Epistles and Psalms

The Blog of Bobby Ray Hurd

Psalm: Lord’s Prayer Redux

Father… reveal to us who you are so that we may work with you to love the world rightly. Help us to be honest about what is best, what is wise, and what is your perfect Will; because you will never force it on us! Help us to know, therefore, that we should not force it on each other.

Comforter… provide for us a plentiful banquet of daily bread; a bountiful feast of wise foods! Help us in our hunger to remember our dependence on you and, in our comfort, your benevolence.



Rabbi… help us to see that those sinning against us don’t understand the full implications of what they are doing as you have continued to forgive us when we act in turmoil and confusion. Teach me to forgive as you forgive, and may your children also forgive me. For it is our most grievous bane, our malignant hubris, that we insist upon our foolish judgments and naive decisions. It is for this reason that we depend on you for peace.

Savior…keep us safe from the forces of depravity that ruin your creation. Help us to see that servanthood is the only real kingship, perpetuating love is our only battle, and that there is no true freedom apart from the kingdom of G-d.

Amen

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Psalm/Epistle: Nail Us to Your Cross

Dear Friends,

“Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they’re doing.” These words play over and over in my head whenever I think about the bloody roots of Christian faith. What’s more, I’m also reminded of the references in Scripture that speak of G-d’s people being reflections of G-d in this oppressive, dogmatic, graceless, violent world.

How often in Christian history have we crucified, executed, put to death, and declared war with the confidence that what we are doing is justified before the Lord? That what we were doing was righteous before the Savior we confess? Who are we worshiping whenever we’ve acted this way? Is it America? the Constitution? Is it ourselves? Is it humanity? Is it technology? Is it money? Is it our ability to have power? Is it pop culture? Is it our morality? Is it the political party we belong to? Is it the conquering of others in the name of our own self-righteous good?

Whomever and whatever we worship, Christ’s question is clear to us:

What images of what’s Ultimate are we reflecting when we live this way?

This is a deeply spiritual dilemma. I say, in these instances, people worship the gods of emptiness; gods who do not exist and that leave you broken and in denial.

The cross shows us that retribution is not the same as justification before the LORD. Retribution is not the salvation of Jesus Christ. For the death of Jesus was most certainly retribution— a man that the religious elite and moral order of Rome put to death as a transgressor– a rival to the salvation of human accomplishments. What the cross shows us is the futility of the cumulative accomplishments of humankind. Whatever our moral standards, our philosophies, our religions, and our commitments, man is godless. Godless man! And on the cross we see why. For whenever we stare G-d directly in the face, whenever She offers her hand of fellowship, we do not embrace Her but we put Her to death– because G-d is a threat in the eyes of godless man! And so, the great irony of our Gospel is that in the name of what is good, we put G-d to death– because He reveals parts of Himself that we are unprepared to see– whispers that which we are unprepared to hear. For as the LORD said to Moses, “You may only see my back!” And so, in the name of good, in the name of retribution, in the name of justice, in the name of the moral order, we reject G-d– we then become salt, without saltiness…light under a bowl. Man without G-d!

The hope of our godlessness is that we enter into G-d’s grace and transform by it. Where is grace whenever our works and morals give our lives its meaning? Where is grace whenever the moral order trumps our willingness to seek the work of G-d in all people?

The Christian narrative tells that if we live as if our works save us, we will eventually take up arms against G-d who reveals Himself and soon find ourselves hanging people on crosses. In the same way CS Lewis articulates his “Great Divorce,” I shall call this the “Great Hypocrisy.” The Great Hypocrisy is our break with G-d– our very divorce from Her.

This final piece I imagine captures this Great Hypocrisy and the One who speaks defeat into it. I present this next piece imagining Jesus speaking as prophet. I think of it as an oracle that reminds Christians that Christ must be worshipped in all things.

Indeed, the prophetic Word of Christ, “I am the truth!”

Because the bloody roots of Christianity are ultimately found among the victims of godless people in a world gone to worship the “god of emptiness”– a god that does not know Christ– a god who does not know grace. One of the great truths of our faith is that Truth is not in us– truth is a man. Truth is relative, because it is relative to Jesus Christ. For we are godless man and are nothing apart from the grace of Jesus Christ– the one who tells us the truth about ourselves. And so, I believe that this G-d of Jesus Christ speaks this oracle through his life on the behalf of all those who suffer at the hands of godless, lifeless, venomous people– religious and non-religious.

