patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, March 16, 2013

don't resist an evil person: theology and stuff from my husband

Me: What do you think Jesus is trying to tell us when he says, “Do not resist an evil person”?

(I showed Kris the passage: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)

Kris: Well, of course, Jesus often hyperbolized.

Me: Yeah, but even if he is hyperbolizing here, his meaning is still along the lines of what he’s hyperbolizing about. I mean, hyperbole’s just an emphasizing tool; it’s not like irony, where you’re saying the opposite of what you mean. What’s he trying to tell us?

Kris: Well, you could take him literally, of course. Then he’d be talking about pacifism to the point of not even defending yourself from an attack. Like not responding to Pearl Harbor. (Kris always goes to history in his responses to my questions about scripture. History, for him, is the primary repository of knowledge. For me, it’s personal experience.)

Me: That’s not what I’m wanting to do. Take it literally. What I’m trying to figure out is what Jesus is wanting me to take away from all this.

Kris: Well, Jesus himself wasn’t all that much of a pacifist. He turns the tables over in the temple on two occasions. He constantly offends people, calls them broods of vipers and not Abraham’s children. He says they’re fit for hell. And, you know, his disciples keep asking him, “Don’t you know you’re offending these people?” but he keeps on doing it. And, you know, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” but he was hardly meek himself. After he has offended the Pharisees on more than one occasion, he slips away. And Jesus says it’s bad to call people “Raca,” but he calls them worse than that. He says people are evil. He says, “Woe to you.”

Me: (I can’t remember what I asked him here; I was too busy transcribing Kris's response.)

Kris: No. I think Jesus is saying, in a given situation, we should respond first with generosity, not anger and violence. That, in the end, we’ll be measured by the same measure we use, so we should respond as we would want to be responded to.

Me: So, you’re saying, it wasn’t wrong to respond to Pearl Harbor?

Kris: Well, pacifists—like the Amish and the Mennonites—might say it was. But, you know, they have some pretty severe punishments. Like shunning and exiling people.

Me: (I said something here. Don’t know what.)

Kris: Well, as I say, Patty. That panel discussion I went to years and years ago, when I was an undergraduate, about religious views on war, violence, was it justified? And there was this Mennonite on the panel. He wasn’t a typical Mennonite, I guess, because he was a theology professor or something and I don’t think Mennonites even have theology and stuff. Anyway, he thought that war was wrong in general, but that, in his opinion, some wars were justified. In the end, though, he said, “When we go to war, we should do it with great regret, with a heavy heart, and as a last resort.” But he also said, when we go to war, we should do it brutally and inhumanely. Because that’s what war is: killing people.


Friday, March 15, 2013

if anyone

Honesty time: Today I am not in the mood for another one of these “You’ve heard it said some sort of extreme way things are to be done, but I say some even more extreme way things should be done.”

Just can’t hear it. Resistance. Irritation.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (Matthew 5:39-40 NIV).

And if some guy wants to hold you up at gunpoint and rape you, let him; &c.

I can’t think about this today.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

swearing by almighty god, the searcher of hearts, &c.

Jesus little dissertation on how we shouldn’t make oaths—not by God or heaven or earth or Jerusalem or by the hair of our heads—is pretty straightforward. The “You have heard it said…but I say” construction he uses here and many other times in his mountainside sermon establishes the degree of perfection God expects of us. Soon he’ll sum up this sentiment by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NIV)—a charge that points up the impossibility of its fulfillment. We should strive for such perfection, but we will fail.

That said, I’ve never much had the urge to make oaths. I have, on occasion, said an intention-empty (and regrettable) “I swear to God.”

The only situation in which I can imagine even undertaking an oath of any kind would be if I were asked to put my hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God in court as they do in TV court dramas. Which got me wondering, does that really happen anymore and how—this country having been established by some pretty legalistic Bible devotees—did it ever get started in the first place?

So, I did some research and discovered the following:

The phrase about telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing has been standard trial language in Britain since the Middle Ages, and the Puritans brought it with them to the New World. In his 1787 essay “On Test Laws, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and Partial Exclusions from Office,” Noah Webster both referenced the phrase and, if I get his meaning at all (which I may not: I struggle, in this passage, with the legal or moral or philosophical ramifications of the word new), more or less dismissed its demands: “An oath creates no new obligation. A witness, who swears to tell the whole truth, is under no new obligation to tell the whole truth. An oath reminds him of his duty; he swears to do as he ought to do; that is, he adds an express promise to an implied one. A moral obligation is not capable of addition or diminution.”

