Archive for the ‘Confirmation Bias’ Tag

Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 24, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Beheading of St. John the Baptist Caravaggio

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

Oppression

OCTOBER 17, 2020

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts.

Created by you, let us live in your image;

created for you, let us act for your glory;

redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 14:3-11

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Matthew 14:1-12

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He [the LORD] will judge the world with righteousness

and the people with his truth.

–Psalm 96:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Antipas (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) was a bad character and a client ruler (a tetrarch, not a king, by the way) within the Roman Empire.  He had married Herodias, his niece and daughter-in-law, an act for which St. John the Baptist had criticized him.  This incestuous union violated Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 and did not come under the levirate marriage exemption in Deuteronomy 25:5.  John, for his trouble, lost his freedom and his life.  Salome (whose name we know from archaeology, not the Bible), at the behest of her mother, Herodias, requested the head of the holy man on a platter.

The text from Isaiah 14 is an anticipated taunt of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

How the oppressor has ceased!

How his insolence has ceased!

–Isaiah 14:3b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That oppression and insolence did cease in the case of Herod Antipas.  He had deserted the daughter of King Aretas IV of the Nabateans to wed Herodias.  In 36 C.E. Aretas took his revenge by defeating Herod Antipas.  The tetrarch sought Roman imperial assistance yet gained none, for the throne had passed from Tiberius to Caligula.  Herod Antipas, encouraged by Herodias, requested that Caligula award him the title of “King” as the Emperor had done to the tetrarch’s nephew (and brother of Herodias), Herod Agrippa I (reigned 37-44 C.E.).  Yet Herod Agrippa I brought charges against Herod Antipas, who, having traveled to Rome to seek the new title in person, found himself exiled to Gaul instead.  The territories of Herod Antipas came under the authority of Herod Agrippa I who was, unfortunately, one of the persecutors of earliest Christianity (Acts 12:1-5).

Oppression has never disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Certain oppressive regimes have ended, of course, but others have continued the shameful tradition.  You, O reader, can probably name some oppressive regimes in the news.  Sometimes they fight each other, so what is one supposed to do then?  I remember that, during my time as a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, I took a course about World War II.  The professor asked us one day that, if we had to choose between following Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler (a decision many in Eastern Europe had to make in the early 1940s), whom would we select?  I said, “Just shoot me now.”  That, I imagine is how many people in Syria must feel in 2014.

Only God can end all oppression.  Until God does so, may we stand with the oppressed and celebrate defeats of oppressors.  Some good news is better than none, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/oppression/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 16, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Foundation of the Tower of Antonia

Above:  Foundation of the Tower of Antonia, Jerusalem, Palestine, 1921

Image Creators = Jamal Brothers

Image Source = Library of Congress

Exile and Restoration

AUGUST 22, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 36:33-38

Psalm 138

Matthew 16:5-12

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All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.

They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

that great is the glory of the Lord.

–Psalm 138:4-5, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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That was part of the vision of the Book of Ezekiel.  The theology of that text held that exile was divine punishment for persistent national sins and that God would act mightily to restore the fortunes of Israel for the glory of the divine name and the benefit of the people.  Surely such an impressive act would convince many skeptical people that God (YHWH) was not only real but great.  It was a hopeful vision, but life in post-exilic Judea fell far short of those expectations.  At the time of Christ the Roman Empire ruled in military might and with economic exploitation, with the collaboration of Jerusalem Temple officials in Jerusalem.  The exilic experience persisted, with the ironic twist that the exiles were home.

We human beings have a tendency to use logic to confirm our opinions.  Thus we tend to seek prooftexts, cherry-pick evidence, and seek not to become “confused by the facts.”  This reality helps to explain much political discord, especially when disputing partisans cannot agree even on the definition of objective reality.

Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on many substantive issues, but members of both camps were in league with the Roman Empire and challenged Jesus.  Of course their stations in life and their theological opinions reinforced each other in a repeating feedback loop, but I suspect that many Sadducees and Pharisees were sincere in their doctrine.  They followed the Law of Moses as they understood it and recalled lessons from Hebrew tradition about the relationship between national sin and fortunes.  And certainly they understood our Lord and Savior as a threat in the overlapping realms of economics, politics, and religion.

