Born Of A Virgin? It happened a lot back then

I posted this 2 years ago today and thought it might be fun to revisit. 

As Christians we confess that Jesus was born to a virgin.  Some people doubt the accuracy of that – but they may not realize that it was not that uncommon back then.

Here are just 10 people born of a virgin in the ancient world: 

  • Buddha
  • Krishna – born without a sexual union, by “mental transmission” from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki, his mother.
  • Odysseus
  • Romulus
  • Dionysus*
  • Heracles – Son of a god (Zeus)
  • Glycon – son of the God Apollo
  • Zoroaster/Zarathustra
  • Attis of Phrygia
  • Horus

One theory is that when somebody who led a deeply impactful life died, those who wrote about them later would attempt to say something special about them. One of the ways that they could do that was to say something extraordinary about their birth. It was a way of that there was something significant, even about they way that they were conceived.

Sometimes it was that they were born to people that were really old (past the age of child-bearing age).

Think of Issac born to Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament or John the Baptist born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in the New (Advent).

Now, If somebody wanted to take the origin of their hero up a notch, they could say that there was no human dad … it was a god!  (like Zeus)

This is why some think that Jesus’ autobiographers took it up even one more notch! Not only did a God not have sex with women … there was NO sex at all!

 Now some say “yeah, lots of people were said to be born of a virgin … but Jesus actually was.”

This is where the problem starts. As best as I can discern, there basically three ways to approach the problem: physics, meta-physics or linguistics. 

Physics:

Some people take an approach that is so certain that even science itself would be proved wrong. This usually comes up around issue like the Shroud of Turin (the cloth Jesus was buried in). I once heard a very confident person say that if we did DNA test on the blood on the shroud it would show that Jesus was fully human with 46 pairs of chromosomes – only instead of 23 from the female mother and 23 from the male father – Jesus would have 46 human ones from Mary.

I find this problematic for the same reason that I do not believe in the super-natural. It concedes the rules of the games to science (reductive naturalism) then tries to fill in the gaps with God.  That is a losing game-plan if ever I heard one.

Meta-Physics: 

Other people try to get around the whole reductive scientific debate by saying “Look, if God could make the world in 6 days out of nothing, then what is to make a virgin pregnant?  God does whatever God wants to do and who are we to question that?”

I am not a big fan of this approach either. It seems to say that revelation doesn’t have to report to reason and that God can not be evaluated on any reasonable standard conceived of by humans.

It seems just a short leap to say that God can elect who God wants for salvation God can pick favorites if that is what ‘He‘ wants to do.

It seems to retreat into the silo of ecclesiastic isolation and unaccountability. I think we have to look a little deeper ask some bigger questions.

 Linguistics:

This is an interesting approach that some in the post-liberal camp or comparable schools of thoughts might take.

The basic line is that it’s not the physics or meta-physics of the virgin birth that matters, its the way that it impacts us as people and forms us as a community. The importance of the language found in the gospels has to do with how it functions for us as a community and tradition.

Some folks don’t like this linguistic approach because it seems like theologically ‘thin soup’ to them. They look at the formulations that are quantified in the early creeds and they make definite and literal assumptions about what is behind them.

I am however nervous that all of this controversy is simply because we don’t know how to read a gospel. It’s like when we get sucked into debates about talking snakes in the garden of Eden or trying to prove scientifically how a man like Jonah could stay alive in the belly of a whale for 3 days and not be eaten by the stomach acid (or something).

It would be the equivalent of people 1,000 years from now arguing that we actually thought there was a place called Mudville and that a man named Casey was literally up to to bat.  It is because we don’t know how to read the genre of literature.

Jesus was born of a virgin – we confess that by faith, it is affirmed in our ancient creeds and it functions in our community to form us as people.    

 

 

* I even found one internet source that claims Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger. He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles. He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.” He was a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification. Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25. He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine. He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.” He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” intimates he was hung on a tree or crucified.

