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    • #2048
      Forgiving Victim

      2.5 Priests and prophets

      In this session we explore different understandings of Creation and God’s relationship to it.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Experiencing God and Creation

      Consider two images:

      1. A mechanical clock or toy. This image represents one idea of Creation: that it happened once in the past.
      2. A plant. This represents another idea of Creation: that is it ongoing and that God is still actively engaged in the process of Creation.

      Explain which image represents how you experience God and Creation.

      Food for thought

      • How does understanding Creation the way the legal scholars did, as having happened once in the past, affect how we live in the present?
      • How does understanding Creation as ongoing, as the Priestly tendency did, affect how we live in the present?
      • Jeremiah believed that historical calamity could be understood as God’s punishment for sins. Do you think God has punished you or your community for your sins? Why or why not?

      Wrap-up question

      How is Isaiah is creating a new possibility for human community and for understanding what God is doing among us?

    • #5827

      I have been taught in theology courses and in church that creation is in the past but I am grateful to have another perspective opened up. For me it was listening to James on THe Shape of God’s Affection and creation coming to completion? at the Cross that helped me with this. Creation as ongoing is attractive but I’m struggling to break out of an entrenched mindset and need to explore this much further.

    • #5829

      Yes, Maginel as we have discussed before, James is constantly challenging our ‘entrenched mindset’ as you describe it. And it really is a slow, evolutionary process of absorbing and realising that a completely different Christianity is being presented to us. It is the Priestly testimony in the Hebrew Scriptures which gives us our concept of Creation as ongoing, and of Redemption and Atonement. These priestly writings also introduce us to the possibility of God’s presence being lived independently of the Temple.

    • #6152
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your lives.

      “… showing up in your lives” The phrase is probably not intended for an online, self-study course, but written for delivery to a group.

      Nevertheless, I’m coming to notice a common dynamic of scapegoating in all ‘my groups;’ more subtle in some than others. I wrote about Nora in an earlier post, who was scapegoated in one of my church committees. I’m also active in a local political party organization, where scapegoating is the norm. Group identity emerges in opposition to someone or some idea perceived as beyond the pale, outside the group’s circle of belonging.

      Another way Forgiving Victim insights show up in my life comes Sunday mornings when I lector for our parish’s eight o’clock service. In last Sunday’s reading (2 Samuel 7:1-14a) Nathan delivered God’s message to David after he proposed to build a house for God to dwell in. I felt a kind of poignant awareness reading that passage, thinking: Where is the evidence for the existence of David? How do I hear God’s voice today in the reading of this scripture? Where really is God’s house today? This was the internal dialogue behind the public voice reading the passage for the congregation.

      Insights from The Forgiving Victim accompany me into all the venues and cultures of my daily lives; manifesting both in the flux of the moment, and as lifelines tethering me to new locations for the timeless foundation of God’s house in embodied and lived reality.

      • #6154

        Yes, Rich, we do begin to look at the Scriptures differently don’t we. It’s a slow evolutionary process which makes us realise that 3rd Isaiah is really a devastating critique of those who wanted to rebuild the Temple and restore the purity laws. It is about Ezekiel’s vision that God’s presence being lived independent of the Temple. The evolution is not only within ourselves, but also in the slow, gradual revelation in the Scriptures.

    • #6153
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum for this step of the unit, explain which image: mechanical clock or a plant, represents how you experience God and Creation.

      Plants have ‘growing points’ where new growth emerges; but change related to new growth occurs throughout the plant. The girth of a tree trunk increases. However, points on the trunk do not rise as the tree’s crown grows toward the light. No. Continuing growth at the crown of the tree increases tree height. The truck thickens; branches get bigger and stronger; vein systems get more complex in order to support the growth for which the tree was created. Compare the mature oak with the acorn where it all started. Growth happens in one direction only. There is no returning to the acorn.

      Clocks, on the other hand, do not grow. They are manufactured instruments for measuring the passage of time. What is time, if not human awareness of change in pattern, position, people or purpose. Is the universe aware of change? That awareness would make time something other than the space-time continuum ideas we use now to describe the nature of time.

      The growing tree analogy is my pick for opening to the experience of God in creation. Beginning with the seed, the tree progresses into maturity by retaining and transcending its prior forms. Growing points always reach ever more higher into the light. The tree’s form at any point in time is necessary for the emergence of subsequent structure. The tree incorporates past form into present structure, because past form facilitates growth into the light. Denying its past truncates, even subverts, the tree’s struggle to grow into the light.

      As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

      “Where is the tree that can utter fully the silent passion of the soil?”

    • #6155

      Your tree analogy is excellent Rich. It is again the slow evolutionary process of moving into the light!

    • #6163
      Rich Paxson

      Karen Armstrong, in her 2014 book: Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, repeatedly makes the point that ancient imperial rulers viewed punishment as a necessary glue to hold a society together. Civil society rested on the shoulders of violent physical sanctions employed most frequently against abusively exploited peasant classes. Religious institutions were integral parts of ancient civil authority; providing de facto and at times de jure validation for the suffering of the poor.

