Thursday, 24 November 2011

Matthew Chapter 1: Family history, prophecies and a virgin birth

Here is the beginning of my account of revisiting the Bible.

As I’ve mentioned previously, in my early youth I was an atheist. At the age of 18, as a student, I became a born again evangelical Christian.  More recently I’ve become more of a sceptical kind of agnostic. I’ve also reached a position in my life where I’ve been able to accept and enjoy my own trans or mixed gendered-ness. My opinions and feelings on male and female sexuality have changed a lot.

For a year or more now I’ve been meaning to see if Jesus, Christianity and the Bible still have things to say to me.

As a start I’ve spent some time reading and thinking about the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. There’s a copy of it here.

In a way it’s tricky.

Who wrote it? What motivated them? Is it trustworthy or true?

Different people say different things about this. I’ve read things that have discussed this.

Like many things in life, there’s no absolute and incontrovertible proof one way or the other.

I’m going to try to read the whole gospel without worrying too much about who wrote it or what their motives might have been. I’ll try and just read the words to see what they have to say to me.  

It begins with a list of what it says are the ancestors of Jesus.

Actually they are ancestors of Joseph.

Soon after the list of Joseph’s ancestors it goes on to say that Joseph wasn’t actually the father of Jesus.

So it’s strange that the ancestors should be classed as ancestors of Jesus. According to this passage at any rate, they aren’t biological ancestors.

The list of ancestors is interesting. Some well known and revered names … Abraham, David, Solomon. None of them perfect. All fallible. A name that seems is given prominence is David and mention is made of Bathsheba.

The story of David and Bathsheba is almost like a soap operatic tragedy. I just read through that again … it’s here and continued here. It’s hard not to get side-tracked from looking at Matthew’s gospel at this point. David did such an awful thing. And it’s hard to understand what God was up to in it all … it seems that God punished David by killing an innocent baby.

Then there is the story of the virgin conception. Joseph didn’t believe it until an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t generally happen, so I can understand why he’d find it difficult to believe. And so do I.

I suspect that most Christians that believe in the virgin conception do so because they are Christians rather than the other way round. People don’t usually become Christians because they got convinced about the virgin conception. It was something else that convinced them about Christianity.

So it was with me when I believed it.

To some … to many… it’s a critically important truth. The thing that allows Jesus to be both Divine and human.

There’s mention that the birth of Jesus came about the way that it did in fulfilment of prophecies made in the Old Testament of the Bible.

To me at the moment, the genealogy isn’t so important. Nor the idea that the birth of Jesus was in fulfilment of prophecies. Nor the concept of the virgin birth.

The passage maybe raises more questions than it gives answers. Life seems to be like that as well. It seems to be there to set the scene and define the credentials of Jesus.

I’ve read that Matthew’s gospel was especially aimed at a Jewish audience for whom all of this would be significant. But is it true? Did it happen that way? Does it matter if it did or didn’t? If it didn’t happen that way … did the person that wrote it know … what does it say about their motives and integrity?

It would be kind of nice if an angel were to come along and explain some of it to me. Or just say to me that it’s how things are. Or that God is there and that all will be well. So far, at least as far as I know, this hasn’t happened to me.

I’ll try and be open to the possibility … but it’s not difficult to be sceptical.

It’s encouraging, in a strange sort of way, that some of the people mentioned in the genealogy are as noteworthy for their shortcomings as they are for their successes.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Mortality and beliefs

Recently one of our pet cats lost the use of her back legs all of a sudden. She was 18 years old. We paid a visit to the vet and, as we expected, there was no treatment that he could offer other than to put her to sleep.

The incident raised all kinds of thoughts and feelings.

Sooty was Katie’s (my younger daughter’s) pet. Katie came home so that she could be at the vets … to be able to say goodbye.

I so much wanted to be able to make things better.

The decision to allow the vet to inject the lethal dose of chemicals wasn’t easy to make … even in a situation when no kinder alternative seemed to exist.

She lays half paralysed

Yet able to warble in her own special way

At the touch of a hand or a whisper

Gentle caresses and words of comfort

As the needle delivers its payload

Ultimately helpless

We are all slaves of time

Events like this make me wonder about life and death.

Over the years my views on this have changed. From atheist to born again Christian to agnostic to I don’t really know.

Last weekend I was talking with a friend about how once life seemed to include a lot of black and white issues. Rights and wrongs. Whereas now there seem to be many shades of grey. Which reminds me of a song Where do we go from here? that was part of a Christian Musical called Lonesome Stone way back in the early 1970’s.

Last Christmas I read A new kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren at the recommendation of Dani. I was surprised by it … offering a possibility of some kind of a return to some kind of a belief when I’d thought that there had been no way back.

I’ve not made much progress on that front up to now, but I’m thinking about it still.

In moving from a position of atheism to being born again I was influenced heavily by Christians that I met at university who were connected with The Navigators. There was a great deal that was good about the experience.

More recently I’ve found the concept of belief in God to be a whole lot harder. The reasons for this are mixed. They include gender, sexuality and, I guess, rationalism.

As I’ve been able to accept and be happy with my own feelings of mixed gender I’ve not really revisited the beliefs that I once held.

And so … perhaps now I will.

There are a lot of different approaches that I could take.

For now I think it will be similar, in some ways, to the approach that was recommended to me back in the 1970’s … a look at the gospels in the New Testament of the Bible. Some of the things that Brian McLaren says in his book fit into this approach as well … he suggests that the way to understand the Bible is to start with Jesus … the Gospels … rather than attempting to understand Jesus and the Gospels by reading the rest of the Bible first.

But, there will also be significant differences.

I’ll be looking at it from a different angle … with a different set of life experiences and different expectations.

My views on gender and sexuality are different than they used to be. I know that will affect how I interpret and understand things.

In a way it will be a backslidden Tranny perspective on what it all says. And to some people maybe that makes the whole exercise futile and meaningless.

But as a backslidden Tranny I’m hoping that it will mean something to me.

I don’t know where it will lead me … closer or further away from a belief in God.

But it’s something I feel that I need to do.

If you’re reading this I’d value your comments, thoughts and feelings … from whatever perspective you make them … so please comment.

Tomorrow … or soon after … I’ll begin reading the gospel of Matthew.