Nevertheless, both the language and the practice of swearing on the Bible made it into John Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, the first wholly American, as distinguished from British, dictionary of legal terms and practices, published in 1839. Bouvier defined an oath as “A declaration made according to law, before a competent tribunal or officer, to tell the truth; or it is the act of one who, when lawfully required to tell the truth, takes God to witness that what he says is true. It is a religious act by which the party invokes God not only to witness the truth and sincerity of his promise...”

Bouvier went on to say “It is proper to distinguish two things in oaths; 1. The invocation by which the God of truth, who knows all things, is taken to witness. 2. The imprecation by which he is asked as a just and all-powerful being, to punish perjury. 3. The commencement of an oath is made by the party taking hold of the book, after being required by the officer to do so, and ends generally with the words, ‘so help you God,’ and kissing the book, when the form used is that of swearing on the Evangelists.”

There were, according to Bouvier, various other forms that such an oath might take that I found enlightening—both about the habits of our early country and about oath-taking in general. He details two variations—“the witness or party promising holding up his right hand while the officer repeats to him, ‘You do swear by Almighty God, the searcher of hearts, that,’ &c., ‘And this as you shall answer to God at the great day’” and what’s referred to as an affirmation, when “the officer repeats, ‘You do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, that,’ &c.”

(I would like to get in the habit of using &c instead of etc., by the way. Looks so oldfashiondy-nice.)

Bouvier was also careful to stipulate that “The oath, however, may be varied in any other form, in order to conform to the religious opinions of the person who takes it.”

Though the habit of putting one’s hand on a Bible to swear an oath has survived into modern times, Quakers have been objecting to since the country’s early days—citing, according to an excellent Slate article I read, not Jesus in his mountainside sermon but his brother James’s more emphatic encapsulation of it: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned” (James 5:12)—and it’s now possible, as Bouvier suggests it may in theory always have been, for you to use a different book or, I’m guessing, none at all.

That’s what I guess I’d do, upon all this consideration, if I had to testify in court and were asked to put my hand on the Bible or say "so help me God."

“No thanks,” I’d say. “I don’t swear oaths on God or books. But yeah, I’ll tell the truth, to the best of my memory. That'll have to be enough.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

victims of adultery

It’s astonishing to me how quickly after establishing the big matters of faith—the nature of true contentment, the call for us to be salt and light to one another, the role of scriptural commands in salvation—Jesus turns in his mountainside sermon to what seem like fine points of Christian life. I guess what he’s saying is, “Here’s how to live in general. Now let’s look at how that’s likely to play out in the day-to-day.”

First he takes up our tendency, from earliest childhood, to get mad at one another. For this oh-so-common everyday offense, reconciliation is the only answer. Being salt and light to one another.

Then he takes up how we make victims of those around us through our infidelities to those whom we ourselves committed to love and cherish—specifically through lust, adultery, and divorce. Jesus tells the crowds around him that “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32 NIV).

This is, nowadays, hard teaching. So many of us are divorced or have married someone who is divorced. And we live in such a hypersexual society that lust, adultery, and divorce seem too normal to be all that serious. Close to half of all high school students in the U.S. report having had sexual intercourse. Our society’s various lusts—for porn, for hook ups, relationships outside of our primary relationships—are fueled and facilitated by the immediacy of the internet. Porn statistics are all over the place; suffice it to say it’s ubiquitous. Somewhere between thirty to sixty percent of all married Americans will be unfaithful at some time in their marriage. Half of Americans who marry these days divorce. Infidelity of all kinds is so much a part of our culture that we don’t even see it. And yet, according to Jesus, though, infidelity is serious business—so much so that even just fantasizing about it merits being “thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).

Even in Jesus’ own times—judging from the consternation Jesus’ listeners seem to display on the subject of divorce, though, as well as from accounts like that of the woman with five husbands that Jesus meets at the well—infidelity was probably pretty widespread and normal-seeming. Jesus speaks, then as now, right past the normalcy of infidelity to the problem at its root: it makes victims of everyone concerned, not only the adulterer’s spouse but the person who may later marries him or her and most especially the children of all the marriages involved, who are not only emotionally and relationally but economically damaged by divorce. Even adult children of divorced are very often deeply distraught when their parents divorce.