Nail Us to Your Cross
(Credit given to my friends and favorite metal band in St. Louis– MEGALITH)

I’ve seen your face in reflections of their tears
Self-proclaimed saints rise up to crush their fears
Haloed hypocrites donned in robes of white
Chastising smiles disguising minds of spite

Don’t look upon us with your pity and shame
Pathetic moral lies victimize and cast the blame
You can’t see the good for the evil that you spawn
Distorting all the truth and creating your pawns

Holy wealth proclaiming power supreme
We are here to see that you’re redeemed
Just as Pilate you have washed your hands
Sabbath day hymns become cries of the damned

Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross

I see your face in reflections of their tears
Self-proclaimed saints rise up to crush their fears
Haloed hypocrites donned in robes of white
Chastising smiles disguising minds of spite

Don’t look upon us with your pity and shame
Pathetic moral lies victimize and cast the blame
You can’t see the good for the evil that you spawn
Distorting all the truth and creating your pawns

Holy wealth proclaiming power supreme
We are here to see that you’re redeemed
Just as Pilate you have washed your hands
Sabbath day hymns become cries of the damned

Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross

Psalm: G-d of Emptiness

One of my favorite bands call themselves Morbid Angel. They are widely considered to be the forefathers of the death metal sub-genre. They are older and successful enough now that they have lost some of what initially attracted me to their music– the hunger of youth rebellion to know something truthful that leads them to repent of the images of G-d they inherited. In a song they wrote called, “God of Emptiness” they confront the images of G-d they have known. Not only do they find them exceedingly insufficient, but they even go as far as opening themselves up to being considered blasphemous in order to address their feelings on the matter. For this courage, I’ve admired them. And so, to the extent they take their willingness to speak honestly about the idols Christians often worship, they have inspired me.

Furthermore, and even more personally, “God of Emptiness” freed me to stand vulnerable in the presence of G-d and be angry– not angry in an arrogant sense (which all too many metalheads succumb to), but in a sense that makes space for me to stand challenging the images of G-d I have inherited, to be angry with those images, repent of them, and then finally recover from them restored to the image of the G-d who drew me near through this wandering. In a moment where your limited images of G-d are all you have…in a moment when you stand amidst your images of G-d and find they are demons, you will find yourself screaming at them, cursing them, and possibly saying something offensive to many.  I’ve come to the conclusion that these actions are not blasphemous–they are the divine process of transformation, G-d speaking healing into your brokenness, and providing for you repentance.

God of Emptiness

With all oppression of this world and
All the glory you receive, I
Cannot help but stop to think
But of gall the bread of your table…
And of wormwood the cup you drink

God of emptiness
God of blind leading the blind
You do not lead wandering through the desert
But a journey maligned

With all the kingdoms of this world and
All the glory you receive…
What makes you supreme?
Lies! And Your crown is falling!
You offer fantasy!
And so you, oh god of kingdoms, are blinded by your envy!

God of emptiness
God of Caesars disguised as lambs
You offer no remission…or repentance
But sustain a cycle of what’s damned

God of emptiness
God of whom I cannot confess
You devour my very soul
so I will be like you– in emptiness

Epistle: Why Women Should Still be Silent; Why Men Should Too (Part 2)

Dr. Evil "Zip It!"

When a problem comes along, yooooou must ZIP IT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 Likewise, I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety– I Timothy 2:8-15

Dear Friends,

Paul’s address to early Christian women is a bit different, though it is motivated by the same christology of powerlessness that characterized his instructions to men. Nevertheless, I believe Paul’s instructions are different not so that “gender roles” may be established or so that so-called “G-d’s design” can be made typical; but because Paul finds that Christian women are the newly liberated ones of whom Christ had/s set free from the patriarchy common to not only first century Near Eastern (and Greek) culture, but typical in many walks of traditional Judaism. Therefore, Timothy calls Christian women to do, in principle, as the prophets of the Old Testament call for time and time again– that they would remember their exodus. And so, Paul’s call to Christian women is that they would remember they were once the lowly objects of the caesars and pharaohs who ruled a male dominated cult but were set free from its power by G-d in Jesus Christ who dismantled the theological and social need for such things through the declaration of Christ’s Gospel of powerlessness. And so, Paul’s call is that they would act believing this to be true and would allow this truth to affect their actions by how they choose to worship and pray as a congregation in remembrance of Christ and the significance if his life to their life together as the Christian colony.