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Theology for the People: Publishing, Emergent and God

Tripp sits down with Tony Jones to chat about the new series with Fortress Press: ‘Theology for the People”. 10653370_807752369288009_1575330671555985864_n

HBC-1024x1024They chat about everything from the publishing industry to the emergent church – from theological education to the death of God.

If you have not heard part 1 of the AAR live event featuring Catherine Keller and John Cobb, make sure to subscribe to the HBC stream on iTunes or Stitcher.

Enjoy listening to two friends chat about some current and future issue that have grabbed their attention. 

 

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Wrapping Up Advent – The Whole Damned Thing

This has been the most interesting Advent I have ever participated in.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Between the High Gravity class following the lectionary texts and the Loft LA delving deep into the season, I have learned and experienced a lot of things that are heavy on my mind as we head into the final week of Advent.

Far As The Curse Is Found

The hymn ‘Joy To The World‘ has some amazing lines in it:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Far as the curse is found is one of the most poignant lines in any hymn ever. Think about it … Romans 5 is about the same theme:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Unfortunately, many have been taught to read the Bible in a way that makes Adam way more powerful than Jesus. Ouch.

Far as the curse is found means that God is interested in redeeming the whole damned thing. 

There is no other way to say it.

In fact, this past weekend we tackled the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel and I was struck again with how shocking and scandalous Jesus’ family tree is. It’s not just the unorthodox inclusion of those with dubious reputations and questionable qualifications – and that’s not even including that women! It is the fact that God is involved in the whole damned thing.

It all belongs. God is active in redeeming the whole thing.

It’s not just that Jesus leaves behind his family tree or simply overcomes his heritage to become an exalted figure … he is both the outcome of God’s activity IN his family and the result OF his heritage.

Speaking of which: here is an amazing rendition of Jesus’ genealogy sung to the tune of R.E.M.’s ‘its the end of the world as we know it’ by Brad Hooks

Genealogy of Jesus (and I feel fine) from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

Lyrics:

That’s great it starts with the birthday
Of the very first man, yeah his name was Adam
Skip a couple thousand years, there was a dude
Who was looking for the Promise Land,

call him Father Abraham, Abraham had a kid, Isaac had a kid
Judah had a kid, Perez he did too
No I’m not talking Perez Hilton
But the one who had a son named Hezron

Ram, Amminadab, Nashon, Salmon,
Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David, right, right
Don’t forget Solomon, He was a wise man,
Who had a son named Rehoboam

Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram
Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, more then
That brings us to Hezekiah, Hezekiah
Manasseh, Amon, Josiah

 

Here is the good news and the bad: 

Good - God is interested in redeeming your family tree, heritage, history and the entire road that has led up to this point in your story!

Bad - God loves them too … the things you regret, the people you would distant yourself from, the choices you would change …. the whole damn thing.

There is no ‘us/them’. It is a facade – an illusion. We are all us. We are all in this together. The slave is our brother – we are all God’s family.

  • The good and the bad.
  • The oppressed and the privileged.
  • The sacred and the secular.
  • The holy and the profane.

The hard truth is that our apparent divisions are but an illusion. God is in the process of redeeming the whole damned thing.

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Waiting To See God In The Exodus Movie

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to see 35 min. of the new Exodus: Gods and Kings. The 10 or so clips that I saw were both visually stunning and action packed. I actually was fairly impressed to be honest.Exodus1

Now, we all know that there are 2 aspects of the movie that are going to garner concern.

  1. The race issue has already been written and talked about at length (listen to the Canadian Broadcast of The Current  - and Brian Merritt in the 2nd half! ).
  2. The Moses character is a Maximus-like character with a special sword replacing his infamous staff.

Two other aspects that I am also hoping get some attention are the plagues and the ‘God’ part of the subtitle.

One thing really stuck out to me in the clips that I saw was the way that the plagues were portrayed.
They are horrific.
They are catastrophic.
They are deeply troubling.