These victims, I think Jesus is saying, are the ones we need to be concerned with, not ourselves and our desires—or, as we like to say these days, our needs. He doesn’t offer any sort of counsel on infidelity beyond that word victim. Think of your victims, he seems to be preaching.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Next up in Jesus’ mountainside sermon is anger, which he says is tantamount to murder, one of the ten worst sins referenced on Moses’ stones.

He starts with what is seemingly the tamest case—“anyone who is angry with a brother or sister” (Matthew 5:22 NIV)—and renders it even tamer sounding in the concrete: “Anyone who calls a brother or sister ‘Stupidhead!’” (Matthew 5:22, my paraphrase). The potential punishment, though, is anything but tame: being subject to God’s judgment, even hellfire.

Sounds harsh. If you grew up with siblings or watched your own children closely, however, you are familiar with the secret ferocity of the rage he’s talking about—how, though it begins in earliest childhood, it truly is akin to murder. Indeed it would be murder more often, I think, if small ones were more adept in their violence. When I think back on the wraths of my own childhood—I remember, especially, an instance involving a handful of my or my combatant’s hair, ripped out by the roots—I see what Jesus is getting at. I honestly can’t remember whose hair it was, my own or my sister’s, but I remember the spongy pink underside of the scalpskin and, beneath that, the rage. It’s not merely the severity of the action, Jesus is saying; it’s the intent, the attitudes and feelings, that merit eternal punishment.

Also those without siblings are subject to anger on occasion. Rage spans our lives, beginning on the playground and ending in court. We fume against our parents, our employers, our spouses, our children, our closest friends. Even the total strangers who ring up our purchases in stores can kindle our annoyance, frustration, impatience—all synonyms for wrath. Anger is, hands down, the most common symptom of most mental illnesses. It is, on occasion, every person’s sin.

It would have been nice had Jesus iterated, here, what we believers know to be true: that we can’t escape our angry selves, that the only way to avoid hellfire is through genuine shame and acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for our murderous rages. But, of course, Jesus hadn’t yet made that sacrifice that day on the mountainside, and the sermon he preached is less about the next life than it is about this one—how we might live better, happier lives while we’re still here.

There is a cure for the inevitable rages of this life, and it is this: conciliatory heart.

Jesus is uncommonly clear about this. “First go and be reconciled,” he counsels (Matthew 5:24). And again, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary” (Matthew 5:25). Reconciliation is not only the wisest solution—you can’t win against someone else’s anger, he argues—but the best one, from God’s point of view. Even church attendance isn’t as important as getting along.

Such a simple cure, and yet so difficult to learn and do. To be reconciled. To settle matters when someone has it in for us. To give in.

Jesus’ gargle of a curseword, raca—“Fool!” but meaner sounding—sums up all sin, it seems to me. It is my father’s growl of annoyance that I have inherited. It my daughters’ arrogance, inherited from me. It is my certainty, in every situation, that I am right and whoever else is wrong.

And, in this early sermon, Jesus seems to be saying it’s up to me to do something about it.

Monday, March 11, 2013


At my conference, someone directed my attention to a postcard featuring a photo of one tattooed man embracing another from behind with the caption, “Mexico: Where ‘Jesus Loves You’ takes on a whole new meaning.”

That got me to thinking about how, in English at least, even Jesus’ name has lost almost all of its original meaning. For one thing, it has lost, as most names (both in the Bible and out) have, its meaning as a regular word—in this case, as a diminutive form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which once meant Jehovah saves.

I don’t know how common Jesus was as a name in Jesus’ time. Apparently not nearly as common as Simon or Joseph or Judas or even Joshua, since the Bible offers many with these names but only one person named Jesus. (A magician mentioned in Acts 13 who was blinded for trying to pervert a new convert from the faith comes close with Bar-Jesus, or “son of Jesus,” but he may have intentionally taken on the name in order to cash in on Jesus’ reputation, as another sorcerer named Simon the Magician, mentioned in Acts 8, tried to do.)

For most people today, though, the name Jesus isn’t really even a name in any normal sense. Few (with the important exception of Spanish speakers) would even consider naming their son Jesus. It is a name reserved for one and only one person who lived here over two thousand years ago: Jesus of Nazareth.

All of which I find interesting. That God chose a diminutive form of Joshua—that is, a nickname, along the lines of Joshy!—as his son’s name. That no one else in the Bible gets called that. That Spanish speakers name their sons after Jesus, but virtually no one else does.