Therefore, Paul’s instructions to these newly liberated Christian women are given in caution that they ought not become a new caesar in their freedom, but that they would enter G-d’s grace and, therefore, be powerless alongside their male brothers by living in remembrance of their liberator and savior, Jesus Christ, who rendered the coercive, violent, cultic, self-justified political powers of the world insignificant through his example.

Verse nine starts with the adverb “likewise” to tie in Timothy’s previous command directed to men that they should seek the rescue of G-d in powerless ways. This then begs the question: Could we imagine that these recently emancipated Christian women are in the midst of learning to substantiate their freedom in Christ at the time Paul wrote to the Timothian community? I believe this is why Paul’s instructions are more specific; because Christian women– who have been the lowly and the “least”– are learning to express their freedom in Christwell through learning the disciplines of Christian worship and prayer and how this manifests in how they carry out relations to their fellow brothers in Christ. They were set free to do as they were given– to set others free; to revolt against the political cycle of the world (“domination and revolution”), that perpetuates the cycle of human lowliness, through how they choose to orient themselves toward G-d and, thus, unto each other in expression of their communal relations and public worship.

And so, Paul proclaims that it is right for women to not bear the fruit of yet another zealot political revolutionary by guarding how they are spiritually disciplining themselves in community. Therefore, Paul’s instructions are given with the hope that they will eliminate their lust for this type of powerfulness the heavily male leadership of the Timothian communities believed characterized “the world.” And so, Paul gives some suggestions for how women might consider disciplining themselves in the Spirit of this christological emancipation women were coming to be formed by. This brings us to believe that his instructions are not universal or permanent orders but are markedly contextual to the community Paul wrote to. For it is likely that in their new freedom, these newly emancipated women of G-d needed to humble themselves, listen for a time, and seek the Spirit by which they may substantiate a faithful form of Christ’s commitment to powerlessness and grace in their community.

And so, Timothy gives the instruction that women should dress simply– that is, without excess or as to call excess attention to themselves. This is so that they may not only be powerless and selfless in worship, but powerless and selfless in both presence and character. This is certainly not to squelch the dignity of women or to suggest any notion of “modesty;” but to empower them with a presence of non-coerciveness and grace that worships Christ and his Gospel. Similarly, this is also as not to display excess to those who have no excess, as to listen to those who are not heard, and to be silent before G-d’s Word of which they believed is only heard in silence, simplicity, and fasting. And so, as they are empowered by their silence before the Lord, they will surely be silent before each other as both men and women come to find the rhythms of grace and powerlessness practiced in mutual submission and service. Therefore, the call for women to be silent, simple, and submissive is not so that she may serve any notion of patriarchy (never!)– but so that she may be discipline herself by the peculiar claims of the Gospel. Paul’s wish is not to take from her dignity or to set men above her. Not at all! It is so women may seek a spiritual character that gives dignity to all of whom enter the non-coercive, gracious presence of our sisters in Christ! She is not secondary in the realm of public worship. Not at all! But a profound model of godliness in the making. Therefore, in the hope of her powerlessness being realized, it will eventually demand the submission of Christian men who forget their confession of Christ and his powerlessness.

That being said:

How many Christian men who lead in Christian congregations have forgotten their Christ, his powerlessness, grace, and mercy and, thus, continue to perpetuate an idolatrous leadership model that is quite simply a denial of who Christ is? In the wake of this epidemic male idolatry, I write to these congregations:

I want the women to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. Likewise, I also want the men to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, watches, or expensive suits, but with good deeds, appropriate for men who profess to worship G-d in Jesus Christ. Your men should learn in quietness and full submission for now. I do not permit a man to teach or to assume authority over a woman at this time. He must be quiet until further notice. This is even though Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was the one not deceived. Even though it was Eve who was deceived and became the sinner, your men live as if they do not remember their mother by silencing her struggle to repent of her sin. Nevertheless, men will be saved through childbearing alongside their mothers in Christ if they continue in faith, love, holiness, powerlessness, and remembrance of Christ who set us free from the sort of power you exercise over your sisters. And so, let this period of instruction serve as a reminder.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

(Stay tuned for part 3!)

Psalm: Bloody Roots

When the LORD speaks with Cain after he murders Abel, the LORD says, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
______________________

Roots…bloody roots

Yes, like the blood of Abel
cries out from the ground
It’s not some moral fable
but witness to how we’re found

by our…

Roots….bloody roots

Just like Pharaoh’s slaves
Cried out for salvation
For deliverance from their graves
And the curse of damnation

by their…

Roots…bloody roots

Just like the conquered cries
To the G-d of their exile
To once again have eyes
that see beyond the Nile

by their…

Roots…bloody roots

Oh, friend Jesus, my image of divine
Renew me with your passion
Bear me your fruit
That flows from your blood, your vine
of the cross, of the broken, of the ashen
And shows that G-d, like me, has roots…

Bloody roots

Epistle: Why Women Should Still be Silent; Why Men Should Too (Part 1)

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety— I Timothy 2:8-15

Dear Friends,

Let me first say that I write as a slave of Christ to all of you and with good faith that you all treat each other likewise.

