Matt Valler's blog

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A time for everything

Dear friends,

There is a time for everything under the sun, and Community of Readers' time has come to an end. Today's content is the last that we will post - and The MonkeyBar Challenge will wrap up at the end of 2011. We'll keep this website live for a few months yet so you can still access the content, but our Facebook and Twitter streams will go quiet and there'll be no new material.

I want to thank you all so much for being part of this thoughtful playground. It's been a real privilege to share our reading journeys together, to delve deep into the Bible's unpredictable terrain, and to imagine, to reflect, to disagree, and to inspire each other all in pursuit of real faith in the Jesus revealed through this unparalleled story.

This is the end for Community of Readers but stay connected - it won't be too long before we cook up another Bible adventure to take together. We'll be sure to let you know as soon as that happens.

But for now, may the love of the great narrator be your guide.

Warmest blessings,

24th Dec 2011

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When you pass through the waters

I’ve been reflecting recently on the exorcism at Gerasa (Luke 8:26-39) in which Jesus heals a man possessed by a whole horde of demons and the story of Peter at Cornelius' house (Acts 10) in which faith comes to the Gentiles for the first time. They are not stories that seem to naturally go together (even in the account of Luke-Acts of which they are both a part). But perhaps they should. And here’s why.

The thing about this particular exorcism which is almost always ignored is that the scene is laden with Roman imagery. Gerasa was a big Roman military base, whose symbol was a boar - a provocative symbol of anti-Jewish Gentile piggery, a profoundly deep 'uncleanness'. Then the demon is called 'Legion' - the name for an army battalion. It actually makes a lot of sense to tell the story as... In the heart of a highly militarised area, Jesus drives 'Legion' into a herd of pigs and they are drowned in the sea, just like the Egyptian 'pigs' get drowned in the Exodus story - those archetypal imperial gentile oppressors. In other words, Jesus just symbolically exorcised the Romans from the Promised Land! And that's why the people all crapped themselves and begged him to leave (8:37).

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Which resurrection story?

As it's Easter Sunday I've been contemplating Mark ch16, the first gospel account of the resurrection. Most Bibles have a footnote saying that the most reliable versions of Mark stop at verse 8, and that verses 9-20 were added on later. Which is significant, because it means 'Mark' gives us two quite different stories.

The longer version is the standard resurrection story, roughly as we know it. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, to two friends on a journey, to the eleven disciples in a room, and then ends with a commission and Jesus' ascension. It's a short but exuberant account. Jesus tells his disciples they will be able to pick up snakes and drink deadly poison. More than that: they will have the power to forgive and condemn. This account carries with it the scent of victory.

The short version, by contrast, is an extremely curt and confused affair. Three women approach the tomb to find it empty, except for a man dressed in white who tells them that Jesus has risen and gone ahead to meet them in Galilee. The women flee and 'said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.'

It's easy to understand why someone felt Mark needed a better ending!

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The Bible and Homosexuality

Someone recently asked me what the Bible actually says on homosexuality, so thought I'd post the summary. It's not meant as a argument for a particular sexual ethic, just an introduction to the issue from a biblical perspective.

In terms of those parts of the Bible which explicitly refer to homosexuality, there are only a small number. There is an instance in Genesis (Ch 19) where the men of the town of Sodom want to have sex with Lot's (Abraham's nephew) male guests. But as an instance of gang rape it is hardly relevant to discussions of gay marriage, etc. Then there are a couple of references in the Levitical Law (18:22 and 20:13) which basically say that anyone who has sex with someone of the same sex should be put to death (along with people who commit adultery and practice incest and various other things). As the Old Testament Law is obsolete for Christians it is again not possible to draw a direct ethical directive to contemporary life (though there's a sense that the ethics of that Law deserve some proper contemplation if they are not to be just thrown off in a fit of 'progressive' moral arrogance).

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Reading the Bible in one year... some tips

Reading the whole Bible in one year is not easy. But it definitely is doable. Here are some tips from my experience. Please feel free to comment and add your own.

I've read the Bible in one year twice before. The first time I found a regular time for reading which became part of the rhythm of my day. The second time I decided to carve out chunks of time to read each book as a whole (although some of the bigger OT books defeated me in one sitting!) Whether you're planning to read the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, finding time to read and sticking to it will be the biggest challenge. So if you haven't already, I'd suggest having a think about when you will do your readings so that you don't get overwhelmed after a few weeks and give up.

You might be used to reading the Bible in small chunks, reflecting on each verse, or word, and meditating on how God might be speaking to your life. That won't work with so many verses to get through - it just won't. This is especially true if you are reading the Old Testament. Parts of it are duller than watching paint dry, and others are utterly incomprehensible. In order to make it, you just have to keep reading and worry about meaning later. I found that the dull bits and the confusing bits came alive in the end, but only because I stuck with it and could look back on them afterwards and see where they fitted.

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Writing the Word on John

If you've read my post What's the Word? you'll realise it's a bit different to some of the others. I've gone for a more creative re-reading, so this is my chance to explain what on earth it's all about.

I'm a passionate believer in the importance of history. Knowing the past unlocks the future; we gain insight and clarity from the lessons of experience. And I love reading the Bible with an eye closely pinned to the historical story behind the text, the context each writer or editor faced, the events to which they respond. I love it because it brings the story alive. But ultimately that's not enough.

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A matter of perspective

I love using Google Earth. The image of our rotating planet is mesmerizing, so tranquil in the vacuous oceans of Space. But what I enjoy most is the visual journey down to a specific location. The globe rotates as the camera angle swings down at lightening speed towards the ground and a tiny space on the surface of the earth. I can even see my own house and the cars parked in front. This is my world.

Which is my world?

My planet or my house?...