This week, that pattern was shattered. 12-15 inches of snow fell over the area, and temperatures feel to lows not seen in over 25 years. Yesterday morning, we had a low of -6. I had pipes freeze in my basement, despite a heater being down there.
What is the relevance of all this snow discussion, you might ask? Well, because of the snow, I couldn't get out the the Unitarian church I've become a part of recently (they canceled services) and the had an experiment with having a form of "e-church" on their Facebook page. I signed up for Facebook, and joined in on my phone. Links were posted to videos of music, and the minister gave a short sermon in a post on their page.
|Gutenburg Bible. Credit: Wikipedia|
As writer Jonny Scaramanga points out in his great post Was Jesus a Creationist? early theologians, Christian and Jewish alike, considered much of the Old Testament to be figurative. It wasn't until the birth of the modern American fundamentalist movement that people started taking stories like Adam and Eve seriously as literal truth.
Now, I don't know what to think about the intentions of Biblical writers. Did many of them mean for the Bible to be taken so seriously, or did they play around a lot with metaphors and allegories to get a point across? It's especially possible that the second case could be true, seeing as how common allegorical stories were in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures that the writers came from.
The Unitarian church, though they don't swear allegiance to any religion, and accept people from all faiths, they have a lot of historical and traditional roots in liberal/universalist Christianity. They seem to have picked up a lot of traditions from Catholicism and mainline Christianity along the way (Episcopal church, UCC, etc).
The minister was talking about the ancient Christian tradition of Epiphany, and reflecting back on the Gospels, and their accounts of Jesus' birth, and the Three Wise Men. I'll include an expert of his statements here, I'm not going to link to their Facebook page for my own privacy reasons. (Yes, I no longer have anything to do with my parents or my former church, but I still like my privacy).
I was ushered to this topic today by a chance question from (name redacted) with whom I visited this past week. (Name redacted) always been good at asking provocative questions and this time he asked, “Have you had any epiphanies lately?”Some people might consider that assessment a bit harsh (especially the last two paragraphs), but so long as there is no proof or statements outside of the Bible to back up such claims, it's hard to take them seriously as literal truth. I've noticed a curious habit in the Gospels of some writers mentioning rather extraordinary details which are only mentioned by one other Gospel writer, or none of the others. Details so extreme, that you would think there would be external mentions of them by historical writers of the time, especially Josephus, but external mentions are nowhere to be found.
It happened to be a good week to ask. Many churches across Western Christendom today celebrate the Epiphany, the visit of the wise kings to the baby Jesus. We UU’s usually hear about that stuff for Christmas and then let it go. Imagining that we want to keep up better with what our neighbors are doing and talking about in their religious settings, here’s an invitation to a short reflection on Epiphany and what it could mean to us in our faith and spiritual lives.
Thumbing through the four canonical gospels, only two of them include stories about the birth of Jesus. In Luke we find the part about the shepherds watching their flocks by night and being visited by all those singing angels; you know, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, heavenly hosts praising God to the Highest, and all that. Only Luke shares that little vignette.
And only Matthew says anything about the visiting kings. If they’re only known by Matthew, can they possibly be historical figures? If they’re not historical, why bother retelling the story? Maybe he’s only using them to say that Jesus will one day include the Gentiles in his ministry. It’s hard to know what to make of something that seems so surely fictional – which is of course how so many UU’s feel about the whole of the Judeo-Christian Bible.
Which leads one to consider: How can we rely on non-historical narrative to tell us anything about the world today? Should we rely on literary slights of hand to lead us to where we want to go? What role does fable and myth play, if any, in your own spiritual life?
the zombies mentioned in Matthew. Matthew claimed that when Jesus died, people both long dead, and recently deceased came back to life in the Jerusalem area. No other Gospel writer mentions that, and of course, there is no historical record of that.
So why are such stories included in the Bible if they aren't meant to be taken literally? Were they meant to be taken literally? If not, then what was the purpose and meaning of them?
Sometimes I wonder if I should even be pondering such things, after all, I'm somewhere between being an agnostic and an atheist, but I suppose it's hard not to look back when I spent almost all my life obsessed with the Bible, trying to interpret it, and live by it.
Old habits die hard.