What we are venturing into here is probably the most feared passage in scripture, as it is generally read to support a Pauline form of patriarchy and the divination of its practice. But I write to you with the assurance that the attempts to do this are not only blatantly wrong, but they are still idolatrous, poisonous, and in denial of Christ (much to many of our suspicions).

However, let me also admit that I agree with what is written in Timothy wholeheartedly. It is my belief that what Paul says is representative of the sort of spiritual discipline we all need in order to be people who confess Christ and his saving grace and practice his way in community together. And so, in no way is this scripture contrary to the desires of our hearts for female liberation from patriarchy or our call to be people of justice in any way. In fact, I will advocate that this is a radical expression of these things.

Therefore, let me ask: Could we not just as easily give this sort of advice to men given our current circumstances? I think in light of our patriarchal tendencies, its damn time we did.

Nevertheless, I suspect that, by now, you are all wondering why someone who drifts toward more egalitarian thought (like myself) would find scripture like this interesting. It seems to underscore patriarchal social structures to speak to women in this way and enslaving to have these sorts of expectations for them. This is what motivates many of our Liberal friends to advocate we ignore 1 Timothy 2:8-15 or possibly even change Scripture that precludes a violent silencing of the Spirit on the altar of Liberal enlightenment. However, I assure you that the answer is not throwing it out of Scripture or striking even one word from our canon of Scripture. The answer is exegeting Timothy well by first allowing Scripture to hold us to the liberation and powerlessness that motivate its writer(s) and how they are characterizing Christian worship thenceforth. From this context we will find there are no reasons to be rebellious to some “Pauline patriarchy” or coerce his voice by silencing him in the name of Liberal enlightenment– for there is no reason to be ashamed of Scripture here.

The context of chapter two is a discussion of worship and prayer. Paul writes to both men and women, has different instructions for each, and yet they have the same ruling ethic– the powerlessness of Christ.

In verse eight, Timothy writes to men that they should “lift up holy hands” without anger or disputing. In the early church, lifting palms to the sky was an expression of crying out for G-d’s rescue. It is representative of the socially “liberal” (small “l”) manifesto so to speak, because it is the believer’s cry for G-d’s liberation from the Powers of the world. However, notice how men are instructed to pray for liberation– “without wrath or disputation.” Men are called to pray for and seek G-d’s rescue in powerless ways. Furthermore, notice this sort of powerlessness is to be done “everywhere”– that is, in both public and private places of worship and prayer. Men are, therefore, instructed by Timothy to seek the rescue of G-d in powerless ways at every opportunity of worship and prayer to G-d. These men who have been the venomous oppressor throughout history are instructed that the terms any notion of “male headship” is to be tempered by the practice of powerlessness performed exhaustively– for they are not the oppressed in a patriarchal culture but the oppressor!

Therefore, Paul’s call is quite simple for men; that they would discipline themselves to be powerless in every act expressed to G-d and each other. Therefore, the instructions given to men are exhaustive so that there would be no mistake that they should worship in ways that extinguish their powerfulness through worshiping and instructing in humility and grace… ceaselessly! It is a simple instruction given to a gender of which has not been the minion of gender coercion but have been the proprietors of it. And so, Timothy’s instructions are clear– be powerless in all things!

(To be Continued. Part 2 coming soon!)

Be Powerless with Each Other,

Bobby Ray

Epistle: Worship Before Reason–Faithful Before Reasonable–Powerless Before Equality–Servanthood Before Rights

Dear Friends,

Christ calls his followers to be powerless in their relationship to the world and to each other. This is fundamental to how Christians understand what “power” even is– the radical reversal of the arrogant, hostile, violent, elitist venom that characterizes this world. Therefore, when the church addresses any ethical or moral issue, we should not, therefore, forsake the political ethics that drive our commitment to being followers of Christ.

