History of Me, Part 3: Beliefs and Betrayal

In this episode of History of Me, a look at how Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe. (Hint: It’s super complicated.) Intrigued? Let’s dive in!

NOTE: I am looking into German/Germanic/European history as a function of my own familial cultural roots, and am attempting to do so in an anti-racist, anti-imperial way. For my full reading list and a further note about whiteness, see this post.

The Barbarian Conversion

Two looooong books this time. The first was non-fiction: The Barbarian Conversion by Richard Fletcher. If you are interested in an in-depth look into this topic, I recommend reading this because there is LOADS of detail. Here are some of the big ideas that stuck out to me:

  • When Constantine converted, Christianity became the religion of Roman favor. As Fletcher takes pains to clarify, “Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, though this is often said of him. What he did was to make the Christian church the most-favored recipient of the near-limitless resources of imperial favor.” This caused a conflation of “Christianness” with “Romanness” in the eyes of many in the empire, and set the stage for…
  • When Rome collapsed, Christianity stepped into the void as a kind of Roman surrogate. Because Christianity had become entangled with Romanness,  bishops and dioceses were set up in the same regional manner as Roman governmental officials and provinces. Thus, when the empire collapsed, it was an easy step for the religious structure to take over and grow on the “trellis” of what had been the imperial apparatus.
  • From there, conversion usually proceeded from the top. Once Christianity took hold among Roman elites, leaders of other cultural groups began to opt in. Since bishops were also often seats of power, church officials often came from noble families and were thus well-placed to convert their relatives and former peers. Thus, “Christianity became an inseparable component of the aristocratic identity” (Fletcher p. 192). Conversion also happened first at the city centers, and took much longer to spread to rural areas. (As Fletcher puts it, “fuzziness is an essential and important part of the process of barbarian conversion” [p.132].)
  • Early Christianity was not monolithic, but became so over time. Despite how clear theological matters may seem today, early Christianity was rife with disagreements that were later labeled as “heresies” by the winners. For example, check out Arianism or Donatism. This is interesting because  by the time “Christian” missionaries arrived some places, some people had already embraced “heretical” strains of Christianity — which was cause not for celebration, but for re-conversion! I can see this laying the groundwork for later intra-religious conflict…

This gives you the basic big-picture outline of how Christianity was spread. Constantine, to bishops, to nobles, to their vassals and (eventually) to rural country folk.

However, another huge piece that first occurred in Europe was forcible conversion, and for this we turn to Charlemagne. By the 700s AD, the Frankish kingdom in northwest Germany / northeast France was established and Christian, and ruled by the Carolingians. (I’ll read more about this kingdom / time period next time, but for this post we’re jumping a little ahead.) Charlemagne’s predecessor launched a campaign against their Saxon neighbors to the east, but it wasn’t just about a land grab:

By the end of the campaign, the Saxons were cowed and ‘sought peace and the sacraments.’ The stage was set for the bloody Saxon wars and forcible conversions of the reign of Charlemagne. (p.210) … [In 30 years] not much headway had been made with the conversion of the Saxons. Were these stubborn people never going to submit? In the [end] they did. The harsher measures… bore fruit, in the short term. In 782 [Charlemagne] massacred 4,500 prisoners. More fortunate ones were enslaved or deported. In 784 he led his army to the banks of the River Elbe: no Frankish ruler had ever before campaigned and laid waste as far to the east as this. In 785 [the eastern ruler] submitted and was baptized. (p. 215) … The Saxon Capitulary [when they finally surrendered] stands as a blueprint for the comprehensive and ruthless Christianization of a conquered society. (p.216, emphasis added)

So basically, Charlemagne and the Franks were the first to forcibly require conversion to Christianity of their defeated foes, on pain of death. Not only that, but like many who experience trauma the Saxons then turned around and when they had the power they reenacted that trauma on others: the Saxons conquered and forcibly converted the Slavic Wends (aka future Slovakians) and Pomerania, a late pagan holdout (where my dad’s German side is from), was subjugated by Poland in 1120.

I’m guessing you can see some parallels to some other colonial forcible conversion and assimilation; I could. Here’s what Fletcher has to say about it:

Christianization in these lands of the northern Slavs meant ‘Germanization’: a colonial church, a church of the German ascendancy, was imposed upon them. Cherished patterns of cultural identity were broken up: immemorial ways of doing things… Little that was positive was proffered in exchange. No native Wendish clergy was encouraged; no Christian literature in Old Pomeranian was developed. The converts were cowed and resentful. (p.450, emphasis added)

Basically Charlemagne took the imperialist impulses that had been first propagated by the Romans, mixed in the Christianity that had become the new elite religion, and began a chain reaction of violent colonial conversion that has continued for centuries. As Fletcher notes, “The spiritual conquest of [eastern Europe] points ahead to that of Mexico and Peru” (p.491).

