30 May 2013

King Saul in light of the end of the book of Judges

Although the book of Samuel follows shortly after the book of Judges, I somehow have always missed the connection between certain details.

When Saul is told that he will become king, he is surprised: How could someone from the tribe of Benjamin be fit to be king? I'd always assumed it was a bit of polite humility, a sort of residual shame from Benjamin being the youngest child in the family. However, it was the Benjamites who were the tribe that had been almost destroyed because of what happened to the Levite's concubine. They only reason they survived as a tribe was because they either had foreign wives or stole from the other Israelites. In light of these last chapters of Judges, it's now more obvious to me why both Saul, and the rest of Israel, was be a little less certain that Saul, a Benjaminite, should be king.

Furthermore, right before Saul actually becomes king, he calls up the rest of Israel to fight and save one of their own. To do so, he takes an oxen and cuts it up in twelve pieces and sends it to the twelve tribes. The message was that the same thing would happen to the oxen of whoever did not join the fight. It was an effective way of conveying the message, although I find the parallel to what happened with the concubine and how it began the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin to be a little disturbing.

Both of these connections to the book of Judges and its history of Israel's sinful past now colour my understanding of King Saul. I know the end of the story and how bad things turn out, but I had never really ever noticed at the beginning of the story all these subtle warnings on account of the intertextual parallels to Judges.

28 May 2013

The shocking end of Judges

The end of the book of Judges has always bothered me. It covers gang-rape and revenge, with a Levite, God's representative, playing a central role. Yet, when I came to the story in reading through the Bible this year, the story bothered me just a little bit less this time.

The Levite's concubine is still offered by their host and her partner to the raging men at the door, she is still gang-raped and found dead in front of the door the next morning. The Levite still cuts her body up, sending the different parts to the tribes of Israel who then wipe out almost the entire tribe of Benjamin. It remains horrid, cruel and gruesome. Yet, this time one thing struck me differently.

When the various tribes received the message of what had happened to this woman, they all reacted immediately with: this is not how it should be. No questions were first asked about whether the woman, who had been unfaithful to the Levite, deserved what happened. Instead, her death and what happened was seen as a horrible evil. Furthermore, all those involved were punished, not just those proven to have actually committed the crime. All those who lived there and had allowed such things to develop and happen were killed, being considered equally guilty.

Having read and heard so much about human trafficking lately, it was easy to make the link to this story. That is where the shock comes in. What happened to the concubine happens in greater and lesser degrees to different women around the world. And how do we react? We say the women deserved it, or we claim that we know nothing. We talk about how good our justice system is that we make sure that rules are kept well, privacy is guarded and we make sure that people are not punished unjustly for crimes they didn't commit. Yet, where is the reaction found in Judges? Where is our shock and rage, alongside of a desire for justice and willingness to destroy the evil even when it hurts ourselves?

It seems ironic that the book of Judges - where everyone did what was right in their own eyes - has something to say to us today about being appropriately shocked when it comes to evil and justice.

15 May 2013

Tragedy and community

This visit to Canada has been marked by a tragedy: Tim Bosma, a member of a Hamilton area Christian Reformed Church (CRC), went missing last Monday evening - the same evening I arrived in Toronto (and then later Hamilton). By Tuesday morning, his photo and a missing poster were plastered all over Facebook. At least a hundred of my friends - many of them CRC or living in Hamilton area - posted or reposted news of his being abducted by 2 men coming to test drive his truck. Somehow this person I had never met was frequently in my thoughts. Several times a day, the news would be read or watched in the hope that there was good news. I, along with hundreds of others, was praying that he would come home safe.

Today, a week after his disappearance, a press conference announced that Bosma's remains had been found. We all felt a collective sadness.

Yet, amidst this tragedy, there has also been a deep feeling of community. Facebook and twitter never let up passing on information and hoping that this might help. The news updates always included family and friends - and even relative strangers - reaching out to do all they could to help find this missing man. The missing poster was hung on posts in Chatham (200+ km away) and on the church door. Another was hanging in a park entrance in Woodstock. Prayers were said individually and in many churches last Sunday.

I hope and pray that we as a community continue to support the family as they mourn their loss and sort through this senseless tragedy.

10 May 2013

Technology as a complicated blessing

A couple of weeks ago, I answered an invitation from catapult journal to write something about technology. I often find the way that we respond to technology to be problematic: either we embrace it as being all good or assume that it is evil/problematic. The reality is neither of these. I believe instead that technology is a tool, which can be used for tremendous good but which also can lead to certain excesses.

To give you a glimpse of the article, I'm including the first paragraph here: 
"I sometimes get the feeling that a significant number of Christians think that technology — more specifically, things like social media, internet and cell phones — is bad in and of itself. The trend to give up Facebook for Lent only seems to confirm this sense of how harmful it must be. But isn’t technology just a tool? It can, and obviously does, lead to certain excesses. Yet, excesses in other areas, like food, are given names (for example, gluttony or eating disorders); food itself is not considered evil. So why should technology be different? How is it that technology can be a blessing and yet also cause such havoc in our lives? . . .

I continue by giving some thoughts about transportation (not by car) and internet (espcially social media). I encourage you to read the whole article (it's relatively short). But I especially want you to hear my conclusion about the largest blessing of technology, and so I'm including it here:
I believe that the largest blessing of technology is hidden: it shows our need for community. Technology has helped us extend our communities and be able to connect to others. At the same time, we need the help of others to figure out how to do that well, and learn how to create healthy boundaries so that this technology doesn't take over our lives and can still be a blessing for ourselves and others.

07 May 2013

Visiting Canada again

I am currently at the beginning of a trip to Canada to visit family and friends. Organizing that - and, more significantly, trying to get things finished up before leaving - has taken up much of my time these last few weeks. And now I am trying to transition from "get it done" mode to the mode of being present with these people I love who I don't get to see all that often. Perhaps that will give time and desire to write more of my thoughts, but perhaps that will have to wait (like the dissertation) until I return home again. Who knows? only time will tell...