The only thing that the plagues are not is super-natural. The plagues appear to be natural phenomenon.  What is un-natural is both the timing and the intensity of them.

When talk of the plagues comes up, I am always quick to point out that they are not abnormal things – like angels with light-sabers and laser-guns – that would be supernatural. Frogs and flies are all too natural but it is the timing and the intensity we need to pay attention to.

The same is going so go for the crossing of the Red-Sea-of-Reeds scene. The wall of water when Pharaoh’s army is closing in is going to be interesting.

In this sense, the Exodus movie is very different from the Noah movie. Moses does not dwell in the same enchanted world that Noah did. These two movies will undoubtedly be paired and compared … but Noah’s enchanted world is very different.

The second thing I can not wait to see is the God element in the Exodus: Gods and Kings. We know that there is going to be a God aspect. In the 35 minutes of clips that I saw there was a noticeable lack of any God imagery. I am assured that there is indeed a God presence in the full-length cut and am anxious to see how that is handled.

We talked a while ago about the run of Jesus and Bible themed movies coming out right now. How the God character is portrayed is one of my ongoing interests. It is in the character’s mind or will there be an external voice? Is it all burning-bushes of hallucinogenic experiences and prophetic dreams left up to interpretation?

I am going to see the Exodus movie and I am anxious to see how they handle the God part in Gods and Kings.

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Police Violence Is The Exception

I had two conversations with friends yesterday who are very upset by the failure of the justice system to protect unarmed black men (and boys)  from those who act on behalf of the law.

I have not been blogging much as I am in preparation for my qualifying exams in the Spring. Part of my reading has been in ‘political theology’ so I thought I might share some relevant items that I have gleaned from my studies.

 

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” is a sentence by Carl Schmitt that introduces ‘political theology’. That word ‘exception’ is a key to understanding what is going on in our nation right now.

In the last four centuries ‘sovereignty’ has shifted from God and the King to the Nation and State. In that same work, Schmitt also says that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”‘

The State* now has both the ceremony (pledge of allegiance – national anthem at all sporting events, etc.) and the power (rightful claim to foreign and domestic violence).

In a fantastic article by Bruno Gulli examining Schmitt, Gulli explains “any person with special powers (or even simply a special sensibility) could be recognized as sovereign. This would be an honorary status conferred on him.”

 The State, and those who defend it – whether police or military – have the power of exception. It is important to understand it that:

  •  The playing field is not level. It is slanted.
  •  The rules do not apply equally. There is an exception.

Citizens who are upset are not permitted to be violent. They must protest in an orderly and civilized manner.

The police/riot-squad/ military are seemingly allowed to escalate and utilize violence because they have the exception of the state behind them.

We are not all playing by the same rules. Citizens have an asymmetrical relationship with the State when it comes to violence.

It is vital here to understand the insight of Max Weber when he talks about the State’s monopoly on violence. The link explains that:

“Weber describes the state as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.”

Violence is a one-sided relationship. The State – and those who act on its behalf – may behave in violent ways because it will always be construed as exceptional.

Bonnie Honig, in Emergency Politics, says “The state of exception is that paradoxical situation in which the law is legally suspended by sovereign power.”

The problem is that we now live in a permanent state of emergency.

September 11, 2001 ushered in a state of perpetual exception. This applies to racial profiling, police brutality, State surveillance of its citizenry in the NSA – to name only a few.

When people are scared they willingly sacrifice their freedom and privacy in exchange for safety. The State benefits from a frightened population and people are more willing to accept the exceptional violence and excessive forced used by law enforcement. They are more likely to turn a ‘blind-eye’ or call them ‘isolated incidents’ and claim that they are being ‘blown out of proportion’.

A population is more willing to view as exceptional the excessive tactics and escalation of violence precisely because we now live in a permanent state of exception (or emergency).

 

What do we do now, however, when communities are not sure they are being protected by the police and in fact need protection from the police?

