Specks and Beams

The Dome of the Rock from the Southwest. Jerus...

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One thing that used to bother me in reading the Old Testament is that the Israelites kept switching from following God to the gods of the day, Baal, Ashtoreth, and others. Another typical reaction, other than “Why?” is that as they turned from God they started going downhill. Soon, they realized it, turned back, and He blessed them all over again. In many ways reading some of the books of the Bible are like watching a scary movie. We find ourselves screaming at the screen saying, “Look behind you! Have you never seen a scary movie?”

Typically speaking, we gloss over the law especially as it relates to the part of the law we no longer practice. Sacrifice a bull for this, a goat for that, two birds for this. Only clean animals without blemish, sprinkle the blood here, burn the fat there. When you start to think about what the temple looked like, it had to be a bloody, sticky, gooey mess. And the tabernacle was a bloody, sticky, gooey, portable mess. It was like a slaughterhouse floor at times. The gods that the Israelites periodically switched to follow had similar rituals. They had graven images, idols, statutes and didn’t care if the animals were clean, unclean, or human, but their altars were just as bloody, sticky, gooey and all around messy.

There are some places in the world where no matter what religion you follow, or even if you don’t follow one, just seem to exude holiness. Granted, some more than others. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is one. Any of the medieval cathedrals, and many of the cathedrals in the US demand respect. You don’t walk in and sit down talking on their cell phone. Even if you don’t follow that denomination there is a hushed reverence, like a library on steroids. This is more so in the highly organized or structured denominations/religions. And yes, some has to do with what you believe in. A Catholic in a cathedral is more reverent than a Baptist. Daddy Byrd, when he worked at the Church of the Redeemer, would bow toward the altar when he crossed the nave of the church, even when he was working. To a lesser degree, that is why I can’t text or Twitter in our sanctuary while the pastor preaches (I can do it at services in the MPR-Baptist for gym).

So, when you add up reverent location with similar looking, smelling, and feeling it was not that large a leap for the Israelites to switch. Some of those coming to sacrifice may not have even realized the difference. It still looked like the tabernacle or temple, it still smelled the same, it felt the same, the priests were the same, what was that new statue on the way out again?

It is often easier to see the mistakes of others than it is to see our own. We rail against the Israelites while we read not realizing the ease with which something can be substituted until the original is no longer there. Subtle changes that taken in part are not much different but taken holistically have the opportunity to completely change the context of the subject matter. Perhaps we are too hard on the Israelites. Hundreds of years of slinging fat and blood against the altar they may not have realized how far off they were straying. Have we strayed in our religious practices, too? The answer is probably not what you first think, but if you honestly evaluate it, the beam in our eyes interferes with us seeing the Israelites’ specks.

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8 responses to “Specks and Beams

  1. Pingback: Overlooking Specks | The Hole on the End of the Bible Belt

  2. It is necessary to be the optimist.

  3. Pingback: Best of the Month for June | The Hole on the End of the Bible Belt

  4. Thanks for the perspective! It is interesting to see what others feel is important to them about religious practices.

    Here is how I would approach the question: ‘is wine acceptable during Communion?’. Clarifying question: what is the purpose of Communion? It appears there could only be two immediate purposes of communion. 1. It is God’s truth. 2. It helps the practitioners. In your previous reply, it appeared you were making this same distinction by noting the difference between objective religious truth from subjective religious practice.

    One could reject this distinction by noting secondary considerations such as “God instituted communion to help the practitioners” or “The practitioners do Communion to please real God as best they can”, etc. These statements are warm and fuzzy if one feels picking apart the purpose of communion presents danger by bringing one’s path closer to critical doubt of ideas regarded as sacred or sensitive.