So when we white folks look at the trauma that Europeans have done to others in the name of God, we can also look at ourselves and know, we were “better” at colonialism and violence by the time we got to other continents, but we practiced on our neighbors first. To me, this is significant not as a way to equalize everyone’s trauma and make it all go away, but as a way to understand that long ago, some of my ancestors chose to prioritize power over neighbor, at the cost of their humanity and many people’s lives. And that choice kept being remade and remade. And it’s still being remade today.

Mists of Avalon

It was interesting to re-read this book. (Also, fair warning, I will discuss major spoilers for this book as well as mentions of abuse, so proceed with caution.)

The first time I read it, I mostly noticed the subtextual and at times very overt theological conflict, because those concepts were really new to me. And those pieces are still there — I noticed lots of themes and plot points that reaffirmed the history I read in Barbarian Conversion including some nobles that were Romanized, the slow “fuzzy” permeation of Christianity into the elite, the even slower trickle-down of Christianity to the peasants, and the gradual radicalization of the Christian missionaries. All line up with what Fletcher describes based on the historical evidence we have.

HOWEVER. That was not what stood out most to me on this read-through. What was painfully, in-your-face obvious to me in this book was the incredible amount of relational brokenness, pain, and loss.

Part of this comes from the structure of the story — it’s a retelling of King Arthur, which requires infidelity, incest, and mass death just to fulfill its core plot points.

Another big part is due to the fact that this go-round, I read as one aware of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s history of abuse, as told by her daughter. (There were parts of the book that, knowing this information, read wayyyy too creepily. NOT okay.)

Those things aside (and I recognize that for some, those things are too big to put aside, but I’m going to discuss the book anyway) — to me, this book is about the story of patriarchal/imperial Christianity and how matriarchal beliefs struggled to survive. It’s a really complex story with a lot of characters, but I’ll pull out a few points:

  • Women vs. the patriarchy. From page one, this is a book primarily about women, and our protagonist, Morgaine, introduces herself as “sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen.” Throughout the book we see how the constricting roles allowed to women by patriarchal Romanized Christianity harm all the women. We see this in how many of the Romanized/Christianized men treat women, and especially how men’s treatment of women finds a focused voice in the internalized oppression evident in King Arthur’s shrinking bride, Gwenhwyfar, who is constantly saying things like “It is unseemly for a woman to raise her voice before the Lord…” (p.288).
  • Women can be part of the patriarchy, too. Although the main theme of this book is about patriarchal/Western/Christian oppression, a lot of the pain in this story also comes from the damage that women in this book inflict on each other in a quest for Avalon to survive. For example, Morgaine’s aunt, who is the high priestess, basically tricks Morgaine into sleeping with her little brother (Arthur), and Morgaine feels so betrayed that she flees Avalon and almost never returns. So painful. Although I understood that the priestess (and eventually Morgaine as well) use people horribly to try to secure the survival of Avalon, that noble goal doesn’t make me feel any better when it ends with everyone Morgaine loves dead and her alone among the ruins of Avalon. They weren’t the cause — they were pushed out by patriarchal Christianity — but I found myself wishing they could at least have loved each other and enjoyed what time they had rather than betraying each other and dehumanizing each other in the face of violence.
  • Earth/Goddess vs. imperial Christianity. In this book, we can see played out in the Arthurian legend the elements of conversion. At first both the druids and the first Christian missionaries to Britain coexist, but as the priests become more closed, rigid, and exacting and begin to call the Goddess rites satanic and evil, the priestesses of Avalon have to fight to keep their way of life alive. The priests demand orthodoxy, and the people are forced to give up the stories and rituals of their land to what (especially for women) is a restrictive, negative system of harsh rules that literally teaches them they are the gateway of sin. (It’s said by a character in the book, but it’s a real teaching of the church at that time.) Even though the priestesses of Avalon have their own issues, it’s sad to watch as the juggernaut of Roman Christianity squelches the old ways and comes down hard on women.

Interestingly, though, the book ends on a somewhat hopeful note amidst all the death and destruction. Despite the demise of Avalon and the cult of the Goddess as Morgaine knows it, she finds a similar group of young women venerating the Virgin Mary and Saint Brigid at a convent on the island of Avalon.