In the article cited earlier, Gulli reports, “At the end of his critique of the state of exception, Giorgio Agamben addresses the question of contingency, which is very important in all of his work, when, with a reference to Benjamin, he speaks of “the urgency of the state of exception ‘in which we live’” (2005)

In his eighth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin says:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.” (1968)

 

I hear people asking about the current protests, “What are they hoping to accomplish?”

One thing they could accomplish is to create a real sense of emergency that will call into question in the larger American conscience a question about the permanent state of exception that has crept in over the past decades. The supposed ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ are but two examples of this.

None of us want to live in a police state.
No one I know wants to live in a state of fear.
That it why we must question the exceptional violence and emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.

The people are raising their voice in protest of this exceptional violence.

 

_______________________

* I will be capitalizing ‘State’ to illustrate its elevated and exceptional status.

** I know four people in law enforcement and they are all amazing, loving, kind, people. My concern is about a larger mechanism in our society.

For a powerful response to Schmitt, see Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters On the Concept Of Sovereignty 

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Beer, Hymns, Protesters and PostChristian in Tulsa? Oh yeah.

Beer and Hymns ProtestersOn Christian’s recent “postChristian” book tour stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he caused quite a stir. No, folks weren’t distressed by his claims of the decline of Christian empire, or his challenges to the religious powers that be…

They were up in arms about serving 3.2 percent beer in (GASP!) church.

The weekend culminated in a Beer and Hymns event at East Side Christian Church (DOC), followed by this live CultureCast recording with Christian, Phillips Theological Seminary’s own Josh Linton, and Amy via Skype. But it also welcomed four local news channels who covered the event, after a local Fox affiliate, and then CNN, took the scandalous story national.

Oh, and aside from the low-point beer, here’s a taste of what we had on tap during the show:

  • A Lesbian universalist minister singing a song on behalf of marriage equality;
  • A discussion about the theological and justice implications of marijuana;
  • A remote “ten in the den,” quiz show, in which Pastor Mark Driscoll features prominently;
  • A handful of Church Sign Epic Fails, and;
  • Amy’s double dose of her Fear of the Week.

We tried to get some of the street protesters picketing outside (no joke) to come join us on the show, but to no avail. So the photo above will have to suffice.

Ahh Tulsa, I love ya, you nut.

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Wake Up! It’s Time For Advent

We are trying something new for Advent this year here at Homebrewed Christianity. Each week we are looking at the 4 suggested texts from the lectionary and talking about how we would approach them.

In week one there were 3 texts that we resonated with and a fourth that we struggled with. That fourth text was Mark chapter 13 where Jesus talks about signs of the end, fig trees and catastrophe.

The one thing that I do like about the fourth text is the exhortation to ‘stay alert’. There are many passages in the Bible that call us to wake up or stay alert. It is a theme that always gets my attention.

 What are we in danger of falling asleep to?

What is causing that slumber?

Some would want to answer with a classic concepts like human nature, the effects of sin, or some other predictable formulation. While those may all be true, the danger has never been greater nor the effects as pervasive as they are in 21st century.

We live in an odd time of global markets, multi-national corporations and rampant consumerism. Ours is an age of media saturation, electronic daze and commercial overload.

I have found the tool of Critical Theory helpful in analyzing our age of what Cornell West calls ‘weapons of mass distraction’. High modernity has brought us both amazing goods and services (think cell phones and the internet) as well as unprecedented capacity for destruction and devastation.

The formative thinkers in the field of Critical Theory were responding to the massive shifts of the 20th century and the realities of two World Wars that exposed human suffering and the capacity of evil in new ways. Not only did we have Hiroshima and Auschwitz but we had them on film. Some talk about this being the end of ideology (utopia) and the resulting loss of hope.

I have adapted and modified some relevant concepts from my reading and will be using them this weekend for Advent week 1. The questions this week are:

What have we fallen asleep to?

What is causing the slumber?

To what do we need to be awakened?

Black Friday is the high holy day of capitalism. Consumerism is a seductive and intoxicating atmosphere – it is the air that we all breathe in late modernity.