      State retribution regimes are less obvious for some today. Unless of course, one lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s; or lives in Iraq/Syria Daesh controlled territory now (; or is an African-American living, for example, in Ferguson, Missoui. Armstrong writes that punishment is much less about religion per se, and much more about the means of control and expropriation used by powerful elites.

      Jeremiah lived in a culture where personal physical punishment was an ever present reality. He also believed “historical calamity could be understood as God’s punishment for sins.” Do I believe this? No. But, does God involve God’s self with individual moral decisions? Perhaps. St. Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh.’ may be one way God intervenes, one way God encourages moral discipline.

      Here’s a personal example. Generally, I’m impatient when driving, even in laid-back Iowa. I learned how to drive in Chicago, so I find Iowa’s slow pace of traffic a constant irritant. The other day when parking I very slightly ‘dinged’ the car behind me; but it wasn’t slight enough not to leave marks on both vehicles. Fear of punishment played a part in my contacting the owner and reporting the accident to the police. My insurance paid to repair the other vehicle.

      I chose to leave the ding on my car for a couple of reasons. Repairing even this minor scratch would be very expensive and below my policy’s deductible limit. Primarily though I left the ding on my pickup truck, because when I see it, then I think of it as a ‘thorn in the flesh;’ a constant irritant reminding me not to drive arrogantly, distracted by personal issues. Those reminders help me get outside of myself and think of the other driver first.

      Choosing to avoid the potential future punishment of another accident makes me a better driver in the present. I don’t think it would be logical to generalize from my personal experience to Jeremiah’s position that God punishes nations for personal sin. But, I do believe that a loving God cares that we love each other as God loves us; and that God can remind individuals, and yes, I suppose also remind nations of the great privilege of loving and not punishing one another in personal and international relationships.

      • #6164

        I think there are several issues here Rich. In this book Armstrong seems to be referring to the classic archaic sacred, the sacrificial mechanism which always temporarily brings social cohesion. I have not read this one but have read several others of hers and I don’t think that she sees violence in these terms. In any event, we create violence, it has nothing to do with God.

        I don’t believe that God punishes, not does he seek to impose moral discipline. God is unconditional love and compassion. Christianity is an anthropology, not a morality. Morality is like technique on a musical instrument, it is the grounding that permits you to play music beautifully, it is a means, not an end. When we learn unconditional love, we are automatically moral beings. In other words if you really want to love God, you love your neighbour, because that is where we find God.

        As to all of our occasional fits of road rage, or road impatience, I think Girard puts this perfectly in perspective……”“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”
        ? René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes

        • #6165
          Rich Paxson

          Sheelah, Thanks for your comments. I particularly liked your analogy for morality:

          “Christianity is an anthropology, not a morality. Morality is like technique on a musical instrument, it is the grounding that permits you to play music beautifully, it is a means, not an end.”

          I think Karen Armstrong’s ‘Fields of Blood’ is consistent with her prior works. If anything, my use of ‘ancient’ as opposed to ‘archaic’ muddied the waters of the point I was trying to make. Armstrong reviews many ancient/archaic societies in some detail, showing how they all used the anthropology of human-created violence to control their populations.

          The rest of what I wrote reflected a personal coming to terms in the ‘now’ of my life with the fact that God ‘is’ unconditional love. I find it is one thing to accept the concept of God’s unconditional love, and quite another to live into that understanding through a discipline seeking God’s aliveness in a ministry of daily life.

          • #6186

            Yes, Rich that is absolutely true. Keep up the good work, and kepe in contact.

    • #6188
      Rich Paxson

      How is Isaiah creating a new possibility for human community and for understanding what God is doing among us?

      I’ve been vacationing these past few weeks, which accounts for my absence at Forgiving Victim forum. The summer break both helps and hinders a return to studying Israel’s evolving understanding of monotheism.

      I’m hindered because the break makes it tough to return to thinking about the times and meanings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, I’m helped because the effort required to reach that mindset makes the subject fresh again. In some ways I feel, ‘Oh, so that’s what this was all about!’

      Like the silent movies of a century ago, new images for God’s presence flicker onto the screen of my life, but in a place constructed by decades of cultural conditioning. I find I’m continually weighed down by a background of personal stereotypes telling me what ‘religion really is about.’ It’s one thing to understand James’s arguments for Israel’s progressive understanding of “God Who is not one of the gods;” but on a feeling level, it’s quite a another matter to really integrate similar progressive enlightenment into personal daily action and outlook.

      I seek the nexus between Forgiving Victim insights about “what God is doing among us,” and expanding awareness of a growing, loving presence underpinning and motivating personal thoughts and actions. The answer lies, I suspect, in following the trails blazed primarily by Isaiah, but also by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

      Initial steps may be heavy and clumsy, and yet as I continue to walk these trails, my steps become lighter and quicker. Dawning awareness of “new possibility for human community and for understanding what God is doing among us” comes in the alternation between walking and then reflecting on the direction the path is taking me.

      • #6191

        Greetings Rich. Isaiah’s vision of God made it possible to critique the religious victim-creating mechanisms. In the ‘servant songs’ of 2nd Isaiah, a separation between God and human victim-making, and yet a generous process of being able to occupy the victim space on behalf of others begins to become possible.
        You give me the impression that you are beginning to ‘go with the flow’. That is really excellent.

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