But Brigid is not a Christian saint, she thought, even if [the priest] thinks so. That is the Goddess as she is worshiped in Ireland. And I know it, and even if they think otherwise, these women know the power of the Immortal. Exile her as they may, she will prevail. The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind. (p.875)

For Morgaine, the fact that the Goddess has found her way into the canon of Christianity means she will live on in some form. For me, I’m not sure I find this ending satisfactory. It took a lot of pain, loss, death, and betrayal to get there. But I do appreciate the idea that the deep spiritual ideas of the land and our ancestors stay with us in some form, in our bodies even, even if they take different forms.

Conclusion

To me, this reading section — like the last section — really helps me to understand how far back some of the toxic strands of empire go. As I said above, some of my ancestors have been choosing power over people for a looooong time. And I understand that some of those times may have felt like survival choices — just like the priestesses of Avalon did horrible things to try to survive — but just because something helps you survive doesn’t mean it’s good for you in the long run.

I’m reminded of the book The Body Keeps the Score (which I HIGHLY recommend), which talks about the impact of trauma in our lives and over generations. When we experience trauma, our brains enact coping mechanisms to help us survive — but we can get stuck with those mechanisms “on” and that’s when we start to have PTSD.

We’re all walking around traumatized to varying degrees, and grasping onto what power we have in order to try to ensure our survival. The sad part of this trend is that people in power (in our country, mainly white people) keep choosing to maintain and consolidate their power. The hopeful part is, that if all this structural inequality and pain is the result of my ancestors choosing power over people, then perhaps if I make a different choice I can begin to unravel what they wove over centuries.

May it be so!

Tune in next time as we jump forward into the early Middle Ages with Ch. 2 of Mighty Fortress and several books by Nobel-winning author Sigrid Undset!

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Some ways that evangelical Christianity seems to me more Qur’anic than Biblical

1. Emphasis on eternal hell.

Generally the Bible dichotomizes Eternal Life as opposed to Destruction/Perishing, and only rarely as opposed to Eternal Punishment. And I don’t think there’s ever clarity that the individual is eternally present & conscious amidst torture. The worm does not die, the fire is not quenched… but worms and fires eat and burn up people, and then the people are gone. REFERENCES?

Hell as a place for punishing an individual eternally seems to be a much more prominent feature of the Qur’an (at least in the first surah or two that I’m reading… obviously not a scholar on the topic!)

However, the latter view is (in my subjective experience) generally the main / orthodox view amongst conservative / evangelical Christianity.

2. Emphasis on the ENTIRE scripture as straight from God’s mouth and utterly authoritative.

The entire Qur’an (I think) claims spoken from God’s perspective, to Muhammad, for immediate/direct line-by-line application to every area of life. Given pristinely, 100% authoritative / true.

Whereas in the Bible you’ve got swaths of history with varying appearance of historicity / symbolism, referenced and emphasized in alternatingly high and low emphasis by Jesus (never quoting Joshua, for example), authors appearing to debate each other within both NT (law/gospel) and also OT (good happens to the good / bad happens to the good), sexy love poems that never mention God, etc. Jesus actively transgressing on previously declared law codes, etc.

Again, it seems to me that evangelicalism/orthodoxy sees the Bible more like the Qur’an sees itself than like the Bible sees itself.

Something the New Testament and the Qur’an actually do share outright: Respect & homage for previous tradition.

I had heard that the Qur’an had some validations for Christianity and Judaism, but I didn’t imagine they’d be so densely packed within the text! The Qur’an affirms that Christianity’s and Judaism’s God is THE God just about as thoroughly as the N.T. affirms that Judaism’s and Christianity’s God is THE God. (A lot!)

 

(DISCLAIMER: I’ve read through the whole Bible but once, and largely when sleepy. I’ve read about 1 Surah (//book) of the Qur’an so far. Count me as authoritative AT YOUR OWN PERIL.)

In which I brag on my high school girls…

Today when I met with the group of 10th grade girls I mentor we talked about our goals and plans for the year. As a part of planning some of our discussions, I had each of them brainstorm quietly on a piece of paper a few topics they’d like us to address. When I brought them home and started to read them, I was BLOWN AWAY by not only the depth of their thoughts but the breadth! I love to brag on these wonderful ladies, so I thought I’d share my compiled outline of their thoughts. I’ve reworded and done a tad of fleshing out (like on “sin”) to make it be a proper outline, but all the ideas are theirs — there is not a topic here that doesn’t come from what they wrote down!