I know which side I support, for I am a Christian, a partisan of Christ.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to perpetuate forms of piety dependent on wealth.  Peasants could not find enough time to keep all the Pharisaic rules and regulations, for they had to work for so many hours.  And Sadducees, who rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, channeled considerable efforts into maintaining aristocratic status and estates for the next generation to inherit.  That brought them into disagreement with Jesus.

Exile can assume many forms.  People can be in exile at home or abroad, physically or spiritually.  Exiles might not even know that they are in exile and therefore in need of restoration.  Informing such exiles of their actual status might prompt not return, restoration, and gratitude but hostility and even violence.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will preserve me;

you will stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand will save me.

The Lord shall make good his purpose for me;

your loving-kindness, O Lord, endures for ever;

forsake not the work of your hands.

–Psalm 138:7-8, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), page 266, offers a germane analysis:

God does not impose his gracious purpose on us, but waits until we ourselves desire it of him.  We sometimes hear it argued that if God is really eager to bless us, he will give up now what we need and not wait till we ask him.  But is that so?  Surely God is never concerned merely to give us things, but only in and through what he gives us to train to be his children, true men and women.  He can adequately bless us only when we ourselves are ready and eager for his blessing.  Thus some of us discover for the first time what if it really means to relish our food–because we come to it hungry.  It is as simple as that.

So, how eager are you, O reader, to receive the grace God has for you and the responsibilities which come with it?  Grace is free to us; we cannot purchase it.  But it is not cheap, for it costs us much.  Many have even died in faithful response.  They have died as free people–not exiles–in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

THE FEAST OF JOHN MOORE WALKER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST

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This post owes much to the scholarship of Richard Horsley.  Perhaps the most compact book in his oeuvre is Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2003).

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/exile-and-restoration/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness, Justification, Justice, and Awe

JULY 6 and 7, 2020

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 27:1-11, 16-22 (Monday)

Jeremiah 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 131 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Monday)

Romans 3:1-8 (Tuesday)

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O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 131, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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“Righteousness” and “justification” are English translations of the same Greek word.  “Justification” refers to how we get right with God.  St. Paul the Apostle, understanding faith as something which comes with works as a component of it (as opposed to the author of the Letter of James, who comprehended faith as intellectual and therefore requiring the addition of works for justification), argued that faith alone was sufficient for justification.  The two men agreed in principle, but not their definition of faith.  They arrived at the same conclusion by different routes.  That conclusion was that actions must accompany thoughts if the the thoughts are to be of any good.

A note on page 2011 of The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) makes an excellent point:

In the OT, righteousness and justice repeatedly characterize God’s nature and activity, particularly in relationship  to the covenant with Israel.

Thus we arrive at the lections from Jeremiah, excerpts from a section of that book.  The prophet argued that God had made Judah a vassal state of the Babylonians, so rebellion against them would constitute a sin.  Hananiah was a false prophet who advocated for the opposite point of view.  The argument that a fight for national liberation is wrong might seem odd to many people, but it made sense to Jeremiah in a particular context.

Discerning the will of God in a given context can prove to be challenging at best.  Often the greatest obstacle to overcome is our penchant for confirmation bias–to reinforce what we think already.  Are we listening to God’s message or conducting an internal monologue?  But, when we succeed in discerning the divine will, we might realize that we do not understand or agree with it.  Honesty is the best policy with God; may we acknowledge truthfully where we stand spiritually and proceed from that point.  If divine justice confuses or frustrates us, may we tell God that.  If we argue, may we do so faithfully, and so claim part of our spiritual inheritance from the Jews, our elder siblings in faith.  Jeremiah, for example, argued with God often.

And may we trust in the faithfulness of God, the mysteries of whom we can never hope to explore completely.  Mystery can be wonderful, inspiring people with a sense of awe, the meaning of “the fear of God.”  Such awe provides us with proper context relative to God.  Such awe shows us how small we are relative to ultimate reality, God.  And such awe reinforces the wondrous nature of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/righteousness-justification-justice-and-awe/

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