Where is God in this?

These first few weeks of seminary have given me a new perspective on a number of things related to ministry. Some comical, others not so much.

My Intro to Old Testament/Hebrew Bible teacher gives us a lot to think about. A lot.

This past week, we studied the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. For those of you who are not familiar, check it out. It’s a sad story and a story that is still being lived by so many women. So, after the scripture is read, the prof asks, “Where is God in this story? Where is God for Tamar? What kind of God would allow this to go on?” I initially don’t have a response and sit there looking at him blankly. As I thought about his question, I had to remind myself who I think God is. Who I know God to be. I had to revisit how God is portrayed in my life.

There were a few answers from some of my classmates and I finally chimed in, once I got my thoughts together. I asked why the teacher presented the question as he did. I asked him why we should assume God isn’t in the story just because God’s name isn’t mentioned? I wasn’t satisfied with the answer I got. I couldn’t figure out where he was going with this in the context of the lesson. “How do we preach this story now? Where is the hope in this story?” he asked.

After much discussion he finally said to the class, “What I’m trying to do is find out if you are creating space for the Amnons of the world to keep doing what they’ve been doing or if you are going to help the Tamars of the world find a voice.” That I understood. I want to be one who helps Tamar find her voice. I want to be one who doesn’t allow the Amnons of the world to push the Tamars of the world into a life of silence and shame.

As for the story of Tamar and Amnon, the class never agreed whether God was present or not. Some said God was there but silent. Others said God couldn’t have been there, which then calls into question the omnipresence of God. What I know is this, God is in my life. God is in control of my life. When terrible things happen to me, I don’t claim that God isn’t there but I do have to wonder where am I in relationship to God and God’s perfect will. On the other hand when good things happen I will always remember to give God the glory and the praise.

So as for me and my house, we believe God is in fact in control. The question for me isn’t so much “Where is God?” but “Where am I?”.

Challenging times and prayerful responses

The ITC campus has been abuzz since last week after the news of civil allegations against a well-known Atlanta preacher hit the media. The buzz has been two- if not three-fold. One fold is because the preacher in question is an alum of ITC and is well known to many of the faculty and staff. A second fold is the question of preachers and boundaries and the third fold is how the church and the Church are being affected.

In nearly every class we’ve talked about everything EXCEPT the allegations against this preacher, which I think is a good thing. Most of the conversations have been centered on the response, or what the response should be, or should have been — from the people and from fellow clergy.

It has been an intriguing dialogue. And what I took away from it was this: pray before, during and after you speak and act. If you do, you will have a better shot at saying or doing the right thing.

This brings me to my next train of thought… me digesting the idea that I will preach in the coming weeks. This is a serious challenge for me. I’ve not yet embraced the idea of “Michelle the preacher” yet because I’m most comfortable with “Michelle the writer.” I’ve been praying on this preaching thing and not sure I’m really listening for my answer. Maybe I’m afraid of the answer. The introduction to my sermon is due Thursday. The conclusion is due the following week and the body is due the week after that.

While this is an assignment for class, it is a real sermon and the Word is not to be played with. I will need the support of all of my friends in ministry and those who are traveling this journey with me. Will you pray with me and for me?

Getting to “know” you… biblically speaking.

Disclaimer: This post contains sexually suggestive material.  You HAVE been warned.

I just had to share this.

My Hebrew Bible teacher had heads spinning in class tonight when we got somewhat off topic. We started with a fairly tame discussion about what’s really going on in Joshua. (Yay for me, right?? For those of you who don’t know, Joshua 1 is my text for the semester in my Preaching class.)

So we’re through Chapter 1 and we hit Chapter 2 and we talk about how Joshua isn’t exactly obeying God’s instruction and we start talking about the spies Joshua sent out. So in Joshua 2:1b most Bible translations say something along the lines of, so the two men went to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and they slept — or spent the night — there. Our teacher went on a tangent about the sexualization of Rahab (she was labeled a prostitute) and the “goodness” of the Israelite men (all they did was sleep, right?). He points out in Hebrew the last part is properly translated “and they lie there,” which means — bibically — that the men had sex with Rahab. But the Bible translators don’t want us “good Christian folk” to think about the Israelite men “getting some” while they’re supposed to be doing the Lord’s work. Yep, that’s what he said.

Now I’m just going to put it out there, I assumed “getting some,” as the teacher so tactfully put it, WAS the reason they went to Rahab’s house and nothing else needed to be said. I mean who goes to the house of a prostitute JUST to sleep?? That’s like saying you subscribe to Playboy for the articles. OK, yeah, right.

So the teacher continued his train of thought by pointing out two passages where the writers, or translators, want to be clear that there is sexual activity going on. He goes on to say “know” is not used as a verb to describe intercourse in these particular settings.

His first example was Genesis 19:31. For those of you thinking Genesis 19 is about Sodom and Gomorrah, you are right but you’re wrong about where the teacher was going with his thought. (Here is where you dust off your Bible and turn to Genesis 19:31.)

Got it? Say, “Amen.” If you need more time, say “Wait!” 🙂

I should also take this moment to clarify that we use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, so everything I’m about to write is based upon that translation.