This being said, I would like to share a few reflections on the very divisive subject of gender equality in the church. So often I hear the debate between conservatives and liberals as one that cannot possibly find any commonness or peace, and I think its because the foundation from which the entire argument is framed is steeped in terms kin to the type of political coercion and gracelessness that is anathema to who Christ is. Both claim to be committed to Scripture. Both claim to be reasonable about their interpretation of Scripture; however I’ve come to the conclusion that we are simply deceiving ourselves. The entire argument is framed in terms of how one’s ethical reasoning can come to coerce the other and has no confession for how Christians should relate to each other in terms of disagreement. Such a way of relating to each other is steeped in Western arrogance– not Christian worship.

I have come to a place where I can no longer be silent on this matter.

The ethical issue of the inclusion or exclusion of women is not an issue of “reason” or the realization of some new philosophical realism at all, much to the contrary of what both conservatives and liberals would care to believe. It’s an issue of politics in submission to Christ. Its an issue of both men and women finally deciding to worship G-d like how we have neglected for most of our Church’s history– by dethroning our gender and being powerless like Christ of whom we confess as the savior of both.

All we need to do is take a look at how our churches structure themselves in order to see our arrogance demonstrated. The commitments we have of “illuminating” Scripture by “reason” is the sort of thing that is root of what motivates us to lay the foundation for our denominations in the type of arrogance Jesus found characterized the world– a world that sees the  dogmatics of the elite as the life by which history carries its meaning, significance, hope, and even our ability to know G-d. When we do this, people are then put into ethical camps relative to whether you apply philosophical reason in a conservative or liberal spirit. In the minds of each camp’s elite, they are carrying the meaning of history, because they see themselves as having better reasons than their adversary. Contrary to this sort of thing are Jesus, Paul, and the New Testament writers who believed that what carries the hopes of history is the suffering and powerlessness of Christ and his followers choosing to do likewise. And so, even though you will find me enthusiastically agreeing with the more “liberal” ethical commitments for including women in all aspects of the Body, I do not see it as a theologically liberal cause. Choosing to see Scripture firstly through a commitment to “reason” gives birth to the sort of power-structuring and power-mongering that is counter to a truly Christian egalitarian spirit altogether; because it refuses to be powerless and, therefore, swells our heads with the sort of arrogance and political orientation that are simply anathema to claiming Christ as your savior. Therefore, most of our thinking about female equality anymore is completely hypocritical. Egalitarianism as a political dogma is just as heretical as patriarchy as a political dogma. Because what we find ourselves doing is rather than making only men power-mongering assholes (like what many conservative traditions do), we can now make powerful assholes of all people of gender (because we are somehow so enlightened to take this liberty). And so, rather than be powerless, we find that having equal opportunity to be Caesar is somehow real progress or worship of Christ.

Therefore, the issue at hand for whether we choose inclusion or exclusion is not our better reasoning about Scripture. Scripture is what it is. Only our arrogance insists that we hold Scripture rather than it holding us. Similarly, I can neither stand for the notion that because we are now more enlightened people that we may now include women as the new dogmatic by which we can liberally excuse ourselves from powerlessness and suffering with Christ through building new worldly power structures to protect these more “enlightened” views of Scripture. For this tendency, I say to you, brothers and sisters, that you have have been hypocrites, whores, idolators, and used the name of Christ in vain.

Therefore, I say our ethical issue of inclusion is an issue of theology and christology (not reason) and, therefore, an issue of a Church that smokes what it sells– submission to the reconciliation available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the powerlessness that characterizes it all! And so, if you want to embody truly egalitarian or complementarian worship in a Christian sense, first choose powerlessness and it will be given to those who celebrate the risen Christ in this way.

In my church plant (Simple Church), we include women to participate in every aspect of our gathering. We are unapologetically egalitarian in ethic. However, this is because we advocate that our men be dedicated to powerlessness and simplicity– not because we somehow think we are more enlightened or reasonable. Our ethical dilemma is not exclusive to patriarchy, but it is how we justify a poisonous hierarchical spirit in the church that refuses to worship Christ. Both liberal and conservative thinkers are guilty of ingesting such malevolence.

Therefore,what we are looking for, brother and sisters, is neither egalitarian, complementarian, patriarchy, matriarchy, feminist, or masculinist. What we are looking for is what we’ve always had– the powerlessness and mercy of Christ! We are a people called to be committed firstly to being transformed by the Gospel that can be reduced to the notion of being “saved” by Christ– the one who suffers, is powerless, and calls those who belong to him to live as if this were true and authoritative.

I leave you all with the call to worship before reasoning– to be faithful before being reasonable… powerless before egalitarian… and to advocate for our servanthood before our rights.

Peace,

Bobby Ray