Consumerism, however, has a numbing effect that dulls our senses and saps our energy. This happens in 3 predictable phases.

  1. Alienation
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Resignation

 Alienation is the result of humans being commodified and thus separated from that which they produce. It also isolates us from one another as we are simultaneously objectified as consumers and subjected to an onslaught of ads that inform us we are not good enough, we don’t have enough and that the thing we don’t have would make us happy-attractive-successful.

 This leads to disillusionment because we buy stuff, we pay for services, we upgrade, we super-size … and yet it does not satisfy. We are dis-couraged. Aren’t we supposed to live in a post-racial America? What is one supposed to do in the fallout from the recent economic collapse and ongoing environmental devastation?

The final stage is resignation. The machine is too big. It feels like we are just cogs in a giant mechanism of consumption, corruption and growing disparity. The game is rigged and we know it. But we need stuff so we work more than we ever have and are less satisfied. We watch the news and see how bad is out there and we want to retreat into our screens and games. From Candy Crush to Fantasy Football we are active participants relegated to passive spectators.

We are slowly lulled to sleep in the system and numbed to the needs of our neighbors.

What can one person do in the face of this overwhelming and all-encompassing structure of society?

 Wake Up! Stay Alert! Don’t be dis-couraged.

That is the call of the texts this week. Don’t get distracted by falling stars and light-less moons. Listen to what Jesus is saying. He is telling you that it is going to get bad. Yes there will be progress in certain ways … but don’t be deceived: evil just morphs and takes on other forms.

We can celebrate that slavery ended for one part of the population… but realize that there are more humans in slavery right now than at the height of the slave trade.

Racism is not as overt as it once was … but now it morphed into a New Jim Crow and Dog Whistle Politics.

Wake Up! Stay Alert!

If the slumber results from alienation, disillusionment and resignation then the beginning of waking up is three-fold as well.

  • Realize that the game is rigged. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
  • Admit when you feel like giving up, giving in and checking out. We need each other (see the 1 Cor text from Advent 1)
  • Listen to a community that is different from your own. Don’t be deceived that all you can see is all that is going on.

Do these three things and you will be amazed at what you are awakened to.

 

If you are interested you can listen to the episode - Mark 13 starts around the 1 hour mark.

You can also sign up for the class for December.

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Eat More Turkey: here is some sermon prep

It’s time for Advent and we have prepared a weekly exploration of the Biblical texts offered in the lectionary. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Due to Thanksgiving, we pre-recorded this episode and wanted to offer it for some fun and conversation. If you are interested in the next 4 please sign up for the class and plan to join us each Thursday night in Advent.

You can sign up here if you are interested.

 

in the final segment we mention Critical Theory and the Emergent Village Conversation from 2012.

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Transgressing Emergence: AAR and the Church

Last year in Baltimore the Open and Relational Theologies session took a look at the Emerging Church. IMG_3152

This session involves three conversations, with three participants in each. These conversations pertain to papers written by participants, but there will be no formal reading of the papers. The conversations explore issues in the emergent church as they relate to open and relational theologies.

Presiding:

Thomas Oord, Northwest Nazarene University
Presenting:

Jeremy Fackenthal, Vincennes University
Process Theopoetics and the Emergent Church: Inviting Collaboration and Relationality [pdf]
Callid Keefe-Perry, Boston University
Theological Epistemology in The Emergent Church: A Form of Paul Ricoeur’s Relational Attestation
Responding: Diana Butler Bass

Presenting:

Sara Rosenau, Drew University
Becoming Emergent: Theorizing A Practicing Church
Timothy Murphy, Claremont Lincoln University
The Emergent Church in its Planetary Context [PDF]
Responding: Bo Sanders, Claremont School of Theology

Benjamin Cowan, Claremont Graduate University
John R. Franke, First Presbyterian Church
The Pluralist Reformation: Open Theology and the Practice of Emergent Christianity
Responding: Philip Clayton, Claremont School of Theology

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