Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: paul tillich

The Ten: Worship Only God

Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6, Common English Bible)

The Ten - jasoncstanley.comThere is a story in Exodus 32 where the people of God have grown impatient. Moses had been up on the mountain with God for too long. There had been no messages, no texts, no pigeons, nothing. In their anxiety, the people circle around Moses’ brother, Aaron. “Come,” they cry out, “make gods for us, who shall go before us.”

The people had already been anxious because they have been wandering in the wilderness. And without the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day, they do not know of God’s presence in their midst. It is still something they are getting adjusted to. The irony is that as the people circle around Aaron, Moses is on his way down the mountain with the tablets.

But, Aaron gave in to the people. He told them to collect all the gold among the people. They melted it and molded it into a golden calf. The Wesley Study Bible says, “The golden calf represented either an image of the Lord or another deity all together.” The golden calf had become the focal point of their worship, not the Lord. The Hebrew people had done that with their liberation. They were still giving Moses credit for their liberation, not the Lord God.

The Israelites must have been tempted as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land to worship other gods. The polytheists had a catalog of gods. You have a problem or an issue, there’s a god for that. If you were having fertility issues, there was the god Baal. If there were issues in your marriage or with a pregnancy, there was the goddess Kathirat. And these ancient gods had images associated with them.

It is possible that because the people of God had been surrounded by images of other gods who had specific attributes, they were looking for something similar in the Lord God. It was still a “new thing” to have a God with multiple attributes. The Lord God can be loving, a parent, a giver of life, a redeemer, and a judge.

The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich defined religion as ultimate concern. Ultimate concern is that which concerns us the most. The ultimate concern, Tillich says, becomes our religion. It may not be a golden calf, but if drugs become our ultimate concern to the point everything we do is to fulfill that concern, it has become our religion.

With God has our ultimate concern, we affirm the relationship that God called us to. We also affirm that God has gone before us, beside us, and behind us. The very god the Israelites went to Aaron looking for to worship, is the very Lord God whom they had neglected.

 

The Ten: I Am Your God

 God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God,
    who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
    out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

(Exodus 20:1-3, the Message)

The Ten - jasoncstanley.comIn these beginning words of what we call the Ten Commandments, God is reminding the Israelites of a few important things. First that God delivered them from the bondage of slavery. At this point of the Exodus story, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert. God has provided for them all along the way, but that does not stop the people from complaining.

More importantly, God wants to be in relationship with God’s people. Which may be why there is an element of obedience implied here. To obey God is to affirm God’s desire to be in relationship with us.

God also reminds the Israelites that they should not worship other gods. Have you ever noticed some of the caution warnings on products? Some are pretty bizarre. For example, on a washing machine, the label reads, “DO NOT put any person in this washer.” Or on Apple’s website, “Do not eat iPod shuffle.” Or on a chainsaw, “Do not hold the wrong end of the chainsaw.” We are pretty certain that someone did that  bizarre thing that warranted the warning label.

The same is true here. The first commandment to only worship God is because the Israelites at the time were prone to worship other gods. While the Abrahamic faiths are monotheist, the Israelites lived in a time and culture of polytheism. The worshiping of multiple gods was the norm. And, you might imagine a number of them being tempted to worship multiple gods as they wandered through the wilderness.

The polytheist gods were like a catalogue of gods. You could browse the list and find what you were in need of. For example, if you needed help in areas of fertility, you would worship to god Baal. Or if there were issues of pregnancy in your marriage, you may worship the goddess Kathirat.

God is asking for loyalty in the midst of the relationship which God has entered in with God’s people. Martin Luther in his Catechism says that to have no other gods before Yahweh is to fear, love, and trust God in all things and in all ways. What might that look like? The other nine commandments offer a glimpse.

You’re Next (2011)

Ponderings - You're Next ReviewAs far as horror films go, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is mild. It is by no means Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street. But it is still a horror film, though it beats to its own drum. Wingard’s approach is strike and go. He does not linger on the blood or violence. There is more to this story than that.

In You’re Next, a wealthy couple invite their grown children and their partners to their isolated estate. As the family gathers, it is a very typical dysfunctional family dinner. Old rivalries that have resided in deep resentment surface. During a heated argument at the dinner table, one boyfriend notices something outside. He stands up to look out the window. He is the first of this family to fall fate to the animal masked men outside the home. Ironically, the boyfriend is a documentary filmmaker who is portrayed by horror film maker Ti West.

The message “You’re Next” is scrawled around the house. So, we the humble horror film viewer, know that there is more to come. The film, however, has a few plot turns that are unexpected. Mainly the character of Erin, the girlfriend of one of the sons. Sharni Vinson is by the far the best part of this film. As Erin she is a strong, independent, leader and survivor. When all the mess hits the fan, she goes into survival mode. She does what she learned to do growing up in Australia. It is natural for her, unlike her boyfriend who runs off. This sets Erin apart from this family that she marry into.

Erin is the only one who does not give up. She is only one who does what she must to survive. She will not allow this darkness, this violence, this injustice, to win. And it’s not easy. She sets up traps and arms herself with an axe. The true difficult moment comes when she figures out who is behind all of this violence.

Vinson as Erin

Sharni Vinson as Erin

At the heart of this film (do horror films have hearts?) is family. The problem that the film presents for us is that the darkness, the violence, the injustice that we experience can be at the hands of our family. It quickly becomes clear that the family reunion has been hijacked to ensure that one son gets an inheritance much sooner than planned.

It is hard to believe that family would do this to family. Paul Tillich taught that the thing we care about the most – the thing that motivates us to do the things that we do – becomes our ultimate concern. And that ultimate concern becomes our religion.

And, let’s face it, people do crazy things for their religion. Even kill?

Perhaps.

Plunder the Egyptians

Albert Outler, in his Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, discusses how John Wesley “plundered the Egyptians” to communicate the Gospel.  Wesley, whom Outler calls a “folk theologian”, found ways to effectively communicate the Gospel to large crowds.

Outler explains that the early church father, Origen coined this metaphor upon reading Exodus 12:28-36.   A metaphor, as Outler explains, “pointing to the freedom that Christians have (by divine allowance) to explore, appraise, and appropriate all the insights and resources of any and all secular culture” (77).

Theologian Paul Tillich

The 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich, in his Theology of Culture, suggests that religion and culture need to come together like a finely balanced weaving.  One cannot overpower (or overshadow) the other.  A balance between religion and culture is needed, Tillich argues, to effectively communicate the gospel.

Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, in their book The Godbearing Life, suggest that one of the roles of youth ministry today is to translate the gospel.  We can translate the gospel using elements of culture such as literature (both classic and modern), science, philosophy, film/television, and technology.   If the connection is not made between our lives, our world, and the Gospels, then the Gospel will never get translated.

Wesley was known as a man of “just one book”, that book being the Bible.  For Wesley, Scripture was primary.  According to Outler, “It was [Wesley’s] profound sense of the Bible as a ‘speaking book’ that gave him his freedom to ‘plunder the Egyptians’ and guided him in the use he made of their treasures” (80).  Wesley lived in the Scriptures. And by doing so, he was able to translate the Gospel he lived in, in an effective way that took the Gospel to places it otherwise may never have gone.

Aren’t we called to do the same?

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