Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beginning at the beginning


Marty is still on the street, usually in front of Dunkin’ Donuts, his hand out for tips. He doesn’t say much these days. I was surprised to see Sean over on Broadway in his wheel chair, the acoustic one, as I describe his non-electric one. What’s he doing out here? Ah, Bob, you know the problem I sometimes have, it’s like that all the time there. I can’t stand it.  They promised me they was gonna clean it up, but I don’t know… you still got my electric chair? I got a guy’s gonna come by…But he never does. And Little Chris comes by to talk about issues of harassment at his place.

The volunteer work crew from Sacramento is deep into their work redoing our chapel. It’s time for Bible Study. With the crew in the chapel and the Riverside Orchestra in the sanctuary, we take our study to Mc Alpin Hall. Tonight we begin our journey through the Bible with Wes Howard Brooks’ Come Out My People: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond as our guide. (

We begin by laying our Brooks’ basic premise, that there are two religions  in the Bible. Not Judaism and Christianity, because neither of those two are comprehensive categories. EG, there are secular Jews and Zionists and Hasidim and Pentecostals and liberation theologians and Amish, well, you get the picture. For Brooks, the two religions are the religion of creation on the one hand and the religion of empire on the other. These two are always in tension with one another, throughout both the old and new testaments.

In reading the Bible, one always has to ask of any particular passage, who wrote it, when and why. Context is everything. (Well, not everything, but close.) People are often surprised to realize that Genesis was not the first book of the Bible written. Even when they know it’s not a first hand account. And that Genesis is written aways down the road. From the evidence Brooks provides, we can date Genesis around 500 BCE, in the midst of the Babylonian captivity. In short, it seeks to answer the question How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137, and yes, the Melodians ).

We’re reminded that it was mainly the intelligentsia and technocrats who had been taken off to Babylon, the workers and peasants left behind. And Babylon with its hanging gardens and ziggurats and wealth was a pretty appealing place to be compared to the more staid Jerusalem. While granting the traditional scholarly view that there are multiple oral traditions underlying the story ( , Brooks argues that authors of Genesis wanted a story to undergird their identity differentiated from the Babylonians. Our friend Russ points out as well that they needed a marketing narrative to persuade the community to return to their homeland. So our Genesis story is a counternarrative to the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish.

 The basic story is that Apsu the god of freshwater and Tiamat, the god of salt water come together to create other little gods. Annoyed by their noisy activity, the parents decide to kill the children but Tiamat warns her son Ea who kills Apsu. Tiamat then marries Kingu  and decides to seek revenge. One of the children, Marduk, says he will defeat Tiamat  if they will make him king and give him a castle and a city, an empire. He splits Tiamat, bottom to top (like a clam shell )and out of her pours the earth and skies and all creation. Since the gods don’t want to do the work to run their empire themselves, Marduk kills Kingu and uses his blood to create humankind to do the work of servants. Thus we have a narrative to undergird empire and as theologian Walter Wink described it, an ur text of redemptive violence.

Against this narrative, we have Genesis 1 where one God creates all creation. It’s a creation that exists in harmony and essential unity with all life in symbiotic relationship with each other. It is, as God says, good. Into this creation, God brings humankind, male and female, as stewards of creation, dominion understood in the sense of caretaking and responsibility, not power over or domination. Whereas the power of Marduk is confined within the walls of his empire which must be protected with threatening wilderness, wild beasts and perhaps wilder people outside, in Genesis 1, there are no walls and all creation is good and under God’s authority. So whose God is more powerful? Genesis 1 becomes the supporting narrative for a non-hierarchical interdependent creation. This is where our journey  begins.

To hear an interview of Wes Howard- Brook by Pastor Brashear and Russ Jennings, go to Russ’ podcast Love in a Dangerous Time


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