    From my honest perspective:
    * Wine is not acceptable FOR ME during Communion because
    – There is no reason to believe God cares about wine at communion
    – I feel no conviction I have pleased God by drinking wine during communion

    * Wine is not acceptable FOR MOST OTHERS during Communion because
    – It appears most are not helping themselves or others in any substantive way by drinking wine during communion
    – Most Importantly:

    Talking about the details of religious practices curls my skin because Jesus attacked the Pharisees with very severe language after they tried to start a discussion of existing Jewish religious practices. From the reading of the scriptures, it appears Jesus had very little respect for how people felt about decades old customs and traditions. The focus of Jesus’s response to legalistic questions was, first, find the moral basis for the practice. (e.g. Does the practice result in charity, humility, or grace?).

    From this perspective (WWJD), I would argue wine at communion (or communion at all) does not facilitate charity for others, humility in self, or much grace at all. If someone truly believed wine at communion was of supreme importance, and struggled passionately against man, nature, and self in order to drink the wine at the communion, I would support the persons convictions on grounds of divine grace. (the use of the wine for the communion would be providing a merciful escape) I would not obstruct anyone else’s harmless passions for this reason as long as the core values of Charity and Humility were not overly negatively impacted.

    This is how I think about issues, because it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus’s message.

    • In my previous comment I was only trying to make the distinction of noticing the difference between objective religious truth and subjective religious practice. You simply worded it more succinctly. My mention of wine in communion was merely because that was a subject that is more subjective, while the practice of communion is specifically mentioned as something we are to do. It seems to hit both sides of the matter.

  5. Your post seems to speak only of customs.

    Do you believe a religion’s associated traditions can be judged to be good or bad?

    I believe the places you described seem sacred to me because I have gracious respect:

    Novelty observed in such places communicates shared human dedication. The feeling is not caused by the place, but the PEOPLE who are emotionally attached to such places.

    As an example, I do not feel spectacular places in outer space are sacred.

    Alternatively, as a child I would find special hiding places which I became attached to, and felt a closeness to God in those places. Ultimately, there was nothing special about the location.

  6. You post seems to speak only of customs. Do you believe the religions different cultures follow can be judged to be good or bad?

    I feel the places you described as special because of gracious respect: The novelty observed in such places communicates shared dedication. If the story of the place is also carefully and elaborately constructed, then I respect this.

    Ultimately, the respect is not caused by the place, but the PEOPLE who are emotionally attached to such places.

    As an example, I do not feel pictures of space are sacred.

    • I agree that many places garner their respect because of the people and what they feel when they enter them. When I made the comment I was thinking of 2 different issues. The first is my own personal experience, while the second seems to be of greater importance even though I have not personally experienced them.
      My own experience comes from being raised in a non-traditional denominationalized church. I would often go to other churches (either for services or just with friends) and see differences in the way they were operated and treated. By far the Roman Catholic churches were the most strictly structured, followed by the Episcopal, some very closely, others not so close. Next, a good ways down the chain, came the Methodists followed by the Baptists. At the far end of the spectrum, and not treated very highly, are the charismatic type churches that often met in either someone’s home or an old commercial building. There are other churches along the way, but these were the majority of the ones I visited. One visit in particular stands out in my mind, that being a visit to St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The hushed air on the inside coupled with the bustle of activities seemed almost library like. Some people were praying, some confessing, some were janitorial staff, some clerical staff, and some were just visiting to view the ornate surroundings. While I was with a Catholic, the urge to be respectful and quiet came from the building as much as from the whispered tour from my Catholic friend.
      The larger experience, that I have not personally felt, is mentioned on the backs of several different authors and aquaintances who have visited some of the more hallowed spots in all of history. In particular I recall the most recent by Ted Dekker in his book Tea with Hezbollah. He describes a particular place, well off the beaten path, that has been the site of religious activities since the days of Cain. Many different religions had conquered the spot and yet they all chose the spot for worship in their own practices. My description falls well short of Dekker’s which is one reason I did not elaborate much in the original post.
      I do not believe that religions can be judged as good or bad. The only defining line for a religion is whether it is true or not. Some may argue that there are degrees, but the real argument comes in where those lines are drawn. Ultimately a religion either is true or it is not. It may contain partial truth, but that also implies it contains partial falsehoods. This is not an area for gray distinctions, though there are some points left for interpretation. That God is God is not a debate, that wine is acceptable during Communion is.

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