Suggested Discussion Topics for 2013-2014

1. Who Is God?

  • Character & attributes

2. How do we experience God?

  • Do you have a personal relationship with God?
  • Do you ever think God’s not listening or you don’t see him in your daily life?
  • Talking to God (Prayer)
    • What is prayer?
    • Why should we pray?
    • How should / do we pray?
    • What experiences do we have with prayer? (Is God answering your prayers?)

3. Why does God matter to us?

  • Sin.
    • What is sin?
    • What does God think about sin? / How does sin affect our relationship with God?
  • Salvation.
    • How does God “fix” sin?
    • Repentance, Forgiveness, & Reconciliation.
      • What does it mean to “repent”?
      • What is forgiveness?
  • Predestination vs. Free Will

4. What does it mean to be a Christian? / How do we respond to God?

  • What is a Christian?
  • Church history / denominational family tree
  • What does the Bible say Christians should do / be like?

Love God

  • What is worship?
  • How can we love God (more) ?
  • How do I be more Christ-like / How do I live out my faith?

Love Others

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor? / Who is my neighbor?
  • Loving my enemies
  • The body of Christ: Community, Encouragement, etc.

General

  • What is the Bible? How should / do I read it?
  • How to be an example / mentor
  • Dealing with tough stuff (e.g. death, depression, loneliness, etc.)
  • The female body: body image, modesty, etc.
  • School: Managing time wisely
  • How to be a light at a Christian school (dealing with disagreement / hypocrisy)
  • Revenge
  • Witnessing: Being a light / telling others about Christ
  • What does the Bible say about how to be a righteous woman?
  • Being a Christian even in the midst of “coolness” / Dealing with peer pressure
  • Healthy relationships
    • Family
    • Romantic
    • Friends
    • Dealing with conflict
    • Gossip / accountability

Ok, folks — there is PREDESTINATION on there! I am so impressed. (Not to mention my other mentee / friend, who just started her own blog with the question “What is sin?” I mean really — how do I get to be friends with all these fantabulous humans???)

Projecting my high or low view of myself onto God…

So stuck.

Again.
Nothing new to see here. move along, folks.
I read the old testament, and I’m like, “this is a story, told and written, by people, about people and God”.
Reading the Bible has done anything but create revival in me.
Perhaps I “should” be going to something like BSF? Where you go through the Bible and perky people say exciting words about it?
I think my view / approach to Christianity is that it’s the worst worldview / religion except for all the other ones.
Or, perhaps, it’s the worst one for me except for all the other ones.
In other words, there is a God I know is real, and only via Christian imagery / views / language / worldview can I relate to this God.
Or perhaps, there is a God, and my choice is either to make up my own image of who that is from scratch, or sketch my imagery for God around the scaffolding of a religion of which God can be purported to be the purposeful and unique founder.
Every time I come back to journal it’s more depressed, more grim, more flat and aimless and purposeless.
And so I call / mentally yank at the invisible intangible rope descending down out of a cloud of uncertainty, which I trust is tied to God, who I trust underlies all things, and I say God please do what you would do, what you must do, and also what I want you to do — to … to what? To alleviate the pain of uncertainty? Pobre mi. To make me not be so confused? I weary of pleading for that. I and thousands of others… always pleading… sometimes receiving? Never receiving? I pray saying that I assent, consent, and yearn for your utter and total intervention as well as enlightenment or even indoctrination of my mind and soul.
Oh, for those (arrogant, dysfunctional) exuberant days wherein I walked alongside my (selective, convenient) bastions of certainty, knowing my place in the universe, knowing my role as merely stirring my own little swirls in the already sufficiently radiant and glorious pools of color and majesty with which God has already filled the sky. Tangibly confident both in God’s already-victory in the universe, and in my contributive role.
I actually don’t believe any thing fundamentally different from those notions to this day; it’s just my aspect, my countenance, my pace and breath and gait and feelings and outlook that are changed. I sluggishly raise my hand and mutter “aye”, assenting to the same truth-claim, the same picture of the universe, where God wins and I can choose to be involved, but I thrill not at my involvement, nor even at the victory. Why? Because I don’t feel like I’m awesome. Funny, how arrogance can breed so profusely the experience of humble and adoring worship.
Why? It’s fairly simple; when I feel awesome, powerful, successful, and glorious, but my theology tells me that arrogance is wrong, then I merely continue to be awesome by projecting all my exultation and exuberance onto God. My future looks promising; I’m excited; I feel awesome about myself… but I know better than to attribute that awesomeness to myself, so I affirm in soaring poetry that all this glory and awesomeness is God’s, and I am merely a tiny pawn basking in it.

