is, no we have not. It may be a long time before we do. We may never.

Reading the book of Joshua is about enough to turn most sensitive people into atheists. YHWH is difficult to stomach. But he will not go away. In our attempt to reject YHWH, the warrior, he comes back even more ferociously. In an effort to substitute a deity who is more gentle and mild in his place, we simply bury YHWH the warrior deeper into our unconscious awareness.

YHWH the warrior is very much alive whether we admit it or not. YHWH the warrior is not good to leave unattended in our unconscious. He does destructive things there. In saying 70 of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is reported to have said:

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

YHWH the warrior is within us. As westerners, whether we are believers in God or YHWH or Jesus or not, we have inherited them all. Denying their existence is only repressing them. They do not exist out there, but in here. As depth psychologists remind us, the gods are symbolic representations of our drives. They are as real as our secret delight in the misfortune of our enemies. They are as real as the desires and fantasies we admit to no one. YHWH the warrior is our shadow. What do we do with a shadow? We are to embrace it.

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

I have to be careful here. I could be misinterpreted as suggesting that we need to embrace or glorify war and violence. No. I am talking about psychically embracing the warrior within.

Ghandi is reported to have said that he wanted no one in his non-violent army who wasn’t able and willing to kill. He didn’t want people who hadn’t embraced and known the warrior within themselves. He could do something with those people. One can only be truly non-violent when they are capable of violence, but then come to realize that non-violence is the better way.

We need the warrior. We need the warrior’s strength and courage. We need the warrior’s cunning. We need the warrior’s ability and willingness for self-sacrifice. We can call on that warrior to defend our children, the environment, and human dignity.

If we think of the various archetypes as tools in a toolbox that we can draw on when the occasion warrants, YHWH the warrior is a tool.

However, and this is a big however. We need other tools. As YHWH matured and evolved throughout Israel’s history and discovered other aspects of his personality, we too, need to evolve and mature. There is compassion. Over it all is wisdo

I think that our history of war, particularly in the West, is not because we have embraced YHWH the warrior. Just the opposite. YHWH the warrior has controlled us unconsciously.

YHWH the warrior, the one who commands destruction, is within us. Unless we consciously embrace the warrior, name it, and tame it, the warrior will act out in truly destructive and harmful ways. Each of us has the desire to obliterate our enemies. Unless we admit it, we are doomed to act on it. In psychology we call it passive-aggressiveness.

As we read the stories of Joshua through Kings, we are invited to enter them. They are the stories of our violence. We are invited to bring YHWH the warrior to consciousness and to bring the warrior in us to consciousness. Then, and only then, can we name this violence and tame it.

In Psalm 144:1 we read:

Blessed be YHWH, my rock,
who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;

Yes. But we must also embrace YHWH the compassionate. What does YHWH require? From Micah, chapter 6:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does YHWH require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?