Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lectionary 21

I will be starting something new soon. It may be one of those projects I start but don't finish, but it's gotta be attempted. It will be called Lectionary 21, and will probably be it's own site, not a blog format. But I'll continue to post here and refer to it. I will follow the common lectionary as best I can, but sometimes I'll skip around. It will be in the format of notes and comments like you would find for any other lectionary guide. What will set mine apart from others is that I will accept no supernatural basis to any of the stories, but I will still be looking for meaning behind the mere words.

Obviously, my notes will be very different, otherwise what would be the point? For starters, and I'll repeat this a lot, when I say "Jesus", I will mean the historical Jesus. By that, I mean the character Jesus that has been handed down to us via history. The words originally spoken have been translated, changed, misinterpreted and essentially lost. When I say “Jesus”, I mean “the early gospel writers whose names we don’t really know and we don’t how well the early messages were transcribed or if they have survived multiple translations and multiple copies.” I'll say "Jesus" for convenience.

I'm going to start about 4 months out for this lectionary year, year C. I'm thinking of calling mine year Z. Hopefully that's far out enough that I can keep ahead of the rotation, and hopefully I'll have all three years done sometime around the end of next year. That starting point is also at the point of the early years of Jesus (see above), which I think is a better place to start the cycle anyway. Hopefully you'll see why I think that as it unfolds.

Eventually, I'd like to add music suggestions and extra Biblical study notes, but the main focus will always be the stories and their interpretation through the lens of the modern world with all its knowledge of where those stories came from and all of its philosophers and prophets that have come since.

My hope is that someone finds this useful. I will be contacting all of the ministers and lay speakers and theologians that I have known, sent emails to, wrote blogs about, commented on their websites and articles and sometimes hassled. I'll also be writing all those people who say they are on the cutting edge of theology. I look forward to feedback from all of them.

One thing I will try not to do too much of is, say, "the Bible says this, historians tell us this, we can't know for sure, the people hearing the story were experiencing this, it was written when this was happening, therefore,...." There are enough people doing that. There are books on that. I will refer to those people and books, but I'll leave that study to you.

There will however, be occasions when I have to comment on the historical context and how others are currently preaching to a particular passage. There are parts of the Bible that need to be designated as irrelevant to the modern world. We don't need to know how to build an ark and we don't need to know the military history of wars that didn't happen. Sometimes a miracle is an allegory for something that is timeless, sometimes it's a made up story to make God look good.


For convenience, when I say “Jesus”, I mean “the early gospel writers whose names we don’t really know and we don’t how well the early messages were transcribed or if they have survived multiple translations and multiple copies.”

When I say “gospels” or “gospel writers”, I’m not talking about 4 people we know by first name. We don’t actually know who those people were. We have some idea of when each gospel was written and the earliest one was 30 to 50 years after the events it claimed happened. These facts should be in the background of any sermon. You can choose to teach them from the pulpit or elsewhere, but the facts are not in dispute, at least not by most and not by much.

The oldest actual copies of the gospel are from around 250 AD. They are completely useless for confirming the truth of miraculous events. They give us some insight into lives of ordinary people and their thoughts from a long time ago. This makes them valuable as historical source documents. But source documents have to be evaluated in the context of everything else you know about that time and place.  

Historical facts
I will mention historical facts that I consider accurate and sometimes say something about how confident I am or what the historical consensus is. I won't dwell on these. The stories themselves are not historically accurate and were never meant to be, that is a background assumption. 

If it's important to you, it is up to you to check my facts. The point of this exercise is to find themes in these stories based on a full understanding of their context, including how we view them through the lens of all human knowledge. Obviously I don't possess all human knowledge, so my lens will be as blurry as anyone's. 

I will be glad to respectfully discuss historical issues, but before you do, consider how much you have discussed those issues with your spiritual community. My experience is they have not been too concerned by them. If the historical facts support their preconceived notions, they might, but if they cause a problem for the text, they would rather dismiss them. My lack of attention to explaining historical details should not be misunderstood as dismissive. I am using the standard of "to the best of my knowledge". I am always open to gaining knowledge or having mine corrected.

On the other hand, if you already don't believe the stories are historical, but think it's important that I point that out, consider how much you have looked into the themes of these narratives. If you look at them as pure fiction, can you still find value? That's what I'm exploring here. The fact vs fiction argument will sometimes matter but often will not.


"Good" and "righteous" are used frequently in the Bible. It is not always clear what they mean. Sometimes you can get a list, but even those are more for discussion than real answers. Even the 10 commandments has multiple versions. There are no simple answers from science, psychology or other traditions either. The idea of what is "good" is developed throughout the Bible, just as we develop ideas about it throughout our lives.

The most succinct description I have ever heard came from Dan Fincke in 12 minutes of an interview with Ryan Bell in 2016. Basically, after discussing how selective pressures acted on our ancestors and the basic capacities we have to think and be aware of our environment, he said, we need a cooperative society to fulfill our desires, from the highest to the most basic. After we receive a certain amount of education, we choose to participate in that society because we understand what was given to us and how it made us happier. We continue to see the value of long term relationships and peaceful functioning institutions and we see that by contributing to them, we will get a return. This is not a simple transaction. It offers no guarantees and fairness is difficult to achieve, often impossible. Sometimes we experience mutual empowerment and other times we are "paying it forward". Often times we don't know if we were good or not.

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