Nice.
I mean, it’s probably the right thing to do if you’re saturated with exuberance — put it onto God… But the question is where is the exuberance coming from in the first place. It’s a bit phony, struth, to project vainglory-derived exultation onto God, in the same way that I now project self-deprecatory depression onto God, or perhaps onto “worldview” / “reality” / etc.
Cool. Nifty. I can sit here for 30 minutes and problematize how whether I’m excited or depressed, it starts out with how I feel about myself, and then I project it onto Life, the Universe, God, and Everything.
I can sit and problematize myself.
I suppose then I should prescribe an alternative, yes?
But before I so constructively proceed to do so, I must air the chip on my shoulder about my long wounding over having so many times “figured out the better way”, the “right” alternative, and henceforth been powerless to enact it.
I look at the vanglorious Daniel of 2009 and spit psalms of imprecation against him; how the wicked exult, how they rejoice, while the (righteous?) rest of us lament. Yet my lamenting self is no more righteous than the offender of 2009; we both paint the world and God in exactly the colors we see when we look at ourselves; either in swirling beautiful vibrancy, or in flat gray muddled mess.
God, I’m quite sorry for painting you the way I see me.
Here’s an interesting question; do I do the same to Rebekah? Sometimes yes, sometimes the opposite… too many factors… moving on…
The solution is both clear and rather difficult/impossible.  It’s the deeply Zen / Christian (/ etc.?) thing: stop thinking about yourself. Boast in my weakness, delight in God’s fullness. Move past the ego, move into recognizing togetherness with all…
I experienced something like that on a retreat recently; a group of us were supposed to ask helpful questions to a certain person, and in that space I transitioned from resenting my weaknesses and others’ strengths in question-asking to rejoicing in both, in that my weakness left a space for their strength, and vice versa, and we could each move deeper into our own area of strength because none of us were trying to be everybody/everything.
It was real for that hour. It was real for a week after that.
Everything fades.
God, I’m going to continue about my day now, and I’m asking that you help me see and appreciate you as you are, rather than as a receptacle for my overflow of low or high self-esteem.

E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Today I was listening to my “audio cathedral” playlist on iTunes (yes, I’m a total church choir nerd!) and was struck yet again by the simple beauty of the Paul Manz song, “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come”.

If you have never heard this song before, I suggest you listen to it right now — or at least read the words below.

(I prefer the men’s choir TTBB arrangement, but the SATB version is pretty too!)


Peace be to you and grace from Him Who freed us from our sin
Who loved us all, and shed his blood , that we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord , the Lord almighty God
Who was and is, and is to come, sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein! Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon, for Christ is coming soon.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more.
They need no light, no lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their All!

Hauntingly beautiful.

Anyway. It’s written by Paul Manz, who is sort of like THE Lutheran organist. (True story: I grew up listening to Paul Manz hymn festivals and organ pieces on roadtrips.)

I found out that “E’en So” was my mom’s favorite choir piece when I started looking at colleges because apparently it’s the signature piece of the Concordia Choir (St. Paul). Once the band (which she was in) went on tour with the choir and I think they got to sing the final piece together, which is pretty cool. So I’d heard a lot about it, but I’d never heard the song performed until the Cantus concert we attended right after we got married in 2011. They sang the men’s chorus arrangement, and it felt like a full minute before anyone dared clap afterward. I was hooked.

Listening to the words today —  “Lord Jesus, quickly come”, longing for the perfection of heaven — it struck me how perfectly this song represents the core of Lutheran theology. To me, having been raised up in both the music and theology of the LCMS, “E’en So” encapsulates the Christ-focused, crucifixion-based, heavenward-bound spirit of the Lutheran Church. The hopeful-yet-minor melodics, the yearning simplicity, the open fifths at the end that sound heavenly but not too “major”… to me, “E’en So” captures both the depth and the transparency, the grit and the release, the Good Friday and the light of Easter morning that appears in the Gospels.

And, while there are some things I disagree with about the LCMS, to me “E’en So” and the messages it represents will always remind me of my Lutheran roots.

