Sunday, September 09, 2012

Bricks and Bible verses

There I was Saturday morning on my knees in the middle of Commercial Avenue, ears alert for oncoming traffic, photographing brick.

We had got to talking on the "If you remember ..." Chariton Facebook page about how many brick streets were left in town and I remembered this stretch several blocks due north of here that once served a busy and sometimes rough-and-tumble commercial subdistrict called for no obvious reason "the Levee."

Commercial parallels the busy BN&SF tracks and the depot and rail yards are on its east side. This little commercial neighborhood began to decline as passenger railroading did and even freight trains stopped stopping here any more. All that's left in the main (brick-paved) block now is a house and an old commerical building recycled into a church.

Being that up close and personal reminded me of the different ways brick was laid back in the day when it was intended to bear differing sorts of traffic. The brick pavers in the street (top), for example, were laid on their sides in anticipation of heavy vehicular traffic. They've stood up here far better than asphalt, even concrete, would have.

Just a few steps away, in the herringbone apron surrounding the depot (a newer building that stands on the footprint of the 1870s original), the brick is laid flat so that its broader surface will be kinder to passenger feet but sturdy enough for lighter wheeled traffic.


Stuffing church bulletins with lectionary sheets a little later, it occurred to me that this week's Epistle reading (as prescribed in the Revised Common Lectionary) is from James and includes verses that have given competitors for the title "real Christian" fits over the years. The book usually is attributed to James the Just without any general agreement on exactly when it was written.

There's all sorts of subversive stuff here. "For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment," for example.

And how about, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."

The difficulty here is that if taken at face value James seems to contradict Paul, whose emphasis was on salvation by grace unmediated by works.

The usual route is to assert that James meant to say (but didn't for some inexplicable reason), that salvation results from grace, but its authenticity can be judged by the quality of the works that flow from it.

The problem then becomes, during this earthly pilgrimage at least, who  gets to judge the quality of the works that demonstrates whether or not one's brother or sister is really "saved." Especially considering that pesky word, "mercy."

This is just a heads up in case your preacher decides to tackle this problematic passage in a sermon this morning. If so, enjoy.


Speaking of the Bible, I was interested this week in Marcus Borg's, "A Chronological New Testament," which is here. Borg is canon theologian at Trinty Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.

He suggests approaching the New Testament in the sequence its components were written, commencing with Paulean letters, then continuing through the first gospel --- attributed to Mark --- in order to understand it better.

That approach also emphasizes, according to Borg, that the New Testmant was a creation of early Christians rather than Christianity somehow a creation of the New Testament.

Borg also incorporates the traditional Christian understanding of scripture as inspired and authoritative, but by no means inerrant --- the inerrancy innovation coming along much later to catch the eyes of American Protestants who picked up the somehat heretical concept and took off running.


I also liked Rachel Held Evans' post, "God and our political platforms," taking both parties to task for violating whatever commandment it is that forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain. My friend Judy P.D.  got around to posting this link on Facebook first, darn it. I've got to learn to be more competitive.

And finally, this quote from Sister Joan Chittister regarding her role as a woman of faith, lifted from a brief post at Richard Beck's "Experimental Theology."

"It's a simple one: To see injustice and say so, to find the truth and proclaim it, to allow no stone to be unturned when it is a stone that will be cast at anyone else. It's just that simple. There is nothing institutional, organizational, political about it. It says: "Where I am, you may not harm these people. You may not deride them; you may not reject them; you may not sneer at them, and you certainly cannot blame them for their own existence."

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