For those of you who don’t have a NRSV or don’t feel like Googling an on-line NRSV bible, the word “know” is used in the passage as is “lie.” So he wanted to know which word, then meant “had sex with.” Then he asked how the word “know” was actually used in the NRSV. He then re-raised the question about what the Israelite men were really doing at Rahab’s house. Laughter ensued.

He then took us a few chapters deeper, to Genesis 38. He directed us to Verses 8 and 9. Again, this is in the NRSV. There is sex described, but it is never described as “getting to know” the other person, he said. Yet again he re-raises the question about what was going down at Rahab’s. More laughter.

Just when we thought he was done, because he’d made his point, he goes back to Joshua 2 but this time to Verse 8. He asks one of us to read the passage out loud. The NSRV says, “Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof…” And the teacher stops the student reading the verse and says, dripping with sarcasm, “Oh come on! This is just Round 2 with the prostitute and we know it!” We were done.

And so am I.

Joshua and hip hop music

Ok, I admit Joshua and hip hop are not actually related in this post, but I will address them both when it is all said and done. 🙂

Last night I made a significant breakthrough on the exegetical paper on Joshua 1, thanks in no small part to my pastor the Rev. Marvin A. Moss. Sunday night Moss preached the first night of revival at St. James UMC in Alpharetta, Ga, a church he once pastored. During the sermon he talked about courage, a key component of Joshua 1, and gave us a brief word study, which is where the lightbulb came on for me. His text was John 16:33 and the subject of his sermon was “When Life Happens.” It was a wonderful message, that served dual purposes for me. I anticipate working on the paper this evening when I get home from United Methodist history class.

Now on to hip hop… my assignment for Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class is proving tricky yet fun. The assignment is to find a “popular expression” of a biblical passage — meaning find a Bible verse in a secular setting — and analyze its secular meaning and explore its original intent in the Bible. I’ve found a couple of possibilities, hopefully I can get to class early enough to sign up for the passage I want. The due dates for the paper are based on where the passages are found in the Bible. The passage I really want to use is found in the Latter Prophets and would be due 11 November, so I really hope I can get one of the seven (7) slots for the Latter Prophets. I have a feeling there will be plenty of room to sign up for passages found in the Former Prophets or Chronicler, as those papers are due 30 September. **sigh**

By the way, many, many thanks to those of you who read Joshua 1 and offered feedback and shared with me what questions popped to mind during and after your reading. If you still want to read it and give me your questions, you have until Tuesday night to do so.

Bibles, bibles everywhere!

I’m sitting here on a Saturday night studying six different translations of Joshua 1. It is actually more fun than it might sound. I’m working on an exegetical paper of Joshua 1 that is due Thursday.

Luckily my classes today didn’t dump a whole lot of reading, unexpected reading I should say, in my lap, so I can spend tonight and tomorrow working on my paper due Thursday. Somewhere in there I do have to read chapter three of “Wesley and the People Called Methodist,” for United Methodist History class on Monday night. There’s plenty of time, right?

So, I’m sitting here writing out questions I need or want to find answers to, as it relates to Joshua 1. A lot of the questions are the basic who, what, why, when and where. But there are also deeper questions about winners and losers, who is telling the story and for what purpose, for instance.

Have you read Joshua 1? What questions did you have about the text?

Exegesis and the Text… also known as Beauty and the Beast

Tonight was my Intro to Preaching class. I love this class. The teacher, Dr. Lomax, is energetic and he engages the class in conversation instead of talking at us. His assignments are going to be the most challenging for me, I think, but in a good way.

For those who don’t know, exegesis is a major component — some would likely say the foundation — of a well prepared sermon. Exegesis, pronounced EX-see-gee-sis, is a “critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text” according to Wikipedia. My preaching professor concurs.

Our assignment for next week is a three to five page exegetical paper on our selected text for the semester. Last week we had to declare a text for the semester, from about 15 Dr. Lomax pre-selected. I chose Joshua 1, so to speak. I went through all of the choices Dr. Lomax gave us and looked them up. I read each of the texts and waited for one to choose me. When I read Johsua 1 I knew it was the one that spoke to me, but I looked up the others just so I could say I did.

If you don’t know the story of Joshua, you might want to check him out. He’s first introduced to us in Exodus and his story continues through the book that bears his name. He’s put in some pretty interesting situations and asked to do some pretty heavy things. My job is to take Joshua 1 and “unpack it,” as Dr. Lomax would say, or interpret the text. This is not an easy assignment. Interpreting the text is a serious, serious undertaking. So I’m going to need your prayers and support over the next seven days as I work through this text and this text works through me.

If any of you are so inclined, take a few minutes and read Joshua 1. Tell me what you think the first chapter is about. I’ll share more of my thoughts on it in my next posting.

Preaching through parables

This entry serves two purposes. One to make sure my posts are showing up on my Facebook page. And two, to see what you all think about the idea of storytelling in preaching.

In my preaching class, the assignment this week was to write a one-page reflection paper on the elements of storytelling. We’re reading a book called “The Preacher as Storyteller,” by Austin B. Tucker. In the first chapters he talks a lot about preachers who don’t like the idea of storytelling while preaching.

What do you think? Are there times with you think using a story in a sermon is inappropriate? Are there stories you’ve heard in sermons that you will never forget? Please share!

~M

P.S. I’ll tell you what I got on my paper when I get the grade back.