So I’m curious — what other hymns or choral songs do you think would be the “anthem” for other denominations? (I would take a stab, but I don’t feel like I know other denominations well enough just yet!) I want to know what you think!

 

Are Suburban Churches Triumphalistic?

Hello, world!

So we’ve been out of the loop here on the blog for a little bit, mainly because we drove to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference at the end of February, and then we had to RECOVER from driving all the way to Philly and back! (That’s a 38-hour round trip, by the way. Yeah.)

Anyway, today I wanted to muse a little about one of the significant principles that was added to my think-tank at the conference.

One of the workshops I attended was a fascinating one about the importance of lament in the church (given by Soong-Chan Rah, who is AWESOME). During this workshop, which I originally thought was going to be about Lent, Soong-Chan Rah talked about how the absence or presence of lament is part of the divide between wealthy congregations and congregations who deal with poverty. Predominantly white, upper-middle-class, often suburban congregations often focus on God’s blessings and God’s goodness and how they are “blessed to be a blessing” — aka they are supposed to give money to poor people. (I literally just heard a sermon on this this morning.) Rah calls this a “triumphalistic” theology — one that focuses on victory and good things and success (some even going so far as to claim that believing in God will actually bring you more wealth).

The problem with a triumphalistic, God-blessed-me-with-this-wealth mindset is that if God is responsible for making me wealthy, I’m inversely saying that God is also responsible for making others poor.

What, then, are poorer churches to think when they find themselves in dire straits and tough financial circumstances? If God “blesses” rich people with more money than they need, does that mean that God DOESN’T bless poor people? If rich Christians are “blessed (given money) in order to be a blessing (give the extra to poor people)”, then are the poor simply receptacles for the second-hand blessings of the rich? (The answer is NO, in case you were wondering.)

Viewing Christianity through a triumphalistic lens like this (and taking it across to its logical conclusions about poor people), it becomes clear why economic integration is difficult in the body of Christ: the rich and the poor view Christianity, their lives, and even God from totally different perspectives. How could poor Christians ever believe that God created them to be perpetual recipients of someone else’s kindness? And how can rich Christians step outside their victorious lives to understand what following Christ looks like from a position of hardship and lament?

It seems that God looks a lot different when life is hard than when life is easier. And, seeing as how I’m not an expert on life being hard, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut on that topic until I can do some more research rather than speculate on what God and Christianity are like from a perspective of lamentation rather than triumphalism.

But in the meantime, I’m thinking long and hard about what I believe about God and what God tells me I should do in relation to the poor.

What do you think? Is there really a theological line between rich Christians and poor Christians about God’s relationship to our circumstances? I’m just digging into this, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

Back to the Bible…

Wow. So I just looked and the last time I posted on here about my Bible-reading was in September. Yikes! Part of that is because, well, I haven’t been so good at my Bible-reading lately. (Which is bad not because reading the Bible every day makes you a good Christian, but because when I read the Bible daily-ish I feel more peaceful about life.) But no worries — I have returned to my Bible-reading plan of choice just in time to share with you some thoughts about Leviticus today! Woohoo!

I’m not gonna lie — I’m kind of excited to be done with Leviticus. It’s not the most engaging of narratives… in fact, it’s not a narrative, but a list of rules and guidelines. But even amidst all those regulations about goats and shekels I found an interesting tidbit today:

All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. (Lev. 26:35)

This comes during God’s explanation of the consequences for repeatedly rejecting and disobeying God’s laws. I find it fascinating that the earth/land is personified as a victim of the people’s sinful rejection of God. Because the people have forsaken God’s commands (including the lying fallow of the land during the jubilee years), one consequence of their disobedience is not only to be driven from their homes but for the land they have abused to be taken from them and let to rest as it should.

Hmm… yet another verse emphasizing our call to care for our earth. It makes me wonder how so many people thought (and still think) that the earth was/is our plaything to be used or abused at will.

Humans sure have a messed-up view of authority. For example, we are given “dominion” over the land — but as we see here, that should mean careful, tender guardianship, not selfish exploitation. Same with people (usually men) who really push male headship — if you really believe in that, it should mean you lovingly care for and support your wife, not control or rule her. Same with children — parents should take “raise them up in the way they should go” as a call to Christ-like modeling and tender care, not a controlling demeanor of punishment and “justice”.

God doesn’t control us! As strange as it sounds, God actually allows us the free will to make our own decisions, for good or ill, up to and including rejecting him. (And he gives us a lot of do-overs, too!)

So where do we get the idea that leadership equals domination and guidance equals control?